What Four Years Has Taught Me

Rev. David Pyle

For the last four years, I have had the honor of serving the congregations of the Central East Region of the UUA, first as the District Executive of the Joseph Priestley District, and then as a Primary Contact and as a specialist in governance, staffing, ministry, and pastoral care.  I remember when I accepted the position, the Central East Region had been mostly a dream and an agreement to share a few staff between the four districts, and now it is a fully functioning staff team, and a growing set of wider relationships among congregations.  While the Central East Region is still growing and adapting, it is wonderful to see the ways in which what was once an idea has been “made manifest”.

As I am preparing to step away from serving on the Central East Regional staff for a year, to serve our country as a U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain during a deployment, I have been thinking about what these four years has taught me.  It is a little different than when I have departed from previous ministries, because I will be returning to the UUA staff when my active duty obligation is complete.  What I have been thinking about these last few weeks has been the learnings that I will continue to live into when I return.

The first and largest of these  is the realization that there are no two Unitarian Universalist congregations that are the same.

We can intellectually say that every congregation is a unique expression of our living faith tradition, but I think serving in the role of the Regional Staff is one of the few ways to really see that truth.  Every congregation makes decisions in a different way.  Every congregation understands its core beliefs in a different way.  Every congregation sees its purpose differently.  Every congregation has a different relationship between its leadership and ordained ministry.  Every congregation does faith formation differently. Every congregation has different joys and pains in its history, which lead to different assumptions and challenges.

As a consultant, I think I first thought that we should try to make our congregations more like one another.  As if there was one “right” way, or “best practice” that would work in all the varying congregations, cultures, and contexts of our free faith.  The arc of my development on this led me later to think that such commonality would be beneficial, but it might be impossible to ever actually occur.

What working with the wonderful and dedicated leaders of our congregations has taught me is that the strength and beauty of our religious movement lies in just how different all of our congregations are.  And that very few people are in a position to see that strength and beauty the way that members of your Regional Staff do.

The passion I think I will return to is how to help those serving in the leadership of a congregation to see the strength and beauty of their own congregation.  To see and celebrate its uniqueness.  To own the history and culture that create their congregation’s identity in such a way that inspires them to be the best of both.

To stop thinking of the differences in our congregations as something that “needs to be fixed”.

And… to begin to see the strength and beauty in other Unitarian Universalist congregations as well… not to copy them or even to learn from them, although learning might happen.  No, I want all of you to see the ways in which our differences make for who we are as a movement of liberal faith.

I look forward to seeing you all when I return, and to continue to be amazed by your dedication and love for one another.  Thank you for allowing me to journey with you these last four years, and I look forward to catching back up to you on this path.

Yours in Faith,
Rev. David Pyle

Note: Paula Cole-Jones will be filling in this next year for Rev. Pyle starting on August 13th.

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News from the CER Staff – More Changes!

One of the joys of serving Unitarian Universalism as a member of the Central East Regional Staff has been the commitment of the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the members of our congregations to my also serving as a Chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserves. Combining these two ministries has made me better in both of my roles, and I have been grateful for the support I have received from our Regional Lead, Rev. Megan Foley, from my colleagues on the Central East Regional Staff, from the members of the Association’s Leadership Council, and from Unitarian Universalist ministers and leaders in the congregations of the Central East Region.

Some of you may have noticed a position vacancy announcement for a 1-year Interim position on the staff of the Central East Region. The reason for this opening position is that I have been designated for deployment to the Middle East as a part of Operation Spartan Shield, to serve as a Chaplain in Medical Command. It is my intention to go on unpaid leave from the Unitarian Universalist Association beginning sometime in July (depending on training requirements) and to be away from the UUA for approximately one year. Through the summer I will be focused on completing some necessary training requirements, as well as being available for my soldiers and their families. I will be traveling to the Middle East in the fall and will be there for approximately 9 months. I expect to return to serving as a member of the UUA Staff during the summer of 2019.

Though I did not volunteer for this assignment, I will admit to being willing to go. Though I have deployed several times as a soldier, I have never deployed as a Chaplain, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do that before the end of my military career. Though I cannot share much about the mission, I will say that it is in-tune with my personal faith and with my Unitarian Universalist Values. I will be with a team of Medical Command soldiers who were specifically selected for this mission, many of whom already know me as “their” Chaplain.

I want to thank the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association, who have been very supportive through this time and who have expressed a commitment to my having a job when I return home… a blessing that not all of my soldiers or fellow chaplains have. I also want to thank all of the friends and colleagues who have offered to be supportive to my family during the time that I am away. It is good to be a member of this faith community, and I know that I am not taking on this mission alone.

