Has Your Congregation Certified Yet?

It’s certification time for the UUA and your congregation needs to act before February 1 at 8 pm ET.

Every year the UUA asks each congregation to give us some basic information and statistics. Some of this is information we ask you to check and update that is reflected in our directory online – your address, website, contact information – so folks can find you. We also ask about statistical information such as members, re enrollment, average attendance numbers and so forth. We ask that you vote in the congregational poll which is part of our social justice process. And very importantly, we ask about your congregation’s budget and expenses. This is particularly important since this is the information we now use to calculate congregational fair share amounts.

The president, minister and administrator of the congregation (or at least the person who is on record as being in that role with the UUA) should have received an email with a direct link to your congregation’s account (no login required!) back in December. If you did not get that email please go to the UUA Portal (https://secure.uua.org/congregation/)and login using your congregation’s id number and password or contact Data Services at the UUA for assistance. If you did get that email please find it and make sure you complete the information and submit it by the deadline. A worksheet of all the data being asked for is available after you login so you can download it, gather the data and then go back to enter it all.

Not sure if your congregation has completed this process yet? You can check the certified and not certified lists on the UUA website:

Confused? Have questions? Not sure what is your next step? Reach out and we’ll do our best to get you connected with the folks at the UUA who can help. Start with your primary contact, or reach out to our Operations Manager, Beth Casebolt at [email protected].

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Are You Prepared for Winter’s Wrath?

In most of our region, frigid temperatures and snow are on the way – ok, yes, we’ve already experienced that this year. This year, plan ahead so that you are ready to respond to severe winter weather:

  • Prevent frozen pipes by identifying pipes most likely exposed to freezing temperatures
  • If heavy snow is expected, have a plan to remove snow and prevent roof damage or collapse
  • Prepare for weather emergencies by having an emergency kit ready to go

Winter weather can be damaging and dangerous. View the Severe Winter Weather Checklist from Church Mutual’s partner IBHS for more information, or visit their website Ask Risk Control Central to contact one of their professional risk consultants.

Also visit the Church Mutual website Risk Control Weather Preparedness section to learn more about apps you can use, find a video and presentations to share and adapt a three step action plan for dealing with any type of weather disaster, be it summer or winter, expected or unexpected.

Winter weather also brings with it cold and flu season. Church mutual provides information about how to protect your members from major outbreaks and also advice on prevention and running flu shot clinics.

Church Mutual is the insurance provider for the UUA and many of our congregations. Their preparedness videos and resources are available to anyone, regardless of status with the company. They have resources on a variety of topics from background checks to financial controls to building safety and more. Their trending topics section includes information and resources about Data Encryption, Faith and the Law, Armed Intruders, Cyber Bullying, Senior Bullying, Religion and Politics, Marriage Equality, School Bullying, Overtime Regulations and Transgender Law.

This site can be a great resource for all our congregations looking to make their spaces safer and to protect their members in every way possible.

As always please reach out to your primary contact if you have questions about safety policies or just want another set of eyes to look at what your congregation has in place.

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Thank You to Our Honor Congregations

Each year congregations as asked to give to the Central East Region and the UUA to support us in providing services to all our congregations. Congregations that give the recommended amount are called Honor Congregations. Do remember that the UUA year runs from July 1 through June 30th so this report is for July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

This year we say thank you to all the congregations in our region who are Honor Congregations for 2017-18. If your congregation is not on the list and you think it should be please contact Katie Jacobsen, Congregational Giving Assistant ([email protected]).

For 2018-19 the Annual Program Fund is changing! The calculation will be based on your operating budget instead of your membership. Congregational presidents and treasurers received notification about this back in the spring and should be prepared. If you are interested in learning more about the Annual Program Fund, please visit the UUA website. And view this message from the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President, on the importance of the Annual Program Fund.

Note that congregations are listed alphabetically by state and city.


