After the Rockers

SO here’s the thing.

Being a religious educator, I see in every conversation a spark of an idea for connecting people with the spirit.  Whether discussing Dr. Who, McNuggets, sex, or which couch to buy….all topics are explorations of values. Far from being tiring, it is energizing to find connections among people, interests, faith, and action. No news there, right?

The talking is fun, but after the conversations finish there is work to be done…and sometimes I am challenged by the first steps of making the theoretical real. The phrase, “Talk is cheap” comes to mind. So does that make action expensive?  Nah.

One of the lovely realities of this time is that conversations need not be in close physical proximity to be meaningful, productive, and deeply connective. I can continue to throw ideas around with colleagues and friends, adding in the tools of shared documents, drawing in other like minded folks to the project as we go- something that can’t happen while chatting on an island porch.

I adore modern communication tools.

Which is a long introduction to say that tomorrow I am beginning this massive, important, totally exciting project. Stay tuned and watch your inbox.

Ease On Down The Road

keysToday is the day. Today I drop off the keys to the building, leave the welcome letter for the person taking over, get in my car, and leave behind this place that has been so much my center for over a decade.
And I won’t come back.
Professional guidelines dictate a two year period of separation, which allows the congregation to connect with a new Religious Educator. It will also allow me to find my new path. Intellectually, I know this is good practice. Even in my emotions, I know that I and the congregation need a break from each other. But it is still really hard.

Perhaps because I came out of the congregation, I am feeling this departure so strongly. I remember the absolute joy of finding a church, a right fit after many years searching. I had visited several congregations before finding one that had everything I needed: lovely people, a great minister, a beautiful sanctuary, and engagement in the world. Finding this safe place allowed me to plant the seeds of my heart and begin an amazing journey of personal growth.
SO not only am I grieving the loss of a job and relationships with some terrific people, but I am losing my first spiritual home. This is the part which is incomprehensible when taking the leap from congregant to staff person. This is only one of the sound reasons to not hire from within. Thankfully, I listened to the advice of colleagues early on and cultivated other places of spiritual sustenance over the years. I will not be left adrift, but I am still grieving this loss.

Especially today.

Send-Off Party

It’s Not All About The Benjamins

It’s March, which for most folks means the days are longer, the first flowers are peeping up, and the snows are receding. But for many of us who either work for churches or are congregational leaders, March is a time of money. Yes, it is Stewardship Month, or “Canvass Month”, or “All Hands Month”-whatever you call it, the time when we gather pledges from the congregation that finance the budget for the next year. It can be a little stressful, because a lot is riding on this one month. Also because people don’t really like talking about money.

But is this time really just about the money?

Being at church is not a fee for service equation. Church is not like going to the coffee shop, where you hand over a few bucks and get a frothy beverage. Being part of a congregation is having an impact. It is like exponentially magnifying your ability to make more good in the world than you could do on your own. Stewardship is caring for ourselves, our community, our earth and our faith. It is a big responsibility, and that’s why we join together to realize the amazing future possible.861281_10200113685198329_1232995818_o

Being plugged in to the congregation at this deep level is fitting yourself into a wonderful cycle of Receiving, Nurturing, Sharing, and Returning. That is what Stewardship is all about. A back and forth rhythm of connection, love, fullness, caring, action, healing, learning, and inspiration all in this so lovely a dance that we aren’t concerned with who is at any moment the giver and who the receiver. This is partnership based on shared purpose, shared values, and shared vision.

Yes, money is one of the instruments needed to create this rhythm. Money is the beat that determines the pace and expression of our dance. Just as the beat is nothing without the dancers, though, our congregation is more than pledges. What gives us purpose are the lives, stories, actions, and love of our people.

Seeing Stewardship in this light makes this an exciting month- a month of hope and excitement. Happy March!

