UUCA’s Message Map

What are the few words you would put in the central core? Keep reading to find out more about message maps.  Then submit your ideas as a comment to this blog or directly to me.  I already have a favorite–let’s see if I like yours better.

Message MapA message map is a tool to accomplish the following:

Provide a prompt for speaking about the organization to others.
Help to align the organization as everyone uses the message map to describe the organization.

It is a radial chart with the organization’s core work listed in the center in about 6 words, with supporting programs around it, and stats or other prompts related to the effects from those programs radiating from those support programs.

The example used in my workshop (Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising) was from one of the instructors who had been a long-time CEO of the United Way of St. Louis, MO.  Interestingly, it even took United Way a while to get that central message down to just a few words.  But those few words ended up being, “We help people.”  (Seems obvious now, doesn’t it?)

As the CEO, he would use the message map to frame all his talks, and because it included important programs and supporting data, he could use it for very short talks, very long ones, and everything in between.  As a speaker, he would start by saying that United Way helps people.  “For example, we help youth strengthen basic life skills by supporting programs like Girls on the Run, the regional Girl Scout Council and the local public school foundation.  In fact, we touched the lives of XX youth in St. Louis in 2017.  United Way also helps children improve their basic academic skills.  For example, our Read to Succeed program meant that XX children had much better access to reading materials and the encouragement to improve.  That will help them throughout their lives.”  Etc.

The message map above is one we’ve been playing with in senior staff and Board meetings.  The closest four blocks are directly from our mission statement.  The radial blocks are examples of work in each of the blocks.  It is obviously not comprehensive right now.  But it DOES give an idea of how this works. So what are the few words you would put in the central core?  It does not have to be unique (“we help people” certainly isn’t) but it does have to match why we exist.  It is, after all, the core of who UUCA is.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Journey

At our recent Board of Trustees meeting, Bruce Larson, inspired by this month’s worship theme of Journey, challenged us to reflect upon our individual life journeys. Where are you now? Where did you come from? What are you hoping to see on the horizon? The conversation that soon traveled around the table glowed with gratitude while also offering hints of the bittersweet. It was one of those contemplative interactions that gently reminded me of what I love about serving on the UUCA Board with such good people as well as about being a part of the larger UUCA community of good people in general. It also happened to remind me of another Journey-inspired moment that had taken place in my life 20 years prior.

In my mid-20’s, I was living in Seattle and desperately trying (not trying) to determine in which direction I was heading and if it was actually where I wanted to go. However, my metaphorical traveling song at the time seemed stuck somewhere between “Life is a Highway” and “Highway to Hell” and there were many a moment in which I found myself, despite having been the one behind the wheel, somehow losing track of long stretches of road. Perhaps “Road to Nowhere” would have been more apropos. Anyway, the point is that I was young and unsure of where I was going.

Returning home in the early hours after sunrise from a 3rd shift job, I passed a man on the sidewalk asking for change. Having none, I offered him a smoke and sat down beside him to talk. The story that quickly unfolded was both unexpected and unbelievable. A young drummer’s band had made big. A world tour had unfolded. Wealth won rapidly. Wild excess run rampant. I remember him telling me that despite being “a sharp tack,” the sheer reckless speed of his life had left him driving blindly into each new day. Sadly, tragedy ensued and he was soon without a band, a plan, or a purpose. “I had been living with a reckless ‘Be here now’ now attitude without any reflection on my past or my future. Don’t make the same mistake,” he warned me. “Be present in the moment but keep in mind your sense of purpose if you want to stay on track. Without some kind of map of what matters to you, life might throw you a detour and you’ll wind up lost.” As we parted ways, he smiled, raised his fist and quoted from one of his band’s most famous songs: “Wheel in the sky keeps on turning brother.” I raised my fist back at him and returned “You don’t know where you’ll be tomorrow.” Yes, according to my momentary friend, he had been a member of the band, Journey.

