At the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship of Centre County, many people travel a distance to attend church. Located in State College, Pennsylvania, the UU Fellowship is the only liberal church in the county; the closest Unitarian Universalist church is in Altoona, over an hour away.
To meet this need, the congregation, under the guidance of Director of Religious Education Jean Wiant, established the Long Distance Traveler's (LDT) group.
Wiant said, "I am an LDT myself, as I travel 35-45 minutes to get to the Fellowship for work. During my first year at the UU Church of Washington Crossing I made a nearly two hour (one way) commute, and when I lived in Galloway Township, New Jersey, I traveled an hour to get to the UU Church of Ocean County. So I know about the difficulties that LDT's face from my own personal experience. It is difficult to get involved in anything that goes on during the week, because of the travel time. Sometimes it is difficult to get to the Sunday morning service because of bad weather or snow covered roads in the winter. The less often that a person comes to the church, the less likely it is that they stay connected. It is just too difficult to get to know other members, to take a class, to participate in activities, or even be on a committee!"
The Centre County Membership Committee decided to try and address this problem with a creative solution. They gave Wiant the names of people who travel at least thirty minutes to get to the Fellowship. She contacted everyone on the list, sharing her own LDT experiences with them. She was able to set up one carpool between two people who live nine miles apart. She also let them know about the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) as an option for times when they can't get to church, for on-line classes, and for on-line forums.
Wiant also decided to set up a once a month gathering of the LDT's after the Sunday service. They met for the first time in January 2007, and carpooled from the church to a nearby restaurant. The group discussed what they would like to have in the way of Sunday afternoon programming (since other evenings are impossible).
Suggestions included a once-a-month gathering with either a pot luck or bring-it-yourself bag lunch (or lunch at a restaurant); returning to the church for an afternoon of board games; watching the videos that have been presented at the church's Wonderful Soulful Wednesdays diversity series followed by discussion; starting a Small Group Ministry; or taking an Adult Enrichment class. The group also felt that they should meet on Sundays when there is programming offered later in the day.
Wiant says, "The next three gatherings of the LDT's are on Sundays when there are Winterfest Concerts. We will eat lunch, come back to the church for games, and then attend the concerts. Beyond that, when the Winterfest Concerts end, we'll meet on Sundays when there is a family service in the evening. Between lunch and the service, we will play board games, and explore adult curricula so that the group can decide on one to take beginning in the fall."
The LDT's are grateful that someone noticed that it is difficult for them to get to church and remain involved. They have gained renewed interest in Unitarian Universalism and in the Fellowship. They are now making connections with others in the Fellowship, and hopefully, will be able to enjoy some of the things that other members take for granted.