January 11, 2017
In just two years since the congregation adopted its 2015-2020 strategic directions, we have made great progress together! The following update was prepared by the Board’s Strategic Directions Task Force, which keeps a bird’s eye view on the congregation’s engagement with the goals it set.
Religious Education – Recommendations
- Build up the staff and volunteer capacity of the RE program.
- Tailor our RE program to meet the needs of 21stcentury families.
- Strengthen connections between the sanctuary and the RE program.
- Improve Communications.
Religious Education – Update
The RE program is thriving as it addresses the objectives above, as well the congregational goal stated in another section of the strategic plan: community building.
DRE Mia Noren designed and implemented a communications schema so RE participants would know where to look for information. She installed bulletin boards with teacher photos by every classroom door for communication, teacher recognition, and community building.
Since last spring, families have enjoyed monthly picnics on the playground. They were so popular that families requested continuing them indoors during the cold months! An RE swim party attracted 80+ attendees in September and another is planned for the winter months. RE barbeques have attracted similar crowds. Picnic tables will soon be installed on the playground to encourage parents and volunteers to linger and converse.
Teachers operate in teaching teams, part of a strategy to not only support volunteers and build up their capacity, but also to increase the sense of community in RE by bringing people together. This was the second year of including a new Teacher Commissioning liturgy in worship in the fall, and teachers will be celebrated at a big “thank you” event in the spring.
Children’s chapel, which commenced at the time the strategic plan was formed, continues monthly, with leadership rotating among ministers and DRE, and support from Director of Music Susan Peck. The third annual minister-led, family-centered Worship in the Wilderness will take place next summer. A children’s table in the back of the sanctuary, a well equipped family room with a live video/audio relay of worship, as well as regular family-friendly announcements from the pulpit also continue to nurture the connection between RE and the sanctuary.
Our vision for a children’s choir has proved to be challenging this year, with too few families able to commit to rehearsals. In an effort to tailor the children’s music program to the needs of 21st century families, we tried working on an ad-hoc model, in hopes that a short term choir with limited rehearsals, geared toward one special “performance” date might feel more doable. When that still didn’t work for families’ schedules, Mia and Susan set out to find new ways of incorporating music into children’s RE. Soon they will start kids out singing in the children’s chapel space each week, then rotate song-leader volunteers among classrooms so each group gets extra music in class once per month. A summer curriculum for kids based on social justice music is also in the works.
The RE Council is fully staffed with volunteers and now operates on a model of shared leadership with members holding portfolios of Community Building, Program Assessment, RE Buildings and Grounds, OWL, UU Kids Camp, and Curriculum.
The revamped church web site includes a more intuitive and appealing set of pages describing our RE programs and encouraging participation.
Mia has recently been accepted into the Religious Educator credentialing process with the UUA, which entails several days-long trainings, extensive study, and mentorship. She has a continuing education fund in the operating budget to support her in this professional development, part of building up the staff capacity and overall quality of RE and encouraging staff retention.
Mia has also developed a regional collaboration with DREs in New Mexico.
Social Bonds – Recommendations
- Build a central repository for information and organizational support.
- Develop standard procedures for starting new groups.
- Provide year-round social bonding opportunities, especially during lulls in the program calendar.
- Enhance a culture of inclusion and action to initiate and support social bonds.
Social Bonds – Update
After the strategic plan was adopted, the Membership Development Director job description was revamped and 50% more hours added to the position. This paved the way for new initiatives and a dramatic increase in social bonding programming.
In 2016 alone, at least 25 new groups involving about 200 people were formed, and several activities, such as a group trip to a baseball game, were held.
All the church brochures have been updated and 5 new ones added. Brochures explain various activities and groups that are available to members. They are available at the Connections table every Sunday in the hallway between the Sanctuary and the Social Hall.
To continue encouraging new opportunities for social bonding, Beth Elliot, our Membership Director, has developed a New Group Procedure Packet for anyone interested in forming a new group or planning an activity. The Packet is a one stop shop for forming interest groups and is available on the website.
OneBody is a social media outlet designed for churches; kind a Facebook for members. A Beta test is currently underway and the program should be available soon. Keep an eye on the website if you’d like to participate. OneBody has the potential to serve as a central repository for information and organizational support.
Welcoming conversations were originally viewed as a means for new members to meet with longer-term members. The idea was that a member of the congregation might help a new member find areas in which they might be interested in participating. Now all members are offered the opportunity to participate in one-to-one conversations. The conversations will be available every time there is a 5th Sunday in a month.
New members are now offered several options for integration into the church community. All new members are offered up to 5 personal contacts during their first year with First UU. These are growing more popular, with over 25 new members participating.
Roots classes are held on every 4th Sunday of each month. The classes cover UU beliefs, our congregation and our history.
Social Justice – Recommendations
- Strengthen existing, long-standing Social Justice efforts by broadening and deepening involvement throughout the congregation.
- Enhance and leverage leadership experience within existing Social Justice programs and the Social Justice Council.
- Refine and evaluate the process to select a Social Justice focus issue.
- Engage in strategic partnerships to broaden program impact.
