Growth is a big issue both at UUCSH and in the Unitarian Universalist Association. For generations, this faith has quietly grown, welcoming people who find us while we have avoided trying to convince people to join this liberal religious church.
Statistics indicate that nationally, increasing numbers of people are leaving traditional religion behind, even as they search for spiritual fulfillment. Unitarian Universalism is a faith community that suits many of these seekers. Read more here.
The UUCSH welcomes you, wherever you are on your spiritual journey. If you don’t live near us, you can find a congregation local to you by using the search engine on the UUA homepage.
We invite you to read the following sermon about congregational growth, which was delivered by our president, Ann Perry, on Sept. 16, 2012.
Growth: Let Me Count the Ways
Ann Perry, UUCSH President
Good morning. Welcome to our third year at 123 East Cliff. What a cozy wonderful home we have created for ourselves and our families. How fortunate we all are to have found this loving congregation. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about someone from this congregation or an activity that I am involved in here. Recently a congregant told me that “all my best friends are in this congregation”.
I feel blessed that I have been able to raise my children here and that they share in this joy. About 5 years ago a young congregant gave a talk to the graduating seniors about what she got out of her church experience. It explains better than I can the joy of being a part of this congregation:
The first year of college is tough. Everyone is excited about doing something new, but anxious, and nervous all at the same time. Everyone is in the same boat. But not everyone who leaves for college starts off with the same base. Not everyone has the friends, who send notes of encouragement and a dog word search via snail mail. Not everyone has a families that comes to visit and spend a day touring the Amherst area. Not everyone has a friend who treats you to dinner at Applebee’s. Not everyone comes home Columbus Day weekend and is hugged by just about everyone and told how missed they are. Not everyone is asked to help out in Sunday school or Canvass Kick-off when they are home for a visit. Not everyone has kids who ask when they’ll get to see you next. Not everyone has a friend who wants to hear about the craft center where you made a necklace. Not everyone has a special people who gives you a pat on the shoulder and a few comforting words when you talk about how frustrating college can be or how difficult your roommate can be. Not everyone is asked to come back to church to talk to the new graduates. Not everyone is loved by the amount of people who love and care about me in this congregation. And I am thankful for every single person for giving me the roots to hold me close, while encouraging me to use wings that set me free. Not everyone can say they have a congregation as wonderful as this one, but I can, and do.
I wanted to present this service so that I could share with you the exciting growth work that your board has agreed to undertake. I want to share with you the story of the UUA regional growth initiative for congregations of our size and how we have applied our learnings to the strategic plan. I want to share with you how each of your board members are championing a section of the strategic plan to ensure that we continue to make progress in all areas of congregational life.
I also want to share with you that we have learned that growth is about so much more than numbers. We have learned that growth is about taking responsibility for our own health and vitality. We have learned that congregations that don’t focus on growth wither away and die. We have learned that the most effective way to grow a congregation is to focus on the vitality of the congregational life and the numbers will take care of themselves.
So that is what I wanted to talk to you about today but then I realized that before I share with you the details of our plans you need to understand why it matters that we give our time, talent, and resources to the growth of this congregation and to grow our denomination.
Our faith matters. Within 5 miles of this building there are over 115K people 36% of which have no religious home. That is over 40K people who will never feel the joy and love of this community that speaker described in her service. When they are in pain and suffering a life loss they have no loving congregation to turn to. When they are filled with joy they do not have a religious home to share with. A neighbor recently told me that they used to attend the a neighboring church and loved being in the choir but had to quit as her husband is an atheist. I told her that atheists need community also and that her family is welcome here. She was shocked.
Our faith matters. Over the next 4 months you will see services, books, seminars and dinners all directed at supporting our commitment to Peace. This summer, when the Sikh Temple held a service of mourning our minister and congregants were there in support. When we were needed in Trenton to testify for Gay Marriage we were there. We are counted on by Somerset County to be the voice of peace and reason in a time of violence and chaos.
Our faith matters. Each week the GN delivers food, household goods and furniture to families in need in Somerset County. Over 1000 such deliveries are made each year and this is due to the work of this congregation. Our work makes a difference to many families in Somerset County.
Our faith matters. Each week we collect food and funds to support local charities. Last year we gave over $6K to 17 different small local non-profits. Our contributions make a difference to those small local non-profits. Look at the letters of thanks on our bulletin board at the bottom of the steps and you will see the results of our work together.
Our faith matters. It matters that we reach out and include others in our work. It matters both to the individuals invited into the circle of love and acceptance and it matters to us as we fulfill our outreach mission. Love is the spirit of this congregation and service is its heart.
It matters that we grow so let me share with you a brief update on the Growing Stronger initiative. UUCSH has joined a 3-year growth initiative entitled “Growing Stronger”, specifically designed for congregations of our size, who have the commitment and motivation to grow in strength, in influence, and in numbers. There are 5 areas of growth that we have set goals around to track our progress:
- Maturational Growth – The deepening of our faith. Strengthening our ability to grow as individuals in maturity and spiritual roots. Our goals here deal with our Adult Faith Development as well as the educational work that Social Action is leading.
- Organic Growth – Creating stable organizational structures. Our initial focus here has been on improving the music program. We are creating an active music committee as well as an adult and children’s choir. We are also transforming the Nominating Committee into a Leadership Development Committee to ensure that we have strong succession planning and are growing our leaders within the church.
- Incarnational Growth – The involvement of our congregation in the world around us. Here we are strengthening our focus on Social Action such as our support for the Giving Network and the Fall focus on Peace that you will learn more about in next week’s service. You can also look forward to a Spring focus on Welcoming Congregation work.
- Associational Growth – Growing awareness of the resources and support available from the UUA. Our FLASH students have been attending youth conferences and several members of the staff and board have been attending growth webinars. Watch the OOS and your e-mail for announcements about regional and national meetings. Heads up: November 10 is the Metro NY fall meeting at Shelter Rock. It is always a great learning opportunity. Our national General Assembly in June is in Louisville, Ky. Who wants to go with me? Please talk to any staff member if you ever need a scholarship to attend an event.
- Numerical Growth – Here our focus is on ensuring that visitors are welcomed and that includes the virtual visitors to our website. A team including a web designer revamped our website to be easier for our visitors to navigate. We are creating a new photo directory to help new friends get to know us faster.
Over the next 3 years you will hear more about the Growing Stronger initiative and see an increasingly vibrant congregation seeking to help our members and friends grow in spirit on the individual religious journey each of us is called to walk.