When newly elected presidents of our congregations ask me what they should do to be effective in this important leadership position, I tell them two things:
First, prioritize your spiritual life.
Congregational leadership places demands on you that feel different than those of other commitments. What’s at stake is your relationship to your religious community. We invest a lot, consciously and unconsciously, in our congregational life, because we want it to mean more and be more ideal, more right, than we understand our secular life can be. Disappointments at church hit us deeper than we expect, because the symbolism of a religious community goes deeper than we think.
Keeping your spiritual core strong will help you remember who you are, and that not all of this is really about you – much is about the need of other people, projected onto you. A healthy spirit will prompt you to recall at just the right moments that this is temporary thing, and both the sting and the glory will pass. It will remind you that being chosen to serve is an opportunity to give that is rarely granted, and that you are ready; being perfect is not required.
So go to church. Pray or meditate, allowing yourself to feel pain and anxiety and excitement and happiness and peace. Read. Play. Love yourself and your family and friends, and let yourself be loved. Practice generosity. Ask for help. Accept thanks.
Second, learn everything you can about UU and religious leadership. Read recommended books. Always read Interconnections, our newsletter for congregation leaders. Cruise the UUA and District website often, so that you know what’s going on around you, and what resources are available to you and your congregation. Attend all the workshops you can! Go to General Assembly and District Assembly – they are an amazing connection to the gift of our larger faith, and our larger fellowship.
You have an opportunity to nurture these leadership priorities coming up on February 5. I hope to see you at our District Assembly, which takes on the feel of a celebratory spiritual retreat this year, with experiences designed to invite your body and soul to respond to our world, as well as your thinking, intellectual self.
This year, we’re trying our first one-day Assembly, hosted by and at First Unitarian Church of Portland, OR. Because we’re not in an expansive hotel conference center, we’ve had to cap enrollment at 500. The good news is, we’ve reached that cap!
The bad news is that registration is now closed, and we know some will be disappointed to find they are not able to join in. We’re very sorry for that, and we hope you can come next year. (In Alaska! In May!) And keep your eye on our calendar of events, so you don’t miss the next opportunity for learning and fellowship with your UU sisters and brothers.
Blessings to you and your congregation this New Year. May you embrace joy! And may you find your days richer by prioritizing your spiritual life, learning everything you can about Unitarian Universalist leadership, and bringing your whole self to all you encounter.