Congregations Respond to Needs in Haiti

January 28, 2010

I’m really inspired by our congregations’ responses to the desperate needs of the Haitian people after the earthquake there. Within a couple of days, there were ideas flowing.

The Unitarian Fellowship at Lawrence, KS, raised over $2500 when they hosted a chili and cornbread supper for their members and friends.

Unity Church – Unitarian in St. Paul, MN, raised $10,000 in a special collection at their Sunday services.

First Unitarian Church in Wichita, KS, was featured on their local tv station for their vigil and collection of donations. Efforts by First Unitarian Church in Omaha, NE, were noted in an article in their local newspaper.

Two other Twin Cities congregations raised over $1,000 and nearly $2,000 in their respective Sunday collections.

Money will be needed for months and years to come, as Haiti tries to rebuild their infrastructure and feed and house their people. Donations will continue to be needed. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee web site tells which organizations they are supporting with the

Why I Put $$ in the Collection Plate, Even Though I Pledge to the Church

November 24, 2009

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!

Report from Multi-Site Congregations Workshop

November 12, 2009

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!

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.

Moving Over to Make Room

August 27, 2009

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 called “Worship Web” ]

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.

The Pumpkin Patch

August 24, 2009

Over the weekend, I heard about the coolest project that one of our congregations is doing — one that will raise the visibility of the congregation in their community, benefit the local food bank, and involve all ages in the fun. Here’s the scoop.

Second Unitarian Church in Omaha Nebraska planted an organic pumpkin patch on their lawn last spring. This fall they’re having a Fall Festival and will sell the pumpkins, with all proceeds going to the local food bank.

The children were involved; they planted the pumpkin seeds during a ritual that invited them to give the seeds something of themselves by holding the organic seeds in their mouths, in their hands, blowing on them, and holding them up to be warmed in the sunlight before putting them into the soil. The ritual was designed by an organic gardener/mentor for the project.

The pumpkins were planted on the lawn using a no-till, permapatch gardening method. Volunteers watered the pumpkin plants this summer, using water gathered in the church’s new rain barrel, supplemented by water from the tap.

Neighbors will be invited to the Festival, along with another church in the area. Signs inviting the public to attend have been placed on the lawn.

This is the first annual Harvest Festival, and the church will use this as one of their projects for Green Sanctuary certification. To learn more about this and see their wonderful photos, go to:

10 Things I’m Particularly Proud Of

May 29, 2009

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
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.

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!