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.

New book helps in talking about class

We don’t talk much about class in UU circles, says the Rev. Mark W. Harris.

Is that because the stereotypes are true––that we are only educated suburbanites? Or intellectual urbanites? When we look around on Sunday morning, do we see people who are “not like us”?

Not often, says Harris, who has written a book, Elite: Uncovering Classism in Unitarian Universalist History, that will be useful in creating discussions of classism in lifespan religious education classes, small group ministry sessions, book groups, and sermons. The book is available for $10 at the UUA Bookstore.

Harris, minister of the First Parish of Watertown, Mass., takes us on a historical tour of classist behavior by Unitarians and Universalists. One of his first stops is around the time of the American Revolution when Unitarians preached that God had given everyone the gift of reason––but given it in differing amounts. Then there was the “Boston Brahmin” period of the late 1870s when Unitarian “elites” controlled pretty much everything and didn’t consider the “lower classes” qualified to help make the rules or sit beside them in church.

Harris also devotes much of a chapter to eugenics, the belief, supported by many Unitarians in the early 1900s, that some people’s genetics were superior to others and should be managed accordingly. Universalists, says Harris, have generally been more welcoming throughout history, consisting as they did of a broader range of classes, including tradespeople, textile and mill workers, and farmers, as well as ship captains and merchants.

We carry assumptions, says Harris, “that a liberal thinking person’s faith will not appeal to those who are not college-educated, work with their hands, drive pick-up trucks, or live more than twenty miles from an art museum.” He notes that many of us seem more comfortable with gender, race, and sexual differences than with “working class” people. Perhaps, he says, “we are too quick to dismiss the truth that all classes have folks who are smart inquisitive people with inquiring minds and hearts open to all kinds of people. We should not sell our faith short when it comes to what we have to offer and why we want others to join us.”

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.

Congregations do transgender outreach

Eleven UU congregations from the District of Columbia to northern New Jersey reached out to the transgender community in early June with a presence at the Mazzoni Center’s Trans-Health Conference in Philadelphia. The congregations placed a two-page ad in the event program and staffed an information table. They also contributed $500 to the Mazzoni Center, which provides a range of services for the lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender community.

Ken Goldberg, chair of the social justice committee at the UU Church in Cherry Hill, N.J., said, “we shared our compelling message—you are welcomed to our churches, at all levels of congregational life; please share your personal journey with our loving, spiritual communities; ours is a place where you can be your real self.”

He said five people who attended the event came to services the following Sunday at First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, the closest congregation to the event.

He also noted Unitarian Universalism was the only faith group represented at this event. “We became more aware of transgender issues, trans folks became more aware of us, and we developed contacts with other groups supporting this community,” he said. For information in organizing similar events email Goldberg.

How to counter bad behavior with covenants, loving intervention

Tandi Rogers Koerger, program specialist for the UUA’s Pacific Northwest District, has added a post to her blog about conflict and covenants of right relations. She notes:

Many a visitor will walk through our doors seeking to be guided by Unitarian Universalist theology and held by Unitarian Universalist religious community. And many of those visitors will leave, repelled by less than inspiring worship or an exhausting congregational conflict or our issues with power and authority… So many of our congregations allow bad behavior in the effort to preserve “the inherent worth and dignity of all.”

More often than not, this bad behavior becomes part of the cultural norm: arguing the fine points of final reports at congregational meetings, using candles of joys and concerns for public service announcements, assuming there is one politically correct way to be Unitarian Universalist, triangulating and undermining leadership, using email for heated discussion, and using consensus as a weapon to get one’s way are just a few of my favorite examples. There is nothing worthy or dignified in this behavior. A loving intervention and firm, clear boundaries are the way to promote worth and dignity…

She goes on to describe how congregations can create positive patterns, and the resources available to help with that. Read the full post at her blog.

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:

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.

CLF will help you welcome seekers

Congregations can get help in presenting themselves to seekers through a new service provided by the Church of the Larger Fellowship.

For $250 the CLF will prepare 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.

The CLF will create the class using text, photos, and video specific to the congregation, host the class on its server, provide technical support for three months, and offer resources for promoting the class.

Learn more and view a sample online class here. Contact the Rev. Lynn Ungar, CLF’s minister for Lifespan Learning, at

Letter: Small congregation website costs little

Regarding your article about the UU Church in Arlington, Va., (Arlington Website Creates Stronger Connections) spending $1,000 a year doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but for small congregations like ours at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco, Tex., $1,000 is a big deal.

There’s never a need to spend hundreds of dollars to effectively reach visitors and communicate with members. For us, we can get the same level of interactivity—video, audio, forums—by doing the content management work ourselves for about $80 per year. No contracts. No downtime. No ads. No extra charges. Ever. If you don’t know how, I’m happy to share the knowledge for free.

Rob Cervantes, Tech Advisor