Thursday, April 01, 2010

A New Conversion Practice

In the early Church, they had an extensive conversion practice. I propose that, in lieu of the standard "orientation- sign the book - get asked to be Finance Chair" conversion process that we currently have in place, that we adopt this more detailed protocol:

Inquiry: A presentation of the faith to the seeker with an affirmative response

When a visitor requests information about becoming a member, an interview should be arranged between the visitor and either the minister or a trained membership chairperson. This should be a two-way interview, where the seeker can ask questions about Unitarian Universalism and the local church, and the minister/chairperson can ask probing questions about what the seeker is looking for -- why did they begin coming to the church? What do they understand about Unitarian Universalism? What do they think are the responsibilities of being a member? And how are they hoping membership will affect their personal spiritual journey?

The interview process itself should reveal whether the seeker and the church will be a good fit. Discernment should be emphasized for the seeker, in order to make a decision that will enhance his or her life, and not wind up in frustration if the church doesn't change to meet the perceived needs of the seeker.

Rite of Welcome: Welcome into the church as a new catechumenate. Rituals include the rite of the renunciation of religious cynicism and signing with the double circle as a symbol of belonging to Unitarian Universalism.

Once committed to the program, the catechumenate should be lovingly welcomed into the formation program. Rituals include a retreat to identify past hurts and discouragement received at other churches or religious organizations, familial feelings about religion, (see the "Owning Your Spiritual Past" curriculum), and any other "baggage" that will hold the seeker back from maturing in his or her faith.

Other rituals include a "burning bowl" ceremony to ceremoniously burn pieces of paper labeled with such baggage, and a Ritual of Subconscious Cringe. During this ritual, various religious items will be held up for the seeker to view -- a prayer shawl, a mandala, a Bible, a cross, a crystal, deity figures, the Happy Human symbol, etc. The items that cause the seeker to wince or cringe will be set aside, and the religions they represent will be noted so that the seeker can explore the feelings of revulsion.

The catechumenate: A two or three year period of instruction and personal character formation.

During this time, the catechumenate (or catechuperson, to be more inclusive) will learn deep listening, Roberts Rules of Order, will take several adult RE classes to include one on congregational polity, join at least one small group, and will memorize the church's mission and covenant.

The Rite of Election: The catechumenate affirms a personal relation with the specific Unitarian Universalist congregation by writing his or her name in the book of covenant. This ritual is also known as the enrollment of names.

After signing the book, the chatechuperson will ceremoniously light the chalice with a brightly colored candle of his or her choosing.

Period of Purification and Enlightenment: In the spirit of Ephesians 6:12, the soon-to-be baptized person receives a daily exorcism for personal purity of life and faith.

The goal of this exorcism is to remove knee-jerk reactions to things that either justify their opinions or negate the values of groups with whom they do not identify.

The Rite of Initiation: Baptism is usually held on an Easter Sunday morning after the all-night vigil, finding the best blooms in town for the Flower Communion and meditating on saints such as Norbert Capek who have "won a victory for humanity." (Book of Horace Mann, 20:7)

The rite of baptism is accompanied by numerous signs and symbols such as the removal of clothing and the donning of a new organically-grown cotton or hemp gown, the renunciation of intolerance, the washing in oil as a symbol of the reception of the Holy Spirit, the passing of the peace, and the first bloom received during Flower Communion.

Mystagogue: During this period of time the newly baptized Unitarian Universalist learns more about the mysteries of faith, the use of reason, and is taught to be mindful of the needs of others.

Additionally, having mastered a comprehension of congregational polity, the mystagogue will be required to attend at least one UU-themed event outside of their own church, so that they can understand their connection to Unitarian Universalism as a whole, with all its complexities and character.

April Fools.


Stacy Strunk said...

Wow. For a while there, I thought the pressure of your studies had gotten to you. :D

Paul Oakley said...

Okay, so you presented it as an April Fool's joke. But I think you're onto something important here.

Yeah, I'd probably fiddle with a few details here and there (my congregation, for example, doesn't use Robert's Rules but Modified Consensus Procedures). But this concept of making membership a more involved process than applying ink to paper and making a pledge (as it plays out many places) is one we should develop more fully in our contexts.

ms. kitty said...

You had me all the way up until April Fools. Actually I think you've got a lot of good ideas there, LE.

TK the Nuub said...

Oh, good grief, I had forgotten it was Apr 1.

Bless your heart, for this deeply thought, thoroughly terrifying induction into UUism.

TK the Nuub

Toonhead said...

The first paragraph about sign the book and then become finance committee chair actually happened to my husband.

Becky said...

Haha, this was fantastic! Definitely one of the most detailed April Fools blog posts I've seen all day, though as others have pointed out, there are some potentially good ideas in there. But all in all, it would lead to a rather lengthy waiting period to cultivate a new finance chair, no? :)

Lizard Eater said...

Yup, as many of you picked up on, the April Fools was a matter of degree. I think we need more than what is for many congregations, our current membership joining process.

@ Toonhead: I've had so many people say that, I really think it must be part of our process. The Husband admitted he was a CPA, and he was hit with it. I'm convinced that 50% of why he's so supportive of me going into ministry is because it means he'll never ever be asked to be on the finance ctte again.