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. Michael Moore said 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.


5 Shades of Ministry

Allegheny UU Church in Pittsburgh, PA has a commitment to shared ministry.
Allegheny UU Church in Pittsburgh, PA has a commitment to shared ministry.

I’ve spent most of my summer working with different programs and events that help to grow lay leaders in our faith.  I have had the blessing of encountering dozens of earnest, committed and evangelical lay leaders wanting to spread the good news of our liberal faith.  Ministry shows up in many forms, and each has high value and an important role in the life of our faith communities.  Often ordained ministry is held up as “real ministry,” relegating other forms of ministry to lesser status.  I think all forms of ministry are important and complementary.

Ministry comes in many shades that, when layered, become a  rich hue. I can think of five — perhaps you might come up with more.

  • Pastoral Ministry is compassion.
    It is offering comfort and care to each other when we are in need.
  • Teaching Ministry is consciousness.
    It is encouraging one another to form our beliefs, live our values and engage our world.
  • Prophetic Ministry is agency.
    It is how we use our religious convictions to transform the world.
  • Ordained Ministry is devotion.
    It is a life devoted to serving the transcendent religious ideal.
  • Shared Ministry is covenantal.
    It is the time and intention that lay people carve out of their busy lives, also in their commitment to partner in serving the transcendent religious ideal. It is the time and attention that the clergy give to the spiritual formation of those leaders. Shared ministry is the greatest of these because it creates space for all gifts of ministry.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Leadership Development Consultant

 

 

 

Art Doesn’t Happen by Committee – Part 2

I had just finished leading a worship service as a guest preacher. This congregation had been experiencing a gentle decline in membership over the past decade. Several congregants came up to me afterward and exclaimed, “It was wonderful how the music, the readings and the children’s story all connected to the sermon. Did you plan for that to happen?”  Actually, I made sure to work with the music director, the religious educator and the worship associate to help that to happen.  I casted my vision of the theme and made some suggestions, and they made other suggestions, and together we created a holistic service.

paletteWorship is a peculiar art form, especially in Unitarian Universalist congregations. The meaning of the word is derived from the Old English weorthscipe: ‘worthiness, acknowledgment of worth.’  In our traditional style of worship, we have a sermon, which is a kind of teaching, and the liturgy, which is the form of the rest of the service.  The meaning of the word liturgy is derived from the Greek lēitos ‘public’ + -ergos ‘working.’

In too many of our congregations’ worship services, there is a disconnect between the elements of the liturgy because the individuals contributing to it do not have a shared vision of the theme, or are not in alignment with the theme.

Similar to when an artist selects a palette of colors for a painting, the worship team should ensure that the elements of the liturgy blend together to achieve the desired overall effect. Having several diverse people contributing and riffing off of one another helps to create a rich experience.  However, there should always be a designated leader of the team who can make the final decision when there is disagreement or lack of direction.  Usually, that leader is the minister — a trained professional in Worship Arts and entrusted with “freedom of the pulpit” by the congregation.

When there is not a leader trusted with being the actual leader of worship for the congregation, or worse yet, there are factions that “control” the different elements of the Sunday service, the quality of worship suffers, and those who come for religious and/or spiritual sustenance leave unfed.

This year, the various worship services at our annual General Assembly had a much more holistic quality than they had in previous years.  The reason?  There was clear leadership by a worship professional who was entrusted with the authority to oversee the worship services and to ensure cohesiveness and connection to the overall theme of “Love Reaches Out.”

To me, the worship also seemed to have a deeper quality, because of the common theme and the variations on that theme that each worship service provided.  (There is a movement among vibrant congregations to use monthly themes for worship, faith development classes and small group ministry for this very reason!)  Reconnecting to our depth is what will help our faith bend the arc of the universe toward love and justice.

In the closing worship service, Nora Collins shared a reading from “Reimagining the American Dream”, an essay by Marilyn Sewell that captures the need for depth:

I [am] intrigued by…words often attributed to Rudolf Behro, an East German dissident: “When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.” I…[think] about us as Unitarian Universalists. This is who we are—we are not afraid to be insecure. We are not afraid to search, to go deeper, to find the truth, even when the truth is unpalatable. We are seekers who want to live out of that truth….

 

Unitarian Universalists, though few in number, can be the yeast in the loaf. However, let us be wary of the usual distractions and follies of our movement. It’s grown-up time now. We [can] no longer prioritize petty quarrels about how “religious” our language should be, conflicts between the humanists and the more spiritually inclined, or squabbles about who is in charge. The mission of the church is not to meet our needs; the mission of the church is to heal our world. It is to give ourselves to something larger than ourselves. Ironically, when we give of ourselves in this way, we find that our deepest needs are met.

Resources for Worship:

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Leadership Development Consultant, CERG (The Central East Regional Group)

Do You Have Zombie Programs?

The new year offers a new opportunity to take stock of how your congregation is serving its mission.

By Matt Erasmus http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattzn/7568810892/
Photo by Matt Erasmus http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattzn/7568810892/

 

Invite your leadership team to take stock of your current program offerings.

