In the midst of this year’s stewardship campaign, we’re passing the two-year marks of being in the new building and my full, resident presence as minister. UUFCO’s growth in that span is amazing. And thought we often default to thinking of growth as size and numbers, it is more than that. There are four kinds of congregational growth: numerical, organic, maturational and incarnational, and we’ve been expanding in all these ways.
As the new federal administration takes shape in Washington D.C., a very interesting and relevant dialogue is happening about communication, the nature of facts and ‘alternative facts,’ and realities versus perspectives. Wow! Aren’t these interesting times? What an incredible opportunity to examine the role and value of ‘public discourse’ in maintaining a healthy community or society! Is it comfortable? No. Is it essential? Well, yes. And on an ongoing basis.
As the New Year arrives, my ministry with UUFCO turns towards conclusion. In the remaining months, my task is to prepare you for a relationship with a new minister – a task I’ve been working on throughout, in fact. A newer dialogue is arising about the congregation’s part in a partnering with a minister: how the congregation relates with a minister, not only how the minister relates with the congregation. This is rich territory for UUFCO in the midst of seeking a new partnership.
UUFCO has had professional ministry since 2004, starting at a quarter time and growing to fulltime in less than ten years. The quick growth of the congregation is a source of pride and amazement. I’ve witnessed a huge expansion in awareness of our connections to the denominational community and awareness that we are part of a liberal faith tradition. Yet, for a fellowship to develop a full understanding of ministry, and hit its stride as an experienced partner in shared ministry, would be exceptional in such a short time. Especially so for a fellowship lay-led for 45 years.
The world looks a little different than it did the last time I wrote this column. Not only did the Donald win the election but also Pope Francis announced that the Roman Catholic Church will permanently allow priests to grant forgiveness for abortion.
As we prepare for a conservative administration in Washington D.C., the question of women’s issues is top of mind and the Pope’s announcement is a source of hope. The election of the Republicans with an unknown president-elect who has spoken disrespectfully of women and minorities, and a vice-president well-known as one of the most extreme anti-abortion legislators in the country and who as governor of Indiana, gutted Planned Parenthood’s funding, has raised the fears and anger of many, especially women.
As the year progresses towards the end of my ministry at UUFCO, people are frequently asking me why I, as a Canadian, choose to serve in the United States. Aside from the fact that there are far more UU congregations in the States than Canada (hence more jobs), it is simply a better fit for me. I have spent my life crossing back and forth across the border and since the election of Ronald Reagan, I have been increasingly aware of the impact of the U.S. on Canada and beyond. The perspective I bring as an outsider who has an understanding of this culture is welcomed and relevant to people. Little did I know how provocative and fractious this election cycle would be,
Ask someone, “who was the first person you met at church?” and chances are they’ll have a story to tell. These stories are almost always positive because people who have a negative experience don’t stick around to tell theirs. These early and individual connections form our first impressions of a group. Newcomers will immediately know if they feel seen and welcomed in a heartfelt way, or if they feel invisible, unimportant. It doesn’t take much. Someone approaches to say hello or no one does. The effort made in approaching someone, answering a question, or helping find information reveals a generosity of spirit that gives comfort to people who have mustered the courage to walk through an unknown door. How easy it is to forget that out-of-place feeling in strange company.
Things take time, don’t they? Moving to a new town doesn’t take long. That’s the straightforward and quick part. Getting settled in the new community, finding where we fit in the new landscape, and becoming a part of the ‘fabric’ of that new community takes much longer.
Chris, my partner, and I left the big city for a small community on Vancouver Island a few years ago. We - Chris mostly - spent the first couple of years renovating the house and the garden. Most of our travel was between the house and Home Depot, with the occasional foray to explore our new territory. We got to know our neighbors casually and made contact with other acquaintances from Vancouver who had also moved to the area.
It’s been a difficult spring for us at UUFCO, no question. But we have survived, perhaps even strengthened. Certainly the leadership has learned a lot about what is needed to function with integrity and compassion as a congregation of the size we have become. As I disappear for my summer break, I leave you a message
We are closing a huge year of change in the life of this congregation. Twelve months ago, we had no Sunday volunteer groups, we weren’t renting the building, we hadn’t started to use all the children’s classrooms -- there were a lot of things we didn’t know, including one another. Since then, we’ve been working on a new mission statement together, we re-instituted adult religious exploration programs, increased staffing, and started creating new ways of working together through the Sunday Volunteer groups. We also launched the Program Council and Leadership Development Committees. And that’s not accounting for the Board and its committees that have done an enormous amount of work. Attendance on Sundays has surpassed expectations and membership is now over 200. There is so much to be grateful for and to celebrate.
It has been a tumultuous couple of years for the congregation and for me, as well. And it has been exciting to help UUFCO begin functioning as a larger congregation, surpassing normal expectations of growth. We have accomplished a huge amount this past year. There is a great deal to feel proud of as more foundations are put into place, like the mission statement we’re taking on. Few people get to experience this kind of change and growth, and some of you will be experts able to help others in years to come.