What are we building? And how are we building it?

This blog is by guest Tyler Coles.

Young Adult Community social event, November 2018
Young Adult Community social event, November 2018

Like many who grew up in the rolling hills of the Appalachian Mountains, I always found autumn a welcome relief following the tedious days of summer. The cool temperatures and falling leaves form a picturesque memory in my mind as my friends and I would take part in one of our favorites activities – building forts. As we would wander through the woods just beyond our neighborhood, we would assemble crude structures with whatever materials we would come across. Sometimes the work of creation would be easy. Yet, more often, our work required copious amounts of time and energy as we gathered materials that would aid in our fort’s longevity and stability.

In the dense forests of poplar, oak and elm, the options for building materials were endless. In this abundance we would be meticulous in what we would include as each piece had to connect in the most perfect of ways. Since those early years I can see the forces of both playfulness and meticulousness working themselves out as we constructed. Holding in tandem these often opposing forces I have started to ask myself, “What am I building? And how am I building it?” I have found these questions useful as they guide me to be both intentional and abundantly creative.

Since joining the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax (Oakton, VA) as the Young Adult Community Leader, I have used these questions to envision and call into being what could lie ahead for us. The task of co-creating an innovative young adult (18-35+) community beyond the walls of the Church starts small and intentionally, much like selecting the perfect branch from which to form a childhood fort. Like those forts, this space invites us to live out our values in relationship to ourselves, each other and the greater world in playful and joyful ways.

So how are we going about the doing of this work? Like all things, it starts with taking the time to meet people towards getting to know them. Through conversations over coffee or during brunch I listen for the most pressing matters that they carrying at the time. In these conversations I have learned that there is a deep desire to be in relationship with others, to explore and develop spiritual practice, and to actively make justice and peace in the community. I have inquired how and in what spaces they would like to do these things. The resounding response – it must be flexible and light as schedules are already jammed packed!

Currently we are tinkering with a combination of small circles, large group gathers, and opportunities to “skill-up” around things any young person in the 21st century needs to know (like applying for Health Care or paying taxes). The frequency and location of these gatherings are being left to the discernment of those who will take part in them. Some might be bi-weekly or monthly, others could be one-offs or occur about every six weeks. There is opportunity and interest in gathering in a number of spaces like people’s living rooms, coffee shops, open fields, and community centers. Whatever the case may be, it is in my role to offer up time, support, imagination, and access to financial resources that have been gifted to our collective through a generous bequeath.

Yet it is important to note that in talking with other spirit-based community organizers, while money most certainly makes things easier. It is in the desire, creativity, and dedication to seeing a covenant-community conjured into reality that makes all of this just that, a reality. This work will be messy, even complicated at times, stirring within us moments of anxiety. Yet in forming connection, generating meaning, and doing the work of right relationship we can move through those moments in boldly compassionate ways.

It is my hope that we might craft a new way of doing the old work of church (i.e. community) in the here and now. If you are, or know, a young adult in northern Virginia who might be interested, please feel free to reach out to me! Come, let us dream and build together a fort that will hold all of us in this moment.

In Faith & Resistance,
Tyler Coles

 

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Pumpkins Offer Opportunity for Community and Learning

Rev. Hope Johnson at the Central Nassau, Garden City, NY Pumpkin Patch Photo by Patsy Kaplan

UUCCN, the UU Congregation of Central Nassau,Garden City NY initiated the Pumpkin Patch—outreach to our local community, the larger Long Island community, and the Navajo community in New Mexico. I’m often described as the “Pumpkin Minister” and that’s fine with me! Patsy Kaplan, VP brought this project to us thirteen years ago. It’s become our biggest fundraiser and the entire congregation “owns” the Patch!

