A seismic shift in American culture occurred in the 1960s and 1970s; the aftershocks are still being felt and the effects on our ministries are becoming more apparent. Many Unity leaders are finding those attracted to our communities reflect the values that were both the cause and effect of that cultural shift. This population is the subject of Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson’s book, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World (CCs). As Ray observed recently, “Because of the values you share, the CCs comprise Unity’s tribe!” But are we trying to put new wine (CCs) into old wineskins (our traditional classes, programs and rituals)?
If so, we will not meet the CCs’ needs—or as Rev. Ed Townley of Unity of Greater Hartford, Connecticut, states, “We may well be on the threshold of a new consciousness, but we will no longer be on its cutting edge, as we were in the early years of our movement.”
Ray points out that Unity can offer a value-laden and life-transforming experience to the CCs, but we must meet their desire for community on three fronts to integrate them with our ministries: relevant emotional contact, experiential encounters and meaningful stories. “They are looking for face-to-face engagement,” according to Ray; “it can even be technology-based—e.g., through Skype video conferencing.”
Unity of Greater Hartford uses a more traditional approach to creating connections by fielding a softball team in the city league, “interacting lovingly with people on other teams who are consistently interested in our unique energy and attitude.”
Ray asserts, “The CCs respond to social networking but are unimpressed with traditional avenues of promotion, such as print and broadcast advertising.” Rev. Barry Vennard, Unity of Omaha, Nebraska, says they have had success connecting with their CCs using four weekly sponsorship announcements on their local public radio station.
“Relevant stories are a primary teaching and learning device for the CCs; theology and scriptural authority leave them cold,” says Ray. Unity of Louisville, Kentucky, and Unity of Greater Hartford both support theatre programs as an avenue for creating, reflecting and performing these stories.
Unity of Louisville has monthly guest speakers from other faith traditions, selects Friday movies to appeal to CCs, recycles electronics with their EarthCare team, and works closely with local interfaith groups. Rev. Susan EngPoole often invites her Sunday audience “to not believe what we share here. We want you to hear it, explore it, discover it, and have it resonate within your own soul.”
Unity of Greater Hartford has hiking, canoeing and kayaking activities that appeal to the CCs’ love of nature. The ministry supports local humanitarian causes consonant with CCs’ values and supports equal rights through a women’s studies program at Hartford Seminary and the local GLBT celebration with a “get to know us” booth.
“We don’t do any of this specifically to attract CCs and their donations to our Sunday services. We do it because this is the spiritual community we choose to be,” says Townley. “Unity must be willing to adapt to a constantly changing need. It is no longer enough to simply teach principle and affirm the power of mind, although that will always be essential. If we are eager to serve the needs of the awakened and awakening, without imposing our own dogma or tradition, we have a great future.”