Archive for the ‘for leaders in congregations’ Category

Tools for Moving Beyond the Mono-cultural Congregation

November 15, 2011

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: 


Sextons in a UU Church? Why not?

November 9, 2011

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!]

So How are You Preparing a Place?

December 14, 2010

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.

14 out of 88? Wow!

March 17, 2010

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!

They Call Themselves Multi-Site Congregations

October 19, 2009

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 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: 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:

Learning from a Breakthrough Congregation

September 20, 2009

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

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.

A Huge Step Forward

May 13, 2009

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 [1] I’m really proud of it, and [2] 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 [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!

A Rolling, 3-Hour Worship Service

April 13, 2009

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:
Bear and Frog
Giraffe and Eagle
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!

Why Take an Online Workshop?

January 9, 2009

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: and

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?

Black Friday and UU Values: Making Yourself Known

December 1, 2008

Unity Church-Unitarian [Saint Paul MN] received wonderful publicity over the weekend for their Black Friday project. There were articles on the front page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Friday and on Saturday, an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune business section on Saturday, and a feature on KARE-TV 11, which got picked up by CNN and went national. In this way, many, many people learned about this congregation’s commitment to the challenges posed by commercialization, debt, frantic pace, unrealistic expectations, stress, and more.

According to the Star Tribune, nearly 300 people gathered in the sanctuary at Unity to explore the pressures of our society in regard to the Christmas season. The program on Friday morning featured a story for children “The Man Who Loved His Hats Too Much” [and photos of the children were prominent in the press coverage]. The program also included music, conversation, and a talk by Kevin Kling, nationally known playwright and storyteller. Parents of young children were interviewed for the newspaper articles and feature on television.

This program is part of the church’s UU Christmas Reclamation Project, which began with a meeting a year ago facilitated by Bill Doherty [church member, well known author of books on family life, and member of the family social services faculty at the University of Minnesota]. Read more about the process they used in Unity’s December newsletter. See page 10

Read more about this on Phil’s blog at