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Our chosen communities

How thick are the bonds in your church?
By Tom Stites
March/April 2005 3.1.05

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In this chosen faith of ours, why do people choose to be part of a Unitarian Universalist congregation? Douglas K. Smith, author of this issue's cover story, says people choose us "explicitly for our shared values." Community, so hard to find in today's individualistic, disjointed, fast-forward world, forms around the congregation's values, and we are home.

When Smith was a boy playing little league baseball and attending UU church school, before the boom of interstate highways atomized American cities and towns, people didn't have to go looking for communities. Community was all but inescapable: It was your neighborhood and your town. But all that changed as the suburbs and television and fast food came to dominate America and, as Mary Pipher has written in these pages, people became likelier to know the fictional characters in a sitcom than the real people living next door. Now, to find real people in real community, we turn to organizations—like our congregations.

Given this reality, what is the character of the community that is your congregation, or mine? In Smith's view, the bonds of community are thicker in some than in others. Some have bonds so thick that they take action together to make the world better. In his words, others' bonds are so thin that they are "just a Sunday sanctuary." Small group ministries, or covenant groups or chalice groups as they are often called, are powerful thickeners of congregational bonds, as Thandeka wrote in our last issue. Some committees and adult education programs are thickeners as well.

How thick are the bonds in your church? Smith, who preached his first sermon as a college student in the church where he'd grown up, is still preaching in his work as an organizational consultant: His essay is a challenge to thicken the bonds of your congregation so it can reach out into the world with your values and make a difference. Smith draws on his experience as a consultant to offer expert bond-thickening ideas for you and your congregation.

I suspect that Smith will be pleased that three other major articles in this issue resonate with his theme: In the "Forum" essay by David Cockrell, we find that more than fifty congregations are engaged in the Green Sanctuary Program, which brings the people of a congregation together to pursue environmental responsibility in their buildings—and in their communities.

This thickens the bonds, as do adult education programs that draw people with shared values to learn together. In "Modeling the Simple Life", we find that ninety UU congregations have sought learning materials from Seeds of Simplicity, the organization voluntary simplicity leader Carol Holst founded, and that 125 have conducted workshops with a curriculum about simplifying your life that was created by the Northwest Earth Institute.

And in "The Microcredit Revolution", congregations with thick bonds reach out to make the world better: Six UU congregations and one UUA district have raised money to create more than twenty community banks that make small loans to microentrepreneurs around the world, helping them lift themselves out of poverty. This sure beats "just a Sunday sanctuary."

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