On the last day of UNCO 13 West, we opened with a short prayer service. Then we shared some of the results of yesterday’s breakout sessions, and talked about what might be topics for some final breakout sessions. What needed ongoing attention? What might be some projects that “have legs,” i.e., are ready to be implemented? These are the topics that emerged for the closing breakout groups:
— A group to talk about vocation and identity for ministers who aren’t doing traditional ministry, including the following: ministers who aren’t serving a congregation; ministers who are taking a break from formal ministries to raise kids; etc.
— A group to talk about transitional roles, including the following: how to manage transition in a congregation or other setting; how to talk about change without freaking people out; how to help a local congregation to die (congregational death being a perfectly natural thing; someone reminded us that none of the churches Paul of Tarsus started are now in existence); etc.
— A group to talk about the issues that face ministers and leaders who are starting new ministries (i.e., church planters, etc.), and to talk about the loneliness of pastors serving in those roles.
The person who had signed up to volunteer with the kid’s program said she really wanted to join one of these groups, so I immediately volunteered to take her place as one of the adults working in Kid UNCO. I would have been interested in the breakout group on vocation and identity for ministers who don’t serve in traditional ministries — ministers doing religious education are often seen as being not quite real ministers (“don’t you want your own church some day?”) — but honestly I was more interested in spending time with the kids once again. Ministry with children and youth is boring if you do it just once; the longer you stick with it, the more you get to see the kids grow and mature, and the more fun it gets to be.
Megan told the story sometimes known as the Parable of the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, or the Parable of the Generous Employer (Matt. 20.1-16), a story attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. Megan told this parable as a story of God’s love, and as a Universalist I’m fine with that interpretation. But while she was talking, I couldn’t help think of it as a story of economic justice. It raises all kinds of questions like: What’s a fair wage, and should an employer pay a minimum of a day’s wages even if the worker was not hired in time to work an entire day? Should some workers be resentful if other workers receive a minimum wage, and a minimum amount of pay, no matter how many hours they worked in one day? This led me to think about all the vitriolic letters to the editor during the BART strike, with people accusing BART workers of being overpaid and underworked. So I thought about these questions while I was sitting next to a four year old and together we all drew a picture of a vineyard.
Then it was time for lunch. I sat with Jeff and Will, both of whom are based in the Bay area. I mentioned that the people at UNCO seemed to me to be the ones who are most dissatisfied with the current state of their congregations, or denominations, or of progressive religion generally. “We’re the malcontents,” I said. “No,” said Jeff, “We’re the visionaries.” “Oh, OK,” I said.
Jeff mentioned that us UNCO attendees who live in the Bay area might think about staying in touch and having an occasional face-to-face meeting. Anna, a church planter, is also in the Bay area, and she has offered her front porch as a meeting place. I liked the idea of keeping the conversation going after UNCO13, and it looks like we will indeed stay in touch.
I was able to stay long enough to hear about some other ongoing projects and networks that are growing out of UNCO13 West, including a support group for church planters. But I had to leave before the end, to take care of some errands before I have to go back to work tomorrow.
Now here I sit, wondering how to make these UNCO dreams into reality.