Sharing is a good thing. My mother taught me that it was my duty as the eldest to share what I had with my two younger sisters. And we often urge our congregations to share with one another. If one or more of our congregations are experiencing some kind of hardship or natural disaster (flood, hurricane, tornado, etc.) we take up special collections to assist folk in their recovery.
Sometimes we will take our concern an important step further and collaborate with impacted congregations to send a group of volunteers to actively work for recovery side-by-side with the victims of the disaster. Participants often speak of these side-by-side mutual efforts as truly life changing.
Sharing is good. When we share, we feel good about being altruistic and generous with our own abundant resources. Ever since the institution of the Cambridge Platform in 1648, we’ve known that sharing is part of what it means to be an association of congregations in congregational polity. (See the section on Governance) Sometimes our practice has fallen short of the ideal, but we’ve known what was expected in our relationships with other congregations.
But in a world of rapidly changing culture and quickly evolving social systems, sharing may no longer be enough when it comes to our covenant with our sibling congregations. Sharing does not require us to actually learn from others. It does not necessarily move us to shift our perspectives or world view or adapt to new situations. Simple sharing does not challenge us to open ourselves to change or live into a relationship of true interdependence.
I believe we need a new paradigm of collaboration and mutuality that goes beyond the traditional views of simple sharing from our own individual self-sufficiency. I want to work for a new commitment to build the architecture of our interdependence - creating vibrant networks of collaborative congregational partnerships. In collaboration, we enrich ourselves as well as others as we engage in strengthening and growing Unitarian Universalism beyond the walls of just our own singular congregation. We need a new covenant of mutual ministry among our congregations - to work together, learn together, worship together, adapt and change together – if we want to build the Beloved Community we dream about.
There is a new story emerging in our world where collaborative networks have become the standard means for groups to get things done. There is a wonderful TED talk titled "The New Power of Collaboration" by Howard Rheingold that looks at this coming world of collaborative and collective action.
We see this paradigm shift to collaboration that goes beyond sharing at the heart of our current discussions about new regional structures for ministry and congregational support. As Unitarian Universalists, we are being asked to choose between our familiar individualistic paradigm or living into a wide open collaborative future where we are truly better together.
Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, OMD Congregational Life Consultant & CERG Lead