Letter from the President – January 7, 2019

Dear Friends,

How many times have you heard this? We must have a strong religious education program.
Young families will be attracted to a strong program and join our church. Religious education is
an engine for growth. In the past ten years, the religious education team has worked hard on
this, redesigning programs, updating curricula, looking for ways to integrate families into
worship. This has all collapsed. It has not just collapsed here at First Unitarian, it has collapsed
denomination-wide and in many mainline churches as well. The Sunday School model, the
model I was raised in, my kids were raised in, the model you were probably raised in, does not
work in 2018. If we build this model here in our new space, they will not come. From the
introduction of Kimberly Sweeney’s paper on the death of Sunday School, “This paper was
written because while the structures of our past met the needs of families in that time and place,
they are not meeting the needs of our families today. We don’t build programs or develop
strategies with the intention that they will live forever. We implement these programs and use
these strategies for as long as they are effective and useful. While our programs and strategies
should and will change over time, the purpose of our work remains the same: to bring the love
and grace of Unitarian Universalism to our families’ lives.”

I want to share with you the words of Ann Kadlecek who wrote about how the UU congregation
of Binghamton has confronted this problem….”Family ministry is not a new idea for Unitarian Universalists – religious educators in particular–have been aware of the limitations of Sunday School, and the ways in which we fail to serve ouryoung people, for decades. Now, however, we’re seeing increasing interest in exploring family ministry in our congregations; possibly because, more and more, we’re discovering that the Sunday School model is not just limiting – for some of us, it is becoming impossible. That was our experience in Binghamton. But what do we do when the old way isn’t working and the new way is still experimental? How do we decide where we’re going, and how best to get there,
while simultaneously serving our children, youth and families? Family ministry requires a change in the congregation’s understanding of its role with respect to families, the role of parents in their children’s religious education, who worship is for, and what “inclusive” means throughout congregational life. This is a big congregational project, a little like constructing a new building. And just as a slow, tentative approach in funding and planning building construction is unlikely to succeed, such an approach to big congregational transformation may not always be the most effective for achieving change or maintaining it in the face of systemic pressures to return to the old ways. Rapid change was the right approach
for this congregation, at this moment. The new reality for UUCB was that people were not volunteering in the way that they used to, and parents were not bringing their children the way they used to. The needs of the families had changed and we were no longer meeting those needs. The families were not going to conform to the expectations of previous generations; instead, to remain relevant, our faith development programming had to change.

Family Ministry is an approach to faith development that recognizes that: – Faith development
happens throughout our lives, at all ages and wherever we are – Parents, grandparents and
caregivers are the primary religious educators for their children, and – Ours is an intentional
community of all ages.

Family Ministry seeks to meet people where they are and include families of all kinds – as families – in the life of the congregation. Family ministry is not just about families with children, but the family ministry model recognizes that families with children need significant attention. Family ministry may look quite different in different congregations, but congregations moving in this direction typically place greater emphasis on:

-Whole-congregation worship
– Social action and social justice for all ages
– Parent support and education
– At-home resources
– Whole-congregation social and educational events
– Worship and education at times other than Sunday mornings.

So what does that mean for our congregation? It means that we are not going to invest in a traditional Sunday School model. We are going to invest in making our services places where adults, youth, and children can worship together, where we will fill our cups, where we will be comforted and made ready to face another week in this ever more complex and challenging world. It will be a place where we will be comforted, yes, but not necessarily made comfortable.

We don’t know who is going to come. This uncertainty can be paralyzing! The only certainty that we have is that the people who will come will be different than us. They will touch our lives and change us. And we them. We must be prepared for whoever comes. We must be prepared to try new things and fail spectacularly. We must accept that we will not, can not and never will meet everyone’s needs. And that’s ok. because lighting a single candle against the darkness can make the world brighter. Small changes matter.

We are stepping out into the unknown and unseen, and we might ultimately fail. But if we fail,
we fail because we chose mission over money, we chose service over comfort we chose hope over fear.

If you are interested in reading more about the death of Sunday school and how UU congregations are responding, you can click on the links below.

Next week: how our habits affect visitors.

