Carry the Flame: Congregations & Beyond
General Assembly 2013 Event 4021
Speakers: Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, Rev. Stefan Jonasson, Rev. Meg Riley, Tandi Rogers
The Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Director of Congregational Life; Tandi Rogers of the UUA Office of Growth Strategies team; Rev. Stefan Jonasson; and Rev. Meg Riley, the Senior Minister of Church of the Larger Fellowship, demystify the concept of Congregations & Beyond with stories and tools for congregations preparing to lower their walls dynamically using social media and new ways of partnering in the wider community.
REV. TERASA COOLEY: So for purposes of recording, this is the workshop on Carry the Flame, Congregations and Beyond. And we welcome you. I am Terasa Cooley. I'm the Director of Congregational Life at the Unitarian Universalist Association for right now. In a week, I will have another job, which is to be the Program and Strategy Officer for the UUA, which means that a big part of my portfolio, and a big part of the work that I have been doing and will be doing, is to scare Peter Morales. To help us all kind of come to terms with the changes that are happening in our culture and to ask ourselves, how do we need to change the way the Association works in alignment with the changes that are happening in the broader world.
So first and foremost, I want to say that Congregations and Beyond is not a program. Congregations and Beyond is not a curriculum. Congregations and Beyond is not a department of the UUA. It is none of those static things, because Congregations and Beyond is really a new way of looking at the world.
It is an understanding that paradigms are shifting literally below our feet and that we need to bring a new lens to the work we do to do spiritual development. And a big part of that changing lens is to recognize that much of spiritual life happens outside of the confines of a congregation.
That does not mean that spiritual life does not still happen in congregations. One hopes that spiritual life still happens in congregations. So it is not—none of this is meant to imply that there is a big distinction between Congregations and Beyond. It is meant to recognize that there is a continuum of ways in which people organize themselves and orient themselves spiritually as liberal religionists.
So let me just say something about the paradigms that we see shifting. One of the most primary ones is how our world is moving from passivity to interactivity. So one of my favorite authors, Clay Shirky, writes about this. How technologies actually change the way our culture responds from the ground up.
So when we had books introduced into the world, the technology of the written word, then the world changed in dramatic ways. Culture change in dramatic ways. The most dramatic of which was the Protestant Reformation. Because people could suddenly start reading for themselves and make some religious decisions for themselves.
And then with another onset of different kinds of media—radio, television—we developed a very passive consumer culture, where people's response was really about choosing which thing they were going to passively sit and watch or listen to. And now, with the new technologies that we have for social media and the interactivity of the web, we're creating a culture that allows people to be involved in seconds—in literally seconds—and to make profound choices and changes to the world very quickly. The opportunities and the implications are enormous.
We're changing from a world which is primarily organized around institutions that are static to a world that recognizes the power of the grassroots. And that doesn't require institutions to be built in order to make changes in the world. Does that make sense? And we're also moving into a world where it is possible to have virtual relationships, and Meg's going to talk about this a lot when she talks about Church of the Larger Fellowship.
But it is, in fact, possible to interact online. It is, in fact, possible to build relationships with people that you have never met. One of the ministers that I know tells me story of how she met a new family in her congregation—large, mid-size congregation—and she met this new family and said, I'm sorry, I haven't met you before. I'm the minister here, and is this your first time visiting? And they said, no, we've actually been worshiping with you for a year. And she thought, oh no. How did I miss these people? I'm failing in my ministerial duty.
Well, they had been worshiping with her overseas because they do an online worship experience. And so they already came into that congregation believing themselves to be members, believing themselves to be a part of the congregation without having physically set foot for a year.
One of the things that's been interesting for me to reflect upon as we do this work is to recognize how much the physical manifestation of religious life has changed over time. I think it's really easy for us to assume that congregations have always been there and always been manifest in the same sort of way. In actuality, they haven't. They've been in responses to different kinds of cultural movements.
And so, the first physical kinds of congregations were actually cathedrals. And cathedrals were not set up for religious community. They were not set up for interactivity. They were not set up for people to come in and find a community. They were set up to transmit a dogma, to be an organ of the state, and to be an opportunity to reach the most people for that dogma at once. Very different from what we understand congregational life to be now.
There was also community churches that were organized in geographic ways, that may have not had anything to do with dogma. That people would have come to because that was the one place they could congregate in a community in their otherwise very physically isolated lives. And so it almost sometimes didn't matter what the denomination was, it was the community church.
And then there were also congregations that were created around cultural identities. So this is actually a picture of Fall River, Massachusetts, which has something like 16 churches within about an eighth square block area. Now the reason they needed 16 churches in the 19th century in Fall River, Massachusetts, was because they had different cultures that had landed in this strange land and were trying to remind themselves that they had a community, that they had people that they could recognize that spoke the same language as they did, that could celebrate the same kinds of things. May or may not have been theological but it was certainly cultural.
Every one of those churches in Fall River, Massachusetts, is now gone, except for two. Because those cultures changed, right? People began to become more a part of the larger culture, so they no longer needed that kind of tight ethnic community. So you see where I'm going with this is that we have this presumption that congregational life has always been for the purpose of building spiritual life and building community and building interaction, and actually in actuality it served many, many purposes, depending upon what the culture has been asking for.
Now there are some that would say the culture is asking for this right now, but a church that looks like an Apple store is not exactly, I think, what we're trying to go for here. This is not our purpose. Our purpose, I believe, is to avoid our congregations becoming empty shells. It's not to eliminate congregations. It's to avoid our congregations becoming empty shells.
We believe there will still—there are, still will be, and serve an incredibly important function, vital congregations, where people do congregate together in the same space. Always going to be important. It's always going to be important for people to find a way to develop community in those physical kinds of ways.
What we are trying to point to, however, is that people are finding their own religious experience outside of those confines. And what we have been saying up until now is, well then you really don't belong with us. If you don't come to one of our congregations, you're not really Unitarian Universalist. And I simply don't want to write off all of those people who can't or, for whatever reasons, find it difficult to have access to physical congregation. Because our culture is making possible many different manifestations of spiritual life.
