Rev. Jill Cowie
Caring to Connect

Khoren Arisian, the former minister of the First Unitarian Church in Minneapolis, wrote these words on “What is a Church?”: 

If a church is just its minister, then it is only another preaching station. 
If a church is just a school of religion, then it is only another educational agency.
 If a church is just a series of programs, then it is only another discussion club.
If a church is just another institution whose budget is adequately supported, then it is only another piece of social lumber, and  tax-free at that.
If a church is just a series of potluck suppers and bazaars, it is only an imitation of more effective organizations.
A true church, then, is more than the sum of its parts.  It is more than  its building, or its budget, or its minister’s sermons.  A religious society, in short, is more than its audience; it is a congregation of people who care for one another and for the vital issues of                                                                                                    their common life.  Only then does the institution of the church become human.


Church is a place people go to share hopes and fears and be challenged to explore new parts of themselves and the world.  A place they feel cared for and a place they will be asked to care for others.  A place where they can cultivate relationships where they can be authentic, caring and curious about one another.  A new ministry presents an opportunity to look anew at how well your church invites people to care for one another.  Certain practices and policies can help people in congregations create relationships with these qualities.  Is there a practice of developing covenants that define how people will be together?  Is there a process to resolve conflict?  Is there a discernment process for decision-making and is that process transparent to the rest of the congregation?    Is there a pastoral associates program; a ministry of presence and support that extends the care of a congregation?  Or a small group ministry program, where covenanted groups provide support for each other and service to the community? (See picture below.) ​ Studies show that if people don’t make a meaningful connection they will drift away within six weeks.*   
One way to create connections of care is to offer covenant-based compassionate communication workshops that teach skills in self-awareness, deep listening, empathy and self-expression.  Understanding our own needs and the needs of another, then realizing those needs in collaborative and supportive relationships is joyful and energizing for the participants and for the congregation.  Mary Sellon in her book "Practicing Right Relationship" tells what these relationships mean to people: “I’m allowed to speak my mind here and so can others.  And even when we disagree we listen, and people respect me."  An older man said, “This congregation is my family.  People greet me by name and are genuinely glad to see me.”  A single mother said,   “I’m doing things in my life I never thought I could do and its because of the encouragement and support I receive here." To a person, their comments lift up how people come to congregations longing for caring, life giving relationships.   A new ministry presents an opportunity to look anew at how your congregation helps to generate relationships where people are authentic, caring and curious about each other.    
* Practicing Right Relationship, Mary K. Sellon and Daniel P. Smith​