Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


A SHARED MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT & SENIOR MINISTER: The Annual Pledge Drive Kickoff!

FEBRUARY 3, 2015

Dear Members and Friends,

UUSS IS AT ONE OF THE SHINING MOMENTS OF ITS HISTORY RIGHT NOW.

• We’ve added 50 new members since May. Worship is deep, joyful and lively. Our Greeters welcome new visitors every Sunday—even at our temporary home.

• Our dynamic duo of ministers has yielded new surprises in our worship and programs. We can build on this progress by fully funding Rev. Lucy’s position at UUSS.

• Our music program is blossoming now, with a growing choir and amazing duets and soloists. Next year, we strive to fund a Choir Director position once again.

• The new Spiritual Deepening Circles have 100 participants. Adult Enrichment has brought more than 125 people together. Theater One has staged a great variety of plays—more now than last year, when we had a full stage and auditorium!

Religious Education volunteers and staff give generously of their talents and love to our children and youth. We seek to support UUSS families even better.

• Our talented staff works together with high spirits to support the congregation in pursuit of our UUSS mission: we come together to deepen our lives and be a force for healing in the world.

• Our Earth Justice Ministry, Kids Freedom Club, and other social-action groups have brought people together to learn, organize, serve and give of themselves.

Our pledges of monetary support make it all possible. Starting Sunday, February 8, members and friends will make pledges to the operating fund for the 2015-16 year.

Funding our UUSS goals for success in the new budget year calls for an average pledge increase of 10%. We know that hardship has affected some of our households, so we also appreciate that many others will stretch in order to make an increase larger than 10%.

In shared commitment, both of us will increase our household pledges to UUSS.
Your pledge is your decision. Pledges of all sizes are valued and appreciated.

What we ask is your generosity.

Generous giving makes possible so much within and beyond our congregation. Thank you.

We can keep this congregation shining in the coming year. Let it shine!

Yours in service,

Roger Jones, Senior Minister, and Linda Clear, Board President

PS—Please read the Pledge Form for 2015-16. Fill out your Pledge Form and bring it to the next Sunday service or mail it to the office at 2425 Sierra Blvd., Sacramento 95825.  Your monthly pledge of support will keep UUSS thriving… from month to month, from year to year, and from generation to generation. Thank you!



Associate Minister’s Annual Report and Vision for Sunday’s Congregational Meeting

Unitarian Universalist Society            May 19, 2013                         Congregational Meeting

Report and Vision by Associate Minister Roger Jones

Time Passes

It was five years ago that I moved here to serve as Family Minister, on a year-to-year contract.   It was just last September that you installed me as a settled Associate Minister, but that grand celebration now seems like ancient history.  So much has happened this year.  A few highlights:  Doug’s announced retirement as Lead Minister, the architectural Master Plan adopted unanimously, the first capital giving campaign in a half-century, and the vote to authorize sale of some UUSS property and move assets toward our building renovation.  Meanwhile, popular activities kept going strong, our staff worked hard to support us, and lay leaders devoted many meetings to deliberation and decision making.  Babies have been born, friends moved away, and beloved members have died.  These are all signs of a vital congregation.  They also can bring on a bit of stress!  Indeed, life here is full.  I feel honored and blessed to be serving in ministry here.

Ministry in Time of Transition

As you may have read (or heard in Budget Discussions) the Board has invited me to serve as Acting Senior Minister for the next year.  While I’m sad at losing Doug, and sobered by the big things ahead, I am honored to be able serve in this role.  I pledge to do my best to make it an enriching year, building on our current momentum, learning as we go.

Of course, I’m disappointed that the proposed budget includes only ¾ of the ministerial positions we now have, with only a half-time assistant minister to be hired for next year.  Yet I am hopeful that this is a temporary reduction during a lean time for UUSS.   You have had two ministry positions for over 10 years, and it has made a difference in the program life and vitality of the Society.  One may ask:  Why have a minister rather than another administrative staffer?  There is always more work to be done, for sure.  More positions could be added or expanded, if the contributions and other funds were there.

The advantage of trained, ordained ministers is that they are familiar with congregational systems and able to navigate church cultures.  Ministers must bring a holistic view of how the various parts link together.  Ministers in congregations cannot hold rigidly to job descriptions.  We are expected to be flexible with “other duties” as things emerge or shift in church life.  We try to choose when a given moment calls for a pastoral response, an administrative one, or one that involves deeper learning and group discernment.  I hope this makes sense, and invite you to let me know if questions remain for you.

Doug and I have worked hard these past years—long hours, but gratifying ones.  Even so, we haven’t covered as many bases as we would like to.  There’s so much going on in UUSS and in our members’ lives.  The idea of putting all of this load on ONE minister is blood-curdling, especially if I would be that one person.   Moreover, after a beloved pastor’s departure, there are some parts of traditional Interim Ministry work that need attention, even if a church is not hiring an interim minister.  For example, many people will seek to express their grief over Doug’s absence and their longing for Doug’s particular gifts and style, and it helps to be able to tell a minister.  It would be more compassionate to all involved to invite them to do such “processing” with a pastoral minister who is a newcomer, not the one who is here in his sixth year of ministry.

My Vision of Ministry in the Coming Fiscal Year

I would be the main preacher and pastoral care minister, manage music and RE staff and supervise the Assistant Minister.  I’d provide primary oversight of most program committees, and I’d be the main link to the Board, Program Council and a few other groups.  The Nominating Committee has sought my ideas and arm-twisting, for example.

The Assistant Minister (working about 25 hours a week) would participate in worship and would preach a few times in the coming year.  The minister would provide pastoral care when invited by Members or Friends, or when I would not be available.

We need a minister with administrative experience and supervisory gifts, as she or he would supervise the administrative staff members (which I do now).  And with such talents, the Assistant Minister would also be the main staff supporter for the Implementation Group in the coming year of construction planning, especially with logistics as we seek alternatives to the Main Hall for worship, office and meeting space. (Doug has been the lead minister to the Master Planning group for five years, and I have not had the time to do more than watch and cheer them on as they sped toward the congregation’s stated goal.)   Activities in adult RE, child/youth RE, ministry groups, social action, etc., would be open for negotiation.  All this would be subject to the half-time limit.  Showing flexibility and engaging in continuous, reflective conversations will be essential to navigate and negotiate a collaborative ministry.

This is a tall order for a half-time minister–so imagine if I were facing all of it alone!  I am a not a “lone ranger” minister, but a ministerial collaborator.  I think it’s better when ministers can bounce ideas and impressions off each other.   Just as I learn from and with talented lay leaders and various church staffers, I learn from ministers, as Doug and I have done these past five years.  Moreover, over the years I have mentored several seminarians and new ministers.  Working with a colleague brings out the best in me.

Child/Youth Religious Education

For three years, Miranda has managed more and more of our RE programs at UUSS.  She supports our RE volunteer leaders, and she now recruits, hires and manages our Room 11 Nursery staff.  I provide ministerial oversight to the program, help with trainings and recruiting volunteers, and make sure it is a visible, integrated part of the whole church.  The proposed budget enlarges her weekly hours from 16 to 20, and it changes her title to RE Coordinator.  Miranda provided the following statistics for this church year in RE:

  • Room 11/Nursery and Storytime Sunday attendance:  average 13, highest 23.  Current staff:  Beka and Annie.  Champions:  Amanda T. & Karen B. (Storytime)
  • Spirit Play (grades 1-5) attendance:  average 12, highest 17.                      Champions:  Carolyn W. & Lee S.
  • Junior High Youth Group attendance:  average 10, highest 14.  (2007-08 avg.: 2) Adult leaders:  Ginny, Bruce, Damon, Denis, Karen W.
  • Senior High Youth Group:  average 6, highest 18.

Adult leaders:  Tami, Yvonne, Dirk, Patricia, Christopher, & ministerial visits.

All our RE volunteers will be recognized in the June 2 service.  UUSS is notable for a high proportion of RE volunteers who don’t have teens or kids in the RE program!

In addition to regular Sunday morning programs, UUSS has offered these programs: 

*Our Whole Lives grades 4-5 and 10-11 (Leaders:  Sally & David and Ron & Julie.)

*UU Chalice Camp (One week in summer.   2012 Director: Mary.   2013 Director:  Matt)

*Parenting Group (started by Jessica & Megan).   *Kids’ Freedom Club (Aliya & Roger)

*Sundays in the UUrthsong Community Garden (Glory, Keith, and several others)

*RE cannot take credit for Monthly Game Nights or the Holiday Party, but they were big successes.  Likewise, the June All-Church Camp is a great cross-generational occasion!

Administrative and Custodial

For over six years, Michele has kept track of pledges, other monetary contributions and other sources income, prepared payroll and other expense payments, and provided monthly financial statements in support of our Treasurer and Finance Committee.  She files employee benefit materials and does numerous other tasks.