Now, if you Google worship, this is the picture that comes up. The number one picture that comes up when you Google worship is an individual holding up his arms looking at the glories of nature. This is kind of that whole spiritual but not religious kind of movement that's happening. And the fact that that's the number one image that comes up for worship tells you something about how people are finding their worship needing to be expressed.
And they're also finding it expressed in social service. They would rather congregate for the purpose of doing something for others, almost, than anything else. They also are finding ways to create their own small group experiences through technologies like Meetup and other kinds of ways that people can come together. They don't need a physical building to do this.
And, as I said earlier, they're finding ways to connect to religious experience online. So our questions are really about how do we take these big changes that are happening in culture, in our culture, and recognize the continuum of ways for people to be in relationship, not just to Unitarian Universalism, but to be able to apply their Unitarian Universalist values into making a difference in the world.
So I'm going to stop there and turn it to Stefan.
REV. STEFAN JONASSON: Good morning. Good evening. Good afternoon. Let me get the right time. It's General Assembly, and it's the second last day. It all blends into one.
I'm Stefan Jonasson. I'm the UUA's Director of Growth Strategies and Large Congregation Development, which is two separate portfolios, not an agenda. And I've been working for many years now, for 23 years, at the association, working with congregations to help them imagine their capacities for growth, to help them imagine what their missions and possibilities are. And it has been a wonderful assignment. And I've learned a little bit along the way.
And most of what I've learned seems to be no longer valuable. We are moving into such uncharted territory and such a period of rapid and dramatic change that if we are not imagining and reinventing ourselves every three years, we probably won't be able to keep up with the changes in society. And this is a real challenge for me because by avocation, what I am as a historian.
And so I love to look back at the great stories of our tradition, engage in the customary Unitarian Universalist practice of name dropping, the names of the great Unitarian Universalists. To point out the significant contributions that they made to the larger American society because, let's face it, they were all pioneers in some way or another. And to avoid the actual task of pioneering myself. That would be my preference.
And in fact, that is the default preference of almost all of our congregations. We would rather celebrate our past glories, name drop our most significant people, and avoid the difficult task of pioneering and retooling ourselves. And for a very long period of time, that was a strategy that worked. It was actually enormously successful throughout the entire 20th century.
But the centuries have changed. We really are in to a new millennium. And the strategies that worked once upon a time, if we look at them carefully and look at the question of purpose and mission, may still be helpful to us. But we need to try to figure out what that purpose and mission looks like in a very different landscape and then to develop the capacity to serve those fundamentals in that very different environment.
The good news is that we have been innovators in the past. We have a history of innovation. And we can do it again. We really, actually, have as much talent, as much innovative capacity, as much creativity, and most of the time, as much passion as our Unitarian and Universalist forebears. But we do need to figure out how to channel it.
One of the most important books that has been written in the last 10 years about congregational life—indeed, one of the most important books that has been written about congregational life in the last generation, is a book called Back to Zero by Gil Rendle, who is someone that Terasa and I have worked closely with over the years. And I admire Gil deeply.
The book is a love letter to the United Methodist Church. I mean, he doesn't really write it that way and he doesn't present it as a love letter, but when I read it and when I know Gil Rendle, I understand it to be a love letter from someone who's older and wiser and loves United Methodism best among all the religious traditions. And because he loves it so and because it flows in his blood, he's able to see the limitations and the barriers that prevent it from being all that it could be.
The really eerie thing about the book—and I don't know if you experienced it this way, Teresa—but the really eerie thing for me was that every time I read the words United Methodist, if I had substituted the words Unitarian Universalist, it would still scan. That almost everything that he described as being characteristic of his own tradition was characteristic of ours. It appears that we are methodical, as well as being Unitarian Universalists.
Well, he makes four observations in Back to Zero. The first observation he makes is that a central—that in order to rejuvenating United Methodist Church and make it relevant for the next century rather than the last, that the first thing that people need to pay attention to is that they need to develop a central and sustained attention to mission and purpose, as opposed to attending to serving the constituencies that are already found within the church. Central and sustained attention to mission and purpose, rather than serving, or if you would prefer, pandering to the constituencies that are already here among us and who demand our attention.
The sec—And that, of course, involves an outward shift. It involves reflecting on who we are and what we have that's of value, but it also involves turning our orientation beyond our walls, beyond the borders that we create, and paying more attention to the world and what the world's needs are. So that's the first thing.
The second thing is that he says we need to shift in his tradition, and I would argue, in ours, we need to shift the culture from consumers to citizens. That what church membership is going to look like in the future, recognizing that it's likely that fewer people are going to join but more people could be served. Now can you hold that dichotomy in your head? Fewer people all are going to join, but more people are going to be served.
Recognizing that it's important for those who join to understand themselves as citizens in the enterprise of communicating liberal religious faith and values to the world, rather than as consumers of the product. Another way to put this is that you all—we together, me included—we've actually had more than enough of our fill to be able to take that back out into the world. It doesn't mean that we don't need to keep nurturing ourselves, nurturing our institutions, nurturing ourselves as individuals. It just means that we need to get up from the table from time to time and take the benefits of our nurture out into the world, beyond the table itself.
The third observation that Gil makes is that we need to find a way to cut through the nose. Now, I sometimes describe myself, when I visit congregations, as a denominational bureaucrat. And now, I think bureaucracy is a noble thing. Just to say, I'm an unrepentant institutionalist as well as being a historian by avocation. So I respect bureaucracies.
But one of the characteristics of many bureaucracies is that they figure out a manifold number of ways to say no. That whenever any great idea is presented, there are countless clever and enormously creative ways to say no. We've never done it that way before. We can't do that. Won't that undermine what's most important to me, or to us? We're very clever at this, and we need to get beyond no to yes.
We need to actually have enough confidence in our institutional structures to think that we don't need to, well, if you will, baby them along at every given moment, but that we could actually be using them as tools to do something else. We need to find the capacity, the courage, the faith, to be able to say yes more often.
And the fourth thing that Gil would have his own tradition pay attention to, and that I would also encourage among us, is that we need to encourage the catalysts and champions of our congregations in leadership positions. Leadership positions in our congregations are not good places to put our most dependent members. We actually need to fill leadership positions with leaders who have a bold vision for our congregations and who have a bold imagination for the different kind of world we might live in if Unitarian Universalism was a more commonly expressed tradition in the larger community.
