Being in Association

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 Being in Association

by Rev. Peter Connolly

Presented at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bowling Green, KY, October 18, 2009.
If you got the local paper, The Daily News, on Friday, you may have seen the article in the “Faith and Values” section that addressed the processes by which churches call ministers. Three churches were featured, the Taylor Chapel Community African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Center Baptist Church of South Union and our church.

The differences in the methods of calling ministers provided a study in contrasts. “The African Methodist Episcopal Church is sectioned by districts and in each district is a set of conferences… headed by a presiding bishop.” The bishop has the duty and responsibility of appointing the minister to each church in his jurisdiction.

At the Center Baptist Church, the congregation chooses, but the spokesman interviewed by the Daily News stated that “We knew going in that God had pre-destined who was coming” to be their pastor.

It’s hard to imagine anyone in this congregation taking that stand, though, we, too, relied on a congregational vote.Our church system does not partake of a centralized bureaucratic structure. There is no bishop or episcopate or body of deacons to preside over the variety of our churches, societies and fellowships.

Still, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bowling Green was able to initiate a national search when they decided to call a minister. You—and I—relied on a centralized system of posting and retrieving information, the website maintained by the Transitions Office (formerly the Settlement Office) of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

The packet that the Ministerial Search Committee worked so hard to prepare would not have been of much use if there was not a place for it to be posted to be seen by prospective candidates. My search for a church to serve would not have had much legs if I had to rely on word-of-mouth or local postings in the Boston area. I relied on the work of the Rev. John Weston and his assistant Emily Schwab in the Transitions Office for advice as well as direction.

This search made use, too, of the office of the President of the Heartland District, the Rev. Dr. Nana’ Kratochvil in Michigan and the Acting District Executive, the Rev. Nancy Combs-Morgan, as well as the compensation consultant.

All this is to say that, though we are an independent church in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, we are dependent upon a larger network from which to derive wisdom, experience, advice and guidance. We can’t function very well alone, and we are not wise to forgo the resources available to us by being in association.

Today is the third annual incarnation of “Association Sunday.” It was instituted in 2007 by the UUA in order to lift up certain programs and themes sponsored by the larger association for the benefit of the member congregations.

The theme of the first Association Sunday was “Grow Our Faith.” The goal that year was to increase awareness of Unitarian Universalism through a national campaign. I found it odd and at the same time inspiring to see full-page ads for our association of congregations in Time magazine.

It turned out to be a somewhat controversial program. Some thought it inappropriate for a religious body to be placing advertisements in a magazine at all; some thought that by choosing such a mainstream middle-class vehicle we continue to try to build our movement through the same middle class homogeneity that keeps us narrow.

About half of the funds collected were used in this national awareness campaign. But one-quarter of the funds raised were used to support the Diversity of Ministry Initiative. Another quarter of the funds was sent to the districts to assist projects of the various congregations they represent.

The theme in 2008 was “Growing Our Spirit.” Specific initiatives were chosen based on a survey of UU leaders—over 1,800 responded. Fifty per cent of the funds raised were used to support Lay Theological Education programs. Congregations, districts and seminaries had the opportunity to apply for grants to create programs which focused on spiritual and theological deepening.

Fifty per cent of the funds raised were divided among the Excellency in Ministry programs, including initiatives established by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association for continuing education programs for ordained leaders through the so-called “CENTER” programs. The rest of the funds raised were divided equally between scholarships for students in candidate status and for the Diversity of Ministry Team’s Initiative to support our ministers of color.

The theme of this Association Sunday is “Growing Our Diversity.” In a recent issue of the UU World, there was reference made to a conversation between a UU youth of color and his parents. He said that he loved being part of the UU church he attended, but he was thinking of discontinuing his participation because he was “tired of being the only Black kid” in the group.

I can imagine that this is a challenge met by our young persons of color throughout the association, as they feel so under-represented. This year’s theme aims to expand the curriculum called “Building the World We Dream About,” to support congregations who are working to create a Unitarian Universalism that is racially, culturally, and economically diverse; and providing congregations and districts to minister effectively to youth and young adults who identify as people of color or multiracial in the areas of spiritual development, racial and cultural identity development and leadership development.

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