One Perspective by Rev Claudell County
The ministry had been without a minister for nine months when I arrived to take the position. The Sunday attendance had plummeted from 150 to 60, and there was great concern among the founding members and board leadership. An ill wind had blown between a few members, and while some stayed, others did not.
I got settled fairly quickly—unpacked, found the grocery store and gas station, and read over the files, especially the board minutes, newsletters, bylaws and Sunday bulletins. I met with the board and discovered they held an expectation of me to bring back the 90 participants who had left. New to ministry leadership, I chose to follow their advice. Within the second or third month, I mailed to everyone on the mailing list an announcement packet introducing myself, my vision of “our” ministry and anticipation of good things to come.
I hand-wrote special remarks in the packet to those who were no longer participating in the spiritual community. I thought this special invitation, my handwritten note, and a new minister in the church might bring back the missing members. It did not. My board wanted me to pursue these 90 folk, but I chose to seek new people instead.
By the conclusion of the second year, we tripled in size, purchased our first spiritual home, and handled some big internal challenges. As we grew, the new members reflected a community that matched my own inclinations—silent meditation, psychological understanding, the 12-Step Program, and the solid teachings of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore.
After another two years, former board members desired to make contact with those who had left before I came. They divvied up the list and made telephone calls. They received all sorts of responses: “I found a church that had a larger church school program for my children.” “I took time off to examine my religious beliefs which were better met at the Unitarian church.” “We moved away.” “My mother-in-law was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and we had to spend more time with her.” “I got a new job and Sunday was my only day off, so I use it to catch up on chores and have fun with the kids.” “The new minister’s meditations are too short/long.” “I liked the old minister better.” This is just a sample of the reasons.
The members finally realized that a butterfly will land on your hand for a while, but will eventually fly—if it is not yours to hold. After a while, the board and I found that the efforts did not produce much fruit for the time spent. More importantly for a new minister to know, I realized that most of the reason for former Unity members to not return had very little, if anything, to do with me or with Unity as a whole. It was about the freedom of choice, and the freedom to listen to one’s heart to discern the next step on the spiritual journey. This is a blessing to learn.
One Perspective by Rev Temple Hayes
I have a very large, beautiful painting in my office of a bridge leading to a thriving tree on a foggy day. I love this image, for I feel it is my role as spiritual leader to share Unity principles (the bridge), which offer practical teachings of life (the clear moment and the past fog), which lead them to become a thriving tree (an individuation of God).
My role primarily is to model an evolving relationship with God and secondly to be responsible to share my interpretation how someone can become a thriving tree, yet I am not responsible for them and how they arrive, deny or accept the possibility of an incredible relationship with the Divine.
I am responsible to them, not responsible for them. Angeles Arrien in her writings of the sacred heart addresses the four-fold path: the warrior, the healer, the visionary and the teacher archetypes. A healthy teacher knows the right people are always present, the way it happened was the way it was supposed to happen, and everyone is where they are meant to be. A wounded teacher when expressing the shadow or his/her own fog comes from righteousness, judgment, control and lack of trust. The medicine to become healthy is silence and meditation.
Years ago, when writing a sermon, I kept thinking about one particular couple who were going to deeply benefit from my lesson the next Sunday. I knew it was “what they needed.” It’s the only Sunday they ever missed. I realized after the fact that I was playing God rather than allowing God to play through me.
I have found in my 24 years as a minister that there are 3 types of congregants:
1) I love being involved in a spiritual community. It is the bridge I need for a wonderful life.
2) My woundology from my former church, family or organization created my heart to be closed.
Unfortunately, this is where many ministers and board members spend their time wanting to please this particular type of person, who projects onto the community what they do not like within themselves. Our board used to say to me, “There are a number of people who are upset with this new change.” What I learned to say was, “How many people?” 95% of the time, it would be one person, maybe two. Two people out of hundreds and hundreds of people is an extremely small number to measure as leading the collective whole.
3) My woundology from the past has created a willingness on my part to be open and willing to see what is possible for me to create a new bridge between myself and God. Wow! This is one of our greatest joys in ministry—to see the lights go on within the heart of an individual.
What I learned through the years of calling people is to pray for them to know that they are where they are supposed to be.
One day I will be leaving myself, and I want them to be happy for me, never assuming anything was wrong. It was just the way it was supposed to be.
One Perspective by Rev Deb Hill-Davis
To reconnect or not, that is the question! At face value, it seemed like a “no-brainer.” As a newly minted minister in August 2012, I was eager to reconnect with those who had left our Unity community, once I figured out who they were. On my very first Sunday, a lot of folks showed up who were members of the “disconnected drift away” group. John Shelby Spong calls it “The Church Alumni Association” and we certainly have it in Unity.
I spoke to some of them that day, and one woman had tears in her eyes, saying it had been a long time since she heard a truly “Unity” message in our spiritual community. I recall hugging her, saying that I certainly hoped she would return. She said she would; she didn’t. I never discovered exactly why—something about the musty smell in the narthex. No kidding! We have since installed a much-needed industrial strength dehumidifier, with no impact whatsoever on attendance.
Over time, I realized, as I listened carefully to the members of the community, there had been “factions” in the congregation and some of them had left in a huff of disgruntled dissension. And there were folks in the community who did not want them to return! Hmmm …. What was that about, I wondered, and then soon realized, I really didn’t want to know. Let it be. Whoever is meant to be here will show up. My mission was to love the folks who were here and grow into the blessing of ministering to them.
My intention was to deepen the prayer life and consciousness of the community. My first step was to train and develop a chaplain team and offer classes and retreats and opportunities for spiritual growth. So when people asked that inevitable question, “How big is your spiritual community?” my response was we are mighty in consciousness! The first year, I just loved them, no matter what. And in the second year, I “learned them” and they “learned me” and trust deepened in our relationship. Now we are in the third year and experiencing what kind of challenges “growth” in every sense of that word brings.
I have learned that people leave spiritual communities for all kinds of reasons, even if it makes no obvious sense. And people come back for all kinds of reasons, too. We had a “Friendship Sunday” and other outreach activities, but my mission is to love those who are present and to grow into the blessing of ministering to them without worrying much about the “missing.” There are four groups: the true Sunday regulars who are the ministry stewards; the once-a-month crowd who consider themselves “regular churchgoers;” the Christmas/Easter crowd, and the “cyber members” who watch online.
At the end of the day, this spiritual community exists by right of consciousness, with Christ-consciousness as the most important sustaining energy for us all. That is what is most important!