For nearly two years, JoLane has facilitated most church communications, managed membership data, and promoted connections among visitors, volunteers, and our many committees and activities.  For nearly two years, Elaine has been the first friendly voice people hear when they call the church; she also helps to link people to whom or what they are seeking.  For over a year, Stanton has managed our church buildings, grounds, duplexes, and the room reservation system.  He tends to the needs of outside renters and in-house users of UUSS rooms.  He supervises four hardworking custodial/maintenance staffers and supports the Property Management Committee—all in 20 hours a week

We’ve had a year and a half of experience with our new structure and new staffers, as proposed by two business consultants.  If you are a volunteer, you know we have a dedicated and hardworking staff of newer and longtime employees.  If you have been attending church for several years, you know the facilities have never been cleaner.

Maintenance and upkeep are better, and this saves us money.  We have better staff coverage for on-site events plus assigned staffers to lock up the buildings and set alarms at night.  If levels of pledging to UUSS could increase enough, we would have the ability to grant raises to recognize exceptional service to the congregation.  Meanwhile, please join me in showing your appreciation to our employees.   With my pending shift to duties of the acting senior minister position in the coming fiscal year, direct supervision of these administrative staff teams would shift to the half-time Assistant Minister.

Membership Committee/Greeters/Newcomers’ Orientations

Our volunteers welcome new visitors every Sunday of the year.  When I came in 2008 we had several ushers, but just one guy making coffee and no more than two actual committee members.  Now we have an enormous hospitality team and a smooth system to help everyone feel welcomed and valued and caffeinated. Our Congregational Support Coordinator and Receptionist now handle the organizing, and volunteers provide the food for our quarterly Newcomers’ Orientations to Membership (average attendance 20).

Adult Enrichment

With the added help of a seminary intern a few years ago, we jump-started this committee and it’s become an amazing part of our church.  We have more activities going on here during the week than even the most energetic person would have time to attend.   Every Sunday in Connection Central, volunteers from the AE Committee spread a banquet of opportunities for enrichment and community building.  It’s a joy to work with them!

Worship

I’ve been able to return from my Tuesday day-off in time to meet with the Religious Services Committee a few more times this year than last.  Their commitment to depth in our worship services is gratifying.  I look forward to meeting regularly with them in the coming church year and to having a more frequent preaching rhythm in my new role.  With regard to diversity, I’m pleased to say that I recommended or suggested most of our guest speakers this year, nearly all seminarians or ministers of color or women ministers.  The world around us is amazingly diverse, and UU values appeal to people across differences of culture, ethnicity, and age.  Hence, I hope we will continue having a diversity of styles, voices and faces in our preaching and music life.  This is just one part of raising our awareness of what an inclusive and multi-cultural commitment entails.

Closing 

I could say more but will close by saying that I love UUSS and I love serving with you.  It’s an amazing congregation, with great accomplishments and great potential.    Thanks!



Long Paper: Congregational Ministries in the Changing Religious Landscape

 

 

Roger Jones                                                                                           January 4, 2013

Pacific School of Religion:  SRC-9999:  Dr. James Lawrence, Fall Semester 2012

Malibu Study Group (Unitarian Universalist), Reader: Rev. Michelle Favreault, March 2013

Introduction:  Decline in the Mainline

Faith Formation 2020 cites “a steady decline in the number of people attending worship and participating in church life.  In 1990 about 20.6% of the U.S. population was in church on any given weekend, today only 17.3% are in worship.  If current trends continue, by 2020…. more than 85% of Americans will be staying away.” (LifeLong Faith Associates 2009)

Most of the students at Pacific School of Religion (where I am in a D. Min. program) are in M. Div. programs to become clergy in various Protestant denominations.  Many of these ministers-to-be are inspiring, bold, brave and creative.  I would be happy to have them as my preacher and pastor.  Yet all their denominations have had major declines in attendance and membership in the last few decades, leaving fewer full-time pulpits.  A United Church of Christ official told us in chapel that he urges aspiring clergy to be prepared for bi-vocational ministries, or for entrepreneurial ministries outside churches, as fewer congregations can pay a full-time minister.  (Of course, many African American clergy have needed to be bi-vocational and entrepreneurial for years.)

Many mainline congregations are close to closing their doors, or selling their now-oversize facilities, or merging.  Similar trends affect UU congregations in New England, whereas overall we are stable or declining less rapidly.   In the last few decades, the largest mainline denominations have lost more people than even exist in the 160,000-member Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.  Pentecostal and evangelical churches did grow in the same period but arguably are leveling off.  Catholic congregations have grown mainly from immigration of Catholics from other countries, which has more than offset those who have left the faith of their upbringing.

Thinking about Larger Trends

 

The “Faith Formation 2020” report from LifelongFaith Associates was published online in 2009 and later in a book.  Chapter 1 urges congregational leaders struggling to respond to shifts in the religious landscape to follow three principles:

  1. “Take the Long View” beyond one- to three-year horizons.  These trends were long in the making; just because we’ve noticed them now does not mean it is wise to react too fast.
  2. “Think from the ‘Outside-in”:  Stop looking inside the church for all our answers.  Try to understand our external context, and learn how sociological and other factors create profound change and give us “new risks and opportunities.”
  3. “Embrace Multiple Perspectives”:  Challenge our assumptions and habits; expand our peripheral vision and note new threats and opportunities.

The FF 2020 report (first published in 2009) cites 13 trends of the changing religious landscape.  (Its current website lists Eight Driving Forces.  I list all 13 Trends below, as the last two are not explicitly listed as Driving Forces list.)  Here is a summary, with some notes in brackets. (LifeLong Faith Associates 2009)

Trend 1. Declining Participation in Christian Churches [conservative as well as moderate/mainline, which is sociologically where UU churches fit]

Trend 2. Growth in No Religious Affiliation

Trend 3. Becoming More “Spiritual” and Less “Religious”

Trend 4. Influence of Individualism on Christian Identity and Community Life

Trend 5. Increasing Social, Cultural, and Religious Diversity in the U.S.

Trend 6. Growing Influence of Hispanic/Latino Religious Faith

Trend 7. Identifying a New Stage of Life: “Emerging Adulthood”

Trend 8. The Rise of a Distinctive Post-Boomer Faith and Spirituality

Trend 9. Changing Structures and Patterns of Family Life in the United States

Trend 10. Rediscovering the Impact of Parents and Families on Faith Practice

Trend 11. Living in a Digital World

Trend 12. Educating in New Ways

Trend 13. Increasing Numbers of Adults 65 and Older

Depending on whether these trends continue, and on how congregations and other religion-based organizations respond,  the Faith Formation 2020 report imagines possible scenarios.  In other words, the U. S. religious landscape might look like one of these four:

Scenario #1. Vibrant Faith and Active Engagement in the Church Community

Scenario #2. Spiritual, but Not Religious

Scenario #3. Unaffiliated and Uninterested

Scenario #4. Participating in Church Activities, but Faith and the Spiritual Life Are Not Important [maybe religious, but not spiritual?]

UUA Growth—and Decline as a Share of U.S. Population

In October 2012, USA Today gave Unitarian Universalists a bit of publicity:   “Unitarian Faith Growing Nationwide.”  (Smietana 2012)  Yet in May 2012, our UU World reported that we were not.  In fact, while adult members in UUA churches increased a bit from 2011 to 2012, non-adult nreligious education enrollment declined again. (Bates Deakin 2012). To me, this is not about losing “the church of the future,” as many of us fret sentimentally.  That is, few participating adult UUs grew up in a UU church, and few others will stay in the denomination of their upbringing. This could be, however, an indication of lost opportunities to minister to families, kids and youth.

The Rev. Stefan Jonasson, UUA Director of Growth Strategies, reports that in the past decade a third of our UUA congregations have had net losses:  12.7% reported declines of 10% to 20%.  Another 22% declined in membership by more than 20%.   Since 1960 the United States population has nearly doubled (from 179 to 309 million people), but UUA congregations have declined or stayed the same.  From 2011 to 2012, 28% of our congregations reported growth in membership of 3% or more and 33% reported a membership decline of 3% or more.  Most of the growth was in “larger mid-size” (i.e., program-oriented) congregations (like mine), which have more volatile membership numbers.  Jonasson says that recent losses and gains may not indicate much:  losses are “nibbling around the edges, ” and recent gains may reflect only that a few members invited their friends to go to church with them.

A quick study of the Congregational Records posted online by Unitarian Universalist search committees from congregations now looking for a new minister shows many vital UU faith communities.  Yet most of them have fewer members now than they did 20 or 30 years ago.  Many of them have 150 members or fewer.  Many of them are offering only 3/4 time or ½ time ministry positions, even 1/2 time positions.

The Rise of the “None of the Aboves”

In 2007 Pew Research Center surveys, 15.3% of U.S. adults answered a question about their current religion by saying they were atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” The ratio of the religiously unaffiliated now stands at 19.6%.  That is, the largest change in religious participation as a share of our population has taken place among atheists, agnostics, and nothing.  I don’t speak of this group as the “The Nones” — it sounds like “The Nuns.”  I call them the “None of the Aboves.”

