Unitarian congregations
what is membership?

    The membership of most congregations changes almost constantly. It's not the number of people who have signed "the book" but a living community that is almost never the same - evolving from week to week.
    This ever-changing "spiritual body" - influenced by birth and death, by affection and alienation, by hurt feelings and reconciliations, by generosity and cold-heartedness, by anger and enthusiasm, by all the exigencies and contingencies of life - (this) makes up the real membership of a congregation.
    It is literally a breathing body, that is, a living thing. And it is participation in this dynamic, this life, that over time makes one, in the deepest theological sense a Member and at the same time transforms an aggregation of individuals into a community. In other words, Membership is a process.

    'Other faith' backgrounds

    Our congregations consist overwhelmingly of members from other faith backgrounds. Technically, they would be converts and yet, they seldom speak of a conversion experience. They often say "This is what I always was, but I didn't realize there were others like me, who felt the same way." For them, Membership is a Confirmation. It is a confirmation of beliefs that have been bubbling up from below the surface of their lives - perhaps for many years.

    Thought Food

    Membership also means how strongly ONE can influence the destiny of the Group. Our congregations need to be places where connections can be made.
    People seek out a congregation because they need a place to belong - to be rooted, to work out questions of value and meaning, to have a spiritual life. The congregation that understands itself in these terms will also be a congregation that understands itself to be an organic entity that grows and transforms.

    PEOPLE constitute communities

    The Rev. George K. Beach asserts "People do not 'join' a covenanted community; rather, they constitute it; there is no 'IT' without them and each time new folks join, the whole is literally reconstituted."
    And so we must be mindful that we tell our new members about what it takes to maintain this supportive community of believers. It is not the "magic" of signing the book, but hard unglamorous work. Like any relationship, it requires commitment.
    We often hear people say that they are seeking a "Spiritual Community," but want nothing to do with "Organized Religion." They seem to mean that they are looking for a place that will meet their own religious needs but won't make demands on them to support the institution's needs.
    The reality is that you can't have one without the other, and part of the church's job is to lead people in the discovery of the spiritual truth that it is only by giving that we receive, giving not only our money but ourselves. In other words, only by making a commitment to a community (not with lofty idealisms, but with practical realities) can we hope to build and maintain a community.
    Once again, it is a pleasure to welcome you, Members of the NEW Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron.
    Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron, Ohio

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