Showing posts with label Church growth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Church growth. Show all posts

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Why do people go to church?


Why do people go to church? 

Fewer and fewer people go to church these days especially in mainline religions in the U.S. and Europe. Church Attendance is down.

Tomorrow this Sunday and I have not gone to church the last few weeks and I am considering whether I will go to church tomorrow.

Perhaps, I should do a qualitive research project and ask people why they come to church. What are my hypotheses?

I would guess that most people come to church for the fellowship. Some might say they come for a connection with the transcendent which is what church represents. Some might say that they come for comfort, for inspiration, for validation, for support.

Why do I go? I think I go for the validation of shared values. To be a part of a group with shared vision, mission, beliefs and values.

It is important for a church to have leadership that facilitates the development of organizational structures, values, policies, and practices that meet congregants expectations, and preferences, and maybe helps them grow a little outside their comfort zone.

This kind of leadership requires resources, knowledge, skills, energy, enthusiasm bordering on passion. All the members of the congregation are leaders in some way and yet the professional staff have a special responsibility to be the steward of the vision, the catalyst that brings disparate ideas and efforts together, the orchestra conductor of sorts so that the congregation, the church community, can work together harmoniously in the pursuit of common goals. I don't know how a pastor does this effectively without strong lay leadership as well. Some people are good administrators who oversee the efficient functioning of the status quo, and some people are visionaries with energy and committment to the development and actualization of a vibrant and viable future.

For some reason, I do not see a lot of visionary leadership around in the UU world, but maybe I am looking in the wrong places. Where are the UU prophets, the UU missionaries, should I say the UU martyrs? They are a part of our past, our heritage, but I do not see them in our current landscape except in isolated instances.

Should I keep going to church hoping - hoping that the leadership I can get excited about will emerge. My mother used to tell me when I was a boy, "David, you have no right to criticize unless you can do it better." I have spent most of my 73 years on this planet muttering to myself, "I know I could do it better. I know I could do it better." But alas, there is only so much I can do and so I look to others - where are you?

Having looked to others I realize this is evading my responsibility to become my better self and stop blaming others for whatever ennui I feel. Church is what I want to make it. I think I will go tomorrow and see if there is someone there I can connect with. Jesus said, "Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I will be."

Well, if Jesus is going to be there, I think I will go and see if I can find Him.



Sunday, May 26, 2019

Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship - BUUF - Birth and death of a UU congregation



The idea for the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship was born on Mother's Day in 2009. This interview with Don Zimmer was done in October of 2010 17 months later.

The church grew and was chartered in 2011 and then slowly atrophied and was dissolved in 2019.

The death of the church has been due to many factors. The primary factor being the lack of leadership which failed to attract, engage, and retain members.

Leading a church requires vision, and sense of mission, high levels of energy, persistence, patience, and above all else, an ability to resolve conflict.

The second factor beyond lack of competent leadership is the unwillingness of people to follow. As one person put it, "managing Unitarian Universalists is like herding cats." Being free thinkers and lacking any respect for centralized authority, Unitarian Universalists tend to be lone wolves and their willingness to pull together for a common goal especially when it is contrary to one's personal interests weakens the organizational coheasiveness.

The life of BUUF would be a good case study in the failure of Unitarian Universalism to provide centralized support for the incubation and development of fledgling congregations.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Success stories - How congregations grow.

"Success stories" is a regular feature of the UU A Way Of Life ministries blog which appear on Wednesdays.

Ashley: What's happening at your church?

Jonathan : Our church has grown from 56 members to 115 in the last 18 months.

Ashley: That's double. What contributed to the growth?

Jonathan: We hired a new minister who is very gifted at developing a sense of community.

Ashley: How has she done that?

Jonathan: By developing relationships with each member of the congregation, perceiving each person's talents, gifts, and interests, and encouraging them to share them with the congregation.

Ashley: Don't alot of ministers do that?

Jonathan: Hopefully, but this minister not only encourages but provides opportunities that challenge people a bit to experience their better self in the sharing. It is one thing to recognize people's talents, abilities, and interests, and to encourage the person to share it, but the most important step is in creating and providing opportunities. Usually that last step is not engineered and so nothing is mobilized, no traction is gained, and no results are produced.

Ashley: Once people utilize the opportunity, they are more invested?

Jonathan: Exactly, and once people are more personally invested they want to share their work, and they invite family and friends to come and witness it, and as these people visit and witness, the enthusiasm and spirit is contagious, is infectious, and the community grows.

