Unlimited Potential!

” We are simply too small to do the things we want.”   “It is the same people doing all the work.”   “How can we grow when the things we believe we need to do takes having additional members.”  Those of us belonging to Unitarian Universalist congregations in Mississippi, hear these comments all the time.  It can be quite frustrating. 

What if there was a way to focus on one thing and do it well in our small congregations?  What if there was support for our congregations to learn one specific skill set that will enable us to focus on one thing within our congregation and do it well?  What if we were able to have the same quality worship of congregations that are larger than us?  What if we were able to have an Children’s Religious Education program that was able to entice the children to come every week? What if we were able to have a signature social justice and action project that was known in the community? What would happen if we focused on just one thing and did it well?

Well, my friends in small congregations, our positive thoughts, our intentions of the heart, our intercessory prayers, our supplications have been heard.  Mid-South District, which serves some 30+ congregations in Mississippi, Alabama, and parts of Georgia, Florida and Tennessee are developing a model program to help small congregations, under 70 members, to do exactly these what if’s. 

This past Thursday, Connie Goodbread, Mid-South District (MSD) program consultant,  held a conference call with leaders of the Mississippi congregations to introduce us to a new program she, with MSD Growth Trustee Norman Horofker and District Executive Eunice Benton are developing a new offering entitled Unlimited Potential! (UP) Program.  The upcoming MSD Annual Assembly in Valparaiso, FLorida, May 2-4 will have a session for leaders of congregations to discuss this program in more detail.  If you are a member of a congregation in Mississippi, I encourage you to consider attending this Annual Assembly and learn more about this program. 

Here is my take on what is being proposed. 

I was the co-founder of Interfaith AIDS Ministry in Danbury, CT.  A non-profit that provided prevention and support services to people and their families infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.  When the organization began, we focused on doing one thing well.  We did not set out to be a large organization providing multiple services but instead decided to do one thing that was needed by the community impacted by HIV/AIDS. This is not to say that we didn’t do other things but our focus was on one thing–ancillary supports to families.  This program over time grew and as the medical resources for people living with HIV/AIDS changed and the demographics of the pandemic changed, we changed and adapted our programs.   So from the time I stepped in as Executive Director ot the time I left to enter Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, the agency naturally grew from one part time position to a compliment of 8 staff with three very strong programs; A full service HIV/AIDS nutritional program with nutritionist and complete food pantry,  Brazilian focused prevention case management, and youth focused AIDS prevention education.   We still did other things but these became our signature programs, the ones that we did exceptionally well in serving the needs.   

Congregations also cannot be expected to do all the things that a large congregation can… and in our association, a large congregation is over 500 members and currently tops out at about 1500 members.  Yet, many small congregations, especially those under 70 members, look at large congregations with, for lack of a better term, congregation envy.  And at the same time state that they enjoy the intimacy of being a small congregation.   This sets up an ongoing cycle and low and behold the small congregation remains where it is; not able to do all the things that it feels it must do and not able to do the things that it can and must do because it is focused on what it is unable to do. 

As I understand the concept, UP! will ask for three to four members from each congregation to form an UP Team, who will be asked to  attend hands on trainings over the course of 18 months with Connie Goodbread serving as consultant to each congregation.   The congregation will be asked to focus on doing one thing, and doing it well.  For one congregation it might be figuring out how to best utilize the Our Whole Lives Curriculum instructors to provide this vital program to the greater community.   How to set this program up.  How to market it to the right audiences that would be interested in having their children receive a comprehensive sexual education program.  This becomes the one thing this congregation does well and it allows the congregation to live out its values.  For another congregation it might be to focus on how to become radical in its hospitality.  Then Hospitality becomes the one thing this congregation learns how to do well. 

The intention of this program is not to focus on growth in members.  The intention of this program is really to do one thing and do it well.   When the community sees and experiences the congregation doing this one thing well, it will attract people who appreciate this one thing done well.  Then after doing this one thing exceptionally well, the congregation can focus on the next thing to do well so that in time it then has two things that the congregation does extremely well. 

There are probably already things that each congregation  under 70 members does well. The UP! program is geared to assist the congregation in doing one more thing really well.  I hope the congregations within the MSD will take full advantage of this gift that is being offered and attend assembly this year.  It is bound to be an exciting offering.  I will see you at District Assembly!  Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond     

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2 Comments

  1. Aloha,

    I want to commend you on your important work. I am trying to raise awareness about some forgotten people living outside of the scope of most people’s attention. A Guam-based AIDS Service Organization (GUAHAN Project, http://www.guahanproject.org/index.php) with very limited funds provides HIV prevention and care services to impoverished people who live in the U.S. affiliated Pacific region–American Samoa, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam–which suffers enormous health disparities due in part to limited Federal assistance, and in part due to the post-colonial era annual per capita income: for example, it is only $2,900 in the Marshall Islands, and $2,300 in the Federated States of Micronesia. For comparison, the U.S. annual per capita income is $46,000. This organization and the fragile societies of incredibly unique, indigenous people it serves really need support. A small donation to the GUAHAN Project can make a huge difference in stemming the tide of HIV in these small, culturally rich enclaves that could be destroyed by HIV/AIDS.

    I appreciate your time, and wish you all the best in your work.

  2. KD: THank you for your AIDS education efforts in Hawai’i and beyond. Folks, check out the website KD provides here. His AIDS work is based in Hawai’i so his request is not for his organization but for the people of Guam and the other Pacific Islands. If you are able to help out, please consider it. The website will tell you how.

    I have a passion for people living with AIDS and the prevention of HIV AIDS through research backed effective comprehensive education. We can all reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS by being informed and changing our behaviors to reduce our risk.

    Blessings KD on your work… Blessings on us all, Rev. Fred L Hammond


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