State of the Unity 2015

 I'm posting my "State of the Unity 2015" address that was presented at the Unity of Fairfax Annual Membership Meeting on Sunday, November 1.  If you have comments or questions, please use the dialog option on this blog.  Thanks!

Rev. Russ


 The theme of my “State of the Unity 2015” message is energy management.


So far in 2015 we have taken many opportunities to fulfill our mission of being a “vibrant spiritual community awakening each life to the Christ within.”  There is no doubt that we, as a community, have great zeal for the spirit-driven mission to which we have been called.


But there is an important warning for us found in Psalm 69.  The author sings a lament to God about all the things he has done in service to the Lord, and yet things don’t seem to be going as expected.  And that’s an understatement.  In one line he cries out “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me.” Ps. 69:9


I would like cite a couple examples of our zeal…


But first:  How many of you noticed we had only 4 community news announcements today?  How many of you can recall when we’ve had as many as 12?  I can tell you NO ONE ever says, “gee, I wish we had 12 announcements every week.”  It’s a blessing to have so many things to share - we are not an apathetic community - but I routinely hear complaints about the number of community news pieces.  And, more importantly, the complaint is that community news detracts from the quality of our worship services.


That’s the first example.


The second is over-crowding in the Atrium, especially following 2nd service.  Recently staff enacted a practice whereby there would be a maximum of 3 groups allowed to “market” their activities on a Sunday in the Atrium.  Complaints routinely heard are that the Atrium is too loud, too crowded, too much of a marketplace - all of which detract from the value of hospitality and connecting after our worship service; which is the purpose of gathering after service.  (And, let us remember, that the Atrium space was not designed for the way we are presently using it.  In the original plans, the Fellowship Hall would have been built in phase 2.)


And these two situations may be wrapped up in a third zeal-related complaint that I often hear from community members:  As a church community, we’re doing too much and our volunteers are tired and worn out.


Before going further, I have to say that this is a good problem to have!  Our teams and ministries are all doing fabulous work to “awaken each life to the Christ within!” I couldn’t be more proud to be minister of such a community!  


So what to do?  The answer is found in the age-old maxim:  Work smarter, not harder.  In other words, energy management.


I have to confess that I’ve been a part of this experience as well. What you may not know is that unless I’ve scheduled vacation, I have not regularly had 2 days off in a row since I began my service at Unity of Fairfax.  That’s poor modeling at best, detrimental to my health at worst.  That changes this month as I’ll be taking as my ‘weekend’ Monday and Tuesday.  (Admittedly, taking time off is an occupational hazard for ministers since ours is a 24/7 business.)


Since early this year, Unity of Fairfax has been working on a strategic initiative to become a “spiritual center for education, service and practice.” Upon closer reflection, we have determined that it is more appropriate to describe the vision as that of a “spiritual center for education, practice and service.”  Service is the outcome of the union of education and practice.  This is a very recent revelation, so some of our messaging may continue to reflect the earlier word order. that lists “service” in the 2nd position.   


We also are keenly aware that this strategic initiative is a multi-year initiative.  We’ve already been blessed with many wonderful, and ultimately doable, ideas; however, we will be taking a measured approach in implementation.  Many members of the church have actively been participating in taking this idea and making it into a manifest reality, and I appreciate the professionalism and dedication that is being shared so generously.


I want to thank you for the great response to the 2 congregational surveys which has provided priceless information to the initiative team.  A key outcome of the work so far has been a call for us to be more selective in tasks we undertake so that rather than doing many things with a smaller results, we do few things with larger results.  In short, less is more.  The strategic initiative team hasn’t discerned specific guidelines; however, the general direction is to do fewer activities and make bigger impacts with them.  Energy management.


I love 12-layer cake; and a it provides a great visual for us today as we consider the energy management of the church.  Everyone take a moment and envision a cake with 12 layers.  Got it?


Imagine that each of things I am about to name is layer of the Unity of Fairfax 12-layer cake: 


1 - Sunday services

2 - church governance (quarterly and special meetings, elections)

3 - fundraising for the church itself (operating funds, special church funds)

4 - music and arts programming (concerts, variety show, rehearsals)

5 - youth education (volunteer recruitment, fundraisers, special events)

6 - adult education classes (scheduling, marketing)

7 - small group ministry activities (scheduling, marketing, facilitator trainings)

8 - special events (Monks)

9 - EarthCare events and activities (adopt-a-spot, monthly meeting, monthly movie)

10 - church-wide service projects (odb, lamb center, etc. and marketing)

11 - retreats (planning, marketing, execution)

12 - spiritual practice activities (planning, marketing, execution, prayer work)

13 - other ministry team activities (Helping Hands, Loving Hearts, etc.

14 - special projects (signage, safety team, Health fair)

15 - rentals

16 - everything I didn’t mention!


I’ll stop there as our 12-layer cake now has 16 layers.  The 1st 14 layers include staff and volunteers (many volunteers serve in multiple roles), and all layers include staff, most notably the four person administrative  and maintenance staff of Jenice, Joe, Patie and Taylor, two of who are part time employees.  So its no surprise to me that we have community news that goes on and on, crowding in the atrium, turf battles for meeting space, requests of staff on top of regular assigned duties, fundraisers that come in under expectations and volunteers who burn out.


As noted earlier in the meeting, income is down this year compared to the prior 12 month period.  I can’t help but wonder if that was symptomatic of the experience of “doing too much.”  Has our energy been dissipated?  Not well-managed?


I am convinced that Unity of Fairfax is already a de facto spiritual center for education, practice and service.  We have been engaged in these activities for years.  The strategic initiative is coming together beautifully, built on years of successes - most notably the Transformation Experience and the dedicated commitment of our membership.


So how best to manage the energy of the congregation?


