Now is the Time

“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season.  (W.E.B. DuBois)

For me, now is the accepted time and the appropriate season to retire from my work with the Central East Region as a congregational life consultant as of April 15, 2018.  This was decision was not made lightly.  There are a number of personal,  health and deep family issues that have combined to make this the right decision for me and my family at this time.

Don’t give up hope.
You’re not alone.
Don’t you give up.
Keep moving on.  (Melanie DeMore)

There have been amazing changes in the Central East Region since I first came in 2007 as the District Executive for Ohio-Meadville District (OMD).   There is more support for our congregations and resources to draw upon than we dared dream about 10 years ago.  The Central East Regional staff, along with other Congregational Life staff,  provides and will continue to offer outstanding service to our congregations and our movement.  The Central East Region will continue to keep moving on in partnership with each other and with the talented UUA professionals who serve our congregations and UU movement.

Lift up your eyes
Don’t you despair.
Look up ahead.
The path is there.  (Melanie DeMore)

I will certainly miss working with you all –  the congregations and the church leaders I have come to admire and love.  I count many of you now as friends.  While I will be retiring from the UUA,  I will continue to serve our UU movement as the part-time Executive Director of UU Justice Ohio.  This is another decision that was not made lightly.  But this new ministry path will fit within the limits of my family’s needs and concerns.

It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year.
It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. (W.E.B. DuBois)

I am excited to walk this new path of life as well as move into a new part-time justice ministry in Ohio.   I believe strongly that the times we now live in call us to lift up our voices and values in the public sphere.

If we truly want to build the Beloved Community we dream about,  we must dare to experiment, to risk, to organize and even engage in new strategies of nonviolent confrontation to speak a very necessary truth to today’s chaotic power.

I hope to try and respond to this call as best I can with my (post-retirement) work in UUJO.

Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.” (W.E.B. DuBois)

I have been proud to serve the Ohio-Meadville District and Central East Region.
I feel I have been part of an great effort to plant seeds of an increasingly powerful, effective and healthy Unitarian Universalism in our region.

You gotta put one foot in front of the other
And lead with love.  (Melanie DeMore)

Not only do we lead with love,  but we leave with love – And I leave carrying love for all of you and our UU movement deep in my heart.

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, Columbus, OH

The Central East Region is pleased to announce that the Rev. Sunshine J. Wolfe will join our staff team as Congregational Life Staff starting August 6, 2018. We’ll be making adjustments to who is managing which programs and some primary contacts may be shifted as Sunshine joins our staff so stay tuned!

Rev. Sunshine Wolfe

The Rev. Sunshine J. Wolfe is an Accredited Interim Minister in Training currently serving their third interim congregation- May Memorial UU Society of Syracuse, NY.  Ghe hails originally from Indiana where ghe learned to sing, dance, and cause trouble- the social justice kind.  Ghe is currently a member of TRUUsT (Transgender Religious professional Unitarian UniversalistS Together) and DRUUM (Diverse Revolutionary Multicultural Ministries).

Sunshine is committed to helping congregations become the healthiest versions of themselves so that they can do their important work in the world.  Ghe has served many congregations throughout the country first as Spiritual Development Director at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson.  Ghe served as intern minister at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Cleveland, OH and then completed a Chaplaincy Residency at Indiana University Health Hospitals.  Ghe has also served as Interim Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Montgomery, AL and First Unitarian Church of Alton, IL in the St. Louis metropolitan area.  During gher service in Alton, Sunshine was active with the resistance movements in Ferguson, MO.  Before seminary, Sunshine worked for five years as a Case Manager with homeless adults searching for employment in Tucson, AZ.  Sunshine has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, and a Master of Divinity degree from Starr King School for the Ministry.

Sunshine enjoys silliness, board games, music of all kinds, and thunderstorms.  Ghe particularly likes to go hiking, color mandalas, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where a small handful have gone before.  In other words, ghe’s a science fiction geek with a specialty in Star Trek.

Sunshine identifies as genderqueer and transgender and uses any third gender pronoun including they/their, ghe/gher, and zi/hir.

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Defending our Freedom of Religion for All

“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.” I remember these words of Dorothy Day as I think about the work we must do- all of the small and large steps we must take –  to end hatred and bigotry in our nation.  And the small victories that we celebrate, such as the recent cancellation of the ACT for America anti-Muslim rallies.   The cancellation of these anti-Muslim, Islamophobic rallies is one small step toward building the inclusive, welcoming society we dream about.

