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One of the reasons I’d like to see more ministers blogging is that it can help demystify what ministry is all about. Some of the best minister/bloggers out there seek to make transparent the processes behind much of what they do: from planning the liturgical year to writing their weekly sermons. And in the spirit of true blogging, they even actively solicit feedback on what they’re up to. So…I thought I’d take a moment to share a sermon project that I’m currently working on. You see, since I don’t preach in the same place every Sunday, I have the luxury of writing only one or two sermons a year. And with two preaching gigs coming up right after the new year (January 6 in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, and January 13 in Northfield, Minnesota), I figured that I’d better get working on a new sermon.

I’ve already come up with a title and a blurb (something congregations always ask for, sometime several months in advance, other times the week before my visit). I’m calling it “Starting Small,” and the blurb goes something like this:

Sometimes it seems UUs believe that the bigger the idea, the better. But when it comes to building the Beloved Community, starting small makes much more sense.

Of course, often times the title and the blurb end up having nothing at all to do with the actual sermon (which is why “Something about [fill in the blank]” is the best sermon title imaginable!), but in this case, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I want to preach about, and it does include the notion of starting small rather than big. So here’s my line of thinking as of today.

Unitarian Universalists do, indeed, love big ideas. Our Universalist forebears had the audacity to believe–and unashamedly promote–the big idea that God was just too loving of a being to condemn anyone to eternal damnation. In fact, Universalism has often been described as “the biggest word in the English language.” And even when humanist Unitarian Universalists remove God from the equation, our ideas remain just as grand, if not grander. Consider this vision of the future from Humanist Manifesto II (which was signed by such notable UUs a Khoren Arisian and William Schulz):

The next century can be and should be the humanistic century….We have virtually conquered the planet, explored the moon, overcome the natural limits of travel and communication; we stand at the dawn of a new age, ready to move farther into space and perhaps inhabit other planets. Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.

Phew! Why not throw in world peace while you’re at it. Which is, of course, exactly what we did in our relatively down-to-earth Principles and Purposes, where we couldn’t help but include such grandiose concepts as “The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.” Heck, even Prairie Star’s mission statement gets into the game when it proclaims that “The purpose of the Prairie Star District is to work to achieve…a world which lives by UU principles.”

But there’s a downside to these big ideas. If we stare too long into the bright and shiny future they present, we can lose our ability to see the less spectacular (but no less important) opportunities to change the world that are right in front of us.

(Okay, so that’s where I am at the moment. More on this sermon as it develops!)


Yesterday I went to the North Shore Unitarian Church in West Vancouver, BC with a bit of my extended family. Julia and Henry David and I were were joined by Julia’s sister, Christine, and her daughter, Lyra (who’s not named after Lyra in The Golden Compass…which I’m almost finished reading), and Christine’s husband, Michael. It was a great experience! I was so thrilled to find out that I know several people from the congregation, including the young adult facilitator, Samaya, the religious educator, Lynn, and even the minister, Stephen. There’s really nothing like visiting a new congregation and finding a bunch of familiar faces. Not only were my old friends friendly, but as the family and I were making our way down the driveway to the main building, we were greeting by a member of the congregation who was walking along with us. Joan asked if we were new, told us that she was part of the religious education committee, and even volunteered to take Michael, H.D., Lyra, and me to the nursery to help get the kids situated. She said that she hoped we would feel welcome here, and I told her that we were. I was also pleased to find the minister, Stephen, right there in the foyer, greeting folks as the came into the building. Looks like another rogue minister in the making! All in all, a wonderful visit. I can sense great things happening in this congregation.

I’ve received a steady stream of inquiries over the last few month about the availability of Bill Doherty’s 2007 Fahs Lecture at General Assembly, “Home Grown Religion,” so I was happy to find a printed copy of it when I opened up the most recent packet of materials from LREDA (the Liberal Religious Educators Association). It’s a fantastic lecture, and it may well hold the key to the future of faith development in Unitarian Universalism, and perhaps even to the future of our faith itself. Here are some of my favorite parts of “Home Grown Religion.”

Religion is caught more than taught, and it’s caught most fully in the family. Church programming can supplement but not replace the home. Most parents and religious professionals agree would agree, but we know more about running organized programs in church buildings than we know about supporting faith formation in the home.

