You would think such a statement would be obvious. Working together in teams, committees, or groups is how humanity gets things done. Yes, we laud the notable individual — the first one across the line gets the accolades, the credit, or the gold medal. But everyone, directly or indirectly, benefits from foundations laid by those who came before or succeeded because of others backing them up, urging them on.
Our Southern Region team is operationally, ethically, spiritually motivated by the idea of “team.” We practice what we teach in all our work — with daily check-in, weekly what’s up meetings, monthly in-depth exploration of big ideas, as well as our twice yearly team retreat.
I’ve long thought (my goodness, 45 years this fall!) that preaching was mostly to remind people of things they already knew. Sharing of ideas and ideals, speaking to transform people’s lives works only if it’s well-grounded in the values of the listening pews. This note then is to remind our good, steady, often courageous volunteer congregation leaders of what may be obvious: 1) do not to try doing it alone, and 2) that you are never alone. In addition to your own congregants, the SR staff are just an e-mail or phone call away.
Many Unitarian Universalists enter the Free Church taken by our non-creedal approach, thrilled by an Emersonian “self-reliance” ideal: You are free to discern and live out your spiritual values and commitments. But Emerson meant self-responsible, knowing your experience and thinking, and always — now to borrow from Wm. Ellery Channing — to stand at the “bar of reason.”
Too often, we have equated freedom of conviction with an indulgent believing any old thing you want. Nonsense! We are required to be disciplined and to work to discern the truth in all things, not merely to find what is congenial.
Soul-growth is tender work, sometimes with exciting liberation but often with a rude deconstruction of our illusions. For an individual to do deep discernment, s/he has to rest in the loving hearts of a shared community of seekers. None of us ever gets the whole story, sees the whole picture, grasps the entire complexity. We are not just better together, we need one another. We are incomplete and insufficient alone.
This is why our SR team often uses “listening circles” in our work as a way to allow the tenderness of discernment to take place. To know our faith, we have to learn from each other. Listening to learn rather than to dispute is a spiritual practice we commend. This is what former UUA Moderator, Gini Courter, had in mind when she admonished, “Come to love the faith, not the argument."
Over the summer months, many congregational leadership teams meet to sketch out the program year. Invariably, challenges feel daunting, resources of money and and people-power are insufficient, and sometimes there are out and out disagreements on priorities. Thus, it is all the more important always to listen with love.
As a non-creedal body, Unitarian Universalists embrace the perhaps quaint notion of “covenant.” We intentionally and freely choose to be together because we know the important work cannot be done singly. We are better together! Thus, the question becomes how shall we be together? What promises can we, will we make to one another so we truly can be better together? This is essential to being team-mates in our spiritual enterprise.
If you would like help with forming covenants for your team leadership or, indeed, for your whole congregation, give one of our staff team a call. Additionally, you might consider reading, Gil Rendle’s wonderful book, Behavioral Covenants in Congregations: A Handbook for Honoring Differences (~$14). As you go about your ministries, remember these words from an old union song:
Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won
Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none.