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Marriage, power, and small group ministry

Questions for spiritual reflection and adult group discussion.
By Jane Greer
January/February 2005 1.1.05

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Special needs.

In “Congregational Life,” Donald E. Skinner describes what congregations are doing to integrate children with special needs into the life of the church. He acknowledges that giving individual attention to children can provide a challenge to congregations already stretched for volunteers. (“Welcoming Children with Special Needs,” page 15)

What can congregations with limited resources do to welcome those with special needs?

Comfort or affliction?

The Rev. Henry Brinton, a Presbyterian minister, says that church may be the only place where political opponents can actually talk to one another. Yet Mary Ellen Dundas, a Roman Catholic parishioner, resents hearing political advocacy from the pulpit. “When I go to church, I go to be uplifted.” (“Religious Voices in the News,” page 18)

What role should social or political advocacy play in church life, especially worship? How can a church help political opponents talk to one another?

Dinner conversation.

Rob Eller-Isaacs describes a dinner party where guests with differing viewpoints were invited to engage in honest and respectful conversation. The first question asked about times when they had acted courageously. A guest then followed up by asking about times when they had not acted courageously. (“We the Powerful,” page 24)

When have you acted courageously? How were your acts received? When have you wished that you had acted more courageously?

Accepting the mantle.

Rob Eller-Isaacs believes that UUs need to clarify their identity before they can wield more power in society. (“We the Powerful,” page 25)

What kind of identity should Unitarian Universalists aspire to? How would having a firmer identity make it easier for UUs to wield power? Why have UUs been afraid of political and social power?

Soft and hard power.

Joseph Nye Jr., a professor and former dean at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, has developed the concept of soft and hard power in international relations. Soft power is a persuasive power “that can attract other nations through diplomacy, culture, ideals, and policies.” Hard power is usually exercised through military might. (“Small Acts of Engagement," page 26)

According to Nye, “Unitarian Universalism is a denomination where we sometimes fail to realize that we have to combine hard and soft power”. Under what circumstances should hard power be used? Is there a way to reconcile unconditional pacifists with those who believe that military force is sometimes justified?

Sacred time.

In her article on small group ministry, Thandeka invites the reader to enter into sacred time by remembering a joy-filled moment, and then to pay attention to the memories, sensations, and experiences that filled that time. (“Healing Community,”page 29)

Remember a time when you were filled with joy. What memories, sensations, and experiences were associated with that time?

Group revival.

Thandeka writes that small group ministries are “revitalizing the spiritual life of our congregations” and that “they can work wonders and transform lives.” (“Healing Community,”page 31)

How would you characterize the spiritual life of your congregation? What might be (or are) the benefits of small group ministry groups for your church?

It takes a village.

In “Time to Commit,” William Doherty examines the reluctance that many married couples have had making a long-term commitment to their marriage and the lack of support they have received from the liberal religious community. “Our congregations celebrate weddings and sponsor divorce support groups, but in between there is a big pastoral and theological hole.” (Page 35)

Why is it a religious community’s responsibility to support marriage? What things can a liberal religious community do to keep marriages alive and well?

Conditional love.

Doherty writes that the consumer ethic has entered into marriage, giving spouses a feeling of “personal entitlements bereft of responsibilities, spiritual depth, and communal obligations.” (“Time to Commit,” page 38)

What steps can couples take to resist the pressures of a consumerist society?

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