by John Kun, Lay Minister for Membership and Outreach.
I was recently driving my spiffy, red Ford Focus from Edinboro, PA, along bucolic Interstate 79, heading back to Virginia after a long weekend with my wife, Paula, when she selected a Marc Maron podcast for our listening pleasure. These revelatory interviews with iconic personalities, conducted from Maron’s garage (!), are well-known. They typically run 75-90 minutes and offer a diversion while making a long, 6-hour road trip seem much shorter. This time, Paula chose a Maron interview with Brian Grazer, with whom I was unfamiliar.
Grazer, author of “A Curious Mind,” is one of the most successful film producers in Hollywood. I found him energetic, spirited and alive … and his conversation with Maron, about meeting and engaging people, intriguing. As soon as I arrived home, I bought his book.
Grazer is a proponent of using curiosity to connect with people. He uses a technique called “curiosity conversations” to meet, engage with and learn from complete strangers. In asking to meet and sit down with unfamiliar people, he is being innovative and disruptive in the process of meeting people, while learning and sharing information with them.
We UUs are, by and large, fairly curious. Many of us would not have become UUs if we weren’t somewhat curious about religion and spirituality. But maybe we should take curiosity a step further in our membership and outreach by incorporating curiosity conversations for newcomers, potential newcomers and possibly even new members.
Think of the reaction we would receive from “strangers” we’ve invited to discuss important issues in their faith and in their lives, so that we can learn from them. What would they think of UUism and UUCF following a 30-minute session? I believe it would be favorable. And, my gosh, what would they say to others?
If anything, I hope this “personal promotion” would help dispel notions I have encountered that UUs “don’t believe in anything” or that our faith is “not a religion” or that what we offer is “religion lite.” We are committed to our values and principles, a point we need to communicate more effectively during the membership and outreach process. My 4-year tenure as your Lay Minister for Membership and Outreach will end in a few days. I have thoroughly enjoyed aiding those in search of a new spiritual home. I hope I have had a positive impact. Whatever I have given to UUCF during this time, I have personally reaped so much more. My personal faith in Unitarian Universalism has never been stronger. I am a better person.
I have learned much … including the importance of consistently and creatively reaching out to people in the community whether through online communications, or at a large area festival, or even at a visitors reception or an anniversary dinner at UUCF. These activities are significant because they nurture fellowship, an ingredient vital to membership and member retention. Also important to this process are our committee members, staff and ministers, with whom I have served, who are dedicated, informative and welcoming to those in search of a liberal faith. We have all served well during “the best of times and the worst of times,” a possibly apt way to describe the last 4 years.
So my “take-away” is that curiosity and radical, disruptive engagement can be a tool used in membership and outreach. Sometimes people need to be shocked to truly take notice of who we are, what we believe in and what we do at UUCF.
Yes, over 4 years, I have tried to make our community a better place … with the realization that it’s our faith that is at stake.