Ashley: Thanks for the interview.

Jonathan: Thank you for the opportunity.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Why do you or don't you go to church?

Celebrate the ties that unite us is a sermon preached at All Soul's in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Sunday, 09/17/17. It is a wonderful sermon that all UUs and many others not UU can benefit from.

Why do you go to church or not go to church?


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

UU: Sunday morning fellowship or a way of life?

Bill you asked how UU A Way Of Life got its name. It comes from several sources all of which contributed to the idea that Unitairan Universalism is not a "movement" as some people call it, but a religious path which, if it is to be beneficial, must be lived.

Unitarian Universalism asks us to covenant together to affirm and promote seven principles which, it is believed in faith, will lead us to a happier life. Unitarian Universalism provides us with a sense of purpose in joining together with not only other like minded people but with the whole world.

It seems that there is a curiosity behind your question, Bill, that is wondering about a choice that a person has to make between a life without the UU principles and covenant, and one with them. That choice is one, at least for me, of a life without meaning, purpose, hope and joy, and one with those things which Unitarian Universalism can provide.

There are other paths to happiness for sure, and Unitarian Universalism is only one of many. The institutional UU church denomination which is the physical manifestation of the covenant is very small compared to other religious ways of life and yet its smallness does not detract from its ability to radiate a light of truth to the world which far exceeds its diminutive size. There is no order of importance and significance when it comes to truth and Unitarian Universalism may excel in quality although not yet in quantity.

Part of the faith of UU is that its covenant will spread eventually as the truth of its principles become apparent to others and they choose, too, to follow the principles to work together, in fellowship, to achieve a happier world.

The basis of the UU faith which comes from our Universalist tradition is love. Love is the basis of our faith. One of the UU affirmations written by Lucas Hergert sums up the meaning of Unitarian Universalism succinctly when we say together in unison:

Love is the doctrine of this church
Our faith in each other is its sacrament
Working for justice and living with compassion is its prayer.
Reverently we covenant together
to stand on the side of love, to heal and not to harm,
and to share hope with each other and with the world.


These words, Bill, could just be empty words, but if said with sincerity and intention it is not just a Sunday morning liturgical ornament of worship but rather a  commitment to a way of life which is precious.

I appreciate your question, Bill, and I am interested in your further thoughts.

Sincerely,

David

Monday, August 21, 2017

Lack of security contributes to UU unhappiness

Dear UU A Way Of Life:

I don't find UUs an especially happy group. If anything I find them the opposite. They seem ready to argue over every little thing and they aren't good at resolving conflict which often degenerates into passive aggressive game playing and leads to schisms. It seems to me that the reason that UU congregations are so small is that people become unhappy and then walk away. I don't know what the answer to this is for individual churches and for the denomination. I am curious what you might think given your current theme promoting the ideas that UUs are above average in intelligence and happiness.

Sincerely,

Tom Kowolski

Dear Tom:

Your observations are accurate and the data supports your concerns. The problem, as is usually the case, is multidimensional. In other words, there is not a single answer, no silver bullet, no magic key. However, having said that, I think, we might say that the problem lies in the lack of security in UU congregations, and the lack of security comes from no clear agreed upon rules, and the lack of nerve when it comes to enforcing the rules.

In any sport, there are rules and a referee who calls infractions. The players agree in advance to abide by the referees decisions and if players or coaches disruptively object they can be ejected from the game. Without a referee and rules, professional sports could not exist.

 Unitarian Universalism suffers from a lack of accountability. Nobody seems to be in charge and so the fight is on for power, control, and dominance. UUs have been encouraged to believe that if they think it, feel it, want it, then their thoughts feelings and desires are as good as anyone else's and they should not have to defer and if they have to in the moment, they carry on resentfully, and aggrieved until they leave or a schism occurs.

The UUA has been derelict it its duty to not develop and implement accrediting standards and hold its member congregations accountable for quality operations. Unfortunately, this has not happened and the denomination and most of its churches continue to suffer like the Israelites wandering in the desert. Security comes from knowing where one stands and who's in charge. In UU, there is very little accountability and guidance and so people flounder, are confused if not perplexed, and then become aggrieved. These UUs are not very happy people, and unfortunately, the denomination is not a very functional organization contributing to its small size and dwindling membership.

David G. Markham
UU A Way Of Life

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Is Unitarian Universalism losing members because it demands too little of them?

