Newsletter: November 2015   
New England Region UUA

Preemptive Radical Inclusion: Everyone is Always in the Room

OWL Facilitator Training - Grades 7 to 12

OWL Facilitator Training -
Young Adults & Adults

Renaissance Module: Philosophy of RE

Online Event - Date TBA

Renaissance Module: Curriculum Planning

Online Event - Date TBA

G.R.A.C.E. Summit 2016

Embracing Who We Are: Unlocking the Aging Congregation's Gifts 
Online Event - Date TBA

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Hilary Allen
Innovation! Are you feeling it?
by Hilary Allen, Innovation & Growth Lead

When someone finds out my program area on the New England Regional Staff is Innovation and Growth, they often respond, "Wow, you probably work on all the fun stuff!" or "I bet you deal with a lot of new ideas and creative people!"
It's true. Innovation and growth tend to involve imaginative people doing invigorating work. I get to coach leaders through letting go of old habits and trying new things. My role has me asking congregations hard questions about their purpose and whether they are living it. I also have the privilege of witnessing the unfolding of some of the most fresh and relevant interpretations of Unitarian Universalism.
Yet, if I were to characterize my work, I wouldn't use the words fun or new. I would talk about feelings.

To me, innovation and growth work takes individuals and congregations right up against their growing edges, oftentimes over those edges and deeply into feelings: Optimistic. Liberated. Nervous. Desperate. Innovation and growth require risk, and sometimes that means leaping with faith, even when as Dr. King said, you can't see the whole staircase. And, well, not being able to see the whole staircase brings up feelings. 
Don't get me wrong, all of your Regional staff work in the realms of feelings, but there's something about the pressure of innovation and growth within Unitarian Universalism, and our societal religious landscape more broadly, that brings out a special brand of anxiety. We're searching for survival and that makes everyone a little panicky. It's also true that innovation and growth bring us into encounter with a fear many of us carry - the fear of failure. Read More...

Facing Feelings in Faith Communities
"Facing Feelings in Faith Communities", and its companion guide, is an invitation into how congregational life might be different if we expressed our emotions more frequently and skillfully. 

Susan Beaumont details how congregations can design manageable experiments. "Next time you find yourself in a meeting where the group wants to postpone a decision, why not encourage the birth of an experiment? If the group isn't comfortable approving a new giant step, figure out how to make it a baby step that everyone can learn from."

Chuck Knows Church
This episode of the satirical web series "The Committee" features the church leaders considering innovation and remarking, "we only fail if we don't learn anything from our experiments."
Rev. Sean Parker Dennison
Specifically on Failure

Read or watch and listen to the Rev. Sean Parker Dennison's Berry Street Lecture from this year's General Assembly (clip begins at 24:30 mins). Rev. Sean dreams that by discovering the freedom to admit failure, UUism might become more bold and relevant. Be sure not to miss the responses to the lecture.
President Peter Morales' letter in the Summer 2015 edition of UU World: "In order to seize this historic opportunity, we are going to have to innovate and try a number of ideas. When we try a number of ideas, many will fail. Probably most of them will."
For congregations who are experimenting with trying something new, or letting something go, or daring to pilot a partnership with another congregation or organization - all of these experiences could go badly. Something could turn out to make someone mad or cause financial complications or require the church to close. In a word, the innovation could fail.
But if we are serious about innovation and growth, if we aren't kidding around about adapting to the spiritual needs of our times, we have to get used to failure. We have to come to expect it, to anticipate it, and to build the resilience that allows us to try again...and again...and again.
The past several weeks I've been participating in an intensive fitness program. On the list provided to us of "How the Program Works" is a reminder that "if your way was working, you wouldn't be here." It's an encouragement for people to trust the trainer and to follow the meal plan, basically encouraging us to be suspect of our inner expert.
It's hard for me to imagine a better parallel to innovation and growth work. There are congregations who will never entertain the challenges of adaptation towards relevance. They are content to keep doing things just as they always have and have decided to basically bury their collective heads in the sand. Yet, there are other congregations and communities who have shown up, as I have with my bad eating habits and sedentary lifestyle, and said, "we need to be here because our way isn't working anymore."
And those congregations who have made some headway towards relevance as spiritual centers in their communities? Who have engaged full on the work of innovation and growth? Here's what they have done: They have built cultures of experimentation and risk. They just keep trying stuff, over and over, until they become less afraid. Their leaders say, "that thing we did was hard and I'm scared to live through it again, but what have we got to lose?" They confess their feelings, face them, try something else, and repeat.

Lean Experimentation
A lot of these themes come up in business writing I read, articles from Fast Company or the Harvard Business Review with titles like "The Promise of Lean Experimentation." Most of what I encounter is examples of how closely we have tied our innovation narratives to our beloved myths of individualism. I read countless articles detailing how single, solitary people come up with great, isolated ideas. Luckily those of us in congregations know that this story is not true.
We know innovation and growth takes a village because we are the village, and acknowledging this reality can make all the difference for us in this work. Our lived experience in congregations proves that we do not have to do this work alone. The truth of community is that when we try something, and fail - which we will - we will not have to feel that failure alone, and there will be others there next to us willing to try the next experiment, together.

Our work is made possible by district dues contributions from congregations, associational grants and individual gifts. We offer workshops, trainings and learning opportunities throughout the New England Region for congregational members, lay leaders and religious professionals. Regional staff services and support are available to UU congregations year-round. Like us on Facebook to get regional news, stories and updates in your newsfeed.