Cluster on the Cutting Edge
The eighth episode of the "A Religion for Our Time" series profiles four enthusiastic Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations in upstate New York that are determined to grow by working together. Their Capital Region Unitarian Universalists of New York cluster is producing remarkable results, including a brand new congregation!
Rev. Peter Morales: They call themselves the cluster on the cutting edge. I’m talking about the four and soon to be five congregations of CRUUNY. That stands for Capital Region UUs of New York. It all started when the St. Lawrence District Exec asked the ministers and board presidents to get together for dinner a few general assembly’s ago. The results are nothing short of amazing.
Kathy McGowan: We like each other. (Laughing) So working together is a real joy. And when you see how people do things differently than you it’s like wow maybe we could do something different, so there’s power in listening to each other and learning from each other.
Rev. Dr. Deane Perkins: CRUUNY is all about connections and relationships and ideas and things that perhaps we couldn’t do just alone.
Narrator: So once a month, religiously, the ministers and board presidents of first UU society of Albany, the UU Congregation of Glens Falls, the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady and the UU Congregation of Saratoga Springs get together.
Kathy McGowan: It’s not the big church teaching the little church. It’s all of us learning that there’s beauty in our congregational differences.
Rev. Priscilla Richter: The core is the lay leadership and ministerial leadership and that I think is a real key to our success. It hasn’t been just the ministers, it hasn’t been just the lay people, but we’re working together.
Narrator: One of the first joint efforts was essentially shouting from the rooftops.
Rev. Linda Hoddy: We began to think about one of the things that might really help is if we did some advertising together, much the way we’ve seen the Mormons and the Roman Catholics and the Lutheran’s do.
Rev. Dr. Deane Perkins: We did do NPR—we were also in Google. We did advertising through mailings. The UUA helped us quite a bit here. They’ve done it before, so they were very helpful.
Rev. Linda Hoddy: We’re bringing in the membership coordinator from the largest church in our district for a joint workshop so that we’re ready to receive these people. We will have all of our membership committee and we’re inviting other leadership as well because we know that it takes everyone to integrate people into the congregation.
Narrator: Once a year they rent a big space and worship together.
Rev. Priscilla Richter: They’ve been such joyous and spiritually deepening events. Truly worshipful.
Rev. Dr. Deane Perkins: We have our own individual choirs, but to bring the four choirs together and it is absolutely awesome.
Rev. Linda Hoddy: I think for people who never go to district meetings, this gives a sense of okay, wow, there are more of us than I realized and it’s a different experience to worship with five hundred people than with fifty or a hundred and fifty or even two hundred.
Rev. Dr. Deane Perkins: It’s a lot of fun. It suggests the potential that we have as Unitarian Universalists.
Rev. Linda Hoddy: And make them proud to be Unitarian Universalists. Sometimes children are the only UU in a school. So we want to give them that sense of connection.
Narrator: The ministers and congregations will soon pair up to do the spiritual deepening program called Well spring.
Rev. Dr. Deane Perkins: Mine’s the smallest of the four. And I wondered, gee, I’m not sure if I can get the program off the ground. This is where the cluster actually helps tremendously, is that we can do this together. Saratoga and Glens Falls Group will be coming together next—this fall, and Albany and Schenectady will be doing theirs as well.
Kathy McGowan: And deepening our spiritual grounding needs to be part of anything we do because it’s going to make it stronger as we take it out into the world.
Narrator: And that brings us to a real biggy for the CRUUNY cluster. They’ve studied their capital region and decided to start a new congregation.
Rev. Linda Hoddy: We saw when we did that demographic study three or four years ago that there was this little green triangle that showed up on the maps that said very fast population growth. Very high likelihood of preference for Unitarian Universalism. We said. Oh. There should be a congregation there.
Rev. Samuel Trumbore: We had a meeting on May 15 at the Clifton Park Library. And forty people came together. Twenty of whom said that we want to form a new congregation. Very exciting work.
Rev. Linda Hoddy: We may use the existing congregations ministers on their non-preaching Sundays. They may come in and preach. We’re also looking at the models that are using technology. In Albuquerque they’re having satellite congregations that are piping in the service via technology we’re going to look at that model too.
Rev. Priscilla Richter: All of us are willing to see another UU congregation there. They’re not seeing this as competition for us, but a way to serve the region with a greater presence of Unitarian Universalism.
Kathy McGowan: And that’s really the power of the cluster is that we can do great things when we work together that we couldn’t do if we stayed in our own comfort zone. And our own comfort zone in this case is our own congregation.
Narrator: Sharing the fire of commitment for the religion for our time.
For more information visit the web site for the Unitarian Universalists of the Capitol Region of New York.