Strong Shared Ministries

(This is part of a series of blogs related to the Minns Lecture “The Age of Collaboration” that I co-presented with Peter Bowden.)

"Hello, this is your life of meaning and purpose calling…"

We are in the age of collaboration. What this world and our hearts and spirits need requires all of us working together. Every one needs positive and meaningful work, art, and relationships. What we do to survive financially might not be what gives us greatest meaning.

Meeting trouble in our world, our sacred promises tug at our hearts and ask us to answer. That tug on our hearts is vocation. Answering that vocation is ministry. We do not need to be part of a congregation, on staff with a religious organization, or be sanctified, ordained, or approved. Because digital media increases our connections with another, we also have more opportunities to meet our calling without actually entering a congregation or picking up a page of announcements. This is why faith leaders are the people who connect us, helping us answer our calling.

 

Life takes teamwork, and thanks to digital media we can belong easily to lots of teams, and even form our own.

 

Pop Quiz: Who’s a minister?

A. Clara Barton

B. Alice Harrison

C. Olympia Brown

 

Professional religious leadership and ordained religious leadership are only two kinds of calling. Our roles and duties are changing. Increasingly, we need not to be experts or operations officers, but connectors, visionaries, noticers, and facilitators. This shift started decades ago, and digital media has only sped it up. What professional and ordained religious leadership do is a ministry, but we are not THE ministry.

 

Pop Quiz Answer: Who’s a minister? All of them.

Clara Barton - Laity

Alice Harrison - Professional Staff, Religious Educator

Olympia Brown - Ordained clergy

 

Faith leadership is not about official position or governing body authority anymore – and  our history proves it never was. Ministry belongs to everyone. How we answer that call will differ for each of us, as varied as our gifts and our limitations. Thankfully, we can trust, nurture, and encourage one another in faithful ministry together, so that our limitations do not prevent us from fulfilling our sacred promises.

 

There is more than enough ministry to go around. We need all of us, with our differing strengths, talents, and time. We are called, all of us. Let’s make sure we are undertaking answering that call together.

 

What’s your ministry? How are you serving for goodness’ sake?

 

Called Forward Faithfully: Diigital Media & Ministry

(This is a continuation of a series based on the Minns Lecture, “The Age of Collaboration,” I offered with Peter Bowden.)

We ordinary people all have some extraordinary gift – maybe even several – to share. That gift might be just what makes it possible for someone else to do something great in the labor of creating global goodness. But we have to connect faithfully with one another to share those gifts.

 

We ask and want people to live with integrity. Unitarian Universalist Tim Atkins says, “I want to live my faith beyond Sundays. And I don’t think we need to go live in the woods for a month to be spiritual beings. I want to live my spirituality in everyday life, live it where I already live my life. And that life is, in part, on social media.”

 

We really are in this together.

We have a moral imperative to provide loving alternatives to dissolution and despair.

 

We can be inspiration engines, bearing hope and help.

 

We are called to join love’s great transforming power in world change.

 

We can only do this together.

 

This is the age of collaboration.


Called Forward Faithully: Changes for Unitarian Universalists

(This is part of a series of blogs related to the Minns Lecture “The Age of Collaboration” that I co-presented with Peter Bowden.)

As people of faith and faithful promises – that is, people pledged to a covenant – there are many changes we can make. Some of the ideas I will name here arose from social media conversations. Some of them are mine; some originated from others who gave me permission to share them here; all of them are the work of collaboration.

Covenant

Today’s connected age expects both transparency and accountability in our institutions. It is easy to share documents and build databases. Transparency can build not only trust, but improve resources, information flow, and application development. The ministry that needs to be done requires all of us and all our gifts and participation.

 

Covenant - Democracy

The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly has started using tools to ensure better democratic practice.

  • We have many more opportunities for direct democracy, from videoconferencing to live voting.
  • We need to vote and discuss directly  issues that really matter.
  • We have work ahead to continue in order to ensure lots of roof for, and solidarity with, historically oppressed peoples. Digital media can help us.

 


Many of us are familiar with Accountability Teams, who model right relationship, living in solidarity, and helping us attend to and repair broken relationships. In our connected age, we still can benefit from the help of coaches and exemplars like Accountability Teams. But we are all on the accountability team of life.

