Archive for October, 2011

Harvest the Power!

“Life is one big road with lots of signs,
So when you riding through the ruts, don’t you complicate your mind:
Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy!
Don’t bury your thoughts; put your vision to reality, yeah!”

— Bob Marley

A few years ago I was on the receiving end of a telephone interview when I was asked to name my leadership style.  It wasn’t a question I was expecting, nor was it one I’d ever been asked before, so I tried to come up with something based on my experience in Unitarian Universalism.  I talked — though perhaps “rambled” would be a more apt word — about cooperative and collaborative leadership, sharing power with rather than holding power over other people, and companioning them in their own work toward the achievement of common goals.  It evidently wasn’t the sort of answer my interviewers wanted, since they asked me the question again, though all I was able to offer in response was a more concise version of my earlier ramble.

The interview as a whole certainly wasn’t anything to brag about, and I think I knew at that point that I wasn’t going to get the job.  Since then, though, I’ve continued to think about leadership, particularly in terms of what leadership styles are suitable in UU congregations.  For one thing, by tradition and by character we are a people who value discussions as much as we value decisions.  You may have seen the cartoon that shows a UU who dies and is pleasantly surprised to find that there is a realm of life after death, where stands a crossroads with three signposts.  One reads, “This way to heaven.”  Another reads, “This way to hell.”  And the third reads, “This way to a discussion about heaven and hell.”  Without hesitation the UU goes to the discussion.

From the historical Unitarian emphasis on freedom, reason and tolerance to today’s Unitarian Universalist principles of “acceptance of one another”, “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning” and “the right of conscience”, it’s hard to imagine any UU congregation thriving under leadership — ministerial, staff or lay — that is overly directive, much less authoritarian or dictatorial!  Indeed, a leadership style that is consultative and cooperative is very much desired, found in someone who, in the words of the UUA’s former Ministerial Transitions Director David Pohl, “listens as well as speaks, learns as well as teaches, shares the challenges and burdens of leadership rather than monopolizing or relinquishing them.”

Now it’s a rare person who can, in today’s world, dance with those challenges and burdens without some sort of training in, as it were, balance and posture.  Even in 1936, a report of the Commission of Appraisal to the American Unitarian Association lamented the AUA’s condition at that time as being “anarchy mitigated by occasional flashes of brilliant but erratic genius.  Leadership doesn’t come by accident or magic or miracle.  It is the product of careful and patient and far-sighted planning.”  To this end, we now recognize the importance of leadership development, a process of intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth that equips both new and experienced leaders with the technical and visionary skills they need.

Beginning last year, one of the goals of my congregation’s Policy Board has been to “begin a process for leadership development and succession” and, in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, we offered the UUA’s adult program, “Harvest the Power: Developing Lay Leadership”.  Whether you’re new to Unitarian Universalism or are an old hand, whether you’ve served as a lay leader or a committee chair or are just curious about what’s involved, everyone is invited to join this dance of growth, leadership and vision.  As one of our hymns in Singing the Living Tradition reminds us, “Learn to follow, learn to lead, feel the rhythm, fill the need to reap the harvest, plant the seed.  Let it be a dance.”

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Multigenerational Worship

What did the mystic say to the hot dog vendor?
“Make me one with everything!”

Throughout my childhood and adolescence I attended church services of one sort or another.  As a young child I remember going to Sunday School — though I don’t remember much beyond crusty modeling clay and singing “All Things Bright and Beautiful” a lot — but from time to time I also sat in services with my father.  During the week, at the schools I attended from kindergarten through high school, we’d begin each day with “assembly”, which was in large part a religious service that included hymns, Bible readings and prayers.  I was in every school choir and we would often sing anthems, too.  Morning assembly at my high school also included a sermon, usually by the school’s chaplains or sometimes guest speakers or even students; that’s where I was first in the pulpit, giving sermons on such topics as Albert Einstein and the Chernobyl disaster.

At some point, before reaching adolescence, I realized that many of theological specifics that were presented in those school assemblies simply didn’t mean a lot to me.  Lessons about treating other people with respect, sharing our gifts with one another, doing what we can to make the world a better place: sure, those made sense, and hearing them probably helped me to be a better person, too.  But there’s something about saying the Lord’s Prayer five times a week, ten months a year — and in “King James” English, no less — that soon emptied it of significance.

Nonetheless, I generally looked forward to morning assembly.  For one thing, I enjoyed singing, particularly, once my voice broke, singing hymn tunes in harmony with other voices.  Looking back, I’m also glad that it was part of my daily routine.  I was something of an unruly child and didn’t always treat other people nicely, so it was good for me to learn the self-discipline of sitting still and paying attention.  (That certainly came in handy during the 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis when I found myself on screen for much of the Service of the Living Tradition, right behind the minister giving the sermon!)  It taught me the importance of what I would now describe in terms of the Third Principle — acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth — even, or perhaps especially, when another’s worldview didn’t align with my own.

For these reasons and more, I believe it’s important for children to experience worship with adults, to understand not just what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist in theory, but in practice as well.  The first ten or fifteen minutes of our services are not just time to rush through so we adults can get to the “more important” parts, but offer real opportunities to show our living tradition to our children: sharing the significance of lighting the chalice, discovering what it means to raise voices together in song, and hearing a short story that celebrates life and our search for truths no matter our age.

Intentionally multigenerational services go one step further, from family-oriented rituals such as the Water Communion to services based around an extended story that is told or enacted by a variety of voices.  As was the case last year, my congregation is planning some of these story-based services, but we recognize that they’re not everyone’s cup of tea.  So, though we’ve recently extended the capabilities of our sound system and are working on making it more hearing-aid-friendly, and will take into account issues of visibility, only the second (11am) service will feature actors, while the first service (9:30am) will follow the traditional format with a sermon.  On such Sundays there will be no Religious Education classes: adults are then free to choose which service to attend, while children can stay with their parents so that families as a whole can participate in services together.

Whoever you are, whomever you love, wherever you are on your spiritual journey, I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

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