This is part two of reflecting further on my sermon, “Creating the Future that We Want.” The previous post I wrote about having a clear mission statement. Where do we go from there? What else do we need to have in place?
“I like many of you have been watching the Olympics. I happen to enjoy the skating competitions. I noticed that the speed skaters before they began their race to fulfill their personal best positioned themselves with a firm footing. This was essential to their performance. The skaters that did not have a firm footing on the ice simply were not able to cast off with the speed that was needed. It is the same with us. We need to have a firm footing on which we can cast off. We need to prepare the conditions of our moving forward first so we will be off to a good start.
To switch metaphors a bit, any architect will tell you that a solid building needs to have firm footings in order to support the roof. Without such a firm footing, the building will not stand but collapse upon itself. So what things do we need as our firm footing in building our community that will enable us to make a difference for the better in the world?” [from “Creating the Future that We Want” sermon delivered by Fred L Hammond on February 21 2010 (c)]
Whatever a congregation decides to do it must ensure that it has firm footings in order to support the outcome desired. Our congregation in Tuscaloosa wants to grow its membership in order to sustain a viable presence in Tuscaloosa County as a liberal alternative to the conservative religious voice that surrounds us. In order to do that it must, absolutely must, be consistent in fulfilling its mission across the entire congregation. There is that mission word again that I stated I refer to a lot. How are we fulfilling our mission to be an open and nurturing community? What activities would indicate that we are headed in that direction? These are the firm footings in the congregation. If you liked the skating metaphor, these are the activities that help us cast off with the right speed and form. If you liked the architect metaphor, these are the activities that ensure the roof doesn’t collapse around us.
Children’s religious education (CRE) is the first firm footing that needs to be ensured. There needs to be sufficient funding not only to support this program but also to grow this program. If CRE is dynamic, approaches learning from as many learning modalities as possible; meaning auditory, visual, and kinesthetic modalities, then the children in attendance are going to want to be there every Sunday. If the children want to be there, then the parents will be there as well. In order to have all of these learning modalities covered the director of religious education needs to be putting in the hours in preparatory time before Sunday morning to come up with the various lessons to cover these areas.
Many of our congregations in Alabama and Mississippi, the two states I serve in, are small congregations. The UUA defines small as under 150 members. I define small as under 60 members. Having a fully staffed religious education program is difficult to say the least because the numbers of families with children just aren’t there. But for congregations that do seek to have a paid religious education program then they need to be ensured as a firm footing for growth and not status quo. That means ensuring that there is money in the budget to enable the Director of Religious Education to plan, prepare, and to teach the lessons to the volunteer teachers.
If the congregation does not have sufficient numbers of families to have a consistent religious education program then there are still footings that need to be in place to get the congregation ready for such a program. The worship service can be developed in such a way that engages all ages in the service. Learning modalities are still operative even in a worship service.
I remember as a child sitting with my grandparents during a worship service, singing the hymns, doing origami with the Order of Service, and more importantly perhaps, learning how to behave in a worship service. Some of my most favorite hymns are those that I learned as a child because in part of the warmth of the worship experience with my grandparents. Not only was the church providing a firm footing for their own meeting of their mission but a firm footing was being developed in me that has lasted a life time.
Engaging the children in the worship service is vital. In Tuscaloosa, after the offering plates have been passed around the children bring up the offering plates to the worship leader. The age limit to do this is three years old. They love doing it. It is an important function that needs to be done and the children do it with such joy. The children could also be involved in lighting the chalice, offering a reading, playing an instrumental piece, and the possibilities are endless. All of these examples would be enjoyed by the entire congregation.
Other firm footings include how the congregation integrates new members. What activities are being supported in the congregation that new members and guests can participate in? How the congregation supports hospitality, congregational care, adult religious education are all very important in creating the future desired. Yes, it may be true that many of our adults do not want adult religious education, but some may and if it is offered others may join in. Resources need to be set aside for these activities. There is nothing more discouraging than to have a member or several members come forward to support a needed service and then find out that they cannot do it because the money in the budget is not there. Or to find out that the previous chair donated out of their pocket to have this activity done and it got assumed that this was the way it was to be done. Who wants to volunteer for a committee and find out that they also have to fund that committee too? This becomes a recipe for burn out, discouragement, and going someplace else to serve.
Firm footings means that the pieces are in place to do the work of the church in the direction that the church wants to go in. If increased membership is one such direction, then the church needs to support wholeheartedly (in spirit and in behavior) those areas that will enable membership growth to occur. Blessings