The aggregate category of “other faiths” has grown from 4% to 6% of our population.  So the “unaffiliated” are more than three times as large as the grouping of “other faiths.” Who are they, and where do they come from?  About 74% of the unaffiliated report having had a religious background.  Hence, they left something.  According to Pew, the share of Christians in our population has declined from 78% to 73% even as the overall population has grown.  (This category includes Catholics, Protestants of both Evangelical and Mainline streams, plus Mormons and the Orthodox.)  (Pew Research Center 2012)

Yet here is an analysis contrary to the idea that religious decline is a new trend.  Historian Molly Worthen says the “religiously unaffiliated” have been significant in American and European history.  In a recent article, she writes: “Today’s spiritual independents are not unprecedented. What is new is their increasing visibility.”  Rates of church attendance, she says, were never as good as the Christian Right likes to assert when attacking our secular generation. Before the Civil War, for example, “regular attendance probably never exceeded 30 percent.” It rose to a high of 40 percent around 1965 and fell “to under 30 percent in recent years — even as 77 percent still identify as Christians and 69 percent say they are ‘very’ or ‘moderately’ religious, according to a 2012 Gallup survey.”   Worthen says:  “We know… that the good old days were not so good after all.” (Worthen 2012)

The Pew Forum gives a detailed picture of the None of the Aboves:

In terms of their religious beliefs and practices, the unaffiliated are a diverse group, and far from uniformly secular. Just 5% say they attend worship services on a weekly basis. But one-third of the unaffiliated say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives. Two-thirds believe in God (though less than half say they are absolutely certain of God’s existence). And although a substantial minority of the unaffiliated consider themselves neither religious nor spiritual (42%), the majority describe themselves either as a religious person (18%) or as spiritual but not religious (37%). (Ibid.)

Pew says “the growth of the unaffiliated has taken place across a wide variety of demographic groups,” i.e., education level, income, and geographic region.  However, the most striking aspect of the unaffiliated is age-related.  As shown below, the 2012 Pew survey charted people with “no affiliation” by the generational era in which they were born.

Younger Millenials      (born 1990-94):          34% of them are unaffiliated

Older Millenials          (1981-89):                   30% unaffiliated

Generation X              (1965-80)                    21% unaffiliated

Baby Boomers            (1946-64)                   15% unaffiliated

Silent Generation        (1928-45)                    9%  unaffiliated

Greatest Generation    (1913-27)                    5%  unaffiliated

There is no earlier statistic than 2012 for those born in 1990-94, but in every other category shown, these percentages are higher in 2012 than they were in any year back to 2007.

Politically, twice as many of the “None of the Aboves” say they are liberal (but there are still conservatives among them).  Nearly ¾ of them support abortion rights and same-sex marriage equality.   What can we conclude from this trend?  Here are two opposite perspectives:

a)     The growth in the “None of the Aboves” is a cautionary trend for all religious congregations:  it reflects a growing loss in the decades-long American tradition of going to religious services and turning to congregational institutions for spiritual guidance, fellowship, and inspiration.  We should manage our extinction wisely.

b)       The growth in the “None of the Aboves” may hold promise for a spiritually inclusive, religiously eclectic, non-dogmatic and socially progressive congregation.   A UU congregation may appeal to some of those folks.  After all, many of them are not drawn to strict or traditional views about God, human sexuality or gender roles.  Many identify as “spiritual but not religious,” though there is no shared agreement on what that means.  We have special opportunities for ministry now.

Might both conclusions have some truth?  True, religious participation is declining.  Whatever brand of religious community we’re selling, we cannot count on a reliable market for it.  However, as the landscape changes, we have more opportunities for ministry.

The question “Are you looking for a religion that would be right for you?” was asked of the unaffiliated survey respondents.  While 88% said no and 2% didn’t know or refused to answer, 10% did say yes, they are looking.  So if 10% of an estimated 19.6% of American adults are unaffiliated yet looking, I think that means 1.9% of the population is at looking, or least open to participation.  Unitarian Universalist communities would grow enormously.  The same goes for any denomination, but since we are smaller than the Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Jews and the UCC, it would be a bigger boost for the UUA.  Of course, this “looking” question does not even count those who might be surprised to find a religious community about which they can say, “I didn’t know how much I needed this until I found it,” or “I had no idea a congregation like this even existed!”  Both statements come from adults who have joined UU congregations, but I can imagine a happy “seeker” might say the same thing after finding a congregation that has another brand name.

In Reframing Hope, Carol Howard Merritt explores how the signs of decline in the main line denominations “fit into a larger narrative.” (Merritt 2010, 3)  Merritt is now about 40, but has many years of ministry experience as a younger adult in rural and urban Presbyterian churches.  She writes the Tribal Church blog (named after her 2007 book) for Christian Century magazine.

A politically and socially progressive Christian, Merritt cites with joy the decline in the power and growth of Evangelical mega churches.  She celebrates the potential for small and midsize mainline churches to promote nurturing and authentic relationships across generations and to feed the spiritual hungers of younger adults.  She finds younger adults longing for and responsive to the spiritual and liturgical resources of the mainline heritage.  Not impressed with the big scale and production values of mega church life, these folks are progressive and justice-minded. They need mentors who respect who they are and show patience for who they are becoming.   As a progressive woman, she notes that evangelical churches look for people who fit a type:  white, male, conservative, charismatic and corporate.  Hence, she gives thanks for the patience and mentoring she has received in denominational churches, where she discerned and tried out her call to ministry.  She calls herself one of the “loyal radicals”—loyal and grateful to her denomination, but not willing to do business as usual in congregational ministry.

While many conservatives have attacked the struggles over diversity, inclusiveness and justice that have roiled mainline denominations, Merritt implies that such efforts make denominational churches the right kind of community for today’s progressive spiritual seekers.  In other words, if mainline churches can survive a bit longer, they can thrive with a new ministry.  However, it’s unrealistic to expect our congregations to grow to regain their former glory of attendance, finances, or social prominence.  Pastors already must be more entrepreneurial now; many will need bi-vocational ministries to survive.  Merritt points out that African American clergy have long needed to do both of these things to conduct their ministries.

Visits to Rotary and Yoga:  Lessons from the Larger Culture

Last fall I attended a local Rotary Club’s weekly luncheon meeting.  A century-old international service organization, Rotary has led efforts to eradicate polio from the globe and launched numerous local civic-improvement projects.  My friend, 33, is the chapter president and is half the age of most other members.  I was impressed with the group’s warm welcome, the varied careers, and their level of philanthropy and volunteer commitment.  They strike me as familiar, decent mainline Protestant and liberal Catholic stock—as good citizens.  And in my observation, familiar cracks are emerging.  Older retirees are less able to help at hands-on work projects.  Young working parents are not up to the requirement of weekly attendance (if you can’t make your chapter meeting, you can get credit at another time of the week at a local chapter or anywhere in the world).  This chapter often can’t meet its contracted minimum number of meals at its weekly restaurant.

With good cheer my friend led the meeting, cuing all the traditional rituals that may not have changed since the 1950s (Pledge of Allegiance, an invocation, “Happy Bucks” announcement time, which makes me think we should not kill Joys and Concerns in church but add a price tag and make it a fundraiser.)   The crowd included several past chapter presidents—nice that they don’t burn out and run away, but my friend says they don’t fail to correct his mistakes and remind him, jokingly, of the right way things are done.

He says his wife would be an ideal Rotarian (haven’t you heard church members say that about prospective UUs?).  Of course, as a working mom she can’t get away so often.  A promising national Rotary program is called “New Generations.”  Through this, a new chapter can have less stringent requirements, such as only a monthly gathering over a meal (perhaps with children and spouses present) and inter-generational work projects.  I don’t feel drawn to attend weekly luncheons, but I am curious about New Generations and perhaps could help my friend launch a chapter.   As a “not very religious” person, he has expressed interest in coming to hear me preach, but with a new baby the two working parents have not had a free weekend.  That’s okay.  They have local relatives, so they are not isolated.  They have jobs and volunteer work in which they can give to their community and learn leadership skills.  I can’t figure out why they’d need us.

Back in the old days, church was a place where you could meet eligible singles.  I don’t think of church as a social scene anymore, and online dating surely trumps it and most other scenes by now.  Yet at my booming local Yoga studio there was a lot of youthful energy and a mix of singles and couples.  I visited for a few months in 2010, when I was 49–an outlier.   Every session’s teacher was cheerful and encouraging; near the end of a session she or he would offer a talk that could have been a homily; I remember a relevant message before the holidays.  At the end they led us in a blessing.  In the lobby near the merchandise stood a decorated box and a small tree for donations to the local food bank.  In addition to sessions at all hours in the week, the studio offers introductory Yoga classes, teacher training courses, and Yoga-based group travels, all for a fee.   I don’t recall if it was asking folks to sign up for local volunteer work, but a nearby local coffee house does recruit reading tutors for a public school.  To me, all this adds up to a church substitute.  Surely this is the dwelling of some of the “religiously unaffiliated.”  What unmet needs would these clients yet have for what my church can offer?