There are none of us who do not need to attend to how we are relating to one another and this planet. We have all inherited terrible inequities and wrongs that need addressing and repair. We have all left folks out or been left out. Many of us have been barred or disregarded so frequently and so thoroughly, we have stopped trying. When the rest of us meet that disconnection, reconnection is up to us.

We bear responsibility for one another, no exceptions.

Covenant - Transparency


Faith leadership is connective and transparent.

  • May all of us engage in regular social media practice as inspiration engines and invite participation in our faithful labors.
  • We can stream and provide transcripts for important meetings, and provide timely and easy access to agendas and reports.
  • We can crowd source many new projects.
  • We can use social social media to engage, especially with underrepresented groups, and to inspire.

If our covenant - our faithful promises - really means anything, then how we fulfill those promises and practice our covenant together matters. Today’s digital tools can help us, but only if we really want to live with integrity. I certainly hope we choose that course of wholeness, though it be challenging and even scary, since creative, risky faithfulness will grow from it.

Faithful Changes to Make Associationally

(This is part of a series of blogs related to the Minns Lecture “The Age of Collaboration” that I co-presented with Peter Bowden.)

As people of faith and faithful promises – that is, people pledged to a covenant – there are many changes we can make. Some of the ideas I will name here arose from social media conversations. Some of them are mine; some originated from others who gave me permission to share them here; all of them are the work of collaboration.

Risk Innovating

Some of the work calling us forward involves re-equipping our faith communities. The Unitarian Universalist General Assembly has been engaged in some of that re-equipping work, just changing our bylaws to allow for non-local faith communities. Staff members like Carey McDonald in Youth and Young Adult Ministries are working to re-equip our faith communities to fulfill promises and empower people with fantastic gifts and callings. There are a lot of people, some inside congregations - the Reverend Ellen Cooper-Davis comes to mind — others working in partnership with communities, like my co-presenter, Peter Bowden and even others who are working away from outside. We need everyone for the work.

  • In the age of easier connections and networks, congregations are only one kind of faith community.
  • Small and niche faithful living can have real excellence that matters. Size is not a measure of faithful success: effect in the lives of people and the health of the planet is.
  • We must share better information and tools with one another. Risking is easier when we are not shamed for doing so.
  • As faithful communities, we can document and reward faithful failures.
  • Collaboration is how really effective faithing happens.
  • Celebrate faith communities risking together.

Curating

Curating is not only a spiritual discipline for our age, it is one of the easiest, and broadly participatory practices. As people of faith, we are already networks of curators; let us become even more attentive and intentional about what we are curating and how we share.

 

  • Learn about the commons, care for it, and contribute to it regularly.
  • Notice what is great and who is risking faithfully. Share that good news.
  • Worship and faith development resources lend themselves easily to open-source curation and development.
  • Utilize citizen journalism and citizen inspirational sharing in blogs, social media, and associational publications.
  • Transform associational publications into inspiration engines.

Teaching & Learning

One of the realities of networks and new technologies is that they develop new applications, new wisdom, and new tools all the time. Learning, teaching, and creating go together in this exciting innovating age. Many faith development leaders are engaged in equipping our communities with and for this digital age. All of us need to be teaching and learning, though. As Unitarian Universalist consultant, congregational coach, and educator, Connie Goodbread is fond of saying: “faith development is all congregations do.”

  • We must continue to create and share tools for comprehensive social media education, and integrate those into our faith development program for families and communities, along the lines of Our Whole Lives, the comprehensive sexuality education program developed by the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association.
  • We could create an electronic pilgrimage, mapping an Abolitionist Trail, marking sites of faithful resistance to slavery.
  • We can create more digital study spaces and help desks and offer free online courses teaching basic graphic design.

Re-equipping for innovation, teaching, learning, and curating are connected practices. We cannot attend to one particular area without engaging the others. Part of what we teach and learn as we risk faithfully for change is how to be brave, how to innovate, how to faith well, and how to curate (we notice what is good). When we curate, we notice who’s failing well, who’s learning, who’s teaching, and find resources in others’ stories of re-equipping and helpful practices.  What matters is to begin.

