A couple of nights ago, I was having dinner with a group of clergy. They were all from congregations in the same geographic cluster, give or take a few miles. They are all effective leaders - intelligent, creative, thoughtful, pastoral – and their congregations are all doing quite well, in their own ways.
They were excitedly discussing how they might all become even better at what they do and more effective in their ministries if they worked together. And how their congregations would benefit if they collaborated regularly with one another and created new ways for them and their lay leaders to work together to address common concerns.
Even though a couple of the congregations were larger than the others, no one threw her/his weight around or insisted that “might (size) makes right.” There was no one-up-manship. It was simply a great creative, collegial conversation. And I expect some pretty exciting things to come from it – including a new way to form cluster networks grounded in deep collaboration rather than simple geography.
Some respected congregational analysts have predicted those congregations which are not closely connected to and collaborating with other congregations will suffer in the future. To thrive in the modern American religious scene will most likely require networks of strong mutual support.
Maybe our Puritan ancestors were prescient when they wrote the Cambridge Platform back in 1646 as a guide for congregational organization. The Platform describes how congregations are independent and autonomous; with the right to choose their own leaders, own their own church property, ordain their own clergy and welcome their own members.
AND - it outlines an inter-congregational covenant of mutual support that lays out how congregations are expected to collaborate with, be accountable to, and support one another. This is what they called Congregational Polity. This second part is also often forgotten.
In our Unitarian Universalist history, there have been times when we have overlooked what lies at the roots of our heritage. The conversation with this group of clergy a couple of nights ago gives me great hope that we are rediscovering and remembering the importance of covenantal congregational collaboration that is deep in our ancestral DNA.