Some UUs have asked why their denomination is shrinking and losing members. In the U.S., religious affiliation has been declining with the percentage of "nones" increasing so it might be concluded that UU is not unique in seeing a diminishment in membership. However, another reason for the dwindling UU membership might be that it expects so little of its members that the general perception might be that membership is not valuable and worth any investment.

Christoper Kavanagh has an interesting essay on Aeon entitled, "People are intensely loyal to groups which abuse newcomers. Why?" His essay deals with the idea of hazing and why, with increasing laws against it, it still continues in many organizations especially among the young.

Kavanagh writes, 

"From an evolutionary perspective, researchers have noted that enduring the physical or psychological effects of hazing could serve as a costly signal demonstrating an individual’s personal strengths, as well as the quality of the group that can motivate such acts. The anthropologists Richard Sosis and Eric Bressler (2003) of the University of Connecticut, for instance, analysed records of 19th-century religious settlements in the US, and found that religious communes with the costliest ritual requirements proved to be longer-lived than either secular communes or religious communes that had less costly requirements."

As the bumper sticker says, "If people don't believe in something, they will fall for anything." This bumper sticker is especially relevant to Unitarian Universalism. Unitarian Universalism, it could be argued, has done a poor job of articulating its theology and principles. It makes little, if no, demands on aspirants who would like to become members. I was told by a minister of a UU church when asked how one goes about becoming a member, "Just sign the book."

I said, "Just sign the book?"

He said, "Yes, all you have to do is sign the book."

I said,"What makes one eligible to sign the book?"

He said, "Nothing. If you want to become a member all you have to do is sign the book."

I did sign the book, but it seemed to me to be a fatuous exercise with little meaning or weight. My membership in that church lasted about two years until it was torn apart by internal strife and conflict. Since I left that church 12 years ago it has gone through three more schisms. The ability to resolve conflict is difficult or impossible if there are no clear standards or norms upheld by leadership. In this vacuum, any opinion and preference is  as good as any other and there is no glue or cohesiveness contributing to group identity and maintenance.

Kavanagh writes further:

Drawing on such research, Cimino’s automatic accrual theory suggests that hazing provides an important solution to a recurring adaptive problem faced by our species during our evolutionary history: how to accurately assess the intentions and quality of new group members. Over time, coalitions are often able to amass substantial group resources, including properties and status. So the question becomes how can groups prevent exploitation of these resources from non-contributing free-riders?

The answer proposed by Aldo is that by dramatically increasing the costs of associating with the group, weak would-be members are kept out. Meanwhile, for those who are admitted to the group, the dominant position of veteran members is solidified.........Invariably, for the groups with higher status and more resources, more severe initiations are constructed.

Does Unitarian Unversalism have anything of value to offer its members? If so, what are the costs of membership? Who is willing to pay the price? People argue that "you get what you pay for" and "no pain, no gain" and "easy come, easy go." Perhaps Unitarian Universalism is failing because it expects and requires too little for membership.


 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Is it too easy to become a Unitarian Universalist?

I orignally posted this article on another blog, I used to write, called "ChaliceFire" when I was a member of the Pullman Memorial Universalist Church in Albion, NY. I was asked to take the blog down by the pastor of that church even though I was clear that I was writing it as an individual not as a member of the church and I did so out of respect. There are number of good articles on it and I am republishing them here. This article appeared on ChaliceFire on 11/16/08, six years ago. It is as appropriate and relevant now if not even more so than it was then. I had lunch with a friend last week 02/05/15, who asked me what I thought of the practice of "just signing the book?" I had forgotten I had written this article but I shared with him the same basic ideas 7 years later. It is also interesting that the article never generated any comments at its initial publishing 7 years ago. Let's see what happens this time around.

 Is Unitarian Universalism a social club or a way of life? David Markham discusses Michael Durall's idea of "Integrity of membership."

Video lasts 7:56




Friday, February 11, 2011

BUUF - From Good To A Great Church

I want the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship not to just be a good church, I want us to be a great church.

Jim Collins wrote a book entitled From Good to Great in which he describes the characteristics of great companies. After writing this book he also wrote a short monograph applying these characteristics to nonprofit organizations. In this monograph he describes how to define greatness and measure it in nonprofits.

Here is what he writes, "In the social sectors, the critical question is not 'How much money do we make per dollar of invested capital?' but 'How effectively do we deliver on our mission and make a distinctive impact, relative to our resources?'"

