On Saturday, April 27th, several Neighborhood members attended the Pacific Southwest District Assembly at Long Beach UU Church. Like the national General Assembly, the district gathering offered opportunities for worship, learning, reflection, fun, and connecting with Unitarian Universalists from across congregations. Here are some highlights:
From Matt Vasko, Neighborhood Church member and Director of Religious Education
District Assembly was an absolute treat! I connected with other Unitarian Universalists from our district, including some other Directors of Religious Education with whom I had only communicated over email. It was nice to put faces with names.
The first session I attended was called “Upcycling for Deeper Engagement,” led by Donald Milton III. He suggested lots of terrific things to help keep music at church lively and fresh. For example, he suggested a mash-up of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing in 5/4 time and Turn the World Around. He said that we Unitarian Universalists need more “experiences where the brain dial is turned way down and the heart dial is turned way up.” Donald also suggested a collaborative worship service model. For example, he suggested setting the opening words to music, or other words during service to music. He suggested that UU’s are seeking “meaningful participation” in services. He called us to ask ourselves, “Is our best creativity on display as part of our service?” He added that “Unitarian Universalist worship should make you come alive!”
The next session I attended was the Leadership Experience Session with Jonipher Kwong and his team. This was about how the Leadership Experience training within the UUA has changed from a week-long intensive to a weekend intensive plus multi-week Zoom calls. Some ideas that came from this session was changing Nominating Committees to Leadership Development Committees. The idea of this slightly different committee would be not only to nominate members to the board but to help develop people within the church who could become leaders. Another idea is for ministers and staff to hold “Relational Meetings” with church members, which would be one-on-one meetings to get to know members better. These meetings usually take place over coffee and simply allow ministers and staff to get to know members better and learn what unique talents they might have to offer the church.
Next, I attended “The Death of Sunday School and the Birth of What?” with Sarah Gibb Milspaugh. A startling statistic she cited is that from 2000 and 2018 adult membership in the UUA went down by only 2%. But children and youth numbers went down by 40%. The UUA went from 63,080 to 38,116 children and youth denomination-wide. She said that Sunday School now has a lot more to compete with, such as sports, computers, hobbies, etc. She said that good family ministry grounds itself in the real lives and spiritual needs of families. Sarah also stated that families want to practice faith at home and are seeking respite from overwhelming circumstances. They are seeking a shared experience. Sarah listed several of what she called “Experi-learn” options that congregations are trying. These are new programs that are offered with the idea that whether they succeed or fail, you learn something by offering them.
- Whole Congregation Worship
- Family Worship (20-minute service) for young families (Children under 10)
- Multi-Age RE Classes (Children, youth, and adults) or (multi-age youth)
- Multi-Age community service – with a chance for reflection afterward.
- Full Week Faith – Families as the primary religious educators.
- Equipping Parents – childcare provided between services and provide small group ministry for parents. Parent Lounge.
All-in-all, it was a delightful day filled with learning and fellowship.
From Elizabeth Sadlon, member
In addition to the plenary sessions Matt described, I attended a workshop led by Allies for Racial Equity (ARE), a national organization of white, anti-racist UUs. The presenters shared the experience of a Southern California church that has worked intentionally over six months to address racism and white supremacy, with notable results! Their dedication to both hard individual work and to identifying and changing long-held practices in their congregation inspired me. For that church, the transformation includes a new board structure, decision making (no Roberts Rules!), and morally-grounded budgeting. We’ve drawn on ARE’s excellent materials in White People for Racial Justice meetings. It was a pleasure to connect directly with two of their trainers and envision more ways to bring their wisdom to Neighborhood in our shared efforts to fulfill our second end statement of creating safe space where people can be their authentic selves.
From Clyde Derrick, President
I attended Throop Church Educator Athalia Talbot’s “Sprouting Seeds for a Sustainable Church,” a wonderful overview of the 12 principles of a permaculture garden, which is the focal point of Throop’s grounds, and how they applied to Throop coming back after a year of setbacks and member flight. The attendees, myself included, were quite taken by the lessons learned from the garden and how they apply to nurturing church growth.