And, I want to thank all of those who are considering applying for the Interim position on the Central East Regional Staff. Knowing that the congregations I serve will be well cared for by the whole Central East Regional Team will allow me to focus on making sure I am part of our saving lives overseas, as well as making sure I come home. If you are interested in the Interim position, please look at this PDF.

And, until I go on leave in July, I am still serving as a member of the Central East Regional Staff, and the work I have already committed to doing with congregations will be accomplished before I leave. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you all before I go, and again when I return.

Chaplain (CPT) David Pyle
Brigade Chaplain
8th Medical Brigade, 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support)
Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, NY

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Does Your Congregation Provide Trauma Support to Members?

At one time in our country people joined a religious community because it was expected that they do so. At the heart of what they sought within the community lay a societal norm and a sense of “Being Human Religiously” to quote James Luther Adams. They came seeking social and spiritual connection and grounding, for themselves and for their children. And Church was the primary place that you could find these social and spiritual connections.

That has changed. Now our culture offers a plethora of opportunities for both social and spiritual connections, and for a sense of grounding and foundation from which life can be lived. In essence, the traditional church found that it had competition, and it has struggled to let go of the assumptions of the role and place church should play in a society.

I believe there is a different trend that draws people into religious community today. People may stay in a congregation because of the community, the connection, and the sense of grounding, but that is not what draws them to a religious community anymore.

When I was in Parish Ministry, it was part of my practice to offer to meet with visitors, one on one. Not all would take me up on it, but many did, and what I learned was that almost every person who came into our doors fell into one of two patterns. Either they had attended a Unitarian Universalist congregation somewhere before and had just moved to our town, or they had recently experienced a trauma in their life.

Trauma is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot, so let me tell you what I mean. Trauma is experiences of our physical, mental, and spiritual being that disrupt our sense of safety, integrity, or identity. Trauma is an experience where a person’s core assumptions about themselves, their family, their community, and even their country are challenged in such a way that they can no longer hold.

Human beings experience trauma, and some people experience more of it than others. One way to understand privilege in our society is that those individuals with privilege experience trauma less, because society is less likely to challenge their core assumptions. Other people experience trauma on a daily basis, because society challenges or negates core aspects of their identity, body, relationships, and ideals every day. Each of us deals with trauma differently, but we all experience it.
What I learned listening to those who were visiting our church was that most had recently had an experience in their life that challenged their core assumptions about themselves, their family, their community, or their country. Often several experiences… and seeking to recover from this trauma what convinced them to get out of bed that Sunday morning and first come to a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

How does it change the way we seek to bring people into our religious communities if we realize that many are not just seeking a spiritual, religious, or secular community, but that they have come because they are hurting? Because something has challenged a core sense of themselves? That they are coming because of a deep need created by a trauma to their sense of identity, safety, body, relationships and ideals? Especially when you consider that those already within the religious community will also experience their own trauma?

When I offer workshops on new member integration programs, I offer that a congregation should let go of the desire to tell people about the church, and foster a desire to help visitors tell their own stories of their lives. That a congregation should develop a practice of deep listening to visitors, to hear their stories, and to help people express who they are and what they need from a religious community. I share that we do not build a sense of connection with visitors through programs, but through relationships with people. And often, that begins with a relationship with just one person. It begins with the visitor making a friend who will listen to the pain that brought them to church that morning.

While I do believe that membership programs that realize that many who are exploring a congregation are integrating some trauma in their lives are more successful at gaining new members, that is not my point. My point is that this is a ministry to individuals and to the world that we need to be doing. We have the gift that people come to our doors when they are hurting because something somewhere makes them believe that we can help. And we… we need to be worthy of that belief.

Rev. David Pyle
CER Congregational Life Staff

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Congregation Takes a Risk – and Succeeds

Chris Crass presentationDuring the Martin Luther King Day Weekend, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Mill Creek, in Newark Delaware, invited racial justice organizer and activist Chris Crass to present a Courage for Racial Justice / Courage for Liberation Conference and Training that brought together area congregations from multiple faith traditions and the local activist community working on issues of Racial Justice.  “We had 113 people attend the Saturday workshop, and 111 attend the worship service the following day.  Two-Thirds of the attendees were Unitarian Universalists, but the rest were members of our local community” says Rev. Gregory Pelley, minister for the UU Society of Mill Creek.  “It became an interfaith community event”.

