You Can’t Babysit Your Own Kids

You Can’t Babysit Your Own Kids

Introduction

An update from the Revitalization Team as we forge a new path as a lay-led congregation.

Reading

Today’s reading was Your Church Does Not Need Volunteers by Erin Wathen. You can read the full text on her blog.

Sermon

“The church belongs to you in the same way your family does.” Not to speak for everyone on the Revitalization Team, but I think that line from the reading pretty much sums up why we are so passionate about engaging with church members and friends. We belong here, just like you belong here.

Who is the Revitalization Team?

So the Revitalization Team is a new name that is getting tossed around in many recent UUCE conversations, but I’d like to take a moment to explain what and who the Revitalization Team is.

First, what we are is evolving. Our origins stem from the Minister Search Committee that was formed last year. Many of us were chosen to serve on that committee. When it was decided that UUCE would be lay led, there was no need for a Ministerial Search Committee. However, a few of us tat had committed to leading the search for a minister felt that our services and gifts could be combined for a different purpose – one that would help sustain the church as we navigate through our next transition. And we picked up a few new members along the way (and spoiler alert, we’re looking for more members!).

Our current member roster is:

  • Myself (Krista Wagner)
  • Sharon Fincher
  • Mary Harlos
  • Erica Lavine
  • Todd Underwood
  • Kathie Wachholder

What does the Revitalization Team do?

So now you know who we are, what do we actually do? Well that too is evolving. Right now, we are a group centered on the following:

  • We value relationships we have built here at UUCE and how those relationships feed us all in vital and impactful ways.
  • We want people to remember the pride and hope that is a part of UUCE.
  • We desire to engage and reengage members and friends of UUCE, making sure our church stays the spiritual home for everyone who needs it.
  • We strive to create, maintain, and continuously improve being a safe and welcoming community.

To bring these beliefs to life, we are hosting church events like Friday’s bonfire, we are reaching out to members and friends we haven’t seen in a while, and we’re working on a few other ways to help UUCE members and friends connect.

And at the core of everything is the distinction that UUCE is a lay led church. It’s now part of our identity as a congregation. Personally, we (speaking on behalf of the Revitalization Team) are very, very excited about this.

A Lay Led Congregation

Being lay led brings an added layer of diversity to our pulpit. It offers us multiple perspectives, insights into the world, and helps us all experience new paths as we all explore our personal searches for truth and meaning.

Being lay led also allows us to get to know members and friends brave enough to take the pulpit in deeper, more meaningful ways. These people are bringing their vulnerability to the table and offering us insight into what they value most. Insight into who they are as whole human beings. And they’re sharing their personal journeys so others may benefit, learn, and grow. What a gift we have every time a lay person brings their whole selves to worship!

Survey Results

And don’t just take our word for it – you told us a lot of the same things. Last month, I sent a survey out to the church email distribution list asking three simple questions (and thank you to all who responded):

  1. What have you enjoyed most about UUCE’s lay led services over the years?
  2. What questions do you have about UUCE being a lay led congregation?
  3. What are you looking forward to with UUCE as a lay led congregation?

Overwhelmingly, you said you have enjoyed lay led services over the years because of the different perspectives and experiences brought to worship, the thoughtfulness of the sermons, the variety, and the personal elements that allowed you to get to know the presenter on a deeper level. You also felt like often times, the lay led presenter was bringing a topic to Sunday services that was relatable to what you were personally going through. You’ve appreciated the strong calls to action and introspection that have resulted from many of the lay led services. There’s a lot more good things you had to say, but these are some of the more common highlights.

The Worship Team

I’d be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to the Worship Team right now – one of the hardest working teams here at UUCE. Every week, they bring us high-quality, thought-provoking services that take weeks to prepare.

Thank you to the Worship Team:

  • Chair, Stephen Day
  • Marj Askins
  • Rowan Fixemer
  • Susan Goldberg
  • Diana Heizer
  • Paul Higginbotham
  • Chelsea Musson
  • Elizabeth Olson
  • Sarah Stultz
  • David Yaeger

We are so grateful for your dedication to our weekly services, and how you put your heart into all you do for the spiritual health of our church. We are honored and grateful to be able to benefit from your talents week after week.

Thank you.

Survey Results (continued)

Okay, back to the survey. The second question asked was: what questions do you have about UUCE being lay led? While I cannot get to answering all your questions right now – reasons being one, we simply don’t have time this morning, and two, we also don’t have all the answers yet – I can say that a lot of your questions centered on things like roles and responsibilities, how long will we be lay led, and who decides the direction of the church. Well, I think I can safely say that for the last one (who decides the direction of our church), I am thrilled to say we all do, collectively and collaboratively as a beloved community. We’re in this together. For the other questions on things like how the church will function day to day and how long we will be lay led, time will tell on some of these things. Operationally, we are figuring it out, and I look forward to working with folks on the Board and Executive Team to ensure answers to those questions are communicated in the best way to you all.

Your Concerns

One concern many of you had about being a lay led congregation actually filled my heart with love and hope. So many of you expressed concern about your friends who step up and give so much to UUCE. Your concern is that they will burn out, and it’s a valid concern.

The Revitalization Team is working with Phil Lund, a Congregational Life Consultant for the UUA, and a person with a deep affinity for small congregations. Phil recently shared a sermon with me, and I’d like to share an excerpt with you.

