resource re church shooting: Helping children handle disaster related anxiety

July 28, 2008

Here is a link to a 
website with excellent advice for parents (and other adults) helping 
children deal with anxiety after a 
disaster. The list below has been of tremendous help after 9/11.

Please add others or use it elsewhere.


sorrow, survivor’s guilt, and censored rants

July 28, 2008

Saturday evening I chatted on the phone with the woman who had designed and then made all the costumes for our childrens’ musical at church. Today I saw her crying in the pews after her husband, also fighting back tears, announced the terrible news from Knoxville from the pulpit. The woman who had had the exact same job at Tennessee Valley UU Church is now a widow, Greg McKendry was her husband.

Our emotions are in turmoil. Our thoughts are with the victims, and at the same time something not unlike survivor’s guilt is creeping up. It could have been us. They were us. We are them. Here in the Denver area, we still sometimes see bleached stickers: Columbine is everywhere.

A footnote on the horrible events: I was reading the comments by viewers of the local station. Apparently, several posts had been marked as abusive and were taken off, leaving the reader to wonder what was said. Reactions from other readers tell me they were (probably) of two kinds: 1) an angry atheist who made assumptions and generalizations about a dogmatically motivated attack by a fanatic Christian; 2) someone who derided UUs, knocked the performance of an ‘un-Christian’ musical, and said something to the effect of ‘serves them right’, or “God’s wrath”.

Part of me wishes those deleted posts were still there. Maybe I’m naive and we can’t really learn anything from them, but this is the country where “free speech” is a universal idea, and yet, we’re timid and censorious in many situations.

My guess is that uncivilized ranters often say things that are an undercurrent in certain groups of society, expressing prejudice, irrational fears, rumors and hate speech that are prevalent but not on the surface.

The other part of me hopes we can minimize the pain for the victims who have already suffered too much. 

But what also surfaced in the reader statements was that some people either couldn’t place UU or had some odd ideas about it. In these coming days we may be asked about our faith, be ready.

Of course, this may turn out to be just a sad case of untreated mental illness, a specter that is haunting the United States whose voters so far have been denied inclusive healthcare available to most other industrial nations. We may know more soon. Let’s hope we don’t have reason to be fearful that UUs are now an identified target.

Finally, if you are sending letters to Tennessee don’t forget that several visiting members of the Westside Unitarian Universalist Church were also injured and traumatized (one, Linda Kraeger, is among the dead).

Peter Morales’ “Repelling fewer visitors” can’t be easily dismissed — an endorsement

July 25, 2008

Thanks to Philocrites I noticed a blog post by Rev. Anthony David, who had criticized Peter Morales‘ growth strategy of ‘repelling fewer visitors’. On many levels, Rev. David’s post (here) is insightful and worth considering but his facile dismissal of the ‘repelling’ issue looks shallow to me when he paints it as a lifeless, mechanical exercise in contrast to a supposedly much more sustaining spiritual nurturing of our ‘deeper’ UU identity.  

This view ignores that almost all of those people had already thoroughly checked out UU online prior to their visit, had read beliefnet, listened to sermons on that church’s website, or called for details. They came through the church door because they had concluded that in principle, they should fit right in, spiritually, ideologically. So it must be something we’re doing wrong to make those quarter million people leave. 

How could we possibly justify to continue doing things wrong and shunning those who are actively seeking our community, denying them the religious home they seek?

Is this only about us lucky bastards who are already in the UU club?

A president who can shake up people to live up to their own stated desires (with growth at the very top!) will be a blessing for our movement. 

In his critique, Rev. David used the term ‘mechanical’ with regard to growth strategies in a somewhat tendentious way. Peter’s growth workshops have proven effective because they don’t rely on one-size-fits-all ‘mechanisms’ but instead lead a congregation to look soberly at their ingrained disfunctional practices and habits, and to come up with individual solutions themselves that work for them. Yes, there are ‘mechanisms’ to be dealt with and ‘mechanisms’ that need to be replaced by better ones. But done in the right spirit this can be a deeply meaningful, and, yes, spiritual, practice. 

In the context of growth, a vastly more useful term is critical mass“Growing our souls”  (what Rev. David and most of us aspire to) is much more easily achieved in a congregation that takes steps – any steps! – to leave stagnation and decline behind. A growing, rejuvenating congregation has more volunteers, more children, more task forces, more services of different kinds, (and, yes, eventually even more tenors and basses).

