People Get Ready, Part 2

Abridged Excerpt from “The Future of Justice Ministries” by Rev. David Pyle
The Keynote for the UU Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network Annual Meeting 2016

I always default to hope. It is the most constant aspect of my personality. And yet, hope has seemed more difficult these last few days. I could not stand here before you to share about the future of Justice Ministries in our congregations and our movement without acknowledging that hope is harder right now, for myself and I think for many of us. And yet, hope is at the center of what I think religion brings to humanity. Hope is at the center of my understanding of this religious movement of Unitarian Universalism.

And so, it is hope that I am committed to bringing to all of us in this moment when for many of us hope is hard. Hope is most powerful when it is difficult. Hope is most transformative when it is challenged. When hope is easy to hold, we take it for granted. I clearly saw that hope can be taken for granted this week, in that the word “hope” did not appear even once in the first draft of this address, written several weeks ago. I did not use the word, because it seemed to me to be assumed. That early draft took a tone of “of course we are living in hopeful times… we have made progress in so many areas, and conversations that have long been avoided are now being engaged.”

One of the spiritual learnings I have had from this moment in our culture is that we should never assume hope. Hope must be created in every moment. And, as a people of liberal faith, it falls to us to create the hope in the future within this world, more than hope for a future once this mortal coil falls away. We of liberal faith, we are called to be the bringers of hope for this world, in these times, for us all.

And, there is reason to hope. Over my years of serving as a chaplain, as a minister, and as a consultant to congregations, I have come to believe that the opposite of hope is not despair. No, the opposite of hope is apathy. It is the belief that nothing can change. The belief that nothing matters. The belief that nothing can be done. When hope seems absent, the most common reaction is for people to throw up their hands and withdraw. Despair is almost better than apathy, because those in despair still care, and care deeply about the outcome. They are still invested. They still believe in the dreamed of future that hope points us to, even if they despair of finding a path to that future at that moment. Despair you can work with… but apathy?

Apathy is no longer caring. It says that hope is not possible, for there is nothing to hope for. No purpose to hope. Hope is a delusion. Hope cannot make any difference. Apathy is one of the most difficult emotions to work with, because there is nothing to draw someone towards.

And this is why I am hopeful in this moment… because I am beginning to see apathy ending all around us. Not among those of us who already gather in the sanctuaries and basements of Unitarian Universalist churches… if you are willing to get up on a Sunday morning, drive into a church (even if we call it something else), and listen to a preacher talk about who knows what, you have probably already pushed your way out of apathy. You have come because you care. Because we care, we are often the ones feeling despair, when we see no clear paths of how we get to the future to which we have committed ourselves and our movement… the future of beloved community, with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Our challenge is to keep caring, no matter what. From that hope is born.

No, what I see happening around us right now is apathy ending. I see millions of people who have felt as if nothing they did would make any difference, I see them beginning to care. On both sides of the political aisle, I am seeing people awake from apathy to caring. And if they care, then we can be in conversation about what we care about, and where the intersections may be. No such conversation is possible with those who do not care.

In saying that, I do not want to make light of the human cost of that awakening, nor do I want to seem to say that the fear and hatred that has come out of the shadows of our society is somehow a good thing. I will tell you, right now, I’m scared. I am scared for all the people I love who hold marginalized identities. I know that many of my friends and loved ones are scared. I am scared for myself, and for all of the members of our military whom I serve as a chaplain, as well as all the Unitarian Universalists and others out there who have been and will continue to be the target of the racism, hatred, and otherization that has been intentionally released and empowered in our society. People I know and love are going to be hurt. Have already been hurt. Some may even die. Aspects of Justice and of building the beloved community are being seriously damaged. I am scared.

And… I learned long ago that bravery is being scared… and doing your job anyway. Feeling the fear and stepping up to what the world needs from you anyway. If you are not afraid, you cannot be brave.

Hope and bravery… the pastor in me hopes that if you leave here with nothing else today, you leave here centered on these two things. Hope in the inspiration of the Beloved Community that we will build. And bravery for the challenges that lay ahead, no matter how rightfully afraid we are in this moment. And, one more thing… I hope you leave here with an awareness for who we are, and what purpose we, the Movement of Unitarian Universalism, what purpose we are called to play in such times as these.