The city of Columbus, my home, and our nation are at their best when we come together from all faith traditions, all ethnicities, all backgrounds to support one another in creating a positive future for our children and ourselves.   We know that we can do better when working together to address the issues that hold us back from the promise of progress.

ACT for America was originally scheduled to gather in Columbus on Sept. 9.  This rally and others like it have been cancelled, mostly likely in consideration of assured counter-protests by people like me.  ACT for America is now one of the largest anti-Muslim groups in America.  They falsely claim that American Muslims cannot be loyal US citizens and that they want to impose religious law on all Americans; Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jew and others alike.   This would be a huge surprise to the Muslim Americans who serve faithfully in our military, in our state and local governments, in the US Congress and more.   Years ago, bigots said the same thing about Roman Catholics, like President John Kennedy, and Catholic canon law.  They were wrong then and they are wrong now.

ACT for America is one of many hate groups that are trying to force us to give up our bedrock, historical American commitment to freedom of religion. All the while, the hide behind twisted claims of freedom of speech designed to cover over destructive hate speech.

As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I trace my own religious ancestry back to the Pilgrims.  Freedom of religion is etched into the deepest DNA of this religious heritage, and it is etched into the foundational DNA of our nation.

We know we can do better.  We know we can bring together the strengths of all of our people and all of our faith traditions to address the many social issues we face today.  Only by realizing that we are truly stronger together can we truly make our city, state and nation the land of love, peace and progress that my Pilgrim ancestors and we dream about.

We need to stand up together to put an end to hate.  Together, we have that power. As Dorothy Day also said: “A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere
Columbus OH
Executive Director, UU Justice Ohio and CER Congregational Life Staff

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Interfaith Anti-Racism & Anti-Supremacy Work in Bellville, OH

In Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio, interfaith classes confronting White Supremacy were developed in response to the larger community’s clear lack of understanding on issues of racism.

Rev. Scott Elliot with the First Congregational UCC Black Lives Matter Banner before it was stolen.

In Feb. 2016, First Congregational UCC raised a Black Lives Matter banner on the outside of their church. The Church was vandalized and the sign was stolen. Rev. Scott Elliot, pastor of First Congregational called the police, and was astonished when the responding officer said, “#BLM movement is “officially connected to terrorism by the government” and that the message’s terrorist nature likely upset the community…”

Rev. Scott probed further, seeking the name agency that placed #BLM on the terrorist list. The officer could not find it, and subsequently apologized for the error.

This was significant event, and it needed a real, compassionate response. At All Souls UU in Bellville, the church draws from both Richland and Knox Counties. The congregation felt a responsibility to help. All Souls UU reached out to Rev. Scott to offer assistance, the result was the development of a Fall 2016 9 week study group confronting the issues of White Supremacy and White Privilege.

This new collaboration then led to an interfaith service celebrating the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. And this led to the development of a Spring 2017 class on issue of White Supremacy that included more local area faith communities, including the Apostolic Faith Church, Beulah Apostolic Church and the Mount Vernon Zen Community.

These classes were led by a collaborative interfaith team (Rev. Scott Elliott of First Congregational UCC, Father David Kendall-Sperry of St. Paul Episcopal Church, Pastor Will Humphrey of All Souls UU, Rev. Denise Marikis of Gay St. UMC, and Pastor Eddie Massey of Apostolic Faith Church.) This pastoral partnership will continue this fall with goals of continuing education for the larger community and increasing the involvement of county/city officials.

This story appeared in the UU Justice Ohio Newsletter last week and was contributed by Rev. Joan Van Becelaere.

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First Universalist Lyons Experiencing Revival

The First Universalist Church (UU) of Lyons, OH is experiencing a revival in northwest Ohio.  This small village (pop. 562) is just west of Greater Toledo, and the suburbs are steadily stretching out closer and closer to Lyons. The congregation’s new “G.O.D.” (Growth, Outreach, and Deeds) team has been a big part of the congregation’s recent revival, forming partnerships with local service organizations and engaged in intentional efforts of community outreach and service.  The congregation has made quite a few changes to its Sunday service, with updates to worship and music.  This revival also has a lot to do with the dedication of the congregation’s minister Rev. Larry Hutchison.  The congregation could only afford to bring him on as a part-time minister, yet he does so much more on a volunteer basis.  Things have been looking up for this very small but now growing congregation.