You need critical mass to be able to start more appealing programs or forms of service and action, and we don’t have critical mass for a lot of those (including, incidentally, youth RE and nurseries!) in the vast majority of our congregations.

I may be reading too much into David’s blog entry but I see there a call for the UUA president to preach, appeal and inspire us to strengthen our spiritual UU self esteem and sense of direction. I cannot imagine that his would have any effect whatsoever. Such appeals might even be counterproductive in that they might be received as an invitation to feel smug about ourselves because our religion is just sooo wonderful.

Rev Hallman says our faith is unstoppable. Is it really? What, then, explains our continuing decline?

Making us more inviting must not be misconstrued as shallow cosmetics. It is not, because those efforts will be sustained by our sincere desire to share our faith more deeply and to offer and nurture that connection that visitors and members both seek. What shape that faith eventually takes is not in anybody’s hand, least of whom the president of the UUA.

Back to that sense of smug optimism: it may have been that same kind of optimistic ‘inebriation’ with self-delight and hopeful vision that made a number of UUA high rollers, led by Laurel Hallman, choose the most difficult of all possible models for a church planting instead of a less bold but more achievable church planting model. I’m talking of course about what was initially known as the Pathways “Fast Start” Congregation. I’ve just reread the 2006 report about it and it looks to me like the planning was extremely poor: a long list of very predictable high hurdles had apparently only been drawn up after the events, instead of in the early planning stages when that same information would have been available for those asking prudent questions.

Why do I bring up this painful chapter?
Because it highlights how important it is to have leaders who to anticipate arising problems, ask probing questions early, and proceed using proven strategies that are within our means.

I see Peter Morales as just such a leader who has researched a sober analysis of very concrete problems facing UU. These problems don’t even seem to be on Rev. Hallman’s radar screen: the demographic shift that will tremendously shrink our historical core constituency, the need to replace half of our ministers shortly, the continued slide into statistical marginality and the resulting reduced effect of our faith as a force of good in society. 

Not only do I see problems ignored or denied, I see solutions ignored and denied.

I want a UUA president who can shock congregations into facing those realities and into tackling them with creative use of simple tools they already possess. Business as usual in conjunction with inspirational feel-good talk won’t do.

If you want spiritual growth I’m predicting it will come with congregational growth in a similar way in which increasing mental well being is related to getting off one’s butt and starting physical exercise: once you start doing things as opposed to just pondering possibilities or reveling in either self pity or self aggrandizement you’ll soon find yourself on a different, more fulfilled level. 

I’ve created a blog website where the two candidates’ positions are featured side by side, in a neutral framework.
While the posts on there are completely neutral (only what both candidates said, with the candidate forum at GA as its starting point), the comments are a free forum for discussion.  I invite you all to contribute with civilized critique or praise.

For balance, I included Aaron Sawyer of as co-moderator with equal rights, and we’re seeking an outside ombudsman so that readers have assurance that there are real mechanisms for fairness in place. (Details on our About page).

I think in time it will develop into a prime spot for discussion and will enable a conscious, educated choice in 2009 that is based on policy decisions rather than seniority or personal loyalty. I hope to read your comments there, regardless of your choices.

Martin Voelker, aka jUUggernaut



PS: I’ve recently received this praise from an East coast minister whom I’ve never met:


 I’ve just had my first visit to the excellent candidate forum you have established. Thank you for a truly useful site. We owe you a debt of gratitude – this will be a valuable tool in the months to come.”


Craigslist and the hUUman Condition

July 14, 2008

It sounded almost like a Harley Davidson but the bubbling engine outside my bedroom this morning belonged to an ancient battered pickup truck with a homegrown wooden rack: Hurray! Someone had seen my Craigslist ad in the FREE STUFF section and was haulin away several doors that had been clogging my neighbor’s garage. I quickly got up and helped the guy load.

Humans like making presents – and they love to scavenge.

It ‘cost’ me five minutes to measure the doors, take a picture, write a two sentence ad, and post it on Craigslist. And someone else saved (or delayed) some increasingly valuable space on a landfill (the one near the airport is called Mt. Trashmore, highest point east of the Rockies for hundreds of miles).

If you’re not yet familiar with Craigslist: this free online classified board has now reaches most metro areas in the US and is spreading rapidly world wide.

I’ve bought and sold many used things, from a $10 electronic part, to a $200 bicycle, to a $2500 computer. And one thing I like about it is that I get to drive to parts of town I’ve never been to before, from gated communities to low income housing to farms.

