About the Author
Don Skinner
Don Skinner is editor of InterConnections and a member of the Shawnee Mission UU Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

Announcing the end of InterConnections

2014-08-15 10.40.03

Dear readers,

This is the last issue of InterConnections. The newsletter that began in 1998 as an effort by the Unitarian Universalist Association to present very practical information to congregational leaders is coming to an end as a result of the Association’s current financial shortfall. I am choosing to retire at the end of August.

As editor of InterConnections for its entire life—and the person who has written virtually all of it—it has truly been life-changing for me to do this work. It has been a joy to talk with many of you over the years about the successes in your congregations, and then share those stories with other leaders through InterConnections.

Don Skinner
Don Skinner

Please know that InterConnections is not going away completely. InterConnections will live on as a rich archive that you can access any time you wish. If you come home from a board meeting frustrated about an issue, or if one wakes you up in the middle of the night, you can search InterConnections to see how other congregations may have solved similar problems.

The InterConnections archive includes hundreds of articles about all aspects of congregational life, from full-on profiles of exemplary congregations, to articles on how to do Joys and Sorrows better, or how to be more welcoming on Sunday morning.

Please also remember that the UUA has more ways now for leaders to learn from each other than it did in 1998. Now there are email lists, Facebook laboratories, and webinars. I urge you to avail yourselves of all of these, in addition, of course, to contacting your district and regional UUA staff when questions arise.

InterConnections was the inspiration of former UU World editor Tom Stites, who wanted the newsletter to be “relentlessly useful” to leaders. As we wrote in the first issue, “InterConnections searches out the congregations that have had extraordinary successes with an issue and tells you how they did it, then recommends other resources you can draw on in tackling the same issue.”

We hope we have held true to that mission and we wish you the very best.

Donald E. Skinner

‘Reclaiming Prophetic Witness’ is Common Read book

The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Common Read book for the upcoming church year is Reclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square, by the Rev. Dr. Paul Rasor. The 105-page book was published in 2013 by Skinner House.

Rasor is director of the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom at Virginia Wesleyan College. He is a UU minister and the author of an earlier book, Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the Twenty-first Century.

A UU theologian, Rasor dispels the myth that conservative Christianity is the only valid religious voice in national debates on social policy. He calls on religious liberals to bring their religious convictions to bear on current issues.

A discussion guide will be available in October. Reclaiming Prophetic Witness was one of 14 books considered for the Common Read. The book is $15 from the UUA Bookstore, with discounts for purchases of multiple copies.

More information about the selection process is on the Call and Response blog of the UUA’s Faith Development Office. In the forward of the book Rasor writes that there has never been a more important time for UUs to speak about about issues including the environment, immigration, and gender.

Including people with disabilities at church

EqUUal Access, the volunteer group charged with encouraging UU congregations to become more accessible and inclusive, recently posted a list of ways that religious communities can support people with special needs. The list was excerpted from a Huffington Post article entitled 7 Ways Congregations Can Embrace People with Disabilities.

The seven ways are:

  • Communication – Provide a resource person to listen to the needs of the person with a disability and their family to learn how they can work together toward full inclusion.
  • Accessiblity – To the extent possible, meet the physical needs of the individual.
  • Support – Provide an aide or peer assistant to enable participation in religious education, small group ministry, etc.
  • Leadership – If leaders of faith communities are committed to inclusivity then it is more likely to happen.
  • Participation – Invite people with disabilities to be on boards and committees and to take visible roles in congregational life.
  • Education – Congregations that educate their members on disability issues are more welcoming and better able to integrate people with special needs.
  • Love – Parents of children with special needs who experienced love and acceptance reported their congregations were sources of great strength and support.

In addition, UU World had an article on books to help UU congregations welcome people with disabilities in its Summer 2014 issue.

Professional associations support congregational staff

Want to help your staff members and volunteers be more effective in the coming year? Consider paying for memberships for them in professional groups that support them.

For membership professionals there is the UU Association of Membership Professionals which is open to paid staff who work with membership issues. A membership is $40.

The Association of UU Administrators is open to administrators of congregations. Fees range from $55 to $75, based on the size of the congregation.

The Liberal Religious Educators Association supports educators with continuing education programs, conferences, and newsletters and other publications. Fees are $50 to $175.

The UU Musicians Network invites congregational music directors and others involved in music ministries to join. Fees are $70 to $100.

The UU Small Group Ministry Network is open to leaders of small group ministry programs. Membership is $40 for an individual and $100 for a congregation.

General Assembly workshop recordings available

So you’ve come home from General Assembly 2014 in Providence, R.I., filled with the fire of enthusiasm. You’d like to share what you learned in the various workshops. But how? Or maybe you didn’t get to GA, but you heard there was a workshop there that dealt with that thorny issue your membership committee is struggling with. But how to access that workshop?

Here’s how.

Virtually all of the workshops at GA, which cover a wide range of topics about aspects of congregational life, were audio recorded.

Any adult who registered for any part of General Assembly should have received an email (probably on July 10) from Strategic Events Plus with a code that provides free access to the audio content of all of the workshops. For $75 you can buy the workshops loaded onto a flash-drive.

If you didn’t attend GA you can buy downloadable access to all of the workshops for a fee of $150, or you can get them all on a flash-drive for $225.

The business sessions and the worship services from GA can best be viewed by accessing them directly from the GA website, for which there is no charge.  The only content you cannot get are those presentations that include music, which is copyrighted and for which the Unitarian Universalist Association could not get permission to use apart from the original presentation at GA.