I will echo my colleague the Rev. Mark Stringer, who said in his Sunday Morning Worship Service sermon at a General Assembly in Providence Rode Island a few years ago that we “Unitarian Universalists are the people who show up”. That when there is a call to something… an action, a protest, a city council meeting, a healing session, a dialogue… no matter what it is, when the spirit of justice is moving somewhere, for some purpose, we Unitarian Universalists show up. We may not even fully know why we are showing up, but we do anyway. We may not have a theology and methodology to justify why we are there. We are just there. Our presence matters more than the why.

I remember a conversation I once had with a Social Worker in Ventura, California, who was a conservative Catholic. As we were talking about how to help one particular family who were experiencing homelessness find their way back into housing, I complimented her on her ability to work with me and our church’s homelessness advocacy program, even though she knew our theologies were so very different.

She looked at me very seriously, and she said, “Well, I learned years ago that you can’t work on Justice in Ventura if you can’t work with the Unitarians. Because you all are everywhere.” We are the people who show up, not just when there is a specific call to action, but also when it is just the every-day work of Justice. Because, one of the commonalities I have found among Unitarian Universalists is that we care. And because we care, we are there.

The second foundation that I think we have brought, and must bring again to the work of building the belovedcooltext215364241585579 community, is that we are the infrastructure of the revolution. I do not remember who said it, but I once heard an activist say that he thanked God for the Unitarian Universalists, because in between all the times that the revolution was out on the streets, it was recovering and being nurtured in the basements of Unitarian Universalist churches. It has happened so many times I have lost count… I would say to some activist that I am a Unitarian Universalist Minister, and they would respond with, “Oh, I’ve been to a UU Church! I was there for a training in non-violent communication and action” or “I was at your church for a panel discussion on low-income housing” or “Hey, you all gave us money to print all those flyers last year” or “I came to a candle-light vigil there when an unarmed black man was killed by the police”.

All revolutions need a sanctuary. They need a place to rest, recover, and organize. They need a place to train. They need a place to build the relationships that hold people fast in the midst of trial and adversity. Our congregations are a part of this sanctuary. We are not the only place, there are indeed other religious traditions that also play this role. But I will make this claim. Of all the religious traditions who serve as sanctuary and institutional support for the work of creating the beloved community, we Unitarian Universalists have a greater ability to draw people into the revolution from the dominant culture than many of our allies do. That is both a blessing and a challenge. It is a blessing in the ways that we can grow and spread the movement. It is a challenge in the ways in which we sometimes express the dominant culture within our efforts for transformation and change. Our work in being that sanctuary is to be of service to the revolution, and to resist the impulse to lead it. We are at our best when we are in partnership and service to the revolution of love and justice.

The third foundation that I think we bring is what I began with. We bring hope. We bring the ability to care about people, the future, and the world. We bring a fierce determination that is rooted in the idea that it is up to us to build the world that we want to live in. A fierce determination that it is our hands that can and will change the world, and a faith that the world can be changed. Our faith is rooted in the here and now… it is rooted in the possibilities within this world. Within humanity. Within our lives and our communities. Unitarian Universalists bring an optimism of immediacy to the revolution of beloved community.

During the work of Ending Homelessness in California, I was sitting with an activist who had fought tirelessly to win a vote in the Ventura City Council. After the vote was taken and we had lost, she talked about her own despair. She then said that the Unitarian Universalists were her inspiration… because we never give up. The moment has stayed with me, for two reasons. First, she was right… my congregation members were standing in the back corner of the room, already planning what our next steps were in light of losing the vote. But second, it struck me that because we would never give up our belief in building a just, sustainable, and peaceful world, neither would she.

We are the people who show up. We are the sanctuary of the revolution. And we are the people who do not give up. And that is who the world needs us to be.

 

Rev. David Pyle
Rev. David Pyle

The Rev. David Pyle is a member of the UUA’s Central East Regional Staff, and serves the congregations of the Delmarva Penninsula, Greater Baltimore, and Central Pennsylvania as their UUA Staff Primary Contact.  He also serves as a U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain for the 439th Multifuncitonal Medical Battalion at Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.


People Get Ready, Part 1

Following the shock of this week’s presidential election and the social turmoil it has welcoming-vs-otheringprecipitated, UU Churches should expect an influx of first-time visitors and returning old friends. On social media, people are looking for community and are being pointed to our congregations. Gone are the days when a liberals asked with puzzlement, “You’re a Uni-What?”

