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

Guide to youth group report available

Congregations interested in nurturing youth groups are invited to use a new guide that will help them explore the UUA’s Youth Ministry Working Group Report.

The Youth Ministry Working Group was established in 2008 and charged with recommending a framework for youth ministry in congregations and across the Association. The Working Group report is the culmination of a multiyear process involving thousands of UUs at every level of the Association.

The 24-page report offers both specific suggestions and a call for a broad culture change in congregations in order to nurture youth ministry. Said Erik Kesting, the UUA’s Youth and Young Adult Ministries director, “The goal is for congregations to discuss the report and recommendations and make some changes in their youth programs and/or adopt new programs.”

General Assembly registration fees increase May 1

Registration fees for attending General Assembly, June 23–27 in Minneapolis, go up on May 1. Before that, adult registration is $310 and youth registration is $185. Costs increase to $355 and $210, respectively, as of May 1.

The 88-member Bismarck-Mandan UU Fellowship and Church, Bismarck, North Dakota, is sending 14 people to GA. The congregation is paying full registration fees for all of them.

President Janis Cheney said the congregation is growing and leaders recognized that the Minneapolis GA, just a few hours down I-94, presented a not-to-be-missed opportunity to expose members to a large gathering of UUs and to bring home information about welcoming, leadership, and other topics.

Members who had been to previous GAs held information sessions after church. Those who indicated interest were asked to attend one or two pre-GA meetings to review the agenda and also participate in post-GA sessions including one or more Sunday service presentations.

“Our board considers this an unparalleled opportunity for making connections and growing in understanding of our faith tradition,” said Cheney. “We hope it will be an energizing and inspiring experience that will translate into greater engagement and development for those who attend and through them, for our entire congregation.”

CLF will help you welcome seekers

Congregations can get help in presenting themselves to seekers through a new service provided by the Church of the Larger Fellowship.

For $250 the CLF will prepare a five-session “Welcome In” online class explaining Unitarian Universalism, how the congregation works, UU spirituality, the larger world of Unitarian Universalism, and the history of Unitarian Universalism and the congregation.

The CLF will create the class using text, photos, and video specific to the congregation, host the class on its server, provide technical support for three months, and offer resources for promoting the class.

Learn more and view a sample online class here. Contact the Rev. Lynn Ungar, CLF’s minister for Lifespan Learning, at lungar@uua.org.

Music ministry resources at WorshipWeb

InterConnections articles published in recent years about music ministry have been collected at the UUA’s online WorshipWeb. The information includes articles about certifying, supporting, and paying music directors, and building and sustaining music programs.

WorshipWeb is a growing collection of resources about the many facets of worship, including music, technology, and lay leadership, plus readings, sermons, and chalice lightings.

Other music resources at WorshipWeb include a listing of songbooks and hymnals used by congregations, music CDs recorded by congregations, and links to organizations like the UU Musicians Network and a database of new music by UU composers.

‘Faith and Web’ blog guides web designers

Looking to improve your congregational website? Check out Faith and Web, the blog of Anna Belle Leiserson of the First UU Church of Nashville, Tenn. She is a professional web coordinator and says she is committed to “web standards, accessibility, handsome design, elegant code, and deep dark chocolate.”

She writes about all types of web issues. A recent article explains how to “Launch a Church Email Newsletter in 9 Simple Steps.” Other articles: “Top 10 Tips for Church Blogging,” “Content Audits Are a Beautiful Thing,” and “Finding Stock Art for Your Website.”

April 20th deadline for youth GA scholarships

April 20, 2010, is the deadline to apply for scholarships for youth and young adults to attend General Assembly this June in Minneapolis. The UUA will pay the GA registration fee and up to $500 of other expenses for applicants who can demonstrate need.

Find out more here or by emailing youth@uua.org, youngadults@uua.org, or calling 617-948-4350.

Factors combine at Mt. Diablo to create growth

Any Unitarian Universalist congregation that grew both in numbers and average attendance in the past year has something to share with other congregations. When annual membership numbers were tallied in February by the Unitarian Universalist Association, some of our congregations had risen in one or the other of those categories, but few rose in both. One that did was the Mount Diablo UU Church in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Mt. Diablo gained 20 members and its average Sunday attendance increased by 44. To add perspective, in the same period the UUA declined by several hundred members and about half of our congregations lost members. Read about the UUA’s current membership report here.

