Sunday, August 13, 2006

No More Elevator Speech

Forget “the elevator speech.”

Aack! The emperor has no clothes! That sacred rite in Unitarian Universalist circles, The Elevator Speech, and you think I should forget it?

You betcha.

Have you been “witnessed” to, by an evangelical Christian? Growing up in the Bible Belt, I have, on several occasions. You know what? It’s not about theology. It’s a personal narrative, called a “testimony” in which the person explains how a relationship with Jesus has changed their life.

Contrast that with our theory of the “elevator speech” – a short description of what Unitarian Universalism is.

A testimony is often moving, even if you’re not buying what the person is selling. It is a story of how a life has been fundamentally altered.

Has your life been changed by being a member of a UU church? Mine has.

If someone asked me about my church, my response would not be about our principles and purposes, or how you can “believe anything,” (do people really still say that?) …

“I go to such a wonderful church! The people are amazing. And I’ve been able to really explore and deepen my own spirituality.”

Keep the elevator speech – it’s a great exercise for you to figure out how to define this religion on your terms. But maybe, at first, keep it to yourself.

And speak from your heart. WITNESS.

I found some great instructions for how to craft your personal testimony. I’ve made a few changes, replacing “Christian” with Unitarian and such.

Personal Testimony

One of the most helpful things Unitarian Universalists can do is write out their personal testimony. This exercise will help you think through in your own mind what your church has done in your life and will prepare you to share your story simply and clearly with others. Sharing how you found out about UUism is one of the best ways of witnessing. It is particularly helpful in presenting UUism to relatives and close friends, usually the most difficult people to whom to witness.

In sharing the story of your experience:

1. Make it personal—Don't preach. Tell what involvement in your church has done for you. Use the pronouns "I", "me", and "mine".

2. Make it short—Three or four minutes should be enough time to deal with the essential facts.

3. Keep your church central—Always highlight what belonging there has done for you.

Please note: If your testimony includes a previous negative church experience, do not mention the name of that church or denomination because it creates needless antagonism in those who are listening to your story.

Try writing down your personal testimony just the way you'd tell it to a non-UU. Make the story of your finding it so clear that another person hearing it would know how find out about Unitarian Universalism. Tell a little about your life before you found UUism; then tell about your finding it, how you came to trust it, and something of what it has meant to belong — the feeling of being around people who also want to explore “meaning,” assurance of their support of you on your journey, and other ways your life or outlook has changed. If you have been a UU for some time, be sure that your testimony includes some current information about the continuing effect of your religion and church in your life.

As you prepare your story, reflect on opportunities to share it. Think of two or three people whom you would particularly like to tell about your church in your neighborhood, at work, or at school. Then take the first opportunity to share your testimony with them.

In conclusion, remember that you do not have the power in yourself to convince anyone of spiritual truth. As you think of those with whom you desire to share your personal testimony, be sure to consider whether this is an appropriate topic to share with that person.

Witnessing is a style of living—you are a witness at all times. Loving others and showing your genuine concern for them are practical ways to communicate Unitarian Universalism. You also witness by your life. Actions are often more revealing than words. Your actions, however, are not sufficient to communicate to another the message of Unitarian Universalism. You need to witness by your words—to identify openly as a Unitarian Universalist and to tell others about the benefits of membership. One of the most effective means of communicating this to another person is the story of how the church has worked in your life—your personal testimony.

Okay, so parts of that are a bit heavy-handed. But still …

What is your personal testimony?


Elizabeth said...

This is such a great post. I'm linking to it on my blog. UUs do focus too much on head, I think, and not enough on heart. And that his how the conservative Christians get super duper mega churches. People develop a personal relationship with Jesus and it changes their hearts and they join and stay joined to their church. Not that we need to be all about heart, but a little more wouldn't hurt.

The Mom said...

(de-lurking, sort of!)
Just yesterday (8.13.06) I was baptised into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Having been raised Baptist and leaving religion completely behind once I became 'an adult'...this came as a shock to everyone. When I would hear or read about people giving their personal testimony, I thought they were nuts! There was no way that something impacted their life so much...and then it happened to me. LOL The past five days have changed my WHOLE LIFE. Yesterday was just the paramount and I absolutely can't wait to share my testimony with any and all who are willing to listen! Sure, Mormons aren't easily accepted amongst the masses, but I'll be...we all believe in Jesus and the Bible--we're all in this together. :)

PeaceBang said...

Lizard, I love this on some levels, but I'm also bummed out by it. I absolutely agree with you that personal witness is more powerful than trying to stammer out a definition of Unitarian Universalist. However, while the Christian witness is testifying to the saving grace of God/Christ in their life, we're witnessing to the saving grace of a congregation in our life. When I try to answer the question "what are we worshiping?" your post validates my sad conclusion that we are, in fact, worshiping ourselves.

Berrysmom said...

I think this is a great post. I wish I had seen it before I offered my sermon last weekend (8/20) on Converting to Unitarian Universalism. Our congregation's mission statement says that our mission is to transform lives and care for the world. I did a bit on the etymology of the hokey pokey (coming from "hocus pocus," which comes from "hoc est corpus") and said that if you throw your whole self in, you are turned around (transformed) and that's what it's all about.

Actually it was a serious sermon; this was only a tiny bit of it. But I would have loved to cite this little essay on witnessing for our faith. We need to learn how to do this (and it doesn't have to be about worshiping the congregation, either).

Thanks, Liz, whoever you are. I am sorry to read about your daughter and the new journey you both are on. You're not on it alone.