The Practice of Faithful Risking Congregational Examples

By Erica Baron

Faithful congregations take faithful risks. In this post, we lift up examples of the faithful risks New England Region congregations have taken recently.

The UU Meeting House of Pittsfield, ME

Composite image of UUMH Pittsfield people, activities and building

When they lost their longtime minister and realized they could not afford to hire another professional minister at that time, the First Universalist Church in Pittsfield ME engaged in discernment about who they were and who they wanted to be. They reclaimed the name “Meeting House” from the 1800’s as a signal of their intent to serve as a space for the wider community of Pittsfield and became the UU Meeting House of Pittsfield. They began offering more community events in their building. The Meeting House is now both a church and “a community living room.” Instead of weekly Sunday services, worship happens twice monthly. The congregation does community service projects together one Sunday a month. And another Sunday has become a community-wide exploration of spiritual autobiography called “This is My Path,” at which the wider community is invited to share stories about doing hard, enlightening, motivating, and inspirational work. [More at theirwebsite.]

Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden, CT

In October 2017, theUU Church in Meriden, CT took Sujitno Sajuti and his wife Dahlia into Sanctuary within hours of Sujitno being ordered to leave the country.

Sujitno Sajuti stands in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden, Connecticut, the day after he and his wife, Dahlia, took sanctuary from his scheduled deportation to Indonesia.

© Dave Zajac/Record-Journal

According to the Spring 2018 issue ofUU World:

“The congregation moved quickly from supporting the idea of offering sanctuary to actually doing it. The Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull called an emergency board meeting in September in response to the potential deportation of Franklin and Gioconda Ramos, a Meriden couple. Carlsson-Bull asked, ‘Are we going to live who we say we are?’ The UU leaders voted to become a sanctuary church, but the Ramoses were granted a stay.

Two weeks later, the congregation learned about Sujitno Sajuti’s pending deportation. Carlsson-Bull called an emergency meeting of the board and parishioners began gathering necessities for the couple. By 11:00 that night, the couple arrived. “You dive in, then learn to swim,” said the minister. The next day, the congregation had formed a 16-member team who arranged for laundry, food shopping and other needs.

Sujitno and Dahlia lived at the church for almost two years. Theyleft when Sujitno received a stay of deportation. [fullUU Worldstory]

UU Fellowship of Bennington, VT

image of UU Fellowship of Bennington, VT building

The tiny congregation in Bennington, VT was using a room in the local library, meeting every other Sunday behind a door that said “Do Not Enter.” UU minister Rev. William Baughn found them and started attending. Eventually he issued a challenge to the congregation and made an offer. Did they want to grow into their identity as a UU congregation and step out from behind that door into the world? If so, he would preach for them regularly at a reduced rate, if they would agree to do a list of things to strengthen their practices as a congregation. These included increased commitment to financial support of the congregation, meeting every week, printing a newsletter, and a few other things.

The congregation said yes to this leap of faith. This yes began a pattern of taking such faithful leaps. Several years later, two members of the congregation offered to make a significant contribution and take some of the financial risk for the congregation to have their own space if the congregation would also hire a quarter-time minister. Several years after that, the congregation stepped up their giving by a large percentage in a single year in order to increase the ministry from ¼ to ⅜ time.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Norwich, CT

When the pandemic hit, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Norwich, CT decided to dig deep into its resources to help the local community. They set the ambitious goal of donating $60,000 during 2020-2021 to help the community respond to the pandemic and combat racism. So far, they’ve donated:

  • $15,000 to the Norwich Department of Human Services to help those in need who do not qualify for many assistance programs.
  • $2,000 to the Three Rivers Community College Student Emergency Fund, which helps students with needs such as food, housing, transportation, and childcare so that studies can continue even through challenges.
  • $1,100 to the American Friends of Kenya, a long-time community partner of the congregation, for covid prevention and relief programs. (They plan two other equal payments in November and March.)
  • They are collaborating with the local library and the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut to bring a display called encountering racism to the community, which tells the stories of people’s encounters with racism in the local community.
image of portion of thank you letter from Norwich Human Services

In their thank you letter to the congregation, the Norwich Department of Human Services said that they “think the UUCN is doing exactly what churches should be doing at this unprecedented time. Putting their faith in action to serve others.”

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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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