I continued my Milwaukee presentation by explaining what I believe is the context of Family Ministry. The three main components of liberal religious family ministry: relationships, community, and values. Three nice, abstract nouns. Then I went on to clarify a little bit by adding some modifiers: family (or primary group) relationship, connected (or authoritative) community, and progressive (or liberal) values. Then, to help us move from theory into practice, some strong verbs to help us make these abstract concepts concrete: nurturing family relationships, building connected community, and sharing progressive values.

Relationships, community, and values—these are the things I believe liberal religious/spiritual progressive families are looking for when they come to our congregations. And unless we are aware of these needs and be intentional about what we offer in response to these needs, we’re not doing everything we can be make each of our communities of faith a spiritual home for progressive families.

We looked first a family relationships. What we need, I believe, is a firm understanding of what we mean when we, as religious liberals, say family. And the best way to do that is for us to get a sense of what it means for each one of us, as individuals, to be part of a family. So we did an exercise I call “We Are All Family.” First, you give yourself one point for each of the following relationships you may have:

I am someone’s…


Think how much further those relationships go if we say:

I once was someone’s…

I wish I were someone’s…

Everyone has at least some family relationship in their lives. Add to this step- and half- relationships, ex- relationships, lingering relationships with those who have died. And let’s not forget chosen families, people who have formed family units that transcend these categories. This is what we mean when we say we are all family—family defines us, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill—to a large extent.

No one walks through our doors completely alone—and if they did, that would be all the more reason to welcome them as family. “We glad you’re here…you help complete us.”

I closed this section of the presentation with an expanded definition of family:

Persons who commit themselves to attempt to be family for one another… [who] (a) meet their needs for belonging and attachment, (b) meet those needs in others, and (c) share life purposes, help, and resources.

That’s from Diana Garland’s article “Family Ministry: Defining Perspectives,” which you can download here (PDF).