Archive for October, 2007

50 Years From Now

October 29, 2007

Ten days ago I was with the Fellowship in Manhattan, Kansas, as they celebrated their 50th anniversary. It was the third Sunday service in a series — one on their past; one on their present; and the last one — on their future. I was particularly moved by the comments made by Eric, the president of the congregation — a young fellow who grew up in the fellowship — who said, “My family fully intends to be here when we celebrate our 100th anniversary — 50 years from now!” Now that’s a perspective!

In my few minutes of time with the congregation, I suggested several characteristics that would serve them well as they go forward toward the next fifty years.

I said, “Be flexible. A flexible congregation is one that will thrive. Do a regular scan of the community around you. Look at the opportunities that exist and move on them. A flexible congregation will be able to act on openings.”

I said, “Think ahead. On your list of large and small ideas, there are several that would help you to move forward — such as to budget 105% of projected expenses each year, placing 5% in a contingency fund. Planning ahead will help you to seize on opportunities when they arise.”

I said, “Provide opportunities for people to deepen their spiritual lives. People need chances to deepen their identity as Unitarian Universalists, whether they are new members or long time members. Helping people to articulate their UU faith gives them the power to express their values in the public square, which will help raise the visibility of Unitarian Universalism, which will help us grow.”

I said, “Be sure the infrastructure of the congregation keeps up with your growth in numbers. The governance structure must shift and grow in complexity as the membership grows.”

And I said, “Be a learning congregation. Send people to Leadership School, to General Assembly, to the District Annual Conference. Learn all you can from others. Your idea to send two carloads of people to other congregations for a Sunday service or a weekend is a terrific idea. Ask to have a 2-hour meeting with their leaders and learn all you can.”

I know I won’t be present with Eric and his family when they celebrate the congregation’s 100th anniversary. Their congregation has had the benefit of a number of leaders who truly led, and there’s no reason to think that the next fifty years will be any different, if they continue to live out the characteristics they’ve exhibited in the last few years. You can see a few photos of the Fellowship in Manhattan in the side bar.


Starting a New Congregation

October 25, 2007

In my last post, I said that a good topic for the next post would be Starting a New Congregation. Well, Don Skinner beat me to the punch and wrote an article about that for the online UU World.  One of the featured congregations is from our District — the Northeast Iowa Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Decorah, Iowa.

Several years ago, Pacific Northwest District created a brochure to help people considering this learn about resources available to them. With their permission, we have adapted it for people in Prairie Star District. It’s available from our office.

You can find Don’s article here:  

Down the roller coaster, at lightning speed!

October 17, 2007

Wow – it’s mid-October already, and I’m barely keeping up. This fall has been extraordinarily busy, and things keep popping up all the time. I have just enough time to take a deep breath before starting something new!

Our new national media campaign started with a full page ad in Time magazine earlier this month. To help congregations get ready, Phil Lund and I did two one-hour workshops online — 10 Top Things You Can Do NOW To Welcome Visitors. As part of that conversation, Phil created an extensive list of resources so that participants could dig more deeply into them after the workshop. If you would like that list, email him at  and say you want the list of URLs on welcoming visitors. We learned a lot by doing these first-ever online workshops and will be offering more, with better technology, later in the year. [Phil did most of the work to put on the workshop – thanks, Phil!!]

Association Sunday was this past weekend. We are grateful to the 30+ congregations that told us they planned to participate. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the connections that exist among our congregations. The UUA has announced that the money raised will be doubled by some generous donors. Here’s how it will break out: 50% will be used for the media campaign; 25% will be used to support ministers of color and their congregations; and 25% will be coming back to districts, proportionate to the money raised in those districts, to be used for congegational growth-related projects. In November, our District Board will begin the discussion about how to distribute the money that comes back to us here in Prairie Star.

Sarah Greene, our District Administrator, worked diligently to get our first email newsletter out to people last week. If you did not receive it, go to our Web site at  You can read it there and also subscribe to future issues. We’ve had lots of positive comments; thanks, and we know it will be even better as we have more experience with it.

In the last month, I’ve had inquiries from people in western Kansas and in southern Iowa about starting new UU fellowships there. The question is usually the same — “there are a few of us around here who would like to get a group going. We’re just a few liberals in a very conservative area, but we’d like to find out if there are more people who would be interested. Can you help us?” Yes, we can, and perhaps that will be the topic of my next blog entry.

Thanks to all who are providing leadership for their congregations! It is deeply appreciated!

Time for another deep breath, and on to the next thing!

Creatures of the Bottom of the Sky

October 8, 2007

I’ve been on the road again in the last few days, skirting the edges of South Dakota and Iowa on my way to Nebraska and back again, driving back through Iowa and southern Minnesota.   As I drive from state to state, I marvel at the prairie scenes I see — rolling hills, river valleys, places where the land is flat, trees planted around home places years ago, vast fields of corn and soybeans, now being harvested. It reminds me of something I read years ago. The writer talked about three kinds of life on earth: creatures that fly and soar in the air; creatures that live in the water; and then the group that we belong to — creatures of the bottom of the sky.

When I get out into the landscape of Prairie Star District, I become aware again that we are indeed creatures of the bottom of the sky. Gazing from horizon to horizon with a huge sky overhead, or looking down a long hill on the highway that goes on for miles ahead of me, I feel very much like a creature of the bottom of the sky. Having grown up in South Dakota, I find the landscape to be familiar and comforting.

I’ll head out again tomorrow to join our ministers at their retreat at Shalom Hill Farm, near Windom, MN. I doubt that I could call driving a spiritual discipline. But I do find nourishment for my soul as I go about the District, driving from place to place and waiting for the view that’s just beyond the hill.