You can reach me any time by e-mail at president@fusp.org , and I am around most Sundays.
-Melissa Logan
President, Board of Trustees
First Unitarian Society of Plainfield

https://www.uua.org/sites/live-new.uua.org/files/the_death_of_sunday_school_and_the_future_
of_faith_formation_ksweeney_june2017.pdf

https://reliminaltime.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/7/2/117268946/the_binghamton_model__7-10-201
8_07172018.pdf

https://www.uua.org/leadership/blog/moving-towards-family-ministry-webinar

Letter from the President – September 13, 2018

Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?
These are the words to another familiar Unitarian Universalist hymn, words very appropriate to our current journey as a congregation. This song is sung as a round, with the counterpoint chanting: Mystery. Mystery. Life is a riddle and a mystery. That’s great for spiritual exploration, but not so great for transparency in governance. So let’s break down this hymn a little, and the process of where are congregation is going,

Where do we come from?
We are the longest continuously operating Unitarian Church in New Jersey. Our church was built in 1889, with land donated by Plainfield’s first mayor (and our first board president), Job Male. But even before 1889, we were a community of liberal religious people, seeking to serve the Plainfield community. For 129 years, we have been at the forefront of social justice and local action, from Civil Rights work to affirming the rights of the LGBTQ community, to direct action to help the poor and serve the needs of the people of Plainfield.

Who are we?
We are a group of people who live our Unitarian Universalist values and principles together. We provide a safe space for life-long spiritual growth. We have a clear mission and vision.

Together we seek to grow as a vibrant presence in our community through sharing our welcoming faith and working to build a just world.

First Unitarian Society: A welcoming, inclusive community to feed the human spirit, to inspire compassionate action, and to serve as a beacon of justice and love.

We are a covenanted community, where we make promises to each other about how we treat each other, and have a clear path to communicate our pain when someone hurts us, and to forgive and be forgiven.

Our mission is to grow. Our mission is to share. Our mission is to be welcoming and inclusive.

Our community is a safe community, with explicit Safe Congregations policies and procedures. We work to create a safe environment for our children, youth, and adults by making sure that we have appropriate guidelines for supervision and safety, and that those guidelines are followed. All of the members of our community have the right to worship free of physical or emotional harm.

Our community will be a mission-driven community, and we will put our money where our mission is.

Where are we going?
The Replant Team has identified 5 rental locations that meet our needs, all in Union County. We shared these locations and discussed their pros and cons with members at last Sunday’s Replant meeting. We have shared these locations with our consultant, who will review key demographic information about each location and share that information with the Board. The Board will use this information to make final recommendations to the congregation at our Congregational Meeting on October 21st.

Timeline:

September: finalize rental space choices, meet with Replant team, make recommendations to the Board of Trustees for location.

October: Congregational meeting: we will vote yes or no to the rental space, make any necessary budget adjustments to the 2018-2019 budget. Yard sale.

November: Heritage Sunday, November 4th. Begin holding services in new rental location, if available. (non-worship activities can continue at 724 Park Ave through Dec. 31)

December 24th: Candlelight Service 724 Park Ave.

December-February: plan pledge campaign, marketing plan, staffing plan for the 2019-2020 church year

September 2019: grand opening of our new community

Mystery, mystery, life is a riddle and a mystery
We do not know the shape of things to come. Will we thrive in our new location? Will that location be permanent?  Who will we serve? Who will come through our doors? What will we look like in 10 years? In 129 years? Who knows? One thing is for sure, we will still be here, serving our new community and living our mission.

-Melissa Logan
President, Board of Trustees
First Unitarian Society of Plainfield

p.s. final Board listening session this Friday7 pm in my home. Please RSVP to president@fusp.org if you plan to attend.

Letter from the President-September 6, 2018

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again , come , come.”

― Jelaluddin Rumi

You may be familiar with Rumi’s words, as they comprise one of our UU hymns.

I invite you today to come to our Ingathering Service this Sunday, September 9th, at 10:00 a.m. Come, come, to our historic Sanctuary, built in 1889, the oldest continuously running Unitarian congregation in New Jersey.

Come, come, whoever you are. Join us in our annual water communion service. Bring a small container of water that represents you, perhaps of your travels or a place special to you. Bring a glass of gratitude from your own sink, perhaps, an acknowledgement of our privilege. This water, mixed with the water from others, will be used in future naming services.

Come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter… even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. This will be a joyous service, led by our minister, Reverend Anne Marie Alderman, with special music by Fred Fischer and Marty Eigen. It will be suitable for all ages. All are welcome.

Ours is not a caravan of despair. Together we seek to grow as a vibrant presence in our community through sharing our welcoming faith and working to build a just world. We are a  welcoming, inclusive community to feed the human spirit, to inspire compassionate action, and to serve as a beacon of justice and love.

Come, yet again, come.

Join us for coffee and fellowship after the service in the Parish Hall. There will be a meeting of the replant committee at 11:30 in the Stevens Room, all are welcome.

