Prayer for Growth

Oh, Holy Life Force that buzzes in every cell of our being and leaps through connections of hands in service and hearts in searching,

 

We give thanks for this opportunity to be together today. What a time to be alive, to create our shared ministries and embody our living faith tradition.

 

Grant us serenity so we may surrender our current expressions of Unitarian Universalism as the one right way. Helps us to understand that we do not own Unitarian Universalist, but rather it owns us.  We belong to this faith. Release us from the fear of change so we may embrace opportunity larger than ourselves, expression beyond our imagination.

 

Give us the courage to pick up what is really our work, our own transformation and evolution.  Give us strength and perspective when the road is unknown, and long and uncomfortable and not at all what we expected. Stir in us the commitment to build relationship outside ourselves, out on our margins as if our liberation depended on it, because we know it does.

 

Grant us the wisdom to discern what we can’t change in this generation, this lifetime and what is indeed our work to do.  Grant us the patience and love to sow the seeds of trees under whose shade we will never sit and whose fruits will nourish a people we will never know but love just the same.

 

Help us develop the spiritual discipline of consistently showing up in support of people whose values are close but not quite ours… and lead us into mutual transformation. Help us to develop an ever-widening circle of community as spiritual practice.  Because religious community truly is where we practice being human. 

 

Oh, God, may we become the people we’ve been waiting for and bring you honor and glory.  May we lean that much closer into your beloved community and kingdom of heaven on earth.

 

Amen.

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Tandi’s Annual Tips to Make the Most of Your General Assembly Experience

Internet portal to all things GA: http://www.uua.org/events/generalassembly/

Unitarian Universalist Association of  Congregations’ Blog: http://www.uuworld.org/news/ga/

  • Before you go to General Assembly (GA), skim the Pacific Northwest District of congregations (www.pnwd.org under “Congregations”) or your own district.   Find congregations that are similar in size, and make a list.  At the General Assembly, seek out people from those congregations who are in similar leadership roles as you and compare notes.  What is working well?  What are challenges?  What are possible solutions?  Swap contact information and keep in touch.  There is a message board at GA where you can post and receive messages to people.
  • Even better – contact folks ahead of GA and arrange regular meetings (breakfasts?) to debrief the experience and start plotting collaboration and support once we’re back home.
  • Be extra-friendly to the folks working the General Assembly – they are all volunteers and our UU brothers and sisters.
  • Sing out at the Opening Worship and let the rush of celebrating with thousands of Unitarian Universalists from all over our continent sink into your bones. Let our collective energy feed your spirit. After each worship service ask what you liked best and how you can bring that nugget home to your own worship.
  • Seek out district board members and your Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations trustee and tell them what your greatest hopes are for our religion and your congregation.  Our boards set the vision for our collective ministry with long range dreaming. Tell them what your priorities are.
  • Seek out U.U.A. of C. staff with your questions.  Tell us what you need to build a vibrant, thriving religious community. During Plenary staff sit in a block to the front-left when facing the stage.
  • Go to a workshop that speaks to a need in your congregation. Before you leave General Assembly, create a plan for how you will apply what you learned back in your home congregation.
  • Go to a workshop that speaks to a personal passion or interest.  Before you leave General Assembly, create a plan for how you will apply what you’ve learned back in your home congregation and/or your personal life.
  • Keep some extra room in your suitcase for the wonderful Unitarian Universalist clothing and jewelry available in the display booth area.  Everyone should have at least one piece of UU jewelry to wear.
  • Keep the energy going! When you return to your congregation, schedule some coffee time with key folks to share what you learned. Give them copies of the hand-outs and your notes.  Write an article for your congregation’s newsletter.  Make yourself available at coffee hour for people who are interested. Seek out the next group of leaders who should go to General Assembly 2011 to represent your congregation and bring back inspiration, perspective, connections, and ideas to help your religious community be all that it can be.

Power of Three

I heard of a brilliant idea that never quite got off the ground. I offer it up to you. Try it and report back.

