New Year, New Visions

By Natalie Briscoe

As a people of one shared Faith and as single congregations tied to others through our Unitarian Universalist Association, many of us are gathering our hopes for what the upcoming calendar year will bring. At the time of writing this blog, I’ve already received five requests for assistance with building developmental goals and plans for your congregations this year, and it’s not even noon on the first day back! I hear that you are ready to create some good change within your congregations, so let’s look at how we might begin that work.

In general, congregations reach out to staff when something isn’t quite working. Maybe there isn’t enough momentum around a particular program and your volunteer recruitment isn’t going well. Perhaps your pledge drive didn’t turn out as you had hoped, and now you are looking for some creative solutions. You may have just gone through a staffing transition and are looking for ways to create a vision for your new future. Or sometimes, the congregation just feels sort of “stuck,” and you aren’t sure what direction you should go next to help the congregation over this energy slump. Most of the time, these issues are symptoms of other cultural changes in the congregation, especially now as we are still feeling the changes that the global pandemic and social isolation brought us.

I am always really excited to have these conversations with congregational leaders because each of these issues is an incredible growth opportunity for you. Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus gives us the adage, “The only constant is change.” Systems thinking teaches us that since growth always requires change, when congregations and leaders change their framework away from “there is a problem to fix” and toward “there is an opportunity for growth,” we can move into a developmental mode which opens the door to transformation.

Combining this idea with our Southern Region truth that “Faith Development is All We Do,” then as deliberate organizations rooted in the development of individuals and our communities, we can embrace our challenges as opportunities to deepen our commitment to and incarnation of Unitarian Universalism in new, exciting, and creative ways that lead us into a future of vibrancy, relevancy, and effectiveness.

I know that we are often so embarrassed to name our challenges. It can seem impossible to admit we need or ask for help. We often don’t know what we don’t know. It can be difficult to reach out when we can’t even describe what exactly is wrong. Even our Unitarian Theology of Perfectionism coupled with our dominant societal culture toward performance leads us to hide our challenges from each other.

Contrary to these strong forces, a congregation that puts Faith Development and growth (and therefore, change) at its center practices our values of honesty and acceptance with itself. It is able to be honest and accurate about its challenges, even in the face of the embarrassment or internalized shame that may come with it. Then it can accept those challenges for what they are: opportunities to grow in Faith with one another.

The Paradox of Acceptance names that in order to be transformed, to change, to grow, to overcome obstacles, we must be able to name, accept, and love where we are right now. As soon as we speak our challenges out loud to one another, they begin to transform into opportunities. Before we chart the way out, we have to find ourselves on the map. Often when we can clearly locate ourselves, the way forward becomes clear and obstacles are removed.

Your Southern Region staff is so excited that so many of you are looking for new opportunities in your challenges and new visions for what you might become in a world that may be calling you toward something new. Your honesty and trust are a gift to us, and we do not take it for granted. We commit to creating a space in our relationship where we can work toward our common goal: that you are able to live into a whole and loving Unitarian Universalism that you have envisioned for yourself. In fact, we already see all of the millions of ways in which you are already doing that! We hope to partner with you to create a vibrant, relevant, and live-saving Unitarian Universalism in 2024.