Lewes – UUs of Southern Delaware
Newark – UU Society of Mill Creek
Wilmington – First Unitarian Church of Wilmington Delaware

Washington DC

Washington Ethical Society


Annapolis – UU Church of Annapolis
Baltimore – The First Unitarian Church of Baltimore
Barstow – UU Congregation of the Chesapeake
Bethesda – Cedar Lane UU Church
Bethesda – River Road UU Congregation
Bowie – Goodloe Memorial UU Congregation
Camp Springs – Davies Memorial UU Church
CHestertown – UUs of the Chester River
Churchville – UU Fellowship of Harford County
Cumberland – UU Fellowship of Greater Cumberland
Easton – UU Fellowship at Easton
Ellicott City – Channing Memorial Church, UU
Finksburg – Cedarhurst UUs
Frederick – UU Congregation of Frederick
Germantown – Sugarloaf Congregation of UU
Hagerstown – UU Church of Hagerstown
Leonardtown – UU Fellowship of Southern Maryland
Salisbury – UU Fellowship at Salisbury

New Jersey

Baptistown – First UU Fellowship of Hunterdon County
Cherry Hill – UU Church in Cherry Hill
East Brunswick – The Unitarian Society, A UU Congregation
Lanoka Harbor – UU Ocean County Congregation
Lincroft – UU Congregation of Monmouth County
Montclair – The UU Congregation at Montclair
Morristown – Morristown Unitarian Fellowship
Newton – UU Fellowship of Sussex County
Orange – First UU Church of Essex County
Paramus – Central Unitarian Church
Plainfield – First Unitarian Society of Plainfield
Pomona – UU Congregation of the South Jersey Shore
Princeton – UU Congregation of Princeton
Ridgewood – The Unitarian Society of Ridgewood NJ
Somerville – UU Congregation of Somerset Hills
Summit – Beacon UU Congregation in Summit
Titusville – UU Church at Washington Crossing
Waye – Lakeland UU Fellowship

New York

Bay Shore – UU Society of South Suffolk
Big Flats – UU Fellowship of Big Flats
Binghamton – UU Congregation of Binghamton
Bridgehampton – UU Congregation of The South Fork Inc.
Brockport – Brockport UU Fellowship
Brooklyn – All Souls Bethlehem Church
Buffalo – UU Church of Buffalo
Canandaigua – UU Church of Canandaigua
Canton – UU Church of Canton
Chautauqua – UU Fellowship of Chautauqua
East Aurora – UU Church of East Aurora
Fredonia – UU Congregation of Northern Chautauqua
Freeport – South Nassau UU Congregation
Garden City – UU Congregation of Central Nassau
Greenport – North Fork UU Fellowship
Hamburg – UU Church of Hamburg
Huntington – UU Fellowship of Huntington
Jamestown – UU Congregation of Jamestown NY
Kingston – UU Congregation of the Catskills
Little Falls – St Paul Universalist Church
Manhasset – UU Congregation at Shelter Rock
Mt. Kisco – UU Fellowship of Northern Westchester
New York – The Community Church of New York UU
New York – Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York
Plattsburgh – UU Fellowship of Plattsburgh NY
Pomona – UU Congregation of Rockland County
Poughkeepsie – UU Fellowship of Poughkeepsie
Rochester – The First Universalist Church of Rochester
Schenectady – UU Society of Schenectady
Southold – The First Universalist Church of Southold
Staten Island – Unitarian Church of Staten Island
Soney Brook – UU Fellowship at Stony Brook
Washingtonville – UU Congregation at Rock Tavern
Watertown – All Souls UU Church
White Plains – Community UU Congregation at White Plains


Athens – UU Fellowship of Athens (Ohio)
Bellaire – UU Congregation of the Ohio Valley
Cleveland Heights – UU Society of Cleveland
Delaware – Delaware UU Fellowship
Findlay – UU Church of Blanchard Valley
Kent – UU Church of Kent
Lewis Center – North UU Congregation
Marietta – First UU Society of Marietta
North Royalton – Southwest UU Church
Rocky River – West Shore UU Church
Sandusky – UU Fellowship of the Firelands
Wooster – UU Fellowship of Wayne County Ohio


Athens – UU Church of Athens and Sheshequin
Beach Lake – Upper Delaware UU Fellowship
Boiling Springs – UUs of the Cumberland Valley
Devon – Main Line Unitarian Church
Erie – UU Congregation of Erie
Gettysburg – UUs of Gettysburg
Girard – First UU Church of Girard
Kingsley – First Universalist Church
Langhorne – UU Fellowship of Lower Bucks
Ligonier – UU Fellowship Ligonier Valley
Media – UU Church of Delaware County
Murrysville – East Suburban UU Church
Northumberland – UU Congregation of Susquehanna Valley
Philadelphia – Unitarian Society of Germantown
Pittsburgh – Allegheny UU Church
Pittsburgh – First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh – UU Church of the North Hills
Pottstown – UU Fellowship of Pottstown
Reading – First UU Church Berks County
Slippery Rock – Ginger Hill UU Congregation
Smithton – UU Congregation of Smithton
State College – UU Fellowship of Centre County
Stroudsburg – UU Fellowship of the Poconos
West Chester – Unitarian Congregation of West Chester
Wilkes-Barre – UU Congregation of Wyoming Valley
York – The UU Congregation of York