- Develop and encourage ways for First Unitarian to “walk our talk.”
Social Justice – Update
After two years of increased organizing, recruitment and fundraising by the Social Justice Council (SJC), and thanks to the commitment of volunteer leaders, our congregation’s ongoing programs (including ESL, after school tutoring, and food pantry) AND its newest program (Family Promise) are thriving.
At the same time, the US presidential election has resulted in stress and worry for many social justice leaders and volunteers. The SJC held a caucus/potluck in January 2017 for all involved in Social Justice work at First Unitarian, to strengthen our sense of community, understand how each justice area is being impacted, raise spirits, and look for intersectionality (areas of overlap) in which we can support one another’s work.
Meanwhile in 2016, First Unitarian had a strong and positive presence at the Gay Pride parade, justice is a regular theme in worship, and our ministers continue to share their voices at other community events such as the interfaith Moral Monday event in Santa Fe in September, the Albuquerque Public School Board hearing on Transgender Student Protections back in March, and most recently, the Women’s Rally in Albuquerque on the weekend of the presidential inauguration. (Groups from First Unitarian organized to attend both the rally in Abq and the march in Santa Fe).
In the Religious Education program, Susan Peck and Mia Noren are collaborating to create a children’s summer curriculum based on social justice music, and RE children have raised money and collected hundreds books and bags of clothing for non-profit programs helping children in need in Abq. Justice is a regular theme of RE classes and projects.
The Diversity Task Force is in the midst of an expansion and re-visioning, to lead our anti-racism work into its next phase. In the last couple of years, anti-racism events and workshops have attracted at least 120 participants (not counting worship services on that theme).
We are still active with Albuquerque Interfaith, which is dedicated to systemic change, and ministerial intern Dan Lillie has formed a much-needed Core Organizing Team at First Unitarian to empower UUs in Abq Interfaith and other justice work.
The ESL and After-school Tutoring programs have developed a partnership with Encuentro, a community organization supporting immigrants. Together they are helping Encuentro reach the neighborhoods surrounding the church and are expanding First Unitarian’s offerings with the addition of a Spanish language course in financial literacy.
The SJC has offered scholarship support for young people interested in the UUSC College of Social Justice and General Assembly. In a couple of cases they have dispersed funds to that effect. Overall, despite publicizing the availability of scholarship money and reaching out to La Amikoj (the church youth group), they have received very few applications. It may be, as many have noted, that young people today are overscheduled and reluctant to take on new projects or trips. Or it may be that with the continued strengthening of our RE program, we will eventually have youth who identify more strongly as UU and are therefore more inspired to take risks (such as a trip to an unfamiliar place) as they live out their faith.
Volunteer Development – Recommendations
- Develop intentional volunteer training and management to support church programs and enhance individual skills.
- Extend knowledge and training throughout the church.
Volunteer Development – Update
Members and friends volunteering are what keep the wheels turning at First Unitarian. Our Membership Director led a Sunday worship service in August, 2016, around the theme of ‘service’ which resulted in a sign-up of 25 individual volunteers. We continue to have people visit the Connections table and sign up for volunteer activities. These folks are channeled to fill vacancies in our most critical groups.
A systematic approach to volunteer development and training remains to be designed and implemented.
Communication Technology – Recommendations
- Improve the church website to function as an information clearinghouse for all church programs and activities.
- Grow our knowledge and use of social media in support of church programs.
- Invest in communication infrastructure to keep us up-to-date and effective.
Communication Technology – Update
The church website has been overhauled to include a much better look and feel, and to enable online donations. As a part of this process, a number of information handling processes were improved – for example, an outline of our strategic plan and the progress we’re making to achieve our goals are easily updatable, and can be found readily through the new drop-down tabs.
Our Audio/Visual Team has been successful at upgrading our use of communications technology including implementation of high definition video, a new camera/perspective from the front wall (looking back into the audience), and a number of new and improved microphones. The team also improved and organized the associated equipment storage, and logged all A/V inventory in the past year. They continue to work on the processes for melding slides with video footage, and for sharing the video recordings with our out-of-town stakeholders. Also, the video team has worked to keep live coverage of the second service for the family room and sanctuary foyer. In the past all that was provided was a locked down shot of the stage/podium. Volunteer staffing is still an issue but the team remains hopeful. They did all this while maintaining a very high rate of same-day-delivery performance.
We are increasing our use of social media to build connections in our congregation. Our Facebook page has several groups to serve families with children, young adults, and our social justice organizing group. New members are finding us through Facebook. Our Membership Development Director is launching an on-line service, Our Church Family (referred to sometimes by its original name, One Body), which will be another way for church members to be in touch with each other, get information about different groups and activities, and update their personal information with the church.
The church staff, Board of Directors and committee leaders would like to thank all of you who are helping us move toward our vision as laid out in the Strategic Plan. If you have any additional information or updates to share on this work, please either
(1) Send an email to Larry Alei at firstname.lastname@example.org, or
(2) Visit with board members at our monthly “Coffee with the Board” table in the library, before and between services each 1st Sunday of the month