Then, all of a sudden, the congregation’s focus was jerked back to financial struggles and the basic operation of the church.  A recent wind storm hit the aging and worn sanctuary roof with gusts up to 60 miles per hour. This was followed by heavy rains that led to a large ominous dripping wet spot with ceiling tiles stained and loosened. To keep the 149 year old church home from sustaining any more damage the members have had to scramble to raise the money to get the work underway as quickly as possible.  The most economical bid for the replacement of the main part of the roof, just over the sanctuary, is $13,500.00.  The insurance company has pledged $6000.00 to cover only what was damaged by wind, not the entire section of aging and compromised roofing.

The congregation now has a Faithify campaign to raise $5000.00, which leaves $2500.00 for them to cover with an unplanned and hurried capital campaign and from their modest financial safety net.  Failure, however, is not an option.  Failing to secure a roof on our beautiful yet fragile church home could result in not only ending this amazing revival but the closure of the church.  After surviving the Great Depression, World Wars, a lightning strike, and a beam falling through the sanctuary ceiling, it would unthinkable that a worn roof would be the end.

Little Free Library
Poetry, Music and Tacos
Dresses for Malawi
Guest Speakers
Christmas Parade Lit Float
Adopt a Highway Program

In the last year alone, the congregation…:

  • Started a “little free library” in our modest village that no longer has a public library.
  • Have marked out an area for our new community garden.
  • Sponsored 3 “Christmas families,” with a house full of gifts and household necessities, when they would only have taken on one in prior years.
  • Partnered with Sunnyside Peace and Justice Center in Adrian, Michigan to host a night of “Poetry, Tacos, and Music”.
  • Sent durable church-made dresses to Malawi so that girls there can meet the sole requirement for enrolling in school, having a dress.
  • Brought in quite a few guest speakers to bring insights about topics as diverse as solidarity with standing rock, NAACP, living as a Muslim-American, and overcoming addiction, to name a few.
  • Handed out treats at the village’s Trick-or-treat night, which facilitated a lot of community questions about Unitarian Universalism, including one child, to the dismay of his parents, asking, “What kind of church passes out candy at Halloween?”
  • Passed out free food and refreshments during the 120 mile yard sale on route 120.
  • Entered a lit float into the village Christmas parade.
  • Hosted movie nights. Some had a deep or intense message, others were just fun and for all ages.
  • Continued an adopt-a-highway portion of route 120.
  • Lots more…
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Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore

Lifetree Gathering at North UU Congregation, Lewis Center, OH
Lifetree Gathering at North UU Congregation, Lewis Center, OH

That’s the title of a recent book written by Joani and Thom Schultz.   The title shouldn’t shock many of us anymore. There is a lot of evidence for its assertion. According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. As it turns out, less than 20 percent are actually in church. In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are finding other things to do and places to be on weekends.  We also know that somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors every year. Some researchers put that estimate higher, between 8,000 and 10,000 churches closing.

The “Why” in the title is a question with a variety of answers.  We know there are a number of factors involved: changes in the way people regard Sunday services,  demographic changes,  different ways we now view volunteering, competition on weekends, fewer young families with children, and more.  Some people feel spiritual but no longer find institutional church meaningful.  Some don’t want to be in a place where they feel judged for who they are or what they believe.  Some are not certain and won’t commit till they have had more time to consider.   Others are simply not interested.

So inviting people to come to a church on Sunday morning when that’s one of the last places they want to be might not always be an effective means of outreach.  There are other ways, however, we can use to invite people into meaningful spiritual community that are not focused on Sunday morning.

A number of faith communities from different traditions are experimenting with spiritual Conversation Cafes.  One of the best known of these Cafes is “Lifetree Café.”  These 60-90 minute weekly Cafes focus on guided dialogue on a wide variety of topics in an intentionally welcoming, open, “non-churchy” atmosphere.  They are often held in coffee shops or tavern party rooms or libraries or other non-church spaces to eliminate the ‘stigma’ of being inside a church building.   Participants are invited from the sponsoring church and through Facebook and Meet Up and personal friend-to-friend invitation.

Lifetree gathering at a local Panera, North UU Congregation, Lewis Center, OH

These Cafes are a little like small group ministry, but there is no expectation that the same people will show up each week.  Instead, each Café begins with a short introductory exercise that assume people do not always know each other – yet.  Then the following program is designed to lead to deeper levels of discussion and relationship building, moving eventually into some form of spiritual question.