I have never attempted to see if his story was true. Finding out if it was fact has never seemed to be the point. All I know is that in 1999, I sat on a sidewalk with a stranger who told me a surreal story that, at the time, I needed to hear. And now, 20 years later, my journey having led me to a family, a job, and a community that matters immeasurably to me, I still remember it vividly. My past has shaped me, my present helps ground and make meaning for me, and my vision of a future I believe in helps me stay more awake at the wheel as I travel onward. Being a part of UUCA has become an integral part of my navigation. Be it Mark’s and Claudia’s Sunday reflections, my work with the Board, or my participation at the Wednesday Thing, I maintain a better balance between where I currently am and the horizon I seek. Like the song says, I may not know where I will be tomorrow, but UUCA at least helps me stay aware of the journey itself. My hope is that it helps do the same for you as well.

Ryan Williams, Board of Trustees

 

Harvest Time

We are a community of aspiration – we have all kinds of great hopes for what difference we can make for this congregation and in the world. And, to be honest, a few of those hopes remain just that, great ideas that for various reasons never quite reach fruition. But, as I reported to your Board of Trustees this month, happily we have come to a time when we have some successes to point to. I called it “a harvest moment for this congregation.” And so I thought it would be worthwhile sharing a few of our successes with you.  

  1. Solar Panels
    The installation of the 105 PV solar panels on our flat roof is the most obvious example. This was something that we as a congregation had dreamed about for years, but making it happen was a pretty big lift that we weren’t quite able to figure out. It was complicated, requiring research into solar systems and energy rebates and all that. But the replacement of our flat roof and approaching deadlines on Duke Energy rebates gave us the impetus we needed to get moving, and our hard-working Net Zero task force got to work. Once we knew what we wanted, we needed to figure out how to pay for it.  
    Board President Bruce Larson came up with the idea of inviting congregation members to purchase a panel and UUCA friends Darwin & Myra Smith offered the congregation an incentive to purchase 10 panels if we could complete the fundraising in a month. And we did it: altogether, 172 people contributed. As a result, we now have a solar array that will generate roughly 35 kilowatts, taking care of about 85% of the electrical needs in our main building. This will not only keep our electric bill down but, more important, reduce our energy demand on the nation’s electric grid and reduce the need for extracting coal and gas. Many thanks to our Net Zero folks – John Bates, Ken Brame, Dan Clere, Larry Holt, Judy Mattox, John McGrann, Bob Roepnack, and Wink Zachritz. Bob Roepnack deserves special recognition as our chief liaison with the installer.
  1. “Wake Now Our Vision”
    When our Legacy Circle Committee learned that the UUA and the Shelter Rock Congregation on Long Island would be collaborating on a program to encourage planned giving by congregations, they jumped on it. The “Wake Now Our Vision” project promised to give participants in the program contributions equal to 10% of each new or increased planned gift that they received during the campaign.

    The committee arranged for us to be a pilot project for the campaign and went to work contacting UUCA members about planned gifts. Over 18 months they recruited and documented more than $2 million in new planned gifts to UUCA or other UU entities. As a result, our congregation will receive unrestricted funds totaling $138,000 over the next two budget years. Congratulations to committee chair Beverly Cutter and members Mike Horak, Aubrey LeFey, Mara Sprain and Myrtle Staples.
  1. Annual Budget Drive
    All of this comes at the start of a beautifully organized Annual Budget Drive. Thanks to the terrific advance work and planning of our Annual Budget Team we entered Celebration Sunday last week having already raised nearly half of what we are seeking in donor commitments – $331,100 toward our goal of $707,000 – from 28% of our congregation. Then, Celebration Sunday itself was a creative and inspirational moment for our entire community. And we made good progress toward gathering our commitments for the coming year. If you haven’t had a chance to fill out yours yet, please do. As Will Jernigan said Sunday, this is not an ask, this is offering you an opportunity to participate in something that matters, to support this warm, vibrant, inspired and spiritually-rich community. Special thanks to our Annual Budget Drive team, co-chairs Will Jernigan and Gina Phairas as well as Iris Hardin and Dan Phairas.