We’ve learned about the narrative arc from pumpkins grown on Navajo land, to immigrant rights, to fair wages for all, and more. Our focus is on partnership and we now see our neighbors, near and far, through new multicultural eyes. We offer “storytelling,” face-painting, pink pumpkins to support breast cancer research, and more to our young-at-heart visitors of all ages. With time, our neighbors learn about UUCCN and Unitarian Universalism. Musicians, including UU Master Drummer Matt Meyer, perform in the Patch each year. We also offer homemade apple pies, flowers (Mums), and craft items. With a focus on sustainability, the fresh pumpkins are delivered “priced-to-size,” on consignment!!! Leftover or gently bruised pumpkins are turned into soup, bread, pies and such delights. At the end of the month, remaining pumpkins are donated to a local hunger relief organization.

We’ve learned through our regional work that we really are “Better Together!” So, this year there’s a new “Pumpkin Minister” in town—the Rev. Jude Geiger, Minister of the UU Fellowship of Huntington, NY. Here’s their story: “While challenged with organizing a fundraiser that draws from the community, not from our members, we kept running into the hard reality that our building is too off the beaten path to get drive by traffic. We wanted to have a Pumpkin Patch fundraiser, but needed a location with lots of drive by traffic. With the encouragement of Patsy Kaplan, UUCCN’s Pumpkin Patch Coordinator, we found an off-site location. We are renting the lawn of the local American Legion Hall. Although people may stop in thinking it’s a fundraiser for the Hall, they soon learn about us, and that their purchase helps us, the American Legion and the Navajo Nation in NM where the pumpkins are grown. We love the charity helping charity aspect of this, and our customers do as well. Actually, The Garden City Congregation also benefits because the company gives them money based on what we make because Patsy is mentoring us. It’s a charity win-win.” We’ve also mentored UU congregations in Stony Brook, NY; Meridian, CT and beyond…. Ah, the fields of orange beckon…. come visit, Garden City or Huntington, and En-JOY!!!

Rev. Hope Johnson
CER Congregational Life Staff and Minister, UU Congregation of Central Nassau, Garden City, NY

Family Fun at the Pumpkin Patch. Photo by Patsy Kaplan
Sales Volunteers by Fernando Rivera

 

Huntington, NY Church Volunteers unload the truck for their Pumpkin Patch
Huntington, NY Pumpkin Patch set up.
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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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Help First UU Society of Marietta Sponsor Interfaith Dialogues

The Three Amigos

A Minister, a Rabbi and an Imam walk into a bar…  We’ve all heard it but this time it’s not a joke. Pastor Don McKenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon and Sheikh Jamal Rahman were brought together by 9/11. “The Three Amigos”, as they call themselves, provide an entertaining presentation designed to bring people together, while respecting each other’s differences. Their approach to inclusive spirituality provides a foundation for personal and communal healing. They start with the premise, “Everyone’s truth is true.” They add that “To try to convince someone of something else, is a significant waste of time.” They begin their conversation with this question, “You mean there is nothing I can possibly say that would influence your belief? That’s how it is with me too. Now let’s talk.”

We are excited to welcome the Interfaith Amigos to Appalachia, an area that is among the least diverse culturally, religiously, and ethnically in the US.  Our goal is to build personal connections with those of different faiths, increasing understanding of faith traditions outside of our own, enhancing thirst for information and gaining a greater sense of welcoming and acceptance.

As our area becomes more diverse, there is a pressing need to learn about the growing number of residents coming into our community. Even more important is to get to know some of them personally so that our fears, suspicions, prejudices, and pre-conceived notions can be re-evaluated in the light of genuine friendship.  We must not only build bridges to newcomers, but also seek to understand the faith that these persons hold dear. We could all benefit from the sincere engagement of interfaith dialogue.

