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Introducing the Congregations and Beyond Initiative: Session 1 of the Congregations & Beyond Discussion Guide

Purpose

This session introduces participants to the basic concepts of Congregations and Beyond. It is the foundation for future sessions.

Objectives

  • Create a covenant.
     
  • Discuss Peter Morales’ white paper “Congregations and Beyond.”
     
  • Understand what the Congregations and Beyond initiative calls upon us to do.

Materials

  • Chalice, candle, and matches, or LED/battery-operated candle
     
  • Rev. Peter Morales’ white paper, “Congregations and Beyond
     
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
     
  • Pens and/or pencils

Preparation

  • Review the materials for the session.
     
  • Print copies of Rev. Peter Morales’ white paper.
     
  • Write on newsprint and post:
     
    • We agree to speak from our own experiences and perspectives.
       
    • We agree to listen respectfully to the experiences and perspectives of other people.
       
    • We agree to pay attention to the group process, making sure that everyone has the opportunity to speak and to listen.
       
    • We agree to make this is a space for discussion, rather than for advancing a particular agenda.
       
  • Write on newsprint and do not post:
     
    • Did you find any of Rev. Morales’ observations about contemporary religious life surprising? Which ones and why?
       
    • Rev. Morales advocates for Unitarian Universalists to think of ourselves as part of a religious movement instead of members of an association of congregations. What does this new way of thinking mean to you?
       
    • If your congregation has a mission statement, how does that mission statement intersect with what is suggested in the white paper?
       
    • What else strikes you about Morales’ paper?
       
    • What excites you about Congregations and Beyond and why?
       
    • What makes you uncomfortable and why?

Time

  • Total presentation time: 60 minutes

Opening: Description of Session

(5 minutes)

Welcome participants to the Introduction to the Congregations and Beyond Initiative. Say, “The Congregations and Beyond initiative is not a prescribed set of actions or a road map for what your congregation must or should do. It is, rather, a new way of looking at our faith, our congregations, and our own identity as Unitarian Universalists.”

Light the chalice and read the chalice lighting words by Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) president Rev. Peter Morales:

  • I am convinced that any organization—whether a committee, a congregation, or an entire national association—will thrive to the extent that it uses the energy, the skill, the creativity and the passion of its people.
     
  • We are doing some exciting and wonderful things. What is even more important is that we are doing them together. When we UUs work together toward a common vision, we are something beautiful to behold.

Introductions

(10 minutes)

Invite participants to introduce themselves by name and name one reason they are attending this workshop.

Creating a Covenant

(10 minutes)

Point out the covenant points you have written on newsprint. Propose them as guidelines. Ask if any points need to be clarified, added, or amended. Note changes on newsprint. When the covenant is complete, invite participants to voice or signal agreement.

Introduction to the Congregations and Beyond Initiative

(30 minutes)

Distribute Peter Morales’ white paper and invite people to read it over, making notes at as they read points or sections that particularly strike them. Post the questions you have written on newsprint. Divide into small groups for discussion, using the questions as prompts. After 15 minutes or when conversation dwindles, reconvene the large group and invite small groups to share what they found meaningful in their discussions.

Lead a large group conversation, asking:

  • Do you know someone who identifies as “spiritual but not religious”? Someone who identifies as Unitarian Universalist (or perhaps was raised Unitarian Universalist) that does not participate in a congregation?
     
  • Do you know someone who currently connects religiously in groups other than traditional congregations (e.g. camps and conferences, campus ministry, etc.)
     
  • What would our churches look like if they were attractive to people in this group?

Close the discussion using these or similar words:

There have always been people not interested in joining a congregation, for one reason or another, including many people who identify themselves as Unitarian Universalist. Many others share our values and way of being in the world. Rev. Morales proposes a two-part strategy to reach out to these individuals. In his vision, strong congregations remain at the base of Unitarian Universalism and we focus energy on creating a movement beyond congregational walls.

Rev. Terasa Cooley, Director of Congregational Life at the Unitarian Universalist Association, states: “a core purpose of our faith is to help people grow in spirit and in service. We believe that our faith provides a path for each of us to unlock our transformational capacity to serve the world with love. We want to expand our faith not so that we can claim greater numbers of Unitarian Universalists, but so that we can better achieve this transformational purpose.” The both/and approach of the Congregations and Beyond initiative calls upon us to connect more people both within and beyond congregations, increasing the transformational capacities of individual Unitarian Universalists, of congregations and groups, and of our broader Unitarian Universalist movement.

If you are going on to lead the second and third sessions in this series, explain that in the follow-up sessions, participants will explore concrete ways to engage with the Congregations and Beyond initiative.

Closing

(5 minutes)

Remind participants of the date and time of the next session. Read these closing words from Rev. Morales white paper and extinguish the chalice:

The central conviction driving [Congregations and Beyond] is that our core values appeal to far more people than are attracted to (or likely to be attracted to) our congregations. We have always treated this as a problem to be solved by devising ways to get people to become members of our congregations. But the reality of today’s world is that not everyone who shares our core values will want to become part of a traditional congregation. The fact that so many share our values is an enormous opportunity, not a problem. The future relevance of our faith may well depend on whether we can create a religious movement beyond, as well as within, the parish. I am confident that together we can seize this historic opportunity for our faith.

For more information contact conglife @ uua.org.

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

Last updated on Tuesday, September 25, 2012.

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