One of the congregations in the Pacific NW had an Adult Religious Education chair and a Membership chair who worked closely together.  Their congregation was a mid-sized religious community with a fairly evenly stratified grouping of older members, middler members, and newer members (with regards as to when they joined the community.)

This congregation was also starting to feel the all-too-familiar rumblings of a pastoral-size congregation trying to break through to a program-size congregation.  Newer members couldn’t figure out how to get a foot in the leadership door.  Older members were tightening the reigns as they become more and more anonymous to the new members. And the middler members were the ones doing all the work and burning out.

The Adult RE chair and the Membership chair sat down with the membership book and divided the congregation into three groups according to when they officially became members.  From these three groups they made smaller groups.  In each of these smaller groups were a family unit of olders, a family unit of middlers, and a family unit of newer members.

These chairs contacted the social butterflies within the smaller groups and asked them to invite the others over for coffee and dessert. The only agenda for the meeting?  To explore the following questions and see what happened:

  1. What brought you to <insert congregation here>?
  2. What keeps you?
  3. What are your wishes for this religious community?

The experiment didn’t make it past a season.  But what they found in this one round was that the newer members starting taking more leadership off the shoulders of the middlings.  And the older members got to share the stories and history. The middlings and newers gleaned the larger context.  The community was noticeably transformed by this small, but organizing-intensive experiment.  I asked these two chairs why they only did it a season and they quickly replied that it was just a heck of a lot of work.

Keeping that in mind I did a modified version of this experiment at one of our smaller congregations.  In the middle of a worship service, I had the entire congregation stand up and put themselves on an imaginary chronological line according to when they joined their congregation.  From this long line, I divided them up into three lines standing shoulder to shoulder.  They reached out and grabbed the hand of the people next to them and then paired off in groups of three.  I invited them to explore those three magic questions.  The place was buzzing with energy and stories.  Their notorious curmudgeon came to me after worship and said it was the most fun he’s ever had at worship.

It also occurs to me that this way of choosing members just might work for small group ministry… Try your own version in your own religious community and report back…

Religious Education happens when we are woven in to all the diverse perspectives, contexts, stories, and gifts of religious community.  Woven into that fabric we become larger and more powerful than just our self.

Ain’t Misbehavin’. I’m Saving My Love For You.

I’ve been known to be a little passionate in my evangelism.  Here’s why.  When I open a newspaper and read the despairing headlines I wonder to myself, “If only <insert politician’s name here> had taken Our Whole Lives.”  Our Whole Lives is the lifespan sexuality curriculum offered in most of our congregations.  It was even featured in Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine! Many of you may be snickering, but I feel strongly about this. And it doesn’t have to do with sex.  OWL teaches consensus, power dynamics, communication, self-discipline, and being open to being transformed by other people’s point of view.  I wish the whole world got to take OWL.  OWL has the power to heal the world. That’s why I’m evangelical about Unitarian Universalism.

Many a visitor will walk through our doors seeking to be guided by Unitarian Universalist theology and held by Unitarian Universalist religious community.  And many of those visitors will leave, repelled by less than inspiring worship or an exhausting congregational conflict or our issues with power and authority…  This keeps me up at night.  So many of our congregations allow bad behavior in the effort to preserve “the inherent worth and dignity of all.”  More often than not, this bad behavior becomes part of the cultural norm: arguing the fine points of final reports at congregational meetings, using candles of joys and concerns for public service announcements, assuming there is one politically correct way to be Unitarian Universalist, triangulating and undermining leadership, using email for heated discussion, and using consensus as a weapon to get one’s way are just a few of my favorite examples. There is nothing worthy or dignified in this behavior. A loving intervention and firm, clear boundaries are the way to promote worth and dignity.

Some of the many reasons that I am grateful to work on the district executive team is that if I’ve eaten a spinach salad and some is stuck in between my teeth, one of my teammates is going to tell me. I can count on it.  And when I am particularly snarky on an email or totally flop on a project, I trust that Janine is going to lovingly point it out if I don’t see it and then give me the space and freedom to fix it.  Sometimes I’m at a loss as to how to repair a gaff and need help.  I have the support to ask for the help and receive guidance. This culture of safety, respect and constantly learning brings out my best.  There isn’t the pressure to be perfect.  Some of us weren’t born with a Manual of Appropriate Behavior and it’s helpful for others to shine light on the parameters when we simply can’t find them through the fog.

