I recently returned from our annual Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly and once again I was inspired by the many worship services and workshops I attended. My goal was to soak up whatever insight I could regarding growing our membership – one of our First U goals – and so I attended several workshops on multicultural community, also addressed in the Service of the Living Tradition. I was struck by the words of Reverend Marlin Lavanhar, Senior Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, OK. As you heard in a reading by Reverend Lavanhar, if you were in church on July 12, All Souls is one of the most theologically and racially diverse UU churches. As Reverend Lavanhar put it, “Don’t you wonder how many are hiding themselves and their spirituality within our congregations? I’ll tell you one thing, we’ll never grow our churches if they’re places where people have to be spiritually closeted…And it’s equally difficult to grow a church if people also don’t feel comfortable admitting their deepest fears and longings…What kind of church is it that teaches us to act like we do not have deep existential fears and powerful longings?”
Could this be true here at First U? Several church members joined with me recently to complete a series of calls to members who have left First Unitarian in the past year, hoping to gain insights into why people leave. The responses were varied and included such things as work schedules, busy lives and falling out of the habit of church. For those we might ask, “Why is church not a priority?” But, the responses also included the kinds of things that Reverend Lavanhar addressed: being criticized for Christian beliefs, discomfort with asking for help and lack of support during a time of need, only approached when the church needs help, feeling hurt when no one seemed to notice they were gone, burn-out from overwhelming volunteer commitments – among others. These are things we can work on individually and together. Reverend Lavanhar closed his sermon with these words: “Let’s let Unitarian Universalism be Unitarian Universalism again. The faith it never was yet, and yet can be. Let Unitarian Universalism be the tradition it never has been… but yet must become. A faith for the free. Not a faith for a small sliver of the mostly, white, middle-class NPR listening audience. But a true faith for the free… all of us… of every color, culture and kind. We’ve never been that free… but let us pledge tonight that Unitarian Universalism soon will be.” A true faith for the free – something that resonates with me as we seek to grow.
Nancy Pinson, Membership Team Lead