-Melissa Logan

President, Board of Trustees,

First Unitarian Society of Plainfield

President’s Letter – August 30, 2018

Dear Friends,

The Board of Trustees met last night and we would like to share some key decisions we have made to secure a future for our congregation. We have, of course, made the difficult decision as a congregation to gift our historic building to another entity that can better serve the needs of the city we have served for 129 years. We have also made the decision to stay together and replant as a new congregation. This is a daunting task and requires buy-in to mission. This has been the question that the Board has been wrestling with for the last few months: Why are we replanting? Because we can’t let go? Or because we have something unique to offer?

We do have something unique to offer, and that something unique is our Unitarian Universalist values and principles. That something unique is a commitment to providing a safe space for life-long spiritual growth. We have a clear mission at vision already. It’s time to live into it.

Together we seek to grow as a vibrant presence in our community through sharing our welcoming faith and working to build a just world.

First Unitarian Society: A welcoming, inclusive community to feed the human spirit, to inspire compassionate action, and to serve as a beacon of justice and love.

Our new community will be a covenanted community, where we make promises to each other about how we treat each other, and have a clear path to communicate our pain when someone hurts us, and to forgive and be forgiven. It may seem unnecessary from the point of view of those of us who have been here for a long time. I expect my old friend to be able to tell me that something I said or did hurt or bothered him. And I hope our new community will be filled with our old friends. But that is not our mission. Our mission is to grow. Our mission is to share. Our mission is to be welcoming and inclusive. The covenant invites in the newcomer. It tells her that this is a safe space, and that her voice will be heard with the same clarity as mine. It promotes kindness and guides us on a path to forgiveness when we inevitably err.

Our new community will be a safe community, with explicit Safe Congregations policies and procedures. One only has to glance at the front page of any paper or tune in to a news story to hear about those in power, particularly in religious organizations, causing harm to the most vulnerable members of our society in the most heinous way imaginable. We will work to create a safe environment for our children, youth, and adults by making sure that we have appropriate guidelines for supervision and safety, and that those guidelines are followed. All of the members of our community have the right to worship free of physical or emotional harm.

Our new community will be a mission-driven community, and we will put our money where our mission is. That is the whole purpose of letting go of our building. It took up too much of our resources, both in money and volunteer power, in relation to the size of our congregation. We can now use more of our time, talent and treasure to live our mission, and less to figure out how to patch a hole in the roof. Our new community will have money in our budget specifically earmarked for mission work. We will have a clear procedure where members can have their mission driven projects funded.

This will be our “why”. Now onto the “how”. The Board of Trustees has developed the following timeline:

September: finalize rental space choices, meet with Replant team, make recommendations to the Board of Trustees for location.

October: Congregational meeting: we will vote yes or no to the rental space, make any necessary budget adjustments to the 2018-2019 budget. Yard sale.

November: Heritage Sunday, November 4th. Begin holding services in new rental location, if available.

December-February: plan pledge campaign, marketing plan, staffing plan for the 2019-2020 church year

September 2019: grand opening of our new community

Heritage Sunday will be our final regular worship service at 724 Park Avenue. Our plan is to hold service the following Sunday at our new location. Should we be unable to secure a location by November, we will suspend regular worship services until December. While people are encouraged to hold social gatherings in their homes, we cannot hold a public worship service in a private home due to liability and safety issues. Non-worship activities will continue in the months of November and December at 724 Park Avenue. Rentals will continue through December 31st.

We will have a final Christmas eve candlelight service in the Sanctuary on Christmas Eve.

We will have food pantry on November 17th and December 22nd. We will host a community dinner on Thanksgiving. We are currently seeking a local partner to house our food pantry in another location, and can also do this for future community dinners. Please speak to Joanne Macaluso if you would like to help.

As a reminder, we will be holding two more listening sessions this month, Friday afternoon, September 7th at Joanne’s and Friday evening, Sept. 14th at Melissa’s. Contact info@fusp.org for details.

If you have additional questions or concerns, please reach out to me, our minister Ann Marie, or any of the members of the Board of Trustees. I am available by phone and email, and am around most Sundays.

If you missed one of these President’s letters, they are archived in our blog at www.fusp.org. Click on FUSP blog at the top right-hand corner of the homepage.

-Melissa Logan

President, Board of Trustees

President’s Letter-August 14, 2018

Dear Friends,

I see Jose every day picking up his kids. He also transports several other children to and from school each day, greeting each one with a hug and a friendly ear and the children tell of their daily doings in rapid Spanish. He coaches a local soccer team, too.

Jose and his wife, Central American immigrants, recently bought a house near the school. They stick close to home. Work, church, school, local shopping, Jose’s wife is undocumented so they do not often venture out. I learned all this in a conversation I had during parent teacher conferences. It was shortly before a nationwide “day without an immigrant” protest, and I asked him if he was keeping his son home. He said yes.

