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.

Associational Covenant

Unitarian Universalist Association religious leaders speak often about covenant as an association of congregations, especially our relationships to one another.

Talk for five minutes and someone will haul out the Cambridge Platform of 1648.

Thanks to an excellent series of Minns Lectures by the Rev. Alice Blair Wesley, the conversations follow a predictable route. We are independent congregations who share responsibility for one another.

That Rev. Alice Blair Wesley was calling Unitarian Universalist Association members to a recovenanting is often skipped right over. She wrote, “we need to do two things: to reclaim and creatively adopt covenants in our free churches, in our own liberal way, for our own time, and to invent what we have never yet had, a Covenanted  Association of Congregations.” (Lecture 5, p. 3)

The conversations about

  • Regionalization (shifting from District middle judicatories to larger regions of shared resourcing, faith community and staffing),
  • living into Policy Governance (Board sets policy, General Assembly confirms it, Staff & Congregations figure out how to fulfill it), 
  •  Fulfilling the Promise (anti-racism, anti-oppression work),
  •  the Fifth Principle Project (making our democracy really work, especially for historically underserved and underrepresented peoples), and
  • Affiliates (originally, a way to connect external organizations, then transformed into non-congregational, internal faith communities), and
  • Congregations & Beyond (vital faith communities of many kinds in covenant together, serving the world together)

are essentially efforts to reclaim and creatively adopt our promises to one another and to the Holy (yes, check out the language of the Cambridge Platform of 1648) and figure out how we are called together in service as a faithful people.

The Orlando Platform is one of the ways the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association names that calling, particularly in relationship to Regionalization.

Our promises are binding, but how we understand and live out those promises over time changes, has to change, in relationship to our own spiritual growth, our changing world, and our changing appreciation for our shared calling.

Faith communities do not have to be congregations as we have known them to be faithful communities. How can an association of congregations live in covenant with emerging and new forms of faith communities that has a broader and deeper understanding of congregation. We have left behind the understanding of the Cambridge Platform that only the saints may form the congregation (the voting body and religious leadership of the worshipping community). The idea of congregation that many people have - that is is local, with a building, with a Protestant culture of worship, with occasional charitable good works, and with a lot of programming for its members - is only one way of being a faith community. There are many, many ways for faithful people to be called together to worship, to learn, to give thanks, and to give back. Now we have another opportunity before us to find a way to promise together in diversity to serve the Holy in this diverse world.

UUA Ends & Congregations & Beyond

Sharing a concern that we actually live out the piece of our covenant where the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees is responsible for creating ends and UUA staff and congregations for figuring out how to achieve them, how could Congregations and Beyond achieve our Association’s goals? This is my personal speculation, since a formal statement from UUA Administration connecting the two has not been released. The UUA Board ends are in bold type.

What are our goals as an Association of Congregations?

First, we have the preamble understanding:

"Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world."

Our primary question, which we must always answer, is: how well are we leading lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, that transform ourselves and the world?

Congregations and Beyond must invite us further into living humbly, purposefully, connected to one another and serving the world with transforming love.

Congregations that unlock the power to transforms lives. People:

  • develop a personal practice
  • participate in meaningful worship
  • learn and practice empowered leadership and generosity
  • find their ministry in the world

The first two practices are things that probably primarily occur in congregations and faith communities. The second two practices, however, are ones that we can nurture both inside the congregation and as congregations risking faithfully in the larger world. If we focus only on achieving the first two, consider the third to refer only to congregational administration, and think of the fourth as highly individual, then no, there’s no requirement to live faithfully as part of the larger world, beyond the membership rolls and congregational walls. However, I believe that interpretation fails the first and larger understanding or really transforms people’s lives after a certain stage of faithing is reached.

Congregations and Beyond imagines more face-to-face opportunities for people, more opportunities for service, more ways for folks to connect with our religious movement, which surely must involve congregations as well as other faith communities.

Our congregations are:

  • Vibrant - joyful and excited about their ministries
  • Intentionally multi-generational and multi-cultural
  • Embracing and struggling with issues of oppression and privilege
  • Open and inclusive in their outreach and welcome
  • Ministries deeply shared by ministers and the laity
  • Active participants in ministerial preparation and development
  • Growing in membership
  • Living their mission in their communities

Yes! Joyful diverse faith communities where everyone’s gifts matter, are cared for, and useful in serving the larger world are exciting communities. They’re also communities that are not insulated from the rest of the world, but are deeply part of the issues and concerns of their local areas and our earth.

Congregations and Beyond will only be effective if it is a ministry of every body, working together, taking responsibility together, engaging our troubles, sharing our strengths, and serving our world with courageous love.

