Beyond Categorical Thinking: Workshop Summary

The Unitarian Universalist Association (of which we are a part) offers a workshop called Beyond Categorical Thinking to any member Unitarian Universalist church that has embarked on a ministerial search.  It is designed to help congregations see beyond societal categories that might sometimes constrict our choices, and to consider prospective ministers who might not fit into our “categorized” thinking.

The UUCUV Ministerial Search Committee arranged for such a workshop on September 24th, 2017. It turned out to be an extremely hot and sunny day. After the Sunday service given by Jacqui Williams (the facilitator), approximately 38 workshop participants enjoyed a lovely lunch provided by the Board.

After lunch, Jacqui spoke to us at length on how easy it is to put people of color, people with a disability, people who are LGBTQ+, and people who are young or old into categories that may prevent us from seeing their value as a minister, a member or a friend of a congregation. She gave us examples from around the country.

The first workshop exercise was to imagine growing up as someone different than who we are. We counted out the numbers 1,2,3,4 around the room, and Jacqui then assigned these scenarios: 1 was born into a family of color, 2 was born with a mental or physical disability, 3 was born gay or transgender, and 4 was assigned a different (than what they are) sex at birth.  Each person had to consider how their life would have been different given those circumstances. It was interesting to hear the discussion and to realize how we are so affected by the happenstance of our own situations.

Next we formed groups of five or six, each group facilitated by a member of the search committee. Each group was given about 5 case studies of uncomfortable situations (that had actually happened in UU congregations) regarding attitudes toward a person of color, Latino/a, Hispanic, LGBTQ, disabled in various ways, young or old, formerly addicted, obese, and formerly mentally ill.  Our task was to choose one of the situations, determine whose problem the situation was, and discuss what would have been the most appropriate response. This challenging exercise compelled us to grapple with our own attitudes as well as to think about the integrity of those in the case study and the greater good of the congregation.

Finally, we were asked to fill out a survey that assessed what our concerns would be regarding ministers of color, LGBTQ+ ministers, and ministers with disabilities, and what the benefits would be of having such a person as minister. In general, participants said the benefits would include educating the congregation, broadening our thinking and responses, living our principles, and helping to reduce prejudice. Participants’ concerns about these categories brought up some important points to consider.

In response to some people’s concern about whether a minority minister would be comfortable or happy here, Jacqui pointed out that actually, people who are members of minorities have a lifetime of experience of being a minority in a majority-dominant culture, and they have the agency and intelligence to know what they’re getting into and to make their own choices. Their comfort is really not for us to discern or even to worry about on their behalf.

Jacqui’s response to those who don’t like the statement “Black Lives Matter” and would replace it with “All Lives Matter” was, “When your house is on fire, and the fire department responds, they don’t water all the houses equally.  They put the water on the house which is burning.”  To say, in response to “Black Lives Matter” that “All Lives Matter” is to refuse to acknowledge that in the United States currently (and historically), black lives are significantly more in jeopardy than white lives.

In response to some people’s concern about the functionality and longevity of ministers with certain disabilities, Jacqui pointed out that ALL ministerial candidates with the UUA go through a vetting process, which includes a psychological screening and a criminal background check.  All ministerial candidates who have a history of mental illness and/or addiction must have been effectively treated and functional for a period of time, such that they are capable of doing the job and worthy of being in the candidate pool.

Jacqui told us that the most common disability is hearing impairment.  According to Google, hearing loss afflicts about 20% of the population, while over 40% are nearsighted.  However, nearsightedness is almost always easily fixed, while hearing impairment is more difficult to fix.

Participants grappled with concern about issues of too young, too old, and obesity, and how such circumstances would or would not hinder a minister’s ability to fit well and function well in our congregation. Jacqui advised that many searching congregations are also grappling with these concerns, and responses depend on the history and circumstances of each congregation as it seeks the best fit.

The Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop was challenging, interesting, and educational! Thanks and kudos to all who took time on a sunny, hot Sunday afternoon to participate, thus giving the Search Committee a wealth of thoughts and ideas for our process going forward, as we seek a minister who best fits our unique congregation.