We need to be ready, this Sunday. We need to be at our best, showing up on the Side of Love, and ready to meet people where they are. We need to encounter one another without assumptions and stereotypes clouding our interactions.

What you can do:

  • Print and share this 2-sided welcoming tips card with your greeters (both formal in informal) so they can practice open-ended questions.
  • Add intercultural communication skills to your greeter training, such as this Welcome Table course.
  • Signal that your congregation includes allies of marginalized groups. Have a bowl of safety pins and a copy of this article explaining what they are for.  You may even want to incorporate passing them out as part of the Sunday service of part of our commitment to bend the arc of the universe toward justice, one human encounter at a time.

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff

The Bubble of Beloved Community

Sometimes, living in a bubble can be a good thing. It can create a barrier between harmful things on the outside and precious things on the insidebubble-by-serg-c.

In some ways, our congregational covenants operate in this way. They articulate that “in this community, this is how we will be together.” We promise to treat one another not only with respect, but with a sense of mutuality so that every one of us can flourish. We promise to work toward becoming our best selves, to learn from our mistakes and to help one another learn and grow.

As religious liberal communities, especially in the current climate of hateful rhetoric, we have a responsibility to model to the rest of the world how we believe people should treat one another. When our congregations are at their best, the are truly communities of people who care deeply and feel cared for.

The funny thing about bubbles is that–no matter how beautiful they may be–it’s human nature to want to pop them. It’s also not uncommon in human nature for some of us to want to pop the fragile bubble of beloved community. This is why our congregations must keep and renew our covenants with the same patience and persistence as a parent blowing bubbles for a toddler.

But sometimes more than a gentle reminder is needed when one of us is out of covenant. If someone persists with a behavior that is hurting the community, congregational leaders need to rely on good, faithful policies to address disruptive behavior. If someone is using racist, sexist, sexual or threatening language, the leaders have a responsibility to step up and stop the behavior, and the members of the congregation has a responsibility to support them in setting those limits.

Now might be a good time to review and refresh your congregation’s covenant as well as your safety policies, especially around disruptive behavior. Let’s keep our bubbles intact.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff

Resources:

http://www.uua.org/safe/disruptive-behavior-policies

https://www.uua.org/leadership/skills/conflict

Never Call Them Jerks By Arthur Paul Boers

 

Is Your Congregation Feeling Contractions?

Photo © summerbl4ck (Flickr)
Photo © summerbl4ck (Flickr)
  • Is your congregation’s attendance flat or declining?
  • Are the results from your stewardship campaign disappointing?
  • Are you dipping into an endowment to help cover your operating expenses?
  • Are you thinking about cutting the budget by reducing the working hours of your program staff (e.g. minister, religious educator, music director, membership coordinator)?
  • Are the same leaders and volunteers doing everything that they have been doing for years, perhaps even decades?

These are all signs of a congregation in decline.

There are many forces at play for today’s congregations, many of them outside of the control of congregational leaders.

  1. Fewer people belong to a church. In fact, fewer people feel the need to claim any particular faith tradition.
    The changing context of religion in America has been well-documented by the Pew Forum and other research agencies.
  2. The demographic bubble of the Baby Boomers is not bursting, but it is deflating slowly.
    Boomers are retiring in droves and have more time to volunteer, so they may not be making room for or accommodating the needs of the younger generations. Boomers are moving into a different financial phase of life.
  3. There are not many Gen Xers in our congregations.
    This is partly because there were fewer babies born between 1960 and 1980. When Xers did show up to church, they often got frustrated when the church seemed stuck in old habits. Xers had learned to be adaptable to survive in a contracting economy but those skills weren’t always welcome in our congregations. And that contracting economy has left Xers with more debt and lower wages so they are often not able to give at the levels that the retiring Boomers have been giving.

The Good News

The message that Unitarian Universalism offers is attractive to emerging adults and to those who have found the faith of their childhood hypocritical or just stale. We also have a lot of other UU congregations and leaders who are already imagining or experimenting with ways to renew existing congregations or to plant new faith communities. We have congregations who have grown in spite of the changing context.

