A Perspective To Be Known

By Hilary Allen

From a perspective set above is a red and yellow hot air balloon against a grassy field.

For those of you not embroiled in this particular time of year known as search season, now is when many of your sibling congregations have compiled their “records” to be shared with candidating ministers. It is a busy time of collating months of conversation and inward reflection about the desired ministry partner a congregation seeks. It is also a time of outward reflection as Search Committees discern how to articulate who the congregation is and has been.

Part of our work as regional staff is reviewing the draft records both as a transition companion, as well as a thought partner on how to best present the congregation. Every year that I read these records, a different aspect of them sticks out for me and this year it is the prompt: “Describe how your congregation is known/perceived by the larger community.”

I suspect the intention of the prompt is to allow leaders to share about their congregation from an outside perspective. After a score of paragraphs on everything from personnel to membership & finances to demographics, here is a chance for a Search Committee to share about the congregation’s reputation on the streets.

In addition to the prompt itself, what I’m paying attention to this year is how much congregations seem to be struggling mightily to answer. Many teams have shared what they are putting out into their communities — detailing visibility, events, and even marketing. But if I read between the lines, what many records reveal about what the larger community knows or perceives is that we just don’t know.

Mind you, many Search Committees have compiled detailed survey data and engaged rigorous processes to be sure they represent the will and spirit of the congregation when searching for their next minister. But very few have engaged in a parallel concerted effort to find out what neighboring businesses and local residents have to say about their spiritual communities. (Truthfully, a lot of congregations are hoping that the minister they are searching for will help them answer this question by being the point of visibility in their towns.)

I’ve been wondering about whether the Spiritual Leadership practice of Doing Our Inner Work might help us answer this question? Just as with ourselves as individuals, part of what can animate our inner reflection is taking in outer voices, views, and perspectives. Part of integrity is about checking the alignment between our insides and our outsides, and it is the same with congregations. There are also ways that some parts of ourselves can only come to be known in community.

What might we be missing by not being known in our communities?
If we wanted to find out how we are known by our larger community, who would we ask?
If we were trying to find out our neighbor’s perceptions, where would we go?
What will we do with what they share with us?

About the Author

Hilary Allen

Hilary began her tenure on Congregational Life staff in 2013 and is part of the programmatic team bringing the Practices of Spiritual Leadership to UU congregations. Originally from the Carolinas, Hilary delights in those magical facilitation moments when a group experiences some new insight or...

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