Merritt offers a “new frame” to see hope in this new landscape.  She suggests our mainline congregations offer grounding in tradition and historical awareness, some tried and true practices of prayer and other spiritual disciplines, and the opportunity to practice relationships in covenant.  We provide spiritual and practical support to one another.   We possess wisdom and experience in social analysis and prophetic proclamation.  We can provide a location and an invitation to fellowship and friendship across generations.  I can think of a single woman in her 40s, new to the area and the church, who has quickly glommed on to a pair of active older women; she jumped in to help at the Thanksgiving dinner at church.  A few years back a shy African American woman in her medical residency joined the church.  Desperately homesick, she worked in our community garden and thrived on the mentorship of two retired members.  It was a pastoral conversation with her that led me to launch a prayer class for several weeks.

Faith Formation 2020 describes Trend #7 as that of “emerging adulthood,” which means that “the transition to adulthood today is more complex, disjointed, and confusing than it was in past decades.  The steps through and to schooling, first real job, marriage and parenthood are simply less well organized today than they were in generations past.”  Citing a 2006 book by Anya Kamenetz, Carol Howard Merritt notes that “the median job tenure of workers from 25 to 34 is just 2.7 years.” (Merritt 2007) They change jobs and industries more often and “have more frequent periods of unemployment and underemployment.”  This rings true with my experience with younger adults in church, nearly all of whom are smart, creative, compassionate — and living with large debts, poverty-level incomes or both.  I know plenty of congregants, colleagues and my own relatives whose adult children are living at home—still or again—or depending on regular financial support of their parents.  Financial-advice columnists worry that most younger workers have saved or invested little toward their retirement needs.  Stagnant incomes and frequent changes in jobs mixed make this hard.  So does the merchandizing of our consumer culture, and the rapid upgrades on expensive technology.

The Faith Formation Trend #8 is “the rise of a distinctive … faith and spirituality” in the post-Baby Boom generations.   Along with much “uprootedness and change,” this life stage involves what social scientist Robert Wuthnow calls “religious tinkering” among people in their 20s and 30s.  While the “tinkering” image shows curiosity and experimentation, it does not necessarily imply commitment to a religious institution or even longevity in any one location, which we still identify and expect as an aspect of commitment.  This is not a realistic expectation.

Carol Howard Merritt calls younger adults a “nomadic generation,” in her 2007 Alban Institute book Tribal Church (which is also the name of her blog).  “Tribes” typically form “around a common cause or belief… tend to the basic needs of one another… celebrate and remember traditions.”  Tribal churches depend on relationship and are “not pastor-centered, polity-driven, or program oriented.”  They do not focus on the latest trends or try to be “edgy.”  Rather, they focus on “developing an intergenerational network.  The members of a tribal church work to counsel, guide, train and enable young leaders.”  (Merritt 2007, 8)

Changes in Ministry:  Living in a Digital World

Though less prolific than Merritt, I spend hours online every day for my ministry and friendships, and less than an hour per day on the telephone.  Some of this is exciting, but I do miss the old days. To make these high-tech changes I’ve needed handholding from others.

Merritt mourns the loss of the frequent home visits of her early years in a small, older parish, but admits the practice was not a guarantee to attend to the greatest needs in her ministry.  Sixteen years ago, I had a paper stack of phone messages every day and returning or answering calls kept me on the phone for hours.  I shuttled around visiting folks at lunch, over coffee, at in-home committee meetings, or in the hospital ICU. (Another notable change:  parishioners are seldom in the hospital for more than a day unless they are gravely ill.)  Even now, I welcome chats with retired or unemployed church volunteers who stop in on a weekday for some task, if not for an intentional pastoral meeting.  I miss the longer encounters and meetings which helped to draw me into parish ministry.

We can mourn, Merritt says, “Yet the need to minister in our current reality is more compelling than nostalgia.”  The latest Internet wave brings more interactive encounters rather than just sending information.  It “allows communities to form across continents, and even around the globe,” as well as for local commitments to deepen.  The Internet has given her fellowship with people of differing religious and political views, and has helped her to hone thinking, conduct sermon research, exchange prayer requests, and reach a broad audience with her insights.   We must recognize, she says, that “time on the computer is real ministry.”  (Merritt 2010)

“Missing” Unitarian Universalists:  Where Did they All Go? 

There is a Unitarian Universalist diaspora, and it is in our own back yards.  The Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association writes:

[The] number of people who identify as UUs is about four times the membership of our congregations (about 160,000 adult members and about 650,000 people who identify as UUs). In other words, for every adult member there are three non-members who say they are Unitarian Universalist.

The second largest gathering of UUs, after General Assembly [which draws about 4,000 registrants to a different convention city every June], is the Southeast UU Summer Institute (SUUSI). A significant number of people who attend SUUSI year after year do not belong to any UU congregation. There are other UU camps and conferences that draw similarly large numbers of unaffiliated people. (Morales 2012)

Some of us may think this trend means our death knell as a brick-and-mortar denomination.  How can we keep our churches going if people stop going to our churches?  How can we embody our values if we have no institutional embodiment of our tradition?  This is a valid concern. However, the fact that our message and values live and breathe in camps, conferences, on-line communities, and friendship networks raises a question:

Do we want to preserve our church only for the sake of its preservation, or do we want to explore new forms for ministering to and making an impact on the larger society and world?

I have not attended a UU summer conference, but some lay and clergy friends do.  One couple of old friends dropped out of active lay leadership in their home church.  They did this out of despair at persisting patterns of unhealthy congregational conflict and behaviors that undermine trust.  It seems they have been driven away from their congregation by its lack of faith, and not by their own loss of it.  Indeed, their family keeps to their spiritual practices and maintains fellowship with UUs through a summer camp.   As their kids reach adulthood, I can’t imagine they will lose the UU values with which they have been reared or their commitment to community involvement.

Speaking of kids and youth, Morales says:

The majority of children raised as UUs do not join UU congregations when they are young adults. However, they continue to identify as UUs and share core UU values. Often they have close friendships with fellow young adults they met at church or at “youth cons.” (Morales 2012)

I’ve known UU teens who were continent-wide youth leaders but now don’t attend church, but I know of others who became UU ministers. I know many children of UU ministerial colleagues, now young adults, who do not belong to a church, even though they might attend a service occasionally.  Yet there are preachers’ kids (PKs) who go to seminary.  I don’t know many PKs who make up the middle ground between the poles of minister and lapsed UUs, that is, younger adults who are regular UU church members and lay leaders.  It could be they are easy to overlook if one is looking only for the disaffected on the one hand and the cradle UUs who are now clergy, on the other hand.

Did we drive younger adults away from us, or did we fail to hang on to them?

Or is this a fair choice to pose?   Recall that 74% of all the “unaffiliated” adults surveyed had a religious background.  Perhaps this fluidity is a just a persistent aspect of the American religious landscape now.  Ever since Alexis de Tocqueville first came to observe and write about Democracy in America, we have been known to have a marketplace of competing congregations, all with their own traditions, spiritual styles, ways of outreach and hospitality, and programs.  As Americans have become increasingly transient and less rooted in one place for the long term, it seems natural that congregation-switching would accelerate.  So would withdrawal from participation.  As we move around, it can be harder to establish a new church involvement after leaving one where you had a sense of deep roots and connection.  Yet this geographical transience, and the personal isolation that often comes with it, points to an opportunity for ministry.  Instead of hand wringing over denominational statistics, we can get curious about needs that we might be poised to serve through our local congregations.

Presbyterian seminary professor Michael Jinkins describes the pejorative attitudes and stereotyping that some older adults display when talking about lower church participation by younger generations, with such accusations or labels as slackers, entitled, short attention span, no ambition, and lacking the idealism, civic duty or activist spirit of earlier young adults (as the older adults remember their generations).   Jinkins attributes this to the sense of anxiety that many older adults in congregations feel regarding the loss of numbers, resources and prestige in the past few decades.  Yet, Jinkins warns, “Anxiety makes a poor counselor, and age alone makes no one wise.”  (Jinkins 2007)

The Dark Night of the Church

Peter Morales, citing organizational scholars and consultants, told the 2011 General Assembly that human organizations decline or fail not so much because of problems they face but because they hold on too much to past success.  Of course, for mainline, mainstream Protestant denominations, successes from the Baby Boom era, like church expansion and prominent social action, remain in living memory.  The founding stories of our faith movements are the stuff of legend in seminary history and polity courses and in an inspiring sermon now and then.  Spiritual writer Frederick Buechner says that “dreams of fame and fortune die hard if they die at all.”  L. Roger Owens and Anthony B. Robinson quote him in their recent article, “Dark Night of the Church.”  They give this summary of decline in mainstream denominations and congregations:  “Loss of market share.  Conflict.  Absence of young adults.  Financial crisis.”  (Robinson 2012, 28)

Whether we are facing the fast plummet of moderate Protestantism or the less frightening plateau of Unitarian Universalist membership numbers, the present moment is a spiritual in-between time for mature organizations.  For churches, it is like the “dark night of the soul” which St. John of the Cross identified as part of our individual spiritual journeys.  The dark night is not death and not necessarily depression, but it is a time of uncertainty and of discomfort.  This calls for enough detachment to explore, consider, and create.  It calls for humility.