Many of these suggestions do not require major money. But they do need generosity and time and collaboration. Others of them are things we really need to put big resources into - they still need generosity and time and collaboration. We are in this together. We need one another to be faithful.

Faithful Changes To Make Associationally

(This is part of a series of blogs related to the Minns Lecture “The Age of Collaboration” that I co-presented with Peter Bowden.)

As people of faith and faithful promises – that is, people pledged to a covenant – there are many changes we can make. Some of the ideas I will name here arose from social media conversations. Some of them are mine; some originated from others who gave me permission to share them here; all of them are the work of collaboration.

Financial considerations are a big one for a lot of us. Faithful risk is truly very different for each of us. Some of us are already in more vulnerable life positions than others, and we need the folks who are relatively less vulnerable to help support those who are more vulnerable.

Financially

Some changes cost money. Sharing our resources involves more than sharing pictures of our cats and dogs and our cookies for bake sales. We also need to share financially.


Associationally or denominationally or in association with liberal and progressive denominations and associations, we can:

  • open benefit options to those in shared ministries, including lay communities ministries;
  • create crowd-funding platforms for new projects;
  • create a digital music licensing and download library for liberal and progressive religious music;
  • create a pool of inspirational images and a way


It is easy to talk about what’s wrong and miss our own part in failing to be bearers and builders of hope. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff that is broken and doesn’t work. But how does our faith feed us? How do we share and inspire?

Inspirationally

Our calling, beyond all others as faithful people is to inspire, encourage, and help us aspire to and then fulfill those covenanted faithful promises.

  • Be an Inspiration Engine, someone who notices and shares goodness, who creates and offers hope, who connects us to our better selves and to healing and repairing this world.
  • Follow brief weekly inspirational messages with practices.
  • Be mindful of our need for positive messages.
  • Empathize with risk faithers and support them.
  • Become a risk faither yourself.

We are all in this together. We need one another to be faithful. We need one another to share resources. We need one another to stay steadfast and fulfill our faithful promises. These are some of the changes we can make, and which we must share.

Powerful Generosity: Digital Faith

This is part of the Minns Lecture series related to what Peter Bowden and I shared with “The Age of Collaboration”.

(The text in quotes that follows is from the Rev. Debra Haffner generously answering my questions in February 2013.)

Digital media is helping us be more generous and make more powerful change than ever before.


The Rev. Debra Haffner is practicing a global community ministry, and uses digital media intensively in her work. She founded The Religious Institute and shares the ministry with staffers, volunteers, colleagues, activists, and faith communities.

 

Can you imagine regularly reaching and mobilizing 6000 religious leaders and another 4000 people of faith on a regular basis? The Religious Institute’s prophetic voice on sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities does that, because they educate, share, and empower people to make a difference.

 

After Tyler Clementi took his own life, Rev. Haffneralled on clergy and congregations through social media and her blog on the Washington Post to abandon their sermons on Coming Out Day Sunday and instead addressed their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Two hundred clergy reported back that they did.”

 

Rev.Debra reports, “More than 200 Unitarian Universalist ministers and candidates have taken our online course, Sexuality Issues for Religious Professionals. Because of The Religious Institute’s ministry, four denominations now require sexuality training for ministerial candidates. 22 seminaries in the United States now meet the Religious Institute’s criteria for a sexually healthy and responsible Seminary.” When they first started offering the program, only 10 seminaries qualified

Rev. Haffner shares, “We have a built a large following of religious leaders who did not know about us. We have found new members of our clergy network, new lay members of our Faithful Voices Network,  new donors, new supporters, and people who have asked us to speak.”

 

The Religious Institute has cultivated networks of new financial contributors, volunteers, activists, faith leadership around important issues. Social media based ministry makes a difference in the work of the Religious Institute because of shared ministry. Shared ministry always relies on the power of generosity. People share and join the Institute’s work of education, social and spiritual health, accountability, and care.

