About the Author
Sonja L. Cohen
Sonja L. Cohen is managing editor of InterConnections and senior editor of UU World magazine.

How to respond to intruders in worship

From one of August’s InterConnections feature stories, now online at UUA.org:

Would you know what to do if your congregation’s Sunday morning service was disrupted by people who despised your beliefs? It happened July 20 to the congregation at First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans.

In the middle of a service—during a period of meditation—activists from the anti-abortion fundamentalist Christian group Operation Save America began speaking about “abominations” and shouting that the church was “not a true faith,” said the Rev. Deanna Vandiver, who was leading the service. She is executive director of the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal, a group affiliated with UU congregations in New Orleans.

The service was dedicated to commissioning UU youth leaders from around the country who were completing a youth justice training program in New Orleans.

The congregation responded appropriately to the disturbance. Vandiver invited the protesters to stay if they could worship respectfully. When they continued to speak out, the most vocal ones were escorted out by members of the congregation and police were called. Others were made to leave later when they engaged youth and others in inappropriate conversations during coffee hour.

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How to create vital young adult ministries

From one of August’s InterConnections feature stories, now online at UUA.org:

There was a time when it was a bit of a challenge to identify Unitarian Universalist congregations with thriving young adult ministries—but not anymore. More and more congregations are getting the hang of young adult ministries, and they have lots to teach the rest of us.

The Rev. Annie Gonzalez, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate, has been collecting stories from congregations with thriving young adult ministries and posting them on the Blue Boat blog of the UUA’s Youth and Young Adult Ministries staff group. She writes about a different congregation each month.

If you’re looking for inspiration or simply for helpful tips about starting or strengthening a young adult ministry, this is a place to start. “It’s been very inspiring to collect these stories,” said Gonzalez. “It also reminds us there is no one formula for engaging young adults.”

Read the full article.

Get more tips in the InterConnections newsletter

The InterConnections Tipsheet is a great place for church leaders to get quick news and ideas, but there is more expanded coverage in our monthly InterConnections email newsletter. Are you getting InterConnections? Do you know a congregational leader you think should be getting InterConnections who isn’t? It’s easy to sign up for a free subscription.

Welcoming in the Age of Social Media

From April’s InterConnections feature story, now online at UUA.org:

As recently as five or ten years ago, visitors to our congregations showed up full of questions—and brought with them some apprehensions about what Unitarian Universalism might be.

Times have changed. Thanks to the Internet and social media, today’s Sunday guests have a pretty good idea of what they’re getting into by the time they make their first in-person visit.

Peter Bowden, a Unitarian Universalist media consultant who often gives workshops on the relationship of changing culture and social media to ministry, wants congregations to adjust their thinking when it comes to welcoming. 

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Resources to help you start new church year right

From our August InterConnections feature, now online at UUA.org:

The new church year is underway. Newly elected board members have been on the job since June or July at many congregations, and board retreats are scheduled this month or next. Religious education offerings have been organized and added to the calendar, and worship themes have been developed.

But there is still a lot to do and to think about as a new church year gets underway. For those times when you need information but don’t know where to find it, turn to InterConnections. For 15 years, InterConnections has been reporting about issues that leaders grapple with, and most of that information is online, available at the drop of a search word.

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Choosing vendors for your church using UU values

From our June InterConnections feature, now online at UUA.org:

Congregations traditionally promote and encourage Unitarian Universalist values through sermons, religious education, and social justice work. Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul, Minn., is taking its values to a new level—applying them to the companies that it buys products from.

Unity Church leaders refer to this as holding “values conversations” with those vendors. Here’s how it works: Any company that the church buys $2,500 in products or services from annually will be evaluated as to how well it meets certain social justice criteria—minority hiring, environmental sustainability, community engagement, fair treatment of workers—and whether its fees are competitive.

This practice, which gets underway this summer, had its genesis in the renovation of Unity Unitarian’s building, which was completed in November and dedicated May 19. Going back farther, said Barbara Hubbard, Unity Church’s executive director, the congregation has had an active antiracist and antioppression effort for at least ten years, and that work is becoming woven into the fabric of congregational life.

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Why your congregation needs a digital ministry

From one of our May feature stories, now available online at UUA.org:

For fifteen years, as an executive with AOL and other companies, June Herold helped create some of the digital tools and toys that the world uses today, including instant messaging, online games, mobile applications, and an online billing system. She holds six patents on her electronic work.

In 2009 she joined the UU Church of Arlington, Va., where she created a top-of-the-line interactive website for the church that includes a self-contained social network.

All of that is only a prelude to what she hopes to accomplish—bringing every UU congregation fully into the digital world. She believes strongly that without an active and engaging digital presence, congregations will not be fully present in the world.

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Successful share-the-plate program supports Denver nonprofits

From one of our May feature stories, now available online at UUA.org:

When the offering plate comes around on Sunday morning at First Universalist Church of Denver, Colo., many nonprofit groups in the community feel the earth move just a little. This is the third year that the congregation has given its entire offering—every Sunday—to local groups or to support the work of the congregation’s own Social Justice Council task forces.

Associate Minister the Rev. Jeannie Shero said nearly $150,000 has been collected so far through the program, called Compassion in Action. “The first year we collected $44,000, then $56,000,” she said. “This year, which ends in June, will be close to $60,000. Prior to the program the offering would bring in around $25,000, much of which was largely used to support the operating budget.”

“This program represented a major shift for us,” Shero noted. “Was it a hard sell to the congregation? No. Did it make the board of trustees nervous? Yes. Giving up $20,000 for the operating budget was no small thing since the board has fiduciary responsibility.”

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Planning for emergencies and the unthinkable

From one of our April feature stories, now available online at UUA.org:

Is it possible to imagine that an armed intruder could show up on Sunday morning at one of our congregations, inflamed about our inclusiveness or a particular justice stance we’ve taken in the community, and proceed to do us harm?

It happened in 2008 at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. Then the Newtown shootings made us think about it again. However, given everything else we have to worry about, is this something we really need to spend time considering? Or is the possibility of this kind of mayhem so remote that it will never rise to the top of our list of things to be concerned about?

The Rev. Aaron Payson votes for remote—and he votes for planning for it. That’s because he understands that safeguarding against armed intruders should simply be a part of a much broader safety plan that every congregation should have. He estimates that less than 20 percent of UU congregations have such a plan.

Go to the full article.