Thursday, January 15, 2015

Just Skate

by Natalie Briscoe, Congregational Life Staff for the Southern Region of the UUA

Roller Derby is a spiritual practice. It has been a few years since I left the sport to take what I liked to call my “Pregnancy Sabbatical,” but I miss playing a sport that was both aggressive and nuanced, that required both physical and mental strength. And I assure you that I never, ever imagined hitting members of my own congregation while I was out on the track. I would never even dream of it. 

One common misconception about Roller Derby is that the sport is all about brute force: going fast and hitting whatever player is in your way. That myth couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are so many rules that teams often have several practices per month dedicated to creating, learning, and practicing new strategies, and skaters must take a yearly rules test that would rival any college exam. A good coach is two parts athlete, one part motivational speaker, one part counselor, and three parts lawyer. The game is played best when you know the details in the rules and can use those rules in, well, let’s just say “creative” ways.  

As you can imagine, teaching these rules and strategies can get quite complicated. I remember so many practices where 100 skaters would be lined up, listening to instructions for a drill. Very often, the explanation was longer than playing the actual drill itself, and many of the skaters often looked around to their teammates with inquisitive looks, wondering what in the world the coaches were talking about. It is very hard to describe in words the actions that are needed.  Our words fail us, and the only way we can get to the other side is by doing. 

My philosophy in times like this was, “Just skate.” Whenever anyone would ask me if I knew what was going on during a drill, I would just say, “Nope, I haven’t got a clue. I’m just going to skate.” 

During these times, it was an act of loving trust to “just skate.” I trusted my coaches to lead me through the drill. I trusted my teammates to support me. I trusted in my own knowledge of the game and my own abilities. I trusted that I wouldn’t be laughed at if I failed.  

There is a time for thinking, for listening, for planning – and then there is a time to skate. 

Even though I don’t play roller derby anymore, I still tell myself to “just skate” all the time. There are so many times in church work when I am unsure of the path. It is in those times that I have to trust myself, my faith, and my fellow pilgrims and head forward into the unknown. We may not know what is going on with the world today, in its sad state, but we know we have to keep moving forward. We may not know what is in store for our congregations, for our clusters, or for our region, but we have to live into these new relationships and our new way of being with trust and good will. As our words fail us, may we gain clarity through action. And as we begin this new year in abundant love and gratitude, I will keep saying, “Just skate.” 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Got Vision?

by the Rev. Susan Smith

Once again I ask myself, “What did I come in here for?” (Or on my more grammatically correct days, “For what did I come in here?”) Probably you’ve had these so-called Senior Moments, too. Research suggests that most people do not have more of them when we age; we simply dwell on them more. We know we had a plan and a purpose when we headed into this room, down this aisle or toward this closet – probably a good one – but the thread is lost. Often I find myself doing something else altogether -- sometimes for a long time -- before I recall that I was on my way to accomplish something entirely different and much more important.

When I do this, there aren’t many serious consequences. When your congregation does it, the just and loving community that we are striving to create may be in jeopardy. A significant source of conflict and malaise in congregations is this loss of where we were going, what we were going to do when we got there and why. It can cause the wrong people to get elected to office or appointed to taskforces. It can be the source of our inability to pay for the new facility that we just built. It can generate those parking lot meetings about how the current minister/director of faith development/music director cannot take the congregation “to the next level.” When the thread is lost in a group enterprise, something in our human nature causes us to spend more time looking for the reason we lost it than trying to reclaim the thread itself.

When a congregational leader calls me for help, I always begin with the same request: “Send me a copy of your current long-range plan.” Usually they respond in one of these ways:
  • We had a long-range plan about 10 years ago, but it’s expired;
  • We did that mission/vision work with that facilitator 3 years ago, but I don’t know what became of all that; or
  • I don’t think we have a long-range plan.
If it’s my lucky day and we can locate a long-range plan (which should be the end result of community studies, visioning and research), it will usually be expired with no final evaluation of progress much less a successor plan in the works. Whatever you might think is the cause of your current congregational problem, I assure you that this lack of agreement about where you are going and why is that illusive first cause. 

When a congregation cannot envision the compelling and life-saving work that it must do right now for the community around it and the world at large, no one can lead it. Over-functioning eldest children like me will jump into the vacuum and try to drag the congregation in one direction or another. Occasionally, more than one of us tug it between us with such force and carelessness that it ends up in tatters. It is hard to repair tatters, I can tell you, and the result is never really whole again.

When a congregation has a plan that is only made up of building projects or governance changes or staff additions without knowing of what use these things will be to what great purpose, the effort of time, treasure and talent is largely wasted. “The earth made fair and all her people one” is not too high a bar to set. Neither is no poverty in our town or 100% graduation rates or the rebirth of the part of the planet in our care. Without this purpose, we quickly grow disenchanted with the new building, new committee configuration or new minister. We can even believe that our personal happiness with everything was the original purpose, and that is much too low a bar for the blood, sweat and tears of generations when the need is so great and the stakes are so high.

If you are a congregational leader who does not know where your congregation as a body has chosen to go and what is to be transformed when they have finally arrived there, your first job is to lead the congregation in developing a vision and the plan to get there. If you head a taskforce but you do not know what role in the master plan your taskforce plays, your job is to get clear about this and lead your team accordingly. If you know that your congregation had a five-year plan five years ago or if your congregation has not done significant visioning since your were last in search for a minister, you must urge your leaders to refresh this vision and relight that chalice of inspiration and determination which can make all things possible. 

Your entire regional staff will be meeting January 6-10 to refresh this work for ourselves. Please hold us in your thoughts and prayers as we meet. Surely one of our goals will be that the great congregations large and small of the Southern Region will dream a big enough dream to transform this world as well as the human heart and that we staff members can serve our faith alongside you to make these dreams come true.