Saying Yes

I’ve been saying yes to a lot of things lately. Things that are outside my normal comfort zone. Things that I would have said no to a year ago. In a way, I have you all to thank for that. With recent staffing changes in the Religious Education department, I have felt that it was important for me to become more visible in the congregation. I have always been comfortable being behind the scenes. I’m not a fan of speaking in front of large groups of people, or being part of a large crowd. Coordinator is part of my job title and that’s what I like to do. I like to make arrangements for other people and make connections with people from the safety of my office in 23 Edwin.

Standing up in front of the congregation for the Time for All Ages part of our service was not something I ever longed to do, but I’ve grown to appreciate that time because it feels good to be a part of welcoming the children in our congregation. It also feels good to stand up there and be seen and to hopefully let you all know that I am here and committed to serving this warm, loving community that has made me feel so welcome. Over and over again this community has held me when I needed to be held. While I may not get to attend services as much as I would like, my spirit is fed by spending time with our children and youth in ways I couldn’t imagine when I started this job.

I am learning to let go of some of the rigidity that I have used to protect myself over my adult life. I am learning to not always worry what “the plan” is and to be flexible and let things fall where they fall. Working here with our children, youth, and adults has helped me immensely in learning to go with the flow.

This past Sunday evening, I said yes to attending the solidarity demonstration held at Pack Square in response to the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend. As I said above, I am not a fan of large crowds. Like many of you, I was left heartbroken by the hate, scare tactics, and violence perpetrated by the white supremacist, KKK, alt-right, and other hate groups in Charlottesville. I cried over the death of Heather Heyer. I needed to go somewhere and say her name. I needed to be with people who understood that this is not normal. It is not normal for white supremacists to be marching through college campuses bearing torches. It is not normal for someone to be so filled with hate that they drive their vehicle into a crowd of peaceful folks who are showing up to speak out against hate.

The demonstration in Asheville on Sunday evening was not perfect. There were different groups of people there with very different ideas about how to fight hate. There has been a lot of focus on that aspect of the demonstration in social media over the last few days. People who can’t bring themselves to condemn racism and white supremacy seem to have no issue with condemning people who go out and publicly stand up for marginalized groups. I have been struggling to reconcile my own thoughts and feelings towards hate groups with my Unitarian Universalist values.

Here’s the thing though, you all said yes too. I saw many of you there. Some of you were there with your young children. You said yes to standing up against hatred, racism, and violence. You said yes to coming together as a community to confront those who think that killing in the name of white supremacy is okay. You say yes over and over again to building a better world. You say yes to fighting climate change and trying make sure that our children have a safe planet. You say yes to making sure that everyone has the right to vote safely and without fear. You say yes to helping others in our community that struggle with food security and homelessness. You say yes to welcoming visitors and new folks to our community, especially in the wake of tragic events. Thank you for saying yes. Thank you in particular for saying yes to me and allowing me to continue saying yes to you.

Kim Collins, Lifespan Religious Education Coordinator

Just Say No?

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‘Tis the season… for recruiting volunteers. In congregational life particularly, things slow down a bit in the summer, so we end up with the Official Start of the Church Year when we go back to 2 services the second Sunday in September. And so in August, staff and lay leaders are looking at programs for the year, wrestling the calendar, and looking to fill vacancies in existing volunteer positions as well as launching new programs.

Wait, what? Launching new programs? It’s true. Part of reorganizing and managing the changes in staff hours & encouraging broader lay investment in leadership involves learning to become more efficient and effective with the time we do have. I’ve begun regularly asking myself the question, “What are the things that only you can do in this system? They hired a minister for your position, so what are the specific professional skills that you bring to this organization?”

As volunteers in this organization, your questions to yourself will be different, perhaps something like, “Is this something about which I feel passionate?” and “Do I have skills that would be useful to this initiative?” Whatever your questions are, it’s essential that you consider your commitments carefully. We are living in challenging times, and with the world around us changing rapidly, our stress levels are high. We all have commitments that aren’t negotiable. My hope is always that you will find this community to be a non-negotiable commitment. I want this place to be a sanctuary for all of us, I want it to feed us and inspire us as we continue the daily work of our lives, as well as our work creating just and sustainable community around us.