First, celebrate our successes!  We’re having a remarkable year!  Every single activity we have done has raised consciousness (and many have allowed us to dance, which is always a blessing!).


Second, each team, each ministry, each staff member (myself included) is asked to prayerfully consider all the other layers in the Unity of Fairfax cake when discerning what activities to undertake.  Think holistically… 


  • How does this event/activity/class fit into the overall mission of Unity of Fairfax? 
  • What must be in place for this event/activity/ministry to make the greatest impact in fulfillment of the Unity of Fairfax mission and vision? 
  • Should we consider a new way of operating in the new year?  We’ve ‘always done it this way’ may not be the ‘best’ way.
  • What else might be happening around the same time that this event/activity might impact?


Third, a “vetting team” will be formed to determine if an education, practice or service proposal is strategically appropriate for Unity of Fairfax at this time and to prioritize and schedule initiatives.  We don’t want to overload our schedule and overtax our resources.  


Fourth, the results of the social action survey revealed that the church is ambivalent about engaging in social action projects.  Unity of Fairfax will maintain its commitments for 2015 to Our Daily Bread (Thanksgiving and Christmas projects), but has a hold on making further commitments after the 2 days of support committed to the Hypothermia Project in January and February.  You will receive more information about social action endeavors as it becomes available.


Fourth, in 2016 I will be working with staff and volunteer leaders to augment our capacity to develop volunteer and leadership capacities within the church - in this case the “church” means the people in it.  As the indwelling Christ is awakened in people, it increases the individual’s capacity to serve in meaningful roles based on their inherent strengths and talents.  The vision that we are holding of “a world awakened to peace, abundance and respect for all creation” won’t just happen on its own.  As we support individuals in identifying their gifts, we can also encourage them to share those same gifts with the world.  So, rather than saying to the congregation “we need volunteers to do X” (which is top-down), we can say, “now that you’ve identified your gifts, let’s find where they can make the greatest impact” (bottom-up).


To that end, mark your calendars for a “Spiritual Gifts Workshop” lead by Rev. Sandy on January 9!  


If you recall, when the idea of becoming a spiritual center for education, practice and service was first put forward at the February Community Dialog Meeting, there were 2 foundational pieces whose strength would undergird the initiative:  financial solidity and volunteerism.  The Board, along with the Budget and Finance Team and staff, has done a great job managing our financial resources this year.  And, as you’ve heard, the approach to finances in 2016 will be what I all “mindful engagement” but operationally might be called “fiscal conservatism with an eye on opportunity.”  Thus, aspirations have been identified and articulated.


I see that the volunteer and leadership development piece, as discussed in the early strategic initiative team meetings, has to take a place of prominence in 2016.  Empowered volunteers and leaders will themselves become “spiritual centers,” living embodiments of education, practice and service that will be exemplars of Christ consciousness in manifestation.


Let’s take a breath, and switch gears to operational items that you’ll notice before year end.


One of the congregational goals articulated in the Transformation Experience - support for which was reaffirmed this summer -  was to offer live streaming of our Sunday services.  That has now become a reality thanks to Midd Hunt and the Communications Team. Live streaming of the 11:00 am service will begin officially on January 3, 2016.  Details about this will be shared through our regular communication channels - weekly highlights or special email, the December and January bulletins, Community News, our website and Facebook. Additionally, we may offer informational sessions before year end for those who would feel more comfortable having direct conversation about their questions and concerns.


Live streaming will also offer us opportunities to share with the world (and thereby “awaken EACH life to the Christ within”) other programs and activities at Unity of Fairfax.  Our provider has a “pay per view” option would allow us additional income streams.


To protect the online safety of our youth, the youth will not join the worship service until near the end of the service once the live stream has ended.  Rather than dialoging with the young people at the beginning of the 11:00 am service, I will dialog with them at the end about what they learned in Sunday school.  Any young person who reads the Daily Word early in the service will have written permission to do so.  All parents and guardians will be notified about the specifics of how the new order of service will impact our youth and family ministry program.


The new order of service itself will begin on Sunday, November 29.  We selected this date because it is the beginning of the traditional liturgical year (the first Sunday of Advent).  Also, it will give us a month of “tweaking” so that once we “go live” we will have achieved smoothness in our service flow.  I asked Carole Tomhave when the order of service was last changed (at my church in St. Petersburg, no two services were exactly alike, every week was different); imagine my surprise when she told me we are using the same basic order of service as when she started 12 years ago!


In this new order of service, and as you noticed today, there will be fewer community news items - our target is no more than 4.  I would not be surprised to receive push back on this one; however, recall we have multiple avenues of information sharing.  Those community news items that are presented will generally impact the largest number of people. So please, read your monthly bulletins, and if your team or ministry has events coming up a few months in the future, please request office staff to include them in the “Save the Date” column. 


Lastly, 2016 is our Diamond Jubilee year, so let us be prepared to share our brilliance with the world!  There will be a party…we always have a party!


If you have specific comments or questions, please save them for the Q and A portion of our meeting or email them to me.  If you do email, please note that I would be willing to share the answers on my blog on the website so that everyone might be able to participate in the dialog.


So are the take aways I would you to hold in your minds and hearts as we move forward:


  • New order of service effective November 29
  • Live streaming begins January 3
  • Development of volunteers and leaders will be paramount in 2016
  • less is more
  • energy management
  • “shine bright like a diamond!”  (Rhianna song title)


Thank you for making Unity of Fairfax the inspired and inspiring community it is!


Peace be with you and namaste,

KEYWORDS: Spirituality, Personal Growth, Meditation, Self-improvement, Healing, Self-development, Consciousness, Spiritual Growth & Transformation, Christianity, New Age & Spirituality, Spiritual Healing, Contemplative Prayer