Congregations and Beyond: Consultation

Some cynical wit once observed that there are two kinds of meetings—some meetings are preparations for action while other meetings are substitutes for action. Alas, I have been to plenty of meetings that fall into the “substitutes for action” category.

But two weeks ago I attended a meeting that has the potential to have a truly historic positive impact on Unitarian Universalism. This is not hyperbole. I don’t think I have ever been as excited about the possibilities for our faith.

The meeting was a “consultation” of UUA staff and a number of ministers in our association who are doing groundbreaking work in expanding the reach of our faith. The focus of the meeting was to explore ideas I had put forth in an essay entitled “Congregations and Beyond.” In that essay, which itself pulled together threads of conversations that have been going on for more than a decade, I suggest that we need to think of ourselves far more broadly than we typically do. I argue that we need to see ourselves as more than a collection of congregations. We need to think of ourselves as a religious movement that seeks to engage many more people and engage them in a variety of ways—in our congregations and beyond.

That essay set off a flurry of comments far beyond anything I had imagined.

UUA staff Rev. Terasa Cooley and Rev. Harlan Limpert show the #congbeyond tweets as they roll in.

Indeed, the essay began as a reflection paper that I shared with the senior leadership of the UUA staff six months ago. Clearly, I touched something ready to explode in our movement. There is now an open Facebook group and a Twitter hashtag that have more comments than I can follow.

At our brief consultation the energy was sky high. The group’s discussion focused on three main areas: congregations reaching out in new ways, a culture change among UUs as we explore new ways of creating religious communities, and new ways of engaging people using rapidly changing technology. Now the hard, but exciting, work begins of translating these visions into practical strategies. As they say, stay tuned! We will be hard at work on this in the coming weeks.

Just as important as what we are doing (and maybe even more important) is how we are doing it. We are creating a new way of working together as an association. Our work on the Congregations and Beyond initiative is just one example.

Stated briefly, we at the UUA are doing all of this in close collaboration with others. We are “crowdsourcing” our work—working in partnership with a wide variety of people and inviting input along the way.

This initiative is but one example of this way of working. One example of this culture of collaboration is the “Leap of Faith” initiative that links congregations together for mentoring. Another was our “Strategic Review of Professional Ministries” project that involved input from a wide variety of people including our ministers association (UUMA), the religious educators association (LREDA), our musicians (UUMN), our seminaries, and many others. The “Gathered Here” program is another example. More recently the development of education resources on immigration sought input from across the country.

I am convinced that any organization—whether a committee, a congregation, or an entire national association—will thrive to the extend that it uses the energy, the skill, the creativity and the passion of its people.

We are doing some exciting and wonderful things. What is even more important is that we are doing them together. When we UUs work together toward a common vision, we are something beautiful to behold.

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