Even as your participation in this community is non-negotiable, the ways you participate are negotiable. We want you to volunteer, yes. Plain and simple, this place wouldn’t run without volunteers. But we want you to volunteer in ways that are life-giving, inspiring, and fruitful for your own journey. When I ask you to participate in a program or committee, I want you to take some time to consider my request, to think about whether it is something that interests you, whether you have time, and whether it stretches you or challenges you in a positive way. Part of my job is to help you see where your gifts can be put to best use — to pay attention to who you are, where you are in your journey, and notice when I see a place you might be able to serve and grow at the same time.

When I ask you to help me with a program or committee or task, I’ve considered all of these things. I’ve thought about what I know about your journey, and about the balance of skills and energy I am seeking in a group. So I’m asking you to do the same. I’d rather get a well-considered “No” than a guilt-ridden “Yes.” If the only reason you have to say yes to a task is that nobody else is going to do it, well, that’s just not a good enough reason! It’s OK for traditions to pass into history, and programs to end or get reconfigured when they aren’t working anymore. If you’re not sure, let’s talk it through.

Here’s an example: Last year, I was asked to participate in two different UU Ministers’ Association (UUMA) initiatives. The first was the pilot of the Ministerial Formation Network (MFN), which is a mentoring program for seminarians. The second was a Task Force for inclusion of families with children in UUMA retreats and programming. I thought about them both. I had just completed three years of service on the Right Relationship Team, so it was time to think about my next choice for denominational service. I definitely couldn’t do both, though.

The task force, well, it’s something I think is very important, and it certainly affects me. Seemed like a no-brainer. But when I thought more deeply about it, it did not sound interesting to me. I knew I would get bored and resent the time commitment. I didn’t want to give it my energy. The MFN, on the other hand, got me totally jazzed. Mentoring? Organizing an annual retreat? Helping seminarians have easy access to the kind of support that I had to work hard to find and seek out when I was coming up in the profession? This sounded like fun, and interesting, and right where I wanted to put my energy. That was a Sacred Yes.

In the midst of all the necessary conversations about what gets cut as we reconfigure staff and programs, UUCA’s staff has become much more intentional about how we DO spend our time. Turns out, it is much more generative and inspiring to think this way than it is to focus on what we can’t do. And so I invite you into the same work — it is the personal work that runs parallel to the values and visioning work that the board has been working on for the past year, which continues this Fall. Who are we together? What is the fundamental purpose of this community? How will we use our resources, both individual and collective, to embody Compassion, Inspiration, Connection, and Justice: the values that guide who we are and what we do?

Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper, Associate Minister

What’s Our Mission? Our Purpose?

I have taped a reminder to the desk in my study at UUCA. Printed in 48-point type, it says:

“Connection, Inspiration, Compassion and Justice
express who we are and guide what we do.”

These are the words that your Board of Trustees settled on earlier this year to describe the values that underlie our work as a congregation. They emerged from an intensive, months-long process that dozens of UUCA members took part in last fall guided by Laura Park from Unity Consulting. It began with an invitation to all of us to describe an experience of the holy. Then, in dyads and then groups of four, people sorted through their experiences to identify the values that those experiences expressed. From those many words the Board distilled the four that you see above.

Yay! We’ve agreed on four powerful and evocative values that guide us as a congregation. That’s good, but four nice words floating in space don’t accomplish much. We need to bring them down to earth. What do those words call us to do and be as a congregation? Starting in September your Board of Trustees will invite you into a process to help answer that question. Like last fall, you’ll be invited into conversations facilitated by trained congregation members. The goal of this process will be to help update what we understand to be our Mission and then what Ends, what specific goals that mission calls us to accomplish. Those Ends will then guide the work of UUCA staff and lay leadership.

This is the kind of good, generative work that will give us a strong foundation for where we go and what we do in the years ahead. I hope you will all find a way to take part. It will be organized around a process intended to help us name what is best in what we do now and how we can build on it to realize our hopes and dreams for this community.

