Book encourages writing as a spiritual practice

Unitarian Universalist minister the Rev. Karen Hering has written a book, Writing to Wake the Soul, to inspire and encourage the act of writing as a spiritual practice. The book would appear to be useful for adult education courses and for writing and reflecting on sermons.

Hering is consulting minister of literacy, a title she created, at Unity-Unitarian Church in St. Paul, Minn., where she offers guided writing sessions that correspond to monthly worship themes. She says the book can stimulate “contemplative correspondence.”

In the introduction she writes, “At its essence, whether practiced in groups or alone, contemplative correspondence focuses on theological themes or words, and involves personal writing that is informed and inspired by religious teachings, poetry, stories, visual images, physical objects, memory, imagination, science, history, and wordplay.

Part I of the book offers a reflection on writing, metaphor, and spiritual practice, plus a practical guide to contemplative correspondence. Part Two explores ten theological themes which people can use as writing prompts or simply read as daily meditations.

Hering calls contemplative correspondence “a spiritual practice of writing rooted in theology and story; drawn to the surface by questions, prompts, and ellipses; and most fully experienced when its words are accepted as invitations into conversations and relationships with others. . .”

Writing to Wake the Soul is $19.20 from the publisher Beyond Words.

Discussion guide available for Muhammad: the Story of a Prophet and Reformer

The Faith Development Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association is publishing a three-part, free, online discussion guide for the new Skinner House book, Muhammad: The Story of a Prophet and Reformer, by Sarah Conover.

The book offers younger readers and those who read with them “an encounter with a man quite different from the Muhammad often seen in Western popular culture,” according to publicity for the book. Conover relates the story of a radical prophet who challenged the rich and powerful, guided his community of followers through a dangerous time of persecution and exile, formed alliances with people of different beliefs, and preached “love for humanity what you love for yourself.”

Part One of the discussion guide is available now. It includes a 75-minute workshop for people aged 10 and up, using art and discussion to build knowledge about Islam and compare it to Unitarian Universalism.

Parts Two and Three of the discussion guide will be published later this fall and will be designed for combined groups of youth and adults. Part Two will explore contemporary stereotypes of Muslims. Part Three will examine interfaith relationships, including the interfaith roots of Unitarianism.

Conover is also co-author of Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs: A Treasury of Islamic Wisdom for Children and Parents.

Accompaniment tracks available for hymns

The UU Musicians Network is making available recorded accompaniment tracks for certain hymns and other pieces used in worship. The tracks were created for use by congregations that have limited music resources.

Accompaniment tracks are available for Comfort Me [P. 1002 in Singing the Journey], De Colores [P. 305 in Singing the Living Tradition], The Fire of Commitment [P. 1028 in Singing the Journey], and Gather the Spirit [P. 347 in Singing the Living Tradition].

For each hymn there is a piano accompaniment and a second track with piano and saxophone. The tracks are free. The UUMN would like to hear from congregations that find these useful. Email uumn at uumn.org.  The network will consider making more tracks available if these initial ones prove useful.

‘Assembled 2013’ features major GA presentations

Assembled 2013, a collection of sermons and other major presentations from this past General Assembly in Louisville, is available from the UUA Bookstore as an eBook.

Assembled includes the Ware Lecture by Eboo Patel, the Berry Street Essay by the Rev. Donald E. Robinson, the sermon from the Service of the Living Tradition by Rev. Vanessa Rush Southern, and Rev. William F. Schulz’ sermon from Sunday morning worship.

The collection is $6 from Amazon and $4.62 from Google Play. A similar collection, Assembled 2012, is available from GA 2012.

The theme of General Assembly was “From Promise to Commitment,” about calling UUs and congregations into relationship.

Oct. 31 deadline for marginalized peoples survey

October 31 is the deadline for taking an online survey designed to gather information about the needs of people who are marginalized around issues that include ability, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity. The Multicultural Ministries Sharing Project survey 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 through December. 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.

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.