We have the power!

“We have more power than we claim, but not as much as we need.”

One of the commitments that Unitarian Universalist ministers make is to continuing education.  Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm this as well by offering their ministers some weeks each year as “study leave”, time free of congregational responsibilities so that it can be spent in courses, workshops and seminars.  And both the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (or UUMA) offer a number of opportunities for on-going professional development, too.

A couple of years ago the UUMA shifted its emphasis for Continuing Education, Networking, Training, Enrichment and Renewal or CENTER from the pre-General-Assembly meeting known as Ministry Days to a separate, week-long, mid-Winter meeting named the CENTER Institute for Excellence in Ministry.  The first of these was held in California in 2011 and the second recently took place in Florida.  (The plan is to hold the Institute every other year, alternating between locations on the East and West coasts, and the California location has already been announced for 2015!)

I attended this year’s CENTER Institute along with almost five-hundred other Unitarian Universalist ministers.  Each of us chose one of eight three-day seminars in which to participate as the core of the meeting.  We also enjoyed uplifting worship services and wonderful times catching up with old colleagues over meals and watching the Sun set over the Gulf of Mexico — sometimes simultaneously!  A particular highlight was the closing worship at which the Reverend Doctor James Forbes, Senior Minister Emeritus to the Riverside Church in New York, preached a powerful sermon about “a new anointment for a new appointment”, making the case that this country needs a religious re-awakening and that he (as a non-UU!) fully expects Unitarian Universalists to lead the way.

The seminar I chose to attend was “Power with Love”, led by Marlin Lavanhar and Tamara Lebak, Senior Minister and Associate Minister, respectively, to All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  (At almost 1,800 members, All Souls is the largest bricks-and-mortar congregation in the whole Unitarian Universalist Association, but it is perhaps best known for its radical embrace of multiculturalism when a few years ago it absorbed the remnant of an African-American Pentecostal church after their bishop came out as a Universalist.)  Noting that ministers are usually given little guidance in “how to identify and leverage their power effectively”, Marlin and Tamara aimed in their seminar to cover topics including “leading with vision, raising the money to achieve vision, collaborative leadership, power within a multicultural community, and effective Unitarian Universalist justice-making.”

During the three days of the seminar, we covered all of these topics and more!  (As well as handouts, I have pages and pages of notes that, since returning from Florida, I am slowly working through as a way to start using what I learned.)  Though there were, at times, challenges to our own comfort zones, I found the seminar a wholly fulfilling experience, covering so many different ideas and offering so many practical tools for using our own power and authority to reclaim the incredible promise of our liberal religion.  It gives me confidence that we are indeed turning a corner in our faith tradition, trying to live up to our potential — and certainly the potential that others like the Rev. Dr. James Forbes can see in us — where Unitarian Universalism can no longer be jokingly dismissed, as past UUA President John Buehrens put it, as “the largest, longest lasting, most widely dispersed therapy program for people with authority issues that American culture has ever seen”!

I’ll leave you with a recommendation to watch the video we saw at the very start of the CENTER Institute seminar.  I look forward to hearing from you what you think about its message!


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