 

Generous spirits, generous actions, generous financial gifts, and generous sharing are what allow this ministry and others fulfill faithful promises and answer our calling of responsibility

Unitarian Universalist Democratic Practice & Digital Media

I share a covenantal faith with a people who practice the form of religious governance known as congregational. Further, Unitarian Universalists are associational, which is to say, all these congregations are sharing this faithful journey together. We have responsibilities to one another. We share resources. We encourage one another to be better Unitarian Universalists and better Unitarian Universalist congregations than any of us find easy or comfortable. Our General Assembly is our governing body, with the Board of Trustees setting ends based on what our General Assembly decides, and the Staff having the job of helping all of us figure out how to meet those ends. In this system, the Moderator is the Chief Governance Officer, the President is the Chief Executive Officer in that he is supposed to execute, or complete, the ends (and is accountable to the Board of Trustees), and the congregational delegates meeting are not only stakeholders - for we have many more stakeholders than we have enfranchised - but the ones in charge. Every committee, working group, team, board, and associated organizations exist to help us in this work of encouraging and making it possible for us to actually fulfill our faithful promises.

At least, that’s the plan and the agreement we share.

With the efforts of a lot of people, including our Moderator, Gini Courter, and the wishes of the General Assembly, the annual decision making process is figuring out how to use digital media to bring more of the folks already technically enfranchised, but regularly unable to participate, into the process. Streaming video of plenaries, live captioning in the assembly (accomplished with a digital link to live translators offsite), digital delegations, and, among the delegates, growing social media use during the process to connect with stakeholders unable to attend in person are all ways that bring more of us together to faithfully work through our issues and answer our shared calling.

Real democracy is difficult and messy, because there are always a lot of issues, a lot of different ideas, and a lot of passion. We have processes, like mini-assemblies, where we work through issues before resolutions come to the floor, which can benefit from further engagement with stakeholders on and off premises via digital media. To be able to call out for help in a public way is, indeed, a vulnerable thing to do. Yet all it takes sometimes is one voice or one idea to help a whole lot of us find common ground. Sometimes that voice or idea is not in the room, for a whole host of reasons, especially economic. A great many of us just do not have the luxury of taking an unpaid week out of our lives, and then manage the expenses of travel and conference attendance, even if done very frugally. That so many do and can make that sacrifice is a huge gift, one that no one in our Association should take for granted.

One of the biggest changes that digital media has wrought and continues to bring about in the past ten years is the increase in organizational transparency. We can easily create and share documents about decisions and research (successes and failures). Not only does this kind of sharing create more trust, it also allows us to be more accountable to one another and to our faithful promises. We can go much further with transparency, creating good digital archives and inviting people to take research and programs and share their iterations of them. We can stream video of important meetings, and provide transcripts of them in a timely manner. We can put time for stakeholder questions, recognizing that many of our stakeholders are not enfranchised in our current system of governance. That recognition means remembering we are part of a religious movement and a religion that makes a difference, and are not here just for our own care, but to serve the whole world.

We can go much further with digital media in our day to day faith democracy, inviting conversations about possible initiatives, noticing and sourcing ideas and projects that are working well in faith communities (congregations + ), and risking faithing publicly day by day together. We need to involve all our stakeholders - that is, everyone who is faithing alongside, in and out of congregations, our multi-faith partners, and our partners in community and world well-being who have no faith whatsoever.

Digital media makes sharing the faith journey with each other so much easier, if we’re willing to practice democracy well as the spiritual discipline it is, and attending to our faithful promises that every person matters, the well-being of the planet matters, and we are here to serve. We are not going to be comfortable fulfilling these promises. But that’s the funny and amazing thing about faithfulness - it has nothing to do with comfort and everything to do with answering well how we have been called. We’ve been called to leave no one behind, to aid love in transforming the world, to care for the planet, and to make sure every one can share their gifts for goodness’ sake.  How we answer every day is the real test of faith.

uumediaworks
uumediacollaborative:

“Our Universalism is a heresy. We believe that if there is a loving God, this God will save all souls. If, in some other realm, there is a great clubhouse of souls, everybody’s getting in. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists: everybody’s getting in.”
~John Nichols, Unitarian Universalist
Learn more about Unitarian Universalism
Design by Jessica Ferguson

Another great piece from Jessica Ferguson of the UU Media Collaborative!

uumediacollaborative:

“Our Universalism is a heresy. We believe that if there is a loving God, this God will save all souls. If, in some other realm, there is a great clubhouse of souls, everybody’s getting in. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists: everybody’s getting in.”

