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Create Memorable Moments to Welcome New Members
Ceremonies mark the important passages of our lives and we remember them long after they've passed—if we do them well. Joining a Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation should be one of those moments to remember, whether it's done with a simple but meaningful signing ceremony or with a flourish of pageantry. For those of you who have wondered how other congregations do it, or whether you could spark up your own ceremony, here are some ideas.
Linda Kaufman, at University Unitarian Church, Seattle, WA (572 members), writes, "Our joining ceremony really makes new members feel welcomed. It is a beautiful ritual that touched me deeply when I joined our church and still touches me every time we welcome new members."
While the congregation sings the first two stanzas of "Prayer for This House" ("May nothing evil cross this door...") the new members are welcomed by the minister and board chair, who say a few words about membership and their joy that these people are joining their energy and talents with that of the congregation. Then the congregation recites a paragraph of welcome. The minister and board chair greet the new members individually and as they sign the membership book the congregation sings the last two stanzas of "Prayer for This House."
At UU Church of South County, Mission Viejo, CA (102), new members are welcomed with these lines by member Gila Jones: "What is this church? It is not the building, except to the extent that we have chosen it and made it ours and adorned it with the fruits of our time, treasure and talents. It is not the minister, except to the extent that we have called him or her to inspire and guide our spiritual lives. It is not the music, except to the extent that we make it when we blend our voices together to produce sounds lovelier than any one of us could make alone. It is not even the beliefs, for we Unitarian Universalists have no single unifying belief—only the combined beliefs of each one of us. This church is the people. Without me, without you, this church is nothing. It does not exist. Buildings may fall down, ministers may retire, music may go out of tune, and beliefs may falter. No matter. We are this church. Without us it is nothing, but with us, it can be ANYTHING."
The UU Church, Nashua, NH (311), calls new members to the front for a formal welcome by the minister. Then they face the congregation and the minister introduces them and reads short biographies (which are then printed in the next issue of the church newsletter). The congregation stands to read a message of welcome from the Order of Service. The members sign the membership book and receive congratulations, a certificate of membership and a flower. Membership Coordinator Barbara Berrios notes that things used to be different. "Back when I joined the church in the sixties," she said, "you just signed the book and nothing else."
At the UU Fellowship of Kanawha Valley, Charleston, WV (107), new members are recognized in two ceremonies. During the period of the Sunday morning service reserved for joys and concerns, a member of the membership committee announces a joy—a new member, who then comes forward and signs the membership book as a candle is lit. "Our idea is to give some ritual to signing the book," says the ranugent [at] aol [dot] com (Rev. Richard Nugent.) In addition, twice a year the congregation also has a larger, more traditional ceremony for new members.
At the James Reeb UU Congregation, Madison, WI (132), new members are sung in with a version of "Consider Yourself" from the musical "Oliver." The last four lines are: "Consider yourself, confirmed / We're happy now to have you in our family / Consider yourself, consider yourself / One of us!"
The Inviting Church: A Study of New member Assimilation by Roy Oswald and Speed B. Leas. Item #7034, $12.25.