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Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mankato, Minnesota: Breakthrough Congregation

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General Assembly 2010 Event 5005 (Excerpt from Plenary VI)

The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.

[Moderator Gini Courter speaking]

We’re ready for our last breakthrough congregation presentation from the UU Fellowship of Mankato, MN.

[Lisa Friedman speaking]

My name is Lisa Friedman, and it is my privilege to serve our congregation as its half-time minister. This is Laura Bealey, President of our congregation, and Kristi Schuck, our Director of Religious Education. We are so glad to have you in Minnesota this General Assembly and we are delighted to share with you some of the spirit of our Southwestern region.

We want to extend our gratitude to Wes Schuck and Dan Dusek of Two Fish Studios for making this video possible. Our video tells the story of how small steps led to giant leaps of faith and growth in our congregation. We want to encourage you that is possible to reach for your dreams, even when your numbers seem small and even when you cannot yet afford full-time staff. We are excited to introduce you to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mankato, MN. Please run the video!

Video Transcript

[Narrator speaking]

Welcome to the Unitarian Universalism Fellowship of Mankato.

We would like to take you on a journey, a journey of faith. Now that might stir up all sorts of soul searching questions, like why we are here. Do we really have a purpose? What is the true meaning of life?

But I am here to answer the most difficult question of all.

What do you do when you have out grown your britches and you can’t afford a new pair even if one leg wants to stay put while the other has crazy eyes for a new style while you are just sitting there beside yourself wondering what to do next.

We need more bowls!

Well to put that into context we would like to take you on a journey of growth, physical growth.

You see, in the past few years our fellowship had grown from a nice small family size group of about 50 adults to a thriving pastoral size congregation of about 180 people including 60 children. We even have a minister of our own and a new building with plenty of room for those legs to grow. To tell you how we got here we need to take you back a ways and look at how some of our small steps led to giant leaps of faith.

It all started back in the fall of 03 when our Fellowship was faced with a dilemma. The minister that we shared with our sister congregation in the nearby town of Hanska well, she was fixing to retire.

Let’s just place an ad for a minister. It was a quarter time, southern Minnesota. We found ourselves having constant discussions about whether we needed more ministry or more space. And that process continued while we planned for both.

What happened was Nancy Heege called and said, “Check out this person, she’s, she’s, she might be coming to this area.” So she wasn’t responding to the ad necessarily. We got her through networking?

About that time we had the building that we are currently in come on the market. We suddenly found ourselves doing both things at once. Ah, with the necessity to make a lot of decisions in a hurry.

Responsibilities of the job; available quarter time, one day per week, one Sunday per month, or one week per month during which we would schedule Sunday service and board meeting, or generally willing to arrange a workable schedule. (She laughs). Listen to this diplomatic response.

Who wrote it?

Lisa from her application letter.

Oh good, Oh good!

From the package of materials that you have sent and the information available on your website, you appear to be at an exciting turning point in your history with some real opportunities for deciding upon your future. (Laughter) That’s very diplomatic.

Isn’t it.

We had Martha Easter Wells come in from the UUA and work with us on visioning and planning. We had Jerry King come in and talk about capital campaigns. We did our homework. We got, we asked for help. We took in consultants. We did a survey. We did everything based on facts. Like UU’s, we gathered our facts and then we went forward and we did what we needed to do. And we decided we needed to look for a minister.

I feel that when I came in as the minister, I came onto a train that was already moving.

And that train’s next stop was going to be a whole new location. 2,3,4

But while our little Fellowship was finding a new minister and wrestling with the issue of needing more space, were we really ready to change just yet?

If people aren’t willing to take that leap of faith to move on it is difficult to make that move into the future.

But it seems that there were more reasons to move than even we were aware of.

I discovered that as a liberal person there was a liberal faith out there and it was called Unitarian Universalism. Well, as a child who grew up in a UU Church for a while, it had always been something on my mind. I hadn’t been back to a UU Church since probably high school.

The closest congregation was in Mankato and it was over on Pohl Road.

While it’s a very nice building, ah, you cannot see the front door and the parking lot quite frankly didn’t give me the feeling that if I wanted to leave I could get out quickly. And so I, ah, I hesitated and I didn’t, I didn’t go.

I was really excited to see that there was UU church here. And I though, oh, I just don’t know if I am ready to go into a church where maybe it’s a bunch of liberal deep thinkers meeting in somebody’s living room. It felt a little too, too intimate for me.

Well, it was shortly after that initial drive by that I did that, I discovered that the Fellowship had relocated to their new home. I could see the door. I could see the front door, the parking lot was clearly defined in such a way that I knew that I could park somewhere and I knew where the exits were, so ah, ah, I came.