~John Nichols, Unitarian Universalist

Learn more about Unitarian Universalism

Design by Jessica Ferguson

Another great piece from Jessica Ferguson of the UU Media Collaborative!

uumediaworks
uumediacollaborative:

“Even in the bleakest of blizzards, you can still cozy up with a warm cup of tea in front of a fireplace.
“Even in the darkness and cold there’s light and warmth somewhere in your life.”
~Tim Atkins, Unitarian Universalist
Learn more about Unitarian Universalism
Design by Jessica Ferguson

The design, the sentiment, and the generosity of the people involved in this project bring warmth and light into my life!

uumediacollaborative:

“Even in the bleakest of blizzards, you can still cozy up with a warm cup of tea in front of a fireplace.

“Even in the darkness and cold there’s light and warmth somewhere in your life.”

~Tim Atkins, Unitarian Universalist

Learn more about Unitarian Universalism

Design by Jessica Ferguson

The design, the sentiment, and the generosity of the people involved in this project bring warmth and light into my life!

Community - All Kinds

In preparation for the Minns Lecture for March 9th, “The Age of Collaboration,” my co-presenter, Peter Bowden, and I have a weekly question. This week’s question is:

What does it mean to be a member of a community?

We tend to think we know what community is, based from our existing experiences. Community is:

  • a network of people who rely upon one another (family, friends, neighbors, towns with volunteer emergency services, a peer support group, a faith community)
  • who engage in meaningful and frivolous activities together (such as: a community of scholars, a community of artists, friends who play together, a watershed protection community, a faith community)
  • who live in a particular place or area (such as: Lovell, Maine; a commune; a housing association or council; a bio-region; a faith community)
  • who share ownership in something (a condo association, a co-op, a faith community)
  • who practice together (such as: a sporting community,  a crafting community, a faith community).

You might notice that faith communities historically fulfill all those definitions of community.

Communities rely on certain traits and practices to be enduring. A flash mob is a kind of community, but it is an ephemeral kind, until you realize you’re meeting up with an engaging in public art or demonstrations with others and grow more enduring connections, or if the flash mob arises from an existing network of people engaged in a shared practice our pursuit together, such as economic change or joyful public art.

Communities require:

  • commitment
  • responsibility
  • right action


Communities are networks of people who share values and figure out how to rely on each other, work fruitfully together, and create more meaningful lives together. 

Digital communities function all the same ways. There are digital networks that share ownership, such as maintaining a wikispace, which is an information sharing cooperative. There are digital communities that form activist networks and engage in social change, and digital communities gathered for peer support, creative arts, scientific endeavors, and entertainment.

Communities, like all living networks, express qualities of emergence: they innovate, experiment, and change over time, developing new forms. That is precisely what is happening through social media: people are innovating and connecting in exciting and often wonderful and deeply life enriching ways through these digital tools.

Digital faithing occurs when people create communities of study, communities of spiritual practices, communities of faithful action (especially expressions of generosity & social justice), communities of equipping (administration, creating and sharing resources, encouragement & coaching). These communities may be more traditionally structured and center around websites or congregations, or they may be more emergent in structure arising from spontaneous engagements and network development, and both forms may work together, just as chance encounter and intentional community always have.

Where I most often bump into assumptions is the belief that digital communities cannot be meaningful. The real test of any community is: would your life, the lives of others, and the planet be a worse place if the community did not exist?

Too often, in our consumer and individual-centered culture, we stop at the first part of the question: would my life be worse if this community did not exist? It is a good question, but it neglects the reality that we are all in this together, and our well-being is dependent on each other and on the well-being of this planet. To truly answer that first part of the question, we have to accept that we are dependent on the well-being of the whole.

You might not think you need social media based communities, but a whole lot of people do, as we set about caring for each other across great and small distances, nurture family connections, share news, organize socially and politically, and create new ways to help one another and the world together. As a Unitarian Universalist, I believe there is a moral imperative for people of faith to participate in the well-being of the world, and that means joining and growing, experimenting with and failing at, risking again and succeeding in digital faith community creation, emergence, and endurance.

What communities are you a member of? What does community mean to you? How might you faithfully participate in, create, or sustain community using digital tools?


You can still register for the Minns Lectures March 8-9th, 2013! They’re free!