Imagining New Patterns

By Erica Baron

hands weaving

There is a cave, the story goes. In the cave, there is an old woman. She has been in the cave for as long as she can remember, weaving. Like so many stories, this one has been told in many places, and so it has many variations. Here’s how I heard it. She is weaving a tapestry with threads of every color and texture. She is weaving the most beautiful pattern she can. At the other end of the cave is a cauldron of soup over a fire. Periodically, the woman must leave her weaving to stir the soup. As soon as she moves away from her weaving, the other cave dweller, a huge black crow, stirs. The crow pecks the tapestry until it is a chaos of threads. The woman returns to see all her work come undone. But as she stands there, she sees the beginning of a new pattern, and so she picks up a thread and begins again. She is weaving the world, you see. If she should ever finish, the world would come to an end. So, the crow comes to disrupt the pattern, and a new pattern takes shape.

I recently encountered this story, and it struck me as such an apt tale for the times we are in - times of intense disruption. In our lives, and in our congregations. Old patterns are coming apart. This story reminds us that the old pattern cannot be recreated. Instead, a new pattern will emerge.

This moment has offered us a chance to embrace the unsettling willingness to challenge status quo conditions. We are leaving inflexible and unhealthy work arrangements. We are rejecting poverty wages. We are refusing commutes that take hours and spend fossil fuels. We are practicing mutual aid to make all of this possible.

In our congregations, when the status quo was suddenly and dramatically not an option, we found new ways. Several years in, these new ways have deepened and expanded. We are worshiping and meeting in online and multi-platform ways. We are experimenting with new programs, new leadership expectations and practices, and new collaborations. We are rediscovering what is essential in our ministries. All of this innovation is helping to start the new pattern of what religious community will be in its next form.

That pattern is still in its early emergence, but there are some things we know about what we hope it will include. We want our congregations to be sites of liberation and wholeness for all. We want participation and volunteering in our congregations to be joyful, enlivening, meaningful, and spiritually deepening. We want our gifts to be noticed, nurtured, and engaged in community good. We want room for the things that will help us thrive as people and as communities.

For some, our new visions and experiments are suggesting new ways of leading - new roles, new practices, new understandings. For others, the stubbornness of old governance systems is obscuring vision, blocking what we want to try, and sapping our energy for experimentation. Many congregations report feeling stymied by inability to fill bylaw-mandated board and committee positions. Though now readily meeting online some boards seem unable to alter long-established agendas, practices, or roles. The old pattern has been undone but it’s the only pattern our eyes will imagine.

What would we create if we were starting now? What systems and practices would support the pattern we yearn for now? How could we organize our communal life to emphasize joy, vitality, and spiritual depth? How do we get ready to make the changes that will take us there?

We are going to be exploring these questions in future blog posts and programs. For now, I want to invite you into a space of imagination. You can use the following questions to spark your own reflections. You can also use them as prompts for discussion in your congregation.

Imagine that the role you currently hold in your congregation was as fun as it could possibly be for you. What would make it so? (If your role already is as fun as you can imagine, what makes it so?)

Imagine that your role was set up to be spiritually enriching, to connect you more deeply to Unitarian Universalism and your own sense of meaning and purpose. What would make it so for you? (Again, if it already is, what is making that possible?)

Imagine that you could recreate your congregation’s committees and programs from scratch. What are three things you would stop doing? (For example, programs you wouldn’t run, committees that wouldn’t exist, awkward ways of doing things that would stop.) What is one thing you would add or start doing?

Pay attention to the emerging threads of your reflections; these threads will weave through your congregation’s story as you shape the new patterns together.

About the Author

Erica Baron

Rev. Erica Baron joined the New England region staff in 2019, focusing on helping congregations live into their missions and develop their gifts for spiritual leadership. Before joining the Congregational Life staff, she served as parish minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the...


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