Congregations that live in covenant with other congregations in our Association through:

  • A strong, articulated sense of Unitarian Universalist and community identity
  • High expectations of their members
  • Full participation in Associational life
  • Networking with each other

Yes. Congregational life isn’t just about the First Congregation of Prudent Hope and Excellent Boundaries. Vibrant faith communities know who they are, care about other community members (not only membership rolls), attend to the stranger and make them neighbor and kin, and take responsibility for the vibrancy and health of the whole world.

Congregations and Beyond invites imagining how to better sustain and engage one another, the estranged and the seeking.

Congregations that move toward sustainability, wholeness and reconciliation.

Our congregations answer the call to ministry and justice work:

  • grounded in the communities in which they live
  • nationally and internationally
  • with interfaith partners and alliances

The public engages in meaningful dialogue and takes action informed by our prophetic voice and public witness.

These ENDS are all of equal importance and are to be achieved within a justifiable cost, with their priority set by the President.

The invitation into the Unitarian Universalist Association is not currently the same as the invitation into Unitarian Universalism. Some of our faith communities operate that way, but many do not. We can change that. We can engage this faith even more fully and more generously, caring more attentively for our planet and for one another. We can work more often, better, and more faithfully  with local, regional, continental and international partners. We are the only ones who can decide to take up the faithful risks, to experiment, to fail and learn from our failures lessons other than not trying, to be more generous than ever before, and to live humbly, joyfully, and purposefully in service to and with transforming love.

A Faithful Hub

Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales’ call to action in Congregations and Beyond is to transform our Association of Congregations into a hub of faithing in support of Unitarian Universalism as a whole.

He’s talking about us being a learning, faithing community building on what we know how to do well, and learning new skills together. What is a faithful hub?

Faith hubs sustain social learning, faithful practices inside and outside the comfort zone, faithful risk, connecting beyond our usual communities, and help communities and individuals equip each other to live more faithfully. Being a faith hub is no more the purpose of a faith community than congregations are the purpose of a religious association. Both hubs and congregations are strategies to sustain, support, and grow faith. Neither hubs nor congregations are uniquely set apart and blessed as the end and purpose of a life of faith; they are ways we work, learn, and faith together. As strategies of how to live more faithfully, neither a faith hub nor a congregation are in competition with each other. They work together.

Faith hubs are associationalism in action, but it isn’t the kind of associationalism that has a resource center serving congregations. Faith hubs are congregations and other ministries and individuals serving the faith - in this case, Unitarian Universalism, Universalism, and Unitarianism — together. As as association that is faith hub, we don’t say, “the UUA isn’t providing us with what we need!”  We turn to the connected communities, ministries, and individuals and say, “hey, anyone have some ideas or programs for how to do this thing we need?” The communities, ministries and individuals respond. They may not be plug-and-play program solutions, but when was the last time your congregation bought a curriculum and didn’t change anything in it? We’re always adapting faithfully to our cultures and communities, where we are, as we are.

What faith hubs can also do is make room for the people and ministries that are outside of congregations. Unitarian Universalism, Universalism, and Unitarianism are too big to be limited to one association of congregations. The Unitarian Universalist Association is part of an international community of other associations and denominations. And with changes in community technologies, we need to act on the reality that we’re part of larger faith that cannot be and never has been strictly contained in or even centered in pews and walls and annual meetings.

One of the beloved liturgies for many Unitarian Universalists is the Flower Ceremony, originated by Norbert Čapek. We gather together many different flowers, representing the many different people, the many different gifts we have to share in this life of faith. For a bit of time all those flowers, gifts, and different people come together. Then we take a different flower with us than we brought, honoring and glad for the gifts of others’ faithful lives. That’s how faith hubs work.

A congregation is just one local form of a faith hub. Nonlocal faith communities are another form of the faith hub. An association of congregations that recognizes, values, and shares with a variety of ministries and provides ways for nonlocal faith communities to be connected is another form of the faith hub. We do not grow faith without interacting with others; we do not live faithfully apart from the rest of life.  We faith together, and grow stronger in faith together.

Generosity & Beyond Walls

Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales’s "Congregations and Beyond" is an invitation to grow even more generous, creative, and faithful.

Faith communities thrive in the discipline of generosity - a generosity of spirit, a generosity of gifts, a generosity of sharing, a generosity of wonder. When we meet troubles, the discipline of generosity calls us back from bitterness and cynicism and into seeking creative help and the courage of steadfast love in getting through those troubles. Generosity of spirit, wonder, and sharing is just as important as generosity in gifts when learning together and freeing communities and ourselves from our captivity to fear, negativity, and idolatry. The freedom of being part of the free church tradition asks us to be boldly generous and gives us a responsibility not just to those who are inside existing related congregations, but to using our gifts boldly and courageously in service to goodness and in steadfast love.