North UU Congregation in Lewis Center OH has been experimenting these past two months with the Café format and is using Lifetree Café curriculum (sometimes with small edits to maintain a general UU orientation.)  People who have experienced these North UU Cafes have found the chance to meet and engage in dialogue with non-church people meaningful and feedback has been supportive.  But participation has varied widely depending the topic.  The established curricular topics are very general and, in light of the major social issues facing us today, some topics have seemed relatively inconsequential.

Consequently, the North UU Café volunteer team has decided to create its own conversation café curriculum beginning March 2017.   They have been discussing the use of topics that are more immediately relevant to current social and political developments, with the expectation that these may be more inviting to both congregational members and non-members.  But the Conversation Cafe dialogue format is something they want to keep and cultivate and expand.

This experiment in outreach is still  in development and it will be evaluated continuously as the team moves to create new curricular topics.   The experiment has already highlighted the fact that Sunday morning in a church building is not the only time and place where meaningful spiritual community can be created.

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Leveraging Their Location

Maumee Valley SignWayside Pulpits” have been mainstays at UU congregations for decades. They started out as outside display cases that hold an uplifting quote from a famous sage (or other respected source) printed on heavy poster-sized paper.  Some examples are:

  • Goodness is the only investment that never fails. — Henry David Thoreau
  • For a thought to change the world, it must first change the life of the person who carries it. — Albert Camus
  • I defy the tyranny of precedent. — Clara Barton
  • Never lose a holy curiosity. — Albert Einstein

 

Designed to pique the curiosity of passers-by, the quotes served as subtle evangelizing tools, especially for intellectuals.  What kind of church quotes women, existentialists and scientists?

 

Originally printed by the UUA and sold to congregations, they are now available in pdf format so that congregations can have them printed locally.   Of course, congregations can also choose their own quotes and create their own Wayside Pulpit posters.

 

But with modern technology and the advent of affordable electronic signs, the Wayside Pulpit can be a more effective evangelical tool.

 

The Maumee Valley UU Congregation in Bowling Green, Ohio is located on the main highway between the college town of Bowling Green, and the city of Toledo (to the north) with a lot of traffic and not much else to look at.  Because the sign is electronic, it can be easily changed to offer a connected series of messages such as:

Be Good to Yourself.     Be Excellent to Others.     Do Everything with Love

We Believe in:
Freedom, Reason & Tolerance
The Necessity of the Democratic Process
The Transformative Power of Love
The Power of Beloved Community
The Never Ending Search for Truth & Meaning
Freedom of Religious Expression

 

They can also respond to current events with agility:

Rainbow Flag Up, Confederate Flag Down
Pro Black Lives, Pro Police Lives

 

The minister of the Maumee Valley UU Congregation, The Rev. Lynn Kerr, reports that many of the first-time visitors to the congregation say that they visited because they were intrigued by the different (and sometimes edgy) messages on the sign. (The rainbow flag sends its own message.)

Perhaps the folksy wisdom in the electronic version of the Wayside Pulpit might create a bigger tent for the faith in our postmodern age.

Here are more samples that MVUUC has displayed on their sign.  Feel free to borrow them for yours:

  • All Welcomed, All Loved
  • Are You a UU and Don’t Know it?
  • Atheists, Agnostics, Religious, All Welcome
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Black Lives Still Matter
  • Be the Change
  • Celebrate Everything
  • Cold Hands, Warm Heart
  • Come As You Are
  • Compassion is the Answer
  • Find Us and You Shall Seek
  • For the Beauty of the Earth
  • Hate Free-Love Filled
  • Journey Inward
  • Justice is What Love Looks Like in Public
  • LGBTQ Friendly & Affirming
  • Leap and the Net Will Appear
  • Live Now-Love Wastefully
  • Love, Courage, Wisdom – Found & Given Here
  • Make Your Voice Heard- Vote
  • Not All Who Wander Are Lost
  • Our Only Doctrine is Love
  • The Path to Peace Begins With Us
  • Peace Can Only Be Achieved Through Understanding
  • Peace is Possible
  • Small Church, Big Heart
  • Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn
  • Speak the Truth, Even if Your Voice Trembles
  • Speak the Truth in Love
  • Standing on the Side of Love
  • Stop Hate.  Together.
  • Truth and Love Always Win
  • War is Expensive, Peace is Priceless
  • We Are All Immigrants
  • We Put Values into Action

 

Rev. Renee Ruchtozke, primary contact for the Maumee Valley UU Congregation

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Vigils for Orlando Victims Held Across the Region

By now, we all know the story of Orlando – it is the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, the deadliest incident of violence against LGBTQ people in the history of the U.S., and the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11 in 2001.

