Supporting congregational decisions

The following is a posting the Rev. Daniel Harper made to his blog, “Yet Another Unitarian Universalist,” recently, about how congregations make decisions.

We were in a meeting talking about how our congregation makes decisions. An engineer told us what happened after they made decisions in her for-profit workplace. She said, “We used to have a saying: Agree and commit; Disagree and commit; or, Get out of the way.”

In congregational life, as in the for-profit world, there’s usually a fourth option: Disagree and sabotage. A decision is made by a duly constituted authority, or through an established democratic process, and a small group of people who disagree with the decision start to sabotage it. And why wouldn’t we behave in this way? That’s the way democracy in America works: once a decision is made, many politicians (both Democrats and Republicans) go out of their way to sabotage the implementation of the decision. Ordinary citizens like us unconsciously follow their example.

But I think our congregations should be countercultural; we should not do democracy the way many U.S. politicians do democracy. We shouldn’t blindly adopt the standard from the engineering world, but it might be a good starting place:

Agree and commit; 
Disagree and commit; or 
Get out of the way.

Small groups use special practices

The November issue of Covenant Group News, the monthly newsletter of the UU Small Group Ministry Network, includes an article on using Skype to connect people who can’t attend a meeting because of distance. Skype is software that can be used to connect two computers so that a distant person can be seen as well as heard.

“It was a great experience,” said a facilitator from Hamilton, Ontario. “I believe it has tons of potential applications for all kinds of ministry.”

Another article explores a group at High Plains UU Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., created for parents with small children. The group includes childcare. It has two trained facilitators, who, if enough people attend, hold two sessions. The groups sometimes have a choice of child-centered or spiritual growth topics.

The Church of the Larger Fellowship, a congregation that serves isolated UUs through the Internet and by mail, holds online small group sessions that can last three to four weeks. The facilitator sends out an opening reading and invites members to check in by email over the next few days. Then a topic is posed and more time is allowed for receiving responses. Then a few more days are provided for closing and evaluation and then there’s a final week for informal chatting. The Rev. Lynn Ungar, CLF minister for Lifespan Learning, said these groups work especially well for people who are shy or need time to process.

More information on the UU Small Group Ministry Network, including how to join and sign up for Covenant Group News is here. The network also collects discussion topics and makes them available to members.

Close friends at church equal happiness

The number of friends you have at your place of worship has more to do with how happy you are than does theology or spirituality, says Chaeyoon Lim, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led a study, “Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction.”

The study is reported in the recent book, American Grace by David Campbell and Robert D. Putnam. Lim and Putnam, of Harvard University, found that people who have three to five close friends in their congregation are more likely to report they are extremely satisfied with their lives than those people who attend a place of worship but don’t have close friends there. The full report is available as a PDF here.

“To me, the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people happier, but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there,” Lim said.

People like to feel that they belong, Lim said. “One of the important functions of religion is to give people a sense of belonging to a moral community based on religious faith,” he said. “This community, however, could be abstract and remote unless one has an intimate circle of friends who share a similar identity. The friends in one’s congregation thus make the religious community real and tangible, and strengthen one’s sense of belonging to the community.”

UU leaders share tips via Facebook

Here are resources that people have recommended on Facebook that could be useful to leaders of congregations:

  • Kathy Burek, president of the Prairie Star District Board of Trustees, recommends the book Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury. “It’s been my favorite conflict-resolution book for decades.” UUA Trustee John Blevins recommends a 19-minute video talk on it by Ury.
  • UUA Moderator Gini Courter recommends an online column by Bruce Epperly, author and theology professor, about taking our faith seriously and reclaiming Christian education.

People who made the world better

A new book, Stirring the Nation’s Heart: Eighteen Stories of Prophetic Unitarians and Universalists of the Nineteenth Century, describes how these 18 religious folk, from Julia Ward Howe to Theodore Park and Dorothea Dix, had an idea about how the world could be better, and made that change happen.

Written by Polly Peterson, a freelance writer and member of First Parish in Concord, Mass., Stirring the Nation’s Heart will be useful for religious educators as well as UUs and others wanting to learn more about the big ideas that began with many of our spiritual forbears, including reform of education and treatment of the mentally ill, women’s suffrage, and antiracism work. These were social reformers who played key roles in UU and U.S. history and whose life work made the world a better place. Each chapter includes discussion questions.

Stirring the Nation’s Heart is published by the Unitarian Universalist Association and is available from the UUA Bookstore for $15.

Book helps with youth mission trip planning

Youth leaders responsible for planning social justice trips with youth will want to pick up a new book, Journeys of the Spirit: Planning and Leading Mission Trips with Youth.

The authors are Jennifer McAdoo and Anne Principe, two Unitarian Universalist religious educators from New England who, between them, have organized mission trips to Central America, Romania, Massachusetts, Maine, the Texas border with Mexico, and New Orleans.

The book covers how to determine what type of mission trips to do and why, and goes on to explain team-building and fundraising and how to share the trip upon returning home. It also includes testimonials by veteran UU social justice activists, including the Rev. Richard S. Gilbert, on their various experiences with mission work.

The book, published by the Unitarian Universalist Association, is $15 and is available at the UUA Bookstore.