Do you remember that child’s game?
How many people are in the First Church community? Whom do you mean when you talk about our church? There are several answers to those questions, and the answers raise other important questions.
We report a membership of just over 1000 adults to the Unitarian Universalist Association. These are folks who have signed the membership book (years ago in some cases) and have made a contribution of record in the last year. Is that our community? Both “signing the book” and financial support are important signs of commitment.
What about the children and youth in the Learning Community…more than 500? What about those who attend only occasionally? Last Christmas Eve almost 1900 people attended one of our services. What about the many people who take advantage of our extensive adult education programs? Those who attend important community events that we sponsor and host? The guests in our shelter? What about the large number of visitors whom we ask to stand and be recognized each Sunday?
Do we include the UU’s from the Hood River congregation who use a video of our service once a month? Those from other congregations who attended the recent Seminary for a Day? The UU leaders from around the country who consult with members of staff? Or the loyal followers of this blog across the country?
Within the church world, there is consensus that the best measure of a church’s size is the number of people in church on Sunday morning. We average 1200 people (of all ages) every Sunday. By that measure, First Church is the largest UU congregation in the world. Hold your pride in check. Serving that many people is a challenging task, and we have on-going reflection to do as we work to serve and support a community of that size.
What I know is that being a part of our community takes many shapes. For some people, this church is at least one of the centers of their lives. For others it is important but not central. For many it is a blessing but lower on the list of personal priorities. For many, participation and even contact is very occasional.
Unitarian Universalism, like most of the Christian and Jewish religious world, has long looked to the congregation as the primary embodiment of the church; never the only embodiment, of course. There have always been deeply religious people whose paths were solo or lived out in communities outside the institutional church.
One important way to think about our church is to remember that, although we serve the individuals in our community, our most important calling and most important accountability is to the mission of the church.
“The mission of First Unitarian Church…is to create a welcoming community of diverse individuals; to promote love, reason and freedom in religion; to foster lifelong spiritual growth; and to act for social justice.”
It should be noted that there is no mention of membership in the statement, nor any boundary specified. Like our theology, this is an embracing mission that we serve.
And fulfilling that mission, in this day and age, may require us to expand our understanding of who is a part of our community and how we serve them. Is our most important task to add more and more programs, or is it to build a community whose connections come in many forms and whose impact is felt in many ways?
Rev. Peter Morales, President of the UUA, is asking us to think about these questions more deeply. What is the role of the congregation in our faith and in the world? How should we begin imagining the community we serve and support? How should our faith live out its mission in the world? Here is a link to his statement for your reflection. http://www.uua.org/uuagovernance/officers/president/moralespeter/192145.shtml
This is a worthy conversation as we continue to chart a course for the future. I invite your responses and reflections to these questions and look forward to our on-going conversation.