Saturday, December 01, 2007

Teaching the New UU Class...

always jazzes me up. This morning, I spent four hours with a group of five folks who are interested in membership at UUCWI. The membership chair and I collaborated on this orientation session and after it was over, about 1 p.m., we turned to each other and said, "Wow, that was a great session!"

This is the first time I've taught this class at UUCWI. In the past, a lay person taught it, as there wasn't enough minister-time available. But this particular layperson has gone on to study for the ministry at Seattle U and doesn't have time to take on the project this year. I love to teach, so I gladly agreed to prepare and teach the class.

We'd settled on a one-morning session, hoping to cover all the basics and give some time for questions. I've looked at what other congregations offer (3 two-hour Saturday sessions or 4 week night sessions or some combination of weeknights and weekends) and decided to pare it down to what I feel a prospective member absolutely must know, giving plenty of time for questions.

We started out with a chalice lighting and the words of John (old "give them not hell but hope") Murray from the 18th century and a little bit about the significance of the flaming chalice, then watched the latest UUA DVD, "Voices of UUism". Each person then took time to tell a brief version of their spiritual journey, what their religious heritage was, if any, how they had found UUism, and what they were looking for. I love hearing people's stories, what their questions and concerns are, and I love responding to those questions and concerns. And I like for them to hear my story, how I found UUism (I married into it), where it has taken me, my call to ministry, and where I am today.

I gave a brief timeline of UU history, highlighting the big stuff, like Michael Servetus, early American Unitarian and Universalist figures, our social justice record, and the changes since the merger in 1961. And we read together the seven principles, discussed them briefly, read together the six sources, and discussed them briefly.

We also touched on the history and structure of our congregation and what the privileges, opportunities, and expectations of membership are. We outlined the process for joining and the ceremonies that accompany that act. We also described some of our important extra ceremonies, like child dedication, and gave plenty of time for questions.

Our attendees were full of questions and we spent a productive few minutes talking about the heavy words: church, worship, God, and the like. Is it okay to re-define or metaphorize these words so that they feel better? If the dictionary defines them one way, is it legitimate to veer away from that definition? Not easy questions to deal with.

I am initially challenged by these kinds of questions, but I always feel glad that the person felt safe enough to raise them. I'm never sure if I've answered them adequately but I've done my best.

I'm hopeful that all of the folks present today (and one absent partner) will join the congregation. All of them are already contributing their time and energy to the new building or the activities of the congregation and I hope we will have them around for a long time.


Cait said...

We had our New to UU workshop today too in Stamford, CT! We call it a workshop because class scared people. How many new people did you invite to get 5 attendees?

Shelby Meyerhoff said...

Sounds like a great meeting! These workshops are so important in helping potential members understand UUism, form a relationship with the minister, and meet new people in the congregation. I think the extended format might be especially needed in larger congregations, where new members could otherwise get lost in the shuffle.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Cait and Shelby. Cait, we invited seven people who had been pretty regular visitors and/or very new joiners. And, Shelby, we can do it in a one morning session because of the very reason you state---we're small and people don't get lost easily.