More Americans claim a Unitarian Universalist religious identity that are members of Unitarian Universalist Association congregations - by almost two to one. Unitarian Universalism is a religion and a faith that is not bounded by congregational walls already. Within congregations and among congregations, yes, we live in covenant with one another. But that does not mean Unitarian Universalism begins and ends at the congregational membership book with a congregational and associational covenant. Steadfast love, reason, and generosity are bigger than that. Universalists have long held the Holy is bigger than either one denominational or faith covenant, bigger than our imaginations and our human institutions. We have a chance to grow more faithfully by growing more generous and bolder in steadfast love.

Congregations are one form of faith community. Today we have many ways of being faith communities that allow us to worship, study, grow spiritually, and serve together. Our existing congregations are also engaging some of those ways, using social media tools, meeting off-campuses, becoming more part of the community in which they are located.

We need the disciplines of generosity to live more boldly in steadfast love. All of the disciplines of generosity thrive best when people of diverse experiences, wisdom, cultures, ages, abilities, and classes are faithing together. The healthy multicultural, multiclass, multigenerational faith community lives in the Spirit of Love moving through the disciplines of generosity.

Generosity in gifts recognizes, supports, and helps people share our varied and wonderful gifts in innovative and traditional ways, to risk faithfully, to deepen appreciation and thanksgiving, and to grow faithfully.

Generosity of spirit is an encouragement to creativity, support for faithful risk, care, compassion, forgiveness, and willingness to be changed and to learn something new. Rather than go directly to what won’t work or what’s troubling, when someone brings forward a tender dream of a new ministry or how to grow a faith community outside of what we’ve known and trusted before, we cheer, we find possibilities, and we ask, “how can we help?”

Generosity of sharing flows from the first two practices of generosity. We have gifts. We have an encouraging spirit. We share resources, learning, encouragement, attention. We share in troubles and we share in celebration. There is no room for cynicism here, no room for competitiveness, no room for captivity to scarcity. We are sharing from what we have and how we are already blessed, to answer the call to add to life’s blessings.

Generosity of wonder and awe occurs when we live ready for joyful surprise, ready to meet the Holy in unexpected places and with unexpected people, ready to be grateful, and ready to be genuinely and generously curious.

To live faithfully inside the existing congregational and associational covenants is to travel beyond the limitation of those who have signed those covenants, and to be generous in making faith communities in new places, in new ways, and with renewed faithfulness.

Social Learning, Faithful Learning

Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales’ recent invitation to Unitarian Universalists everywhere and to congregations is one that recognizes the dramatic changes that are going on in how we learn and how we faith. The congregation is no longer the only, or even, for many people, the primary place of learning how to be people of faith. We live now in a global house of study.

"This is not just about developing a set of programs, but finding a new way for us to learn as an institution." - Peter Morales

Yes. We’re learning a new way to be an institution, and it is a big change for many of us. The change to what is called social learning. Was learning ever truly not social? Of course not. We have ever learned together, experientially and from accumulated wisdom. The difference is that we now have tools that allow us to learn even more, faster, with different people than we’ve learned with before.

One of the biggest things we’re learning in this environment is how to learn to be both teachers and learners, to have authority and to attend to and care for and share the authority of others. It is a kind of learning that resists both hierarchy and elitism, though there is still plenty of room for people bringing in specialized knowledge.

Faith communities choosing to isolate themselves from that global house of study and not participate in it are faith communities choosing to separate from one of the most powerful tools of faith formation and growing peaceful connections and community. I’m grateful and glad that my religious community is showing some signs of embracing and more fully joining the global house of study.

I’ve been part of a growing number of conversations and social learning teams - religious leaders, followers, non-religious, congregation members, and those living outside of faith communities — for some time. Those conversations and teams keep changing and growing. It is wonderful and exciting - and yes, sometimes exhausting - to be learning so more in so many different ways from so many different voices, experiences, and sources of wisdom.

I’m grateful that we’re moving towards the more flexible teams and shared communities of social learning. That kind of coming together and mixing things up can be scary for those of us who are pretty comfortable with the way things are right now, who like our niche, even if it is in being loyal opposition and regular cynical critic. Instead, we’re invited into generous faithing together, to creating alternatives, to making room to experiment and fail and figure things out, to learn not only from one another and established authorities, but from the whole world, and to be part of that whole. I

Toward this new model of learning, there’s a learning conversation beginning in Orlando February 1, lead by Terasa Cooley, the Director of Congregational Life with the Unitarian Universalist Association. I expect many more conversations. This is part of faithful life in the global house of study, and how we learn together to be different together, not just in Unitarian Universalist institutions, but in growing peace and generosity in the world.

Congregations & Beyond - Reflection

Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales has just released a strategic vision statement called “Congregations and Beyond”. Download the pdf here to read the four pages statement.

