The Pathway to Membership in UUEstrie
Everyone who joins us on a Sunday morning, or for any other event on another day or evening, such as a discussion group, a film, a workshop, or whatever, is part of our UUEstrie community. Whether theirs is a one-off visit, or they reside in the area and are curious about us, and visiting with a view to maybe returning more often, or indeed whether they have been attending UUEstrie for a long-time, off and on or regularly, all are welcome here. It often takes but a few visits for someone to consider themself no longer a stranger, but a friend of this congregation, and to feel that we are their friends.
UUEstrie has many such friends who attend some or all of our activities with some regularity. We succeed in providing a primary source of spiritual nourishment for some, while for others we are a significant complement to their personal spiritual practices. A variety of religious beliefs come together under our roof, and each person of good will is always welcome to add their energy to the many goings-on that comprise the full life of this congregation.
As they become more and more comfortable here, and attend more regularly, these friends begin to identify themselves as UU, and feel proud to be associated with UUEstrie, and pleased to be asked to volunteer with the children’s programme, or to help out with a church supper, or to ‘do coffee hour’. Many of these friends are also willing to support UUEstrie with (tax-creditable) financial pledges, for they understand that the church building and the church programme all require some money to run, and that this money must come primarily from donations by the members and friends of the congregation.
And then there is another step, where one formalizes one’s relationship to the congregation by becoming a voting ‘Member’ of UUEstrie. This is accomplished by a short, uncomplicated, but often moving, ritual of signing the Membership book in front of two witnesses (the minister or a lay chaplain, and an elected officer of the church). This act of making a semi-public declaration of one’s commitment to Unitarian Universalism, and to supporting the mission and values of UUEstrie, is most often a very meaningful moment.
Some people fall immediately in love with the Church and formally join within a few weeks or months, though it is well to attend at least 6 or 8 worship services first in order to experience their variety. Others take many months or years to reach that decision, and some, who may be loyal attenders and supporters of this Church, never actually ‘join’ to become legal, voting members.
The Meaning of Membership
‘Members’ can say they have formally assumed this freely-chosen religious identity called Unitarian Universalism. But lots of our non-member ‘friends’ also think of themselves as UUs. And they truly are UUs, for they accept our spiritual practices, they affirm our principles, they actively participate in UUEstrie’s worship services, discussion groups and social activities.
It is normal to have this feeling that one is already a UU, and happy to be so, before one actually signs the Membership book. It is like a wedding, where the couple are already committed to one another well before the wedding ceremony makes it official and legal. But, just as stating one’s marriage vows publicly will usually be a moving experience that deepens one’s sense of relationship with one’s partner, so formally joining the Church can deepen one’s attachment to UUism, and one’s appreciation for what it can bring to our lives, and what it stands for.
‘Membership’ in our Spiritual Community has privileges and responsibilities. We are congregational in our governance, which means we are self-governed by our voting Members, who are also the owners of the property. It is we, the Members, who decide our own rules, elect our own leaders, choose our own minister, create our own worship as we see fit. Thus, the Members have some power and responsibility in defining the Church as an institution.
By becoming a Member one gains the right to vote at congregational meetings. Membership is also pre-requisite to serving on our Board of Trustees. UUEstrie is a member of the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC), an association of Canadian UU congregations, with head office in Toronto, to which we pay an annual fair share contribution of $91 per active voting member. Our voting members are also, perforce, members of the CUC, and eligible to become voting delegates at CUC meetings, where decisions are made about the direction and programmes of the Canadian UU movement.
Incidentally, our CUC connection also broadens our members’ and friends’ awareness of the wider UU movement. There are a number of interesting activities, workshops and gatherings that our members and friends enjoy attending, which are organized by the CUC each year, and held in various cities across the country. And, there are about 50 other UU congregations in Canada, where, should we visit them in our travels, we will enjoy a family feeling of shared community. We also have a connection to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), an American organization based in Boston, which extends our feeling of shared community across the USA, as well. A number of our members and friends have visited with pleasure UU congregations in the US.
But note that while we generally support the purposes and policies of both the CUC and the UUA, these organizations do not ‘govern’ us, and we are free to dissent if we choose, in keeping with the principle of congregational polity.
It was mentioned above that formal Membership gives one the right to vote at congregational meetings. But, in fact, non-member ‘friends’ of the congregation are always welcomed and given ‘the privilege of the floor’ as well, so their opinions may, and often do, influence congregational decisions. Should anything come to a formal vote, however, only the active Members have the right to vote. It was also mentioned that only Members can serve on our Board, but all other committees of the Church can, and do, welcome non-member friends who are willing to share their skills and their time. Similarly, voting at CUC meetings requires being a Member, but participating in CUC workshops and other events is open to friends of the Church as well.
It seems the privileges that are restricted to formal Members are relatively few; perhaps it is the responsibilities of Membership that are more significant.
Indeed, formally joining UUEstrie means openly committing oneself to supporting it beyond one’s personal needs, as one is able, with one’s time, talent and treasure. It means declaring to this Spiritual Community that it is indeed your spiritual home, that you plan to stay around for a while and you want to be involved in supporting it, and helping it to fulfill its mission, now and into the future. It means that you plan to attend its functions with some regularity, as you are able, and that you are willing to participate in its democratic governance, again, as you are able, attending meetings, casting your vote, making your suggestions and voicing your criticisms. Similarly, it means volunteering to serve on committees, or teach in Sunday school, or help out with coffee hour or church suppers, and so forth. And, most importantly, it means annually pledging some of your income, 1, 2, or 3% or more, always according to your means, to help cover the financial costs of keeping our Spiritual Community running.
As a Member, one’s involvement in the Church tends to increase, but one’s affection for and appreciation of the Church seems to increase even more.
Becoming a Member also means publicly declaring oneself in agreement with our governing principles and purposes. Some see this as a renunciation of their former religious affiliation or their religious upbringing. Others see no incompatibility in their being simultaneously UU and Jewish, or pantheist, or Christian, or Sufi, or whatever. The Membership decision is an individual one, which the rest of the congregation will affirm and respect. But be aware that it will also join you to a larger community of UUs beyond UUEstrie, people with whom you share values in common, and can trust that your relationship will be a friendly one when you meet.
Periodically a short ceremony during a Sunday service will recognize new Members who have recently joined our Spiritual Community. But any sincere person is permitted to formally join UUEstrie at any time. The ceremony of recognition of new Members is fairly low-key and flexible in format. In addition, from time to time we hold a special class or workshop called NewUU, where much of our history, our structure and polity, our theology, and so on, are taught. This gives prospective and newer Members a clearer and deeper understanding of this fairly unique religion, and how we here at UUEstrie operate. While we recommend participating in such a class, because of our small size they are infrequently presented, and attendance at such a class is not a prerequisite to joining UUEstrie.
To inquire further about becoming a Member of UUEstrie, please speak to the minister, or one of our lay chaplains, or any Board member, at any time. We will certainly welcome your support in helping to keep the flame of liberal religion alight in the Eastern Townships, and ensuring that the Unitarian Universalist option is available here, both now and into the future, for ourselves, our friends, our descendants, and the public at large.
Our Membership Covenant
In becoming a member of this Spiritual Community, I solemnly affirm that I am in sympathy with the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism, and hereby covenant to honour and uphold these principles in my personal life, to participate in the Community’s democratic self-governance and in its programmes and activities, as appropriate, and to give as I am reasonably able of my time, energy and financial resources to support it.