Facing Religion in the Future

“I heard people call it a “wake-up call” and say that they were “inspired and energized.”  — Rev. Joe Cleveland,  UU Congregation of Saratoga Springs, NY.

The congregations of the Hudson-Mohawk Cluster held their first cluster leadership conference on October 22, 2016, at the First UU Society of Albany.   While the cluster has held an annual cluster Joint Worship service each spring for over seven years, this was the first time the congregations had come together to explore new knowledge, skills and strategies for strengthening their congregations.

More than 45 leaders and members of six different congregations met in Albany to discuss “Religion in the Future” and participate in workshops focused on social media, multigenerational social justice work, and new member engagement.   The six included the five congregations of the Hudson-Mohawk Cluster (First Albany, Schenectady, Glen’s Falls, Saratoga Springs and Kingston) and one neighboring congregation, Bennington VT, from the New England Region.

Opening worship was presented by clergy and members of the Schenectady and Saratoga Springs congregations, and included a dramatic reading of the Sufi story “The Little Mountain Stream” with slide illustrations.

The keynote on Religion in the Future, with the Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, UUA congregational life consultant, outlined eight major areas of social change that all American faith traditions face today:

  1. Increasing numbers of religiously unaffiliated adults
  2. Increasing numbers of people with negative feelings about “religion” and growing positive feelings about “spirituality” (spiritual but not religious).
  3. Declining participation on Sunday mornings
  4. Increasing diversity and pluralism and individualism
  5. Changing patterns in marriage and family life
  6. Declining religious socialization of children in the home
  7. Aging Baby Boomers and the rise of “active retirement.”
  8. The increasing influence of social media, online connections and the internet

The second half of the keynote explored several different ways congregations from several faith traditions are learning to proactively engage with these social changes.

Several people wanted to take the presentation back to their congregations, since they felt this was such timely and vital perspective on the changes in society and congregations.”—Rev. Margret O’Neall, UU Society of Schenectady.

Participants then gathered in affinity groups, based on role in their congregations or areas of interest, to discuss the keynote over lunch.  Following lunch, people had their choice of three workshops.

“It was a great reminder that none of us are alone in dealing with issues of membership, social media use, governance issues or increasing our cultural competence. We do that work better together.”  — Rev. Sam Trumbore, Fist UU Society of Albany

The workshops included:

  • “Strategic Uses of Social Media,” with Josh Shea, member of First UU Albany. With so many social platforms available, how do we know their best uses?  Learn more about how they work, and to determine which platform would be right for your group or congregation.
  • “More than Numbers: Making and Deepening Connections for Vitality,” with Kristin Cleveland, membership coordinator with the UU Society of Schenectady. How do we know which things we are doing help people feel welcome and connected, and which might turn newcomers away or make it difficult for them to find connections?  We’ll share ideas that better engage people in the activities and mission of the congregation and lead to dynamic and sustained connections.
  • “Helping Children and Youth Learn Through Service and Social Justice,” with Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer, UUA congregational life consultant. Maybe just tagging along is not enough. How can we help our children and youth use their experiences to become people who can connect across difference and understand the complexity of our world?  This takes a little extra attention – and attention to our own development too.

There are already plans to host another cluster leadership event next fall.

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