The key point: The Unitarian Universalist Association exists to lead a religious movement where innovation based on generosity and courageous faithing joins existing successful strategies.

Congregations can be effective strategies for faith serving the community. Congregations are changing, too, and learning more about faithful service beyond their walls, across denominations and faiths. Unitarian Universalists are joining a larger movement of people adapting faithfully to a rapidly changing world.

Generous and innovative ministries are growing and living faithfully, serving the larger community and connecting people in faith communities. Congregations are not the only effective strategies to faithfully serve the community.

 We’re all called to serve the larger world, wherever the world is at, with what issues are at hand and what gifts we can share. It may not be what makes us most comfortable. Congregations are called to serve the larger community, not just the folks making it into the sanctuary.

We’re recognizing that a lot of people who consider themselves Unitarian Universalists, Universalists and Unitarians are not members of Unitarian Universalist Association congregations. There are lots of reasons for this, and we get to address those reasons, with the gifts each ministry and community has. Those gifts and ministries will also have more of us working with people from many and from no faith traditions. We celebrate the diversity of ministries, beliefs, and gifts.

Let’s focus more on connection, the meaning of rather than the form of, membership. Let’s focus more on using the gifts each of us has to work together in aiding and abetting the growth of goodness in this world.

We can be an open source faith, crowd-sourcing wisdom, taking a great core of faithing and making that faithing more relevant, connected, and stronger through generous and courageous innovation based on gifts and needs.

The vision President Morales puts forward is itself a product of shared work and faith among three groups already composing the Unitarian Universalist Association - the Board of Trustees, the General Assembly of Congregations, and the UUA Staff. The Board proposed a by-law amendment last year to remove the requirement of location for faith communities. The General Assembly approved that amendment this past year, and will vote on it a second time this year (as our by-laws require). The UUA Staff are working on becoming “a resource, a platform, and a hub” (p. 4, “Congregations and Beyond”). Now, those of us working beyond congregational walls and in faith communities who’ve been lowering their walls and figuring out how to serve the larger community of which they are one part are invited explicitly into the mix. May generosity and courage guide us we risk faithfully together.

A Prayer for UUA General Assembly Planning Meeting

I’m not in Louisville, KY this weekend, nor on the team, but these are some of the people who’ve courageously accepted the charge of planning an annual meeting that teaches us year-in and year-out of how to be together, gives the Unitarian Universalist Association a chance to worship together and to practice democracy together, and the opportunity to risk faithfully as people of love and faith. Part of being in religious association is caring for one another and supporting one another, and part of how I do that is to pray.

Bless this gathering, people committed to faithful partnership and leadership, faithful service and faithful witness. Grow this leadership in the blessings of trust, courage, and surprising joy. In this time of challenge and change, may we all strengthen in steadfast love and share  a cup of compassion as one community and with this whole world. May our dreams, our gifts, our offerings be part of blessing this world and every one within it. Wisdom weave us; generosity keep us; love transform us day by day, decision by decision, connection by connection.  Amen.

Faithing On Past Legally Permitted Discrimination

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that faith communities can’t be sued for discriminating against religious leaders living with disabilities — even when that faith community has no doctrinal support for such discrimination.

However, my religious institution, the Unitarian Universalist Association had filed an amicus curiae brief arguing that when there’s no doctrinal support for discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act should apply, even for religious leaders.

I will continue to pray and work for change, hoping that other faith traditions come to a similar understanding.

Meanwhile, within Unitarian Universalist communities, we’re still working for full access and inclusion. As an Association, we’ve voted repeatedly to support disability rights. At the local level and in calling and supporting religious leaders who have disabilities, we have some great examples and a whole lot of trying to figure out how to actually live into full equality and inclusion. The work of faith is still faithfully going on.

That’s why I joined EqUUal Access, a Unitarian Universalist organization working for full inclusion and disability rights within our Unitarian Universalist communities. Membership is free. Opportunities to make a difference are everywhere we turn.

Just because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that legally congregations can discriminate against religious leaders with disabilities does not make such discrimination morally right or acceptable. Living faithfully asks more of us, more generosity, more care, more support of one another in our differing gifts. Let’s take this ruling as a time for faithful recommitment.

Sanctuary movements have arisen time and again when we as people of faith have needed to be creatively maladjusted and create refuge from unjust laws. The same is true of this New Sanctuary Movement. Here are the Unitarian Universalist New Sanctuary Pledge Partners: @font-face { font-family: “Arial”; }@font-face { font-family: “Cambria”; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }a:link, span.MsoHyperlink { color: blue; text-decoration: underline; }a:visited, span.MsoHyperlinkFollowed { color: purple; text-decoration: underline; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } http://www.uua.org/justice/issues/immigration/partners/128879.shtml