After hearing Chris Crass speak at the UUA General Assembly this past summer in Columbus Ohio, one member of the congregation, Linda Lucero, decided to work to bring Chris Crass to speak at Mill Creek.  The congregation partnered with the two other congregations in the Wilmington Delaware area, including receiving financial support for the First Unitarian Church of Wilmington.  They also conducted a successful Faithify crowdfunding campaign, and received registration and advertising support from the UUA’s Central East Region.   “With recent developments in our country, we wanted to have someone who could talk about organizing for Racial Justice in a way our members could get engaged with” Rev. Pelley explained.

The congregation has experienced renewed energy for the work of Racial Justice, and a deeper sense of connection to area congregations and the racial justice activist community.  “The surprise was that we pulled it off, and that we raised all the money we needed to raise to make it happen.”  The event was a risk for a congregation of 141 members to attempt. When asked what the congregation learned that could be useful for other congregations, Rev. Pelley said “Go for it… take the risk and put your energy into it.  We were successful because we kept broadening the vision and the scope to include as many people as we could.”

Chris Carss workshop Chris Crass workshop

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Building a Home Takes Many Hands

UUs of Southern Delaware SanctuaryA dream that began in 2012 became true on Sunday, October 18, 2015 for the Unitarian Universalists of Southern Delaware, as they dedicated their new Church Home in Lewes, Delaware.  The congregation moved this fall from their small rental space to this spacious converted home, which they had remodeled and added a beautiful new sanctuary and gathering spaces.  This new home was made possible with the support of a group of members, known as the “Pioneers”, who purchased the property while the congregation decided whether or not to make the commitment of a new church home, and conducted a capital campaign to raise the necessary funds.  The building of the sanctuary and remodel of the property was also supported by the JPD Chalice Lighter Program, as well as by offering collections and other support from the other Unitarian Universalist congregations of the Delmarva Peninsula, including the longstanding support for the congregation by the First Unitarian Church of Wilmington, Delaware.

The dedication service included Rev. David Pyle, District Executive for the Joseph Priestley District, as well as a video message from the Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.   Rev. Morales pointed out that the congregation is one of the engaging congregations in the country, with many programs and with exceptional growth during its sixteen years.  The new location and size of the congregational home is sure to help the congregation to continue to grow Unitarian Universalism in Southern Delaware.

UUs of Southern Delaware BuildingThe congregation completed this building project while also beginning an Interim Ministry with the Rev. Paula Maiorano, as well as continuing many interfaith and justice ministries programs.  The congregation is now planning for this new space to allow them to revitalize their lifespan religious education programs, as well as a hope that the beautiful new space can become a center for Unitarian Universalists from across the region to come on retreat or for other events.  The church property is right next to a protected wetlands, and the congregation has a desire to share their new home with others of our faith tradition who wish to meet in their community at the Delaware Beaches.

While it is a wonderful story when a Unitarian Universalist congregation finds and builds a new church home, it is a special story when so many other congregations have played a role in making this dream become a reality.  We offer congratulations to the Unitarian Universalists of Southern Delaware, and a hearty thank you for all of the congregations of the Delmarva Peninsula for your commitment to growing Unitarian Universalism!

Check out all the photos taken of the new building by Rev. David Pyle on his facebook page.

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Taking Action in Black Lives Matter

SSL Black Lives Matter LogoIs your congregation considering expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, by placing a banner or sign on congregational property or your web presence? Here are a few things to consider in order to be prepared to join this conversation within your community:

  1. Accept that the banner or sign will likely be vandalized, and what you will do if it is.
  2. Be prepared to stay committed to the message, even in the face of significant negative public response, because backing away from the message would be damaging to the Black Lives Matter movement.
  3. Help your congregation to anticipate and prepare for negative responses to the congregation’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement, knowing that such push-back shows that the message is bringing the conversation about racial justice into public view.
  4. Provide opportunities for the congregation and the community to both learn about racial justice, and to process the emotions that might come with the congregation taking such a controversial stand.
  5. Choose who will speak to the media on behalf of the congregation, and be intentional about the message the congregation wishes to share.
  6. Be ready to receive and welcome those who wish to show solidarity with the congregation’s stand in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and to listen to their stories and wisdom as much as we share with them about Unitarian Universalism.

If you wish to learn more about how your congregation can be prepared for taking a prophetic public stand in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement, see this open letter to congregations from the Central East Regional Staff of the UUA. Many Unitarian Universalists feel called to show our solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and with preparation and discernment your congregation can as well.

You can find resources around the Black Lives Matter Movement on the Standing on the Side of Love website, the UUA website and the CERG website.

Rev. David Pyle
CER Program Manager for Justice Ministries

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