As mentioned back in January, I’ve been in search for a congregation to serve. As a result, I’ve read about the challenges and ambitions of many of our congregations, spoken with congregations all over the country, and visited from coast to coast and in between. Along the way, I’ve been struck by the abundance of construction issues that came up:
We are held back by facilities that are too small, poorly maintained, and have insufficient parking. Every congregation I visited was in some state of design or construction (contemplating it, working on it, fundraising for it, finishing it up, or rejoicing in the completion of it). And…I think that might even be true of every neutral pulpit I visited! Although there is currently a lot of teeth gnashing about our growth or lack thereof, it’s clear that many of our congregations are thriving and expanding.
Sometimes we need to dream bigger. I’ve seen multiple congregations who renovated only to meet their current needs, which means by the time construction was finished, the building was already too small. When your construction project is likely to take you several years to bring to fruition, it can be hard to think even farther ahead than that. But you will save yourselves money (and hassle) by dreaming a little bit bigger upfront.
With a concrete vision to work towards, our congregations are almost unstoppable. The construction or renovation of a building is an incredibly complex process (I know what I’m talking about here). But the vision of a renovated facility can be galvanizing and motivating. Boards, committees, and task forces come together to share decision-making, raise money, coordinate with multiple stakeholders (including the local community), COMPROMISE!, and get the job done. I can’t help but wonder what we could accomplish if our congregational mission statements were as concrete as our construction plans.
Physical space matters. Let’s not go broke renovating our buildings, but let’s at least show that we care about our spiritual home. Let’s provide clear signage and a flow of traffic that makes sense for our first-time visitors. Let’s give our children and our elders comfortable and safe space. Let’s be sure our facility conveys our welcome to people of all physical abilities. Let’s convey our warmth and friendliness in every room, and let’s preserve a sense of the sacred in the worship space. And with that in mind…
Let’s keep and maintain our historical buildings. I get it that historical buildings are expensive to maintain. But it would break my heart to see the Unitarian Universalist Association ever sell 25 Beacon Street or Eliot and Pickett Houses in Boston (this gets talked about sometimes!). And I’ve seen the beauty and experienced the depth of feeling that comes from standing in a 150-year-old Unitarian church. I would happily donate money to a UUA building preservation fund, and I can’t imagine that I’m alone. Let’s not leave our historical congregations alone in trying to maintain our collective religious history.
(And I hope to share the happy outcome of my search process in the next couple of weeks!)