Jose shared with me his strong Christian faith. He shared how proud he is of his 3 American sons, two of whom came through my class. The oldest, now in high school, listens to Christian music. All of the boys are bright, hardworking, and doing well in school. In speaking of his church, he told me that his congregation just bought a building, a small warehouse on the east side of town. He explained with pride that he is working on the drywall for their new sanctuary.

I had occasion to see him one day when I assisted with a school-sponsored ESL class. We were conducting an “appreciative inquiry” session about what parents expected for their children. All the people at the table had the same answer. They want their children to learn English, to become professionals. They want their children to give back to the community and resist the culture of consumerism.

When I think of how the “old Plainfield” is disappearing or has disappeared: the hospital, the Y, the department stores, and now our church, I despair. I raised my kids here. I made my friendships here. I got married here. I toiled for this community, and being a member of FUSP is a profound part of my identity.  Those with deeper ties to this community than I may be pining too, for the vibrancy of what used to be, and that feeling of working together for a greater good and having fun in the process. I am angry, because the “next generation” of FUSPers never appeared to take my place. One could rail that we are dying. FUSP is dying, Painfield is dying.

But Plainfield, having lost its department stores, its hospital, its YMCA, its Planned Parenthood office, its Unitarian Church, is not dying. It is transforming into something else. A walk down Park Avenue will reveal the energy and drive of its residents, walking to work, to stores, to do laundry, to take their kids to the park. They are people like Jose, who, while they do not worship God in the way we do, who cherish cultures that are distinct and sometimes alien to our own, have in common the greatest of our values: to serve. They are literally building the walls of the new Plainfield, and will continue the work that we have done for 129 years.

If you want to talk back about this subject or any other, I am around most Sunday mornings or you can write to me at president@fusp.org.

-Melissa Logan

President, First Unitarian Society of Plainfield

President’s Letter- August 9, 2018

Dear Friends,

Many teachers have summer jobs, and I am no exception.

My job this summer was as the lead teacher for an ESL program here in town. For two hundred kindergarten to 4th graders, I was the lead teacher. The lead teacher does not teach, my role was more of a principal-secretary-guidance counselor-custodian-cafeteria worker.

Our program participated in the city’s summer meals program, which provides free meals for children up to 18 years old in the city’s camps, parks, and summer school programs.

Every day we line up the children and hand them a meal, suited to the taste of American children, and following federal nutrition guidelines. Every day the children accept their meal with a word of thanks, and return to their tables to eat and chat and relax.

The centerpiece of the program is the share table. If there is something the child does not want to eat, it could be the milk, the sandwich, the carrots, the fruit, he or she can place it on the share table for another child to have a little more. At the end of each day, this table is empty, but every child feels satisfied.

I am proud to be a part of this teaching of our American values, of safety and gratitude and acknowledgement of abundance.

-Melissa Logan

President, Board of Trustees

First Unitarian Society of Plainfield

President’s Letter- July 19, 2018

Dear Friends,

My name is Melissa Logan and I am the new president of the Board of Trustees at the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield. I have been a member of First U since 2005, and have been attending since the year 2000. I have served our congregation in religious education, fundraising, property, and governance. I am a life-long Unitarian Universalist, and I was raised in the First Unitarian Church of Nashua in Nashua, New Hampshire. In my professional life, I am a bilingual teacher at Jefferson School in Plainfield.

I am keenly aware that I am taking the helm of leadership at a time of the greatest challenges our congregation has ever faced. Our congregation will be leaving the building we have called home for over 125 years and we do not yet know the shape of the future of our congregation. It is our charge now to shape that future. We are shaping this future in a time when many members of our own congregation have suffered deep, personal losses, and we are shaping this future in a time when our nation is suffering from corrupt, immoral leadership. We are weakened. We are hurting. But we will not hide our light under a bushel. We will continue to feed the human spirit, to inspire compassionate action, and be a beacon for justice and love. We will work with local partners to continue our mission and our work here in Plainfield and beyond.

I encourage you to continue to engage in this work and these conversations to help make the shape of what is to come, as the song goes, the shape of justice. The shape of hope. The shape of love.

If you have questions or concerns, please do reach out to myself, our minister, Ann Marie Alderman, or any of the other members of the Board of Trustees: Chris Baglieri, Mike Sutterlin, Cass Cochrane, Peter Jones, Guevevere Zucker, and Joanne Macaluso. You can reach me by email at president@fusp.org or mlogan28@gmail.com, or text or call my cell, (908) 432-4134.

Melissa Logan

President, First Unitarian Society of Plainfield