This project involves:

  • Four public presentations presented at Marietta College and Ohio University (2 each), Nov 10-12, 2017
  • A new course called Interfaith Dialogue: Finding Common Ground at Marietta College as part of the Institute for Learning in Retirement, including a visit to Arab-American Museum in 2018
  • A film Festival focused on interfaith issues
  • A coalition of local book clubs reading books on the interfaith issues
  • Interfaith Religious Education taught at local churches
  • “Getting to the Heart of Interfaith” added to the essential reading list at the Marietta Reads
  • The World Religions course adding interfaith dialogue and visits to a mosque and synagogue
  • Articles on interfaith dialogue released to the local media during and after the event
  • The office of student engagement to plan and conduct interfaith service projects in Marietta
  • Marietta College Bookstore purchasing 200 copies of “Getting to the Heart of Interfaith”
  • Establishing local interfaith dialogue groups throughout the area
  • Continued service projects and incorporation of interfaith dialogue in local college courses

We already have raised over $10,000 and need an additional $4,000. Please consider helping us make this a successful event! Learn more and donate at the Faithify website.

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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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New UU Video!

Have you seen the new UUA video: We Are Unitarian Universalists?

The graphic artist who created the video, Elliott Cennamo, is a UU and is from Columbus, OH. He created the Unitarian Univeralist Covenant: What Do We Promise One Another video 3 years ago.

The new video can be found on YouTube and on the front page of the UUA website.

Find this and other UU videos on the UUA’s YouTube channel.

Feel free to share and to use this video on your website and social media. You can download a copy at the UUA website.

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The Pumpkin Patch Returns to Long Island

Pumpkin PatchAs I left the Nassau Boulevard Station of the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) on the first Sunday of October, I was in a hurry to meet my dear friend Matt Meyer, Master UU Drummer who was leading the service. I stood at the traffic light at the corner of Nassau & Stewart waiting for the light to change and I witnessed a field of orange. Fairly-traded pumpkins trucked in all the way in from our partners in Framington, New Mexico. Yet, I as I drew closer to the Patch I noted that there was diversity in our pumpkins. Orange. White. Green. Bumpy. Multicolored. Different shapes and sizes—the splendid Gourd Family!

I’m proud to say that this is our 12th year! Yes, it represents our biggest fundraiser. Though it raises funds for UUCCN, the bulk of the money goes back to the Navajos who tend the soil and raise the pumpkins in New Mexico. The Patch provides community service for Garden City and environs. We offer concerts in the Patch, face painting, storytelling, apple pies, pumpkin pies, as well as meaningful opportunities for service…. It is truly a magical event! If you wish to set up a program just let us know and we’ll work something out.

fullsizerenderThe entire congregation is involved. There are jobs for everyone from the littlest ones to those who are older! UU congregations come from near and far to join in the fun. Many visitors sign up to work on the Patch and end up coming to events and services. They unload the trucks. Have programs including “Pizza and Pumpkins,” and get service points to boot! The nearby college Adelphi works with us and we in turn provide them with space for their events.

We’re especially proud to be in authentic relationship with our partners who are headquartered in Farmington, NM. They’ve visited us. We’ve visited them. We support each other. This was a particularly bad year “weather-wise” in New Mexico. Mother Nature gave them two “wake up” calls! Our partners reached out to us. We’ve responded and will continue doing so in ways that will be helpful. That is what congregations do as we live our UU values.

Matt Meyer and Hope JohnsonThe Pumpkin Patch provides an interesting entry point to being in collaboration with our neighboring and local UU congregations. We’ve celebrated Indigenous People’s Day as an alternative to Columbus Day. The Patch is an entry point to engaging in intercultural competency and cross-cultural engagement. Contact CER for the many resources it provides in this area. We’ve hosted concerts in the Patch led by UU Master Drummer Matt Meyer who this year’s Patch on Opening Sunday. Sarah Dan Jones, Musician and Songwriter will join us mid-month to lead worship and to jam in the Patch. Both are serious about culturally appropriate presentations. On the Sunday service on the last Sunday of the month all are invited to come whimsically attired in preparation for Halloween 2016. We’re open daily from 11am to 7pm. Please come by. Visit. Hang out!