From the Ministerial Search Committee

Joani Nierenberg, Grace Alden. Kathy Christie, Leah Goat, Maureen McNulty, Bob Riccio, and Mandy Ruest

 

 

 

Outside In, Inside Out

We participate in this community for many reasons and to meet many needs. Some wish to focus on the inside. In our current society which prizes action, innovation and consumption, we may need a time and place to look inward, to embrace meaningful traditions, to focus on giving rather than getting. Others wish to act on the outside. In a nation where hurricanes, racial prejudice and economic inequality are on the rise, we need a community of shared values and concerns to help us find ways to understand and respond effectively.

Many UU congregations live in the midst of this (often unspoken) tug of war. Do the minister, lay leaders, and services focus primarily on deepening spirituality, personal growth, and strengthening the interpersonal relationship within the congregation? Or should our primary focus be on deepening our understanding of problems and challenges in the greater society and in finding effective ways to be agents of change in the wider world?

For the first three years as your minister, my primary focus was on helping strengthen the roots of trust, confidence and vitality in this congregation. This past year with the growing energy of the congregation, the national election, and the sharpening recognition of divisions in our nation, my focus has turned more outward. The decision to “Share the Plate” (highlight an organization doing justice work and giving to them directly), the topics of sermons, and the Diversity Book Groups are all signs of this shift in focus and energy.

Nevertheless, in order to be most effective as change agents we must also take a deeper look into our own prejudices, fears, and privilege. We must shine the light inside in order to be able to help our society and government make the necessary changes outside. And I believe we need to re-commit ourselves to living out more fully our core principles and values in our communities and in our nation. You are ready. Let us put our faith into action together.

~ Rev. Patience Stoddard, reprinted from the Autumn issue of The Call

Spotlight on Membership

Thanks to some good conversations, the Membership Committee has deepened the experience of joining the congregation. Visitors usually enter our doors to attend a Sunday service. Events such as Soupathons and rental groups have generated interest as well, just through the inclusive posters and beautiful space to be found here. If folks want to keep abreast of what’s happening, they give the office their contact information through the ubiquitous Blue Sheets. Rachel, our dauntless Office Administrator, enters the info so that she can add these folks to our weekly “What’s happening?” blast and Sparrow, the membership Staff Liaison, writes a personal letter to the visitor.

For several years now, Patience has offered monthly lunchtime discussions about Unitarian Universalism and our congregation. When a Visitor begins attending these discussions, it’s a great way to discern whether they feel ready for membership. Some of these new folks might love to help out now and then, join a Hospitality team, get a name tag, and be in the Directory without being ready for membership. Being in the Directory is definitely a mark of comfort and belonging – being available to be called to join an event or to arrange a kid’s play date! We call these folks Friends of the congregation and treasure their perspective, their good energy, and the gifts they bring to UUCUV for as long as they would like to be part of this community. When a Friend says “Yes!” to the formality of membership, there is process for helping them choose how they will contribute to the congregation – i.e. committees, activities, and stewardship. The process includes a meeting with the Membership Committee, Minister and Director of Religious Education. This meeting happens about a week before the ritual of signing the book. Membership includes the formal commitment to our covenant, to working for the good of the congregation, and the rights and responsibilities of voting in UUCUV affairs. The newly formed Membership Committee is experimenting with how to do their job well. If you have ideas or wish to join the committee, contact Mugs Johnston, Chair, through the office.

– the original version of this article appeared in the Summer 2017 Call newsletter.

SEPTEMBER 24: BEYOND CATEGORICAL THINKING

“Will the new minister hear me? Will my concerns and needs be met?  Will the minister understand what I’m living with? How will the community respond to our minister?”

In answering these questions, often an image of the “ideal minister” comes to mind, which image can fall into categories (age, gender, gender identity, nationality, physical ability, race, and sexual orientation).  With this image in place, it can be easy to unintentionally exclude ministers who fall into other categories. At times, as we get caught up in comparing candidates to our image, we can even forget what it is we hoped for in a minister.

On the weekend of September 24, the UUCUV will participate in the Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop offered by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) for congregations involved in the search for a new minister.  The Search Committee invites all members and friends.  It is very important that as many as possible participate.

