Florida's Spring Gathering A Chance for Hearts and Voices to be HeardBy Margie Manning, Southern Region Regional Elder Development Team
Unitarian Universalists from throughout Florida turned out for our first Florida Gathering - a chance to worship, learn and grow our spirits in community, while having a great time catching up with friends.
Rev. Kenn Hurto, our Southern Region Executive Lead, and Congregational Life Staff Members Connie Goodbread and Rev. Carlton Smith, as well as Rev. Vail Weller, our UUA's Congregational Giving Director, joined the ministers, congregational staff, lay leaders and all those seeking connections who spent the full day Saturday, March 12 at Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater.
It was the first all-state gathering since April 2015, when congregations in the Florida District and throughout our UUA Southern Region voted to dissolve our district governance. Although we no longer have annual assemblies, and the business that comes with them, such as voting on district officers, we know how important it is to keep our relationships strong, and the Florida Gathering allowed us to do that.
"This was a great opportunity to meet and socialize with UUs from all over Florida," said Elizabeth Anthony, a lay leader at Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville. "I think events like this are awesome times for intercongregational fellowship and learning, and I hope to see more of them in the future."
|Rev. Carlton with Jacksonville and Buckman Bridge UUs and friends|
The entire group took part in the morning session, which focused on covenant, in a presentation that also was a demonstration of our commitment to shared ministry. Connie walked us through the basics on systems theory, which helps us understand how each of us are connected to our congregations and our congregations are connected to each other. We talked about the importance of trust and the historical roots of covenant in our faith tradition. I - as a member of our Southern Region's Regional Elder Development team, or RED Team - talked about my own experiences with developing a covenant, examples of covenants, and how congregations can deepen their covenant to each other.
Building on the importance of the solemn promises we make to each other, we heard from Rev. Weller about the Generously Investing for Tomorrow (GIFT) program in our Southern Region (the Annual Program Fund elsewhere), and how our congregations' gifts allow our Unitarian Universalist Association to provide the resources that make a difference in people's lives.
For the afternoon, we broke into three smaller groups.
Carlton's workshop, "Social Justice/Witness/Black Lives Matter," was both empowering and refreshing, said Terri Neal, who describes herself as a lapsed Catholic/agnostic who is drawn to Unitarian Universalist churches by our commitment to justice and freedom of thought. As a Black member of a diverse but predominantly White Catholic parish, Terri said she experienced resistance for taking part in social justice actions and found few allies, and she has Black friends who have felt the same in other integrated congregations.
"It was so validating to hear Rev. Smith discuss UU work for racial justice. And, it was incredibly healing to voice frustrations, fears, and suggestions to a mostly White audience genuinely open to listen and act," Terri said. "My heart, as well as my voice, had been heard."
It was enlightening to hear how other Unitarian Universalists understand - or don't understand - the Black Live Matter movement, said Elizabeth. "This was a reminder to me of how we have to make sure that we are taking the initiative to make sure we understand the causes that we choose to support."
Connie led a discussion of "Leadership as a Spiritual Practice," touching on many of the topics explored in much greater detail at the Southern Unitarian Universalist Leadership Institute, and the Dwight Brown Leadership Experience.
Kenn's workshop, "The Zen of Stewardship," helped participants understand that there's much more than asking for and receiving money involved in successful stewardship efforts. We need to share our stories to build the relationships that are the foundation for financial success. Kenn also showed us how to make a budget that helps everyone understand how our contributions help our congregations live their missions.
This Gathering was made possible by lots of people who worked behind the scenes to make it happen seamlessly, including Harriet Ha-Sidi, a member of Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater who pulled together a team of volunteers for registration, setup and food service. Our thanks to UUC for hosting, and to all who took part, for helping Unitarian Universalism continue to grow in the Sunshine State.
48 participants representing 17 congregations attended the 2016 Florida Spring Gathering event.