If you have not received an email from Strategic Events Plus you may contact the company at support@strategiceventsplus.com or 888-640-4899, extension 104, from 9 to 5 p.m. weekdays. Please check your spam filter for the email before contacting the company, however.

Strategic Events Plus also has GA content back to the 2009 GA.

Best-selling books at General Assembly

The following books were top sellers at General Assembly 2014 held in June in Providence, R.I. All are available at the Unitarian Universalist Association Bookstore.


Q and A: How to increase Facebook views

Q. I’ve taken many of the suggestions about doing church Facebook better (InterConnections, March 1, 2014) but am very frustrated by the rate of views allowed by Facebook algorithms. Last year I regularly got 100 views, sometimes 1,000 or more, and now they are very small. Someone told me that about one in five posts get through to the news feeds, more likely the ones with videos. I always have a photo. I can see the content is not reaching my own news feed. What can we do to change that? I changed the option on my website to receive notifications from the church website, but still am not getting all the posts.

Sara Morrison Neil, membership program director, First Parish, Framingham, Mass.

A. Facebook changes privacy controls, news feed algorithms, et al. per its own business needs, not per the user’s needs. Only when user needs tie directly to its bottom line will Facebook suit UU needs, let alone any special interest group.

Sara’s not getting the traffic because she has no control, not only over what Facebook does but over how friends or followers to her page set their Facebook accounts. Unless everyone on both sides of the dialogue identifies each other as “close friends” or “followers,” there’s no way for her content to be viewed consistently by those she’s trying to reach. And therein lies the crux of the Facebook problem. Forget about covenant because the technology works against it. Even with the setting of “followers,” there’s no guarantee people will see her posts.

June Herold, former executive of AOL, member of the UU Church of Arlington, Va., and author of REACH: A Digital Ministry Program.

Church tips found through social media

For a look at how some Sunday morning guests might see us, read the account of a Texas blogger on her first visit to a UU church. She wrote of her visit:

“I’m not sure what to think of this service. I expected something a bit more like Unity, Church of Religious Science or Divine Science. I didn’t hear any mention of Jesus Christ and only found the word ‘God’ in a few of the hymns. Most songs were about the clouds, community and beauty, etc.


Though I’ve never been to a Native American service, I would think it would have the same general feel.


I’d call this church a true ‘feel good’ church. While I didn’t get much from it, I’m glad there are denominations like this that are welcoming to gay, lesbian and transgender people, who often find it difficult to worship openly with their partner in an environment filled with judgment.

The comments to her blog entry by church members are useful reading as well.

Over on Facebook, an item notes a new book, Real Good Church, How our church came back from the dead, and yours can, too, by a United Church of Christ minister in Somerville, Mass. The church grew from 30 to 150 members. The Rev. Molly Phinney Baskette writes, “It wasn’t one thing (that made us grow). It was 200 things: about signage, about stewardship, about advertising, about staffing, about creative worship.”

A few excerpts:

“Don’t privilege the people who have been at your church over the people outside your community who don’t even know about you yet.”

“Your work, as a pastor or lay leader, is to build up your own tolerance for disappointing people. Learn how to evaluate criticism for what it can teach you, don’t take it personally, and don’t let it slow you down or hijack God’s work.”

Growing need pushes congregation to increase accessibility

The First Unitarian Church of Sioux City, Iowa, installed an elevator and created an accessible restroom out of a closet after someone who uses a wheelchair joined the congregation. The congregation uses a 100-year-old house for offices and has a newer sanctuary attached.

The lay-led congregation, which has 31 pledging units, spent $60,000 on the renovations. Of that, $10,000 came from a Missouri River Historical Development grant, $3,000 came from a Chalice Lighters grant through the MidAmerica Region, a member bequeathed $8,000, and the rest was raised or borrowed by the congregation. The congregation took out a $28,000 loan.

Marty Nash moved to Sioux City from Phoenix. For about two years she attended church by way of makeshift ramps. “Each Sunday we’d have to get out this long foldable ramp,” said Nash. “It was irritating to everyone and the ramp felt uncertain at times. The congregation had discussed this long before I came. They realized that since everyone was getting older, with bad knees and arthritis, this was going to be a continuing problem.”

Nash ended up heading a committee that, over a two-year period, raised or borrowed the money to do the projects. “Almost every member contributed. Everyone wanted this to happen.”

She added, “We had no money to start. We used $50,000 from our estate gifts fund to cover exenses until we raised the money.” She said the project has changed the congregation. “I feel a new energy, and I think that communicates to our visitors.”

Shed old processes to create vitality

Natalie Briscoe, a Congregational Life staff member for the UUA’s Southern Region, invites congregational leaders to undertake some “spring cleaning” in a recent post on the region’s blog. She suggests some things congregations might want to get rid of, including:

• A mission that is uninspiring, inaccurate, or old. A vision that is too small, old, or doesn’t lead you to where you want to go. An old covenant that isn’t practiced. Processes that no longer serve the congregation (such as committee structures, governance style, or communication processes).

• Along with old processes, how about old technologies? Are you still using a membership database from 1994? Do you still have Yahoo email groups? The internet, social media, and new database systems can streamline our congregations. We no longer need to waste time with outdated technologies.

• Silence around financial issues. Does your congregation have anxiety when it comes to speaking about money? Throw out the silence and start having honest conversations about what we can realistically do to financially support Unitarian Universalism in our communities. There are no tips or tricks; we just have to do it.

Briscoe’s complete blog post, from March 16, is here.