Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Membership in the larger context

Jan and I have been talking about membership and what it means to those who make use of the RE program - a little more than half of our families are members - and that translates into money, on some level. Thinking about money and spirituality makes me a little queasy, quite honestly, but we had a great and reflective discussion about it and how it is communicated at First UU. I just found this post from UUMomma about membership and what it means. She doesn't seem to get clear answers either, so at least I'm not alone. I want to think about visioning and what it means to be a member - both as a current member of my church, and as a future minister.

Jan explained to me that the hope is that people who come regularly will pledge, even if they don't become members. This wasn't clear to me before I became a member at either of the UU churches I have belonged to, and I don't think that there's a clear communication path around this. As a user of RE or community services through the church, this makes sense though.

The other piece is that pledging seems to be the big piece of becoming a member. Our ministers had a dessert for prospective members and gave us a spiel about where pledge money goes and how it supports the church. Now I adore our ministers, but this felt more like buying a used car than joining a church.

Handing over a check while signing the membership book - ick. I'd rather hand over my soul ;).

Personally, I know that money is part of church, but I don't want to think about it that much as a newcomer. I want to bask in the sermons, feel the safety of community, and meet people. But I think that if I had been invited, even as a non-member, to congregational meetings (even though non-members don't get a vote), I would have understood so much more about how important time and pledges are to the running of the church.

I told Jan that I think that our membership committee should reach out to new people in their first year and help them connect to the practicalities of church - after all UUs are pretty methodical and seeking people who want information for the most part. I wonder how other people feel about that? About having a conversation with people about membership vs. pledging - they dont' have to come together.

Congregational and budget meetings are as community building as small groups like book group with the minister, Wellspring, etc. Just from a different perspective. I'd much rather go to those and be asked to pledge than to be "sold" the idea of pledging. But maybe that's just me?

So what does it mean to be a member? I think that's probably as personal as what UUism means to people in a religious and spiritual way.

Speaking for myself, membership means a commitment to my spiritual path as a UU, as well as practicalities. Being willing to serve on committees, to volunteer my time, to attend groups that help me grow personally.

Membership means that I need to take part in radical hospitality - I need to commit to reaching out to old and new members and making them feel welcome every time they show up. To be in contact with our ministers and staff about things I know about our visitors and members - what they need from us.

To evangelize - talk to others outside the UU about the UU - to encourage people to try it out, to see if it's the right path for them if they're seeking one.

To support the church financially and with energy and time. To make it a priority as my top community that gets a lot of my resources and talents.

To support the church's initiatives in the local and global community.

And finally for me, to lead, to love, to nurture, to build. To use my love and talents in organization, speaking, web-weaving to reach others and serve. Being a member is to embrace everything practical and spiritual about our religion (is it a religion? For the sake of argument we'll say it is, for today).

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