What to do:

Although it may be tempting for leaders to go for the technical fixes (like reducing staff hours), the real challenge is adaptive, calling for the church as a whole to struggle with a process of renewal so that it can “give birth” to a new iteration of itself.

  • Start with some deep group spiritual discernment.
    What is your congregation’s “center?” What is your vision of the “Beloved Community?” What are you called to do in the world? How are you in covenant with one another and with the expanse of our interconnectedness with the universe?
  • Practice detachment when it comes to outcomes
    Find a way to ground yourselves during the process so that you make room both for the synergy and surprising possibilities of renewal and for the prospect that the congregation has run its course and the conversation should turn to ending well and leaving a legacy.
  • Find the courage to “Experi-fail” and make it a new part of your congregational culture
    Adaptive challenges require a lot of experiments and learning opportunities for the community as a whole.
  • Become a “learning community
    Learn more about the changing context and what is working for growing congregations. Look to nearby congregations for ideas, possible partnerships or sharing of resources.  Your UUA Regional staff can help connect you, if you don’t already have those relationships.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, UUA Central East Region

Resources:

Turning Point: Essays on a New Unitarian Universalism

Partner and Multisite Congregations

Love Reaches Out resources

UUA Resources on Mission

UU Leadership Institute

Church Governance Should Serve, Not Rule

Rev. David Pyle
Rev. David Pyle

Congregations often look to the corporate and not-for-profit worlds for models of leadership, organizational development, fundraising and volunteer management. Unfortunately, they also look there for models of governance to the detriment of their core purpose.  Congregations are ground in covenant, not bound in contract, so the relationship between minister and governing boards should not copy the relationship between a CEO and a corporate board.

Rev. David Pyle, Congregational Life Consultant in the Central East Region, recently shared what congregational governance should look like on his Facebook Page:

1. The purpose of church is not governance.

The purpose of church is mission. The purpose of church is transforming lives to transform the world. Governance is important only as it helps you to live your mission in the world. If you are spending more time on governance than you are on mission, something is wrong. Governance should free your congregation for mission, not serve as a replacement for mission.

2. Corporate style governance systems were not designed for religious community.

Neither were traditional non-profit governance systems. Both import an adversarial mindset between the Governing Board and the Executive that is detrimental to religious mission. Both depend on the Board’s ability to terminate the Executive, which Congregational Boards often cannot do (called ministry). You can make corporate or traditional non-profit governance systems work in congregations, and it takes significant energy and effort, often detracting that effort and energy from mission.

3. There is no perfect governance system.

Governance is about providing some order to the power relationships amongst human beings working together for a common purpose… and human beings are endlessly creative, messy, and chaotic. Governance is far more art than science, because human beings are infinitely complex. Good governance is a creative compromise, and it takes leaders who keep their eye on mission. Good governance is about how can we best all build the “world made whole”.

4. There are many forms of good governance.

Almost as many as their are churches. I am not picky. If Policy Governance helps you best fulfill your mission, then Amen Hallelujah! If having an Operational Board works best for you, then Amen Hallelujah! I even know a Portfolio Board or two that achieve mission well, and a few Family Model congregations who kick serious mission butt. I am not a Governance Fundamentalist. Because it is your religious mission that is vital, not necessarily how you get there. Whatever you do, do what best leads you to mission.

5. Institutional structures come, and institutional structures go.

They are tools, not talismans. They must change as time and culture changes. It is religious mission that remains. Neither Jesus nor Buddha founded significant church structures or governance, they left that to their followers. They focused on religious mission. If your governance is supporting your religious mission, amen. If not, then change tools. But realize they are only tools (including Congregational polity). Letting governance or polity replace mission as the center of our religious focus is a form of idolatry. Our eyes must be on the mission of transformed lives that transform the world, and we must craft tools that best help us to achieve that.

Especially Congregational governance.

Congregational Fitness for Ministry

Today’s post was written by the Rev. Dr. Matthew Johnson, Senior Minister of the UU Church in Rockford, IL.

Given the increasing shortage of UU ministers, congregations might wish for a simple

Rev. Dr. Matthew Johnson
Rev. Dr. Matthew Johnson

way to evaluate their own fitness for ministry. Ministers, likewise, might find an objective scale helpful in discerning whether a congregation is ready for them. This scale is similar to the hoped for outcomes of interim ministry, though not identical. This is not a scale of comprehensive congregational health – that would look at things like theological maturity, generosity, anti-oppression, and more. (More about that, below). This is simpler.

