Nine outstanding congregations have been selected by the presidents and staff of the Central East Regional Group to participate in the first cohort of the region's new Threshold Congregation growth program. The Central East Regional Group - CERG – consists of the St. Lawrence, Metro New York, Ohio-Meadville and Joseph Priestley districts.
The staff and leadership of CERG believe that if we want our Association and liberal religion to thrive in the future, our congregations must grow -- in numbers, in spiritual depth, in commitment within, and in outreach. A dedication to fostering more vibrant, exciting and religiously involved congregations led to the development of the Threshold Congregations program.
CERG Threshold Congregations are those poised and ready to break through to the next level of activity and effectiveness. While the aspect of growth that is easiest to measure is "seats in the pews" (and this is a critical component of success), it's not the only ingredient. Of equal importance is that the congregations offer vibrant and challenging worship experiences, welcome and true hospitality, an effective system of governance with effective leaders, loving social action beyond its walls, vibrant faith development, and the inclusion of everyone in the work of the congregation.
This innovative program will select several congregations each year to join the program. This year's group of nine was selected in February. Individualized congregational program planning is taking place in March and April with work beginning May 1 and continuing for the next three years.
These nine CERG Threshold Congregations (alphabetical by city) for 2011 are:
The First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany NY
The people at First UU Society of Albany have said: "We know that many people of varied backgrounds would be attracted to Unitarian Universalism if they knew who we are and what we value. The First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany aspires to reach out to these individuals and to become their religious home. A larger membership will advance the mission of our congregation as well as our denominational visibility in the Capital Region".
"We recognize that maturational growth within our congregation is just as important as numeric growth. Our congregation seeks to achieve stronger connections, deeper meaning and greater impact, serving as a beacon of Unitarian Universalism in the Capital Region. We affirmed goals for growth in community, spirituality and justice work in our strategic plan, adopted one year ago. We long for more community and a deepening of the experience of community. We want to support our members in their personal search for meaning. And we feel called to significant and meaningful social justice work in our larger community. The CERG Threshold Congregation Process will help us to reach our goals."
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Binghamton NY
The UU Congregation of Binghamton has been experiencing significant and lasting growth over the last dozen years. They say: "Our leadership is particularly aware of the "plateau" that the congregation has reached. We are in the midst of what Alice Mann calls the Pastoral to Program size shift. We want to pay attention to other aspects of growth beyond numerical. We implemented various structural changes (organic growth). We have deepened our Social Justice ministries (incarnational growth) and stepped into a more intentional level of Adult Religious Education (maturational growth). Yet we still seem a little stuck."
"The Board of Trustees is committed to increasing staff (organic growth) and the Program Council is looking to broaden our "culture of invitation" (numeric growth). The Life Span Visioning team longs to better organize its offering and to meet the spiritual needs of people in our community (maturational growth) and we are working currently on drafting a new Mission Statement that we hope will lead us beyond our four walls (incarnational growth). We are excited about the support and coaching that we will receive from CERG's Threshold Congregation process."
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton, MD
This small but dynamic congregation of 125 members on the Eastern Shore of Maryland recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. The congregation is poised to continue to expand its membership "in numbers, in diversity, in integral maturity, and in its relationship to the surrounding community." They occupy a renovated building which includes a 125-person sanctuary, four religious education classrooms, a large meeting room, a small kitchen, minister's office, and administrative office.
The ultimate goal of this congregation is to "provide a venue for people of all ages who seek spiritual growth and community with others who welcome diversity of personal history, theology, socioeconomic status, and race." UUFE wants to be known in the Easton community and Talbot County as justice-seeking, multicultural, theologically diverse, and open-minded. Participation in the Threshold program would assist the UU Fellowship at Easton especially with their goal of growth in diversity. Their vision is that together they will move "into authentic multiracial, multicultural, and interfaith coalitions for effective, spiritually-driven action for justice."
Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County, Media PA
This suburban Philadelphia congregation of 278 members desires continued growth in order to "become more effective advocates for justice in our community and provide the life-saving message of our faith to a community in need." The congregation sees itself as a "liberal enclave in a conservative county, region and state.
For members of this congregation, growth would also mean being able to "provide more programs and services to our members, so that they may be spiritually and personally transformed, and are supported on their spiritual journeys." Growth will help them to "provide a haven for nourishing the spirit and mind while striving to build a just and sustainable world." By participating in the Threshold program, the UU Church of Delaware County would be "a place of engagement, enthusiasm, energy and commitment across all segments of a population that truly embraces diversity, multiculturalism, and anti-racism/anti-oppression practices", and where a culture of radical hospitality and generosity would be palpable. People will be engaged in activities and projects that take their lives and faith beyond the church into the larger community.
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County, Lincroft, NJ
The UU Congregation of Monmouth County in NJ is 289 strong. They believe that Unitarian Universalism "offers the world hope and healing and offers each of us a way to be a better person. It offers each of us a way to be connected to the transforming possibilities in the universe and in our community. We want to grow so that we can create a better community that transforms more lives and helps to build a better world."