We are humbled in our presumptions that we always knew how to do this church growth business very well.  We are humbled in our presumptions that our congregations could operate as we always did and continue in our size and social prominence even as the landscape around us has been changing.  Perhaps, Robinson and Owens write, we have allowed external measures of identity to define us—numbers, money, social prominence, and proud peak moments in our history.

In this “dark night of the church,” we can continue to work and serve, and to be confident that creativity is a key resource for congregational communities. We can continue to discern our primary mission as congregations, and practice that mission.  To be the church.  To be the religious society.  To be an authentic religious community in the world in which it now exists, and to be an alert community as the world around us continues to shift and change.

Final Questions:  Surviving or Serving?  Growth or Hospitality?

In 1985 I was 24, in a new city (Springfield, Illinois) and in a first job in a new career.  In retrospect I see that I was starting a spiritual search that included participation in four very different kinds of denominations and traditions.  This journey has included friendships with ministers and members of all four.  (Eventually I put down roots in one of those four traditions–Unitarian Universalism–and found a call to ministry here.)

In that new city, I paid only one visit to a church of the mainstream Protestant denomination in which I had grown up.  It was an elegant, large limestone building with familiar music, dark wooden pews, and reassuring stained glass.  As I slipped into a pew behind an older male-female couple, the lady turned around, smiled at me and gave me her welcome.  “I hope you stay,” she said.  “We need young people.”  I smiled back.  I’ve heard this kind of outreach referred to as the vampire approach—we reach out because we need fresh blood.

Ten years ago, at a district workshop on outreach and hospitality, a UU colleague in his late 50s spoke about his first time in a UU community.  At age 16, having had a Catholic upbringing, he learned about Unitarian Universalism.  Intrigued and interested, he found the local church in his Florida town.   He rode his bicycle there one Sunday.  Perhaps they had no “youth program.” If they did, but I don’t remember that from his story.

After service he visited the church bookstore and met a woman there.  As she got to know him, she learned that he was curious about our approach to religion and that he liked to read.  She handed him a book, asked him to read it, and invited him to come back to tell her what he thought of it.  On a future Sunday he brought the book and himself back to the church on his bike.  He and his adult friend discussed his thoughts about the book.  She gave him another book, and said she looked forward to another conversation.

This routine continued; this friendship developed; this young man later grew into a minister and an esteemed coach and consultant in our movement.  This was not the result of an organized outreach campaign, an advertising blitz, or a sermon series on UU evangelism.  It was a simple, one-to-one gesture of curiosity, patience, and the gift of time.  This is true hospitality.

When I was 16 I had a driver’s license and could easily drive to Indianapolis, 30 miles away from my home.  I’ve wondered:  What if I had found out about All Souls Unitarian back then and taken Mom’s car up there on a Sunday?

            Would I have received the kind of warm welcome—the gestures of curiosity about who I was, what I cared about, what brought me there? 

Perhaps, after shaking someone’s hand, I would have been directed to the staff or a volunteer leader of the “youth program.”   [Message:  This is where and how you fit in.]

Or maybe I would have heard an apology that they did not have a “youth program.” [Message:  Sorry that you don’t fit in.]

Or maybe I would have heard:  Maybe you could start a youth group here; bring your friends!  [Message:  What can you do for us?]

Every time I hear, in a congregational setting, some innocent and well-meaning questions—“How can we attract more [x] people?”  “How can we appeal to them?”—I want to ask Why?   We value diversity, and we value everyone’s individual outlook and personal journey.   If we start with a practice of true curiosity about whoever is standing in front of us in the moment, it will matter less whether they are x or y, whether they like the majority of the congregation or are different in some way.

To me, this is the question about younger generations and our congregations:  Are we looking for what we can offer, and the ways we might serve real people with real needs? Or are we looking to survive as a congregation in the forms and habits we are used to?

Is our goal to serve, or to survive?  Do we wish to pursue growth or hospitality?

Some may ask:  Can’t we do both?  Probably so, but we need to determine which motivation is driving us, which purpose is calling to us.

If we are drawn mostly by nostalgic longings to perpetuate the church we used to know (or to create the one that matches our ambitions or our idealized memories), I fear we will continue to be frustrated and confused, and to miss out on many creative opportunities to enrich our souls and serve our larger community.

If we are drawn mostly by the opportunity to be of service as a community, and we approach that with curiosity, patience, flexibility and perseverance, I am confident we’ll find and summon the resources to follow this calling.

Works Cited

Worthen, Molly. “One Nation Under God?” New York Times, December 22, 2012.

Bates Deakin, Michelle. “UUA membership and attendance declined in 2011. Over last decade, membership has increased, but religious education enrollment is dropping.” UU World, February 2, 2012.

Jinkins, Michael. “Foreword.” In Jinkins, Michael.  “Foreword” to Tribal Church:  Ministering to the Missing Generation , 2007, p. viii. , by Carol Howard Merritt. Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2007.

Jonasson, Stefan. Growth and Decline: A Numerical Snapshot. April 23, 2012. http://growinguu.blogs.uua.org/numerical-indicators/growth-and-decline-a-numerical-snapshot/ (accessed December 27, 2012).

LifeLong Faith Associates. Faith Formation 2020. 2009. http://www.faithformation2020.net/uploads/5/1/6/4/5164069/ff_2020_chapter_1.pdf (accessed January 2, 2013).

Merritt, Carol Howard. Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation. Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2010.

Merritt, Carol Howard. Tribal Church. Herndon, VA, 2007.

Morales, Peter. “Congregations and Beyond.” uua.org. January 15, 2012. http://www.uua.org/documents/moralespeter/120115_congs_beyond.pdf (accessed December 31, 2012).

Pew Research Center. “‘Nones’ on the Rise.” Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. October 9, 2012.

Smietana, Bob. “Unitarian Faith Growing Nationwide.” USA Today, October 2, 2012.

Robinson, Anthony B. and Roger Owens. “Dark Night of the Church.” Christian Century, December 26, 2012: 28.



Installation Ceremony—What to Expect Whether You Can Make it or Not!

All Welcome:  At UUSS in the Main Hall, 4:00 p.m., Saturday, September 29

This is a formal ceremony to enact the calling of a settled minister by a congregation. Our members’ vote to call me in April was an honor for me.  For UUSS I think it underscores that you have become officially a two-minister congregation.

UU ministers from around the Pacific Central District will robe and enter in a procession (along with my doctoral classmates and friends who are clergy in other denominations).  A Collegial Choir will sing.

Our cooks and bakers will throw a tasty reception, and other volunteers play many important parts.  I am grateful to Meg Burnett, Tina Chiginsky, Linda Klein, Judy Morrison and Susan Rothman for coordinating this event.  Thanks to our office staff for their support!

At the service, our offering will be dedicated to the UUA’s “Fund for the Living Tradition.”  This provides emergency assistance to ministers in financial distress and medical emergencies.  The fund helps out seminarians and new ministers burdened by educational debts.  It supplements small pension incomes of elderly retired ministers and surviving spouses.

Installation and ordination ceremonies are the main way that this lifesaving fund gets replenished.  If you cannot attend the ceremony but wish to help out, feel free to drop off a check at the UUSS Office or hand one to me.  You may write it to “UUA-LTF.”

If you can help out, please know you will be making a difference.

I am grateful to be generously supported by this congregation—hence, not to be in need of emergency assistance.  I am grateful also for the privilege to be your minister!

–RJ



Who Supervises Whom on Church Staff?

Members of the congregation voted to call me as their settled associate minister on April Fool’s Day.  Who was more foolish?  Not sure yet!  The board secretary said the 53% quorum of voters in person and by proxy was unprecedented.   The vote (on paper ballots) was 98% in favor of the call (199 yes to 4 no, and I didn’t vote).  I accepted this call, of course!

My role as manager of church staff and the main link to daily administration does not change by this vote.  I’ve been doing that since last June.  Thanks to the work of two 3/4 time consulting administrators, we have a new administrative structure.  This is a pilot project, to see if we can provide better service, more staff coverage, and a culture of customer and member service with more specialized staff roles.

Here is the current breakdown of staff and supervision roles.

It’s easy to forget, as we’ve had a lot of changes in the past year.