What I make of this idea of how do we deliver on our mission based on our resources is that BUUF needs to have a mission which is measurable in order for us to be able to ascertain BUUF's level of achievement.

People like to know what an organization is doing with their money, time, and energy. The question they are constantly asking themselves subvocally, if not vocally, is "Is this organization worth my money and time and energy?"

If we are going to ask people to invest in BUUF, we need to have some idea of what we asking them to invest in.

Here's my beginning attempt to make a mission statement:

Mission of BUUF is, based on the 7 UU principles, to meet human needs, empower individuals and groups, and transform the world into heaven on earth.

Service, empowerment, transformation = SET (easy to remember)

How does BUUF carry out this mission?

"To meet human needs" means to meet Maslow's hierarchy of needs:

I haven't finished describing the possiblilities, but you get the idea.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs (He describes five in this order and says the more basic needs must be met before people move to the higher needs)

Physical
     Food
     Clothing
     Health
     Dying

Safety
     Child care
      Domestic Violence
     Poverty/dispossed (Micro loans)
     Jobs program

Belonging
     Visit the lonely and stigmatized
     Clubs, sports, recreation for specialized populations

Esteem - self respect

Self actualization

"empowering individuals and groups" means:

To provide fellowship that is empowering and enjoyable.
  1. Provide information
  2. Teach skills
  3. Provide opportunities 
"To transform the world into heaven on earth" means:

The deconstruction of discourses which oppress and subjugate and creating positive models of being and relating to eliminate things such as:
Racism
Classism
Miltarisim
Sexism
Ageism
Out of control capitalism
Religious eliminationism
Homophobia

In a further post I will try to provide an evaluation of what I believe BUUF has achieved in pursuing its mission up until now, and what we might consider for the coming year and longer.

As we embark on a stewardship campaign in March, we must be clear on what we are asking people to invest in. How is BUUF proposing to use their money, time, energy, expertise, connections (Stewardship should be about more than money.) to carry out its mission?

This material is in draft form. Thoughts, ideas, comments are very much welcomed and appreciated.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything.

In Kate Tweedie Erslev's book, Full Circle: Fifteen Ways To Grow Lifelong UUs, she quotes a person who commented on her survey:

"I wondered why we spent so much time in Sunday school learning about world religions. Why didn't we spend more time on Unitarianism?"

As a newcomer I wondered the same thing.

At the Unitarian Universalist church I attended first, I was asked several times by one of the pulpit fills to "sign the book". When I asked what this involved, he said "Just sign the book. It means you are a member." When I asked what I had to do to become a member he said, "Just sign the book."

Just sign the book?

I had little idea what Unitarian Universalism is. 90% of what I have learned about Unitarian Universalism I have taught myself.

Erslev goes on to write:

"Sharon Hwang Cooigan describes a hunger for depth in Unitarian Universalism that can be met in part by incorporating the broader resouces:

UU young adults ask me: Is Unitarian Universalism strong enough to challenge me? Deep enough to deepen me? Real enough for me to be proud of? Fellowship and comfort are good things, but I can get that at the cafe. I want to know about the religion. I want to feel its power, not just believe in some principles on paper."
p.36

I would say that 95% of the Unitarian Univeralist thoughts, feelings, and behavior I have observed and been involved in is very anemic. It offers nothing that can't be gained somewhere else. I find many people who say they agree with UU values and ideas but see no reason to join our church. It's as if we aren't doing anything really important which is worth the time and investment of energy.

And so I struggle to figure out how we make our faith deep and real. I sense that the theology and practice is there, but I can't find it clearly. I pick up tid bits here and there, but nothing really substantive to sink my teeth into if you know what I mean.

Like the adult children in Erslev's survey, I want something with power that can give meaning and purpose to my life. Unitarian Universalism is too watered down, too accepting of other religions, philosophies, ideologies, without having much of a defining tradition, structure, and beliefs of its own.

It seems paradoxically that Unitarian Universalists defining strength, inclusiveness, is also its biggest weakness. It reminds me of the bumper sticker, "If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

As far as religious identification goes, the "nones" are growing rapidly

Yesterday, Steve Caldwell, posted an excellent article on his blog Liberal Faith Development, entitled "UUA Demographic Trends and 'Tipping Points". I highly recommend it to you if you are interested in church growth. You can access it by clicking here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Why do people go to church?

