What’s beyond congregant serving programs, worship services, faith development and administration? It isn’t just hospitality hour. Sometimes faith communities think primarily or entirely about “their community” as being the same as “their membership”. What kinds of wonderful can happen when our congregational identity is as a vibrant, living part of the whole larger community in which our congregation is located?
Another way to learn from what’s possible with Congregations and Beyond comes from a congregation that has become a regional community center - First Unitarian Philadelphia working with Rev. Nate Walker. First Unitarian Philadelphia is a faith partner to community initiatives in the areas of Spiritual Growth, Wellness, Education, Culture, and Civic Life. The congregation’s strengths and the building’s strengths (downtown, large, landmark facility) serve the larger community’s needs for a central place to meet and grow thicker and stronger community. More than 2,200 people use the facility each week, 10 times the number of members in the congregation…and growing! First Unitarian is preserving an historic building and making a more accessible space - not for itself, which is easy to assume, but to better fulfill its mission as a regional community center.
Becoming a regional community center is a relatively easy change for many of our congregations. It is an attitudinal shift, an embrace of an historic mission to serve the whole world (of which we are just one part), and developing real trusted partners (not just renters) in the larger community. Doing so to save a building - which is how the First Unitarian story was reported in the UU World — isn’t a change. That’s still “what can others do for us?” The change is living out of the question, “what can we do for our local community? what can we do faithfully for and with the whole world?”
First Unitarian Philadelphia points out the fact that we don’t have to have big congregations to have big effects. We do have to know our strengths, build partnerships in our communities, and take some faithful risks in serving, growing spiritually, and being weavers of wider, stronger communities.