About the Author
Sonja L. Cohen
Sonja L. Cohen is managing editor of InterConnections and senior editor of UU World magazine.

Sponsoring congregation program aids small UU groups

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

A fundraising campaign that began in 1993 at the First Unitarian Society of Wilmington, Del., now the First Unitarian Church, was supposed to be all about raising money for a new building project. But along the way the campaign came to be about more than just First Unitarian.

Karel Toll, chair of the fundraising campaign, explains what happened: “In one of our congregational meetings about the campaign a member of the congregation stood up and asked why our large church was raising all this money for bricks and mortar and why we were not sharing some of it with some new or small congregation that did not have our resources?”

It seemed like a reasonable question to Toll. He took it to the board of trustees and asked it to set aside one percent of the money that would be raised. The board agreed. As a result, at the end of the three-year campaign, which raised $1.5 million for a new religious education wing, there was a fund with $15,000.

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Annual themes inspire, motivate Dallas congregation

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

It is, of course, every congregation’s desire to have most of its members actively engaged in personal growth, in deepening their spiritual development and working to improve the larger community and the world.

There’s a lot of all of that going on at First Unitarian Church in Dallas, which has embraced a congregation-wide theme this year: Year of Engagement and Service, or YES!

The YES! theme invites friends and members to get involved in social action and civic engagement projects outside of church, ranging from increased involvement in their neighborhoods to engaging with the world at large. They are encouraged to join one of three YES! “tracks,” focusing on their neighborhood (Neighbors), the Dallas metro area (Community), or the world itself (Global).

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How congregations can respond to hate crimes

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

If you’re fortunate, you’ll never arrive at your meetinghouse to find your rainbow flag or marriage equality banner ripped, defaced with swastikas, burned, or simply stolen. But what if you do? How should you respond?

Late one Saturday afternoon in 2001, at First Parish of Sudbury, Mass., a passerby noticed that swastikas had been spray-painted onto rainbow flag symbols on two street-side church signs. He notified police, who contacted the congregation. That same day members of the congregation removed the swastikas, but the perpetrators returned and drew them again. This time they also stole a rainbow flag flying at the entrance to the meetinghouse.

The congregation spoke out immediately, notifying local and state officials, other clergy, and the school district. On Monday, two days after the defacement, the congregation held an emergency meeting. It concluded the swastikas and the flag theft were acts of hate and that it was a problem that belonged to the whole community, not just First Parish.

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Church turns minister’s installation into day of service

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

When the Rev. Barnaby Feder was helping to plan his installation at the Champlain Valley UU Society in Middlebury, Vt., he decided he wanted the day to include more than just a meaningful ceremony. Which is how paintbrushes, baking pans, and a Japanese maple on the town green came to be part of the day.

He explains: “In addition to the ceremony itself, I wanted us to think about doing something for the community. Installations naturally center on celebrating the commitment of the new minister and the congregation to each other, but I wanted the day to also reflect our commitment to being part of the larger community.”

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New articles focus on sustainability, youth service, and more

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

InterConnections is not the only source of useful information for lay leaders. Check out uuworld.org for stories about innovative congregational projects and new resources from the UUA. Here are some articles on sustainability, youth service, social justice, and outreach published between May and September 2012.

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Suburban congregation bought downtown church for second service

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

The 9 and 11 a.m. services at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, Pa., are 4.3 miles apart. At 9 a.m. part of the congregation gathers at the church’s longtime suburban location on Clover Lane, tucked in between a housing tract and two hotels. Then at 11 a.m. a larger part of the congregation gathers for worship at a big, old, red brick church building on Market Street near downtown Harrisburg. The congregation bought the building three years ago to relieve overcrowding at its suburban building. At a price of $111,000 plus $340,000 for renovations, it was a better deal than the congregation’s other prospect—raising six to eight million for a new building.

In May the congregation completed nine months of holding weekly services in both buildings—and nine months of deep engagement with its new neighborhood. In addition to the overcrowding issue, a desire to do more social justice work was a big reason for buying the building, said the Rev. Howard Dana, the church’s senior minister.

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Things to consider when naming a congregation

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

When a Unitarian Universalist group began to form in 2009 in suburban Cincinnati it wasn’t long before its members decided it needed a name. They thought about naming the new congregation for the town where they met, but then they opted for something different. “We noticed all these contemporary nondenominational Christian churches, which all had names like Wellspring and Crossroads,” says Lindsey Sodano, one of the organizers of the new group.

“Interestingly,” she says, “these congregations are our main competition when many liberal people look for a church. They go there mistakenly thinking the modern music and laid-back minister will translate to beliefs and values similar to theirs. After attending and listening to the anti-LGBT messages these visitors end up with us.”

Sodano’s group picked the name Harmony, a Unitarian Universalist Church. “We wanted to get on the radar of church shoppers, so we went with a modern one-word name,” she says. Other names considered were “Discovery” and “Beacon.”

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Mental health ministries thrive

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

When the Rev. Barbara Meyers began a mental health ministry at the Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Fremont, Calif., in 2005 it was the only one. Not anymore. Now there are several others, including Quimper UU Fellowship in Port Townsend, Wash., and Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colo.

Establishment of a mental health ministry generally requires one committed person within a congregation or a small, dedicated group to make it happen, says Meyers. That’s the case at both Port Townsend and Golden. Meyers has written a curriculum, The Caring Congregation Handbook, about educating a congregation about how to be intentionally supportive of people with mental disorders and their families.

At the Quimper fellowship Judy Tough had been a volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). That work grew out of the fact she has family members with bipolar disorder.

What would happen, she wondered, if congregations could become a place where mentally ill people, as well as families of those with a mental illness, could feel safe talking about it?

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Association Sunday 2011 focuses on excellence in ministry

From a September InterConnections feature story, now online at UUA.org:

Excellence in Ministry is the theme for the fifth Association Sunday, which gets under way October 2. Funds collected this year will be used to support Unitarian Universalis ministries in a variety of ways, including providing scholarships and continuing education grants for UU religious professionals and conducting a comprehensive assessment of UU ministries.

Association Sunday is an annual fundraising campaign of the Unitarian Universalist Association to promote growth and to reaffirm our connections as an Association of congregations. Congregations are invited to set aside a Sunday to focus on their connections to one another and to the Unitarian Universalist Association. They are also asked to take a collection to support special UUA projects.

Funds raised by Association Sunday in previous years were used, in part, to fund scholarships for UU ministerial students. Gretchen Haley received a $17,000 scholarship in 2010 through Association Sunday.

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Support groups for unemployed still vital

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

Earlier this year the Rev. Ralph Mero, a retired Unitarian Universalist minister, formed a men’s group at the congregation led by his wife, the Rev. Deborah Mero, for the study of scripture. But it wasn’t long before a different issue took over the group.

Members of the group, at the Unitarian Fellowship of West Chester, Pa., began sharing not scripture passages, but stories of losing their jobs or struggling with less than ideal work situations. The stories included the litany of problems that go along with job loss—health problems, depression, stress, marital strife, foreclosures.

“Just about every week I would hear of people in our congregation who had been laid off or who were struggling to find replacement work,” says Mero. “Many of these people were over the age of 50 and job loss is especially hard on them,” he noted.

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