Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Shift in our Congregations

It was really an honor to sit with both Peter Morales, our UUA president and with Harlan Limpert, vice president of Ministries and Congregational Support at the recent fall conference. Both of them are so kind and warm--Peter even pulled out his blackberry to tell me where his son lives, to see if it's close to my church. (It's not!) I had a fabulous conversation with Harlan, talking about his home church, First Universalist in Minneapolis, where my brother was married.

As we ate dinner and talked more about our faith and it's future, I was able to share my view from our spot on the hill in West Seattle. I think we might have a unique situation, we're an urban congregation with a neighborhood focus. It's urban and family centered, and over the years we've gained a reputation for serving families especially well. We've grown from 23 kids my first year to 85 or so five years later and growing still. Yes, even with no classrooms and no building and no grass and no playground. It's the people, of course. Our people are deeply committed to the children, youth and families.

But it's more than that. A few years ago, I noticed a trend. Many of our new families kind of brushed me back when I started to explain Unitarian Universalism. "Oh, I grew up UU, I know what the religion is about." It was usually one of the parents, sometimes a male, sometimes a female. Immediately we'd have a connection--'remember the box series?" "the filmstrips" "AYS?" we grew up with the same things, with Unitarian Universalist things.

I started asking visitors "are you seekers, looking for a faith, or are you UUs, looking for a home?"
Sometimes I think we're kind of the canary in the coal mine at my church. Can we serve these returning UUs well? Can we speak to them without alienating them? Do we give them a book that explains Unitarian Universalism when they join our churches? Do we make them attend classes that explain our faith? We are learning. We're doing better. And we're growing because of it. Growing with people who already have a solid formation of Unitarian Universalist faith.

And this is what I got to tell Harlan Limpert as we ate our dinner and chatted about our beloved community. He listened. He took notes. He asked questions. This is the best part of serving on the LREDA board, a chance to share my story with people who need to hear it. To sing my canary song! It's not dark and gloomy and dangerous here. In fact, I think maybe we've found the path to the sun. We can bring our lost family members back, make them welcome. Expect them. Be ready.


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