The Beyond Categorical Thinking program is designed to promote inclusive thinking and help prevent unfair discrimination in the search process for a new minister. This program includes the Sunday morning service, AND a BCT workshop from noon to 4 PM. Lunch will be provided.  In the workshop, UUCUV members and friends will:

Consider the hopes, expectations, and concerns they have for a new minister
Learn more about the ministerial search process, and
Explore how thinking categorically about people sometimes interferes with choosing the best candidate.

The Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop is another opportunity for everyone in our congregation to be a part of the Search process. This experience will provide guidance for the search committee in our work.

Also, importantly, this workshop will further the conversation which we committed to at the Annual Meeting, about diversity and how to represent our congregational views on such things as Black Lives Matter.

Reaching Out, Reaching In

This article may be found in full in the Summer issue of The Call

Unanimity can be a good thing especially when it is the result of individuals truly listening to each other and being willing to give up a desired personal outcome on behalf of a recognition as to what the community needs in order to more forward together. However, as Scott Peck the author of A Different Drum: Community Making and Peace notes, while compromise can be a sign of health, fear and avoidance of coflict can lead to “the danger of pseudo-community.” Pseudo-community, where individual differences are minimized, unacknowledged, or ignored, tends to stultify growth and ultimately undermines its mission to be an agent of spiritual and societal transformation.

At Annual Meeting, we discussed what signs (if any) to put out in front of the church as a public expression of some of our core values and stance on certain social issues.

Much of the time was spent discussing whether or not/where
to put up a Black Lives Matter sign and what consequences might ensue from that decision. Expressed thoughts ranged from seeing this as a necessary early step in our journey to find ways to work against racism (both within and without), to a hesitation to do something that might antagonize some others and not actually pro-mote dialogue which might lead to deeper understanding about the reality of racism and ways to overcome it. Eventually the person who suggested a motion to put out the signs decided to withdraw the motion in order to create more time and space to understand the issues (and feelings) involved and the organizations we would be supporting.

I agree with Peck that the path to true community and spiritual growth entails not the silencing of the individual’s voice, but the willingness to listen to all voices; not the false hope of continuing unanimity but a willingness to stay open and present in conflict “committed to struggle together rather than against each other.”

~ Patience Stoddard

Spotlight: Ministerial Search 2018

The UUCUV is about to commence the year-long process of calling a settled minister so that our dear developmental minister Patience Stoddard can return to retirement on July 1, 2018.  The UUA will help us out by being a central place for searching ministers to learn about us and by introducing us to two folks to work with us directly:

  • Deb Bergh, of the Burlington, Vt., congregation will be our advisor on how the process goes, and she took the opportunity to speak with the congregation on April 8th, taking questions and speaking at length with the board. 
  • Nancy Chaddock, former District financial officer and member of the Plymouth, NH congregation will help us figure out a competitive and attractive compensation package

Most important to the congregation will be that the process is fully supported by all members; therefore, it’s a transparent general process.  The congregation voted in February to officially begin the search process.  To maintain the confidentiality of candidates and to keep our community from the hazard of squabbling over details, our first step is to form a small group – the Ministerial Search Committee – which operates with closed confidentiality about day-to-day happenings and the identities of candidates. 

Our bylaws specify that the search committee will consist of seven members: five selected by the Board and the Committee on Ministry, and two by the membership. The committee should represent the diversity of the congregation in terms of demographics, length of membership, and participation in the life of the church.  The whole slate of seven names will be voted on at the Annual Meeting in early June.  In our conversations with UUA staff and advisors, one aspect of a successful search committee keeps getting repeated. That is, trust. The seven who are chosen must carry the trust of the congregation in representing its interests in a search process that can call a minister with a consensus vote.

Summer will be spent preparing applications and information about the congregation. We’ve already done a good amount of the work required in this stage.

Eligible ministers gain access to our information on  Nov. 30, and begin making contact directly with congregations. By January, preliminary interviews are underway via Skype or telephone, and the committee should have a short list by early February.

The committee uses February for spending time with candidates and listening to them preach from “neutral pulpits,” where committee members can observe a service led by the candidate in a setting that respects the candidates need for confidentiality.

The Search Committee will introduce their final candidate for a week in late March or early April.  The finalist leads Sunday services at UUCUV on two consecutive Sundays and spends the intervening week meeting with congregants and committees.