Most of our healthy congregations have a  Covenant of Right Relations.  This is could be thought of as the Congregational Manual of Appropriate Behavior. Here is a great example of one: Westside Unitarian Universalist Church in Seattle, WA.

There are policies that support a Covenant of Right Relations:  Conflict Resolution Guidelines, Email Guidelines, Policy on Taking a Stand on Controversial Public Issues, Procedure for Addressing Disruptive Behavior, and Safety Policies. You can find excellent examples from the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Pt. Townsend, WA under Part III of their Operations Manual.

I was leading a workshop this summer, and we co-created a covenant for that moment in time together. Someone raised their hand and asked me unpack the term “covenant” for them.  “Is a covenant a promise you won’t ever break?” they asked.  “Quite the contrary,” I answered.  It’s a promise you can count on breaking because it calls us to our highest selves and we are merely human.  I think the most important part of the covenant isn’t the “how to” but the “what happens when we fail and need to get back on track.”  The Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation has a Conflict Transformation Team to help with just that.  Ministers and/or Pastoral Care Teams may get involved to help people in their personal discernment of remorse and individual path toward forgiveness.  And there is always the district Healthy Congregations Team, which provides training, consultation and assessment for congregations who wish to embrace healthy communications and proactively deal with conflict.

This process is sacred religious education.  When I have failed and need to find my way back into right relations I have relied heavily on the Jewish process of repentance, teshuva:

1. Recognize and discontinue the inappropriate behavior or mistake.

2. Verbally confess the behavior, action and/ or mistake to the person(s) to who was affected.

3. Regret the behavior, action and/ or mistake. Evaluate the negative impact this action may have had on you or on others.

4. Devise a plan to rectify the behavior, action and/or mistake.  Sometimes something cannot be repaired, but you may be able to change a pattern or cycle so that the chance that a repeat offense will take place is minimized.

5. Then you may ask for forgiveness from those to whom you have done wrong.

What a process!  I crave this for our religious communities.  This is the hard, loving work of intentional religious communities living into our collective calling. When we live into our best selves as individuals and as a community love and joy are free to stream in.  We don’t have to get it perfect.  But it helps to know what the expectations are and to be given the freedom and support to fix it when we get it wrong. This is real transformational growth.  I want that for everyone.  It has the power to heal the world. And that is why I’m an evangelical Unitarian Universalist.

When we fall out of right relationship and/or break covenant there is an opportunity for Religious Education.  May we have the courage to embrace it with grace.

Note:  This article was published on the http://www.pnwd.org website in the spring of 2009.  It posted here by requested.

Spiritual Support Plan

Many families have a safety plan in case of a fire or an earthquake.  We have squirreled away flashlights, batteries, candles and water.  We have given a list of emergency contacts to care providers and schools.

But what about a Spiritual Support Plan?  Do you know what each person in your family or church team needs when life has thrown them a challenge?  What is your family ritual to get back on track?  Is it a batch of Gramma Erma’s cookies and the movie Princess Bride with you all piled on the coach together? Perhaps one person needs you to rub their back and sing a childhood lullaby to ground them in their family roots.  On your church team maybe it’s a walk down by the river or coffee at a nearby bakery.

What is your collective plan and individual plans?  What is the code word or phrase for help? What is the signal that you can send across the crowded room to let your loved one know that you see them struggling and are sending special love lives, that they are not alone?

This piece was taken from a workbook called REjoice, REfresh, REcharge:  Spiritual Care for Religious Educators and Other Religious Leaders.  It is free to download by clicking on the title above.  It is a PDF formatted for legal size paper.  If you print it out on both sides it assembles nicely into a booklet.   If this is a resource you’d like to offer your RE team and would like to personalize it, please contact me and I’ll email you the document in Publisher:  tkoerger@uua.org.