 

20/20 Vision

future-visionSeveral years ago, our congregation got together in the important work of creating a vision statement – outlining what is the future of our ministry, where we want to “go”, and how we want to get there.  I remember this as a very energetic and collaborative process, which brought all sorts of folks together in the shared view that this community is important to us, and a recognition that we want to be purposeful in creating the next chapter of Channing’s story.

Here is the Vision Statement that came out of that process:

Our Vision Statement
Believing that the true expression of our religion is the way we live our lives – We, the members and friends of Channing Memorial Church, commit to use our diverse gifts in shared ministry as a catalyst for:

  • Creating a wellspring of caring and compassion within a vital and inspirational community of all ages that values individuals throughout their lives,
  • Spiritual growth and intellectual exchange,
  • The honest and responsible use of the democratic process,
  • Stewardship of our historic sacred spaces,
  • Peace, justice, and respect for all people and our planet,
  • Positive change within our community and the world.

Pretty neat, right?

And check this out- we then determined the top actions important to reaching this vision. And look at Number One:

1. We are committed to creating and sustaining a foundation for
our children which fosters their spiritual growth, guides their
search for truth and empowers them to work for justice.

That’s right, we agreed that the first item on our list was an intentional commitment to our children.

I have been attending several workshops lately on “Faith Formation 2020” which I have described in earlier posts. A new way of seeing the work of the church, blending online and face to face programming, seeing the growth of our spirituality throughout the whole week, not just on Sundays, and the work of faith development in people of all ages. It is exciting (if not a bit overwhelming!) and a necessary paradigm shift for our congregation in these changing times.

The “2020” referred to here is the year 2020, a date representing when we need to have changes in place to meet the needs of a new religious culture in America. When the original book “Faith Formation 2020”, by John Roberto was published in 2010, he outlined a plan of action for the next decade to engage people who need a different sort of model for church. The technology and cultural changes are happening even faster than we imagined, and it is vital that we as a congregation begin to make changes, create experiments, and build on our successes – keeping what is working well while renovating areas that need new energy.

In this experimenting and brainstorming we will not lose sight of our Vision, though. The plan created by our congregation is still our guiding force. The values we expressed in our vision statement are central to all that we do and what motivates us in our ministry. Let us move forward with these tenets in the forefront – let us not lose sight of our commitment expressed to “sustaining a foundation for our children which fosters their spiritual growth, guides their search for truth and empowers them to work for justice.” Our multigenerational ministry is precious and powerful. Children and youth are part of our worship, our learning, our social action, our stewardship, and our fun. Let all the work of our congregation reflect this vision.

Has our vision gotten a little fuzzy? What should we do to bring it back into focus?

I like what Liz James has to say here about the progressive and playful spirit of Unitarian Universalism. How can we adults embrace the play of faith formation? What can our children teach us about how we do church?

Happy Things and Lots of Exclamation Points!!!!!!

Yeah, I, too, have noticed that the communications from people in my line of work often contain a humorous number of exclamation points, smiley faces, and generally excited messages. We are a people passionate about our work- enthusiastic about the truly beautiful opportunities for connection and grace in our programs. Sometimes, it can get a bit out of hand, so today I offer a slightly different tone. Yes, I still want to communicate the amazing, transformative energy of our program, but maybe with more question marks.

muddy-road

Living a faith-full life is challenging. Navigating the decisions of every day amid distractions and disappointments is hard work. Paradoxically, developing our hearts and minds calls us to stay open. Whether we are adults, youth, or children, the complicated business of getting through a day with an intact soul takes all the energy we’ve got. Can our church be not merely a place of refuge, but one of recharge, re-forming, and respect?

Our Unitarian Universalism wants to connect us with the power of Love. Our Unitarian Universalism wants us to build Beloved Community. Connecting with the power takes energy. Building anything stable takes solid materials and tools. What happens when we do not possess these resources? How can we make sure everyone has access to the healing, creative force that our church community can give?