Alexandria – Mt Vernon Unitarian Church
Burke – Accotink UU Church
Leesburg – UU Church of Loudoun
Manassas – Bull Run UUs
Reston – UU Church in Reston
Stephens City – UU Church of Shenandoah Valley
Sterling – Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sterling
Washington – UUs of the Blue Ridge

West Virginia

Morgantown – UU Fellowship of Morgantown

We thank you for helping us help each other.
Your Central East Region Staff

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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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Maintaining the Beloved Community

Shannon Harper

Summer is a glorious season. Traditionally it’s sold as a leisure time, a time to relax, enjoy yourself, get outdoors and have some fun. But anyone who has ever had children in or around their lives knows summer can actually be even more work – scheduling, planning, coordinating and entertaining – than the rest of the year. And whether because of travel or change in routine or just wanting to enjoy some extra lazing hours on cool Sunday mornings, many of us find our church attendance slipping during the summer months. But the beautiful part about beloved community is it calls us to practice our values beyond the limitations of Sunday mornings in the sanctuary. When I reflect on what keeps me coming back to my congregation in the fall, ready to re-commit, pouring our sacred water in covenant, I think about the relationships I’ve formed there. These bonds have not only expanded my own world, they’ve tied me to the congregation as a whole.

If “othering” or seeing persons or groups of people as somehow “different” or not “fitting in” is one of the stumbling blocks of beloved community then relationship is the jackhammer that breaks it down. I see this happen all the time in youth communities like Goldmine and Midwest Leadership Schools. We take teenagers from many different backgrounds with many different personalities and ways of being in the world and ask them to basically live and learn together for a week. During our time together we build covenant, play games, learn technical skills like how to plan a worship service or lead a meeting and even have some fun and insightful history and theology lessons. But the real magic is in the work we do together. Physical work like cooking and cleaning, gardening and taking care of our temporary home. Challenging work like creating a worship service and receiving feedback. And spiritual work like reflection and deep sharing. That work, done side by side and collaboratively, builds relationships that see them through not just the challenges and tests of the week but for many of them into young adulthood and beyond. It turns a bunch of teenagers who were apprehensive and nervous at the beginning of the week – who said they came to Leadership School because it would look good on their college applications or because their parent/minister/DRE made them – into family. The Group – the friendships – were now the reason they were there and why they didn’t want to leave.

Congregational life also gives us many opportunities for building the relationships that bond us to one another in community. And we can create even more connections on our own. This summer make some new friends in your congregation, invite someone over to your home for dinner, arrange a family playdate at a local park, spend time weeding each others gardens, or preserving your bounty together; build a shed, paint a fence, teach a new driver how to do minor maintenance on their car; coordinate a group trip to a local destination or a carpool to the library or shopping center. There are so many ways to spend time together in more personal ways. Nurturing authentic relationships that build solidarity and break down walls within our faith communities seems like the perfect summer homework during the season of leisure!

Shannon Harper, CER Youth and Young Adult Coordinator

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Falling Forward

Rev. Megan Foley

You may remember that last spring the UUA was embroiled in a controversy over hiring practices for staff such as myself who serve our congregations. It was a perfect storm of UU crisis: a significant portion of our UU family calling out important, long overdue problems with the UUA. A social media firestorm with plenty of blame to share. Defensiveness and poor messaging from leadership. The resignation of the UUA’s President, Chief Operating Officer, and my boss, the Director of Congregational Life. And then, a UUA commitment to once again tackle the perennial UU problem of embedded structural racism and white supremacy culture.

In the midst of all that spring madness swirled so many questions: What really happened with the Southern Lead hire? How did we get to the firestorm in which we found ourselves? And, not for nothing, how can we sift through it all and learn from it so that we might be able to do better, next time?

Last month the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change issued a report about the events of last spring that has helped shed some light on how we found ourselves where we did. Helpfully, this report also offers suggestions for how to move forward. You can read the report here.

One of the things I found most instructive in the report was the claim that our UUA structures, our chosen policies, were often seen to be archaic and unhelpful, so they often weren’t followed, with negative consequences. This reinforced what I see as a need for structures at the UUA that function and work for the people they are supposed to serve. I am committed to that work in this region and in the Congregational Life staff group as a whole. Our systems matter; they can help us do the work for liberation in the world or they can contribute to oppression and pain. I want to help us choose the path of liberation and my staff team and I are working to be sure that is so.