In tumultuous times it is all the more important that those of us seeking Connection, Inspiration, Compassion and Justice be centered, clear and unified that we may be part of the work that makes this congregation a blessing to the world.

Living Our Values

In last month’s blog post, Board Member James Schall invited all of us to share our thoughts and feelings about potential changes in our congregation. We will have an opportunity to do just that this fall through our Living Our Values project. 

Your board is working all summer to organize the next round of small group sessions to identify and put in place our mission and ends, the final two of our three “nested bowls” of policy governance. As you likely know, the biggest, underlying bowl is the values bowl – our “guide star” and primary reference. Last fall’s small groups led us to UUCA’s newly articulated statement of core values: “Connection, inspiration, Compassion and Justice express who we are and guide what we do.”

Our next work is to identify what flows from our values into mission and ends. In defining/refining our mission we need to ask ourselves:  “As we work to embody our values, what over-arching purpose calls to us?” and “What overarching difference are we here to make in the world, and for whom?”  

Nested in the mission bowl is the ends bowl, to which we will add more detail for the near future. We will ask ourselves, “As we work towards advancing our mission, what more specific more measurable differences are we here to make and for whom?” Our ends will become the foundation on which the rest of the work of the congregation is built.

This is a critical juncture for our congregation, as our “mission and ends” are the road map to our congregation’s future direction. We are determined to hear as many congregational voices as possible and to incorporate those voices into this work and into the tough decisions we’ll have to make this fall. So please join us in a small group this fall as we imagine how we will be Living our Values at UUCA.

Diane Martin
Board of Trustees

 

 

 

 

The Sunday Religious Education Program is Almost Ready to Go!

As you learned in yesterday’s email from the RE Council, things are moving right along in RE-Land.  The classes are set (yes, we’re offering Our Whole Lives for 7th and 8th graders and Coming of Age for 9th graders due to popular demand) and nearly all the teachers are recruited.  Good work, everyone!

We have just a few more spots to fill before September and one of them could be yours!  We are actually trying to “over-recruit” classes so that everyone has a bit fewer Sundays to be on duty.  So, pick one!  Then contact Kim Collins to sign up.

  • Let’s say you really don’t want to teach but you wouldn’t mind being “the second adult in the room” about once a month.  We have 4 slots for you at 9:15 and 4 slots for you 11:15ers, too.
  • Or, you like to sing but can’t make our weekly choir rehearsals.  How about a once-a-month gig leading easy hymn-singing for a small kids+adults class at 9:15?  You’d be great at it!  (C’mon, this place is filled with musicians!)
  • How about hands-on stuff, like building or painting or sculpting or creating just about anything?  We have 2 slots for the Art/Maker Space Activity Group after the Spirit Play story at 11:15.
  • Do you just want to come in on your own time to re-organize those cool art kits the kids get on Sunday mornings?  We need 4 of you (unless someone wants to do this more than once a month) because we clean them up every week.
  • This one is mostly just for parents.  We need  greeters both downstairs and upstairs before the services.  There are 4 slots waiting for you but it’s best if you know the lay of the land in RE in order to help newcomers.
  • Food! We all love it, but SOMEONE has to help get it, set up the event and clean up afterward.  We usually have helpers on the “day of” but still need some organizers.  We could use 4 more hospitality folks to share the work.

And last, but perhaps most importantly, we need 2 or more YRUU (senior high youth group) advisors. We have a core group of youth from last year’s Coming of Age class who are actually excited about continuing their UUCA experience and we really don’t want to disappoint them.  This group’s activities follow a 4-Sunday cycle.  Last year they rotated among attending worship, cooking, participating in a small group experience and working with the Spirit Play kids on a social justice project.  This year’s leaders will be involved in setting the rotation for this year.  YRUU will be leading a worship service on Earth Day which will require planning, and we are also encouraging this group to plan and organize a “mission trip” of some sort for themselves.  If you are interested in exploring this special volunteer work, contact Kim Collins for information or an application.  Advisors will need to get some training on working with youth, which will be accomplished on site this year.

