I was asked to give a talk to an adult RE group, and since I needed to organize my thoughts in order to do that, I am putting those thoughts here on the blog so that they can be shared freely. This talk is about my experience with the I Am UU project, what it stands for and why I have put so much time into something that does no pay and is only starting to really gain traction in the last 2 years. My intention was to share this post with those people who have given the most support to the project, but unless I am able to inspire more people to pledge support, I am not sure how often I will be able to post new content. I am hoping that I can so inspire people by making it public.
I would like to open by sharing a quote from Rev. Peter Morales, back in 2000, before he was elected president of our Association, from a workshop he did entitled Evangelism, Letting Love Reach Out”
“Maybe the sort of modal experience of adult UUs is to say, “I was a UU for 20 years, but didn’t know it,” and I think that when I hear that now, I wince. I suggest we should collectively hang our heads in shame when we hear that. Because it means that we haven’t done the very simple thing of communicating who we are. Not converting anyone, not changing their mind, but simply opening the door and saying “Welcome.”
The modal experience; the thing that applies to more adult Unitarian Universalists than any other experience just might be the feeling we had of coming home to a place we had only just discovered, and at some point a day, a week, or months later, wondering why it took so long to find it. I agree with Rev. Morales that we should be ashamed that, even though this is something so many of us have experienced, we allow it to continue. We should proudly do everything we can to tell the world what we stand for and that we will make room for each and every person who wants to be a part of it. That thought struck me when I connected with Unitarian Universalism back in 2008. Why weren’t more UUs telling people about our beautiful fellowships? How do we change that, and get people to confidently share their faith and invite others in? That thought is why I started the I Am UU project.
Originally, I was just posting a lot of UU themed material to my Facebook. This didn’t sit well with some of my friends who were less liberal, or with UUs I knew who held some strange Calvinist belief that the people who “belong” in a UU church would find us, and we shouldn’t advertise. To give folks the option of opting in to my UU posts, rather than having them opt out of everything else I shared, I moved those posts to a page I created to talk about liberal religious missionalism and Unitarian Universalist evangelism. People responded well, and so I kept refining the project. It is now a little out of hand at 5400 people and more than 10% of the following of the official UUA Facebook page. That is what I am here to talk about this morning.
Let me start by defining those two words. which are essential to the vision of the project: Evangelism and Missionalism.
Evangelism, in the context of liberal religion, takes the word back to its roots. It is the telling of good or positive news. I believe wholeheartedly that liberal religion is a positive process for being together in the world, and that Unitarian Universalism is a wonderfully inclusive and useful vehicle of liberal religion in our culture. There are people looking for communities where they can be their whole, authentic selves and, at the same time, find the encouragement to be their personal best. There are people longing for what we have. Unitarian Universalist Evangelism is, as Rev. Morales said, “Not converting anyone, not changing their mind, but simply opening the door and saying ‘Welcome.'”
Missional religion is a community that focuses on a vision and a process for fulfilling it. We have 7 Principles that we have agreed to “affirm and promote” as member congregations of the UUA, because we think that affirming and promoting them will make the world a nicer place to live for the greatest number of people. Those Principles outline a vision of the Beloved Community which we hope to create here in the real world. That is the mission, and the I Am UU project, hopefully, keeps the focus on that mission. We believe that every program, every policy, every coordinated action we promote furthers that mission in a direct way. Our goal is to inspire people to frame their participation, whatever they can give, as stewardship, and to see stewardship of liberal religion and the communities and congregations that embody it as an investment in the kind of world they wish they had been born into.
So, the mission of the I Am UU project is absolutely no less insidious than to change the world; to invite people into these communities of passionate and engaged people and inspire them to join in the work of changing our culture and our politics to permit everyone the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process; so that every person is treated as a being of inherent worth and dignity; so that the world is, little by little, more just, equitable, and compassionate.
The bulk of the work is being done, at present, by myself on a volunteer basis. As such, I am trying to improve on those things that have worked well for us so far while still looking for ways to expand our outreach. We started out curating news items and blog posts so that individuals and congregations would have a steady stream of items to share. Other tools have now made that much less important for us to provide, and over the last couple of years, the project has grown to focus mainly on content creation. We create sharable graphics with quotes or useful information design to get Unitarian Universalist ideas in front of more people, and to give UUs a way to unobtrusively introduce their friends and family to their liberal faith. We create blog posts to help Unitarian Universalists deepen their faith and to commit to a more active and intentional affirmation and promotion of our Principles in their lives. Additionally, I am working to put together multimedia projects, like YouTube videos and a podcast or two so that we can reach more people in ways they are already comfortable with.
The vision I have for the I Am UU project is no more and no less than to educate the world about liberal religion and to invite them to be a part of an effort to intentionally invest in the future that I described earlier.
That has been the mission and intent of the I Am UU project for roughly 3 years, since I realized that I was meeting a need that no other UU project was meeting. I have been truly honored and humbled to be able to operate this ministry for so long, and I thank you all for being a part of it. I have never felt like I was owed the reach and the impact that I have through the I Am UU project, and I have worked hard to feel worthy of it.
I have honed my skills as a writer and a graphic designer, though those are skills that I will never feel I have mastered. I will keep reading dozens of sermons and blog posts each month, as well as books about liberal religion. I’ve even taken some online classes in topics like philosophy and communication. I have committed the last 3 years to really helping share liberal religion and Unitarian Universalism in particular with the world, and to help my fellow Unitarian Universalists say, confidently, “I mm UU.” I have proven that I can do it. Now, I need to find out if Unitarian Universalists want it to be done.
I say this now with a heavy heart and absolute humility: I cannot continue without financial support. I cannot continue to give, without compensation, the 50 hours a week that this project requires. I could do it if only 1/5 of the Facebook fans could pledge to keep us going on Patreon. I am asking you if it is worth even $1 a month to help reach thousands with the message that there is a religious movement that accepts them and welcomes their whole selves to join our effort to build a beloved community.