The UUA has recently added a new resource to its Web site — a 14-page document called Multicultural Welcome: A Resource for Greeters in Unitarian Universalist Congregations. The resource invites theological reflection on welcoming and hospitality; includes a section for training greeters; gives suggestions on inviting conversation with newcomers; a list of additional resources for reading and reflection; and more. Often, we’ve discussed how we want to move forward on becoming more multicultural, but have decried the lack of resources. This looks excellent, and I invite you to give this some thought and try out the ideas. You can find it here: https://www.uua.org/documents/idbm/multicultural_welcome.pdf
Here’s a way that one congregation has found to assure that their building is an attractive and safe space during the week.
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester MN has a team of 6 – 7 sextons. The sextons sign up for a week at a time through the year. On a daily basis, that week’s sexton goes to the church, walks through the building looking for open windows, unlocked doors, or clutter. The sexton turns off lights that are not in use, straightens up when there is clutter, and makes sure that the rooms are ready for the next group to use. They inspect the restrooms for adequate paper supplies and cleanliness. After checking the church building schedule, they program the thermostats in various rooms where meetings will take place. And on Sunday mornings or at other large events, they assist the staff or person in charge as requested.
The church has regular paid custodial help during the week. Snow removal is also contracted out. During the winter, the sextons put out orange cones in the parking lot on Sundays to guide drivers in parking their cars.
This group of sextons gather periodically for great parties; they make it fun for the team to do this work for the church! [Thanks to Sexton Patty T for sharing this information with me!]
Members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames IA host potlucks in their homes – at least a couple of dinners every month. To make it easy to sign up, they’ve developed an online sign up process. When people go to the web page, they can see the list of potlucks and hosts, whether the host home is child-friendly or not, and how many spaces are still left at the party! People can also sign up there to host a potluck. The person who developed the online system says they hope to increase participation and reduce the workload. To find out more about how this works, send an email to email@example.com Here’s to more excellent opportunities for sharing food and community!
Published by Beacon Press in 2010, The Match: Savior Siblings and One Family’s Battle to Heal Their Daughter tells the compelling story of the Trebing family, who decided to have another child to serve as a “savior sibling” for their daughter Katie, who was born with Diamond Blackfan anemia. Using preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and then in vitro fertilization, their pregnancy resulted in the birth of a son, Christopher, who later became a bone marrow donor for his sister. Beth Whitehouse, the author of the book, wrote a series of articles in Newsday which she expanded to write the book, which goes into the complexities of the decisions faced by this family, as well as some of the ethical questions raised by the choices now available.
As a Unitarian Universalist, I’m proud that Beacon Press tackles the tough issues. As a parent and grandparent, I’m glad that modern medicine makes it possible for parents to have options like this available for their children, if they have or can find the financial resources to pay for them.
From Rev. Thom Belote’s Church Growth Inventory in The Growing Church: Keys to Congregational Vitality [Skinner House Books, 2010]: “The church did not begin the moment a member stepped in the door, and will not cease to exist the moment a member leaves. The church has a past, a present, and a future. When I address my congregation about growth, I say that when you first walked into this church, there was a seat in the sanctuary waiting for you. Before you arrived, somebody made sure that there would be an open seat for a person they hadn’t even met yet. I then say that it is incumbent upon each member of the church to ensure that there will be an open seat for the next person who walks in, and the next person, and the next.”
Another way of saying this is what I have sometimes responded to congregations who were wondering, “Should we grow?”
I remind them of Dag Hammarskjold’s saying, “Each morning we must hold out the chalice of our being to receive, to carry, and give back.” We come to a religious community and we find a welcome there — we receive. For awhile, it’s our turn to carry that community — to give of our time and our resources to sustain the community for ourselves and for others who are there. And then, at some point and due to some circumstance, we move on. It’s our responsibility to assure that our religious community will be there, strong and healthy, for others who will come in the future, just as we did. We receive, carry, and give back.
So what are you doing to prepare a place, to assure an empty seat, to give back, for the person who is seeking what you have found in your religious community? Tell me about it.
I heard this week that 14 of the 88 members of the Bismarck-Mandan Unitarian Universalist Fellowship will be attending General Assembly in June. Wow! 14 out of 88! That’s terrific!
Then I heard that the congregation has set aside $5,000 to pay their expenses. Wow again!
