Minister’s Mind: Growth

This month we launch a new partnership with several nearby congregations. Just like the past two years, we will have monthly themes to help guide us in worship and congregational life. But this year, we will be using the same themes as congregations in Rockford, Rockton, Elgin, and DeKalb (as well as others in Chicago and across the nation.) The themes were selected by worship leaders from participating congregations in partnership with Rev. Scott Tayler and his “Soul Matters” theme-based ministry program. Each theme answers the question, “What does it mean to be a people of ________?”

We hope that by sharing themes we can begin to cooperate more with our neighbors. One way this will happen is by reviving the old tradition of the “pulpit exchange.” We will welcome each minister of a cooperating congregation to lead a service at Tree of Life. I will also offer a service in each of the participating congregations. (I may even take the choir with me to a few!) Another exciting opportunity will be the formation of “Soul Matters” conversation circles. These small groups will offer you a chance to discuss the monthly theme with others. We hope that some of the conversation circles will be made up of members from several congregations!  We’ve also volunteered to host an end-of-year celebration at Emricson Park next June. By building relationships with our neighbors, we can only make Unitarian Universalism and Tree of Life grow stronger.

In August, we will explore the question, “What does it mean to be a people of growth?”

What does it mean to grow personally? To grow as a congregation? To grow as a movement? How is growth related to our congregational motto, “Rooted in Love, Reaching for Justice”? What is asked of us in order to be “a people of growth”?  What are your hopes and dreams for Tree of Life’s growth?

I see articles all over the internet and in every publication about religious life in America that gives dire warnings about the fact that most mainline religious communities are not only not growing, they are shrinking.  Many experts say that the old ways of organizing congregational life are no longer working.  Sunday mornings are too busy. Sermons aren’t relevant or interesting. “Contemporary music” is equated with the Beatles or the folk songs of the sixties and seventies. People have become more and more distrustful of religion as the religious right dominates the public discourse with messages of judgment and exclusion.

As I read all the doom and gloom, I contrast it with the things I see at Tree of Life. I hear again and again how much this congregation–this community–means in your lives. Real connections, friendships, and support are offered again and again. The music makes hearts soar and you listen to the sermons with open hearts and minds. And when things are hard, we depend on each other to get through our grief and sorrow. When I look at Tree of Life, I see something that I know people are longing for: a real, powerful spiritual community where people live out a commitment to freedom, justice, peace, creativity, and compassion.

It seems to me that there is a natural opportunity for us to grow. The commitments we have made to spiritual growth, freedom in faith, celebration of diversity, commitment to action, and devotion to each other, the community, and the Earth are incredibly relevant to the world right now. And yet, it seems like very few people find us (or any Unitarian Universalist congregation!) We can’t grow if no one knows about us!

Now is the time to take a first step. To grow, we have to commit to growing. We have to tell people about Tree of Life and what it means to us. We have to tell people that we’re proudly UU and that our values are rooted in our spiritual values and community. We have to say, “Hey, I think you’d fit right in! Want to come check it out?” Let’s not confuse a warm invitation with some kind of proselytizing. As I read recently: Unitarian Universalism isn’t about conversion, but about conversation.  The first step to growth is to dare to tell people that Tree of Life is your spiritual home and invite them to see if it might be theirs as well.

See you in church,

Rev. Sean


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