First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville (FUUN) https://www.firstuunash.org/
Widening the Circle of Concern (WTC) Program as of March 2023 https://www.firstuunash.org/widening-the-circle-of-concern/
Planning and pre-work for WTC began in August 2021 after discussions with other committees. The Beloved Community Committee (BCC) decided to take the lead on a year-long WTC program. We thought it would be a natural follow-up to our adoption of the 8th Principle in January 2021 and would fit in as part of our congregation’s transition process. Our lead minister retired in June 2020. Our congregation decided to hire a Transitional Lead Minister, Rev. Diane Dowgiert, to guide us through the transition process. This process will among other things help us be ready to hire a new lead minister.
So far, the transition process has included reviewing and making changes to our governance (bylaws, policies, Board composition, etc.) and Mission, Vision, and Covenant statements and coming back together as a congregation in the wake of the pandemic. We are holding hybrid services with most people attending in person and some on Zoom. The WTC program was envisioned as a good way to bring people back together. Our congregation has about 300 members and friends, down from about 400 before the pandemic.
Our Vision and Covenant statements (https://www.firstuunash.org/missionandbeliefs/) were adopted by the congregation as Provisional on June 12, 2022. The monthly WTC Session Organizers are providing feedback to our Mission, Vision, and Covenant Task Force based on the discussions in their sessions to help the Task Force as it works to fine-tune the statements. A member of the BCC also serves on the Mission, Vision, and Covenant Task Force. Other BCC members serve as chairs, members of, or liaisons to other church committees, task forces, and the Board of Directors and help ensure the WTC themes and recommended actions are reflected throughout the work of the church.
The BCC came up with a structure and timeline for a kickoff weekend of special events, 11 monthly sessions using the WTC Study/Action Guide, reflecting each theme in worship services, and UU speakers and consultants. We successfully applied for a budget increase and a grant from the FUUN Endowment Trust to support WTC for the upcoming church year (mostly to fund speakers/consultants).. We focused on involving as many different people/communities in the church in as many ways as possible, including on the monthly session teams.
Each session team includes a Session Organizer who is a BCC member, two Facilitators, a Kit Writer, a Session Liaison, a Chaplain, and a Lay Minister. The Session Organizers recruit the other team members. We try to recruit people who aren’t BCC members, but aren’t always successful. The facilitators create the slides for the sessions and lead them. The Kit Writers write 10-15 minute activity kits that are distributed to all church committees for reflection and discussion and are also made available to anyone who is interested. The Committee Liaisons reach out to church committees that the Session Teams have identified as ones who would especially benefit from that month’s session. The Chaplains and Lay Ministers are on call during the session and for 30 minutes afterwards to serve as non-judgmental listeners to people who may have found some of the discussion especially difficult for some reason. We have had a few people take advantage of them so far.
BCC members assist the session teams by handling Zoom hosting, setting up equipment that lets us do an interactive hybrid session, and all the other tasks that enable us to conduct the sessions.
8/27 & 28/22 The kickoff weekend began 8/27 with a 4-hour workshop led by Paula Cole Jones, co-author of the 8th Principle. It was called “Widening the Circle of Concern and Building a Culture of Inclusion'' and explored the concept of “community of communities.” Attendance at the session was 65 people. Sunday morning worship featured a dialogue sermon by Paula Cole Jones and Rev. Diane. This was followed by the annual church picnic, attended by over 100 people. The weekend’s events also served the purpose of a post-COVID homecoming for our congregation..
9/11/22 - 2/5/23 Monthly sessions to date - The sessions are hybrid in-person and on Zoom. They are open to anyone who wants to attend and pre-registration is only required to participate on Zoom. Most people participate in person. Attendance for the first 7 sessions has ranged from a low of 33 to a high of 44. The discussions have been really good and thoughtful, but we are having trouble fitting everything into 1 ½ hours and are concerned we do not have enough time to discuss the recommended actions and how to undertake them in our congregation. We’re trying to make adjustments to what we do in the sessions to have enough time. In addition to being included in Sunday worship, the WTC themes are being included in Children’s Religious Education. The BCC and session teams worked with committees, task forces etc. on recommendations. We send resource kits based on session topics to all committees and make them available on our WTC webpage. The session liaisons for each team reached out to key committees/teams for that topic. We send out brief online evaluation forms to the attendees for each session (we have very low response rates but the responses have generally been positive and are always helpful). The session organizers write session reports that are emailed to attendees and posted on the WTC webpage. We are starting to act on some of the recommended actions that came out of the sessions. One of these was to conduct a multicultural audit to be a baseline and guide for our congregation to move forward in the process of becoming an intentionally antiracist institution. We just distributed a 6-question audit found in the WTC report to our all of our committees and publicized it to the congregation. The committees will be answering 2-3 questions a month starting in March.
11/12/22 - Palmer Lecture and BCC meeting with Dr. Elías Ortega, President of Meadville-Lombard Theological School. The annual Robert C. Palmer Lecture on Human Rights was established by the church’s Board of Directors in 1983 in honor of the Rev. Robert Palmer, our first called minister https://www.firstuunash.org/palmer-lecture/). Attendance at the lecture was about 60 and our meeting with Dr. Ortega to discuss our WTC program was very helpful.
Our next session is Innovations and Risk Taking on April 2. After that, we’ll have three more sessions/monthly worship themes to go and will wind up with a list of prioritized actions for the congregation to take.