The congregation’s president reported, “We saw this year’s General Assembly in Minneapolis as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and felt that supporting the attendance of those who wished to go was an important investment in our long term leadership development strategy. We are asking participants to attend at least one pre-GA planning session and a series of post-GA sessions to result in programming and other appropriate follow up.”
Rev. Lyn Burton, the congregation’s Consulting Minister, commented: “By financially supporting participation in GA by 14 of its 88 members, the congregation plans to strengthen lay leadership, broaden access to resources, deepen connections within the UUA, and build on the shared diverse experiences of those who attend. It is a punctuation mark by the board of trustees that affirms commitment to and momentum toward realizing the congregation’s vision for transforming the church and nurturing its growth.”
Making this investment in its members and their connection to the larger world of Unitarian Universalism, especially in this time of scarcity, is exemplary. I thought you’d want to know about it. So if you’re at GA this summer, watch for the folks from Bismarck! They’ll be the ones soaking it all in and smiling all the while!
I’ve just received the brochure for the UUMN [Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network] conference this July, and I’m thrilled to see how many musicians from Prairie Star District are involved in leadership roles for the conference!
As Director of Member Services and Liaisons, Julie Enersen [Lincoln NE] will work to match experienced conference goers with first-time attendees, so they will feel welcomed. What great hospitality!
The choir of Unity Church-Unitarian [Saint Paul MN] will present a full-length program of choral and vocal music by Elizabeth Alexander, billed as “a celebration of liberal religious heritage and values, in words and music.”
Ruth Palmer [Saint Paul MN] will co-lead a workshop on Creative Interchange: the Cornerstone of Music Ministry and will also facilitate an Easy Choral Reading session for participants.
Ruthie Rosauer [Eau Claire WI], co-author of the new Skinner House book Singing Meditation will lead a workshop on Singing Meditation: A Music Ministry of Song and Silence.
Becky Post [LaCrosse WI] is a member of the UUMN Conference Planning Committee.
Thanks to all of you for your leadership. I know that all conference participants will experience a conference full of learning and fun!
Nothing distresses me more than to visit a congregation, sit a third of the way back, and see that the collection plate is nearly empty when it reaches me. Now I know that most members pledge to the church and dutifully mail their checks to the church each month. And that’s why the collection plates in those churches look pretty empty as they are passed from pew to pew.
But imagine that you’re a visitor to that church. What message are we giving to the visitor, to see that hardly anyone is putting money into the plate? Perhaps that the church doesn’t need the money? Perhaps that the people here are really stingy and just don’t give? What message are we giving?
I’ve even suggested to some church leaders that it would be a good idea for someone in the front row [or an usher] to “salt” the collection plate by putting in a twenty. Do you think it would be dishonest if the church treasurer put a twenty dollar bill of the church’s own money into each collection plate on Sundays, to get things rolling, and then removed those bills to be used again the next week? Would it improve giving?
Is there a way to suggest to pledging members that they give additional money to the church on Sundays, if they have it? Many people wouldn’t miss the additional $5 or $10 [or more!] that they would put in the plate, and if it caught on, it could make a big difference to the church’s budget.
In the church where I’m a member, the offering money is divided, with a large percentage of the offering going to a charitable organization suggested by a congregation member who is involved with that group. Giving away the offering is a way of contributing to the good work being done in the community. A small percentage goes toward the church budget. When I attend services there, I always put cash into the collection plate. I know some of it will go to a community group and some will stay at the church for the church’s own work. And I don’t reduce our pledge knowing that I’ll be giving Sunday-to-Sunday, either. Consider it gravy — or perhaps a better word would be “gratitude” that the church is there for me, and others, every day of every week, every year. I consider it a real bargain!
Just a quick update on my last post, about the Multi-Site Congregations Workshop we held on November 7. [See previous post for details.]
Rev. Christine Robinson of First Unitarian in Albuquerque did an excellent job of introducing the topic and sharing the evolution of their project from the “idea” stage to now — they are a congregation meeting in several locations, as well as multiple venues at the Albuquerque site. We added information about the San Diego project and some learnings from evangelical congregations, courtesy of Pacific Southwest District Executive Ken Brown.
So, how was it? Well, in Kansas City, teams from two congregations participated, along with a couple of people who live 50 miles away from their home church. In Saint Paul, there were teams from four congregations.
All who were there felt that their time was well spent, and that the information presented was worth considering in their future planning. While we didn’t ask for commitments from those present, we do hope to hear more from the congregations as they begin to think about how they might use the Multi-Site Congregation concept to serve people in their areas and beyond.