Why do people go to church? Perhaps, I should do a qualitive research project and ask people why they come to church. What are my hypotheses?

I would guess that most people come to church for the fellowship. Some might say they come for a connection with the transcendent which is what church represents. Some might say that they come for comfort, for inspiration, for validation, for support.

Why do I go? I think I go for the validation of shared values. To be a part of a group with shared vision, mission, beliefs and values.

It is important for a church to have leadership that facilitates the development of organizational structures, values, policies, and practices that meet congregants expectations, and preferences, and maybe helps them grow a little outside their comfort zone.

This kind of leadership requires resources, knowledge, skills, energy, enthusiasm bordering on passion. All the members of the congregation are leaders in some way and yet the professional staff have a special responsibility to be the steward of the vision, the catalyst that brings disparate ideas and efforts together, the orchestra conductor of sorts so that the congregation, the church community, can work together harmoniously in the pursuit of common goals. I don't know how a pastor does this effectively part time without strong lay leadership as well. Some people are good administrators who oversee the efficient functioning of the status quo, and some people are visionaries with energy and committment to the development and actualization of a vibrant and viable future.

For some reason, I do not see a lot of visionary leadership around in the UU world, but maybe I am looking in the wrong places. Where are the UU prophets, the UU missionaries, should I say the UU martyrs? They are a part of our past, our heritage, but I do not see them in our current landscape except in isolated instances.

I keep going to church hoping - hoping that the leadership I can get excited about will emerge. My mother used to tell me when I was a boy, "David, you have no right to criticize unless you can do it better." I have spent most of my 64 years on this planet muttering to myself, "I know I could do it better. I know I could do it better." But alas, there is only so much I can do and so I look to others.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dealing with conflict is an important part of growing our congregations


In reading Kate Tweedie Erslev's book Full Circle: Fifteen Ways To Grow Lifelong UUs, I've come to the chapter entitled, "Prepare all for the Negative Side Of The Community".

Erslev points out that UUs focus on the positive, optimistic side of life in our 7 principles and she writes:

"We aspire to our Purposes and Principles, but don't always live up to them. Further, UUs have no ceremonies of confession or atonement as do Catholics and Jews. We need ceremonies of reconciliation and remorse when mistakes are made or when, intentionally or unintentionally, we cause bad things to happen."
p.30

As a Unitarian Universalist Roman Catholic I agree wholeheartedly with Erslev. It may be a reason that the UU denomination stays so small is that we don't manage conflict, disagreement, and sin very well.

I asked a fellow congregant at the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship why 80% of UU congregations have less than 100 members and there are so few larger UU churches and she said simply, "Conflict. They don't know how to handle conflict." I felt like I was talking to the Buddha. BINGO! I think she and Erslev are right on the money.

As a family therapist I often ask families "How does your family do forgiveness?" People usually look at me startled and then give some very thin description like, "We say we're sorry." Usually, this is not enough and families don't have a deeper awareness.

Erslev goes on to write:

"Through our liberal idealism we desire progress, believe in the possibility of good, and value dignity, justice, and freedom. These are good ambitions, but we often neglect to prepare our children and youth for the inevitable suffering and evil they will experience in their lives." p.31

What I have noticed, especially in UU, is that injustice and evil becomes the elephant in the living room which people ignore, deny, gloss over, and arguments ensue trivializing the issue while emotions flare and the injustice escalates leading to a breach in relationship which becomes a permanent cut-off. Without mechanisms and ceremonies of restoration which identify the nature of the injustice and lead to some kind of repair the breach continues and becomes permanent. While we don't believe that Christ died for our sins, we don't have any other way to atone and become one again. Our children are left with a broken world, fractured relationships, and never having been given specific tools with which to manage injustice.

Erlev writes very wisely:

"Deepening our faith involves understanding conflict and betrayal as inevitable human experiences and preparing ourselves for them." p.33

I am a big fan of restorative justice. I believe in the concept, I have lived it's principles, and used its tools with very positive results. I think it would be a great model to teach our children and implement in our congregations and in our work with communities.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Many are called but few are chosen

I am wondering if part of the problem of declining membership in the UUA is that the denomination tries to be too many things to too many people when in fact it is a special faith which is appropriate for only a few.

I don't mean this idea that UU is for the few as an elitist idea or an exclusionary idea but rather as an idea that few people are ready for it, are developmentally attuned to its ideas and values.