Those are the four points. I think he's speaking or writing for us as much as he's writing for his own tradition. And there are some things that make me wince about the prospects. There are some things that scare me about this. And I've decided that, just as I have spent 23 years in the service of the Association, flying across North America while having an almost irrational fear of flying, I've decided that since I've been able to live with my fear of flying for so long, I'm prepared to live with the fear of what might unfold in service of the values and traditions for which we stand.
I am an unrepentant institutionalist and unrepentant historian, if it's possible to be such. And I hold this faith and its institutions very dear to my heart. So when we talk about Congregations and Beyond, I cannot in my wildest dreams imagine surrendering congregations as an important location of the things we do. But I take seriously the "and beyond" part.
So this is not about surrendering the value and importance of our individual congregations, but rather it's about recognizing our congregations as fundamentally untapped tools and resources in spreading the precious values of Unitarian Universalism in the world. And the good news, as a historian, is that I look back at our history and realize that almost every generation before us has actually figured this out.
The American Unitarian Association, back in 1825, wasn't found it as an association of congregations. The American Unitarian Association was founded as a missionary organization that was intended to promote and diffuse what they called "pure Christianity," what we today would call Unitarian Universalism and we're confident that Jesus would agree. That was its purpose.
And it did so by distributing tracts. It organized meetings. And not withstanding our much-vaunted position of non-proselytizing, it actually went out in the world. It engaged in social service in the world. It talked about faith on the street. It took us to the community halls, to the grange, to the local community centers, into the libraries, which were great gathering places in the past. And it sought to make a difference in those places.
The original vision of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America was pretty much the same. The original imagination was that those organizations were less about serving congregations, their ministers, and the people already there than they were about communicating a message to the world. They took Unitarianism and Universalism into the public square. People like Jenkin Lloyd Jones stormed around the upper Midwest organizing new congregations and staying just long enough for them to take hold. But he also organized social service agencies in the communities often attached to those congregations. He sought to plow the ground beyond just the place where a building might be constructed.
The Post Office Mission, organized by those invincible women in Cincinnati, which soon grew out into Saint Paul, Minnesota, and across the center of the continent, sought to organize themselves in a way that allowed them to distribute tracts and win hearts. James Freeman Clarke talked about congregations not as being important for themselves, but as being moments—movements for education, philanthropy, and social reforms.
The bottom line here is that the people who gave us congregations as we know them, congregations with walls made of bricks and mortar, stone and wood—The people who gave us those congregations, I'm convinced, would have intuitively understood social media. They would have figured it out right away as the technology that was available to us in the present time to lower the walls of the very congregations that they had created and to reach out into the larger community.
What I learned from our own history is the ingenious capacity of our forebears to use the very best technologies available to them at any given moment to spread the faith. So that our congregations would be community centers, rather than shrines to distant memories. So that our congregations would focus on building community, rather than on building architecture. So that Barnes and Noble wouldn't actually be surpassing us as the fastest-growing center of spiritual exploration in the country.
REV. MEG RILEY: Hi, I'm Meg Riley. I'm the Senior Minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship. Can people over there actually see that screen? OK, because I'm going to be using it a lot. So I don't want to bore you. There are a lot of seats over here if you'd see better.
So part of the description of this workshop said that there would be tools, and I'm kind of your tool guy. So I want to talk—because Church of the Larger Fellowship, in a way, has been the outgrowth of what Stefan described the original purpose of the American Unitarian Association, and that is to reach out to people who are not traditionally in bricks and mortar congregations.
Though I want to say, everyone is welcome to be part of the CLF movement. These days, these lines just mean less and less. And so this—you can be both/and. You're not being promiscuous. It's really fine. So I encourage you to become part of CLF.
Did everybody get one of these? This is my hand out. This is going to be my outline for talking today. We're going to look at some of these tools. If you didn't get one, Lorraine's over there and has more. If you want to order these for the brochure rack of your congregation—I want to be clear that everything that we're doing, you can steal.
That's the beauty of social media and online. It's all open source. So anything that you see here, you don't have to recreate your own version of it, unless you have to because we're all so special. But if it's good enough, you could just use it. So think about that as we walk through some of this.
Now one thing you wouldn't want to use, and I'll start with, is our website. And yes, I dyed my hair since then. But I'm going to remake that video this summer. But this is a basic church website. This is the CLF UU website. The only reason, really, I wanted to put it up, because it's probably pretty much like all of yours, is that we've also done a mobilized version of the website.
And that's not just sizing it so that it works on mobile devices. We've really done a different version of it for people with mobile devices. You know how if you look up a restaurant's website on your mobile device, it's not going to tell you the history of it and everything about it. It's going to tell you how to get there. What you could order. How to get take out. What you want to know when you're on the move.
So our mobile website gives you a way to watch videos, listen to podcasts, just do the—give money. Do all the things you want to do while you're walking around. And so, for those of you who are just getting to wondering if you should have an app for your congregation, in my opinion, no. Go for a mobilized website. Do any of you have mobilized websites that you've developed? Couple of you. Great. So that's great to know.
And I think we can all learn from each other about what we—I think I would say, everything we've learned, we've learned from stumbling around. That's how it is when you're kind of out in the front. And so if we can spare each other from making the identical same mistakes, that's a little bit of ground that we can all have. and that's the fun thing, I think, about this, is that you do get to stumble around and you don't have to build whole walls and have huge committee meetings. You can just try something and then change it.
So we have our regular website, then we have the mobilized website, which has the ability to light a candle if you want to share a joy or a sorrow. It has the ability to light a candle so that other people can pray for you or think of you, if you want that. It's CLFUU.org. If you get it, then you can download it. So it's kind of like an app on your phone.
We also do have an app for iPhones and droids. The beauty of a mobilized website is that it works across all platforms. You don't have to redevelop it for all the different venues. So that's the joy and sor—that's the chalice lighting. I am so amazed by how people will pour their hearts out into this little app of just heartbreaking stories of what's going on or things that they want to share. Again, if you want to use that, send people to this so that they feel like they're part of a bigger community. There are people from all over the world using it. You don't need to develop your own.
