Newsletter supports small group ministry

An article in the October issue of Covenant Group News, a publication of the UU Small Group Ministry Network, notes the power of moments of silence during small group ministry gatherings. Diana Dorroh, editor of Covenant Group News and program director at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, La., writes:

Silence is a powerful tool for any facilitator. It can be used after a particularly moving sharing occurs. For example, if one member tells a story about the death of a family member, the facilitator can call for a moment of silence. This honors the sharing that just occurred and prepares the way for the next member, who may have been planning to share something joyful.

Some groups routinely allow 15 seconds of silence after each sharing. This honors each person and creates a clean finish of one sharing before the next begins, similar to passing a talking object. It’s also like a small silent prayer after each person’s sharing.

Silence can also be used when a difficult situation occurs (such as an inappropriate comment.) Calling for a moment of silence may . . . allow you to think of something gentle to say, something beginning with “I” and followed by a loving statement to call everyone back to the model and the covenant.

Copies of Covenant Group News are available online. You can also sign up to receive each new issue by email. The UU Small Group Ministry Network also has an email discussion group that supports leaders of small groups.

Addictions Ministry website created

An Addictions Ministry website has been created to assist congregations in creating their own such ministries. It includes useful books, supportive organizations, and help with dealing with disruptive behaviors and creating safe congregation policies.

More than 100 congregations have addictions ministries. Available resources include the book The Addiction Ministry Handbook by UU minister the Rev. Denis Meacham, which is available from the UUA Bookstore. There is also a UUA-sponsored email list, Addictions-Ministry, which you can subscribe to at uua.org/lists to communicate with other congregational leaders who either have, or are creating, addictions ministries.

A UU World article about addiction ministries can be found here. An InterConnections article is here.

Recent articles for lay leaders on uuworld.org

Congregational leaders may find the following recent articles on uuworld.org useful.

Chalica, a new weeklong UU holiday in December, slowly gains adherents. Chalica, first envisioned in 2005, devotes a day to each of Unitarian Universalism’s Seven Principles and invites families to conduct simple rituals at home. 12.7.09

Restoring a Gilded Age church. Restoration of the historic Channing Memorial Church in Newport, R.I. 11.1.09

UUA health plan blends insurance with social justice. The plan now covers 745 employees of UU congregations and organizations.  The article includes a history of the plan’s evolution and stories from those it has helped. 11.16.09

Morales plans comprehensive review of UU ministry. UUA President Peter Morales announced a year-long review of ministry, to include recommendations about where it needs to head in the next twenty years. 10.26.09

New system announced for choosing GA 2010 workshops. General Assembly planners have adopted UU University’s track system and are offering three GA tracks in the areas of growing congregations, evolving ministries, and building just communities. There will be no UU University at this GA. 10.19.09

Youth, adults bond through service trips. Involving youth in social justice work. UU World Fall 2009

New articles are posted weekly on uuworld.org. Sign up to receive a weekly email letting you know what’s new.

‘What Moves Us’ adult curriculum ready

A new adult curriculum, “What Moves Us: Unitarian Universalist Theology,” by the Rev. Dr. Thandeka, is available online through the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Lifespan Faith Development staff group’s Tapestry of Faith program.

The curriculum uses ten 90-minute sessions (expandable to two hours) to explore the life experiences and theological writings of historic and contemporary UU theologians, highlighting those moments that caused them to have a change of heart, a new hope, or a deeper understanding of their faith. What Moves Us invites UUs to engage in their own theological reflections through examining their own experiences.

Theologians included in the What Moves Us curriculum are William Ellery Channing, Hosea Ballou, Margaret Fuller, George deBenneville, Charles Chauncy, James Luther Adams, Sophia Lyon Fahs, Forrest Church, William F. Schulz, and Thandeka. It is being field tested by 12 congregations and cluster groups, but is available for other congregations as well.

Thandeka has taught at Meadville Lombard Theological School at the University of Chicago, San Francisco State University, Harvard Divinity School, Brandeis University, and others. She is the founder of Affect Theology, which investigates the links between religion and emotions, and the author of several books and articles including Learning to Be White: Money, Race and God in America.

Find out more about What Moves Us here.

‘People So Bold’ offers guidance for justice work

Congregations looking for support, guidance, and inspiration in doing social justice work can find it in a DVD and a book of essays, both called A People So Bold. Both were created from conversations on January 4 when a group of UU theologians, social justice advocates, ministers, educators, and others came together to talk about “not how we do social justice, but why we do it and what it means,” in the words of the Rev. Meg Riley, director of the UUA’s Advocacy and Witness program.

“We had a deep conversation about what it means to be engaged in the world,” Riley says, adding that the topics on the DVD include some not normally discussed in social justice contexts, including “how we as UUs talk about evil.” She says other topics include: “How does our faith hold brokenness, injustice, and suffering, and how do we develop a prophetic voice?”

Participants in the talks included the Revs. Rebecca Parker, Paul Rasor, Thandeka, Victoria Safford, and Marilyn Sewell, plus social justice advocates the Rev. Louise Green, Paula Cole Jones, the Rev. Kate Lore, plus Jill Schwendeman, director of youth programs at White Bear UU Church in Mahtomedi, Minn., and Annease Hastings, music director at Bull Run UUs in Manassas, Va. A complete list of participants is here.

The January 4 convocation was the result of a partnership between the UUA and All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, D.C. Three other congregations also participated in the conversations: First Unitarian Church of Portland, Ore., White Bear UU Church, and Bull Run UU Church.

The DVD and book are designed for churches to use every way they can––in lifespan education, by social justice groups, and for sermons, says Riley. Some of the information on the DVD was also used at the UU University session on justice presented at General Assembly 2009.