All our congregations are experiencing declines in attendance and membership. Why are we losing ground? Why are the numbers dwindling? Partly it is the culture that surrounds us. Perhaps you have been following the series on NPR about the growth of the “nones” – the people without religious affiliation.  Could it be that we are focused on only one type of growth- numbers? What about developing other kinds of growth in the faith formation of the folks who are already in the pews (or even our members who are staying home on Sunday!)

This big hot mess we are living is you, me, them, and even those folks over there. All of us. When our conversations see the whole crowd and considers each voice as important, then I know our intentions have become reality.

When the experience of the child is considered wisdom for the Board table, then I know that our Principles are more than words.

When the door is held open for the parent, not for a tip, but to give respite from a world of fear and pain, then I see our compassion.

When we learn how to trust from Youth and give them cause to respect us, then I know we understand the chicken and the egg.

How might we imagine a better way? How might we support our people, even if it means we have to make changes? Can we honestly face the reality that changes need to happen, and be ready for something good to be just over the horizon?

This is the part where it helps to have faith. While I don’t know where we are headed or how we will get there, I do believe that the power of Love expands beyond our wildest imaginings. I know that when we tune into the frequency of connection, of caring, of creativity, then it is a tremendous force for life. And I know I don’t want to miss it happening. Woyaya. We are going.

When Hope Is Hard To Find

Last Friday the world came to a stop. Too many children’s and adults’ lives ended senselessly. We are stunned, scared, and sad. For days we have cycled between tears and rage, bewilderment and determination for change. All of these feelings are right, and normal, and need to be felt. It may be a while before we find our balance, before we can turn to the lawmakers for action, before turn to each other for a shift in our culture of violence. Before we look to how our own community is punctuated with similar, yet smaller scale, events nearly daily.

(Look here for resources on grief and talking to children about tragic events.)

Yes, the past few days have been hard. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that we have so many good people in the world. We gathered on Sunday to look into each others eyes and see the spark of light that resides in us. We sang together and lit candles and hugged. We gathered online to share messages of love and caring, comforting our grief and shock. These are the days when we rely on our strength together to hold each other up. As the Carolyn Dade hymn says:

10561_484476871585771_634101886_nI am grateful for every one of you who lives your generous and outrageously loving life – you who share that life and love with the world. It makes a difference. We are building a world of peace. We commit ourselves to this hard work, of facing fear and anger and sadness because we have hope. We have hope because we have  love. May love guide us as we heal our grief and work for change.

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Thank you to UU Media Collaborative Works for these images.

Being Okay With the Mystery

Sometimes the answers are really clear: What happens if I stay up too late? (Answer: I will be tired the next day.) Sometimes the answers are more vague: What is your favorite kind of ice cream? (Hmmm…depends on the day, if I had to pick one- probably peppermint stick.) And sometimes there just really isn’t any answer: What happens to us when we die?

This would be one of the Great Mysteries. We Unitarian Universalists have many Great Mysteries. It comes from being people who are evolving in our beliefs, searching for truth.

It is the last question that I have been pondering a lot lately, and I am not alone. None of us knows for sure what happens when we die. Does any part of us- the essence of us- keep going on? Is there a heaven? Is there reincarnation? Is there nothing at all? Will our loved ones remember us?

It can be very confusing and tiring to hold all these questions. To know that we do not have definitive answers. To be certain only that there will always be Great Mysteries. I guess it is part of being part of a thinking and progressive religion. Today, I had the realization that I have a better response to these Mysteries when I have taken care of myself, when I feed my spirit, when I keep my “batteries charged”.

Fourth Principle

Fourth Principle

Being okay with the Mystery  begins when I stay connected to my spiritual practices, practice deep conversation with my friends, and drink enough coffee. I am not kidding. I’m not prescribing that this is the recipe for everyone’s spirit, but I am asking all of us to figure out what are the practices that help YOU feel balanced and healthy, stable and grounded, so that you are more resilient when the Mysteries raise their big question mark selves and DO them regularly. (Because Mysteries usually show up at inconvenient times!)

