If we value liberal religion and want it to be vibrant and powerful in the world, we need to look at ministry in new ways.
There are so many ways that more fundamentalist ideas are spread, from preachers on a soap box on the local college campus to the blogs and YouTube channels of Islamic Radicals to the television networks dominated by men and women preaching the power of the dollar. People are scared. People are in pain. People are looking for something to invest in, and when the easiest thing for them to access is the computer, the television, or the campus group offering friendship and free pizza, people are going to latch on to the messages they find there.
If we want to reach people where they are, especially the most vulnerable people who need positive influences and encouragement, we need to be where they are looking. People want a message to grab on to, and we need to rethink our ideas of Ministry if we want them to consider liberal religion in their search. We need effective outreach and innovative ministry to make that happen. The I Am UU project has a record of that kind of effect.
There are others! If you aren’t familiar with it, go and check out Cabaret Church, which is “an eclectic group of people with wildly varied beliefs who all just happen to think that it’s time to experiment and experience the spiritual power of art, celebration, and music.” That’s a pretty good start, if you ask me. Check out the Quaker Speak project from the Friends Journal, where tens of thousands of people are learning about liberal religion from people who live it. We can reach out; we can love people and invite them in. If you know of other liberal religious outreach programs which you believe are making a difference, please share them in the comments!
For other examples of innovative community building and messaging, read our blog post about the idea of bring Unitarian Universalism to YouTube. Aside from Quaker Speak, there are great communities built up around educational shows, life blogging (and community service), and “decreasing world suck“, because people are looking for liberal ideas and community where they already hang out. Podcasts beget fandoms which become communities of friends and collaborators. Social media pages and communities have led to the formation of groups that are as cohesive and interconnected as the average UU church. We can be part of seeding new communities, and shaping their mission and instilling in those communities our Principles, grounding them in our tradition as it evolves with the ideas and energy they bring. We would be so much closer to manifesting the beloved community. We can do that with effective and innovative ministry.
What does it take for a ministry to function? It breaks down into 4 basic categories that must be filled: Someone has to have an idea they are excited about. They need the skills to do it well. They need to fill a need and create a reaction. They need to have the resources to fill that need without putting themselves at risk. In chart form, it looks like this:
Now, you might notice that the “Love” portion of this diagram contains the I Am UU logo. That’s because I can promise you that I have filled that circle.I love doing this work, and if I did not need to worry about money I would continue to give it the 50 hours a week that I have been and go back to being as anonymous as possible. That’s because I know that it matters.
Here is a small sample of the kinds of comments I’ve collected to remind me of how important the project has been; that it fills a need with Unitarian Universalists and with people who have never heard the name, but have needed to find us nonetheless. If you are interested in reading it, click to enlarge. There are 5,500 people who have clicked the button on Facebook to tell the world “I Am UU”, and thousands of them come every week to like posts, share pictures, read links, and to tag their friends to come and do the same. The I am UU project has helped people connect with each other. The project has changed lives. The project has led people to their local congregation.
For the last 3 years I have worked on filling up the yellow “Skills” circle, and while there are those with more skill and talent for writing, design, and anything else I do, not everyone can do them all well enough to meet the needs of a project like this, and it seems that no one else is. Believe me, there are many days when I wish someone would put together a team to fill the internet and social media with better material. All I can do is keep working and pushing myself to make better material in the meantime.
As for the green circle, that is the hardest part. A lot of liberally religious people don’t place a high value on outreach and missionalism. I have written a lot of this blog about stewardship and the debt we owe to both the past and the future in not just taking care of Unitarian Universalism, but strengthening it and making it vibrant again. I’ve been truly fortunate to have touched a few dozen people who have pledged or given money to make this work possible. Sadly, their contributions haven’t been enough to fill that green circle to the point that I can meet my needs. I am not supported well enough to do the work. I am not alone in this, as I know several ordained UU ministers who have huge debt and can’t find a job because UU congregations and clusters don’t have the support to hire religious professionals.
This, then, is where we must change, or see our movement sputter. We have to be willing to invest. We have to be able to see liberal religion as a force for good and a moral compass and spiritual bolster for the other practical organizations. Spirits get weary and battered, just like bodies do, and the support we offer is no less vital to long-term success than legal counsel or physical healthcare. People are hurting, and learning that there is a community willing to welcome them, their whole selves, and encourage them to be their personal best is, in some cases, nothing less than lifesaving. With your help, we can keep doing this. With your support, we can do it better.
I am having to spend less time on the I Am UU project. Let me know what parts would be most missed and what, if anything, I can do to earn your financial support on Patreon. I’ve got a list of promises along the right of the page to bring back some key elements that have grown up over the last few years, and I am interested in what kinds of rewards patrons would find appealing, informative, or fun. Please send me an email to UUEvangelism@gmail.com if you have any thoughts to share.