My name is Dan Kirchoff and I’m a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Belfast, Maine. I’ve been enjoying the Interconnections e-mail newsletter, especially a recent article (or perhaps I should say chain of articles) about the digital congregation. I’ve been working with others to form a Communications Committee in our church and we’ve been studying the initial article as well as all the blogs, tip sheets and such with great interest. I very much appreciate you folks providing us with that.
One issue I’ve see come up in our church, as well as my previous UU church in Rockland, Maine, is volunteer overload. Perhaps you’ve already had articles on this subject that I’ve missed, but it might be well worth re-running. All too often the need for volunteers at church outstrips the available manpower and a new member who is willing to do something gets overloaded with requests to join multiple committees, special tasks forces and councils. I’ve seen others (and felt the urge myself) pull back from participating in church as a result of this overload of requests. It’s as if the church “powers that be” discover “we’ve got a live one” and it’s all downhill from there.
Not too long ago, I was part of a cooperative art gallery in our area of Maine and while things can be hectic with 30 artists all trying to work together, they had some very good ideas. One exceptional requirement for membership in the gallery was that everyone was expected to participate on ONE committee or take on ONE task in the gallery’s function. We had full participation, lots of diversity of ideas, and complete ownership of what was happening there. I’ve often thought of how this might be extended to the functioning of our church in Belfast.
My thought is if everyone in the church’s congregation was encouraged to do just one thing—even if it’s just to join the choir—then we would have an abundance of participation and the diversity of thought and ideas and action would be rich indeed. The idea is not to have one person do five or six things (although since there are members with lots of time and energy on their hands, it also would not necessarily be discouraged) but to have five or six people all doing one thing each. Is it impossible? I wonder if other UU churches have been able to do this, thereby breaking the chain of overuse of a few qualified but very tired people.
I have yet to convince our church council to embark on such a mission, but I’m still working on it. We could even have entry-level, new-member participation slots such as greeters, hospitality and the choir (I’ve found that you make more friends in church just by joining the choir). Then these now-seasoned participators can move up to committees and task forces, eventually ascending to leadership positions. So far, I’ve heard of no such UUA church volunteer initiative, but perhaps it’s time we had one.
Perhaps if you have information on this topic, it could be shared.
Thanks for your attention and I appreciate any feedback you folks might have.
UU Belfast, Maine
Editor’s Note: Dan, many congregations make it clear to new members that the congregation can only function if everyone helps out in some way. They point out that giving of one’s time is an important aspect of membership. Often this happens in new-member orientation courses, but there are other ways to make this point as well. InterConnections will be happy to publish responses to Dan’s question.