I have been studying Ken Wilbur's ideas about what he terms the Integral Operating system. He makes the point that people can be at one of three stages of consciousness: egocentric, ethnocentric, and cosmocentric. Most of the world's religions and Christian denominations are egocentric and ethnocentric. The exception is Unitarian Universalism, Quakerism, and Buddhism which seems to be more comsocentric.

Wilbur makes the point that the majority of humans on the planet today are egocentric and ethnocentric. They comprise about70% of humanity. I personally think that this group is even larger, maybe 80 - 90%. Only 10 - 20% of humans are at a cosmocentric stage of consciousness. Unitarian Univeralism is a cosmocentric religion. The people attracted to it developmentally are in the minority.

My point is that, perhaps it is not the quantity of members but the quality of members which makes Unitarian Univeralism a high quality religion.

If these ideas have any accuracy, then they have important implications for our outreach and recruitment of new members.

As Jesus says in Matthew 22:14, "Many are called but few are chosen."

There are only about 150,000 Unitarian Universalists in the United States today. This is a small quantity of people compared to the 300 million in the Country. UUs are the yeast in the dough.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

UUA membership declining

The UUWorld reported on 04/12/10 that the UUA membership is declining.

"A year ago UUA membership declined by 132 members for a total of 156,015 adult members. This year membership dropped 267, a decline of .16 percent. Total adult membership this year is 155,748."

An even more troubling indicator is that religious ed enrollment is declining.

Religious education enrollment dropped 1,262, for a total of 55,846 children and youth this year. A year ago it dropped 809. In 2002 it was 60,895.

UUA President, Peter Morales, made these recommendations to stimulate church growth to the UUA board in April:

■Create and sustain a sense of urgency “based on a shared vision of what is possible for our movement.” He cautions: “Urgency is not panic. Urgency is a sense that we can and must change if we are to create the congregations and movement we seek.”

■Stimulate growth by learning from our growing congregations.

■Focus on improving ministerial quality and diversity.

■Help congregations become engaged in social justice work in their own communities.

■Use social media to break down barriers among congregations and to reach out to seekers.


I don't think these suggestions will lead to growth.

We are starting a new UU congregation in Brockport NY which we have named the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. There are many independent pentacostal Bible thumping churches in our area that are growing great guns, but BUUF is struggling. We have about 25 committed members and our goal is to get to 50 by the end of the year.

How do we get there? I don't think Peter Morales's suggestions help us at all. Anybody got any better suggestions?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What kind of a community are we? - Rev. Michael Schuler

Rev. Michael Schuler preached a great sermon on 09/13/09 entilted, "What Kind Of A Community Are We?"

That's a question that all vibrant, dynamic congregations are asking all the time.

Schluer says "Contemporary society encourages us in countless ways toward a life of distraction...To establish disciplines of any type, we have to counteract many distractions of modern life, and this particularly true if we undertake long-term transformative practices. Most of us need communities to develop such practices, but we have to make sure they genuinely serve us. While accepting the support and challenges they give us, we need not be limited by them. The final authority for our personal growth is always with us."

When I was in the Catholic Seminary as an adolescent we were not suppose to read the newspapers, magazines, or watch TV. It was never clear to me where the line was to be drawn between what was permissable and not. It seemed to lie between being educational and being entertaining.

So much of modern life with texting, cell phones, and all the electronic media is definitely not only distracting but addicting.

Schuler's idea perhaps is that we need to stay focused if we are going to get any where. If we are looking for transformation, personally, interpersonally, societally, we need to KNOW WHAT MATTERS. Increasingly, people complain of being stressed, rushed, scattered, pressured, anxious, depressed, etc.

We need communities that help us stay focused on WHAT MATTERS otherwise we are too easily led down blind alleys.

As we build the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship we need to talk with each other more often and in more depth about what we think as individuals and as a congregation WHAT MATTERS.

Schuler describes the congregation at First Unitarian Society of Madison as one of "awakened ignorance" by which I think he means a congregation always curious, open to reflection, looking for new knowledge and understandings. They are not a congregation defined by a set of fixed beliefs. No one at First Unitarian has the answers, but they certain have and raise the questions.

I want to belong to a congregation that supports one another in living the questions the most important one being, how is it best to live life?

The second characteristic which Schuler describes is the desire to find the sacred in oneself and then to share it and pursue it with others. Church is not where a person goes on Sunday to encounter the sacred, but rather is the place that one comes to obtain recognition, acknowledgement and validation for the sacred which one has encountered all through one's week in one's work, relationships, prayer, recreation, and other parts of life.

