“Coming from the Latin word, intenionem, intention literally means stretching out, a stretching out of mind, heart, of body, of spirit. When we set an intention, we are turning out attention toward something, or someone, or some idea, and stretching out to meet it."
These words about intention were printed on the order of service at First Universalist in Minneapolis. I love how the words in this definition are so active. It encourages us to stretch and turn. At our Winter Solstice Service on December 21 we stood in a circle, lit a candle from the person next to us, and spoke out loud an intention. These intentions differed from New Year’s resolutions which often are goals such as exercising a few times a week, quitting a habit, or shifting some other aspect of your life style. Instead, intentions are more like guideposts for constructing one’s life. “Patience,” “openness to those who differ from me,” and “embracing uncertainty,” were a few of the spoken intentions. These were intentions that could be woven into lives, open new possibilities, and be ways to stretch oneself.
I have been thinking about our decision to grow the church—an intention set many years ago. Over the years there’s been an increase in staff hours, a commitment to two services, a call for a fulltime minister, and consideration of a new building. I am curious about other ways we may stretch and set our attention toward meeting this intention. I believe that if we are to grow, all of us will have to adjust some. New people have joined our congregation and I have heard from several of you that you are finding you don’t know everyone any more.
There are some practical solutions to this wonderful problem. We will be distributing a page of photos and contact information of new members with our updated address list in the next month or so. I’ve heard you used to have new member gatherings in the past. Perhaps someone will step forth to create such an event this year as well. During new member classes we talk about groups and/or service opportunities that are part of the MSUS community and connect individuals with what they’ve identified as areas of interest.
Beyond the practical, there is the question of how we live into this intention on an individual basis. I want to share a story of my mother and her experience of being a new member at a church. Over two years ago, my mother joined a church which prides itself as being friendly, open, and connected. Despite this perception of themselves, they do not wear name tags which makes it incredibly challenging for her to know people’s names and for them to know hers. She has found that members tend to come in, see each other, and then sit together in services and in the social hall. She consistently feels like and outsider and a visitor—even over two years later. She sees a “friendly culture,” but notes that it is friendly for those who are already friends, not towards new comers. Even in small groups she feels excluded. She spoke of joining a small group and constantly listening to people share outings and events they’ve done together outside of the group. This just exacerbates her aloneness as she feels she is tolerated in the group (even pleasantly), but is not invited into a deeper relationships. It has been hard to watch and acts as a cautionary tale for a place like MSUS.
Sometimes I look in the social hall and see new comers and newer members sitting unaccompanied in a room full of life and connection. I also wonder if people take time to check in and state their names when new members attend meetings or small groups? Bringing new members into the church community benefits us all. New people enrich our lives and also feel a true welcome to this community that prides itself on kindness and care.
If our intention is to be welcoming and to grow we need to continue to let that intention illuminate our path. How do we continue stretch our minds, hearts, bodies, and spirits so new comers will feel valued, included, known, and loved? I love this question and hope you do as well.