Thursday, January 15, 2009

What is "more"? What is "deeper"?

We've been trying to start an Association-wide discussion about what new resources lay UUs might need to deepen their faith, religious experience, or UU identity. Task force member Doug Muder kicked it off with his UU World online column "That Elusive More" and followed up with a post on his Free and Responsible Search blog. A number of UU bloggers have joined the conversation, including:

The Interdependent Web: What helps UUs go deeper?, scaring parents, defining 'sin,' and more

Surviving the Workday: Theological questions at work

iMinister: Going Deeper

Yet Another Unitarian Universalist: spend money, help people

Chalice Spark: going deeper

One More Step:
lay theological education.

UUJeff's muse kennel and pizzatorium: Funds for Unitarian Universalist Lay Theological Education.

Transparent Eye: Going Deeper.

A UU Way of Life: UU Theology - What are the questions that need answering?

If we missed your blog post, mention it in the comments.


jack said...

Thank you for the great post and information!

d. breeden said...

My blog considers "theopoetics,"

Anonymous said...

I am engaging in a four part response to the idea of UU Theological Depth on my blog:

Nancy P said...

In the past five years, I’ve taken a mine-month lay leadership certification program at the Mountain and three graduate classes online at Starr King. I learned a lot. Knowledge provides the vocabulary and over view of religious thought. It deepened my ability in theological reflection and broadened my reading selections. However, a layperson in a small congregation, the opportunities to be spiritual and analytical are few and far between. I want more than ritual, although I want ritual. I want more than a discussion, although I want to talk and listen. I want to be challenged in a loving way to live a life of integrity that is reflective of my Unitarian Universalist faith.

I’m currently rereading Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward and Undivided Life. I am very intrigued with the idea of circles of trust, a group of six or seven people who meet several or more times a year and engage in a conversation about being intentional in our lives. (Palmer takes over 190 pages to describe this adapted Quaker process). This is not a covenant group although sacred and safe space is created. Circles of Trust require trained facilitators (not presenters). I am haven’t really explained this well, but I hunger for what I read in Palmer’s book.

Nancy Proctor

Linda H. said...

When I learned about the grant for Lay Theological Education a few weeks ago, my first thoughts went to education for my church’s Worship Committee. We are a small UU church with an interim minister the past two years. Due to budget issues, we only occasionally have guest ministers when our minister doesn’t preach. So, members of the committee are quite active in preparing and delivering Sunday services on a regular basis. This level of involvement will be increasing since we can only afford a part-time minister for next year.

Our interim minister has been challenging the committee to consider what “worship” is and what we want it to be for our church. Last Fall, we held a 5-hour “retreat” to discuss a number of issues, including the book, “Worship That Works: Theory and Practice for Unitarian Universalists” by Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz. This book sparked such a dynamic discussion that partway through the retreat, we decided to postpone some of the other topics on our agenda, and stay an extra hour to have more time to discuss the book. (When was the last time you saw people eagerly vote to stay an extra hour at a church meeting on a Saturday afternoon?) We are following this up with further discussion of “Worship That Works” in a workshop sponsored by our Worship Committee that has been opened to our whole community. Registration has been brisk for the sessions we have scheduled for April and May. People are clearly interested in deep discussion about worship.

For purposes of background, I’d like to note that our church has held a variety of adult learning programs in the past. This has included Adult RE such as the “Creating Your Own Theology” curriculum. We also used to have a “Spirituality Group” that met twice a month with member-led sessions on topics such as Meditation, Shamanic Journeying, Tarot Cards, and Music Improvisation. Almost a year ago, we started a Small Group Ministry program which has provided participants with a forum for deep conversation on a variety of topics that has been very well received.

Getting back to the grant, though, especially after reading about the funding priorities, particularly initiatives that “are innovative; are replicable…have potential for wider Association impact; involve more than one UU entity…” I began to hatch an idea for a multi-church lay service leader study group. The group could meet for a whole or half day once per month. The grant money could go toward bringing in professional instructors (such as from the Alban Institute) for one or two day sessions once per quarter, and facilitators for the two other sessions during each quarter. I would imagine the two non-training, facilitated sessions per quarter would focus on discussion of the training, ways to integrate it into our worship services, and possibly to constructively evaluate each others’ worship services (members could provide video of their services for others to watch). The goal of the group would be to create a safe environment for members to support each other in their efforts to develop services, and receive feedback, and to deepen their own theological education and, most importantly, have a group of people to discuss the new ideas learned in the training sessions. The topics for the training sessions could be chosen from a wide variety of areas. Two that came to my mind were 1) use of storytelling and narrative theology (eg., Alban Institute’s session on “Engaging Stories to Lead God’s People: Narrative Leadership in Changing Times” and 2) learning more about the UU source “Wisdom from the world’s religions.” Personally, while I am comfortable drawing from many sources for my own Sunday services, I am not as familiar with sources such as the Koran, or Buddhist teachings.

As I was romping around The Alban Institue’s website (, I found an article that seemed to validate my ideas: “A Journey of One’s Peers: The Power of Group Learning Programs” by Marlis McCollum. The article discusses research done on clergy peer-groups completing a peer-decided learning agenda. They told each group, ‘…as a group, come up with a plan for your learning that all of you can get excited about and that you are willing to hold each other accountable for over the next three years.’ The article further says, ‘…the accountability system the group provides is one of the keys to the program’s success. “When you send somebody away as an isolated individual, they may come back on fire, but they still end up in the old system, where there are no accountability structures in place, so there’s no ongoing reflection about what went on there, and pretty soon the learning just gets lost.” The article goes on to talk about the benefits of involving laity in the continuing education of clergy. I think it’s an easy jump from here to considering Peer Group Learning for lay leaders.

At our recent Worship Committee meeting, I presented these ideas to my peers, and asked whether this sounded interesting to them, and if they would be willing to commit to a year of participating in a peer learning group. At first, I got a lukewarm response. Then, I asked whether they would commit to it if the topics were ones they were excited about. This question resulted in vigorous head nods and “yes” responses.

In conclusion, I think that the keys to such a program would be 1) creating an atmosphere in which deep conversation is likely to occur, 2) including topics that members are excited about, and 3) learning about, discussing and applying the topics with a group that works together in a church community – either members from a single church or several nearby churches. Including people from several churches might even encourage connection and sharing of resources.

So, I am continuing to pursue development of a grant proposal looking now at questions such as: who should be included – just the Worship Committee members or other lay leaders in the church?; how many other local UU churches should we contact since we wouldn’t want the group to get too large?; would the grant allow for flexibility for the group to determine it’s own training agenda or would that have to be spelled out in the grant proposal? how would we evaluate the results of the group?

I welcome feedback about these ideas.

gerry said...

I am a lay leader in a small uu fellowship. I have been wanting to "go deeper" for a couple of years now. I thought about attending a bigger church with a minister, but I really love my fellowship and my community (Galveston, Texas) I started a Covenant Group which has helped - group members have attended consistently for over two years and find it very spiritually satisfying but no one else wants to lead. Consequently I'm burnt out. What's missing for me is regular contact with religious professionals to help feed my spirit. I attend district events and conferences and find I am uplifted but it is short lived. I am considering seminary not just to deepen my faith, but also because i feel called to lead. One of the biggest issues in small churches is that we are limited in our ability to "grow new leaders" and so many of our new members are still skeptical of church organization. We encourage attendance at district events, ga etc, but the majority of people don't even want to go this deep - there's a step in there that's missing. Smaller churches need regular input/teaching from "professionals" without feeling forced. I think just offering training to leaders will not help - we are already burnt out - we need some type of regular input from professionals without having to call a minister.

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