So that's our mobilized website. I'm going to move really fast here. Questformeaning.org is our seekers site. And we'll be reworking this, this summer but Quest for Meaning, if you look at it, has a lot less language about Unitarian Universalism that greets you. It is really designed for seekers. There's always a picture that represents the seeker with a question that's provocative for them based on our theme of the month.
And as we rework that, it'll be a lot more exciting, what you get to when you click How Do You Experience Rebirth. Right now, it just takes you to our quest publication on the theme, but it's going to get a lot more robust because we're going to be bringing in TED Talks and things that we don't develop but we curate that also answer that question. And that's one of the great things, again, is that there are so many generous people willing to share great resources they've already developed.
One of the things that you can do on Quest for Meaning that people really like to do is go to worship. We do online worship every week. If you have people who are home bound, who have had surgery, who are traveling, who are out of the country for a while, they could come to UU Online Worship with us. We have a live stream station. We do it Sunday night. We don't compete with the bricks and mortar churches Sunday morning. We do it Sunday night, Monday morning, and Monday afternoon, so that people from Europe and Asia and Africa and other places can come.
And at the beginning of every service, we lead by saying the chat—the common chalice is lit, and then a number of people type in wherever they are, the chalice is lit there. And that is really inspiring moment, where you really know you're part of a global community. And at the end of the service, we say, I carry the flame.
And now you can get "I Carry the Flame" merchandise, which I am told I have to promote. You can get your own little "I Carry the Flame" candle, cup, travel mug, t-shirt, stuffed animal, whatever you want. It's all at the CLF booth. But "I Carry the Flame" is kind of how we say to each other, now I'm going out into the world. Now I'm going to go out and live this.
So again, you don't have to develop your own. I mean, it's great. There are people who—How many people stream their worship with video? There are few congregations that do it, and that's great. This is worship that's really developed for people watching it. For people who are alone. It's not just watching a room full of people having worship experience. It's people looking right at you, talking very personally.
It's mostly really spiritual content that's aimed at seekers as well as other people. And a number of people who come to us then say, I'm going to check out the bricks and mortar congregation in my town. And we say, yay, go do it. So it's a real both/and again.
We have a meditation daily. That's our covenant for online worship. This is called the Daily Compass. Again, you could promote this to your members. Lynn Ungar, who's on our staff and is a really good writer, writes a meditation every day. We have an image every day. And you could put an RSS feed on your website that would have this coming through so that you'd have content that moved every day. It's here. You don't need to redevelop it. You could use it.
So we use that. We have a lot of Facebook groups. We have—How many of you have Facebook pages for your congregation? Pretty much everyone. How many of you use small groups within Facebook for specific things?
It's amazing how deep a Facebook group can go. So we have a prayer group, where people really come to share what's going on in their life. It's a closed group. And they really pour their hearts out and support one another. We have a theme group where people can talk about whatever the theme of the month is. And we have a whole lot of other groups for people who are grieving or people who are ex pats or all kinds of other groups of people who want to come together and share.
Facebook, I know, has horrific privacy stuff, but if you have closed groups, the random person can't find them, so that you can administer who gets into them. And people in your congregation—I mean, I don't know for how many of you this is true, but for me, I'm Facebook friends with so many people at GA that when I see you, I don't start by saying, how's your year been?
I start by saying, oh that looked like such a great trip mountains you took, or whatever's newer. So it keeps you current with people. And people, I think, are using Facebook—all of our people in the world. It's the third-largest country in the world, Facebook. So we might as well move to that country. And I live there more than I might want to admit some days. But it can be a great place, used well. All of this needs to be used well.
I wanted to mention a couple of my favorite tools. One of them, one of the things that's been recently created, is Google on the air. How many of you are on Google+? And how many of you have done Hangouts on Google+? So they're great for up to nine people having a conversation. Google on the air means that if you push broadcast, your Google hangout is broadcast on YouTube immediately. That means that in your laptop, you now have the ability to create and produce and distribute television, basically.
This, I think, has such potential for Unitarian Universalism. We've been so far just playing around with a silly little show called the Vuu, V U U, just to kind of practice and work out some of the kinks, but we have a couple—Are you going to show that video? OK. Is there sound? Oh. This is a very silly little video that Joanna Crawford made of the Vuu. So that's kind of what it's like.
But you can see the faces of the people who are on it and then the people who are talking. So if you wanted to have a conversation about faith development, parents who weren't part of your congregation could listen to you talk about what that meant. Whatever you do well, this is such a good venue to share it. So, yeah. This is—This is the Vuu, V U U. And if you go to the CLF UU website, you'll see it. We air it live every Thursday at 11 eastern time. Maybe 20 people watch it live. But in the course of the week, a couple of hundred people drop by. It's kind of like talk radio, honestly.
It's kind of like GA year round, really, is what it is. It's not an outreach tool. This is not what we would reach out to the world with. I just wanted to practice with it. Jake Morrill and I are going to launch something called Faith Rocket in the fall on this same platform, which is—for some of you who are older, there used to be this show called Kids Say the Darndest Things, and we want to do kind of a theological Kids Say the Darndest Things where we talk to kids about ultimate meaning, figuring that a lot of parents would love to watch that model. So it's a great outreach tool.
How am I doing for time? Should I stop? Oh. OK. I had a timer, but I forgot to start it. OK. What else didn't I say? Oh yeah. We're just starting. This is kind of a really cool thing that we're just starting. It's called werememberthem.org. It's an online memorial garden that we're launching. And this will also reach out from CLF UU. Right now, the only people on it are Steve McQueen and Albert Einstein and James Dean. So we haven't gotten to actual people. But it's a place that—
It's a place that we can lift up people in our community who have died and be able to see videos or read things they wrote. You know how right now, you go to a funeral home thing when someone dies and you put that stuff up there, and then they say, do you want to leave it? And you kind of go, I don't know. Do I? So this is a place for Unitarian Universalists to remember each other and honor each other as we lose so many amazing people all the time.
