Rev. Sarah Schurr
PWR Congregational Life Staff
The Unitarian Universalists of Puna are a small group of seekers on the Big Island of Hawaii. Their average Sunday attendance is around 20 people. The nearest UU congregation is in Honolulu, several islands away. You would need to take a plane to get there. Staff from the UUA are always available by phone, Zoom, and email, but a staff visit to Puna is a rare thing indeed. But when it was available, they jumped at the chance.
My husband had a business trip to the Big Island earlier this year. I tagged along to work remotely and to enjoy the scenery. As our region’s small congregation specialist, I reached out the UUs of Puna and made an appointment to meet with them during my stay. It was exciting for all of us. Margaret and Eleanor drove across the island to meet me in Kona. Bob joined by a video call. We had coffee in the hotel lobby and talked about their congregation. We talked about some key basics, like the importance of being mission-focused. We talked about the role of covenants and having good boundaries to keep the congregation functioning well. We talked about the ongoing importance of offering multi-platform services, even in a post-covid time. We talked about the work in our faith communities of moving from “I to We”. The Puna leaders were very engaged. They heard all this with open minds and open hearts. and asked great questions. Before our meeting ended, I made sure they were familiar with resources like the regional newsletter and how to find good information on LeaderLab.
The information I gave them could have been gleaned from web-based articles, had they known where to find them. Questions they asked could have been answered on a phone call, had they known they had those questions. Sometimes, with small and isolated congregations, it is easy for us to forget just how basic their support needs can be. And it is harder for groups like this to feel connected with the current state of Unitarian Universalism when the only way to get to another UU group is to travel a long distance. There are a few special gifts that an in-person visit can bring. In-person visits provide a personal connection, where body language is easy to read and respond to. Having coffee together helps build an instinctive connection; breaking bread together has always been way to build relationship. And I think the Puna leaders felt like my visit with them showed respect for who they are and what they are doing for our faith. I felt so lucky to have been able to support our UUs of Puna while I was in the area. I think they felt lucky too.
More ways for small congregations to connect and thrive:
1 – Make sure you know who your primary contact is on the PWR staff and be in touch. Each of our congregations has a PWR staff member who is there to be in relationship with them. If you don’t know who your primary staff contact is, check here.
2 – Presidents can attend special Zoom gatherings. Each primary contact staff member hosts regular online meetings for the presidents of congregations they work with. It is a great way for these lay leaders to connect with their peers. Sometimes it is nice to connect with someone who has similar joys and challenges.
3 – Take part in special UUA small congregation meetings and trainings. We have whole host of resources just for smaller congregations available on LeaderLab (for example, our “Meaningful Worship for Small Congregations” offering) and we offer a unique day of training every year. This year it is a symposium on Part Time Ministry being offered on May 13th. See below for details.
4 – Need help filling your worship calendar? The MidAmerica Region is hosting a free “sermon of the month” for small congregations. You can use these pre-recorded sermons in your small congregation free of charge. Many are by UUA staff, and on topics of interest. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for access.
5 – Know that you are not alone. About one third of all our UU congregations are considered “small”. Congregations of all sizes and shapes have a place in our community of communities. And contributions from all kinds of congregations make our work possible through the Annual Program Fund. Thank you for your support, today and tomorrow.