  • Is the program bringing in new life in the form of new participants?
  • Is the program a brain-drain or money pit, or is it using resources in proportion to its impact?
  • Does the program have a connection to Unitarian Universalist core values, ethics or theology?
  • Is the program encouraging people to spiritual growth?
  • Does it set yearly goals and stretch goals, then work to meet them?

After all, we are the “living tradition,” not the “living dead” tradition.  😉

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke CERG Leadership Development Consultant

 

 

Blessings in the New Year

cordiceJohn W.V. Cordice, M.D. died recently, four days after Christmas to be precise.  A native of Durham, North Carolina, he earned his medical degree at New York University in 1942.  Formally an attending surgeon and chief of thoracic surgery at Harlem Hospital Center, he practiced medicine in New York for 40 years. 

On September 20, 1958, Dr. Cordice was off duty when a young but already influential minister and civil rights leader by the name of Martin Luther King was brought into the Harlem Hospital with a 7 inch steel blade stuck in his chest, millimeters from his aorta.  Dr. King had been signing books in Harlem when a woman stabbed him with a letter opener.  So close to death was Dr. King that if he had sneezed before surgeons had a chance to remove the object, he would have died.  Rushing to the hospital, Dr. Cordice and an associate, Dr. Emil Naclerio performed the operation to save Dr. King’s life.  14 days later, Dr. King was discharged from Harlem Medical Center and resumed a career and a passion that would change the lives of millions of people.

 As leaders in our Unitarian Universalist faith, we never know what acts we may perform that will change the course of the lives of others.  As ministers, staff and lay leaders, each time we deliver a sermon or coordinate a fund drive or attend a community rally, we change history.  Each time we sit down to a Board meeting or teach a religious education class, or lend an ear and a heart to someone who is hurting, we save lives.

As we enter a new year of service together, we must never underestimate the importance of what we do nor overestimate the blessings we receive in having the opportunity to do it.

Happy New Year

 -Mark Bernstein, CERG Consultant

 

Could the “Nones” Become Unitarian Universalists? Part 3

Part 2 is available here.

So the leaders of the UUA have identified the “nones” as a possible growth area for UU congregations.  Now what? What is the UUA doing to reach out to the “nones?”

The first thing to realize is that this is an emerging challenge that doesn’t have any ready solutions, and all religious denominations are in the same boat.  The population of the “nones” has a lot of variety (from new-age spiritual to atheist) so no one answer could be the answer.  There is no “program” that will “fix” this challenge.

We do know that congregations need to re-think aspects of how they “do church.”  We do have some bits and pieces of information from current studies.  In other words, this is a classic adaptive challenge where we need to function as a learning community, with high-learning, low-risk experiments.

That’s why the Congregations and Beyond initiative may be disappointing, maybe even confusing.  We are expecting a program.  We are hoping for a program. Instead we have a framework and tools that are helping us to creatively address the challenge with innovation and cross-pollination.

The 2014 General Assembly theme of “Love Reaches Out” will provide an opportunity to continue the conversation.  The GA Program Application (Due November 1) instructions specifically asks for innovation:

Because this is an adaptive challenge, there is an understanding that there are no easy or sure answers, so we encourage the spirit of experimentation, e.g. learning from mistakes as well as from successes. Workshops that share examples of something that you are currently trying are encouraged—even if your experiment doesn’t feel “ready for prime time.”

If you don’t want to wait for General Assembly, here are some tools that you can use immediately:

From the information gleaned from the Pew and Barna research (mentioned in the first two parts of this series) we understand there are two areas of young adult ministry that we need to pay attention to.  One is facilitating opportunities for developing relationships with other people in the congregation.  The other is innovating to provide the engagement and depth in addressing the questions and needs of young adults in today’s context.  The UUA Young Adult office has created a handy self-assessment and other resources to help your congregation, especially in the relationship-building area.

asset_upload_file363_289139

 

 

Could the “Nones” Become Unitarian Universalists? Part 2

Part 1 is available here.

The descriptions of  the values of many “spiritual but not religious” people line up pretty nicely with what our UU Man and a Woman with Their Heads Together Smilingreligious communities could be, or at least what they should at least aspire to be.   We have young adult UUs living out UU values in newly-formed “beyond congregation” communities such as the Lucy Stone Cooperative and Beloved Café.  But we are have hundreds of traditional congregations–communities of people with checkered histories and institutional baggage.

Another study, by the Barna Group has discovered what is working–at least with Millennials–to enable young adults to stay connected to church.  Here are some highlights from the article (translated for UU theology) that can help inform our existing congregations of ways to help our congregations be relevant for younger generations (though the Barna study focused on Millennials, many of these are also true for younger Gen Xers):

    1. Making room for meaningful relationships.  …Seven out of 10 Millennials who dropped out of church did not have a close friendship with an adult and nearly nine out of ten never had a mentor at the church.
    2. Cultural Discernment.  …Millennials need help learning how to apply their hearts and minds to today’s cultural realities. In many ways, pop culture has become the driver of religion for Millennials, so helping them think and respond rightly to culture should be a priority.
    3. Shared Ministry.   “Effective ministry to Millennials means helping these young adults discover their own mission in the world, not merely asking them to wait their turn.”
    4. Vocational Discipleship. Taking shared ministry a step further, today’s young adults are more interested in making their faith a part of their daily lives.  (See the “beyond congregations” examples above)
    5. Faith Formation. Provide opportunities for young adults to “go deep” within the church’s own faith development programming.  Many large congregations (such as First Unitarian Rochester) have created programs that are available by subscription.