So this is a new one that we'll be finishing, but we wanted to show you the prototype for it. And the fun thing about this is we'll be trying so many other things before we're done. And I hope that you will too. And I hope that you'll come up to me afterwards and tell me how we could do it better by collaborating with you. Because all of this work is collaborative. All of it is. If it's going to be done well, it needs to be done collaboratively. We're too small to be trying to each perfect something and do it a little different. Let's work together on this.
Anyway if you want to get these and put them into your brochure rack, you could go to the CLF UU booth and talk to them about it. They're about a nickel each. But it's a great way to let people in your congregation who are on the internet know that we're there.
I also wanted to lift up that we're going to do a class this here on 21st Century ministry, Using Social Media to Reach, Teach, and Minister. And we'll be doing that with small groups from churches every month from October to May. It'll cost you $800 but it's for a team from your congregation. If you're interested in that, talk to me.
And I think that's it. Oh, one more thing. Google AdWords. Enter a contest to get free Google AdWords and you might well win. They didn't used to let churches do it, but they do now. CLF gets $300 a day worth of free Google AdWords. That means that you can try to direct people to what you have and you can play around with what gets them there. Just reach out. Reach out. Have fun. Play. This is like a new playground, and we're the cultural creatives. We should be out there. Thank you.
TANDI ROGERS: My name is Tandi Rogers, and I am so proud to call Meg one of my ministers. On Sunday morning, I go to the Tulsa congregation live stream. I live in Tacoma, Washington. I go to my bricks and mortar congregation on Monday. I am usually worshipping with CLF. And on Friday morning, I watch the Vuu over my coffee.
I am also your growth strategist. The partner—my business partner is Stefan Jonasson. And I like to think of myself as a bumble bee in the garden of Unitarian Universalism, pollinating and cross pollinating anywhere I can. And whispering to the grass and the blossoms, grow, grow.
REV. STEFAN JONASSON: And stinging.
TANDI ROGERS: I do not sting. OK. So are you getting a feeling that—are you feeling a little more open, like you breathe more easily, maybe? Or are you a little freaked out, like, oh my gosh, how is this going to apply to my congregation? Or maybe a bit of both? Can you feel that your growth office is not saying grow us more adult members so we can look at that chart and feel good about ourselves? Can you feel that we're saying, no, no, no. How many people are you serving? How many souls are being transformed? What impact are you making in your wider community? That's what we're talking about when I'm whispering to the weeds, grow, grow. That's what I'm talking about. OK.
So here is our growth blog. We have, Stefan and I have a blog called Growing Unitarian Universalism. If you do a Google search for growing UU, it should pop up. And on there, we like to put tools that you can use that are easy, like, grab-and-go tools. And I'd like to use tools that—I am a former educator. And so everything for me is faith formation. So I like to give you tools that you can use where you are to get you where you want to go, no matter where you are, OK?
Can you move up to the congregation sweet spot? I have an exercise that I know we aren't going to have time to do our little thing. We do? Oh, outstanding. OK. I'm going to give you some examples of Congregations and Beyond in a moment to open up your imagination. But this, I'm inviting you to take this diagram home. The concept. So this is how you do it. And there's directions on the Growing UU blog. So if you don't—if you just want to take it in, as I don't know about you, but I'm kind of at that fuzzy brain dead state. So let this just wash over you and see what sticks, OK?
So on a piece of paper, a really big butcher chart—butcher paper, in the middle of a circle table with some of your leaders in the congregation, this is what you do. You draw a big square. Draw a big square and a circle, like a Venn diagram, OK? And in the circle—the circle is congregations. The square is beyond. The middle part is the sweet spot of Congregations and Beyond, OK? And this is how you get there.
In the circle, write down—I'm going to say this slowly, so you can just let it bubble up. You don't have to write it down. But let it bubble up in your head. When do you feel most Unitarian Universalists in your congregation, in your religious community—When do you feel most Unitarian Universalist? That transcendent whoa. What are the events or initiatives, the things that people show up for. That goes in the circle.
So this is your authentic self. Because in Congregations and Beyond, we are not asking you to be anybody that you aren't. Matter of fact, please don't. I think that's been a real issue. Particularly for smaller congregations. The smaller carnations are like, oh, if only we were big. No! No! Our tiny congre—How many of you are from congregations under 100 members? How many of you are in smaller towns that are rather isolated?
You are my rock stars because you save lives. So often, and OK, somebody might kick me, but this is really how I feel. For the bigger congregations that are in the big cities, if there weren't a Unitarian Universalist congregation there, you could probably find a liberal synagogue or a liberal Christian church and make do. But for so many of our tiny congregations, you are the beacon.
And not only are you the beacon for Unitarian Universalists who are trying to find you, but you're a beacon for that gay child in a conservative Christian church, going, OK, someday when I get out of here, I'm going to the Unitarian Universalist Church. You are a beacon to the conservative Jew Rabbi who is thinking, OK, these are my people, this is the vows I've taken. And thank God the Unitarian Universalists are doing the work that I wish we could do. I hear about this all the time. So you walk tall, OK?
Back to my—what I'm talking about. I do get off on tangents. I am a bumblebee. So, in a circle, that's who you are. Be who you are. Because the world needs you to be who you are.
In the square, that's the community. So in the community, here are the two things I want you to hold. So we can hold duality, can't we? OK. So in one of them, I want you write, where are the three most exciting places in your community. The three most exciting places.
Where do people congregate? Where's that wow? Or as I asked my son, Owen, this, where are the three—We did this just as an exercise. Where are the three most exciting places in our hometown of Tacoma, and he's like, well, where are the hipsters? OK. Where are your hipsters? OK. That's one example. Not all hipsters—maybe that's not exciting. OK.
And then in the other one, is where are the three places that break your heart? And then I just also want to notice, where is your congregational building located, if you have a building, within those two? And if you're near one of them, how do you utilize that? Leverage that?
So you've got your circle, who you are authentically. Where is the community? Where is the call? And you've heard that phrase. What is your call? Where you're biggest bliss desire meets the world's greatest need. That's exactly what this is. It's a model for theological reflection. And it works for Congregations and Beyond. So you push it together and there's your sweet spot.
So when I was—Where were we? You and I? When we got the stuff—when we got the stuff at Office Depot?
REV. STEFAN JONASSON: Muncie.