Congratulations, folks. All this is evidence of a community where people do good work, care about what they do, and get a good return on all they’ve invested.

 

Faith in Action

Unitarian Universalism challenges us to put our beliefs into action. Our faith development programs for children and adults explore what those beliefs are and how they inform our actions. This year during Sunday worship (yes, worship is faith development) we have been inviting you to participate in Random Acts of Kindness and share your experiences on the last Sunday of the month during Time for All Ages. Engaging ourselves and others with kindness seems so simple, and yet, the simple can be overlooked in a world of busy-ness, political divisiveness, and social media distraction. The slip of paper with a suggested Random Act of Kindness that I picked up at service in January (you can still pick one up from the loom in the Sanctuary) is tucked in my agenda and serves as a reminder to get out of my head and my schedule, and be more present to others. It has helped me be more appreciative of family, friends, and co-workers as well as more attentive to others when I am out in the community. Exploring opportunities to surprise someone with an unexpected kindness can be fun.

Another way of putting our beliefs into action is by partnering with local organizations that engage in social justice work. On Sunday, April 7 at 3pm in partnership with Helpmate and Our Voice, we will be screening “The Mask You Live In.” This documentary follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating society’s definition of masculinity. The film explores how society can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men. There will be a facilitated discussion afterward. This is a very powerful and timely documentary whose screening is made possible through the generosity of a generous UUCA donor. Mark your calendar, and plan to join us.

Lastly, this month I have been working with our religious educators, Jen and Kim, planning next year’s children and youth programs. We are being intentional about integrating social justice projects into each grade level that are experiential and address racial justice and equity issues in a developmentally-appropriate way. Ideally, these projects will tie into social justice work being carried out by the adults in the congregation. If you are engaging in social justice work that you would like to share with our youth, please contact me.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

  

Instilling Values and Creating Community for the Next Generation

I’m so glad we have UUCA to help us raise our child.

My husband, daughter and I joined the congregation in 2013 when she was eight years old. At UUCA, we found a place that shares our values, a place where those values are brought to her by other people, in different ways than she gets at home. At UUCA, she sees that cool people – a.k.a. non-parental units – share those values. She is immersed in a whole community that strives to live with kindness, compassion, integrity, and justice.

She has come into a community of peers she loves, through youth group activities, and youth retreat weekends (“cons”) and camps at The Mountain.

She learned about world religions in our religious education program last year. And now, as an eighth grader, she is in the OWL (Our Whole Lives) class, a sexuality education program offered at UUCA every year.

In truth, OWL is one of the main reasons we joined the congregation. If you aren’t familiar with OWL, UUA describes it as a “sexuality education program for youth that models and teaches caring, compassion, respect, and justice. A holistic program that moves beyond the intellect to address the attitudes, values, and feelings that youth have about themselves and the world.”

In OWL, they discuss everything from body image to consent, gender identity, sex and sexuality in the media (including social media), and much more. Her parents have discussed many, though not all, of these subjects with her. But it is a relief to know that if we miss something, or get something wrong or incomplete, that she is getting correct, value-based information from a trusted source. I wish this were available to every adolescent regardless of their congregation, regardless if they even have a congregation.

OWL is taught by a dedicated team of four teachers who have to be trained, then prepare for and thoughtfully present sensitive material to (easily embarrassed) teens every Sunday for 90 minutes from September to May. Bless ‘em for their service to our children and the world!

Louise Anderson, Board of Trustees

 

Where Do We Go Now?

Meaningful social justice work is at the heart of what we do as a congregation, but the focus of our work shifts and changes as circumstances in and around us change. That creates challenges for organizing that work since we want to be nimble in responding to needs that arise, while also sustaining programs and activities that underlie our most basic commitments.