Seems like the major reason we keep a regular connection together. Whether you practice through Sunday worship, classes, small groups, reading, yoga, coffee house singing, meditation, journaling, etc., the what doesn’t really matter. The act of practicing is the key. The regular development of your faith is what makes us ready for the Mystery – whenever it arrives.

What a blessing that we have a community of like minded people who embrace our evolving faith. We can talk together about our searching, our new ideas, and our fragile thoughts. We can find friends of all ages to share their experiences and ideas. We know that muddling through our own questions is more fruitful and powerful than being given someone else’s answers all tied up in a neat package.

As for the Mystery I am currently pondering- What is left of us after we die? I am no closer to any answers, but that’s okay. I am very grateful for my UU faith, my friends, and a nice cup of coffee- all which keep me company while I ponder. I’ll leave you with a clip from the BBC TV show “Rev.” which helps me think about all sorts of Mysteries- while he is describing one idea of heaven, I like the idea of relationship, of memory and connection among all of us that is strong in the story.

The Day After (They Are Watching)

It’s the day after, and which ever people you supported in the elections, we have a bit of calm after that big storm of ads, debates, predictions, and hype. (Can I get an “Amen” ?)

Now for the real work.

Our children are with us, watching and listening, seeing how we act in these crucial first days after the election. Do we gloat about our candidates winning? Do we bash the winners and tear apart their characters? Do we show the grace and good “sportsmanship” that we wish our children to have. Are we modeling how to build bridges with our former opponents, working toward a better future?

Olympic cyclists put rivalries aside

Our congregation is made up of very diverse people, with divergent theological ideas and also a multitude of political ideas. It is easy for us to begin to think that we are all alike in our politics, but let’s refrain from generalizations about the election results. Take care to be radically inclusive in our words and actions this week- and all weeks.

Unitarian Universalists come in different shapes and sizes, with many theological beliefs and political leanings. Our strength comes from the love and understanding we seek together. Each of us has a piece of truth to offer.

There is a saying, ” We have two ears and one mouth, because we should listen twice as much as we speak.” Let’s listen to each other. Let’s hear the great ideas all of us have to lead the country on a path of love and justice.

This week our Chalice Circle worship will focus on our fifth principle, which in simple language says,

“We believe everyone deserves a say about the things that concern them.”

We will discuss why democracy is important to Unitarian Universalists. We will think about the elections and being considerate of diverse political beliefs. Come, let us worship together!

Gathering-In

Amazingly, we are back to the start of another church year. I came across this lovely poem which describes how special this Sunday is to us…

Gathering-In

by Patricia Shuttee

You and I  and all of us blew about
with the winds of summer,
following the sun  in different ways
of freedom  and of play,
finding rest  in the cool stillness of shadows,
and moving to the slow  heartstruck rhythms
which turned the long hours  of summerlight.

Now it is time  for gathering-in.
We come together at this time
and in this place on the bridge of autumn.
Summer is fading backward into memory,
and winter waits in snowy brilliance,
offering its months as our learning-time
and its celebrations for our special joy.

We meet with eagerness and delight,
need one another for sharing.
We have joys and sorrows and hopes to share,questions,
things we care about and want to help make better,
things that we would like to understand,
ideas waiting to be heard.

Today, we are together in gladness,
once more the special big family
that we call our Church,
a family of all ages that sings its songs,
tells its thoughts, asks its questions,
and searches together in peace and understanding
with courage and with love.

My Spirituality Is…

My Spirituality Is:
Openhanded compassion- Embracing my love- Struggling- Nurturing within family- Generosity of spirit- Love in action- Openness of heart- Lost and Found- Search for connection- Connecting to nature- Coming home- Om- Musical- Ancestral- Friendship-Transformation- Comfort- A gentling of the fire- Blessed and grateful surrender- Peace and Justice- Poetry in motion- Creativity of love- Climbing trees- Playing in the stream- Mother Earth’s beauty- All beings as one love- Self reliance- Blessing of stars- Liberation of all-