Expectations of membership

Just thinking out loud for the part of the sermon I’ll be doing next Sunday as we honor our Religious Education volunteers and propose a vision for the next church year.  My hope is that this vision will do what we have not been able to do with regard to religious eduction since we started attending the church nearly 10 years ago: energize more volunteers, more stakeholders in the program.

This has me considering how we enter into relationship with each other at the covenental level. We just had a book signing last week at our church, ushering five more names onto our historic rolls.  The new members stand at the front of the church, sign the book, we give them a flower and we ask them to say some words in unison and together we speak the unison reading about ‘blessed are they.’

But it doesn’t feel like we are really asking anything of them, or giving them a good sense of what membership entails.  I remember when we were being asked if we wanted to become members and I asked “but what does it mean to be a member?”  None of the answers was satisfactory because I had no context for what membership entailed, having never been a church member before.  What I really wanted to know was how much money they expected from us, and being the good kind of dysfunctional congregation, no clear answer was ever given (is it ever given in a UU congregation?).

Here’s what I wish someone would have said to me, when I joined the church:

We expect you to enter into relationship with us, stewarding the physical aspects of the church financially as well as with volunteer labor, as needed. Moreso, we expect you to join with us in a shared vision for what it means to identify yourself as a Unitarian Universalist:

  • We expect you to be clear and fair in your dealings with other members of the congregation whether they are serving coffee or chairing the Board of Trustees.
  • We expect you to be clear and fair with people outside our congregation, as well.
  • We expect you to ask for what you need and for you to understand that the answer will not always be ‘yes’ simply because you asked for it.
  • We expect you to be direct; to say what you mean and to understand that you only speak for yourself unless you have been given explicit permission to speak for others, for entire groups, for the entire congregation.
  • We expect you to raise your concerns in healthy ways, in ways that respect the process that has been set up to ensure that everyone is treated in competent, fair ways.  Even when you have been harmed by the process,  Especially when you feel harmed by the process.
  • We expect you to share your wealth and your health and your time. Each week.
  • We expect you to find a way to be a part of the lives of the children in this congregation, even if you do not have any of your own. Hand them cookies on Sunday morning; read them a story during the Story for all Ages; be a part of their religious formation by teaching in their classroom one Sunday per month; ask them about the worship service they just attended, especially when they are young, so they understand that what we expect of them is an engagement with the message, not just time sitting in a pew.
  • Engage with the message, yourself.  Do something.  Be active for the betterment of the world. Clean trash on the beach; carpool; buy local and/or organic; march for a cause that is important to you; write letters to the editor; volunteer in a shelter or some other not-for-profit. Have a vision for what it means to be a part of this faith movement, to be a part of the larger world, to be someone who truly wishes to make the world a better place.
  • Accept that others don’t always share your passion for action. Do not be discouraged by that as we expect you to meet people where they are, encouraging them to do what they can and no more.  Explain your passion.  Engage your passion.  There’s no better way to lead people to change than to be an energized and cheerful example of what that change looks like.
  • We expect you to love life, even when the living of it is painful emotionally, physically, spiritually.
  • We expect that you will not always agree with what is said from the pulpit (fair warning:  if you are a person of color with political aspirations, you may want to rethink joining this congregation. Warning not applicable to people in ‘normative’ society). 
  • We expect that you will not always agree with what is decided at a Board of Trustees meeting.
  • We expect that you will not always agree with what is done in the fellowship hall.
  • But, we expect, should you feel compelled to air your disagreement, that you do so responsibly, and directly.
  • We expect you to find a home here, and we expect you to deepen your commitment to this home, to society, to each other through your simple declaration of saying “I am a member; I belong.”

We welcome you. We challenge you. We have faith in your commitment to our shared vision.

What other aspects of living, working, being together have I missed?  Or is it enough just to say “Be kind. Love life. Act responsibly. Give and give back.” 

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About TinaLBPorter

I write poetry and blog at www.tinalbporter.com. And I'm thrilled to be writing with you.
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7 Responses to Expectations of membership

  1. jules says:

    love this! i’ve been thinking about it since you wrote it.

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  2. This is darned near perfect. Put it in a brochure & call it “What Membership Means in a UU Church.”

    The only thing I’d add are some reciprocal “This is what we expect in response” statements; e.g., in response to: “We expect you to love life, even when the living of it is painful emotionally, physically, spiritually,” something to the effect of “We expect to remind you of the reasons to love life, and to support each other emotionally, physically, spiritually, in community.”

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  3. Pingback: Religious Education Reflections

  4. karen says:

    Once again you’ve put my thoughts into better words than I ever could! I hope our congregation will be hearing it or reading it in some form…

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  5. Jan says:

    Sign me up. I will join a church with those requirements. Sounds like our peace group.

    When I taught kindergarten we were required to have 5 classrooom rules, along the lines of “Don’t kick” “Raise you hand before speaking”, etc. I resisted as long as I could then posted these rules: Be kind to others. Be kind toyourself. Be happy. Turns out there were no misbehaviors that didn’t fall into at least 2 of those categories.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Lizard Eater says:

    This is brilliant!

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  7. mskitty says:

    Such wise words, Momma. I hope your sermon goes well. You have a great deal of wisdom to offer.

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