Mt. Diablo’s coministers, the Revs. Leslie and David Takahashi-Morris, explain that the membership and attendance increases didn’t just happen. Says Leslie: “A number of factors came together to create an aura of excitement that is continuing.” Specifically, there were four factors––their new ministry, the congregation’s commitment to social justice, a new building, and strong lay and professional leadership.

They began their ministry at 400-member Mt. Diablo in August 2008. Just prior to that the congregation had voted to oppose California’s initiative (since passed) to ban same-sex marriage. “The combination of a new ministry and engagement in the marriage issue helped create a strong first year,” says David. Adds Leslie, “Mt. Diablo attracted people who saw our engagement with marriage equality. People in the community saw us taking the lead and they wanted to be involved.”

Mt. Diablo had also just completed a new fellowship hall, causing social life at the church to “blossom,” says David. Leaders also made sure members felt comfortable in coming to church even if they’d lost a job and couldn’t contribute as much. They started a weekly community dinner and a midweek meditation service. And Leslie says they made sure members kept coming, even if some couldn’t pledge. “We emphasized our desire to be strong together and to not be afraid to bring our vulnerabilities to church,” she says. “The economy has hit Mt. Diablo as hard as anywhere. The canvass is harder this year. More people lost jobs in the past year than in the previous one. Families are struggling to stay in their homes. Yet there has been a generosity of spirit and the material kind that has sustained us.”

Facebook can be your friend

The Rev. Christine Robinson, senior minister at the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, N.Mex., has written on her blog, iMinister, and on her Facebook page about the ways that Facebook can be useful to ministers. Lay leaders will also find the information helpful.

She notes that “friending” one’s minister on Facebook is different from being a friend of the minister. “Facebook friendship is to real friendship what coffee hour is to an encounter group. Facebook is a way of keeping in touch, briefly and pleasantly, with aspects of people’s lives in one sentence, one picture, one ‘read this that I’ve linked to’ bites.”

Robinson also explains ways ministers (and by extension lay people) can keep Facebook from becoming a “time sink,” including “hiding” people who continually post trivia. One can also click “like” to acknowledge a post, rather than writing a response.

She notes: “Like all new technologies, Facebook has a learning curve. This one is a little less user-friendly to newbies than, say, Google products are. Be patient with yourself, and ask questions of your Facebook friends. After you’ve learned, Facebook is much more manageable and much more fun than email.”

Beyond Robinson’s comments, it is worth noting that lay leaders can use Facebook to maintain relationships with other lay leaders and leaders in other congregations. And since many congregations have Facebook “fan” pages, one can become a fan of other churches and learn about their programs and practices. Facebook can also be a tool to expose nonchurch friends to Unitarian Universalism in a nonthreatening way.

To find InterConnections on Facebook visit facebook.com/InterConnections.

Update: The Rev. Cynthia Landrum offers advice on her blog, Rev. Cyn, about the value in creating different “friend groups” on Facebook (and how to do this) to separate people from the various parts of life––work, church, high school, etc. (3.31.10)

Multisite ministry resources

The Rev. Christine Robinson, First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, N.Mex., has created a “multisite bibliography” for congregations interested in exploring the world of multiple-site churches. Read it on her blog, iMinister. Resources listed include news articles from the popular press and Christian publications as well as books.

There is also a UUA-sponsored email list, Multisite-UU, and an InterConnections article, Multisite Ministry Another Way to Grow and Serve. Both First Unitarian and First UU Church in San Diego have multisite ministries.

Videos showcase congregational projects

A new series of short videos, titled “A Religion for Our Time” and highlighting inspiring work in Unitarian Universalist congregations, is being released between now and General Assembly in June. The first video, featuring the UU Church of Ogden, Utah’s OUTreach Center, a drop-in program for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender youth and young adults, is available now on the front page of UUA.org. Other videos will be posted in weeks to come. Look for them either on the front page or on UUA.org’s Religion for Our Time page.

The videos are being funded by a donation to the UUA for this purpose. They are being created by a Denver, Colo., production company using images supplied by the congregations involved.

UUA President Peter Morales, who commissioned the project, said the videos will cover a range of topics. “One of the best ways we learn is by seeing what other people are doing. I am truly excited about this new way of sharing some of the wonderful work our congregations are doing. I hope these short videos inspire creativity across our movement.”