How do you use this? A board, search committee, and/or committee on ministry might do a self-assessment, with their minister. Do folks agree on where they are placed? If not, why not? Where can you move up easily, and what will be harder?

Ministers in search can assess a potential match — though what is presented from the outside might not be what’s true on the inside – in either direction. A low score doesn’t mean that a congregation is unhealthy and a high score doesn’t mean they are. A minister might choose a congregation that seems less ready for a variety of reasons — including a sense that helping such a place is part of their call.

There are five categories, with a 1-4 rating. A score of 10 or below probably means developmental ministry. A score of 15 or more is very ready. I would not choose a church that didn’t have at least two “4’s” or had more than two “2’s” or less.

Mission

4. The church has a strong sense of mission, to change lives in and out of the church.

3. The church is a beacon for liberal values, and many people are engaged in outward ministry.

2. The church is a refuge for liberal people, and some work in the community for good.

1. The church is a club-house and resists any effort to change the world, let alone the

gathered people.

Participation

4. Many people joyfully participate in worship, leadership, and social activities. The minister has strong partners in the ministry.

3. There is a core of active leaders in many areas.

2. Though there are some good leaders, the minister is expected to drive most of the ministry.

1. Members see themselves as consumers of the ministry, not co-creators or owners of the church. (Unless there is conflict with the minister.)

Respect for Authority

4. The church values the minister’s expertise and authority in theology, leadership, worship, and care. The minister is the clear chief of staff.

3. Most members respect the minister most of the time, but an undercurrent of suspicion may be present.

2. Members often question the minister’s authority and judgement. Some act out, and leaders let it go unchallenged.

1. The minister is seen as a service provider whose job is to make people happy. They are regularly critiqued and attacked. They are not consulted about important decisions.

Pay

4. The congregation is joyfully fair-compensation.

3. Though some members grumble about it, the congregation is fair-compensation and committed to remaining so.

2. Many leaders want to be fair-compensation, but the congregation isn’t there yet.

1. The congregation is not fair-compensation and doesn’t really see why they should be.

Balance

4. The congregation insists that the minister maintains a healthy work-life balance, and joyfully welcomes the minister’s family, if any, at the level they wish to be engaged.

3. The congregation respects the minister’s boundaries and need for time off.

2. Though most members respect the minister’s time off, some do not, and the congregation sees this as the minister’s problem to solve.

1. The congregation regularly invades the minister’s time off, privacy, and family life.

Your total score__________.

Note: Again, this is not a comprehensive scale of health.

A minister and a congregation might look at other key factors as well, for example (not a complete list):

  • Anti-racism and anti-oppression: A “4” would have commitments to intercultural competency and a systemic understanding of oppression. A “1” wouldn’t want their minister to talk about it too much and an implicit commitment to minimization.
  • UU identity: A “4” might mean they embrace their UU identity and relationships whilea “1” would mean little to no understanding of, or connection to, Unitarian Universalism. [Thanks to Rev. Erika Hewitt for this one!]
  • Financial Health: A “4” would have clear policies, transparency and inclusion of the minister in financial affairs (including full access to pledging data) and so forth.
  • Theological maturity: A “4” would embrace mystery and metaphor with grace, a “1” would be excessively literalistic and reactive to any religious language.

Generally speaking, if a congregation scores well on the basic measure they can make progress together on these things. But a congregation that isn’t very “fit for ministry” will have a hard time making sustained progress on other measures of health and vitality.

One last note: A congregation that gets a lower score might really need a good minister. Indeed, they might be more “in need” than one who scores well. If a congregation that has a lower score can be honest and self-reflective about how they need to grow, a minister will be much more likely to work with them. So, if you’ve got a score under 12, but the congregation knows that it needs to change and is on the right path, give yourself a few bonus points. You can do it! Congregations become healthier all the time. The shortage of ministers just gives you one more reason to do so.

 

Finding Your Governance “Sweet Spot”

governance_and_ministryCongregational governance is an art. Church leaders need to learn how to navigate the line between governance and ministry.  In other non-profits, there are different parties to consider:

  • The Board sets mission & vision, makes policy and assures fiduciary responsibility
  • The CEO and staff carry out the mission
  • The Donors help support the mission with their financial gifts
  • The Beneficiaries are the “object” of the non-profit’s mission

In the congregational world, members of the board don’t just govern, they are also donors and beneficiaries and–at times–staff (when they are also serving as part of a ministry such as being a worship associate or being a pastoral visitor). In other words, church governance is a little bit messy.

