Greeter resource on multiculturalism

Multicultural Welcome: A Resource for Greeters in UU Congregations, is a 12-page document created by the UUA’s Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group to help congregational greeters respond well to every person who comes through the door on Sunday morning.

This greeter resource grew out of a workshop at General Assembly 2010 called Multicultural Membership Journey, which explored what it means to welcome people of various identities.

Alex Kapitan, the staff group’s Congregational Justice administrator, says, “This brand new, brief training resource for greeters builds awareness around how our congregations can be fully and truly welcoming, explores how to integrate membership with our lived faith and social justice work, and offers strategies for developing competencies of inclusion and practicing your welcome.”

The resource invites greeters to use role play to think about what it would be like to be welcoming to someone who is blind, uses a wheelchair, has a strong foreign accent, didn’t complete high school or go to college, wears a cross, or has an ambiguous gender identity.

General advice: Greet everyone, including people who are not new (demonstrating care for everyone). Ask open-ended questions. Listen without interrupting. Let people tell you about their theology rather than you anticipating it. Allow them to not answer your questions if they choose.

The resource was developed by Janice Marie Johnson, the Rev. Alicia Forde, Susanna Whitman, and India McKnight. It is available free online.

Should we attract consumers or questers?

The Rev. Naomi King, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Plantation, Fla., posed the following question in the UU Growth Lab on Facebook:

Is your community living missionally or attractionally? When we devote our energies to making our congregations attractional, we’re providing a service that can be consumed, and we’ll be rated and expected to produce a high-grade consumable product, usually without a comparable budget. I’d argue that that rarely equips people for a life-changing spiritual quest, and it does even less for truly changing this world for the better.

It does tend to feel great for the consumer, though, (while creating) super-high anxiety for the service providers. When we’re living missionally, we’re on an astounding adventure together, in a multitude of ways, to transform this world for greater goodness, to be changed ourselves, and to give thanks and praise along the way.

The anxiety in missional congregations is more evenly distributed because everyone has their part to do as part of the questing company. Everyone’s gifts are important, and everyone bears big responsibilities about saving the world. Risk is there, failure is present, but failure is embraced as a chance to learn. Risk is just part of meaningful life.

The mission is more important than comfort, because we’re on fire with the passion of that mission . . . Is yours an attractional community model of growth or a missional community adventure model of growth?

Find out more about the UU Growth Lab here.

Close friends at church equal happiness

The number of friends you have at your place of worship has more to do with how happy you are than does theology or spirituality, says Chaeyoon Lim, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led a study, “Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction.”

The study is reported in the recent book, American Grace by David Campbell and Robert D. Putnam. Lim and Putnam, of Harvard University, found that people who have three to five close friends in their congregation are more likely to report they are extremely satisfied with their lives than those people who attend a place of worship but don’t have close friends there. The full report is available as a PDF here.

“To me, the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people happier, but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there,” Lim said.

People like to feel that they belong, Lim said. “One of the important functions of religion is to give people a sense of belonging to a moral community based on religious faith,” he said. “This community, however, could be abstract and remote unless one has an intimate circle of friends who share a similar identity. The friends in one’s congregation thus make the religious community real and tangible, and strengthen one’s sense of belonging to the community.”

How much to ask of young adults

Unsure about how much to ask of young adults in your congregation? Andrew Coate, a young adult in Maine, offers one perspective at his blog “thoughts ON.” Here’s a sampling from a blog entry titled “Dear Church”:

If I offer to hold an adult RE class . . . don’t market it as “for young adults.” My voice deserves to be heard . . . by the entire congregation. . . when you ask my ideas on getting more younger people in the congregation and then I give those ideas, the next step is for you to respond to those ideas in a productive way, even if that productive way happens to be, “right now our church probably can’t swing this, but what if we did X instead?”