One of the things that was new to me and many white-identified folks on Congregational Life staff was the vastness of the extent to which our religious professionals of color feel misused and abused by our congregations. We learned and are growing to see that when those conflicts come to the attention of Congregational Life staff, we can contribute to the abuse and oppression rather than mitigate it. We in the Central East Region are doing our best to hear that and to plan ways to do better. In partnership with religious professionals of color and our congregations, we are committed to learning together how to create new paths out of the damaging practices of white supremacy culture and into a new future where all UUs can bring their whole selves to their work. This will in no way be easy; American racism is nothing to take lightly. But if anyone can do this work, even a little, as hard as it is, I think Unitarian Universalists can. We staff of the Central East Region are committed to this work, and are learning with other regions and our headquarters staff how to do it better.

We know our congregations are also committed to a future that is less racist, more liberating and more just for all. We’re excited about partnering with you on this journey too. Maybe you’re wrestling with many of the same questions the UUA is wrestling with. Maybe you’ve also had painful experiences and are trying to learn and do better, and it feels awkward and embarrassing. Let’s do this together. We UUA staff will be talking more about our learnings as we go along; stay tuned as we offer more resources and tools as well – here’s a start. In the meantime, be in touch with me or your congregation’s Primary Contact if you are looking for ways to do this work better.

It will take all of us to move us forward. No one is in this alone, and a group of people asking powerful questions in the midst of suffering and not-knowing is a group of people poised to do something important. I can’t wait to travel down this path with all of you.

Rev. Megan Foley
CER Regional Lead

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the Interdependent Web of Musical Culture

As Unitarian Universalists have been growing into deeper understanding of White Supremacy Culture, being interculturally respectful and competent, and learning how to avoid the pitfalls of cultural misappropriation, we are learning to learn and share the stories and contexts behind the songs we sing as part of our worship.

This is a work in progress. The hymnal Singing the Living Tradition had a companion book Between the Lines with some information about each hymn, but both volumes were before we had any sort of intercultural lens. We don’t have any “official” resources to help us in this important work.

There is no right way or answer, but an invitation to be in the struggle and the conversation of how to faithfully include music of other cultures in UU worship. One model is engaging with each hymn and its history as a spiritual practice.  The Rev. Kimberley Debus has—with vulnerability—spent a over a year engaging with a hymn each day on her blog Far Fringe.  I have referred to this blog as I ruminate about hymn choices and how to present them in their original context. I found it to be a fruitful spiritual practice.

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CER Congregational Life Staff

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An Old Covenant in a New Way

You should have recently received information about the new formula the Unitarian Universalist Association will be using for congregational giving in the Central East Region beginning in July – a formula that uses your operating expense budget as a guide, rather than the number of members you have in your community. (Lots of information about this – including webinar/online discussion dates – can be found in your purple packet about the New APF or at www.uua.org/amplify)

I want to talk about our continued covenant of faith.  Faith, in bold with a capital F!

Unitarian Universalism is a faith of relationship and mutual support. You can feel that in your congregations. In church, you aren’t individuals who happen to be occupying the same space. You are a community, where each can bring their gifts for the good of the whole, and each can be honest about their needs, in hope that the community will support them.

Same with the Unitarian Universalist Association, as an organization. Congregations have needs – resources, consultation, a listening ear, even a shoulder to cry on sometimes and certainly a voice to help celebrate. The UUA works to support those needs with the skill set that comes from being a national organization with a view that is long, in terms of history, and wide, in terms of seeing the whole landscape of Unitarian Universalism. In order to do that work well, the UUA as an organization needs to be supported through congregational giving. We who work for the Central East Region of the UUA are supported every day by the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and love of our member congregations. And we are supported every day by the financial gifts of our congregations.

This new Annual Program Fund (APF) model has been decades in the making and represents our efforts to streamline and remain responsive to congregational needs in a changing religious landscape. It’s a model that strengthens our shared covenant – the one where each brings their gifts, so we can support each other in our shared work. This covenant is not new; it has bound us for centuries. With this change, we are stronger… so we will be able to share in the work together for centuries more.