There is no one-size-fits-all kind of governance for congregations, but there are resources to help UU congregations navigate a governance change. One is the consultants at Unity Consulting, who have adapted John Carver’s Policy Governance® for congregations.

Another is Dan Hotchkiss, former Alban Institute consultant and UUA staff member, and the author of Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership.  Rev. Hotchkiss has just released a second edition of Governance and Ministry.  I had the opportunity to interview him about what he learned since writing the first edition, and about the significant changes compared to the first edition:

 

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, UUA Congregational Life Consultant

Additional resources mentioned in this blog and interview:

Books:

Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, Second Edition by Dan Hotchkiss

Mobilizing Congregations: How Teams Can Motivate Members and Get Things Done by John W. Wimberly Jr.

When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations by Rev. Susan Beaumont and Gil Rendle

Consultants:

Your UUA Regional Staff

Congregational Consulting Group

Unity Consulting

Are Your Church’s Retirement Benefits “Legal?”

January is always a good time for a church to take stock of its fiduciary responsibilities. Rev. Richard Nugent, the UUA Church Staff Finances Director, has some important advice for UU congregations, in particular about how congregations administer their retirement plans:


Congregations are legal entities required to comply with all sorts of legal requirements. While religious institutions

Rev. Richard Nugent, Church Staff Finances Director
Rev. Richard Nugent, Church Staff Finances Director

might be exempt from a FEW legal requirements, churches are NOT exempt from most. This includes many requirements stemming from being an employer.

Today’s post pertains to the UU Organizations Retirement Plan. Our plan is a 401(a)/401(k) non-electing church plan. It is governed by IRS and US Labor Department rules. It is also governed by a plan document that every participating congregation has adopted/re-adopted in 2014 or 2015. In adopting our plan, by motion of your governing board, your congregation committed to abide by the rules of the plan (and hopefully federal regulations).

What does this mean:

1) All employees (and all means all) must be offered enrollment in the plan for purposes of making their own employee contributions toward their retirement.

2) All new employees, who never worked for a UUA-related organization before, MUST receive employer contributions after meeting the requirement of 12 months of employment during which they worked 1,000 hours or more. If someone previously worked for a UUA-related organization and was enrolled in our plan, then they must receive employer contributions from day one of employment. New ministers who completed a UUA-related internship are also eligible immediately. After meeting the 1,000 hour/12 month requirement, if anyone’s hours are reduced, they still receive employer contributions. Essentially, once in our plan, always in our plan.

3) Personnel policies that limit eligibility for retirement benefits to certain employees DO NOT TRUMP THE UUA REQUIREMENTS. Our requirements rule, and congregations agreed to that when they signed on to our plan. .

4 All employees eligible for employer contributions must receive the SAME percentage contribution. THE MINISTER CAN NOT RECEIVE 10% OR MORE WHILE EVERYONE ELSE RECEIVES 5%. This is not allowed by our plan and in violation of IRS regulations. I am happy to discuss this with anyone who finds their congregation in this situation.

5) The minimum employer contribution is 5%. 86% of congregations contribute 10% or more. Fair Compensation requires an offer of 10% or more. People need to put away 14% of their salary to ensure the possibility of retirement.

6) If you believe your congregation might be in violation of these policies, please contact me to discuss how you can legally come into compliance.

7) For any questions about our plan, the very helpful and informative Linda Rose directs our retirement plan. As a spouse of a UU minister, Linda understands congregational dynamics. Linda can be reached at retirement@uua.org.

We at the UUA are appreciative of all the hard work you do, and the challenge of keeping up with administrative details.

Reverend Richard Nugent, UUA Church Staff Finances Director

 

Sprucing Up Your Spiritual Hospitality

Photo Copyright Brad Bolton.
Photo Copyright Brad Bolton.

I’m a “stealth greeter” in my home congregation. I go up to newcomers after a service and strike up a conversation about what brought them to church that day, and then I listen. What are they looking for? Community, meaning, direction and connection to a purpose greater than themselves.