TANDI ROGERS: Muncie, OK. So when—in Muncie, Indiana?
REV. STEFAN JONASSON: Yeah.
TANDI ROGERS: It's been a long year. Where were we? OK. US, that's right. OK. So we were in Muncie, and—What time is it? I could talk—I don't if you get the feeling of this, but we could talk about this stuff all night long. We get a little excited. It's really good stuff. So if you want to talk to us, grab us and make some time, OK?
So in Muncie, Indiana, I went to Office Depot to pick up something. And I asked the woman who waited on me, she had a wonderful blue Office Depot shirt and this bright blue hair. And she was younger. She was a college student. Because I asked her. I don't have a good concept of age. But I know she was a college student, working on her undergrad. And I said, hey, I'm working with the Unitarian Universalists in town. What can you tell me?
And you know what? Here's a secret. You can do this also. You just go undercover. Or have—or you could switch, congregations if you're close enough. And just say, hey, I'm visiting the other, this congregation, what can you tell me? And you know what you get? You get the implicit mission that your congregation hopes for. Now, the really sad thing is if you hear the cricket, I don't even know what that is. I don't know. That's kind of sad. But then you know what your work is, so that it's not so sad, because now there's only up.
But some congregations, I'll ask them, and they'll say, they're the church that shows up all the time for the gay rights parade. That's often what we get. And you know what, that's really awesome. Or they might say, they're the really funky little congregation that sends all this organic produce to our food banks. I did that for one congregations. They had no—the Moscow, Indiana, congregation—No, that's Muncie. Moscow, Idaho. That's a long year. Congregation, they didn't know that it was that important to their community until they asked.
So go find out what's important to your community. What they perceive you to be doing. Is it time? Oh, one example—So in Muncie, Indiana, I asked her. She said she's from a Baptist background and she couldn't wait until classes were over because she wanted to find a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Already knew because of our whole lives, which she had googled on the internet looking for gay rights stuff, OK? She said that the most fabulous places in town was a bookstore and a music place and the walk along the river side. I asked her what broke her heart. She said it was that they weren't safe, women weren't safe on campus to walk across campus. And that she knew a lot of her friends weren't safe at the abortion clinics.
So I let that congregations know, and do you know that they are considering having escorts on campus. Hello. Shirts that say walking sanctuary, chalice on escorts. And so this is what I mean by Congregations and Beyond. So we've got—Here are some examples.
We've got peace choirs that show up when there's been a homicide to take back that space. So if you've got to a choir, go get peace choir and invite people in. Oh my gosh, those things grow. Some other examples, theology on tap. Having those who are really literate in theology, so your spiritually mature people using Meetup to meet up at either a coffee shop or a tavern, and theology on tap, OK? Gardens, I've got a couple congregations who are tearing up their lawns and putting in gardens with signs that say, if you're hungry, take the produce. Take whatever you need. This bumblebee likes that one.
Parent classes at community centers using things from Tapestry of Faith. When I was a teacher out on a reservation, we used our whole lives in the classrooms. Elders loved it. One of my children is in a private school and when the shootings broke out—excuse me, the bombings. The Boston bombings. We used all those materials, sent them to their school chaplain, and they're like, oh, thank goodness. We didn't know how to serve this diversity of students. And they've been using our materials ever since. It's an Episcopal school.
Hooking up with an indie film. Some congregations will hook up with an indie film movie house and offer discussion groups afterwards. Now you can have your little chalice somewhere. You don't have to push down people's throats. But we are the people that are equipped to help people live their faith large, OK? Peace choir, walking sanctuary, what else? You're getting the idea. Do you want to put liberal lectionary?
Here are some examples of what individuals have done that were not connected to each other except through the internet. So we've got—so you've met the author of The Liberal Lectionary, Stefan Jonasson, who is an obsessive, lovely historian. Really wanted to get the word out. I mean, I know he's got books bubbling up in him, but we're too busy growing congregations. So the book's not going to happen for a while unless you pressure him.
And so he started taking pieces of it and putting it on The Liberal Lectionary, which is a Facebook page that you can sign up for and get quotes that's almost like a liturgical calendar if we had one. So how many people do have on that, Stefan?
REV. STEFAN JONASSON: 400 some. 4,000 people read it.
TANDI ROGERS: 4,000 people read it. It's one of those little things that's shared like wildfire. Now, the UU media collaborative, you may have—How many of you have heard of the UU media collaborative? Alright, and I see some—Woo! I'm going to talk about Jessica, and who's that? I know. Jessica, can you stand up please?
OK, so what Jessica did, and Tim Atkins—is Tim in the room? OK. And then Peter Bowden. And who? Thank you. Jess is here now, too. So these folks got together, and how did you get together? How do you find each other? Through Facebook, OK.
So they're graphic des—they're graphic artists in congregations just way far apart from each other. They found each other and said, how can could get together to grow our faith? We're graphic artists, we don't want to be in service to an institution and get sucked in. Totally get that. I also am a fan of Institutions and Beyond. How can the institution help innovation and cross-pollinate.
And so they went to Peter Bowden and said, hey, can we get this going? So what they are is a collaborative of graphic designers who create messages, saving messages, our social gospel, for Facebook. And I have to say, it's really fun. So they'll be like, when the Boston bombings happened, Jessica was all over it. She took a prayer from one of our ministers, turned it into this beautiful video, and it went out.
And I was seeing it show up on like [INAUDIBLE] Magazine, which is Buddhist. I was finding it in Jewish—excuse me. Oh my gosh, I'm so tired. Jewish magazine. I was finding it on- I found it on a Buddhist site, linked to. My own university, which is Jesuit, made a big deal out of making sure everybody got it and read it. Some of them are sent out as greeting cards.
So you get the idea. So here's people who said, this is who I am authentically in the world. Who else can I collaborate and experiment with? What is the greatest need and how can we meet that together? That is Congregations and Beyond. And if you have trouble imagining where you are in that, please contact someone up here, and we will either connect you with someone else who's walking a similar path, or we'll help you figure out what is that you are to do in the world. You want to open up for questions? So if you want to come—yup, come there.