Photo frame is a way to share church life

Want a way to spot guests on Sunday morning and build connections with members? Install a digital photo frame in your foyer. Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colo., did that a year ago, and it attracts people every Sunday, say staff members.

Digital frames, placed on a desktop or mounted on a wall, can hold more than 100 photos that are presented in a repeatable loop. Dee Ray, public relations chair at JUC, says photos can be loaded directly into the frame or you can use flash drives and SD memory cards, which can be loaded at home with different sets of photos and inserted at church.

Ray uses a graphics program that labels photos on their surface with the date, event, and names of participants (if practical). Ray chose a 15-inch frame for JUC. A 15-inch frame costs around $200 and a 10-inch one $80. Some frames can include music as well.

“I’ve gotten many compliments on this addition to our commons area,” she says. “People love to watch it. Those who have been around for some time get a feeling of nostalgia, and newer folks get a visual cue to the many programs we offer at JUC and a sense of the fun and excitement of our church life.”

A photo frame has the added benefit of giving first-timers something to engage with if they are not being spoken to. In July it can also be loaded with photos from the annual General Assembly, sharing that experience with those who did not attend. One precaution: Find a place for the frame where viewers won’t block traffic.

Resource guide for ministering to seniors

An Alban Institute Congregational Resource Guide––Tools for Ministry with Senior Adults––is available as a PDF here. The guide, for those who work with senior adults, offers help to understand the spiritual, psychological, familial, socioeconomic, and medical dimensions of a person’s life.

The guide includes ways to make home visits with seniors more meaningful. A “Parish Spiritual Assessment Tool” helps ministers and lay care teams get to know senior adults better and provides ways for elders to share their needs and concerns.

The guide also includes formats for planning special worship services that honor seniors in the congregation, helping them plan their memorial services, and remembering those who have died.

Small Texas congregation finds a way to build

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

For years, the Huntsville, Texas, Unitarian Universalist Church held its services in a local hospital chapel. The congregation has been meeting since the early 1980s, but now, finally, it has its own building.

“We’d talked about a building for years,” says member Lee Stringer, “but it never happened. Finally, in early 2009 we overcame the objections and fears of those who had been opposed and we held a vote. It was 17-3 in favor.” Construction began within weeks.

The congregation held its first service in the building on February 14, 2010. And with the new building came other changes. Immediately there were visitors every week, says Stringer, chair of the Building Committee. “At the chapel we might have had one visitor a quarter. The membership has grown from 28 to 34 members. People in town know we’re here now. This has given us visibility.”

Go to the full article.

Videos for newcomers

Q. We’re looking for a video about Unitarian Universalism that we can use in newcomer classes.

A. Many congregations use Voices of a Liberal Faith. View it here: http://www.uuplanet.tv/video/Voices-of-a-Liberal-Faith-Unita.

The Church of the Larger Fellowship also has a new service in which it will help congregations create 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. Find out more and view a sample online class here.

A third option is the DVD Our American Roots, highlighting the history of Unitarian Universalism in North America. It is $75 from All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Okla.

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.”

February 1 is certification deadline

Monday, February 1 is the deadline for congregations to file an annual Certification of Membership with the UUA. To do this, log into the Data Services Login Page for Congregations. When you are logged in you can certify your congregation’s membership and statistical data. Do this by selecting “Begin Certification of Membership 2010.” You can also update the congregation’s mailing and meeting addresses, phone number, email, etc. This congregational contact information appears on the UUA’s Find a Congregation page.

Although anyone at your congregation can be authorized to input the congregation’s membership number on the website, the number that is entered must be certified as accurate by a minister or officer of the congregation.

Certification is used by the UUA to determine the number of delegates each congregation may send to General Assembly. The deadline on February 1 is at 5 p.m. (Pacific Time).

When your annual meeting rolls around this spring (or next fall) remember that there’s a new, easier way for congregations to update their membership and leadership lists with the UUA. It’s called my.uua.org. Learn more about it here.