The workshop was recorded, and we’re looking for ways to make it available to other congregations in our district, and perhaps in other districts. More to come!
We’ve been promoting a new idea in our district, and I want you to know about it. It’s an idea that has been around for awhile in evangelical congregations and is starting to catch on among Unitarian Universalists. They call themselves multi-site congregations.
We don’t have any multi-site congregations in Prairie Star District, but we are offering a workshop on November 7 to introduce the idea. We’ll be featuring Rev. Christine Robinson, Senior Minister at First Unitarian — “a UU congregation meeting in Albuquerque, Carlsbad, Edgewood, and Socorro.” That phrase is the heart of the matter — one congregation, with services in multiple locations, sometimes many miles apart. The groups in Edgewood [20 miles from Albuquerque] and Socorro [80 miles from Albuquerque] have been meeting for a couple of years, using videos of the ministers’ sermons, and the Carlsbad group [275 miles from Albuquerque] is new. The church’s web site at http://www.uuabq.org has more information. Click on the Branch Ministry Project link.
First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Diego has started a second site in Chula Vista, to reach out to people living in the south bay area. Hear their minister discuss the reasons for doing this on a video you can see here: http://vimeo.com/5267723 And the ministers and staff at Fox Falley UU Fellowship in Appleton, Wisconsin, are currently meeting with members who live in Oshkosh, thirty miles away, to discuss how they might start a branch in Oshkosh.
Prairie Star District, too, has a large geography, with people living in many places with no access to a UU congregation. We, too, would like to serve those people. This is one way we might be able to do it. The workshop is Saturday, November 7, in two locations — the Twin Cities and Kansas City. Find out more here: http://www.psduua.org/workshops/multisitecongregations
Last winter, First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, IA, was named a Breakthrough Congregation for 2009. The minister, Reverend Mark Stringer, and leaders of the congregation were at General Assembly in June to present a workshop about their extraordinary church. As a service to other congregations, they have posted many helpful resources on their Web site. If you’d like to learn more about the tools they have created as they have grown in numbers, go to their Web site at http://www.ucdsm.org
When you’re there, click on “Breakthrough Congregation” on the home page. But before you click on that link, be sure to explore the Web site to learn more about the church.
This morning I found a request in my email Inbox. It said something like – “I’m on the Sunday services committee of our small congregation. We’ve just hired a new part-time minister. I’m wondering if you could tell us how Sunday services committees in other congregations have developed relationships with their new ministers.”
Here’s my reply: Hello. Thanks for your question. In some congregations, the Sunday services committee and the part-time minister plan services entirely separately, with no conversation together. That’s not what I recommend.
Instead, I suggest that you initiate a conversation with your minister; ask her/him to tell you what kind of relationship she’d like to have with your committee. If you can, have a planning meeting with him early in the year. Go over the year’s calendar with her, so you can be sure that you have “her” Sundays on your calendar. Look at the holidays, etc.
Tell him about some of the services you are planning, and ask whether he knows of resources to augment what you already have. [For example, there’s an excellent resource at uua.org called “Worship Web” http://www.uua.org/worshipweb ]
Ask whether there are particular hymns that she’d like the congregation to learn/know, and include them on your Sundays, so they become familiar with repeated use over time.
Ask whether there are certain elements to the services that he will use, that he would like you to consider using in your services, too, to give the congregants a consistent experience, week to week.
In short, invite the minister in, share your ideas while you listen to hers/his. Be generous: move over and make room. The worship life of the congregation will be richer for it.
1. We did live streaming of three events at our District Annual Conference, and it worked! Our Lifespan Faith Director and I did our Annual Conference workshop “live” at the conference and also via Persony and that worked well, too.
2. The MidAmerica District Staff have offered monthly online workshops since August. The workshops have been on a wide variety of topics, have had good attendance, and have been well-received by participants. I’m proud that I’ve learned the technology and have become an effective “host” at these online workshops.
3. The MidAmerica District Staff team has already developed a schedule of monthly online workshops for next year and will also offer a day of online leadership training for congregational leaders in September. There will be 6 workshops for leaders in various roles – presidents, treasurers, membership chairs, volunteer management, and more.
4. I organized a training program for pastoral care teams from midsize Iowa congregations. It consisted of an online orientation and a one-day, in-person training, led by one of our UU chaplains. People from three midsize congregations participated.