It is overwhelming in so many ways.  And so many members of our Unitarian Universalist congregations were directly and indirectly impacted by this horrific event.  There is now and will be grieving and trauma counseling work needed for years to come.

Our Central East congregations responded immediately and meaningfully, providing sacred space for deep grief work along with tender vigils of solidarity and memorial rituals that help people come to an emotional and spiritual understanding of how this event has impacted all of us.

And the work of our congregations is also enabling people to stand up for the creation of Beloved Community and organize in new ways to prevent future gun violence.

There are stories of congregational action from throughout our Central East region.

Some of these stories been told in newspapers, television stories and websites. And we have links to some of these stories listed below. These are now our collective stories.

And some of these stories are only known among the members of the congregations who participated.  But they will be remembered for generations in those churches.

All of these stories are important.  All of these stories are now part of our lives as we work to shape the future of our world, creating the Beloved Community, here in the Central East and far beyond.

 

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, Regional Lead

 

From Oneonta, NY:

From Buffalo, NY:

Plattsburgh, NY

Binghamton, NY

Canton, NY

Sterling, VA:

Northumberland, PA:

State College, PA:

Columbus, OH

Youngstown, OH

Cherry Hill, NJ

Newark, DE

West Hartford, CT

 

If your congregation needs assistance in helping those who are trying to work through their grief over this trauma, please see the UUA website for resources.

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CER Staff Changes

Dear Clergy, Congregational Leadership and Congregants of the Central East Region,

 

Joan Van Becelaere and I are excited to announce some staff changes that will be coming over the summer as we continue to regionalize.

 

Rev. Joan Van BecleaereFirst, from July 1, 2016 on, the Regional Lead responsibilities will shift from Joan to me. (Please see below for an excerpt from a letter from Rev. Scott Tayler, UUA’s Director of Congregational Life with some more detail.) I’m excited to be able to work with Scott and the other Regional Leads on planning for the future of UUA service delivery to congregations at the national level, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with our amazing staff team to be sure that we’re bringing resources and opportunities for collaboration to you. I’m also so pleased that Joan will continue working on the staff team; her commitment, experience and dedication has been invaluable and we will continue to benefit from her expertise going forward.

 

I will continue with my primary contact responsibilities in the Washington DC area, and Joan will continue with her primary contact responsibilities in upstate New York and will continue to work in the program areas of regionalization, multisite/partnership opportunities, and our Commissioned Lay Leadership program.

 

I’m looking forward to meeting and connecting with those of you I don’t know yet as I travel around the region; I’ll certainly be at GA in Columbus in June, so I hope we can have a chance to meet. Be sure to attend our Regional Ingathering Meeting before the GA Banner Parade!

 

Rev. Megan Foley
Rev. Megan Foley

Our other piece of Congregational Life Staff news is that our Youth and Young Adult specialist, Raziq Brown, will be moving to the Southern Region. We’ll miss him, but we’re glad he’ll still be a part of our national Congregational Life team. We will be starting a search for a new staff person with the portfolio of Youth and Young Adult shortly, and hope to have that person on the job on August 1st. Stay tuned for more information about that search soon.

 

If you have questions about the switch, feel free to be in touch with me at [email protected] or 301-535-2956, or with Joan at [email protected] or 303-641-5896. This Regional Lead change will not impact your primary contact person. And the whole Congregational Life staff team continues to be at your disposal as needed, as they have been for a couple of years already.

 

Best,
Rev. Megan Foley

 

From Rev. Scott Tayler, UUA’s Director of Congregational Life

I want to share with you that as of July 1, 2016, we will shift Regional Lead responsibilities from Rev. Joan Van Becelaere to Rev. Megan Foley. This change achieves numerous positive things that all three of us are grateful for. It honors Joan’s request to move to 80% time to focus on some family support responsibilities. Trying to balance team leadership with these family care needs has been challenging. I am glad we can support Joan in this way. I am also grateful that we get to keep Joan’s gifts and skills on the team. She is excited to move back into more direct work with congregations as well as focus on key Central East strategic work such as our Commissioned Lay Ministry program and multisite/congregational partnership development. This shift also allows us to take advantage of Megan Foley’s gifts and passion for team leadership and development. The team and I are excited about keeping known personalities and relationships in place.

