Tapestry of Faith: Curricula and Resources for Lifespan Faith Development
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Handout 1: Heavenly Unitarian Universalist Congregation

For Workshop 6, Faith and Conflict, Activity 2, Congregations as Systems

Heavenly Unitarian Universalist Congregation has a lovely building in a suburban community. It is a congregation well-known for its music. They have a beloved music director who has been with the congregation for 20 years. She believes that ethereal music is best for congregational worship and favors the harp. The Heavenly Choir loves her as a director and cannot imagine singing with anything other than harp as accompaniment.

The Heavenly Music Committee meets only twice a year. Things are going so smoothly with the congregation’s music program in the music director’s hands, there is no need for more frequent meetings. The staff members, particularly the parish minister, love working with the music director; the music is reliably excellent, and the congregation seems happy with that aspect of worship.

However, there are rumblings from the younger people in the congregation that although ethereal music is lovely, they might like to hear something more earthly now and again. Parents have commented to the religious education director that it would be wonderful to have music that children can sing and enjoy from time to time. Still, this is not a big issue in the congregation. All is tranquil at Heavenly Unitarian Universalist Congregation, until . . .

The Heavenly music director receives an offer to teach harp at a world-famous conservatory and decides to accept. It means that she and her partner will be moving out of the area, so she tenders her resignation as Heavenly’s music director, effective at the end of the year. The Heavenly Music Committee and the Heavenly Choir make plans for a gala goodbye celebration. The Board decides to appoint a search committee for a new music director; in the interest of being inclusive, the Board appoints a parent, a young adult, and a jazz musician to the search committee, along with a member of the choir and a member of the Music Committee. The appointments raise eyebrows among those in the Heavenly Choir and those on the Heavenly Music Committee, who thought they would be the ones to find a new harpist to continue their successful ethereal music program in the congregation. They begin to murmur, wondering what the Board is thinking, and feeling somewhat underappreciated.

After a grand goodbye party, the search committee meets to begin its work in earnest. They find very quickly that committee members have entirely different ideas about the person who should be their next music director. Soon they are divided into two factions—lovers of ethereal music, and those desirous of something different—with both sides planning surveys to prove that the majority of the congregation is on their side. The conflict spreads to the congregation at large. People choose sides. The Board is stunned by what is happening in their once tranquil congregation and wants to do whatever is necessary to restore harmony and balance. The minister and Board chair wisely seek help from their UUA Regional staff, who help them examine their problem by looking at Heavenly’s issue from a systems point of view.