I supervise the Religious Education Assistant (16 hours/week position), Bookkeeper (30 hours/week), and Congregational Support Coordinator (CSC, 30 hours/week).  The CSC in turn supervises the Receptionist (full time) and our new Facilities Coordinator (FC, 20 hours/week).  Since late July we’ve been well served by a 3/4 time business administrator consultant; the current one will depart soon, with our deep thanks.  We also draw on the services of an IT consultant, one of the best values in that field.

The FC supervises three custodians and a maintenance technician.   The Lead Minister, along with relationships with lay officers, worship leaders, capital campaign and long range plan leaders, supervises the music staff, a  membership consultant and me.

In a later post I will talk about the division of my time here–and the non-divisibility of my time.

I will try to answer the question:

How much of my time at work is “ministry” and how much is “administration”?

(It’s all ministry!)



SERMON from 3/25/12–Roller-Coaster Ride on Sierra Blvd: Our Congregation’s History—the Last 50 Years

 

Part 2 of a 2-part series given at the

Unitarian Universalist Society

Sacramento, CA

Shared Offering:  To Children’s Receiving Home

Moment of Silence:  In memory of Trayvon Martin, in sympathy with his family, and in solidarity with all who work and long for justice, peace and equity.

Hymns:  51, Lady of the Seasons’ Laughter; 361, Enter, Rejoice, and Come In; 360, Here We Have Gathered.    Vocal music: Across the Great Divide by Kate Wolfe, sung by Tom Hiltunen

Conversation with All Ages

I have an exercise for you.  Think about how long you have been in this congregation.  As you are able, please stand or raise your hand, as I ask these questions.  If you’ve been at UUSS at least 50 years, please rise.   Please remain standing.  If you’ve been here 40 years or more, please rise.  30 years or more.  20 years or more.  10 years or more.  5 years or more.  3 or 4 years; that includes me so I should stand.  If you’ve been here 2 years, 1 year or less, or if you just walked in the doors, please rise.  Give yourselves a hand.

Sermon

Perhaps in the year 1959, when the members of this congregation bought this five acres, a former horse ranch, they thought they could create a haven from the world.  They couldn’t.  The struggles of the world entered their lives and this church.  The people of the church did not hide behind these hexagonal walls.  Our members gave leadership to the local community.  As a church, we engaged in the ups-and-downs of the nation.

Let’s remember how we got here.  The original Unitarian congregation in Sacramento was established in 1868 by 17 families.  (They had been drawn together by the preaching of a minister from San Jose came up here on horse and buggy every Sunday.)  Until 1915, we met in theaters and meeting halls downtown.  Then we moved to a cedar-shingled house at 27th Street between N and O Streets.  We constructed this building in 1960 as our fellowship hall.  A sanctuary was to be built later, over in the grove of oak trees.   Didn’t happen.

During this Baby Boom era, most churches were bursting at the seams.  In 1962 we had 500 adult members.  1963, 600.  1964, 700 adults, with “several hundred children.”   Rather than getting a second minister, our church leaders chose the idea of spinning off new congregations.

Across North America many smaller, lay-led UU fellowships sprang up in the 1950s and 60s, part of a growth strategy of the denomination.  In 1962, the new Central UU Church met in our old church building on 27th Street, as we had not sold it yet.  This ended in 1965.  Yet in that same year, the South Area UU Fellowship started meeting, in the very same building.  Our minister lent his presence and support.  Forty families launched this fellowship.  As listed on the Sacramento Bee’s “church page,” Sunday service topics included social and political issues and religious and moral values.  It lasted three years, till the building was sold.

In 1964, several other families from our church rented the Grange Hall in Fair Oaks, and started the North Area Fellowship.  Attendance that year was 46 adults and 26 children.  One member recalls having to be at committee meetings every night.  This routine led working parents to burnout.  In spite of their vitality and their efforts, the group eventually stopped meeting.  Many of them merged back into UUSS.

It was not until 1991 that a permanent second congregation was founded in Sacramento, with denominational help and much effort by local Unitarian Universalists.  The UU Community Church celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, with about 100 members and a full-time minister.   Members there are friends to many of us, and a few people attend both churches.  So far they have been a nomadic church, renting space south of downtown.[i]

Our minister from 1960 to 1970 was Ford Lewis. He nearly declined our search committee’s invitation to be the candidate, given the painful rifts in the congregation over the forced retirement of Ted Abell, our minister of the prior 15 years.   The church hadn’t known that Ted had a brain tumor, and he died five months after leaving us–right after we started using this building, which he had helped us to achieve.

Ford Lewis was born in 1914 to a Baptist family in the Ozarks–southern Illinois.  In the Depression, his family lost their farm to foreclosure.  At age 20, Ford stayed back to close down the farm, as the rest moved to Arkansas.   He couldn’t afford state university tuition in Arkansas, but a friend lured him to Salem College, in West Virginia.   The school’s president got him a job pruning apple trees in the college orchard, and Ford’s aunt lent him $50.  Later, back in Arkansas, Ford earned a graduate degree, interrupted by navy service in the Second World War.  He and Barbara Lewis came to us after he served as an associate minister at First Unitarian of Portland, Oregon.

Soon after his arrival, we had a capital campaign to start construction of the first rooms of the Religious Education building, to which we added more sections later.  Till all the rooms were built, we had double Sunday school sessions.  We used an old cottage left here by the former owners.  We put kids and teachers on the stage, in the kitchen, the alcoves, and a rented trailer.

Helen Bradfield led Sunday School for the next decade or so, with 33 volunteer teachers and a committee of 10.

Highlights:

A weekly Church School newsletter—The Juniortarian.

Festivals on Easter, Christmas, and United Nations Day.

A favorite course—The Church Across the Street—with field trips to other houses of worship.

Our senior high youth group was part of Liberal Religious Youth, attending regional and national UU conferences.

Boom times!  Yet “by the end of the 60s, attendance in our Church School was dropping rapidly.”  Our historian wrote:  “At the beginning of the decade, we thought we had many answers, but by the end we were not so sure” (108).

We had many discussion groups for adults as well as volunteer opportunities.  In 1961, congregation members founded Theater One, a group which continues producing community theater to this day.  Today, in fact:  a matinee at 2.

The local Planned Parenthood chapter started in our church.  In 1963, Helen Gardiner, the president of our Women’s Alliance, noted that poor women in Sacramento (among others) could not get information about birth control.  The church allowed her space for meetings of the Planned Parenthood steering committee, which included Evelyn Watters from UUSS.  Ford Lewis chaired the advisory committee.

In March of 1965, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., called on American clergy from all faiths to join a voting rights protest in Selma, Alabama.  Days earlier, a state trooper shot and killed Jimmie Lee Jackson, a black man, as he tried to protect his 70-year-old mother from a police beating.  On March 7,a nonviolent march from Selma to Montgomery had been turned back at a highway bridge by police with brutal force, giving the day the name of Bloody Sunday.  Our minister Ford Lewis went, among thousands of other clergy.

Three white northern UUs ministers went to dinner one evening in a black-owned restaurant in Selma.  After they left, they were attacked.  A white mob clubbed and kicked Orloff Miller, Clark Olsen, and James Reeb.  (An elder in our church told me that Ford Lewis had been invited to go to dinner but had declined in order to rest.)  Two days later, James Reeb died.  One of Sacramento’s short-lived UU spinoff churches was renamed in Reeb’s honor.

In 1969, the Black Power movement confronted the white privilege and power structure of our denomination as well as that of other mainline Protestant faiths.  The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly made a large funding commitment to African American organizations.  A year later, the UUA canceled this promise when a new UUA president found out the previous administration had mismanaged the finances and there was no money.  The wounds of this controversy have run deep and long among friends of all colors and commitments in our UU movement.[ii]

Another cause of turmoil for us in the 1960s and 70s was this country’s war in Viet Nam.    Either quietly or publicly, many ministers and churches—including this one—helped young men avoid the draft by filing for status as Conscientious Objectors or by moving to Canada.  Some churches gave more vocal and radical opposition to the war.  Sometimes the acrimony pitted friends against one another, even split congregations.  [I hope our church’s written history on this era can be filled in a bit more.]

In that era, the U. S. government spied not only on activist groups, but on churches, sending agents to infiltrate congregations.  Jack Mendelsohn, then minister of Arlington Street Church, our flagship church in Boston, has told a story of when a young man admitted having attended Jack’s church.  But his military service was coming to and end, he said.  He liked the church very much, and wanted to join it!   If there are any spies here today, please know you are as welcome to be here as anyone.  Just please remember to turn in your pledge card.

During the women’s movement in this country, lots of activist energy came from religious women.  Much of it took place within congregations, especially Unitarian Universalist ones and at the denominational level.  In 1977, delegates to our denomination’s General Assembly approved the Women and Religion Resolution.  A landmark for us.  This committed our denomination to eliminate sexism in governance documents and policies, UUA hiring, ministerial credentialing, and hymnbooks and worship materials. Women’s Alliances in this and other UU congregations included many activists, and sent money to the UU Women’s Federation.  Our Alliance began in 1898, hosting literary and artistic events, giving money to charities and the church.  It continues, with meetings the second Thursday morning of each month.

