Saturday, 30 July 2011

What attaches people to their community

Surfing the Internet for something about soulful community I came across a site about a project called Soul of the Community.  It says this

What makes a community a desirable place to live? What draws people to stake their future in it? Are communities with more attached residents better off?

Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched the Knight Soul of the Community project in 2008 with these questions in mind. After interviewing close to 43,000 people in 26 communities over three years, the study has found that three main qualities attach people to place: social offerings, such as entertainment venues and places to meet, openness (how welcoming a place is) and the area’s aesthetics (its physical beauty and green spaces).

Whilst our meeting houses, chapels and churches are not neighbourhoods it is worth thinking about these three characteristics
  • Social offering;
  • Welcome; and
  • Beauty. 
Although we believe that people are attached to others in a community and not the physical building, many of us have a very open love for our worship space and the place where we meet.  When newcomers first walk through our doors they will be confronted with our welcome and the physicality of the place.  So this seems to be quite a good starting point.  Time for a bit more thinking.

Friday, 29 July 2011

How can we measure a community's soulfulness?

I have been busier than usual and so my reading for pleasure has been books with short chapters and snippets.  I have returned to a book called Journey to the Light edited by Linda Jones and Sophie Stanes which is about people of religion and their encounters with doubt.  There are some fascinating stories but the one that I love the most is from Rabbi Lionel Blue.  He is my secret crush - not so secret now!

I like Lionel Blue for, amongst other things, his humanity and absolute faith in God - which he calls WW (Whomsoever, Whatsoever).  He casts a critical eye over religion - Christianity as well as Judaism, and writes about every day encounters with WW.  It was one of his books which gave me permission to be religious - to be able to think in terms of faith as quite pragmatic and integral to life rather than dogmatic and church-based.

Here's what he writes about growing up.

'We have to be careful because sometimes we grow up and we don't allow God to grow up as well.  You end up as an adult and God as he was at the Sunday school stage.  I remember a boy at barmitzvah who asked me. 'Rabbi, do you believe everything you read in the book of scrolls?'  I replied, 'Of course not, some of it's unbelievable,' and he looked really shaken.  I said to him, 'You're supposed to become an adult today, you've asked me a question, so here's an adult answer.  The best way of looking at it is that the book is the beliefs and experiences of all our ancestors, our forefathers and foremothers.  You've got your own truth and you've got to add it on.  You can't be your own grandfather.'  I tell my students that they should be careful not to be trapped by religious rules.  They've got to find Whomsover, Whatsoever wherever it is.  They've got to make their own journey.'

As Unitarians we don't need telling this.  As individuals we are committed to finding and following our own path or perhaps forging our own path would be a better description.  And as communities we must do the same.  Each community is different and has its own path to forge.  As our own individual paths cross and collide we create a wonderful magic that is religious community - or not.

If we think that we are not creating magic - then what is it that is holding us back?  Do people themselves know the issues?  I suspect that in many communities at least a few people will know what the difficulties are and why, but there may be some communities where people really cannot fathom what the problem is.  We have congregational assessment forms which give us an idea of how the patient is doing - all the vital signs are being checked - but still there is something missing.  

I think that we might call this the soul of the community.  What is our community's higher purpose?  Is there a dynamic or are we stuck?  Does each individual feel that they matter and that they help to create the whole?  How is a community's soulfulness expressed?  Is our community's soul mature, has it grown as we have grown or has it remained as a Sunday school soul?

Is there something more profound than the congregational assessment form that we can create which helps communities move into more soulful being?  This needs some thinking - I am not sure whether it needs a lot or a little.  If anyone has any thoughts then please do comment.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Charter for Compassion & UHU

There is something warm and fuzzy about signing up to a Charter for Compassion.  It says this about what it is about

The Golden Rule requires that we use empathy -- moral imagination -- to put ourselves in others' shoes. We should act toward them as we would want them to act toward us. We should refuse, under any circumstance, to carry out actions which would cause them harm.

Which seems to me to be a good start. However there is something to me about action which demands something of us.  If compassion were easy, why would there be all the fuss about it?  And so we have to ask ourselves - what can I do?  What cost am I prepared to pay to put compassion into practice?

It is often easier to do things for people that we don't know - give some money for a good cause or sign a petition.  It is can be more difficult to do something for those that we know.  How do we show compassion for those around us?  Within our own Unitarian communities - local, national and international - what might we be called to do?  

The issue of money is a touchy subject. And yet for many people the issue is about money.  I remember when my daughter was small that I would use her Christmas money to pay for food so that we could eat during the month of January until I got paid when I would pay her back.  Single-parenthood brought financial difficulties which I had not experienced since my childhood.  And because I had experienced them in my childhood it took me back to those times when I felt helpless and different to my friends.  Money is an emotive subject for a variety of reasons.

During the years friends have paid for hotel stays when I have gone away with them as they knew that I would struggle to afford it.  Another friend in a two-income, no-child household sent me a cheque for over £500 when an assurance policy matured - he and his partner's kindness meant so much.  I have been touched by such actions - love in action.  To make real a person's love and concern by doing that very practical thing of providing money has meant so much to me and to my life.

Perhaps I am sensitized to this and I am glad that I am.  I have tried to be supportive of friends and those in our local community who struggle.  It is not easy for those in need and those trying to help.  I once sent a friend of mine some money and my mother told me off - as if it was not the thing to do.  On the phone I asked my friend if she felt offended - ready to apologise - on the contrary she had needed money at that point and was glad of it.

Many of us live in a world where we always have enough money for the mortgage, the food, the utility bills and more besides.  But many of us do not.  We may stand side by side with people every Sunday whose circumstances are very different to ours.  We don't have special pews or boxes these days for those with the money.  We are all in it together.  

Should Unitarians try to do something about this?  And if so what? To help those Unitarians wanting to attend training events and conferences I have started a Facebook page - UHU (Unitarians Helping Unitarians).  There are three rules - which are
  • Ask when you are in need;
  • Give when you can; and
  • Give what you can. 
I know the importance of getting a financial leg-up.  I hope that others will be motivated to help fellow Unitarians in financial need.  It could, and most probably will, change someone's life.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Shaping the Future

The results of the Hibbert Trust funded project can be found here. Interestingly for a publication which extols us to use new media there is as far as I can see no on-line forum to engage us all in the debate. For a document that is supposed to shape our future it looks suspiciously like something that is mired in our past. The last paragraph says this

However, the group has been able to offer pointers. These primarily concern communication; involvement in contemporary issues of concern, whether social, political, or global; and a spirituality that is based on active acceptance of the individual and his or her needs. Thus principles have been identified on which action can be based.

The project cost thousands of pounds and involved people giving up a lot of their time and energy and this is the result. So social action and individual spiritual need - sounds very 19th century to me. If anyone is interested in a debate I have posted this link onto the UK Unitarian Facebook group.

Time to think more creatively than this, to do real collaborative enquiry (if that's what we want to do) and to produce documents which look and feel modern and appealing to the eye.

Oh dear!