 

This video was prepared by Rev. Foley and Rev. Van Becelaere for members in the OMD and SLD.

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UU MATCH.COM

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of wonderful, creative energy in some of our congregations focused on the benefits and opportunities of working in Partnership with other congregations.
There is even a new UUA resource website for Partnership and Multisite information.

Multisite WordleCongregations engaged in Partnership with other congregations realize that by sharing –  at whatever level they find beneficial – they are not only fulfilling our covenantal obligations to support one another, but are also strengthening their own sense of mission and creating an exciting vision for the future.

Partnerships, or Multisite relationships as they are sometimes called, can take any number of different forms and styles.
And Partnerships,  like other deep human relationships, are always mutually beneficial.
Just listen to the Match.com ads!

Discerning whether a Partnership is a good idea for your congregation is a bit like checking out Match.com.
“What kind of partner am I looking for?  What kind of partner would I be?   What level of relationship am I looking for? What do I want for the future?”

If your congregation decides that it wants a new relationship and finds someone that might be a good match,  then it could be time to start ‘dating’ a bit.
Maybe just lunch or meet for coffee at first.  Translation:  offer a joint adult faith development course together or work together to sponsor a workshop for event for the cluster.

Then, if things seem to be working out, you might want to get a bit more serious and go ‘steady.’
Perhaps your Justice Ministries Teams can begin to meet and plan together or your youth groups to start to meet together and share programming or purchase supplies in bulk together.

You might decide to co-habitate instead.
Begin to share more resources and maybe some staff – faith development staff,  administrative staff, clergy, etc.  It’s pretty amazing what you might do if you plan together and share resources together.

You don’t have to run out and get ‘married’ or ‘merge’ the congregations simply because you are in a relationship.
Some dating or co-habitating relationships never result in marriage.
And that’s OK.

But for others,  ‘marriage’ or merger of some kind may result.
But only with mutual consent and mutual benefit.
Our UU congregational polity doesn’t allow for “arranged marriages.”

If your congregation is considering Partnership,  it might help to think about it in terms similar to Match.com.
And then start your relationship journey today!

 

Rev. Joan Van BecleaereRev. Joan Van Becelaere
Congregational Life Consultant,  Central East Region

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For Whom the Bell Tolls

Rev. Joan Van BecleaereBy Rev. Joan Van Becelaere
CERG Congregational Life Consultant & Regional Lead

A perennial problem with religious organizations is that the professional staff who serve congregations at a district or regional level and those who serve the larger denomination as a whole must be funded somehow, usually through donations from local congregations.  And a question that all congregations face at budget time is – “Why should our congregation pay to support district, regional and home office staff instead of using the resources for local mission opportunities or increasing our church staff?”

In the case of our Unitarian Universalist Association, we rely on the the district, regional and national staff to provide vital services to our congregations:  e.g. transitions support,  faith development curriculum, leadership training,  conflict mediation,  ministerial fellowship,  religious educator credentialing,  growth/stewardship/mission/ vision consultation,  social justice advocacy,  and much more.  (Check out the latest annual report from your district or region for a much longer listing.)

But then some object –
“We don’t use any of these services……well,  we don’t use many of these services……OK, actually, we use most of them…..but not on a regular basis.  So why should we contribute just because it helps other congregations who do need these things now?   Or why should we pay this year when we might not need some of these services until next year?”

These are good questions.  What responsibilities do our congregations really have to one another and to the larger UU movement?   When our congregations join the larger Unitarian Universalist Association and covenant together,  what are we really promising each other?   Is it like our membership covenants in our congregations when we promise to take on the responsibilities of care and support for one another?  Or are our congregations all just Lone Rangers who occasionally nod ‘hello’ to one another  in a crowded hall at General Assembly?    But even the Lone Ranger had a mutually supportive relationship with Tonto.

“No congregation is an island, entire of itself.”

We profess that we are part of a truly interconnected web of existence where each and every part impacts each and every other part.   We know that, working together, we accomplish what no single church, district or region could ever hope to do alone.  In our Fair Share donations, each member, each congregation gives a fair share for the greater growth and impact of UUism. We combine our prayers, presence, gifts and service to make a significant difference in the world.

The English poet, John Donne, wrote “no man is an island.’  As we think about priorities in our budgets for next year,  I challenge us all to read this poem  – substituting  “congregation” for the word  “man.”

John DonneNo man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

poet John Donne
#29 on Poet’s Page website.

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