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

Pittsburgh creates congregational history model

The Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, Penn., has a long and storied history and now much of that history is posted on the congregation’s website. With the help of a grant from the Unitarian Universalist Funding Panel, the congregation has posted a collection of letters and sermons dating from 1825. The letters describe the state of religion in western Pennsylvania in that early time and the difficulties encountered by Unitarians.

The letters include some from Martha St. John, wife of a minister, describing church life in the 1890s from her perspective. There are also many sermons from the congregation’s long line of ministers.

Kathleen Parker, coordinator of the project and a member of First Unitarian, said several factors came together to make it happen. “First, there were people in our congregation who knew enough to save valuable records over time. Second, I’m a historian and I was open to a new project.” Parker is editor of the Journal of Unitarian Universalist History.

Parker spent six years writing Here We Have Gathered: The Story of Unitarian Universalism in Western Pennsylvania, 1808-2008. She catalogued the records of the six area congregations. The collection is now housed at the Heinz Regional History Center in Pittsburgh. She also had 65 photos enlarged into photo panels for an exhibit. In addition to the book, the collection of paper records, and the photo exhibit, a fourth part of the project was to put some of the sermons and other documents online.

She explained why her congregation’s history means so much to her. “When I stand in the congregation of my church and we are singing our favorite hymns, or listening to the choir, I often look around at our 110-year-old sanctuary and consider the many generations of congregants who met in the same space and shared the same liberal outlook that we hold today. It’s important to realize that, yes,  they were here––and the photographs and documents that remain remind us of the reality of their presence and the words they wrote speak of their devotion to liberal religion and what it meant to live out that ideal in their time.”

She added, “The documents that church members of the past left behind are precious keys to the vital heritage we have inherited and should preserve––a heritage we cannot know unless we search the lessons found in these valuable records.”

The UU History and Heritage Society invites congregations to contact it for help in collecting their own histories. Its webpage includes the following: Tools for Creating Congregational Histories. An InterConnections article on creating congregational histories is here.

New books about congregational fundraising, storytelling in worship

The following Skinner House titles are now available for pre-order through the UUA Bookstore:

The Generosity Path: Finding the Richness in Giving, by Mark Ewert, (available Dec. 20, $14). Ewert is a UUA congregational stewardship consultant. He writes about stewardship issues on his blog, Generosity Path.com. From the book description: “Financial giving can be a spiritual path. We have a deep potential for meaning-making and life satisfaction when we transform ourselves from occasional, haphazard donors to deliberate, ambitious philanthropists.”

A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story, by Kristin Maier, (available  October 9, $16). Using the art of storytelling to enrich worship. Includes workshop materials to build storytelling skills, and resources for appropriate stories.

Other new books, suitable for adult education or book groups, include the following:

Where Two Worlds Touch: A Spiritual Journey Through Alzheimer’s, by Jade Angelica, (available December 16, $16).  Angelica chronicles her mother’s journey through Alzheimer’s and her own experiences with grief and the unexpected gifts that can come with this disease.

Jewish Voices in Unitarian Universalism, edited by Leah Hart-Landsberg and Marti Keller, (available Jan. 22, $14). A collection of reflections from people who are both UU and Jewish. From the book description: “While there has been a long and consistent presence of Jewish culture and people in Unitarian Universalism, this poignant anthology is the first to give voice to this community’s struggles, wisdom, and contributions. Essayists include born Jews who came to Unitarian Universalism, Unitarian Universalists who adopted Judaism as a spiritual path, and Unitarian Universalists who have encountered Judaism in diverse ways.”

Discounts are available for multiple copies.

Test of accessibility certification program underway

A two-year field test is underway to create a program that will help congregations become more welcoming to people with disabilities.

EqUUal Access, in partnership with the Unitarian Universalist Association, has developed a program that will allow congregations to work toward certification in the area of accessibility and inclusion.

EqUUal Access is a UU group that advocates for increased inclusion and access in congregations and throughout the UUA. A pilot test of the certification process is underway in ten congregations. The certification program is expected to be available to all congregations by 2015, said the Rev. Barbara F. Meyers, chair of the EqUUal Access Policy Committee, and coordinator of the certification effort.

The program, with the working title Disability/Ability Action Program, leads congregations through a process that begins with an assessment of how accessible it is. The program helps congregations learn about accessibility issues through worship, workshops, and other means. When the certification program has been completed a congregation can vote to be recognized by EqUUal Access.

The program is modeled after the UUA’s Welcoming Congregation and Green Sanctuary programs. Said Meyers, “We are highlighting the religious and spiritual dimensions of becoming certified. Our certification program addresses changing hearts and living our faith, not just building ramps and installing hearing loops, as important as those actions are.” For information about the program, contact Meyers at com_minister@mpuuc.org.

UU World survey needs your voice

There’s still time to complete a UU World survey that will help determine the future of the magazine. The 31 questions include ones on whether you read the magazine in print form or online (or both), what social media you use, and your involvement with a congregation or other aspect of Unitarian Universalism.

The survey takes about five minutes and can be found at the Your Voice Counts link at the top of the uuworld.org webpage.

Tips from Facebook on doing church

Congregationally-relevant articles that people like you have posted on Facebook in recent weeks include the following:

How Many Staff Do You Need, from the Ministry Matters website.

Why Worship Shouldn’t Feel Like Family, Ministry Matters

Why Are Fewer People in Church? It’s the Economy, Stupid, from the website Gestating a Church.