In 1971, Ted and Marguerite Webb and their family and came from Boston to Sacramento in 1971, when our search committee named him as the ministerial candidate.  Born in Maine, Ted grew up as a Universalist long before the merger with the Unitarians.  He served northeastern churches and in a UUA District office.  Ted served us here until 1983. When the Alliance opened membership to men, Ted was the first one to join.  He attends church now at age 94, as our Minister Emeritus.

Advancements during Ted’s ministry—the start of the Religious Services Committee.  It continues now, with a number of lay worship leaders.  The Public Forum —led by Mark Tool, Ben Franklin, Mike Weber, and other members.  Volunteer speakers came to address timely issues; admission fees helped the church budget.  The Forum continued until a few years ago.  The Servetus Club started then as an activity group for single adults.  In 1983, it had 100 members, many of them not from the congregation.  It continues now with monthly meetings.

In 1973 Anna Andrews became the director of both adult and children’s religious education, serving for five lively years.  The fee was 5 dollars per student (116).  These 18 banners of diverse religions and cultures of the world [around the top of our sanctuary] were created by artists and craftspersons in the congregation in 1982, near the conclusion of Ted’s ministry.

Ted shocked the church when he announced his resignation, after 12 good years.  Our church historian wrote that Ted he was burned out by the demands of serving this large church with no assistant, and by a stressful controversy involving a church staff member.

In a newsletter column Ted expressed his disappointments and joys.  He had wanted us to be more engaged in social action in the community and state, given that we are in the capital city.  Yet years later he did express joy at the work of the UU Legislative Ministry in California.  It was founded in 2001 by lay leaders at the UU Community Church.  Several of us here are donors or volunteers for the Legislative Ministry.

Ted also expressed regret that our financial giving was not as strong as it could be.  He said this kept us from pursuing our full potential and from paying better compensation to hardworking staff members.  Yet he was gratified by the sense of adventure, humor, and friendship which he felt among us, and by the commitment of our lay leaders.  The congregation celebrated Marguerite and Ted with an event at the River Mansion, a luncheon after a Sunday service and a generous monetary gift.

In the early 1970s, few women ministers were serving Unitarian Universalist congregations, and we had almost no openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender ministers.  In thirty years, this changed.  The 1980s and 1990s were a time of learning, struggle, frustration and growing openness.  By 2000, over half of our ministers were women.  The first woman to serve this church was Eileen Karpeles, who came here in 1989 as an interim minister.  From 1992 to 94, the Reverend Richelle Russell was assistant minister.  From 1997-99 the Reverend Shirley Rank served as pastoral care minister.  In the position in which I serve ,the Reverend Lyn Cox was here with you for three years.  Then the Reverend Connie Grant served here for two years.

In the early 1990s many UU congregations began a process of self-study and consciousness-raising in order to be more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people and their families.   This work still takes place in our denomination.  It leads to certification as an official Welcoming Congregation in the UUA.   This church earned that recognition in 1996.[iii]

In 1990 we called as minister the Reverend Don Beaudreault.  He stayed only five years before pursuing a call to another church.  [To save time I’ve skipped a number of interim ministers in this history, but they are listed on the website.]

Our next settled minister was John Young.  A number of members remember his gifts of intellect, preaching and leading adult education classes.  Yet many experienced the relationship as antagonistic.  A mismatch, perhaps.  His tenure ended in six years with a negotiated resignation and severance payment.  No matter how generously such a departure is handled, nearly everyone feels bruised.  Healing takes work and a long time, but some folks do drift away from church.[iv]

In that year, 1997, I began a ministry in the Bay Area.  Later, at our UU district ministers’ meetings I met your interim ministers, Sidney Wilde and Dennis Daniel, a heterosexual married couple with twinkly eyes and storytellers’ enthusiasm.  In 2000 they told us that the Sacramento search committee had found a candidate, some guy named Douglas Kraft.[v]  Who?

One minister said, “Can he handle them?  Will they eat him up?”   During his week of candidating with you, Doug may have wondered that himself!  In reality, as he recalls, he did see a prickliness in the congregation.

Yet he also sensed love under the surface, a deeper caring.  He saw the commitment of the lay leaders to their congregation in good times and bad.  “These were not fair-weather friends,” he says.  Doug grew up as a UU in Houston, attended national youth conferences with many other kids who ended up as ministers, married a Quaker, and attended our seminary in Berkeley.  Over four decades he has interspersed parish ministry with work as head of a program for street kids, a pscyhotherapist, and computer graphics programmer.

Doug writes books, plays the guitar and writes songs.  This is too much talent, so I’ve had him abducted.  He won’t be coming back tonight after all.

Doug’s 12 years here have included, most notably, his aging.   Seriously, though:  you and he have established Ministry Circles, the Lay Ministry team, Worship Leader trainings, the Program Council, and two services on Sunday mornings.[vi]  Recent years have seen better financial transparency and balanced budgets, rather than draining bequest funds to cover deficits.  A few years back, our church’s Mission statement was reaffirmed, and we adopted a long range plan.

Last month the congregation approved the Building and Grounds Master Plan by a unanimous vote.  It’s on the back wall and our website if you’d like to see it.  During Doug’s time you’ve had four seminary interns.  The ministry position I hold has been funded continuously for the past nine years.

Doug and lay leaders remember the days of long, argumentative meetings.  The Board was a lightning rod for frustration and unkindness in the church.  In his 10th anniversary report a couple of years ago, Doug said that Board meetings are shorter now and more satisfying.  So are congregational meetings.  More people now are willing to stand for election and serve their congregation.

“The general mood is more optimistic and less prickly,” Doug writes. “We … enjoy one another more.”

Originally a church of city members, in the past half-century we’ve become a regional congregation.  Thank you to all of you who drive a distance to come here!

Our wider embrace has become not only geographical, but theological.

In the1980s and 90s, Unitarian Universalists across the continent started getting spiritual… again.[vii]  Rather than disavowing religion, a new generation of adults wanted to explore it.  Jewish UUs looked into their culture and spiritual roots.  Some of us began to visit the Bible—again or for the first time ever.  Unitarian Christians found inspiration from the radical teachings of Jesus.  Some of us took up Buddhist meditation, contemplative prayer, or yoga.

We turned back to Thoreau and Emerson and found nourishment in contemporary spiritual writers.  Pagans ritualized the turning of the seasons.  In 1995, the General Assembly added earth-based spiritual traditions to and official list of the sources of our living tradition.

None of this has been an easy transition in the UU movement.  A rationalistic humanism had held sway since the 1920s.  Many ministers and lay people had assumed humanism’s unending and exclusive dominance.   They had thought of a UU church as a refuge. It was an alternative to religion.  Now it has become a religious alternative.

Our embrace is larger now.  Our welcome is wider.  We are a home for seekers as well as skeptics.  Many of us identify as both seekers and skeptics!   Let’s remember, inclusiveness is not only a value, it is a practice.  Building community takes work, in good times and bad.  But it’s worth it.

Let us be grateful for this legacy, and …

Give thanks all those, named and unnamed, who have brought us to this moment…

Be joyful that we have the chance to build and pass forward a legacy of our own for this congregation.

Let us move into the future with an ever-wider embrace.  Let us move into the future with joy and hope. Amen.



[i] On April 22 they begin renting from Pioneer Congregational Church, in Midtown.

[ii] If you want to learn more about this controversy, Google UUA Black Empowerment Controversy.  The Wilderness Journey, a recent video shows people on all sides of the issue recalling those times.

[iii] LGBT people seeking a new church can find out which ones are Welcoming Congregations at the UUA website: http://www.uua.org/directory/congregations

[iv] While John was here, the church hired the Reverend Shirley Ranck as a second minister; she’s known as an author adult curricula on earth-based and feminist spiritual traditions.  As I understand it, she departed after two years here in the months after John’s resignation, not out of conflict but to a steep drop in funding.  If you can tell a more accurate history of recent years, please update our history!

[v] Our compiled history, In Good Times and Bad, goes through Ted Webb’s ministry, ending in 1983.  We have well-organized church archives covering the last 30 years, but we’re waiting for people to step forward to update our congregation’s history.   This means I can say only a little about the years at UUSS before Doug arrived.

[vi] The Program Council supports all the program activities and committees, which frees the Board to focus on finances, personnel, facilities, and long-range plans.

[vii] In 1868, our church was founded as a liberal Christian congregation, and it remained so for the first half century.  Starting in the 1920s, religious humanism grew to theological dominance here and in many Unitarian churches.  In 1960s and 70s, many UU churches reflected a religion dominated of social concern activism.