The past couple of years offer some good examples of how that happens. Two years ago the notion of offering sanctuary for undocumented immigrants was only an idea that we had begun to explore. But after about six months of meetings, forums, research, and debate we concluded that it was something we were called to as a congregation. Six months after that we welcomed La Mariposa into our space, and so began another eight months of intensive support for her, involving dozens of people from our own and neighboring congregations. Now, that she has been able to return to her home, we are left as a congregation to decide: is this a ministry that calls us further? Where do we go now?

Go back even further to 2016 when our congregation adopted a resolution in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Sustaining commitments that arose out of that include participation by our members in MotherRead, a support group at Hillcrest Apartments for women of color and white allies, and the creation of a Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) group that meets regularly at our church to offer mutual support for people seeking to confront the consequences of white supremacy. Where else might this commitment take us so that we have greater impact on the fight for racial justice?

For several years the Earth Community Circle has been working on ways to make our campus more earth-friendly and carbon neutral, including promoting insulation and energy-saving practices as well as children and adult programs to raise awareness of our connection to the Earth. Last year ECC’s leadership played a key role in garnering congregational support and helping to raise money for more than 100 photovoltaic solar panels that will be installed in the next week or so. ECC leaders are urging us to renew our status with the UUA as a Green Sanctuary. What new work are we called to live into that ambition?

Hunger and Homelessness remain perennial problems in this privileged part of the world, where the disparity between rich and poor stares at us wherever we go. Shifting coalitions of organizations serve the poor in our community, and we are haltingly connected to a number of them, ranging from food pantries to Habitat for Humanity. What is the best way to focus and coordinate this work?

That’s a rough summary of some of our activities right now, and there are others ranging from our Peacemaking group, our Social Justice movie night and our newly created Universal Rainbow Unity support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other folks who find themselves marginalized by their gender or sexual expression.

All of this work gives us a good foundation from which to decide where we go next. So, this spring I plan to use the process of Appreciative Inquiry to help us explore that question. During the Wednesday Thing on February 20, March 6, April 3, and May 1 you are invited to take part in a process that will help us name what we have gotten out of this work so far and where we think it could take us. Each time we’ll explore a different area. Our goal will be to sort out next steps arising from the energy and success of what we’ve done so far. Please join in if you can.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

We Are A Living Church

What is a “living church” and what does it have to do with membership? Here is a description of a living church from an article that was adapted by the UU minister the Rev. Sam Trumbore.

Living churches always have a parking problem; dying churches don’t.

Living churches have lots of noisy kids; dying churches don’t.

Living churches’ expenses always exceed their income; dying churches take in more than they ever dream of spending.

Living churches are constantly improving and planning for the future; dying churches worship the past.

Living churches grow so fast you forget people’s names; in dying churches you’ve known everyone’s names for years.

Living churches move forward and out in faith; dying churches operate totally by sight.

Living churches are filled with healthy pledgers; dying churches are filled with tippers.

Living churches support community work heavily; dying churches keep it all at home.

Living churches dream great dreams of beloved community; dying churches relive nightmares.

Living churches have the fresh wind of love blowing; dying churches are stale with bickering.

Living churches evangelize; dying churches fossilize.

How perfectly this comparison describes UUCA, no parking, noisy kids, who are all these new people! Living churches don’t just happen by accident, they occur because of the work of the congregation. When I interact with newcomers and potential new members they frequently tell me what a vibrant, exciting, and energetic experience they had at a service. But, occasionally I have a conversation or hear of an incident where a newcomer felt isolated because no one approached them during social hour. My response is to please try again but, unfortunately, these folks don’t usually return. It is the time during social hour that our potential new members learn about us – who we are, what we stand for and the work that we do. The conversations that our visitors have with you, our members, determine whether or not they will return and whether it is worthwhile for them to support our work. To continue to be a “living church” all of us must reach out to our newcomers when they have reached out to us. You can help support your membership program simply by having a conversation with a visitor on a Sunday morning. When you see that new face at social hour, or someone standing by themselves looking lost please initiate a conversation with them. Let us work together and continue to grow our church. There is still so much to do and we need all the new energy and ideas that we can get from new members. Let’s do this together!

Venny Zachritz, Connections Coordinator