Each month a member of your regional staff team will highlight one of the “shifts” that guides our work with congregations. These seven shifts describe where we, as UUA staff in partnership with congregations in the West, are leading Unitarian Universalism. Each shift is an adaptive movement from a typical way of being into a more life-giving and spiritually mature way of being. Each time we introduce a shift, we’ll give an explanation along with spiritual practices, articles, sermons, and other resources that can guide us all into living out these aspirational visions.
Our first shift is from “I” to “We.” Another way of thinking of it is from “me” to “we.” While playing with paints I (re)discovered that if you fold a piece of paper in half and then write “WE” with a lot of paint on one half, when you refold it it will create a mirror image, “ME.” Same as in church. We honor individual worth and dignity as we organize around collective purpose. As we strive together for this mission and vision larger than ourselves, we actually find a deeper notion of ourselves mirrored in the collective. When we surrender to the larger community, we can find our authentic self.
How to do that? It’s so hard and counter-cultural! The US economy is built on—is literally counting on—the notion of radical individualism coupled with consumerism. But what if our congregations are where we come to understand that we are more than enough? What if we can have enough in community? What if we not only acknowledge the “interdependent web of all existence” but learn to feel it in our very bones, and live accordingly?
Some of our congregations seem to focus on satisfying the preferences of individual members and trying to keep as many people as possible happy. Other congregations have shifted to focusing on the well-being of the congregation of the whole.
I often wonder what would we look like as a faith tradition if when the Seven Principles were rolled out the first and the seventh were swapped? What if we led with the notion that our congregation is a big, human interdependent web of community-existence?
Below are some resources to help open up your imagination as to what could be possible as we shift from I to We.
- The End of iChurch (UUWorld, Winter 2012)
- A Generational Shift from ‘Me’ to ‘We’ (Southwest Journal, January 10, 2019)
- From Me to We: the five transformational commitments required to rescue the planet, your organization, and your life (Systems Thinker)
- Opening to the Question of Belonging, On Being interview with John A. Powell. (June 25, 2015) (52:14)
- Radical Dharma: Interview with Reverend angel Kyodo Williams (February 25, 2019) (38:56)
- Nisha Moodley talks about Community Care and interdependence with Elizabeth DiAlto (1:08:00)
- "From Me Church to We Church" Rev. Gretchen E. Weiss (10/19/14)
- We Are, Sweet Honey in the Rock
- One Voice, Wailin’ Jennys
- From “Me” to “We:” Healthy Communications (UUA Leader Lab)
- From Me to We: Shared Ministry as a Way Forward (Christian example of innovative partnership between churches)
- Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age, by Juana Bordas; see “Principle 2: I to We”
- Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation by angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens, Jasmine Syedullah
- Meditation on Interconnectedness (Lion’s Roar)
Example of How the Shift Lives in Our Congregations
Change is hard. Especially at in our congregations. Especially when a congregation is growing and it feels like you’re not able to intimately know everyone anymore… and not everyone knows you. There comes a time when it is a must to wear name tags.
Nothing says moving from I-Church to We-Church than when the Candles of Joys and Concerns (ritual focusing on the individual) is retired from worship (the one time of week when WE are all together—the ultimate We part of congregational life.) And oh, that’s a hard change! Some of us react with anger (“no one asked me!”) or sadness and grief. What could happen if rather than putting your energy into trying to change things back (to get your personal needs met), you trusted of your leadership? It’s normal to feel sad the ritual retired. Think about what need it filled in you and perhaps you can fill that need in other parts of congregational life. I know I miss hearing how everyone is doing and making note of who might need a card or casserole. But I find that the weekly email our Pastoral Care Team sends out with summaries of who needs what (with the inclusion of addresses and other specifics) is actually more effective in connecting me to those in need. I find the depth of my small group ministry circle is far more intimate than a fly by announcement.
If your congregation is experiencing the demise of rituals that focus on individuals in larger worship you are not alone. It is part of a larger cultural shift in a congregation from "I" to "We" and from "small and intimate" to "open and inclusive." I know it’s hard. And I think it’s for our collective betterment. Consider it a spiritual practice. When faced with changes in congregational life, pause and ask, “Who does this serve? Is it for the greater good?"