Annual Seaway Gathering

The annual Seaway Gathering and Gould Lecture was held on April 13-14, 2018 at the First UU Society of Syracuse, NY.

The Gould Discourse titled UU Sniffing Salts was presented by Sheila Schuh and the keynote presentation titled You Can’t Spell Church without J-O-Y was presented by Rev. Megan Foley. Workshops on a variety of topics including Restorative Practices 101, Helping Small Congregations Connect with the Next Church-Going Generation, Sticky Membership and Understanding Micro-Aggressions were offered. The graduating youth from the Upstate New York Youth were bridged during the closing worship service.

For those of you who who could not make the event, or who want a refresher on what happened, we offer video of the Gould Lecture and the Keynote Presentation and Megan Foley’s workshop Helping Smaller Congregations Connect with the Next Church-Going Generation. We also thank Til Fritzshing from the Watertown NY congregation who took photos and shared them with us, a few are posted below.

Bridging Youth at Seaway Gathering
Networking sessions at the Seaway Gathering
Networking Sessions at Seaway Gathering



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Facing Religion in the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The workshops included:

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

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

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Social Justice Stories Continue

This month we are publishing stories of congregational social justice work as a way we can inspire each other. This month we have two stories of new projects from smaller congregations.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Utica, New York

Our Social Action Committee came up with a program called “Project Up & Out” that has exciting potential. We will be partnering with Thea Bowman House in Utica to sponsor a family for a year. The staff of Thea Bowman House is in the process of identifying a family for us and spending time with them to learn what their specific needs are . Once their needs are known, volunteers from our congregation will step up to offer support in the specific areas the family identifies such as ESOL, adult education, interview preparation, financial literacy mentoring, etc. Congregants will also contribute a set amount financially to pay for school supplies, clothes and other needs the family has throughout the year. Students from Hamilton College will be studying Project Up & Out to measure our goals and outcomes and to determine whether or not Project Up & Out is an effective and sustainable model for helping families get out of the cycle of poverty. The Youth of our congregation will be delivering updates throughout the year on Project Up & Out. If the outcome is positive, the Social Action Committee hopes to document the model to be used throughout Utica. The congregation is excited about this project and eager to make this the main focus of our Social Action work in 2015, though other initiatives will continue.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Oberlin, Ohio

We have now been in our new building over 2 years.  From the beginning we have seen it as allowing us to undertake social justice projects that were not possible without a building.  There are three programs that we have chosen because they fitted the space requirements and because we had special people in our congregation with the interest and skills to make the projects succeed:

POWER's Greg JonesPOWER is a successful environmental organization started by one of our members, Cindy Frantz.  Its purpose is to assess by invitation the energy use of area homes, and after assessment to work with the homeowners to increase their energy efficiency.  Funding for the program was cut, and POWER was faced with firing one of their 2 employees.  They appealed to OUUF for space so they could drop their office space and keep their employees.  We found a small room with space for their files and for interviewing clients.  We have been pleased to have them in our building.

Students at Oberlin High School have a fine LGBTQQIA  group, but the students in Lorain County do not.  One of our members, Nancy Boutilier, felt this was a service OUUF could provide.  She volunteered to be the advisor, and, along with a few other members, formed a drop in center.  It is OUUF’s Welcoming Congregation safe space called Café Q, with monthly meetings at OUUF. They had their first meeting this fall, and students are beginning to drop in.

Our most ambitious project is to join with a large group of Oberlin and Lorain County churches to host homeless families under a program called Family Promise.  Fourteen selected families are in the program for 60 days during which they have skills training at a central site and look for housing.  The job of each church is to give a week several times a year providing the families meals and a place to sleep.  The children are bussed to their own schools.  Our first week is December 28 to January 4.  Although OUUF is a small group, and a number of us are out of town for the holidays, we have managed to fill all 56 slots with the help of some friends.  We are fortunate that the Oberlin Methodist Church is our partner, and they are providing the breakfasts and lunches as well as large quantities of equipment and supplies.

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