The Role of Congregations in Culture Change

According to Movement Strategy Center (1), community transformation depends on:

butterflies in different stages of metamorphosis
  • power analysis: understanding who has access to resources; who influences and participates in decision-making; and whose standards, stories and worldviews are valued;
  • community organizing: working together across our differences to address the concerns and well-being of groups that are systematically marginalized and exploited; and
  • organizational development: ensuring social change organizations have strong structures, the resources they need to support their mission, systems of accountability, and clear strategies that help them meet their goals.

Most organizers and activists I know recognize these as critical elements to creating a culture rooted in justice. I'm intrigued, however, that Movement Strategy Center names a fourth element: sustainable practices. In my experience, this one is generally overlooked or dismissed — even within UU circles — yet this one particularly points to a unique contribution our congregations can make to culture change work.

Sustainable practices help us create the authentic connections we need with ourselves, each other, past and future generations, Earth, and Spirit to make change. Sustainable practices help us build communities that can acknowledge trauma, make repair, and navigate difference and conflict with lovingkindness and open hearts. Sustainable practices help us create and nourish communities that are creative, loving and just.

The New England Region staff team makes the bold claim that the particular practices of Spiritual Leadership are how Unitarian Universalist congregations can engage, model and support the culture change we seek.

  • By centering in gifts, congregations counter the extractive and exploitative norms of dominating culture and invite reframed understandings of wealth and abundance;
  • By doing our inner work, congregations take seriously the complexity of who we are on our insides — supporting people through trauma, nourishing resilience, reconnecting to soul, spirit and wonder;
  • By tending our tradition, congregations bring the gifts of Unitarian Universalism forward into the future and seek to repair and heal current and past harms of the tradition;
  • By covenanting, congregations help us tend our relationships to living communities, ancestors, future generations and the great Mystery that connects us all through space and time; and
  • By faithful risking, congregations discern what they are called to do and even if they might lose something by doing it, lean into their call.

Culture change takes practice. And congregations can help us with that.

Culture change takes community. And a community of practice can help us with that.

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(1) "Organization Development for Social Change: An Integrated Approach to Community Transformation" by Zak Sinclair and Movement Strategy Center with Lisa Russ and contributions by Susan Lubeck, Pia Infante, Nghia Tran, and Ernest Mark, 2006