Next:  What does this mean for UU congregations?

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Consultant

 

Could the “Nones” become Unitarian Universalists? Part 1

Young Adult ministry has been a challenge for congregations of all liberal protestant denominations for decades but the game is changing in ways we couldn’t have imagined back in the post WWII chufourteen year old teenage with aggressive bully expressionrch building boom.  There has been a lively conversation on the UU-Leaders email list about how to address the rise of the “nones,”  i.e. people who do not identify with any religious denomination.  Many of our leaders believe that this is a fertile ground for UU evangelism.  In this blog series I will share why I agree.

The UUA does not have the financial resources to do our own research. However there are plenty of other organizations that do have the resources, and we pay close attention to their findings.

The latest research from the Pew Institute shows that close to 20% of the population and 30% of the Millennial generation (born after 1985) state “no religious preference” i.e. “none.”  40% of those who identify as politically liberal also can be labeled as “nones.”

This is not to imply that these rising number of “no religious preference” means there is a corresponding rise in atheism or even in humanism.  Indeed, a year ago, in research published by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, they found that:

that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.

(The study elaborates that many of the social political issues, such as protesting gay marriage and reproductive rights, are the ones that most concern this group.)

Churches have potential to meet the spiritual needs of this group, but they have developed a bad reputation.  Conservative churches are too restrictive.  And the liberal churches have not been all that compelling (What is the “there” there?) as an alternative.  This is changing.  Books such as Liberating Hope: Daring to Renew the Mainline Church by Michael Piazza help congregational leaders to imagine frameworks for liberal religion that allow for transformational ministry, not institutional maintenance.

Next:  What is working to keep Millennials in church?

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Consultant

Hide it under a Bushel? No!

Are all of the members and friends of your church aware of all of the outreach ministries of your church?  Is the wider community aware of who you are serving and how?  Churches need to tell their stories, advises a recent article in the Christian Century. Author George Mitrovich explains

When my liberal friends dismiss church and people of faith, I realize that part of what is going on is that they are just ignorant about all that churches do.  They are ignorant in part because churches are silent about what they are doing.

Here are some tips and examples of how to share your good works with your members, friends and community.

  • Have a page on your website that mentions your outreach efforts.  Include items such as:
    • A list of “Share the Plate” recipients and amounts donated
    • Community affiliations (NAACP, Interfaith Groups, Social Services, Community Organizing groups, legislative groups, LGBTQ groupsBushel
    • Donated/discounted space for other groups (12-step, scouts, homeschoolers, concerts, plays)
    • Participation in community events (CROP Walk, arts events, county fairs, farmers markets)
  • Regularly send press releases to your local news outlets sharing your stories.  (See the Public Relations Resource page on uua.org)
  • Write stories about your members’ experiences with your outreach ministries and publish them in your newsletter and on a blog linked to your website, Facebook page and Twitter account.
  • Post stories on your Facebook page and encourage your members to share the stories on their own pages

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Leadership Development Consultant
Central East Regional Group

Learning as a UU Virtue

William Ellery Channing

…self-culture is possible, not only because we can enter into and search ourselves. We have a still nobler power, that of acting on, determining and forming ourselves. This is a fearful as well as glorious endowment, for it is the ground of human responsibility. We have the power not only of tracing our powers, but of guiding and impelling them, not only of watching our passions, but of controlling them, not only of seeing our faculties grow, but of applying to them means and influences to aid their growth.
-from “Self Culture” by William Ellery Channing

“Faith Formation” is a topic that has been geting a lot of attention lately.  Most of the UUA field staff have attended a Faith Formation 2020 training to enable us to adapt to changing culture and new technology.  Implicit in the idea of faith formation is that part of being faithful is to be a life-long learner.  We are works in progress and can always improve ourselves.

This striving for perfection is part of our DNA that we inherited from the Puritans, and shows up in the writings of William Ellery Channing.  I would even say that there is a moral imperative to improve our minds while living into our ideals.

A recent editorial by David Brooks in the New York Times–“The Learning Virtures”– contrasts differences between how the Chinese and Westerners approach learning.   He summarizes:

The simplest way to summarize her findings is that Westerners tend to define learning cognitively while Asians tend to define it morally. Westerners tend to see learning as something people do in order to understand and master the external world. Asians tend to see learning as an arduous process they undertake in order to cultivate virtues inside the self.

When I read this, I thought of Channing, and his essay “Self Culture.”   When I read it, I hear a moral imperative for self improvement.   It was written as introduction to the Franklin Lectures in Boston, which was created as an opportunity for young men (because only men were thought worth educating at the time) to improve themselves.

I would like to think that, as leaders, we commit to lifelong learning so that we continue to improve ourselves as we serve the faith.