Yours, HOPE

Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson
Minister, UUCCN, Garden City, NY
UUA Congregational Consultant, Central East Region

making pumpkin piesmaking apple pies

Pumpkin Patch with Church signPumpkin Patch

 

 

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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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Using the UUA Website Template

Several of our regional congregations have taken the plunge and tried out the new website template created by the UUA for UU congregations. We talked with two webmasters who have made the switch about their experiences and here is what they had to say.

UUCC website front page The UU Congregation of the Chesapeake’s site was moved by Dee Delauder. You can view the site at theUUCC.org. Here is what Dee had to say about the template and the moving process:

UUCC website front pageWhen the UUA released the custom template designed by the Outreach Team I was overjoyed. I’ve been wanting to migrate to a better design and a more dynamic website for years. I had reached the limits of my coding knowledge. Finally someone else did the hard stuff for me. All I had to do was add content.

My old design was a static HTML page with navigation to other pages. My web editor was Microsoft FrontPage, now it’s not supported, but it still works. And I used an FTP client to upload updates. It worked great but the site was flat an uninteresting.

Moving to WordPress was not an easy endeavor for me for two reasons.

  1. One, I had never worked with WordPress, so the learning curve was very steep.
  2. And two, I discovered my Web Host’s server is windows based, and not very good with PHP based documents. The better platform would have been a Unix server. It took me about 4 weeks and 4 rebuilds to finally get our new site built and able to replace the old site. And I still needed to pay my Hosting company’s tech support to get me up live.

I would recommend using this template only if it serves the greater good four your church. A good template alone will not necessarily attract visitors to your church. It only provides the functionality for your presentation. A top notch presentation and careful use of text and images with the UUA theme for congregations can do the trick.

Things I like: I do not need to use an FTP client and a web editor like front page any more. I can edit and update the website from anywhere, with any device, as loan as I can get on the internet.

I also like how easy it was to create a members only section where I can store secure documents that only our congregation should have access too.

There is one piece of advice I will throw out. I’ve browsed around the UUA theme forum, and I follow the UU WebLab on Facebook and I see people trying to make the template do something that is not in the design. You really need to understand what the template will do and won’t do. But most of all, unless you are a CSS guru or a scripting wizard, you have to be willing to work with what you get.

I say 3 cheers to Chris Wulf and the design team for being so diligent in their design. This is a great product for UUCC.

First UU Society of Syracuse’s website was moved from their old wordpress site to the new template by their minister, Rev. Jennifer Hamlin-Navias. You can view their site at  www.firstuusyr.org

Syracuse website front pageWhat made your congregation decide to move to the new template? Our previous website had been set up several years previous.  The design needed updating and an improved aesthetic.  Our old site was really designed for members to use.  The new UUA theme is definitely easy for our members to use, but the Home page is more geared for folks who are looking for a church.  If you think of your home page for your website as your “storefront” we now have one that is attractive and inviting.  And the UUA is providing this for free. (Ed. note: there is a small charge after the initial introductory free period).

How did you find the experience of moving the site from your old design to the new one? I found the experience of moving from our old design to the new theme relatively easy.  The UUA provided a webinar on it and that helped a lot.  I was a little familiar with WordPress so that did help.  That being said I do not know how to code.  It took time to do the change over.  I had a 9 hour train ride that I did about 80% of it.  I would guess that the whole move over took about 12 hours of my time.

Would you recommend that other congregations make this switch and why? Yes.  The cost is reasonable, there is a support community with this theme and so it is easier for me to get answers to my questions.

Do you have any advice to congregations who are considering making this switch or words of wisdom? If I could have done it differently I would have gotten a group together and worked together to make the change.  It would have been fun to sit around our laptops and each work on updating different sections of the website.  It would have gone faster and it would mean that there would now be a group of folks in the congregation who knew the inner workings of the website.  Also I used a wordpress plugin that allowed me to set up a “Site under construction” while I was updating the site.  I thought that was better than having people go to the site while I was updating I think that would have been confusing to them.

Do you have experience with moving your congregation’s site to the new UUA WordPress Template? If so, please share your experiences in the comments below.

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