• Cabaret Church – On The VUU, a weekly webcast discussion sponsored by the Church of the Larger Fellowship, the Rev. Sean Parker Dennison explains his proposal for “Cabaret Church,” (Aug. 29 webcast) which would be centered around music, art, resistance, and community. He notes that cabarets were a response in the thirties to Fascism and they might well be useful tools today in bringing a religious perspective to contemporary culture and world politics. Cabaret Church also has its own page on Facebook and on Tumblr.

The Facebook page Growing Unitarian Universalism recommends the article “Are Your Church Facilities an Obstacle to Growth? about the ways first-time guests see your building.

Film explores LGBT crisis in Uganda, urges support

Congregations have an opportunity to stand against the oppression of LGBT people in Uganda. A new documentary film, God Loves Uganda, which explores a campaign by Western evangelical religious leaders to promote intolerance and punishment for LGBT people in Africa, is available for viewing by congregations. A movie trailer is on the website.

The film follows prominent conservative American and Ugandan religious leaders who are actively attempting to create an African culture based on religious bigotry and Biblical intolerance.

The Rev. Mark Kiyimba, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Kampala, Uganda and who runs a housing program for HIV orphans, homeless LGBT youth and others, is asking UU congregations in North America to raise their voices against this tide of intolerance.

In a video posted on the Standing on the Side of Love website Kiyimba said there are religious leaders and others in Uganda who do support LGBT people, but without backing from North American allies, they are afraid to speak out.

Kiyimba urges congregations to view the film and decide how they could support LGBT people in Uganda. To view the film, fill out an online application. Next to your  congregation’s name on the application add the letters “UUA” to receive a reduced rate of $150 for screening the film.

The film will be shown in theaters in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Congregations in those cities will not be permitted to show the film. They are urged  instead to gather groups to attend one of the movie screenings. Bulk ticket prices will be available. Screenings around the country will be listed on the God Loves Uganda website as they are scheduled.

Congregations are also invited to support a fund created by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the UU United Nations Office, called the UUA/UU-UNO LGBT Uganda Fund, either by direct contributions or by naming it as a Share-the-Plate recipient.

UU Social Media Lab a place for questions

The UU Social Media Lab on Facebook has included the following discussions in recent weeks:

• Whether to make worship services available on DVD, livestreaming, or by posting the files onto websites and Facebook pages. And if posting to websites, to be mindful to omit music that is copyrighted unless permissions have been obtained.

• From a congregation that loans its folding chairs for public events: How can the chairs be creatively marked to promote the congregation’s mission?

• Locating email newsletter software that will allow creation of PDFs so it can be added later to a website.

• Reviewing and rating your congregation on Yelp as a way of attracting seekers. Try this. Go to yelp.com, put in the name of your congregation, and see what comes up.

Join the lab (registration required) for discussions about a variety of topics around how congregations can and do use social media.

‘Behind the Kitchen Door’ new UUA Common Read

The book Behind the Kitchen Door by Saru Jayaraman has been chosen as the 2013–14 UUA Common Read.

The book describes how restaurant workers live on very low wages, and how poor working conditions, including discriminatory labor practices, exploitation, and unsanitary kitchens, affect the meals that are served to all of us. The author, who launched a national restaurant workers organization after 9/11, tells the stories of ten restaurant workers in cities across the United States as she explores the political, economic, and moral implications of eating out.

She explains that what is at stake is not only our own health, but the health and well-being of the second largest private sector workforce—10 million people, many of them immigrants and many of them people of color.

All Unitarian Universalists are invited to read Behind the Kitchen Door as a way to reflect on their own dining out practices and the lives of those who create the meals and serve the food.

The author is cofounder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, an organization working to improve conditions for restaurant workers. The book is a resource for the new minimum wage campaign announced July 18 by the UU Service Committee and the UUA. The campaign has a goal of raising the minimum wage to $10. The book, published by Cornell University Press earlier this year, is available from the UUA Bookstore for $21.95, with discounts for multiple copies.

Tips to recruit and retain volunteers

On the blog Growing Vital Leaders, the Rev. Renee Ruchtozke, leadership development consultant for the Central East Regional Group of the Unitarian Universalist Association, offers some tips for recruiting volunteers. In brief, find out what each member’s gifts and passions are and help them find a role that feeds them, notes Ruchtozke, drawing on information from Bonnie Blosser, the director of lifelong learning at the Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, Kans. See the blog entry “Your Trash, Another’s Treasure.” Also read the comments for more information.

If someone is being fed, say Ruchtozke and Blosser, they are less likely to burn out or fade away. And if you find a volunteer who seems to be struggling, make it possible for them to give up part of that job to someone who might enjoy it more. Or leave it empty to see if someone will step into it. It’s important, Blosser says, to “walk beside” the volunteer. “Sometimes just knowing you have someone you can turn to helps you to plow through.”

Growing Vital Leaders is a blog of the Central East Regional Group that focuses on ideas, tips, and tools on leadership formation. Recent blog topics have included congregational communications and management issues.

Many other articles and several webinars on volunteer recruitment are here.

Survey looks at needs of marginalized people

In an effort to learn more about the needs of people who are marginalized around issues that include ability, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, the UUA’s Multicultural Ministries Sharing Project has launched a survey intended for individuals in those groups.

The survey, which is online and may be taken until October 31, is open to anyone in the above groups who is at least 13 years old and has a UU affiliation. It is being conducted through the Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group in the Office for Congregational Advocacy and Witness. The survey will be followed by focus groups, to be held October through December to help UU leaders and UUA staff “understand where we are now and what we need to be well-equipped to meet the ministry needs of UUs in the 21st century,” according to the news release announcing the sharing project.

Those who do not fit the target categories are invited to share information about the survey with those for whom it is intended. If you have questions, contact Alex Kapitan, LGBTQ and Multicultural Programs administrator in the Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group.