I think the act of taking our chalice and the formality we had in ending our Residence in that building and picking up the chalice and taking it across town and putting it in this building, I thought was a lovely ceremony and somehow or another I ah, I made the change.

Now, of course, to be in even a bigger building and be part of the community religious atmosphere is really remarkable. The new church it’s a lot bigger. and the new church right now we have a whole corner of the new church downstairs that the kids can go around and play in.

We each made our own chalices. We drew them. And then we painted over one of the walls in our room. I like that we have a lot of space outside and it’s by the river. It’s cool.

It may have been cool, but change is never easy and we were going through a lot of change. I wonder what our new minister thought?

The common wisdom is that you do not kick off a capital campaign in the first year of a new ministry.

And one of the things we decided to do was to get help from the UUA.

Some other members and I attended a growth workshop sponsored by Prairie Star District with Kathy Wimmet presenting and we later invited her to visit the congregation and, and help us go through the struggle of what kind of growth we wanted. Communication times 10 was one thing that comes to mind.

We would start with a board meeting and make sure everybody, uhm, had a chance to talk about these things and we always strived for consensus if we can get it on a board meeting. But then opening up to the larger congregation we would have meetings often on a Sunday after a Sunday service.

Communication times 10. No matter what you say, say it again, say it a different way. Just because we are sitting in committee meetings and knowing what’s going on, that doesn’t mean that the people that weren’t there are going to know this.

There were a lot of very passionate discussions about what the future would be.

And in the end, after all the meetings and all the discussions, ah, we had a 90% vote in favor of moving to the new space.

One of the concerns when we started, of course, are we going to be able to raise the money to move into the new facility. And ah, we exceeded our expectations.

We continued to spend money. We increased ministry time. We also hired an RE Director for the first time. Ah, these were big decisions, ah, and we needed the whole congregation to buy into that. Yes, we were growing but the money we were doing took a little bit of a leap of faith. We had to take a small jump and say, yes we can do this.

You can change the world with your love.

That they so embraced the number of kids that showed up every day, they were so excited. They want the children to have name tags so they can call them by their name and that, and it’s, and it’s so multi-intergenerational it leaves such an impression on me every week. Because not only does it make my job easy and makes my children, personally, enjoy coming here, which is awesome.

Ah, it just makes it work. The families pick up on that energy and I think that’s why they come back every week, because they know this is a place that they’re welcome.

It is wonderful to see the number of children that we have. Cause I remember back when we had one child, that’s what we had. At one time I think there were 6 adults at the, at the Sunday service, and I was 67 and, you know, I was the youth there.

I think that without the children we would never have grown. It was important I think to us that our children have the same feelings spiritually that we had.

As we were making these difficult decisions we didn’t realize how it was affecting the growth of everything else.

The great things about the growth we discovered is that we have new groups springing up. The Social Concerns Committee, they’re doing things that other people are getting involved in. At the beginning we called it Social Concerns, then we changed it to Social Action Because we wanted to have the message that we’re going to do something. It’s not just going to be, you know, talking about things. What is interesting though, is that people have started bringing projects to us and we no longer have to develop those projects.

This past year we did a Peace Pole and educational piece around that.

We also started a KIVA project. We have now loaned about $22,000 to people who are entrepreneurs throughout the world. We have a big world map in our social hall that shows where we have made those donations. I just feel very very grateful to belong here and then to also be able to reach out in so many ways.

We have a Humanities Series that is bringing the community into us. I had an idea that I would like to start a Humanities Series to provide an educational experience for the greater Mankato area. Topics have included Civil Liberties by Coleen Rowley, FBI Whistleblower and Time Magazine 2002 Person of the Year.

And so I just put it on the back burner. I didn’t do much with my faith at all, until I saw the advertisement in the newspaper about having Coleen Rowley speak for your Humanity series. And it was going to be at the new location which is the church that it is today. And I decided to go to that. And when I saw this was a professional church and the room was filled with people from the church and from the community, I thought this might be the right place. This might be the right time and that’s when I had that breakthrough. That this is the church for me. This is where I’m comfortable. This is the religious education I want my children to have, because I feel 100% behind it.

It is important to me that we have a liberal presence in this town and we are becoming more observable, more noticeable and I think that is important.

So that’s how we became who we are today. I hope you have enjoyed our story and maybe even learned something for yourself. And don’t be afraid to take those small steps. They just may help lead you through those giant leaps of faith.

[Choir singing]

One small step
Bringing us all a little bit closer
One small step beginning today
If we all join hand in hand
Every nation every land
We can take one small step
And lead the way
I got soul but I’m not a soldier

For more information contact growthresources @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Monday, September 5, 2011.

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