Our 3rd Service Experiment: The results are in…

In February, we began our “3rd Service Experiment,” with an intent of trying out three Sunday morning services for 13 Sundays – through April.  The Board charged the staff team with moving forward with this experiment in December because they realized that 2 services could not accommodate the numbers of people who wanted to worship with us on Sunday morning.
Our goal for the three services was to learn as much as we could about what it would take to sustain 3 Sunday services (how hard would it be?!), how people would react to an earlier (or later) service, and whether or not it would indeed accomplish the goal of serving more people.
In the past few weeks, our Committee on Shared Ministry (Glenn Pearson, Margie Wagner, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Sue Sullivan and Ward Sutton) have held a few feedback circles with various groups to help gather up some of this information we hoped to learn. These have provided us critical information as we begin to look ahead to the next steps for our worship services this summer and beyond.
If you weren’t able to attend one of these circles, I hope you will fill out this short survey about YOUR experience and lessons from the 3rd Service Experiment (By the end of April, please!).
We have two big pieces of news resulting from our lessons learned and our feedback so far.
First – much to our surprise – is that, instead of asking us to hurry up and be done with the three services – there is a shared desire to extend the three services through May 21st when our regular religious education classes will conclude. Anything sooner would disrupt our classes and our teachers too much.  Also, as a staff team, we have realized that a third service isn’t that hard – we actually like it! We like that it means more space for all who come, and that we can indeed serve more people.
Which brings us to the second insight – which is that for the period of February through this past Sunday, we are consistently serving nearly 40% more people than we did this time in any prior year.  Instead of seeing attendance plateau at our seating capacity, and then drop back down, it’s remaining steady, and growing.  Whereas previously we would see 200-300 adults on a Sunday, we are now routinely seeing between 350 and 450.  There are probably multiple reasons for this, but we can say with confidence that we are accommodating more people on Sunday morning, which was the goal.
Also, for the summer time, based on last year’s numbers we know that we need to have 2 services instead of 1. The summer time seems like an ideal time to offer our 8:00 service.
All of this means that, starting on Memorial Weekend and running through Labor Day, we’ll hold services at 8:00 and 9:30, with an extended fabulous social hour/community fun time at 10:30.
After Labor Day we will return to three services – and the times for these will be sorted out based on your feedback in the survey as well as through other efforts to collect feedback.
Thank you so much for your willingness to try out this experiment, and for making space for all who want to gather with us on Sundays. I know it has sometimes meant stepping out of your comfort zone, missing out on seeing some of your usual friends on Sundays, and changing around your routines.  Thank you for keeping your senses of humor in tact and for learning along with us so that we can keep serving our mission in these times when our church and our values are so needed, by so many.  33682878575_f8987089f2_k.jpg
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Making a Reverend – from Sue Sullivan and the Committee on Shared Ministry

You might have noticed that Sean doesn’t wear a stole on Sundays, or call himself Reverend. That is because, while he has completed every other necessary step along the path to becoming a minister, including graduating from Harvard Divinity School and completing his post-graduate studies and internship, he has not yet asked a congregation to ordain him — the ultimate symbolic, practical and spiritual step in the process of becoming a UU minister.

Sean could have requested ordination from any of the churches he has been affiliated with (the church he grew up in, the church where he first answered his call to become a minister, or the church that he did his field work in, for example) but he knew that he wanted to be ordained by the first church he served…and that’s us!

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The Committee on Shared Ministry shares about Sean’s ordination at the December 18th service

We are excited to share that we have been asked to enact this fundamental ceremony of our Unitarian Universalist faith, one that we have not performed for more than 25 years – the ordination of a minister to serve in our religious tradition (our last ordination was in 1991 when we ordained our then intern, the Rev. Thomas Perchlick). And not just any minister, but our own Sean Neil-Barron.

Many of us have heard Sean’s thought-provoking sermons since he joined us as assistant minister in August. Some of us might have received pastoral care from him, or attended a Foundations class, a Vespers service or one of the other small group experiences Sean has helped facilitate with energy, warmth and a passion for deepening our connections with each other and our larger community.

Sean is asking us, as a Universalist Unitarian congregation, to affirm that we find in him a strong and capable minister for our faith. We are honored to affirm his ministry not just generally, but in the many ways we have felt the power and care of his ministry personally.

Unitarian Universalism, unlike other religions, reserves the right to ordain ministers for congregations alone, and not a centralized church leadership. We the people do the ordaining.  In doing so we are not making an offer or a call to the minister, but simply and solemnly declaring that we see in him or her a minister fit to serve the Unitarian Universalist movement. We are fulfilling our role and responsibility as a congregation to select the ministers that serve our religious movement, and affirming and authorizing the minister into their service and leadership in Unitarian Universalism.  It is a solemn responsibility, as ordination is for life.

At the request of the Committee on Shared Ministry, the Board of Trustees voted last week to hold a special congregational meeting on January 29th with one action item – whether we agree as a congregation to ordain Sean Neil-Barron into the Unitarian Universalist ministry.

All those who have been members for 30 days prior are eligible to vote. If the vote passes, we’ll hold an ordination ceremony in April. The Committee on Shared Ministry will hold a forum between the Sunday services on January 8th to answer any questions about the ordination process.

The Committee on Shared Ministry includes Glenn Pearson, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Margie Wagner, Sue Sullivan, Rev. Gretchen Haley and Sean Neil-Barron. To a member, we are thrilled that Sean has asked us to perform one of our tradition’s most fundamental religious ceremonies and we look forward to answering any questions you might have about it at the January 8th forum.

In partnership and passion for a brighter world,

Sue Sullivan