5. Camp StarTrail is ready to launch in August! We have about 90 Unitarian Universalists of all ages coming together in Nebraska for our first-ever camp there. See details at http://www.psduua.org/CampStarTrail/CampStarTrail
6. We offered a workshop on conflict last November, and over 70 people from three Nebraska congregations participated.
7. More than 300 people attended the District Annual Conference in April, in Duluth! We have come to realize that our conference and our expectations of the host congregation have grown more complex, and we’re working on improved materials and processes to assist our local committees.
8. Our Annual Conference this year included two pre-conference workshops – one on AntiRacism/AntiOppression/Multiculturalism [a first!] and one on ecology/earthkeeping/sustainability.
9. We’ve received money from the Panel on Theological Education to fund an enhanced “in-care” system for seminary students, and as part of that, we’re starting a program to support senior students’ working with small congregations.
10. After a period of discernment, our District Board has voted to move toward policy governance. As staff members, we are enthusiastically supporting that and will take on new roles as the change takes place.
I’ve been asked to provide a list of “some of the things I’m most proud of” in my work during the last church year. I’m thinking about it and will post the list when it’s complete. But I wanted to share the first thing that occurred to me, because  I’m really proud of it, and  it represents a new way of making District services to congregations available to nearly everyone who wants them, no matter where they live!
#1 on my list is this: at this year’s District Annual Conference, we live streamed three major events — our two major speakers and the UUA presidential campaign forum. And best of all, it worked! People in all parts of the District were able to see those events live, even though they weren’t with us in Duluth. Not only that, but we’ve now posted videos of those events on our web site at http://www.psduua.org [Click on Annual Conference and go from there to Highlights of 2009] So if people missed the live streaming, they can still watch the events. Or if they were at the Conference and want to see the speakers again, they can see them again. Or if they want to recommend the speakers to their friends, the friends can watch them. And on and on.
This represents a huge step forward for our District. In past years, we’ve had up to 325 people attend the Annual Conference, out of the 9,0000 adult Unitarian Universalists who are members of our congregations. In the past, we were sometimes able to get permission to post scripts of the major speeches on our web site for people to read. Now, with permission, we can present them live and also archive them for the future. This is huge, and this is just the beginning. We can do more and more of this, and we can offer other events online, too. Some of you may have attended some of the monthly online workshops that our Midwest UU Leadership group [District Staff from three MidAmerica districts] have hosted this year.
Thanks to our Web Coordinator Ben Stallings for his work on this, from concept to reality. Thanks to the speakers for their willingness to give permission. Thanks to the folks in Duluth who let us use their equipment.
Keep watching! We’re just getting started!
On April 5, the UU Congregation of Duluth MN hosted a rolling, 3-hour worship service for the participants at this year’s Prairie Star District Annual Conference and their own members. Some might question the wisdom of inviting anyone to a 3-hour service, but this service was spectacular! This service provided the answer to this question: how do we serve our own congregation members on Sunday as well as host 200 – 300 additional people who’ve been attending the Annual Conference at the hotel all weekend?
The invitation said, “Welcome to our three hour rolling earth revival, a celebration of the cosmic creation story and our place in it. Please make yourself comfortable and stay for as much of the celebration as your schedule allows. Please time your traveling in and out of the sanctuary to coincide with the end of any of the worship elements. The places in the order of servcie marked with an arrow are perhaps the least disruptive times to move about.”
Each hour provided a variety of elements that kept people of all ages engaged and energized. There were a couple of slide shows to accompany stories; music by a massed choir and others; a Council of All Beings in which the animals “talked” and discussed the challenges they currently face; giant masks of the sun and moon; short sermons by three ministers; and a stardust ritual [with glitter] to celebrate that we each are part of the unfolding universe.
Gail Marriner, the interim minister of UUCD, was involved in every aspect of planning and helped make the service enjoyable for children. The children gathered up front for a craft activity while they listened.
Here are some of the animals at the Council of All Beings:
Members of the choir were from Duluth and from the conference goers:
The masks, created by Mary Plaster, added drama to the setting.
And the themes for the three hours were: We are Made From Stardust; Evolution – We are All Connected; and Into a Green Future. The service seemed especially appropriate because we were in the “green” church dedicated by the congregation just a year ago.
Much preparation, many elements to the service, the involvement of many people, and to this worshipper, it all worked splendidly!
A number of years ago, the Prairie Star District Board proposed Vision 2010, a vision for what our district could look like by 2010. The fourth goal was “a world which lives by UU principles.” One of the points under that goal was that “UU congregations are recognized as centers of learning on ethical issues.” While we have yet to see “a world which lives by UU principles,” we are making progress on the subpoint. Several congregations in Prairie Star District sponsor lecture series for the public, raising their profile in the community and inviting people into conversations about ethics, current events, and community life.