The second Candidate Sunday concludes with a Special Meeting of the congregation and vote to call the minister. All searching congregations make formal offers to their finalist on a the same day.  If the best candidate for UUCUV is not found, the Search Committee will have a range of possible recommendations to the congregation, but if all goes well we will find our new minister to begin in the summer of 2018.

– Bill Brawley, Co-President

This article in its entirety can be found in the Spring 2017 newsletter.

Spotlight: Caring Circle

Everyone needs a hand now and then. Here at the UUCUV, we want you to know that we have a whole circle of friendship and caring set up to help when life takes an unexpected turn.

What is the Caring Circle? How does it operate? How do you sign up to help? How do you ask for help?

We have created lists of people who can be called on to provide a hot meal, a ride, a visit or card when the need arises, each according to their strengths.

Here’s how it works: Each month a coordinator is identifed and is named in the Order of Service and in the weekly What’s Happening email. Then if, for example, someone is in the hospital, they can call the coordinator (or the office if they aren’t sure who is the coordinator that month), to let us know what is needed – visits, hot meals for when they return home, rides to follow up appointments – and the coordinator will try to find someone to help.

The Caring Circle coordinator and helpers will do the best that we can, but we know there are limits. We know that we won’t always be able to meet every need and that we are not health care providers or therapists. We are not able to deal with serious illness or on-going needs, but we will work together with caring and compassion to try to find the right resources. We work closely with Patience and Sparrow to provide pastoral care and we offer our help with open arms.

With enough people stepping forward, the work is shared and everyone is asked a few times over the year:  Caring Circle works best if we all pitch in.

We have created a questionnaire to identify the ways people feel they can help.  Just click on those blue letters and take a few minutes to look at the survey. You will see all the ways the congregation wants to help. And please add your name to any list where you would like to be asked if the need arises.

You never know when you may need a friend and we would like to be there for each other.

– adapted from an article by Lori Fortini

Branching Out

The morning after the election I came in early arriving at the door a little after 9:00, surprised to find the parking lot full. (There couldn’t be another daylight savings time I missed, I thought.) I walked in to find the kitchen full of people. Sparrow had come in at eight and sent out word that she’d start the coffee and Claudia had arrived with muffin dough in hand. Through the morning people came to find the hands of friends, to digest the news, to share their feelings, to wonder aloud what we should do now. There was one woman there I did not recognize. I later learned that she had burst into tears as she walked in the door and was immediately gathered into someone’s arms and offered muffins, coffee, and a safe place to find comfort and community.

This is why we exist, I thought. This is why UUCUV’s commitment to invest so much time and money in a new building was and is so important. For we want to ensure that this congregation is here not only now for people like this woman and the LGBTQ community and seekers from all faith backgrounds, but will be here also for the next generation who seek a community in which to renew their spirits and empower them to work for a more just and compassionate world. We can make a difference.

To read the full article by Patience Stoddard, see the Winter 16-17 newsletter.

Showing Up for Racial Justice, Jan. 28, 2017

The UUCUV was well represented at a packed Showing Up for Racial Justice meeting on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at the Kilton Library in West Lebanon. Here are some links to resources mentioned by speakers at the event:

Valley News article:

Showing Up for Racial Justice: 

Upper Valley Young Liberals: 

Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform: 

Justice for All Vermont: 

Franchesca Ramsey YouTube videos: 

The Heart is Hospitality

Our congregation as an open, loving, community embracing diversity is more critical than ever.  In recent years, everyone who is ready to pitch in joins a team that takes on all the Hospitality tasks of setting up for the Sunday service and hosting coffee hour – but for only one month of the church year!  In this model, all enjoy participating because it gives them an opportunity to feel more a part of our community and provides a way to get to know people at church.

I believe that the principles of Unitarian Universalism are more critical than ever to healing our troubled country. Our community must be a welcome sanctuary for ALL people to be able to rest and find hope. Our hospitality teams are the face of our congregation on Sunday mornings, first to provide that welcome and assurance that there is still some love in the world. Please help us stay strong and to be a harbor in this stormy sea.

Suzanne Simon and Claudia Kern are our Hospitality Team Managers. If you have any questions about which team you are on, would like to join a team, or anything else please contact Suzanne or Claudia.  – Lori Fortini

To read this entire article, see The Call Winter 2016-2017