First Day of School– Glimpses from Berkeley’s Pacific School of Religion from a middle-aged UU minister

 

Monday, first day of the week of new student orientation

Leave my hosts’ home at 7:20 AM and walk in the cool blowing fog from the Berkeley hills down to Holy Hill, where 9 seminaries sit just above the U of California campus Arrive D’Autremont dining hall at 8:00 AM. A 2nd year student organizer of the orientation welcomes me, tells me to help myself to buffet in other room, mentions eggs, French toast.  I go to the room, look at the steam tables, get oatmeal and yogurt, cantaloupe, pineapple, rice.  Skip the grits and the many slices of bacon and sausages.  Check under other steel lids—only hot water.  Must not have the eggs ready yet.  Eat wholesome food, chat with tall young white man from Wisconsin, Brown U. grad,  UCC preacher’s kid, African American mother of 19 year old son, moved here from Detroit with partner (a therapist), is pursuing Metropolitan Community Church ordination.

Chat with two other middle aged white women and a gregarious 2nd year man from the Episcopal seminary.  I see people with scrambled eggs.  I see someone come out of the kitchen with eggs.  Go in, learn that you write your order on a slip and they cook it:  pancakes or French toast, white or wheat; eggs any style, omelette with many choices, tofu scramble.  Get two eggs over medium, telling myself I can have pancakes tomorrow.

Chef Andy calls out the order or person’s name when it’s up, but I go back to table and come back much later.  Grab my plate, add some hash browns.  Stop, remember to call out “thank you,” and hear “you’re welcome.”  At the table, I ask:  “Is it like this all the time here?  You can just order what you want? No extra charge?”  Yes.  What took me so long to come here!

UU colleague Sarah M. S., also a D. Min. student, shows up late.  Lovely, gifted and gracious young mother.  I come up to her and call out:  “Hello, new girl at school!”  We hug. Younger kid is 6, starts kindergarten Wednesday, but has fever of 103 today.  So mom won’t be here much this week.  Her focus:  ministry and authority.   Mine:  religious education and UU leadership development in non-western and poor contexts.

 

Only 6 or 7 D. Min. students like me and I have met only 1, plus Sarah.  Most new students are M. Div.—starting out to pursue the career of ministry.  Some are M.A. (Ph. D. students go through the consortium, the Graduate Theological Union.) Different denominations here, a few of them UU.  Total entering class 56; goal was 60.

Opening worship is lovely:  nice songs, nice welcomes from staff, administration.  Scripture readings:  Genesis, when God tells Abraham to pick up and move.  Walt Whitman, from UU hymnal readings:  “Song of the Open Road.” Testimonies from two 2nd year students:  Black woman raised by atheist & agnostic parents, has visited Buddhist & earth-based spirituality & Christianity, yet to choose a denomination.  Latino man, raised Catholic, gay with two sons.  Spoke of the support that is available from students, faculty staff.  Prayers of the people called out.  I remember young woman:  “The homeless teenagers at the agency in LA that  I left behind to come here.”

We hear the words of Unitarian Christian Albert Schweitzer:  “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”  Invitation to come up and light a candle and call out the name of someone for whom we are thankful and without whom we would not be here. (Again, this is aimed at those who are starting to pursue ministry in the M. Div. program more than us in the D. Min. program.)  I light a candle and thank my senior colleague, Doug, for his generosity, flexibility and some degree of anxiety in supporting me as I take time away from church to pursue this.  Admissions staffer/minister JoEllyn gives us the benediction:  Be not afraid.  (I’m not.  I didn’t pick up and move across the country or quit a lucrative career or uproot a family.)

 

Move over to Ecumenical Center, a church between Starr King School and PSR that houses many offices and a large sanctuary rented to a Unity church.  All GTU entering students are there to learn about registration, online and IT support, finances, etc.  Crowd includes nuns, Dominican brothers in long white habits, people from Asia, USA, Africa, Tonga, etc.  Boring but helpful stuff.

 

Going to lunch I meet a UU M. Div. student from the Oakland church.  Has child, 2, and husband who is tech engineer and music producer.  She is a  young lawyer who works for a state regulatory agency.  Part-time student.  Enrolled in Intro to New Testament and Spiritual Disciplines for Religious Leaders.  I tell her the reading load for New Testament isn’t bad and she might take a third course.  I love being Mr. Advice Giver.

 

At lunch table is African man entering the Jesuit school, white woman from Religious Science and white woman entering Episcopal school’s M. Div. program; she works in forensic psychology at Napa State Mental Hospital.  Another M. Div. student , young woman, will drive here 2 days a week from Modesto.

 

After lunch I go to the GTU library and find an empty study carrel to lay down my head for a nap.  Then back to chapel for a session on community building, words from the school’s president, and an ice breaker exercise.  We’re broken into small groups and have 90 minutes together to get to know one another.  A woman with grown kids and a former career who never pursued ministry because she was Catholic.  Then went to Methodist church and was asked to give a lay sermon, and the light bulb went on.  Two young women, one a Christian only since 2006.  Young man born in Philippines, grew up in California.  Our facilitator is former university professor of cultural anthropology and sexuality, now 2nd year M. Div. student.  Gay man, raised atheist in Holland.  Attended LGBT City of Refuge church in SF, let by charismatic Black woman pastor.  Became a Christian and now pursuing ministry.  Solid, eloquent, gentle, and smart.  Amazing depth of talent and soul in the students I am meeting at this place.  Restores my hope in mainline Protestantism.

 

We take a tour of campus.  He points out Starr King School for the Ministry, notes it is UU, nods to me.  I restrain myself telling them all about the Rev. Thomas Starr King but do mention that there is an Islamic studies program at the school.  (I got my M. Div. in Chicago, at the other UU seminary.)

 

At dinner I meet a young Black man, an activist from Oakland who is the head of security at a large hospital, and an even younger one who moved here from Houston to pursue ministry.  I get my dessert and go sit by a young white guy eating alone.  He’s a Ph. D. student in Hebrew Scriptures, got his M. A. in Virginia, is Presbyterian.  I get to brag about the Hebrew Bible prof I had at the University of Chicago when I was in seminary.  Otherwise I feel quite ignorant.  Counting courses, comprehensive exams and dissertation, his program will be 7 years long.  Good thing he’s young!

 

Ice cream social after dinner and then a meet-the-faculty session.  I greet the president, who remembers me from a lunch for prospective students back in January.  I meet his wife, who is a sign language interpreter for the police and court systems.

 

Fourteen of their 16 professors are here, a very diverse group in terms of age, ethnicity, national background, denominational experience, and research interests.  Preaching, pastoral care, Christian ethics, spirituality and leadership, arts, Hebrew Bible and archeology, New Testament, church history, religious education (this prof is a Korean immigrant and she’s my advisor), American spiritual studies, sexuality studies, and on and on.  Very easy-going and hospitable group.

 

Spirituality professor says: Spiritual practice can prevent “compassion burnout” and provide a deep anchor point.  But he unexamined spiritual practice is vulnerable to manipulation.  History professor invites us to “hang out with the ancestors”—it can put some ground under your feet.  RE professor teaches pop culture and theology, notes that many younger adults have never been to a church building and they have developed their spirituality through pop culture.  We need to understand and engage with that.  Pastoral theology professor specializes in gender and sexuality as well as psychology and cults.  About the resistance and battles over sexuality in the Mainline churches, he says that much of this strife may reflect that theological education hasn’t done a good job preparing religious leaders for dealing with sexuality in the church.

Hebrew Bible and archaeology professor says that part of archaeology is to give voice to the voiceless of ancient times, because 95% of the population were not represented in scriptures, the production of which was controlled by the elites of society.  (And yet, I realize, those radial social prophets still got included!)

Professor in the Swedenborgian House of Studies (and endowed program) has a lit and American studies background.  Swedenborg’s name “appears all over progressive 19th century politics, religion, culture.”  Has  a book project on “the emergence of a viable American environmentalism” and he mentioned our guys Thoreau and Emerson.  He’s also teaching a seminar on the recent and continuing “God debate” in popular culture.  Most respondents to the “new atheists” have been literary writers.

Another prof in the Swedenborgian House of Studies says that “the center and depth of the different traditions is when they ‘walk the walk’ [of social justice and service] together.”  He also teaches the spirituality of Protestant mysticism, which the Reformation (started late 1500s) tried to squeeze out of religion.   He’s also interested in “sport in culture,” an says that 1/3 of media attention is devoted to sports and sports is the 7th largest industry.  “Sports is used as a spiritual practice by many. But it’s also used sociologically to oppress people,” in particular people of color, women, and those of minority sexual orientations.”

The arts professor is Bulgarian.  Says her first name means small drops of morning dew.  “Many Americans find it beautiful.  I don’t.”  Loves Byzantine art.   Is planning a multicultural course:  “to see as others see.”

 

Finally, the dean says:  Our primary goal is that we want you to … learn how to learn.

 

 

I wanted to take a class with almost all of them.

But I’ve got a job back home! I walked 40 minutes back to my friends’ home after a full 12 hour day.  Bed time!