Membership? What Is It Good For?
A few weeks back, I chatted after service with a “friend” of UU Miami, someone who’s been visiting with us on and off for a long time – years. As part of the conversation, I mentioned our focus on strengthening our congregation.
“We believe that we can make a bigger impact in the community, that our progressive faith values are important enough to be shared, that we can – and should – be a more vibrant community partner and player. To do that, we need more people to become part of the team – to share their talents and to share the work. You’ve been coming for a good long time, wouldn’t you like to become a member?” I asked.
My friend pondered a bit, then responded.
“So what are the benefits of becoming a member? What will I get that I don’t have now?”
I paused, then sputtered on about the benefits of belonging to a faith community, of connecting to others of like mind and heart – that the dismay and angst that’s whirling within the current national turbulence provides good reason to seek out communities where we can affirm and be affirmed.
We finished our talk after a few minutes, and I walked away feeling dissatisfied with my answer to the question that, though it smacked of “well, what’s in it for me?” – was still a fair one for which I wanted to give a more coherent answer.
The next week at our monthly Board meeting, I facilitated an opening exercise (hey, we do a lot more than juggle numbers and vote “yeah” or “nay”!) to dig into the question. What a spirited and enlightening debate ensued!
My quick “ah-ha” from the exercise was that I’m a “joiner.” I get it that community is critical, and connecting to others is part of how I show up in the world. Many others share this stance. Yet I was reminded that “joining” is a challenge for many, and that folks have their reasons for standing on the sidelines.
Years ago when he was young and naïve, a dear friend of mine was seduced (coopted, coerced) into joining a cult. The deprogramming process took years of professional help, and still to this day, my friend refrains from joining any organization or group for fear that he’ll be consumed and overwhelmed again.
It’s been said that loneliness is the worst affliction of our modern world. That despite the gains and advances that technology brings, “tribe” is hardwired in our mythic bones. We hunger for connection that’s real – beyond “virtual,” even if we don’t know what we hunger for. Humanist, agnostic, deist, pagan, theist – we long to connect.
Yet communities (organizations, groups, congregations) are inherently messy and the epitome of imperfection (duh, people are involved!); still on some deep, intrinsic level we hunger to find our tribe and to “belong.”
So there we have it, the beautiful quandary that life so often poses: To get what we want, we have to step into the uncomfortable. We have to be willing to experience a little messiness within the push and pull of “others,” yet we’re fearful to do so, fearful that our free thinking – the “me” will be swallowed by the “we.”
Yet what’s on the other side of this shiny coin? The community we long for. The chance to be seen and celebrated, to see our “Self” expand in the company of others, to become stronger and clearer, to know ourselves and our missions and our desires better. To feel connection, we need to connect. To feel validated, we need to validate. To feel satisfied and whole, we willingly step outside our comfort zones.
Let’s talk with each other about this question. How have you grown, how has your life grown richer by belonging at UU Miami? What have you learned about your Self? Maybe this is exactly what we can share with visitors and potential new members – our own stories of what it has meant to belong to a tribe of open-minded, engaging progressive thinkers and doers.
Let me know what you hear and share. Meantime, I’ve thought more about my answer and have come up with lots of good reasons for belonging at UU Miami. They have to do with joy, connection, privilege, responsibility and purpose.
Funny, as I think back to my talk with the UU Miami friend, I remember that after we ended our chat, they moved over to engage someone else. Long after the service had ended they were still in the sanctuary talking and connecting with others. I think they already knew the answer to their question.
Michael Malone, president UU Miami