Most of our congregations are pretty good at the first two. We provide community in our social events and meaning in the Sunday worship service. I think it’s because community and meaning are what our older adults are looking for and our older adults run the show and can make sure those are happening.

But the young adults that I talk to are looking for direction and connection to a purpose greater than themselves. A recent article in the Atlantic starts out telling the story of the young adult ramblings of our venerable Henry David Thoreau and how today’s millennials need to find their way into adulthood, not with predetermined markers (job, marriage, house, children) but within their sense of self.

Congregational leaders who want to create a culture that is welcoming to young adult seekers are facing the adaptive challenge of being a community that not only serves the existing members, but also provides spiritual hospitality. This kind of hospitality is based on the Platinum Rule–an intercultural version of the Golden Rule–of doing unto others what they would have done for themselves.

My congregation uses monthly themes and has different ways for people to connect and engage with them. We also strive to offer life-stage groups (single young adult, parents of young children, parents of adolescents, retiree) and other kinds of groups to help people connect and find their own direction. As I share these concrete possibilities with the visitor, I can see their delight as they see the possibility of this becoming their spiritual home.

What might your congregation do to provide spiritual hospitality?

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Consultant

Resources:
Theme-Based Ministry
Adaptive Leadership

One Bad Apple CAN Spoil the Whole Bunch

Photo by Jimmy Poon https://www.flickr.com/photos/jk_poon/2991423132/
Photo by Jimmy Poon https://www.flickr.com/photos/jk_poon/2991423132/

The 1970’s heart-throb boy band The Osmonds provided a disservice with their ear-worm hit song “One Bad Apple.” They sang,

“One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl,
Oh, I don’t care what they say, I don’t care what you heard now”

when it fact it really can and will, especially in our congregations.

By saying “bad apples” I’m referring to behaviors of people in our congregations that can act like the ethylene that rotting fruit emits that will eventually rot the fruit nearby. But instead of causing rot, the human version of the bad apple breaks the bonds of community.

Let me be clear that it’s behaviors that I am talking about, not the people themselves. As creatures of free will, we can make choices about our behavior. As communities, we can set standards of behavior to encourage people to be their best selves, at least at church.  As I’ve heard many parents express, “Going to church helps to remind ourselves that “the world does not revolve around me.”

Congregations that are unable to grow, or that are declining in numbers and enthusiasm often have ignored the bad apples among their midst and yet are puzzled about why visitors don’t return or why new members drift away without saying why.  (Even if they did, it’s a rare congregation who would take such feedback to heart.)

I am passionate about this because–every week–someone walks through the doors of a UU congregation who needs the saving message of liberal religion (you are not inherently sinful!) and the saving community of covenant (we pledge to support and encourage one another to spiritual growth). It breaks my heart when anyone is repelled from “the bunch” of healthy, vibrant community by the “bad apple” of an individual or two.

Why do we tolerate behaviors that repel not just visitors but healthy and contributing members? I think it’s because our leaders exhibit a failure of nerve to stand up to such destructive behaviors and sometimes even enable them with excuses or explanations like:

“Oh, that’s just Jack.  He’s always been like that.  Lot’s of people are huggers.  Jack just doesn’t know when to stop.”

 

“We know that Mary is always criticizing the minister and board, but she is one of our major donors.  We wouldn’t want to risk losing her.”

 

“We’re the only community that Greg has. He may have some incidents of aggressive behavior, but they’ve never happened at church so it’s none of our business.”

 

“It’s too bad that we’ve gone through eight administrators in five years because of Pat pointing our every little mistake. Pat used to be our volunteer administrator and is a member of one of our founding families.  They have too much power for the board to do anything.”

 

“Letting someone like Bill talk for 5 minutes during Joys and Sorrows shows newcomers that we are welcoming and supportive of everyone.”

 

“A lot of our older members had bad experiences with Christian churches in their childhoods.  People should understand when they condemn Christianity they only mean certain kinds of Christians.”

 

“If people aren’t sticking around after a few bad experiences with some of our crankier members, it just means there weren’t all that committed to our church in the first place.”

If you currently have a similar “bad apple” situation in your congregation, don’t despair!  There are many resources to help your leadership team (and it takes a team!) to stand up “to bad apple” behaviors:

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Consultant, Central East Region.

 

Resources: