Tis a Gift to Be Simple

Happy holidays

        My wife and I don’t usually give gifts anymore to ourselves at Christmas.  We determined that we had enough stuff in our lives and decided that we would give to others who were not as fortunate.  One year we gave to the Heifer Project that combats world hunger by providing animals to help people become self-sufficient.   We also gave to the local Food Bank to assist in keeping area families nourished.  We have given to the Southern Poverty Law Center to help them in fighting against intolerance and hate groups in this country. 

        We get numerous requests both throughout the year and especially at the end of the calendar year to give financial support to many worthy causes.  If we were independently wealthy, I would have no problem giving to all of them.  However, on my UUA salary and my wife’s salary, we must make meaningful decisions on where our gifts can do the most good.  The first place we give is to our home church.  They get the largest part of our contributions.  We also support the JPD Chalice Lighter program to assist in growing our faith beyond the local church.  We are Friends of the UUA and have a regular donation taken out of my paycheck. 

        I list all of these areas of our generosity not to brag but to show that a part of my faith is using the blessings I have received to help others.  Giving is a spiritual discipline that we cultivate in our lives.  It isn’t something that we trot out at one time of year but is a practice that becomes a part of our everyday lives.  I believe that when we give of both ourselves and our resources, we make the world a little bit better. 

        According to the story, three wise men came from afar to see the baby Jesus in the manger.  They came bearing precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to give to the baby.  In the ancient near East, these last two gifts were worth their weight in gold.  These gifts were meant to pay homage to Jesus and what he stood for to those wise men. 

As you enter this season of the holidays, what are the gifts that you bring?  Who do you lift up that is in need of your time?  Who might be made better through your talents?  And what would your treasure do to make the world better? 

I have a favorite reading by Howard Thurman that I have used for many years.  I share it with you as my wish for your gifts to be used in merry measure throughout the coming year. 

The Work of Christmas

When the song of angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among the people,

To make music in the heart.

        May the love of family, friends, and church provide you with a community that celebrates the work of Christmas so that our world will be a little bit warmer for those most in need of our love.  Happy Holidays.

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This Thanksgiving hymn is one of my favorites.  Here is the first verse:

Come, ye thankful people, come,

raise the song of harvest home;

all is safely gathered in,

ere the winter storms begin.

God our Maker doth provide

for our wants to be supplied;

come to God’s own temple, come,

raise the song of harvest home.

        The hymn was written in 1844 by Rev. Henry Alford, an English churchman.  As I understand the hymn, we are to give thanks for a good harvest.  The hymn in our hymnal only has two of the four verses in the original text.  The expanded text talks about our lives and our work as the harvest for God. 

        What does it mean to be a thankful people?  Every religion that I have ever studied has a component of being grateful and offering thanksgiving within that religious tradition.  Within Judaism gratitude is a central part of worship and in how one lives one’s life.  The prophet Mohammad said, “Gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue.”  And gratitude is at the heart of Christianity.  Buddhism lifts up the gratitude for what your parents have done to nurture you into adulthood. 

        What are the ways that we can show our gratitude to others?  In searching the web, I discovered a site that discusses 50 ways to show gratitude.  I like this quote from the site.  “At the heart of it, Thanksgiving in particular calls us to see people with the deepest appreciation for the gifts they’ve given us. Some gifts are more immediately obvious than others—the type that come with praise, affection, and genuine esteem.”

        Here are just the first ten ways from the site, http://tinybuddha.com/blog/50-ways-to-show-gratitude-for-the-people-in-your-life/:

1. Share a specific example of something they did for you and how it made a difference in your life.

2. Do something little but thoughtful for them—like clean up after Thanksgiving dinner!

3. Give a long, intimate hug; or if you know they don’t like hugs, stick out your hand for a handshake to cater to their preferences and make them smile.

4. Tell them you’re there if they have anything they want to talk about—and let them know they have your full attention.

5. Give them something of yours that you think they would enjoy, and let them know specifically why you want them to have it.

6. Invite them to do something you know they’ve always wanted to do.

7. Encourage them to try something you know they want to try, but haven’t yet because they’re scared.

8. Offer to do something you know they don’t enjoy doing, like organizing their closet or mowing their lawn.

9. Compliment them on a talent, skill, or strength that you admire.

10. Look them straight in the eyes and say, “You make the world a better place.”

As we enter into this fall time of giving thanks, I want to express my thanks to all of you who give of your time, talent, and treasure to lead our congregations, do the ministry that is before you, and keep our churches, societies, and fellowships growing and vital.  May you be blessed with an abundant harvest and celebrate with others this season.

Who Will Lead Us?

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Have you looked around at your congregation lately?  Have you noticed a perceptible graying of the membership?  If so, you are not alone.  I recently came across this from a Methodist source.

“Most leaders need only look around their own congregations to see the statistics compiled by The United Methodist Church play out.  Too few young adults are taking on ministry roles.  Only about 5 percent of UMC leadership is younger than age 35.

That is a slight increase over three years ago when just 4.69 percent were younger than 35.

Yet, a little more than 20 years ago, the young adult numbers were significantly greater.  In 1985, 15 percent of deacons and elders were younger than 35.  The challenge is clear and one The United Methodist Church has recognized.  Churches need to involve younger leaders. It can be a chicken-and-egg thing. Which comes first—more young adult leaders or more young adult congregation members?”

I expect that our statistics mirror those of the Methodists and the Baptists, and the Episcopalians.  When was the last time that you elected a person under thirty-five to the board of trustees?  If we are to have the leadership that we need for the future we must do a better job of encouraging, training, and nurturing newer and younger leaders for our congregations. 

Some things that might work to bring a new generation of leaders forward include identifying, training, and supporting younger people who would like to take on more responsibility in the congregation.  Here are some thoughts that will allow congregations to accomplish these things.

1.   Identifying new leadership:  Look for people who have a talent for working well with others.  Use survey instruments to gather information on skills and abilities from your members.  Some congregations create a database of skills and abilities that are used for finding new leaders.

2.  Training: Younger members might not have the experience of working as leaders of groups.  Every congregation should develop a process for training new leaders on an annual basis.  If your congregation is too small to do it alone, pair up with other nearby congregations to offer it jointly.  Invite the district to bring a leadership development workshop to your location and invite surrounding congregations to attend and bring their new leaders. 

3.  Support:  Find out what newer, younger potential leaders need to succeed.  It might be re-writing the job so it is more manageable.  It might be dividing the job into two or more portions so that a new leader can fit the work into a hectic schedule without feeling overwhelmed.  Check in with the new leader after they have been in the position for a little while and find out what additional support might be helpful. 

I was a young adult when I first encountered Unitarian Universalism.  I became a young adult leader because someone took the time to educate me about the inner workings of the congregation where I was a member.  I was nurtured and supported as I grew into my leadership potential. 

If each congregation were to identify just two young people a year to cultivate into leadership, we would stop the graying of our congregations because these younger people will know what their age cohorts need in ministry and programming.  They will bring more vitality to our congregations and would help reverse the slow decline that faith communities are experiencing today.