Feeding a Spiritual Hunger
If you’ve ever been to a Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, or a District Assembly, or read many of our blogs and Facebook pages, you know we are very focused on the idea of growth. We love our faith, and we want others to love it with us! We get a little stymied in the “how” of growth, though. So a recent USA Today article about the growth of Unitarian Universalist churches in the last ten years made my heart go all aflutter. And if that weren’t enough excitement, right on its heels was a response from noted scholar Martin Marty. He talked about us! I encourage you to read the entire article (it’s not long). But one line I found especially thought-provoking:
“... The little growth bubble of UUA churches will soon pop up as potential members find the fare and the commitments too lean.”
Amen. I couldn’t agree more. I’m in my first few months serving as a half-time consulting minister of a historically Universalist church in Pasadena, CA. We are blessed with a creative music director and a congregation that loves to sing and worship. Sunday mornings feel vibrant, alive, and joyful, and for that I am thankful. But I will admit, on Sunday afternoons, I find myself thinking, “What next?” Not what next as in, what will the next worship topic be, or what will the congregation be doing. But how are we intentionally creating Unitarian Universalist disciples, steeped in our faith, grounded in spiritual practice and ready to go love the world? I don’t have a full answer (when I do, I’ll write a book). But I see some first steps.
- Ministers and religious professionals need to develop and maintain their own rich interior lives and minister out of that. Believe me, I know it’s hard to maintain a spiritual practice while leading a church. But this is essential. A must. More important than adding another committee meeting to your plate or attending one more community gathering.
- Our churches must be places where the spiritually hungry can come and find nourishment. I’ve been surprised - and delighted - by the number of people who come to my church looking for a place to engage in social action AND spirituality. And I’ve also noted that many current members tell me about their own prayer and meditation practices, which they feel they can’t really talk about in church.
- To that end, spiritual practice and prayer need to be part of the familiar language of your congregation. I’m encouraging my people who pray and meditate to be more “out,” to find ways to talk about it with others in church, in the hopes that more congregants will start sharing about their own practices, and that newcomers will see there is a depth that moves beyond worship into the everyday, real lives of our people.
I know this isn’t only happening in my congregation. I see a new wave of people coming into our churches - folks who already enjoy a meaningful spiritual practice but who want to go deeper, folks who want to join with like-minded souls to do good works in their communities, folks who want to have fun together. If we pay attention, follow and encourage that energy, I think our “little growth bubble” will become something with too much momentum to pop.