It’s a fantasy that getting out of our children’s way or teaching them a little about all religious traditions will release them to find their own path. The reality is that we hand our children over to the gravitational pulls of a me-first mainstream consumer culture that does not satisfy their spiritual needs or help them flourish—and that sometimes leads them to turn to a more authoritarian religious community.

My point is that because our children feel strong pulls from the culture of self-absorption and the culture of authority, our ambivalence about exerting our own gravitational pull towards Unitarian Universalism leaves them religiously abandoned. We either raise our children ourselves or others will raise them for us. If we want our children to grow up spiritually alive, free, and engaged with the world, we have to offer them citizenship papers in our Unitarian Universalist tradition.

The central venue for faith development is the home linked to an intentional UU community. The key active ingredient that makes this work is not what we spend most of our time on: Sunday school classes, worship services, and youth activities. Instead, the key active ingredient is the spiritual development of parents and other adults, and their grounding in both a local church community and the Unitarian Universalist tradition.

You can find a PDF version of the entire lecture at the LREDA website, or you can download a copy: Home Grown Religion.

The Lifespan Faith Development Staff Group of the UUA is looking for fieldtest congregations for next year. Here’s the scoop….

The UUA is pleased to introduce the first three online Tapestry of Faith programs for children. We are seeking a group of congregations diverse in size, location, and culture to test these curricula this winter and spring. These all-new, engaging programs in the Living Faith series each offer:

  • 16 sessions to complete between January and June, 2008
  • Informative introductory material to prepare teachers to lead effectively
  • Core stories that teach UU values, principles and religious concepts
  • Clear goals and learning objectives
  • Engaging activities based on a variety of learning styles
  • Parent resources and Taking It Home activities for families
  • Session activity choices to help you tailor the session to your needs
  • Faith in Action activities to engage the group in living our faith within or outside the
  • congregation
  • On-line format that is free, searchable, and adaptable.

The programs:

Creating Home: Grades K-1 by Jessica York and Christy Olson
“Creating Home” takes the concept of “home” that young children understand as a place where families gather, share love, and take care of one another and expands upon it to help children understand their “faith home” in Unitarian Universalism. This program develops a foundational sense of belonging, of trust, of loving community, as well as responsibility and stewardship, towards the faith community in which they will live out their lives. Learning about our faith ancestors, traditions and the blessings of family and friends are a few of the subjects that are explored.

Moral Tales: Grades 2-3 by Elisa Pearmain and Alice Anacheka Naseman
“Moral Tales” engages children in identifying and articulating their own sense of right and wrong. As they interact with a variety of stories from folk and faith traditions and share stories from their own lives, children are encouraged to articulate and apply their own “spiritual compass” to find moral direction. The children generate and sign a group behavior covenant, have opportunities to earn “gems of goodness” for behavior that reflects positive moral choices, and explore why it is not always easy to follow one’s inner voice and choose behaviors that are good and just.

Toolbox of Faith: Grades 4-5 by Kate Tweedie Erslev
“Toolbox of Faith” invites fourth and fifth grade participants to reflect on qualities of our Unitarian Universalist faith such as integrity, courage and love as tools they can use in living their own lives and building their own UU faith. Each of the 16 sessions uses an actual tool as a metaphor for a quality of our faith. These tools include, for example, a hammer (for justice), duct tape (for flexibility), and a mirror (for reflection).

For more information, and to apply to be a fieldtest congregation, contact: or Adrianne Ross at 617-948-4361

Okay, so these aren’t just holiday bargains. But since we are in the midst of the shopping season, I thought I’d try to put a holiday spin on our early bird registration rates for the upcoming OWL trainings in Lawrence, Kansas and Northfield, Minnesota. Here’s the deal: register now for either of the trainings and save $30 per registration. That’s right, you can save $30 by registering before December 21, 2007 for the combined Elementary OWL training in Lawrence (January 11-12, 2008) or by January 2, 2008 for the Combined Jr./Sr. High OWL training in Northfield (February 1-3, 2008). You can find all of the information for these training at the Prairie Star website. You can even register online. Just go to for the Lawrence training or to for the Northfield training.

Here’s the part where I would say that these savings are for a limited time only. But actually, it’s not just about saving money. We need to have a least a dozen participants registered for each training by the end of the early bird registration period, or else we may have to cancel one or both of the trainings. And we’d really, really hate to do that. So, if you’re thinking of sending someone (or coming yourself) to either training, please register as soon as possible. You’ll save money, and you’ll help guarantee that these trainings will take place as planned. Thanks!

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