Congregationally focused articles, January to April 2011

InterConnections is not the only source of useful information for lay leaders. Check out uuworld.org for articles about UUA changes and congregational activities. Here are some recent ones:

Undeterred, Colorado UUs prepare for new marriage-equality battle in 2012 Area churches pool resources to hire intern for advocacy work. 4.25.11

‘Bright and shining church’ rises from Katrina’s floodwaters Community Church in New Orleans celebrates new building five years after hurricane. 4.18.11

General Assembly to allow some delegates to vote from home this year Organizers seek volunteers to test online voting. 3.28.11

Bylaw changes would shrink UUA Board Board of Trustees will present proposal for 13-member board at 2011 General Assembly. 3.14.11

Alternative scouting group starts to grow Navigators USA welcomes gay, atheist, and agnostic scouts. 3.14.11

Oregon UU church builds Cuban alliances Cuba AyUUda fosters Cuban-U.S. relations. 2.28.11

Using contemporary music in worship

One of the best places to keep up with trends in contemporary music as it is used in Unitarian Universalist worship is the blog “Liberal Religion Gets Loud” by Vance Bass, contemporary music/worship director at First Unitarian Church in Albuquerque, N.Mex.

In March, Bass posted a list of more than 200 songs that a band has either played during worship at First Unitarian or that were on CDs played as a prelude to worship. The list ranges from Raffi to Stevie Wonder.

Also on the blog is a sermon (March 13, 2011) by Bass about contemporary music and a post that notes that not all music is appropriate on Sunday morning, even if well played. There is also a video description of contemporary music at Albuquerque.

Black History Month marked with music, testimony

Black History Month is a serious matter at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spartanburg, S.C. This past February leaders of the congregation, the Rev. Don Rollins, and Music Director Keith Plumley, wanted to create services that people would remember.

The congregation invited a local African drumming group for one service. “The service was very well received,” said Plumley, noting that he armed the ushers with cotton balls in advance. “Ten African drummers in a room can be pretty loud.”

The service, which included a congregational sing-along, explored the use of African-American music from very early in this country’s history, including from the Gullah region along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia.

Rollins preached on African American traditions at that service. At another service, Tony Fisher, Spartanburg’s director of public safety, spoke on the challenges of building a law enforcement career in the South as an African-American.

All month the sanctuary was decorated with 52 flags, each one three-by-five feet, representing most countries in Africa. “That was very visual,” said Plumley. “The flags created quite a wow factor.”

For another service that month, Plumley reached into the evangelical community, inviting someone he’d last spoken to 20 years ago, Myrtle Hall Smith, to come and sing. She had sung for 27 years with the Billy Graham crusades and continues to be active in the evangelical movement.

She accepted his invitation. She sang “His Eye is On the Sparrow” one Sunday. “It was wonderful and probably historical,” said Plumley, “to have her in our church.” He noted that the invitation to Smith was part of an effort to identify the church as being approachable and visible. “If we do not reach out and market our product we may be looked upon as secluded. When local people hear that someone like Myrtle Hall Smith has been at our church singing, it means something.”

He noted that his connections to Hall and to the UU church had both come about through his job as marketing director for the local Steinway piano dealership. “I’ve rubbed shoulders with a lot of musicians. That’s how I first met Myrtle. And I sold a piano to the church in 2006. “They wanted it for a cocktail party, and I was so intrigued about a cocktail party at a church that I came and visited.”

Theology Ablaze latest from Owen-Towle

Theology Ablaze, the latest book from the Rev. Tom Owen-Towle, is a summation of his reflections on Unitarian Universalist theology. Owen-Towle has been a parish minister for 44 years, including 24 years as cominister of First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, Calif.

In Theology Ablaze, Owen-Towle explores 29 core theological themes, from gratitude to interdependence, to silence and evolution. Each chapter ends with a series of questions for reflection and discussion.  The book was written as part of the commemoration this year of the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

“The premise of the book is simple,” Owen-Towle wrote recently on his blog, “Unitarian Universalist theology has caught fire in the past 50 years. In the decades since merger, Unitarian Universalism has been maturing spiritually. We’ve been growing in theological literacy, dialogue, and depth. We acknowledge that everyone in our fold is a bona fide theologian.”

He envisions Theology Ablaze being employed at weekend retreats, for religious education training workshops or series, small group ministry, leadership development seminars and governing board goal-setting sessions. He also recommends it for a newcomers’ mini-series and a UU orientation. Social Action committees may find it useful as theological grounding for witness and action in the world. Theology Ablaze is available for $20 from the UUA Bookstore.