AUDIENCE: I have a question. I brought a question I came up with during and a contribution to Meg. The thing I was wondering about, it's been a year since we removed the bricks and mortar requirement from the definition of congregations. Have we had any applications?
TERASA COOLEY: We have one application in germination. That's a board decision about how to structure that process, and the board is grappling with that. They're not quite sure how to create the right structure for that at this point. But we do have ones in formation that are trying to figure out how.
AUDIENCE: OK. Just my—throw out my other question, and then I'll throw the contribution as well. It strikes me, in our congregation, which is about 180, we struggle with mission and what the core of our community is. And it strikes me that in that online environment, it's much easier to align around mission, rather than around that community that may not agree on a mission. So I'll ask you to reflect on that. But I also wanted to throw out my daughter's theological deep thought when she was three, which was that heaven is in our toilet. And I can tell you that story later.
TERASA COOLEY: I think one of the most exciting things to me about this kind of a new set of thinking is that we are getting more and more focused on mission, as Stefan was talking about in terms of what Gil Rendle was saying. Instead of asking, what are we doing in our institutions? We're asking, what good are we doing in the world? And so we're trying to get clear about that from the UUA perspective and as well as helping other groups articulate that in more concise ways.
CHRIS GARRETT: Two quick things relating to Stephan's comments—
TERASA COOLEY: Could you introduce yourself?
CHRIS GARRETT: Oh sure. I'm Chris Garrett. I'm from First Unitarian Church of Wilmington, Delaware. So, one is a comment and one is a question. As a youth sponsor and the mother of a bridger from last night, I want to really encourage us, when we think about catalysts as leaders. I'm 58, and not that people my age and older can't be catalysts too, but we should not overlook our youth and young adults. And we should not ask them only to be leaders in the "and beyond" part where they might be very facile, but in our brick and mortar institutions as well. Because they have a lot to teach us.
The question one is, I see a little bit of a tension between trying to be more grassroots and trying to be quickly responsive to things that are happening. And the move that lot of our congregations have made, including mine, too policy governance. I think there is a place for policy governance, and we've benefited a lot from that, but it, at least in our church, it tends to slow things down.
TERASA COOLEY: Do you want to take this?
REV. STEFAN JONASSON: Yeah. If policy governance is slowing something down in your congregation, you're not doing policy governance right. Because, in fact, what policy governance does is actually set up a framework, a policy framework, that seeks to govern the congregation by authorizing people to do things and then providing structures of accountability to measure how it was done.
Whereas the alternative is a more relational form of governance, which is the one that constantly requires us to check in with each other and ask permission. So if policy governance is slowing things down, and I'm the first to concede that there are some limitations to policy governance, and that it's not the right model for some sizes of congregation. But if it's slowing you down, it's because it's not being done right. It's being used as something to hold the water back, rather than to channel where the water flows.
AUDIENCE: Hi, my name's Nate, I'm from Carrboro, North Carolina. I just wanted a comment, and then a question. The comment is that the paper about Congregations and Beyond came out at a similar time that we, at GA, were considering taking out the words in the UUA bylaws that say a congregation is a church or fellowship and striking those words. So we're really opening up the definition of what is a congregation. At the same time, we're talking about what is the beyond part, as well. And so I just want to bring to the fore the fact that there's only one means through which we can—full participation and accountability can happen in the UUA right now, and that is as a congregation.
So I think we'll be needing to look a lot at how we define that congregation while it's—how we define congregation as that's changing, moving forward. And there might be other means through which we can be fully participating democratically in making the decisions of our UUA, and being accountable to the other groups, congregations, whatever, of the UUA. So that's my first part.
And the other thing is, what kind of capacity does the UUA a have for funding initiatives like Congregation and Beyond types of initiatives. What can we hope to expect or what can we help to do in terms of providing resources for these kind of initiatives? Thanks.
TERASA COOLEY: Thanks Nate. This is always the—almost always the first question that comes up, so I'm impressed that it took three questions for the money question to come up. First, back to your question about—back to your comment about how this is changing the way in which we interact with the whole institution. I think that we are at a point where we're going to have to rethink what congregational polity means and what membership means and what participation really means.
So those are big huge topics, and back to Stefan's thing, it's time for us to wade back in and to start doing some spiritual innovation to help create some new structures like that. So the funding question is the one that is closest and nearest and dearest to our hearts because it actually pays our salary. So we're trying to pay attention to that as much as anybody is.
And we recognize that we cannot keep trying to force things through the old membership model. So we're trying to change the way in which we're asking congregations to contribute to the association, but we're also creating some frameworks for people to contribute to particular kinds of projects that they find most motivational.
So we're experimenting with the Kickstarter model in one particular district, where people can pledge to a ministry that they are excited about. And we're also looking at ways in which we can make a certain level of things freely accessible. So we have Tapestry of Faith, for example, freely accessible to everybody. Incredible resource. And we could also make printed and binded issues of that to sell, because people don't necessarily like to bring their computers into their classrooms. And people will do that, people will buy that kind of thing, because they've been introduced to it in a free way. So we're looking at levels in which people can invest in what we're doing, rather than think about it only as free or only a paid.
LINDA MILTNER: Hello. I'm Linda Miltner from the First Unitarian Church in Cincinnati. We have about 300 members. And I'm wondering in the lovely model that I'd like to take back, where—in the square part, where it says what are the most exciting places? Our congregation ranges from people in their early '20s to people who are, I think there's one who's 95 or 98 years old. And who decides the exciting places? There are some people who would say the most exciting place is the symphony or the opera. Another might say it's the rejuvenated brewery district. Another might be a young family saying that it's a park that we go to. So how—just looking at it from that viewpoint.
TANDI ROGERS: I am so glad you asked. The best way to do this kind of discernment is multi-generational. And it's what happens when you have that conversation, that discerning conversation, is faith formation at it's best, I really believe. Because you're going to hear what's important and what's on the heart. The youngers are going to hear it from the elders and the middle agers.
And in that, then, you build an understanding and you build a bonding. And you'll see each other in each other stories, and you will grow from each other's differences. And so am I asking you to come to consensus for the three things? Oh god, please don't do that. No. But if you have it—So this is what I imagine. If you have multi-generations around a table and the ones, even the ones who maybe don't—you think you could use a number but you could use pictures. And ask each person to put their three. Their three. And then maybe even make a collage of where you feel most Unitarian Universalist within your community. Have that all over. And then the conversation begins.