As you know, our RE program is growing and kids actually love it. Newcomers are particularly impressed.  This is one of the ways that UUCA changes lives.  Be a part of it.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

 

Change is the Only Constant

Change is the only constant.
A time of change is a time of opportunity.

Blah, blah, blah.

So much talk these days. In our congregation, locally, nationally, globally.

I sense there is some change fatigue that people are feeling here and everywhere.  It is true that change can be hard and tiring. It can cause us to react rather than live purposefully.  It can stretch and stress our patience and our caring. Many of us don’t want to feel this way but we do. We go through various stages in various orders: motivation, anger, discouragement, hope.  Sometimes we just put our heads down and try to get through it. Sometimes we hope things will work themselves out on their own or someone else will figure them out.

All of this behavior is normal and expected and can be helpful, even necessary, parts of the process of change.  If you have thoughts or feelings about change in our congregation or in the greater world, I encourage you to share them. Sometimes we shy away from sharing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings because we worry they could be a burden to others or even ourselves, or we want to be “polite.”  However, taking the risk of putting our thoughts and feelings out there, while also importantly being receptive to others’ responses, helps us validate and educate each other.  Doing so can help us live connection, inspiration, compassion, and justice.

Let’s live our emotions, let’s explore our thoughts and feelings.  We can and will get through these and future changes.  Just because a time of change can feel unsettling does not mean it has to end in a place that is worse than where we started.

James Schall, Board of Trustees

 

It’s All About Connections!

The work of shifting our commitment from meeting the needs of the individual to claiming our core values and living them as a community is the path that will lead us to stronger, deeper, and more engaged faith.

pastoral-care-image

Knowing that there has been some conversation over the past few weeks regarding membership numbers, attrition, and tracking of such, I thought it would be helpful to share some details about the path to and from membership here at UUCA. The data we have suggests that we tend to gain approximately the same number of new members as we lose each year. Here is some of the larger context in which this data exists.

The numbers reported track with my experience over the past few years, which is that once you adjust for deaths, moves, and people who were not particularly engaged in congregational life, we know why the remaining members are leaving. That awareness is the best any congregation can hope for, because there will always be people whose needs change, or for whom the congregation is not a good fit, or who get upset about a specific situation or person. In most cases, we are not surprised that a person leaves – we know that they are experiencing a life change, or have had some upset or conflict regarding the congregation. Whenever possible, Mark or I contact anyone who resigns their membership and we don’t know why.

When I arrived in 2011, one of the main concerns regarding membership was retention, including the proverbial back door. Over the past 6 years, I have worked with Mark and the Connections Coordinator (Linda Kooiker, Christine Ray, and now Venny Zachritz) to improve the efficiency and content of our path to membership. Linda and I focused mostly on the structure of the new member class cycle. Christine and I launched the Connector Program, which, in tandem with the Luminary Program, is intended to provide support and connection to new members, maximizing both their engagement in programs and their access to information and relationships within the congregation. Knowing that the first three years are essential to retention of individuals and families caused us to focus on years zero to three of membership in Phase 1 of the program, which is fully implemented at this time. Phase 2 will include years four to death/move, and is in the beginning stages of planning at this time.

Membership development programs are not the only variable that impacts retention. This congregation is in the midst of an ongoing discernment process in which change is happening rapidly. The shift to family ministry beginning in the fall of 2016 is part of this change, as is the Board’s work on clarifying core values, mission, and ends. This ongoing work, while it may appear that it is happening in separate areas of congregational life, has the effect of narrowing and focusing what it is that we do as a congregation. As a result, people who do not share that more specific vision will go elsewhere, at the same time more new people will be attracted to the clear and focused articulation of who we are as a community. Therefore, we expect that eventually the attrition numbers will stabilize and the new member numbers will increase.

This work of shifting our commitment from meeting the needs of the individual to claiming our core values and living them as a community is the path that will lead us to stronger, deeper, and more engaged faith.