Last week, the power went out.
But, on Monday, October 29th, we didn’t just lose electricity; we were drained of dignity and self-determination. A 3 year old boy who has been toilet trained for months, is having accidents daily. A vegan is eating meat because it’s what they provide at the shelter. A woman attends a job interview having not showered in several days. A man calls a brother with whom he hasn’t spoken in a year to ask if his family can sleep on his floor. And everywhere people are hovering in whatever warm corners they can find, smiling at each other through the sadness, hoping not to appear as desperate as they feel.
Powerlessness has become an internal experience for people used to their own power. As a privileged people, I enter most situations with a sense of my own entitlement. I expect to be treated with respect in a coffee shop because I am a paying customer, but when I am in that store because I have nowhere else to go, there’s a distinct sense of being in-the-way. I do my best to take up as little space as possible. If I enter a room of people who don’t look bedraggled, I immediately feel like I don’t belong. I do what I can to be invisible.
I can’t help but wonder how it feels to belong to a culture that is not dominant, to find myself often in a room in which I don’t look like everyone else. I can’t help but wonder what it feels like, day after day, to be unemployed, feeling like I’m taking up too much room. I wonder how it feels to be homeless, to know there’s nowhere I belong. I can’t help but wonder how it feels to be hungry and to feed my children at a shelter where I cannot determine what they are fed.
Last week, the power went out. This week, it came back on.
But not for everyone. Some people live in a state of powerlessness regardless of the availability of electricity.
More than a decade ago, the Christian Alternative Worship movement got started. It swept like wildfire, drawing thousands of people, mostly young adults, who needed their faith to reflect their lives. They were people searching for truth and meaning who were bored in mainline churches, people who took their faith seriously enough not to want Sunday morning to feel alien. They wanted to bring their real selves with them to a church where they could live their post-modern lives and explore faith in the authentic context of who they are.
The movement gained enough speed that mega churches able to hold thousands of people have sprung up across the country and around the world. It wasn’t long before the movement outgrew the term “alternative”, having become something of the norm for a generation of believers, so it was renamed the Emergent Church.
People who embody the Emergent Church movement are generally more liberal than their parents. They support marriage equality and believe in the use of reason as a source of faith. They are of diverse racial and ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. They have a wide variety of religious histories.
And, we’re going to make room for them.
Will they come? We have no idea. But, we’re building it anyway.
Dates are tentative, but it looks like Friday, October 19th and Friday, November 16th (the 3rd Fridays of each month), Rock and Soul Revue and I are going to create something a little alternative here at First Unitarian.
And we’ll see if something new emerges.
The religious life of the 21st century doesn’t look much like the religious life of any century before it. Religion is no longer integrated into cultural or family life. It’s no longer defined by our childhoods or ancestors’ country of origin or even what church is closest to where you live. Religion has become personalized. It’s about the individual and what he believes to be true or at least how she wants to pursue the possibility of truth. It’s more about what rituals mean in this time in this location to this person than about what tradition dictates.
In the face of this new reality, mainline churches, previously populated by generations of families are shrinking. Teens, young adults and new parents are seeking an alternative way of expressing their spirituality. There hasn’t been a decrease in the search for meaning or the need for community; there has simply been a decrease in the number of people who show up to historically popular American churches on Sunday morning. Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians have noticed the dwindling numbers.
Frankly, this isn’t bad news for Unitarian Universalists. Our faith is designed with such a population in mind. We are individualistic to our detriment, but as such, we are attractive to lots of folks who are seeking ways to find and live truth rather than ways to learn doctrine. This is why, in the numbers game, we’re holding our own. Unlike mainstream Christian churches, our numbers are holding steady.
So, maybe when demographers tell us that the religious life of the 21st century doesn’t look like the centuries before it, we should just say “we know” and keep moving forward.
As the summer comes to a close with the last few lazy days, I’m getting ready for the rush of autumn. Here are some things to mark on your calendars:
Ingathering and Water Communion: Sunday, September 9th at 9:30 and 11:15
Blessing of the Trees: Sunday, September 9th at 1:30 in Dobbs Ferry in the field next to the New York Sports Club
Program Group Kick-Off: Saturday, September 15th at 6:00
Worship Associates Retreat: Saturday, September 29th from 9:00-1:00
Some of us have been talking quite a bit lately about becoming a mission-centered congregation. It’s not just us; liberal churches everywhere are recognizing that the growing, vital, vibrant, relevant churches of today are mission driven, meaning that everyone knows why the church exists and why each member belongs. As we watch mainstream churches decline, it becomes clear that we can learn a thing or two from our more conservative friends. Walk into any Pentecostal or Evangelical church, and the mission will become clear almost immediately.