Congregations can request one free copy of the DVD by emailing socialjustice@uua.org. Additional copies are $10 each. The book, edited by the Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh, cominister of the Winchester UU Society in Winchester, Mass., is $16 from the UUA Bookstore. It is published by Skinner House. A DVD Discussion Guide is available free, online.

Worship resources office is more than WorshipWeb

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

A small congregation in Wisconsin reached out to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Public Information Office earlier this year with a very specific question: Are there any CDs of accompaniment for our hymnals when we don’t have anyone to play on Sunday mornings?

In the past that question might have gotten a short answer—no, unfortunately, there are not. Yet thanks to a three-year grant in 2008 from the Barrett Foundation, there is now an office within the Department of Ministry and Professional Leadership that is dedicated to “discovering, developing, and disseminating the resources needed to deepen the worship experiences in our congregations,” as its mission statement says.

Go to the full article.

Peacemaking, ethical eating deadlines

Congregations may vote and submit comments until February 1 on the draft Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking, presented by the UUA’s Commission on Social Witness. Congregations can also submit information and resources until March 1 on the Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) on Ethical Eating. More information on both issues, including ways to solicit congregational feedback on them, can be found here.

To participate in the debate on these issues, congregations will need to log in through the Data Services Login for Congregations, which became available November 13.  Login information cannot be offered by the CSW. Contact your minister or congregational administrator for login credentials.

Both social justice issues will be discussed at General Assembly 2010.

52 Ways to Ignite Your Congregation

Growing a congregation is a matter of mastering the basics––are the bathrooms clean, are guests welcomed, is worship inclusive of people who are not insiders? But sometimes we forget the basics, and that’s why an occasional reminder is a good thing.

The Rev. Randy Hammer, pastor of United Church, Chapel on the Hill in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and a graduate of Meadville Lombard Theological School, has written a book of such reminders. The book, 52 Ways to Ignite Your Congregation: Practical Hospitality, devotes one page to each of Hammer’s 52 ways of making sure guests are welcomed. They include advice on holding special programs, providing guest parking, creating an attractive roadside sign, providing quality child care, and sprucing up bulletin boards.

The book can serve as a reminder of what we already know we’re supposed to do, and it can inspire us to actually do it. It is also useful as a checklist of items to think about as we review just how welcoming we are.

Hammer is also the author of Everyone a Butterfly: Forty Sermons for Children. Both books are available from the UUA Bookstore.

New book explores governance and ministry

At a time when many congregations are rethinking their governance structures in an effort to help their boards function more effectively and to grow in an ever-changing world, the Rev. Dan Hotchkiss, a Unitarian Universalist minister and senior consultant for the Alban Institute, has written a book that can help.

In Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, Hotchkiss, who has worked with hundreds of churches and synagogues across the country, calls governance an “expressive art,” like preaching. He invites congregations to grow beyond a “board-centered structure,” instead creating a strong relationship with clergy and other lay leaders in the congregation so that the board is not making all of the day-to-day decisions for the congregation.

Many congregations continue to be organized the way they were in 1950, says Hotchkiss. Yet as a congregation grows and programs multiply, so do the disadvantages of the board-centered structure, he believes. “A board that tries to manage day-to-day operations . . . will spend a great deal of time on operational decision making. If there is no other place for a buck to stop it will stop at the board table. Until a board is willing to delegate real authority to someone else it remains the default chief operating officer.”

Hotchkiss says Governance and Ministry will be most useful to congregations that are at least pastoral-sized––with a median attendance of 50 to 150 children and adults. Among the questions the book strives to answer is: How do we need to restructure our governance to grow larger?

When liberal congregations fail to grow they often think that theology is the problem, says Hotchkiss. It’s not. “Well-organized congregations are succeeding (and poorly organized ones are failing) across the theological spectrum. The key trait such congregations have in common is their strong belief that they have something vitally important to offer other people.” That gives them the courage to let go of old ways of organizing. Improved organization can also inspire more people to volunteer.

He adds, “What healthy structures have in common is a clear understanding about the pathway to be followed when various decisions need to be made.”

As an incentive for change, Hotchkiss notes, “Congregations do some of their best work when instead of giving people what they want, they teach them to want something new.”

Governance and Ministry is $17 at the UUA Bookstore.  Hotchkiss is also the author of the 2002 book Ministry and Money: A Guide for Clergy and Their Friends.

Denominational Affairs committees strengthen connections

Q. Our church does not presently have a Denominational Affairs committee, and I am interested in developing one. Could you tell me how we might make it as effective as possible?

A. InterConnections wrote about this topic here. Beyond that, contact your district staff for guidance about how to go about this. Also, consider signing up for the Unitarian Universalist Association-sponsored email list UU-LEADERS, where other congregational leaders will be happy to share their stories about successful Denominational Affairs (also known as Denominational Connections) committees.

Susanna Whitman, the UUA’s growth services program manager, recommends the following:  “If I were on such a committee I would find out what is new that the UUA is doing (read the UUA.org news pages and the main page and UUWorld online, as well as InterConnections.) Keep an eye out for initiatives and programs that could be interesting or useful to your congregation. Check the Events page on UUA.org and check out events and trainings through your district office. Make an effort to keep the congregation informed of key issues from the UUA and affiliated organizations, including the UU Service Committee, so that members know what the wider movement is doing.

Also, attend any national and district events that you can where you can meet people from other congregations and share ideas. Learn about how congregations support the UUA through the Annual Program Fund so that when people in your congregation ask why it’s important to support the UUA you will have answers. After General Assembly organize a Taking GA Home Sunday service to share some of what went on. And be sure to share all of this information with new members so they understand what they are a part of.