Your congregation can also use Craigslist, eg. to to advertise the annual rummage sale or crafts fair, to offer left over items from those events, to announce services, to post help wanted ads for a YRE helper or the new caretaker position. Endless possibilities. Using Craigslist could be one piece of the puzzle to benefit your congregation without costing you anything. Think about it. (then look for your city)

she ended it on the only terms still left to her

July 5, 2008


A long time family friend, Inge, died at 64 this week in my home town in Germany after a four year torture by Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Two weeks earlier she had decided she wanted to end this crippling condition on the only terms still left to her, by refusing to be fed. When my mother visited her one last time two days before she died she wrote on her magic drawing tablet (she had been unable to speak for the past 7 months): “You just went to Ireland – do you have photos?” It was an honest interest, characteristic of her caring personality.

My 4 yr old daughter Kira and I had just seen her and her husband in May, and Kira was at first curious why an adult would use a drawing tablet, and then sad to learn why. She, too, could tell that our friend was just like everyone else at the table, but simply could not speak or eat. In an instant, she accepted it and engaged her in her usual extroverted way.

In addition to being powerless in facing her encroaching, cruel and untimely death Inge carried another burden. She had a great love for children but her daughter-in-law allowed her extremely little contact with her four grandchildren. Inge was not the least bit pushy, nor judgmental, nor ideologically warped, and yet, somehow this young mother thought of her children as exclusively her own, and didn’t want to share. It’s a constellation that I’ve seen an awful lot.

So sad.

Peter Morales Opening Speech at UUA Presidential Candidate Forum

July 4, 2008

Here is both the transcript and the video portion. The original video is now back online, albeit without Question One.

I’ll be posting all segments of the debate in the coming days.

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Rev. Peter Morales gives his opening speech at the UUA Candidate forum, explaining why he is running for UUA president. The complete transcript of the June 28, 2008 debate with the other candidate, Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, will soon be available at

Campaign website:

Opening speech Rev. Peter Morales

I’m running for UUA president because I believe deeply that we are called to be something that’s a great deal more than what we are today.

We are called to be more than a tiny fringe, relatively elite, and sadly declining part of American religious life.

The need for liberal religion in our country right now is just enormous.
It’s needed at the personal level where hundreds of thousands of people are coming, are longing for authentic religious community, for depth in their lives, for a place where they can be joining with others to make a difference in the world, where they can have authentic relationships.

And we live in a society with forces of fear and ignorance and greed that lead to hatred and exploitation, marginalization and terrible destruction of the ability of our planet to sustain life. And yet, this need not be the case. We can change this. I am completely convinced that we can change this.

I want to talk about three major issues, and many of you have gotten my platform and I’m inviting you for much more detail to check the website on that. I just want to hit the high spots on three issues that interrelate to each other and that are absolutely vital to us.

The first one is growing our movement.
And I believe we need to reframe ‘growing our movement’. It’s not a nice thing to do, it’s not about numbers, it’s the moral equivalent of housing the homeless, and feeding the hungry because we’re talking about people who are spiritually hungry and religiously homeless.
And every thing that we want to do in the world, every good that we want to do in the world, depends on growing our movement to be a stronger force.

The second major area has to do with our tradition of public witness and social service and social justice work. And one of the things that I really want to honor Bill Sinkford for is to raise our visibility in the world. That has to be and ought to be the foundation for the next president. And if I’m the next president I’ll continue and expand that, I’m a former newspaper editor and publisher, I’m comfortable with speaking out. And we also have to make it a lot easier and partner with our local congregations to help them to be effective moral beacons in our community.

The third issue that fits in with that is just enormous: We must create a new ministry for a new America. Let me hit you with a couple of statistics that are just shocking. Americans that are 70 years and older: three quarters of them are white. Americans 10 years of age: one quarter are white, 3/4 are not white, are Hispanic, African-American, Asian, Pacific-Islander, African, and more.
In the next generation we are going to see a historic demographic sea change in America. On top of that we are going to lose half our ministry during the next presidency. Three out of eight of our ministers are 58 years of age or older. You throw in our regular normal churn that occurs: half of them are gonna been gone, and dispro–portionately those serving our mid-size and larger churches.

It’s a perfect storm – and a fabulous opportunity if we take it.

We need – and if I’m president I’ll immediately put together a task force of key people from seminaries, or ministerial associations, people of color – to develop a strategy for ministry for the next generation. Without it we’ll be in a terrible crisis.
The fundamental issue for us in this campaign – but it extends way beyond this campaign! – is whether or not we continue to drift and slowly decline, and add about one person per congregation per year, which does not keep up with the growth of the population – or whether we will seize an opportunity to make some changes, to make us a vital force in American religious life and in the lives of hundreds of thousands more people.

