Moving Forward in Challenging Times – With Joy and a Focus on Your Mission!

by Kathleen Carpenter

To change your church/community culture will require you to be uncomfortable even as our culture encourages comfort.

Sometimes you have to get out of the way because this place does not belong to {just} you.

There are lots of people who don’t feel comfortable in our congregations even if we do. If we want to grow and attract younger, more diverse groups of people who would love Unitarian Universalism, we must first get them through the doors.

We can create a place of love where everyone has a chance to feel more whole and seen.

Stay focused on your mission. Consider those not already members who need us. Think of where we are going not where we’ve been.

Kindness eases change.

Know your personal boundaries. Just because you are triggered doesn’t mean you are wrong.

As a leader, your goal is to stay in relationship not to win an argument.

These are among the dozens of quotes I wrote down after hearing speakers share them at the SOUUL Summit conference I attended in Atlanta in mid-March, along with five others from our congregation. The conference’s stated goal was Cultivating Missional UU Leadership and Resilience.

I have attended some mighty powerful conferences, workshops, and trainings for Unitarian Universalists in my time, both as a UUCC staff person and as a UU volunteer. I know inspiring/motivating/spiritually powerful/edifying when I experience it. And I know what’s … not. The SOUUL Summit conference was all of these things.

The six of us who attended included four volunteers (Kurt Merkle, Michael Amy Rodriguez Cira, Ken Smalley, and me), our Lifespan RE Director, Paula Gribble, and Interim Minister, Lisa Bovee-Kemper. It was a great representation from one of our denomination’s largest congregations. Yes – despite the membership losses resulting from the pandemic, staff retirements, ministerial resignations, and the stress of the search for a new minister – the UU Community of Charlotte is still a power player in our denomination. Or can be. Our UU community is on the edge of great things and this conference reminded us why our success matters. The world needs Unitarian Universalism and its messages of love and acceptance and commitment to (spiritual, social, and environmental) transformation. This conference also reminded us that it takes work to get there but that it can be joyful, mission-centered work. I learned a lot and hope to apply those lessons in my role as one of your Board members.

I asked the other UUCC attendees to add any takeaways they had from the Summit. Here is Kurt’s response: “The most meaningful thing for me was just creating relationships with leaders and members of other congregations; learning similarities and differences of challenges facing other congregations. {I} also {enjoyed} experiencing services (music, preaching, lessons) different than UUCC, and spending more informal time with our UUCC folks.”

I’ll end with two quotes that Ken says “stuck with him.”

It is difficult, but we need to stay in the struggle – there is still a lot of work to be done (in a conversation about systemic racism).

We have to do a better job of finding ways to remain in community with our emerging adults after the Bridging ceremony. It probably won’t be the Sunday service; but there are lots of opportunities to maintain contact.

Report on SOUUL SUMMIT 2024

by Ken Smalley

Six people from UUCC – Rev. Lisa, Paula Gribble, Kurt Merkle, Michael Amy Cira, Kathleen Carpenter and myself, spent two and one half days at the UU Congregation of Atlanta for an event called Souul Summit, a conference for enhancing leadership skills in UU congregations. We participated, with over 100 others, in workshops, worship, small group discussions and one on one conversations with UU’s from all over the southeast US.

Some of my take away notes:

Worship:  UUCA has a high energy, theatrical style of worship. A large media screen, theatrical lighting, a small band, high energy music and preaching – all presented with professional level stagecraft are a part of most Sunday morning services. They have recently added a second service (at 9:30AM) that is described as “ more traditional “.

The transition from a more traditional service (similar to our own) has taken place mostly over the last four years. Atlanta leadership believes this updated worship format has been a major factor in their successful emergence from some very difficult times for their congregation. The service is designed to appeal to a more contemporary attendee.

Emerging Adult ministry:  Emerging adults (18-25yr) were the subject of one workshop. It was noted that the bridging ceremony held in many UU congregations is called the “cliffing ceremony “ by many young people and those who work with them. Cliffing – in that the young people walk off a cliff – never to be seen again. A number of ideas and possibilities were presented to try to stay in community with this cohort.

Direct engagement with other UU’s:  There were a couple times each day for intentional small group engagement. We met with the same seven or eight individuals for reflection and discussion. These times were the most impactful for me. All UU’s – but from very different backgrounds.

The Physical Plant of UUCA:  The completely renovated campus offers a number of interesting ideas.

  1. An all gender bathroom setup that actually works – makes good use of space and moves people through – even at higher demand times.
  2. Motion controlled lighting in most spaces. Environmental/ Energy use considerations were part of the design process from the early stages.
  3. The public space (hallway) on the first level houses a curated art exhibit. The collection features local artists, is rotated every ninety days, and all pieces are available for purchase.
  4. The sanctuary has no fixed pews. The space can be configured to accommodate up to 300, but still feels intimate with 100 or so people. There is no designated choir area. The space feels similar to a “theater in the round “ setting – with about 180 degrees of seating around the chancel. Hymnals are only available in an anteroom; words are displayed on a large media screen (a bit larger than ours). The screen is used for all information purposes ie; no bulletins and no announcements during the service.
  5. There is a “fidget room” immediately adjacent to the main gathering space.
  6. The chancel incorporates an integral ramp in addition to several sets of stairs (with hand rails).

Summary:  The entire weekend provided inspiring speakers, differing viewpoints, and opportunities for personal growth and development. We need to “live in” to what we want our community to be and become.