Our Committee on Ministry has been working on finding ways for us to articulate our mission without having to write a (quickly forgotten and therefore irrelevant) mission statement. This is an article that offers one way churches can become mission driven. I admit I have some trouble with the model he’s suggesting, but it’s very practical and might work if we were willing to try it.
Some of our parents have been wondering why we’re including children in worship so often. There are plenty of very good reasons for this, many of which have been outlined in our newsletter and other congregational publications. To make a long story short, it builds UU culture and a strong multigenerational community. Children who are comfortable and welcome in the sanctuary have an easy transition from youth to young adulthood and are more likely to practice their faith in college. It also opens the adults to the broader community and connects all our members to each other through this shared experience. Bottom line, it’s good for everyone.
I’m planning a service next May on the Spirituality of Parenthood. In preparation, I came across this article. I’d love to know what you think:
Today, our Building Committee offered a tour of the building and a total of eleven people showed up. ELEVEN PEOPLE! This is good news all around.
The state of our building is very, very important and traditionally, it hasn’t been something most folks have wanted to deal with. A few loyal members have been what I’d call the building-bearers, and have been responsible for everything from changing the light bulbs to working with the cleaning crew to hiring the plumber to scheduling fire alarms to making spare keys. They’re the folks who know where everything goes and why it goes there and when the decision was made to put it there and they’re the ones who know when it’s not where it should be.
But over time, the members responsible for this work have gotten older and aren’t as able or willing to be building-bearers any more. They’ve been very concerned that no one would take on this largely thankless, but critical work and haven’t known what to do about that.
Turns out, they were wrong! As usual, we were all surprised by the level of commitment most of our members have made to congregational life, even this aspect of it. It’s good to know that when one generation is ready to move on, the next generation is willing to step up. I’m very grateful to be part of a community that takes our life together as seriously as I do.
Did you know that the UUA hosts listserves for just about everything? Here are some examples:
People in Small Group Ministry/Covenant Groups
Anyone involved in Religious Education for children and/or adults
Church Finance Folks
Green Sanctuary Committees
People concerned about adoptee rights, ethical eating, LGBT rights, immigration
Check out the possibilities: http://www.uua.org/lists/index.shtml
Sometimes, making the adjustment to a new minister is difficult. There might be a general “gee, isn’t she great” feeling, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be paired with a “gosh, I wish she didn’t hang that sign, use that word, preach on that topic” feeling. Things have been done the way they’ve been done for a long time. Many of you are used to “it”, whatever “it” is.
This is your spiritual home. It’s important to you and I’m sure some of you are afraid I’ll bring change. And, of course, I will; there’s no avoiding it. Some of those changes are intentional and some are due to my unfamiliarity with the culture here. It’s also true that, when a minister makes a change, regardless of the intention behind it, it can feel amplified by the vulnerability you might feel when you consider how important congregational life is to you.
In the spirit of keeping information flowing, here are a few things I’m changing on purpose.
- I’m trying to attend most committee meetings.
- I’ve added this blog and changed the style of the Society Scoop in an attempt to improve communication. This improvement is designed to make information available without being overwhelming.
- I’ve tried to align our Share the Plate recipients with the topic of the sermon that Sunday. I think worship should hang together, each piece support the others.
- I also ask our musicians to align music choices with the subject matter as much as possible with the same intention. (They’ve done a fabulous job rising to that challenge.)
- I’m trying to get our committee members connected with folks doing the same work in another congregation so we can get a broader perspective and get fresh ideas and approaches.
- I’ve changed the process by which new members Sign the Book. Rather than just popping into the office and putting your name down, we now welcome them all at once, twice a year, during a Sunday service.
- I’m working with the Board and Rev. Arlin Roy to integrate his ministry into our self-identity and to find ways to support his work.
- I’ve been working with the Board to clarify reporting lines so that everyone knows who to ask what questions and who is responsible to and for whom.
- I’m working with John Cavallero to increase the number of times the children are in the service, both for full multigenerational worship experiences and just for the first 20 minutes. Next year, every month will have at least one multi-gen or part multi-gen service.
I’m sure there’s more. If you can think of them, add it to the comments section!