We can be, we really can be the religion for our time, and I ask for your support for becoming that. Thank you.
(Rev. Morales spoke without notes)

UUA candidates Hallman, Morales on their top priorities and measures for success

July 1, 2008

My personal transcript of the Question One in the candidate debate of Saturday, June 28, 2008.

A link to the video file may still be available here but at present is not listed among the viewable UUA GA sessions

Question One: What would be your top priorities as you begin your administration, and looking back in four or eight years, what would constitute a successful presidency?

Rev Peter Morales:

Everything that we want to do depends on our ability to grow our movement, and so that is the one great measure. And sadly, everything that we’ve tried in the last generation has not been effective. And yet I have seen in my own congregation and dozens of others who have grown very rapidly (we are one of the rapid growing congregations) that real practical stuff can transform a congregation and make it different. What we need to do as a movement is to partner with our congregations – because we will only grow when hundreds of our cong grow – what we need to do is to unleash the commitment, the idealism of the people that are already in our cong. And as I said the other enormous thing by the time four or 8 years go by we will have a plan and have implemented that plan to ensure that there are dynamic, thoughtful and diverse religious leaders for the new America that we are living into. [applause]. (182 words)


Rev Dr Laurel Hallman:

I hope you take this in the seriousness with which I say it:  My highest priority is to convince people that they need to focus in the nursercy and that they need to focus on their young people the first year out of high school. Now, let me, let me talk about that. I have one grand daughter who at the time she came to visit me along with her parents, she came to church, I wanted to introduce them in church and so I asked them to come with me into the church with her so that people would realize I hadn’t really made them up, and so they did, and I said: “And if she is fussy and you need to take her out  just take her over to the nursery. And my daughter in law looked at me like I’d said “Just throw her out on Preston Road”, she was just stunned. And of course, I introduced them, it was lovely and then in time she became fussy and her mother took her out. And she went to nursery and came back to the service at the end of the service and said: “You have a fabulous nursery”. And when she said it she held our silent beeper that we give to parents who leave their babies in the nursery. It was kind of umbilical cord to the nursery and I think it was this that meant we had that marvelous nursery. If she were not living in another city, if she were an example of a mother bringing her child perhaps for the first time, maybe the first time away from them as she went to the service – this is one way to have them come back. It means we understand the bond and we want to take care of it. The nursery is crucial and of course now it also means all kinds of things: about safe places, about clean places, about taking care of what we have and cherishing our youngest. So my highest priority – and I’m not being fascetious – is the nurseries on our congregations. And then going along with that is the first year out of high school. I know Lyle Schaller who is a consultant to religion, to congregations, says that this is one of the most important factors in the growth of the Mormon church, their young people go out into an act of service for two years that reengages or engages the young people and their parents are paying for it which reengages the parents at a time where they would leave. It brings them back into the church for a new chapter in their lives, and it’s crucial. I’ve got lots of other priorities but that will be for starters. (512 words)

[I’ll correct typos along the way]

My analysis:

Peter Morales clearly has a long track record of pushing for achievable growth that includes teaching at seminary, leading growth workshops nationwide , co-producing and participating in video manuals for growth. Having seen the two videos I assert that those ideas are cheap, imminently practical, and effective, which has also been the general feedback from congregations. I also see his second priority – to ensure we have capable ministers that are racially diverse so that they will relate to the rapidly changing demographics – as addressing a harsh reality that is not yet on everybody’s radar, but should be.

Laurel Hallman illustrates her priority – to focus congregations’ attention on providing superior nursery care to demonstrate how much we care and understand a visitor’s trust – in a great many words (512). She then cites the Mormon practice of sending young adults to do two years of missionary work as an effective glue for both the kids and the parents to the church but fails to say what the practical lesson for UUA might be. 

My take: I find Peter’s priorities on growth and developing a ministry capable of reaching changing demographics are indeed the most pressing issues, and his track record indicates he’ll be able to follow through. Laurel’s priority on the nursery: To me it is merely one valid problem that needs be addressed and has been addressed well at her large church. Adapting such superb practices to small and tiny congregations will be hard as it requires critical numbers of members, staff, rooms, and cash. The UUA has no resources to offer for this whereas a UUA field staff that fosters many cheap, tested, and adaptable ideas for growth can have a huge impact.