So I'm not asking you—This isn't like one of those really strict formulas where you have to come to consensus for three things. It might be that it sparks. And you'll know, you'll know when you're authentic self meets that need in the community. And if you get that aha, that, oh my gosh, I think this is it. Who wants to run with it?
And then you keep that model in your heart, so when you're looking around, when you're in your community, and something tugs on your heart or something gets all buzzy, you can pull from your authentic self and go, am I called to do something here? Maybe I should call Edith and Tyler. Because in that conversation, this is what they were talking about too. See how that works? Does that help? Talk to me afterwards.
AUDIENCE: Hi, I'm Sean Hill with First Church, Austin, Texas. Thank you all for the presentation. This is a very good. Very helpful. I enjoyed it a lot. I'm going to—I want to present something of a fear that it's raised in me. And maybe you can shoot it down or confirm it or whatever you feel like doing.
I'm an introvert. I know most of the people in our congregations are introverts. And when I see all this stuff about new media, it reminds me of a phenomenon that I've witnessed, both with myself and I've struggled with and that I've seen in our congregations, of publications becoming a substitute for human interaction. And so thousands of hours get poured into, oh, we have the best stewardship brochure. We handed it out to everybody. We've done our campaign. Of course we're welcoming to visitors. We have a brochure for that. That kind of thing. Could you- is this a rational fear of mine, to have these little bells going off with the social media and other things too?
REV. MEG RILEY: I actually think social media can be great for introverts because you get to control when and how you interact with it. So I love Facebook, in part because I'm not expected to respond to things. Email can feel, honestly, like an assault to me. Somebody emails me, and then they're really mad because I didn't answer it, right? On Facebook, the culture is, if you want to respond, you respond. Nobody can say to me, I posted that on Facebook. Why didn't you see it? That's not the culture. It's a very—you get to choose. And so I might get off it for a week and miss major things, and then say, what? They had a baby? Or whatever it is.
But there's no implicit expectation that you're keeping up with it. It's there when you want to be there with it. So I actually think it's way more friendly to introverts than the kind of come and get you—When I used to go on meditation retreats, I used to just dread returning to my email box. I could feel the pressure start to build in my body about two days before I'd go back to it. I never feel that about social media.
So I think it's—all of these are tools and it's about how you use them. And so I think every congregation would use them differently, as we've heard to, again, as Tandi said, authentically reflect who you are in the world and authentically deepen the communications within your congregation in ways that work. So it may be that people get into small groups of eight people and that's the only people they want to talk to, or whatever it is. Does that help you?
AUDIENCE: Well, it answers some of the question. And I agree with everything that you're saying. I guess I'm picturing the whole, like where our church was two or three years ago. People could come in and out on a Sunday morning and nobody would say hi to them. And that's, as I understand it, not a really good way to do church.
REV. MEG RILEY: Not so good.
AUDIENCE: And we've done a lot to overcome that. But I guess I worry. I think about that church where that still is not just a strong, firm part of the culture, that we welcome our visitors and we engage people even though it's sometimes a challenge for us. And rather than—is, then, Facebook, in this case, is that a substitute? And is that an appropriate substitute for getting on top of—
REV. MEG RILEY: It's an add on. It's an add on. So if you have a bricks and mortar church, and all to life is in Facebook, there's a real trouble. There's a trouble going on, right? I mean, I run a church online, so that's where it happens for us except at GA. But for you, if all the communication is on Facebook, that is an indicator that something's wrong in the church. So it's an add on, but it can really deepen and extend the communication.
So somebody, if the minister says, join our Facebook page and you'll see not only what's going on, but you'll get to probably, in a community, see people that you know who are posting. And the key with Facebook pages and introverts, I would say, is to get at least three people to post regularly. Because there's nothing worse than a Facebook page, where one person keeps posting. You get on and you go, oh boy, that person never stops talking. And it's not fair to the person. It's that no one's responding.
So I always say start in a group of three so that there's multiple things going on. And then other people feel safe to come in. So get three of the people who like to do it, to do it. But it should be an add on. It shouldn't be instead of.
AUDIENCE: Thank you
REV. MEG RILEY: Yeah. And I'll just reiterate that we're going to run this class to really help people move through this kind of stuff, if you're interested then come up and see it.
AUDIENCE: Hello, I'm Doug Jones from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana Champaign. But I spent most of my time outside of congregations, working at Channing Murray, which is a campus center at the University of Illinois. And as an institution that is not a congregation or a fellowship or a society, we struggle with our relationship with the UUA. We were an independent affiliate for 17, 19 years, and we now are in a different place.
I'm very excited about congregations beyond. I think things like the Beloved Cafe and the Lucy Stone House and Channing Murray are an important part of our denomination. What type of relationships are being developed that are right relations, that are valid, that are affirmed, for those of us who are outside of congregations? It's great that we've expanded the definition of congregations, and that helps some. But we're never going to be a congregation.
TERASA COOLEY: Absolutely groups like yours are prime partners for us to connect here. And so it's raised in our awareness again, at least on the staff side, that there are multitudes of people that we serve in different kinds of ways beyond just congregations. That was a governance decision. It was not a staff decision.
And so I just want to kind of go back, circle back around to this polity question. Because I think that we have often like governance be a substitute for relationship. And so we're recognizing that relationship can happen even if you're not an affiliate organization. And we can be in real relationship with you. And so we're definitely reaching out in those directions.
I want to encourage you to join the Unitarian Universalist Exploring Congregations and Beyond Facebook page. Again, Unitarian Universalist Exploring Congregations and Beyond. It's on Facebook. And it allows you to continue this conversation with other people who are interested in this topic. I encourage you to contact us. I encourage you to help your congregation grapple with these things. There is a study guide on the UUA.org website that is about exactly this issue, Exploring Congregations and Beyond. It's a wonderful study guide to create some of these conversations in your congregation. So avail yourselves of that and let us know if you have any questions. Thank you for your attention today.
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