In their recent strategic plan, they created goals in Creating Community, Transforming Ourselves and/or Transforming the World. They aspire to growth in numbers, so that they can touch more lives and achieve their mission. But, they add, "we cannot grow in numbers without growing our ability to help people grow their spirits. To that end we seek to grow our congregants' engagement – in our Sunday services, in our choirs, on committees, in small groups, in our outreach programs, in meaningful conversation, in hospitality and in stewardship. We want to care better for each other, and we want to have even more fun together. We want to have all the pieces of a "healthy congregation" in place, to have adequate physical space and to have enough professional staff. Finally, we want everyone in Monmouth County to know what we are here for and what we stand for."
The Central Unitarian Church of Paramus, NJ
This congregation of 204 in Paramus says that it exhibits "the typical Unitarian Universalist diversity of beliefs and religious views, yet as a whole we share the conviction that ours is a saving faith and one that can change lives for the better. We seek to grow spiritually and in our ability to lead others, both to realize our dreams of a lifespan religious education program and to shift from maintaining our community to significantly expanding our reach and vision. From the building of our current home in the 1950s (for which we raised more money than we were told was possible) to our hosting of the Aids Quilt in the late 1990s and our ever-growing Outreach Auction (annually raising more money for local charities than our Rummage Sale and Service Auction combined), we continue to set the bar high for ourselves. We know that getting over the threshold between pastoral and program size will not be easy—it will require us to shape a more coherent vision and long-range plan. We also trust that this is exactly the kind of work that the mentoring can help us accomplish."
They hope during their time in the program to become "a congregation that is sought out for its rich resources and impact on individual lives, on the community (locally and beyond), and within Unitarian Universalism and other faith communities. We want to be the center of liberal religious thought, expression, and action in the wider area that we serve.."
First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, PA
This exciting, historic congregation of 446 members has experienced steady but slow growth over the past few years. First Pittsburgh is part of the UUA's Diversity of Ministry Program and is a major resource for the other congregations in the Pittsburgh Cluster.
Congregational leaders said: "We desire to grow because we know there is a large un-served population which would benefit from and appreciate being part of our community and [we want to] bring new ideas and talents to our congregation. We anticipate that growth of First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh will also benefit the other five Pittsburgh area Unitarian Universalist congregations. We desire to attract a more diverse membership in terms of ethnicity/race, age and socioeconomic status. Growth would lead to a wider variety of worship and music offerings, as well as adult education programming and social action.
The leaders' dreams for the future include the hope that "First Unitarian Church will offer more services, particularly more diverse worship for a congregation that is more multicultural and multigenerational. We will be more aware of the needs of this community and more capable of building a just and loving congregation. Further, we will be known in the city as a force for justice through visible social justice activities."
Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, MD
The UU Church of Silver Spring, a congregation of 326 members, is located on a major Washington DC suburban artery in the midst of a vibrant, diverse, liberal community that is itself growing. The congregation desires to grow "both in the number and diversity of our members in order to achieve a greater and more representative presence within our community, while also becoming known as a beacon for social justice and multiculturalism." They are committed to adding professional multicultural staff to help lead their transformation.
Participating in the Threshold program will provide additional resources to build and better tap their lay leadership capabilities to further the support the vision of "increasing the number and diversity of members."
Success would mean the development of new programs and support systems for lay leadership development, "allowing our lay leaders to learn from others but also share our own successes towards growth and diversity" and continue its arc towards truly reflecting the diversity of their membership and community.
UU Fellowship of Stony Brook, NY
The UU Fellowship of Stony Brook is a small mid-size congregation (220 members) with large mid-size ambitions. They want to be visible and available to all of those in their wider community. Stony Brook, NY is a university center with dynamic growth potential for our Unitarian Universalist community.
The Stony Brook leaders said: "Growth would mean fresh ideas and vitality, giving a boost to those who may be getting complacent. Growth would allow for greater social justice initiatives fueled by more helping hands. Growth would demand new and meaningful programming – creating opportunities for development, leadership and participation for a broader group of people. It would extend the pleasure of participation in a thoughtful, multi-generational, multi-belief community to people who yearn for it."
All Threshold Congregations will engage with regional staff and consultants for a three-year period. In that time, the congregation has the opportunity to implement its own ideas about what it wants to do and how it wants to develop. The congregation will carefully monitor its progress, and both successes and new problems will be noted, and the congregation will have expert assistance to deal with whatever occurs.
CERG expects that a Threshold Congregation will later become a mentor congregation, acting as a resource to other congregations. By the time the three years of work is done, the Threshold Congregation will offer its experiences and learning to others, in both formal mentoring roles and less formal means of communication. The staff and leadership of CERG believe that whatever is learned, and whatever growth occurs, will be infectious, leading others to follow successful models of new development and growth.
In this effort, the CERG staff is grateful for the continued financial and institutional support of the UUA, the four districts, and the congregations of the region whose Fair Share giving enables this and other CERG programs to exist.
The next round of applications will be accepted in fall of 2011. More information about next year's application process and news about the congregations selected for this year will be posted to the CERG website on the Threshold Congregation Program page.