“It may sound simplistic (maybe even corny), but when I think about the hope for Unitarian Universalism, I think about the 1,000 plus UU congregations around the country, and – more importantly – the people who keep those congregations going. In other words, I’m thinking about you, each of you, the ones who are still here after all the hardships and heartbreaks of the last two years.

“But what does it mean to still be here as we move into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic? Consider this distinction from Carey Nieuwhof:

“Pre-COVID in growing, plateaued, and declining churches, you could break down people who were part of your church into two primary categories: Members and Attenders, or Engagers.

Think of members and attenders as just that: people who joined your church and/or people who attended but rarely moved beyond that.

Think of engagers on the other hand as, well, members and attenders who engaged in a way far beyond church attendance.

Before the pandemic, it was possible for most congregations to survive with this sort of division between members/attenders on one hand and engagers on the other. But the current reality is different. As Rob Dyer said, “Super volunteers are now looking to do just a few things. Regular attenders are becoming semi-regular. And fringe folks are fading away.”

This is pretty much what Carey Nieuwhof suggests when he says “Turn your remaining attendees into engagers.” The need for attenders to be more fully engaged with their congregations has been around since before COVID-19.”

Preventing burnout of our super volunteers is something we can do for our beloved community. But the solution, whatever that may be, is one that we need to do together.

But I ask you to pause and think for just a moment – because in a time when we are without a minister, without the structure that we’ve relied on for so many decades – your biggest concern about our church’s future is for the well-being of your friends. That sentiment right there has me so grateful to know you all. We really are in this together. Yes, we might need to recruit fresh talent, combine tasks, eliminate functions that are not vital or as important for the sake of our well-being, etc. Whatever the right solution winds up being to prevent burnout, we will do it together. Caring for one another.

Like we heard in the reading: “Volunteering is what you do at a place that is important to you – but not at a place that belongs to you. You cannot volunteer at your own church, in the same way you cannot babysit your own kid. Because the church belongs to you in the same way your family does. It’s your own place, your own people. So of course you help take care of it. Of course you do yard work and make coffee and teach the kids and sing in the choir and whatever all else it is you do for the home and the people that you love.”

We will figure this out

And that hope has me looking forward, which is also the final question I asked in the survey last month. But before I get into what you told me, I’d like to share a quote I stumbled across recently.

“Churches are dangerous when their past is more important than their future.”

This quote hit me like a ton of bricks. Like any church, our past here at UUCE helped shape who we are now. We’ve overcome a lot, individually in our personal lives and collectively as a congregation. We’ve earned who we are now. But we know we are not done growing. And we know our present will help shape our future and our future is what will shape us into what we will be – what we can be. Our dreams for the church. Our hopes for the church. Us doing better. And doing better together.

So what did you say you’re looking forward to about being lay led? Much of your feedback was rooted in community and relationships:

  • Insights from those we are in community with
  • Closer relationships
  • And an opportunity to strengthen the UUCE community

And what excites many of you about the future is transformation:

  • People will have the opportunity to grow into new church roles or functions
  • We can let go of things that no longer serve us
  • The congregation will help define the direction of the church
  • We have the opportunity to define who we are, then put action and money toward making it a reality.

All good things.

So what’s next?

To borrow from Stephen Day’s lay led service, one of our few services with an on-site option recently:

“Why are you here? How would your life be different if UUCE no longer existed? If our church is something you value, if it’s an important, integral part of who you are, what are you willing to do to ensure it remains?

I hope you’ll agree that UUCE is merely at another crossroads, something that we’ve been through many times in the past – whether it’s due to fire damage in our Villa Street building, or the widening of Randall Road forcing the sale of our farmhouse building.

This morning, each of us made a choice to come together to share in our worship service. For each of us, UUCE still offers something we value – whether it’s a chance to experience the spiritual world without dogma or creeds, or a chance for our children to grow surrounded by love and respect for all people, or an opportunity to take action against injustice, or just the chance to connect with others that share our values. Something in this community called to each of us this morning – and we showed up. And for our church to continue to be a liberal voice in Elgin for many years to come, that’s what it’s going to take.

Here we are – gathered together again – standing at a crossroads. As we look behind us, we may feel a sense of sadness and miss the way things “used to be,” but as we turn around and face our future unwritten, this is our chance for a new beginning and a reimagining of our future. What comes next for UUCE? That’s for each of us here to decide and be a part of.”

Great words, Stephen.

This, my friends, is what it means to be lay led. It’s not just about Sunday services. It’s about empowering us all to define what UUCE is now and what it will be for years to come.

We will show up. Not just on Sundays, but we will show up for one another. We will check in with one another. We will be forgiving of ourselves as we forge a new path. We will make a commitment to ourselves, and to each other, for what we will do for our church home and the people we love.

So if what the Revitalization Team stands for excites you, and you think you’d like to join us, please reach out to one of us. We’re happily accepting new members who are passionate about UUCE and care about our future enough to help ensure we stay a strong spiritual community for years to come.

To close, I’d like to share this reading by Andrea Hawkins-Kamper, who will always have a home at UUCE no matter where her spiritual career takes her.

May we see all as it is, and may it all be as we see it.

May we be the ones to make it as it should be,

For if not us, who? If not now, when?

This is answering the cry of justice with the work of peace,

This is redeeming the pain of history with the grace of wisdom,

This is the work we are called to do, and this is the call we answer now:

To be the barrier and the bridge,

To be the living embodiment of our Principles,

To be about the work of building the Beloved Community,

To be a people of intention and a people of conscience.

May it be so, blessed be, and amen.

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