Iowa Lakes UU Fellowship in Spirit Lake, IA, one of our emerging congregations, has just announced “a series of penetrating lectures and discussions called The Leading Edge Forums.” The first speaker will be Ms. Rekha Basu, op-ed columnist and essayist for the Des Moines Register, who writes on human rights, racial justice, gender equality, and immigration.” The lectures are being held in a public place, the Pearson Lakes Art Center. Tickets for the event are $12. A news article in the local paper announced the series. The congregation is also paying for advertisements for the lecture in four regional newspapers.
First Unitarian Church in Omaha has sponsored the Holland Lecture series for a couple of years. Their most recent speaker was Dr. Richard Dawkins, well-known author of The God Delusion. All tickets were gone before the event occurred. Previous lecturers’ topics have included stem cell research, the changing ethics of life and death, nuclear terrorism, climate change, and more. Tickets are free. The church received a generous gift that supports the lecture series. These lectures, too, have taken place in public settings. This is a smart choice on the part of the congregations. Going to a public place might be less intimidating than going to a church where you’ve never been before.
The Unitarian Church in Lincoln, NE, is well known in the city for its winter lecture series, held annually. The church is on a well-trafficked street and attracts many non-church members for the lectures.
The UU Fellowship of Mankato, MN, has offered an occasional speakers’ series, with funding from the UU Funding Panel. Highly advertised in the community, the series has had a good response from the public. Unity Church – Unitarian offers an annual Samuel Morgan lecture.
With these public events, I think we can say that our congregations are on the road to being recognized as centers of learning on ethical issues.
For a number of years, it’s been the dream in Prairie Star District that we have a summer camp in the southern part of our district. For several years, it’s been on the list in Vision 2010, a strategic vision the Board of Directors developed. And now the dream is coming true.
Registration is now open for Camp StarTrail — a 5-day, multigenerational camp celebrating Unitarian Universalism and our part in it — August 2 – 7, 2009. We are renting a Lutheran camp facility located just off I-80 between Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska. Information, with photos of the camp, is available at http://www.psduua.org/CampStarTrail/CampStarTrail We have our theme speaker [Rev. Dr. Kendyl Gibbons of First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis] and our Chaplain and Vespers leader [Rev. Mark Stringer of First Unitarian Church of Des Moines] and other ministers who will lead workshops for us. And now we wait.
We wait to see whether others are as excited about this idea as our planning committee is. We wait and wonder whether people will want to spend their vacation time [and money!] in this lovely natural setting, with a couple of hundred other UUs, singing, celebrating, deepening their own sense of who they are as religious people. We wait, and we keep our fingers crossed that the economy won’t dampen the response by interested people.
The planning is progressing nicely. The waiting is hard!
My colleague Phil Lund has just written a blog post that’s titled “How to Take an Online Workshop.” It’s a very helpful introduction for people who want to participate in our series of workshops jointly sponsored by Central Midwest, Heartland, and Prairie Star Districts. Since August, we’ve had monthly workshops, the same topic offered twice, on a variety of topics. Click here to view Phil’s post:
And click here to find out about upcoming workshops:
But some might wonder why one would choose to take on online workshop. Here are three good reasons:
1. to get some new information that might be helpful to your congregation;
2. to learn from both workshop leaders and other participants — all of whom are experienced in their own congregations; and
3. because you can sit at home, with a cup of coffee or cocoa at your side, in your jammies — without having to travel beyond the doors of your own home — no gasoline required; no travel time required.
That’s about as painless as leadership training can be, don’t you think?
How does a congregation attract attention and become known in the community? There are lots of ways, and I have written about some previously.
Here’s another idea, from Blue Hills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Rice Lake, Wisconsin [51 adult members]. The membership committee is sponsoring a monthly activity this year. In October, two members of the congregation, who are attorneys, led a workshop that focused on four legal documents: the Power of Attorney for Health Care, Authorization for Final Disposition, Basic Power of Attorney for Finances and Property, and Living Will. The committee announced the workshop in area newspapers and invited the public to attend. Thirty seven people participated, more than half of whom were from the community. By offering this workshop as a public service, the congregation has made itself known to people who otherwise might not have entered its doors. Perhaps some of them will be back, or perhaps they’ll tell their friends about this liberal congregation.
Good job, folks!