Friday, June 25, 2010

Blogging from GA: Settlement, Fear and Saving Lives

This minister skipped the morning plenary, but has learned that the following things happened:
  • We passed the Statement of Conscience on Peacekeeping.
  • We failed to choose a new Study/Action Issue. Apparently even though there was a clear favorite emerging with the understanding that immigration is the big issue right now, and the anti-slavery group throwing their support to it, no study/action issue got a clear majority, so there will be a run-off election at the next plenary session. The prediction is that immigration will sweep the run-off.
The reason I did not make it to plenary today was because I was in a series of back-to-back meetings. One of those was for UU Ministers Association chapter leaders. The exciting thing I learned there was that the new UUMA webpage creates profiles for individuals and groups (chapters are the first groups set up, but later there can be groups for all sorts of things, like study groups). Since I’ve been the webpage administrator, I’ll be involved in helping set up our chapter page information, and the Rev. Kathryn Bert is volunteering to get trained and take this over afterwards. I’m putting this here in print so she can’t back out!!! An important thing to know, ministers, is that this great website will lock you out if you let your membership expire.

The next meeting was bringing together Midwest leaders and interested parties to talk about the struggle that Midwest congregations have had in the last search round in finding ministers. I was there with my hat as Heartland UUMA President again. There were a lot of theories about why this happened, and a lot of suggestions for churches. Some that resonated with me (obviously chosen from a minister’s perspective):
  • Even though the Midwest is a less expensive area to live in, with many churches with a lower “geo index” than the churches on the coast, it’s helpful to consider that a minister’s spouse will have a harder time finding a job, even if they find one at all. Therefore, ministers will look to churches that pay a wage that will, by itself, support a family, and where the church expresses a supportive culture that understands that spouses may not find employment. Also, remember that student loans don’t change by geo index.
  • Similarly, incentives are allowed—a deal for paying student loans, signing bonuses, etc. And these are attractive.
  • It’s natural to look upon the idea that a minister who is excited about your geographical location because of family reasons or other reasons might not be really looking at your church for the gem it is. However, it’s also true that ministers who have that kind of support network around them will be happier, and more likely to stay for a longer tenure. I’ve personally seen several ministers who I knew didn’t like the Midwest and really wanted to be either South or West or East, and, well, they’re gone. That happened in my own church, as well, where average tenures after the locally-grown minister Ruth Smith retired became short and shorter as ministers left to “go back home.” I am home, and, well, have the longest tenure since the Rev. Ruth Smith.
  • Promote, publicize, market your church!
  • While churches’ search committees don’t know who is in search other than the ministers who’ve selected to apply, that doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to look around at ministers and recruit. Using GA can be a wise thing to do—many ministers are there, and you can see them preach, lead workshops, or argue for their perspectives in plenary, and you’re allowed to talk to them! One church talked about taking this approach. One church’s members stood outside the Berry Street Lecture handing out slick cards about their church. This definitely got noticed, and in a good way!
Right now I’ve stumbled into the Fahs Lecture, an annual lecture which is really always a gem. And, to my delight, it’s about folklore, which was a previous passion of mine. And it’s highlighting some themes about why we live in a constant state of fear in our culture and how unhealthy that is that were also given by Rebecca Parker yesterday in the Murray Grove lecture. It’s one of the themes that’s emerging this year for me. The lecturer, Dale McGowan, is making the point that we think a contant state of fear protect us, but it makes us distrustful of, well, just about everything, and even shortens our lives. For example, he points out, how many of us stayed awake in fear from the prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep… If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Yikes! That one kept me awake, too. Liberal religious people often experience a great deal of fear of fundamentalist culture taking over our politial system. But, as he said, after telling a story where he thought a school had a cross hanging in it until he learned what the class was studying: “It is easy to turn every lower case t into a cross, and every cross into a threat.”

Another emerging theme is this: Unitarian Universalism saves lives. More on that another time when I have time to write a lot more on it.

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