We are pleased to announce that we received a $4,000 MidAmerica Chalice Lighters grant to support summer services. This is a big shift in terms of the life of the church, but follows a dream and vision that has been previously articulated. The MSUS Ministerial Search Information Packet (January 2016) opened with a letter from the Search Committee Co-Chairs. It states: “For nearly 50 years, we have served as a beacon of liberal faith for the northern suburbs of Minneapolis. We are excited about laying the foundations for our next 50 years…As our settled minister, we can offer you a congregation willing to ‘take it to the next level’ of organizational, social-incarnational, individual and numerical growth.” Clearly, you have studied congregational growth and were forthright in articulating your desire to grow in the years to come. In fact, at the 2015 Congregational Meeting, the congregation voted unanimously to borrow from our savings and hire a full-time minister. This was a demonstration of deep faith. In an overview of the congregation the search committee stated, “We are not seeking growth for its own sake, but because we genuinely believe that Unitarian Universalism is relevant in meaning for our times.” This statement can be amplified as we imagine the years ahead.
The Board of Trustees has acknowledged that the congregation must grow in order to sustain full-time ministry and the level of additional staffing we need. We had six people at the first of two membership classes in late October and know that there are others who plan to join. We understand that numerical growth will take time. I am involved in two interfaith groups in Fridley and am promoting the church wherever I go. There are some outreach efforts being explored for this spring or early fall 2017. We had a total of 34 visitors in 2015-2016 and in the first 4 ½ months of 2016-2017 we’ve had 21. There is a reason to feel hopeful.
Historically, the church has been closed during the summer. My observation of other Twin Cities congregations shows that summer is a time when families “church shop.” If they engage in the summer, then they are more likely to sustain that practice as the school year starts and enroll their children in Religious Education. I’ve also observed that new members tend to attend services in the summer because they have just intentionally joined a new faith community and services continue to feed that enthusiasm and connection.
Last summer, our community was shocked when Philando Castille was shot and killed in Falcon Heights. As the metro area responded to the news, our doors were closed. The world outside our walls is unpredictable and always changing. Time continues and lives continue—so does the need to come out of our isolated lives, gather in worship, and support each other in times of need.
Alice Mann, author of The In-Between Church: Navigating Size Transitions in Congregations, wrote two statements that exemplify this moment at MSUS. She says that we must “Help people peer over the imaginary threshold into a future rich with spiritual and personal meaning.” As importantly, she says it is important to “Show dramatically who and what is being lost because of the way you do things now.”
That phrase “peer over the imaginary threshold” truly captures the timeliness of this moment and potential outcome of receiving this grant and moving into a year round church.
We will have one service in the summer and are starting to imagine how to keep the logistics as simple as possible so they do not require the same system of volunteers and staffing that we maintain during the September through May part of the year. A ”Summer Minister” will be hired and serve while I am gone for vacation and study leave, however I plan to be available if there are serious pastoral care needs. If you are interested in joining the planning conversation and/or would like to help support summer services please contact me at 763-710-0435 or by email.
Rev. Laura Smidzik