I ask you to recommit and to re-prioritize your support for one another and this collective faith through your contributions to the Annual Program Fund, which make the work of the UUA possible. Your congregation’s full contribution is needed so that all of our congregations can receive the support that they are depending on, and so that our Association can meet the challenges of our time.” ~ UUA President, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray

  By the Rev. Megan Foley, CER Regional Lead

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UUA Announces Promise and Practice of Our Faith Campaign

Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President

The following letter was set to all congregations announcing the new Promise and Practice of our Faith campaign this month.

In October 2016, your UUA Board issued a charge to all Unitarian Universalists, calling us to invest collectively and signifcantly in the leadership and organizing of Black Unitarian Universalists.

We have an extraordinary opportunity to live the most deeply universalist aspect of our theology and to begin to overcome the limitations of our history. Our commitment to raise and invest $5.3 million for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) recognizes that centering black leadership is crucial to building multiracial, multicultural communities and to supporting justice work that is free from white supremacy and paternalism.

Our UUA believes so deeply in this commitment to support BLUU’s ministry that it has put forth $1 million from our endowment. In June, a family joined the UUA in its fnancial commitment, making a remarkable $1 million gift to encourage and match contributions from our congregations. This family has been committed to racial justice throughout their decades as Unitarian Universalists, and is investing these funds because they agree that it is time to align our finances with our theology. They made this donation a matching opportunity because they want you to join with them and with us as we boldly build the future of our faith.

To be sure, these are challenging times. We are witnessing a demonstrable increase in hate crimes, a resurgence of the KKK, and daily political and spiritual assaults on our collective humanity. At the same time, we are opening our eyes to white supremacy as it exists in the very fabric of our story as a society and a nation. There is much that we must hold simultaneously. In this time, our commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of all people and our collective interdependence call for us to live, invest in, and understand our faith in new ways.

Now is the time to invest in Black Leadership and organizing within Unitarian Universalism, for this is the very leadership that can help move our faith forward in the promise and practice of beloved community – a community which practices radical inclusion within, and bold justice leadership for all beyond.

Today, I call each of you to be part of this bold commitment to fulfill the promise to support the ministry, leadership and organizing of Black Lives within Unitarian Universalism.

I invite you to share in the dream and vision of what our faith will look like when we fulfill this radical commitment, when we uphold and center the history, the voices, and the leadership of Black Unitarian Universalists.

In order for our work to be truly transformational, I ask every Unitarian Universalist congregation to join in this real and lasting investment in the future of our faith. Indeed,, this is the challenge issued by the family who has pledged so generously. In order to receive the matching funds, we must raise $11 million in our congregations over the next two years.. This challenge calls us to our covenantal promise to one another, and it calls us to be bold as we return wealth historically built on the exploitation and divestment from black communities and make good on promises that were unfulfilled.

To meet this challenge, the donor family has asked congregations to pledge at least $10 per member to this campaign. (Or however you count the souls you serve.) All gifts are needed, and every gift is appreciated. If your congregation is able to reach the threshold of $10 per membe,, BLUU will receive a dollar for dollar match for your contribution.

We know that you are engaged in the often-exhausting work of guiding your congregation through the troubling daily onslaught of news. Embracing this campaign and engaging in the practice and promise of our faith is one powerful way in which we as Unitarian Universalists can lead in our communities and become the change we want to see in our world.. We hope that your congregation will join us and the donor family, and consider gifts that feel inspirational and transformational.

We are all being called to make a commitment that will create enduring impact. For, as a faith community, the investment in Black Lives is an investment in the promise and practice of Beloved Community within Unitarian Universalism. This is about who we are. It is about who we are called to be. And it is about our collective commitment to nurture a radically inclusive, justice centered, multiracial and multigenerational religious faith for this time.

Please visit our webpage www.uua.org/bluu-campaign, where you can find additional materials and resources for your congregation to use during this campaign and thereafter.

Yours in gratitude and spirit,
Susan Frederick-Gray

Congregations are asked to join in the Promise and the Practice of Our Faith by engaging in the following opportunities:

  • Schedule at least one Sunday on November 12, 2017 or February 4, 2018 (or any Sunday that is convenient for your congregation) to engage around the theme The Promise and the Practice of Our Faith.
  • Make a financial commitment in our support to BLUU that is transformational and inspirational which helps fulfill our $1 million match opportunity (double the impact of your contribution by meeting the threshold of $10 per certified member, or however you count the souls you serve).
  • Make a long-term commitment to dismantling white supremacy, racism and oppression from within our denomination and beyond, and uplifting the Black Lives, Voices, and Leadership of Unitarian Universalism.

Learn more at the UUA website.

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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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