The UU Church of Somewhere is worried about its pledge drive. The last few years, it has been falling flat. The stewardship team's extraordinary efforts have not helped the bottom line. A long-time major donor to the congregation is moving out of state and people are worried. Something has to change in Somewhere - but what? And how?
The alternative to taking risks in congregations is staying safe and maintaining the status quo. If the fledgling birds in this photograph stayed in the nest their whole lives, they would not grow, they would not thrive.
So it is with our congregations, too. Taking a leap of faith can be a risky business. A hundred "what if's" can stop an idea before it starts. But if we aren't finding ways to make leaps of faith together, we will not grow, we cannot thrive. To leap may not feel safe at first, but the status quo is often less safe, especially if we want to remain relevant in a changing world.
The status quo keeps us from stretching our wings, and moreover, it serves to maintain privileged positions. As people of faith, we can't be satisfied to maintain a status quo that props up systems and practices of oppression that have historically left people out.
When Is the Last Time Your Congregation Took a Faithful Risk?
Faithful Risking is a practice of Spiritual Leadership, and a hallmark of spiritually healthy congregations. Like all spiritual leadership practices, it is done on purpose, in community, and is rooted in your congregation's sense of purpose and vision.
Unitarian Universalism tells us that revelation is not sealed - that truth continues to be revealed anew in each generation. Theologically, therefore, we are consistently called to new and deeper understandings of our universe and our place in it. This would seem to make faithful risking a natural practice for our congregations, but sometimes fear of the unknown, and an overabundance of concern for the comfort of longtime members, can create resistance to it.
So what makes a risk faithful?
Faithful risking happens when a congregation - through its leadership - roots its deliberations and decisions in the practice of discernment. In discernment, we ask questions rooted in our congregation's mission and purpose. We consider whether we have the gifts and the willingness to do this new thing, and do it well. We ask if this is ours to do. We listen to where Spirit is calling at this moment. Group discernment leads to clarity and commitment, and it centers spiritual practice over simple decision making.
In the case of UU Church of Somewhere's stewardship drive, the discernment might begin by finding the core spiritual question behind the presenting problem: our pledge drive has been flat; the way we do stewardship isn't working for us anymore. After a time of centering or prayer, after reflection and conversation, the board settles on a spiritual question for discernment: How might we foster a culture of generosity at UU Church of Somewhere? After additional discernment, they may choose from a number of different faithful risks. Maybe they will move from an annual pledge drive to a habit and practice of year-round giving. Maybe they will manifest a spirit of generosity by committing to sending 5% of their operating budget to community non-profits. There could be risks to any new path they choose, and there is also a risk to not making a change. Working toward cultivating a culture of generosity in all things feels like a leap of faith worth taking.
Change can be hard. And in church, where many of us feel a sense of sacred safety, of our soul's home, change can be especially threatening. It can be hard to accept changes to the way our church has always done things, but to only maintain the status quo is not a faithful path. We need to be willing to take faithful risks in our congregations in order to continue to be relevant and to allow the gifts of our community to be developed and shared with the world. We need to take faithful risks to let the gifts of the world into our community and allow ourselves to be transformed.
When was the last time your congregation took a faithful risk? Tried to be different, tried to do something new, to answer some new calling, to live into your mission more fully? If you can't remember when, it might be time to stretch that comfort zone.