For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
One of the activities that’s part of our quarterly Orientation to Membership workshop is the “values continuum”. Laying out a piece of string on the floor, we describe a number of scenarios where one end of the string represents somebody holding one set of values and the other end represents somebody holding contrasting values. For each scenario, we ask the workshop participants to place themselves on the string based on how their own values align, and then we invite them to share their reasons for where they’ve placed themselves.
For example, one scenario might have “Interior Isabel” at one end of the string and “Ollie Outreach” at the other. Isabel believes that Sunday services should be primarily occasions for spiritual growth; she likes quiet sermons on pastoral topics and plenty of time for silent reflection. Ollie, by contrast, believes that church exists primarily to do social justice work and he likes worship to reflect this philosophy; he likes rousing, prophetic sermons on social issues and current events. In this and other such scenarios, most people usually place themselves somewhere around the middle of the string, showing that their own values are some mix of Isabel’s and Ollie’s.
Another scenario involves “Sally Small” and “Larry Large”. Sally prefers an informal congregation where she knows everyone by name and everyone knows her; she wants church to be an extended family. Larry, by contrast, prefers a bigger congregation where he can be anonymous if he wants to be; and he wants a church with the resources to offer a variety of programs. While this scenario also has people generally place themselves somewhere near the middle of the string, albeit slightly closer to one end or the other depending on their personal preference, there’s also a tradition that’s emerged, as follows.
When we do the “Sally Small” and “Larry Large” scenario, it’s now tradition that someone from the Membership Committee (or sometimes myself) will stand at the extreme end identified with “Larry Large”. And I don’t just mean on the far end of the string, but farther even than that, as far as it’s possible to get without climbing outside through a window. And when asked to share the reason for being so far on that end of the continuum, the answer is simple:
I don’t want to be the one to tell newcomers that they can’t come in because we already have enough people.
The fact is that we know that Unitarian Universalism has a saving message to offer the world. It’s our good news: that we are worthy of life and love; that we are all in this together, and that together we shall be well; that, in spite of our differences, we can be united in community; that hope abides and love wins. Why wouldn’t we want to share that with as many people as possible? As UU minister Nancy Bowen put it recently,
The purpose of the church is to heal the consequences of lovelessness and injustice in the hearts and souls of our members so they might heal the community and together heal the world.
Why wouldn’t we open our doors as wide as they can go — and then find ways to open them even wider — to offer that healing and encouragement to as many people as possible?
Now this is by no means to dismiss or discount the “Sally Small” end of the continuum. It’s a basic spiritual need to know others and to be known by them, to be fed by the company of others, to make friends of them, to care for them and to be cared for by them as family. That’s why small groups are essential, to allow for that important need to be met. After all, our services, workshops, classes and committee meetings, while certainly meeting other needs, offer neither the means nor the time for people to really get to know one another. Even our most visibly social activity of Sunday morning coffee and snacks allows for little more than checking in, and for some is simply too crowded and chaotic to handle.
Thankfully we offer plenty of small group programs. Some of them are more formally organized, requiring an on-going commitment, such as Fellowship Circles and the ChorUUs. Others are set up for more varied participation, such as Women’s Drumming, the Goddess Circle, the Book Club, and third Friday dinners at St. Paul’s. And these are by no means the only options, so if you have an idea for a program promoting UU values and furthering the UUFP’s mission, just let us know!
Let’s make a place for every person’s inner Sally and Larry. Let’s keep open doors to many rooms. Whatever your preferences along the continuum of church life, we can both nourish the soul of the world and enrich our own spirits at the same time!