The Community-Based Model For Church: We Can Do It!

April 20, 2021

Well, the good news is that Unity of Roanoke Valley is surviving through the pandemic!

Actually, we are more than surviving the full implications of COVID-19. Our buildings were closed, but this church never closed. In fact, we created many new ways to serve the spiritual needs of our community. For example, before the pandemic URV only had audio capabilities. Now we have both video and audio capabilities. Our YouTube services are seen by many people who had never heard of Unity before. I seem to get emails and letters every week from people who can’t wait to visit URV.

Before the pandemic, we did not offer online classes, and now we are holding classes and groups on Zoom. I believe that for many people who are spiritual but not religious, we will first meet them online. The pandemic has made us really step up our online game!

Our newsletter is being revamped and modernized. The same will happen with our website, and our Facebook page looks fantastic! Many churches closed down their Youth and Family Ministries programs during the pandemic. URV kept its YFM program up and running throughout the entire pandemic. We also created new groups such as the URV Book Club and Sunday Adult Virtual Fellowship. And what about the parking lot services? I have been asked by many ministers from around the country how to hold parking lot services – including broadcasting services into peoples’ FM car radios. Also, during the pandemic, we created The Giving Room to serve the growing need for food, clothing, and other assistance in the Roanoke Valley.

In terms of finances, contributions have declined somewhat. But our committed donors have really continued to support URV. We can not get money from weddings or facility use fees which is to be expected when the buildings are closed. URV has been able to get two government PPP loans. We have lived up to all of the terms, and the government will forgive us on these loans. We have also reduced some expenses during the pandemic.

Our Spiritual Care team is as active as ever. URV’s 26 sacred acres remain incredibly beautiful and are a real spiritual oasis. If you haven’t seen it, come experience the beautiful new fountain in the rose garden. I know this might not have “sex appeal,” but we replaced the heating/AC system in the Gathering Room in the YFM building. Beyond keeping the lights on and making basic payments, URV has been able to make some great capital improvements during the pandemic – without going into debt!

Lastly, we have been able to meet the pastoral counseling needs of our spiritual community. All of the above is, I think, very good news in the face of the pandemic.

However, despite all of the above, I believe that going through the pandemic has generated some real costs and negative influences for URV and many other churches. One cost, of course, is the loss of contact and fellowship between us. Another cost is the loss of worshiping together. Fortunately, we have started a partial reopening at URV with the 11:00 am service. Yes, we are practicing social distancing, and we wear masks. Also, we are asking people to make reservations. Hopefully, we will soon be able to get back to the pre-pandemic service schedule of 9:00 am and 11:00 am services.

The pandemic has imposed another cost, or negative influence, on URV and many other churches. Talking with many of you, and reading about URV’s history, I realize that our spiritual community was moving in the direction of the Community-Based Church Model and away from the Minister-Based Church Model. In the second model, decisions and directions in the church are very “top-down.” In the first and newer model, activities and direction in the church really “bubble up.”

Before the pandemic, Unity Center of Tulsa (where I was the minister) also was moving in the direction of the Community-Based Model. For example, many people in the church came forward to teach classes and workshops on Native American spirituality (It is Oklahoma after all), the Divine Feminine, Reiki, etc. Another group in the congregation formed Cafe Unity complete with all kinds of music. Another group was formed to do social action projects. Meanwhile, several people organized great local trips. I could go on, but I think you get the point. It was real “bubbling up.” It was exciting, and it was pulling in new members (many of whom had children – we had to expand the space for YFM activities).

I have called friends from the Tulsa congregation, and I have called people from many other Unity churches around the country. Unfortunately, they all report a similar trend: To survive in the pandemic their churches have somewhat retreated from the Community-Based Model and moved a little more in the direction of the Minister-Based Model.

I hope that as we come out of the pandemic, and as we experience a partial reopening of the buildings, we can move once again in the direction of the Community-Based Model. What classes, workshops, and events would you like to see at URV? What would you like to teach or facilitate at URV? What dreams do you have for URV? How can we be more of love and service both within our congregation and to the Roanoke Valley and the world?

I plan to devote more blogs/columns, Sunday messages, etc. to this important topic. As a community, we can make this happen. Let me end this blog/column by telling a true story from URV’s recent past. Several URV members, a number of years back, got the idea for a coloring book about the 12 Powers. Not only would this book have beautiful pictures for coloring, but it would have great insights about each of the 12 Powers. The result was a book that was published by (Twelve Spiritual Powers: A Coloring Book For Your Mind, Body, and Soul). Not only was this coloring book a hit with URV, but it was used by other Unity churches. When I saw this coloring book, my first reaction was, “What a great example of bubbling up!”

A new Spring can come to URV.

Many Blessings,
Rev. Rick

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