I think Rev. Schuler has it right. Two important characteristics of a dynamic healthy community is the ability to ask and pursue important questions that matter, and a place to articulate the experiences that one has of the sacred during ones daily life.

You can access Rev. Schuler's sermon by clicking here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Do the people at First Unitarian Society at Madison have balls bigger than an elephant?

"The First Unitarian Society of Madison has for better than two decades presented a countercultural message and has seen our membership triple, our giving increase fivefold, and our stature in the larger community rise to new heights. Our members appreciate the fact that we push the envelope and are not just another conventionally cautious and uncontroversial church."

Rev. Michael Schuler, "Transformation", The Growing Church p. 12

When I spoke truth to power a couple of weeks ago one of my colleagues wrote me an email and wrote, "Dave, you have balls bigger than elephant!"

Let me assure you that this is not the truth literally, and I wonder if it is true even metaphorically. What it takes to develop the kind of church which Rev. Schuler has lead is not the leadership but the followership.

Will the people support the faith and leadership of a challenging pastor and board which decides to take on the establishment advocating for love in our modern world?

It takes tremendous courage and faith to advocate for love instead of discrimination when it comes to gay marriage, and nonviolence instead of militarization when it comes to national security, and entitlements instead of greed when it comes to income inequality in the United States, and rationing instead of gluttony when it comes to the use of earth warming chemicals.

The culture is fear based. It strives to protect the privilege of the rich and powerful. Society strives to protect the status quo. It tends to be conservative. Those who would challenge the status quo and would advocate and work for positive change are quickly labeled traitorous, a threat, or marginalized as being mentally ill.

Schuler and his congregation in Madison are to be admired and congratulated. Of course, Madison is already a very liberal area, but Marlin Lavenhar has done a similar thing in Tulsa, Oklahoma of all places.

So church being about the transformative voice and works to improve society for all is an intriguing idea. What does your church do to make your community a better place for all?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is the purpose of church transformation?

Yesterday I received my copy of the new book, The Growing Church: Keys To Congregational Vitality, edited by Thom Belote. The first essay is by Rev. Michael Schuler, the Pastor at the First Unitarian Society of Madison entitled "Transformation".

Rev. Schuler writes some interesting things like " Many clergy are reluctant to broach serious social issues, assuming that people come to church to be comforted, not stirred up or disturbed. But a growing number of Americans are deeply concerned about the current cultural climate, have limited confidence in the media, and are ready to hear the sort of straight talk that can lead to an alternative vision." P.12

Wow, I regret that the First Unitarian Society of Madison is so far away from way I live because it sounds like my kind of place.

I have heard Rev. Schuler preach via podcasts and he is a powerful speaker always informative and inspiring. I have found his sermons "transformative", motivating, and enlightening.

I was wondering why you go to church. Is it to be comforted or transformed? Probably a little of both. Maybe being transformed from a state of distress is comforting. At any rate, I am curious about your ideas about whether Church should be disturbing, challenging, calling us to be more than we currently are, that is, grow and move outside our comfort zone, or be consoling, soothing, and peaceful?

Schuler's church is growing. It has tripled in the last 20 years from 500 in 1988 to 1500 in 2008, so they must be doing something right out there if church growth is any valid indicator.

Personal, family, and societal transformation requires a conversion which Schuler explains means a "turning around" or a "turning one's attention to". Turning one's attention to what? Some would say God, the Spirit Of Life, the ground of our existence, the transcendent rather than our own egos.

I say that it is to our UU values which for me have transcendent value. We are called by our faith to be more than we currently are. If we say for example that we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, how can we be engaged in two immoral wars, still engage in capital punishment, condone torture, incarcerate over 2 million of our fellow citizens even though only 8% have engage in violent crime, detain and export our fellow human beings just because they weren't born on this plot of land on the planet?

Most of us have hardened hearts because we live in fear. How do we transform our fear based behavior to love based behavior? That's the need for transformation in our society and I think Schuler has a great point that this is what our churches need to be preaching and teaching and supporting.

I recommend his essay to you.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Purpose of the church

Father Richard Rohr tells the story of the Lifesaving Station which becomes a comfortable social club whose function winds up being self maintenance, self preservation, and self perpetuation and no longer saving lives. It is a good parable. The video lasts 5:27.

Can BUUF become a life saving station which is more focused on service than self preservation?