Friday, November 21, 2014

Ministry and Beyond* [by Rev. Cynthia Landrum]

 Our UUA President, Peter Morales, wrote a well-known position paper titled "Congregations and Beyond," in which he talked about how our Association can cultivate organizations beyond congregations that share and spread our Unitarian Universalist message.  Scott Tayler, Director of Congregational Life, has been talking about congregations and between, or about connecting congregations to share important staff and resources.  These are two important approaches for our association and our churches facing the "new era" (as we like to call it in MidAmerica).

 What I want to address is a third area: ministry.  Now there is much implication for ministers in Scott Tayler's work, in particular.  Ministers are freed up and allowed to focus in areas of excellence by working in ministry teams across congregations.   So this goes hand-in-hand with that vision, and is not contradictory to it. 

But what I want to suggest is that we need a new understanding of ministry, shared by our congregations, that includes as a major part of the minister's work two things: (1) working with the larger movement in some way, whether through our association, regions or districts, or the ministers' groups, and (2) working outside of our church walls to spread our message and work for social justice.

There's good work out there about the missional church.  (See Red Pill Brethren for some examples.)  But only a percentage of churches really want to be missional.  It's often fighting the culture of a church, and taking people away from what they really wanted in the church to begin with -- a safe space of like-minded people, a family, warmth and connection.  What we need, then, is for the non-missional church to understand that part of what a church does is fund a missional ministry, not for them, but for the world.

We are already do those things as part of our ministry, but it's not what congregations are often conscious of looking for, or wanting.  And so sometimes doing those things can feel like taking time away from our "real work," or taking time away from time off and family.  This is what needs to change.  We need congregations to embrace the idea of a missional ministry even from a sanctuary church.

 I often get questions from colleagues about how I manage to do as much as I do for our larger movement.  I'm one of three Good Offices representatives for our UUMA chapter, I"m on the MidAmerica board, I blog and write occasionally for other sources like the UU World, and I'm in a study group.  And the real reason I can do all this is perhaps because I have an awesome church, that over the years has come to understand that one thing a small rural church can be, other than a small rural church, is a position from which a larger ministry beyond the church can be funded.  It's true, they don't think I do everything perfectly, and they think I could spend a lot more time in pastoral care.  But they also do really get how their role is to not just provide a liberal religious presence in East Liberty, but to be a part of our movement.  And while they're not fair share, one way they can give to our movement is by giving some of me. 

One secret of this is that in the small church they understand that they really do know how to run the church and keep it running, even if I'm away.  Take, for example, last weekend.  Our church service is at 11:00 in the morning.  At about 10:15, my husband got a phone call from our guest speaker, saying he was very ill and couldn't make it.  At some point prior to the church service, our Religious Education Coordinator found out from both of our RE teachers that they were also sick.  And I was gone for the MidAmerica board meeting and couldn't rescue them.  And none of them called me in a panic.  They organized quickly and found a lay member who had a sermon he'd been thinking of, and my husband and the RE Coordinator stepped in and led RE, and many people in the church had no idea what all had happened until afterward. With less than an hour preparation, they pulled off Sunday morning. 

I'm not saying that ministers should give up doing Sunday morning.  What I am saying is that we should cultivate in our churches, particularly our sanctuary churches, an understanding that we are giving up some of the work inside our four walls to go serve either our larger movement and/or our social justice calling.   Our movement, our calling, needs us to be ministers in our congregations and beyond

*This post comes out of a conversation that was held with Tom Schade, Nic Cable, Yvonne Shumacher Strejcek and myself this week, so I want to acknowledge that while words here are my own, and this is building on something I've been saying in other places, I would not have put it in this way without this group, particularly Tom, helping to shape my thoughts.  

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