It’s been five whole months that I’ve had the honor of serving Greenville UU Fellowship. Time flies, and it seems that I might finally be getting my feet under me after such a warm welcome and an absolute whirlwind of learning about a new congregation and its people. This work is still in progress!
As Minister, one of the hats I wear is to help keep an eye on “the whole,” meaning the whole congregation – it’s health and wellbeing. I’m also tuned into what other religious institutions are experiencing. If I were in business, I’d call it “industry trends.” This is particularly important as we continue to make the transition from COVID-related isolation to in-person community.
What are the experts saying about the state of our UU congregations? I’m hearing that our congregations are at both low capacity and experiencing high anxiety. Congregations and their people are still feeling the drag of two years of isolation and its associated stressors. Many experts describe our collective experiences as trauma, and trauma takes time to heal. Adjusting to major changes in the way we live our lives is stressful. All of this leads to feelings of overwhelm and reluctance to return to the level of activity we experienced pre-pandemic.
These conditions are leading to a completely understandable “low capacity” for all kinds of activity in our congregations. Compounding this situation is the anxiety that comes from realizing that our congregations are not exactly what they used to be. People are asking questions: Where is everyone? Where are the families and kiddos? Why isn’t there as much stuff going on as there used to be? Is our congregation dying? Unfortunately, the low capacity is feeding the high anxiety
Although there is no magical solution, our wise advisors in the UUA Transitions Office invite us to reframe our current situation. They say understanding that the Next Normal is not the pre-pandemic normal is key.
Too much nostalgia is likely to be toxic. Congregations trapped in the past are likely to shrink. This is a time to redefine why people need Unitarian Universalism, where generational differences are going to have to learn to live together, and where new people coming into our congregations will be looking for communities of like-minded people, multi-theological exploration, and the desire to make a difference in the world (and likely not in the ways it’s always been done).
The Next Normal will not look like the old normal. Old assumptions about how we do things may no longer be relevant. The Next Normal is a time for gentle and curious reassessment, exploration, and an opportunity for some fresh starts. It is time to think about what parts of the past are most essential to bring forward to the future and what may need to be let go. In this time of low capacity and high anxiety, as we adjust to the Next Normal, I advise that GUUF volunteers and committees do things the easy way rather than the hard way, value “good enough” over excellence and perfection and focus on meaningful, even joyful experiences over a list of achievements. It is a time for small successes rather than ginormous, back-breaking projects. It is a time to be gentle with one another, as we’re all adjusting to the Next Normal. Instead of getting hijacked by anxiety over our collective depleted state, let’s remember why we’re here in the first place: to grow, to care for each other and to help make the world a better place. And all those things can still happen – but in a sustainable and joyful way.
With best wishes for a happy New Year,