Ambiguity & Change

One of the things about undergoing a process of change is that it often brings with it a significant period of ambiguity and uncertainty. There are some changes that as fast as flipping a light switch – boom! we’ve made the transition from A to B, light to dark, hot to cold. When we make the decision to create more significant changes in our lives though, things are rarely as clear cut. Usually leaving one job for a new one involves some uncertainty along the way. Entering into a relationship, either at the beginning or as far as marriage, is rarely an unambiguous process. Nor is leaving one, whether a break-up early on, or a divorce down the road. Choosing to go to college, or back to school for a graduate degree, or deciding to have children – these are all usually considered positive things, but even they involve uncertainty and change along the way for many of us.

So, it should be come as no surprise that for us as a church, when we began a process of looking at the possibility of change by adding a second service, that it brought up experiences and feelings of uncertainty and ambiguity for many of us. And just like when we experience uncertainty and ambiguity in our lives, especially when it relates to change – it can be uncomfortable, scary, and anxiety-producing. While there are some folks who truly do enjoy periods of uncertainty and change in general, more often many of us are not huge fans of the process. In uncertain times, we can feel a lack of a sense of control, and while we intellectually know there is much beyond our control, having a sense of control is important. If there is a lot going on in our lives, and many things are changing or feel out of control, the feelings of anxiety can compound. So even just talking about making a significant change here at church, while there is all the uncertainty and difficult things happening with our national government, can easily make everything feel even more stressful.

One thing that can really help during times of transition, or potential transition in our case, is to have plenty of information. Because studies have shown that we human beings have a predisposition to fill in gaps in our knowledge to make a coherent story or narrative, and if we don’t have facts, we will often make them up. This isn’t a condemnation by any means, it’s simple human nature, the basic way our memory works. Unless we have a photographic memory, most of us don’t actually remember every moment of every experience, and so we fill in the gaps… usually without being consciously aware we’re doing so. Most of the time this strategy works great for us… every once in a while, it leads to misremembering things. In daily life this might lead to an occasional argument with a loved one; it’s more serious when we serve as witnesses in a court of law. During times of uncertainty and stress, having a narrative to hold onto can feel even more important – it helps us maintain that sense of control.

Given our need for narrative, I hope as we approach our upcoming vote on May 21st, that we can all educate ourselves as much as possible beforehand. Being Unitarian Universalists, I am sure many of us will interpret the facts and the literature differently, and, by voting, we’ll be making a joint decision. I also hope we can pay attention to where we have filled in the gaps in the narrative for ourselves, without actually having the right information. One particular example of this is the story I’ve heard about my motivations. The number of times I’ve heard it reflected back to me that “you’re for adding a second service just to pad you resume” has been surprising to say the least, especially given that it’s not true. I was initially unenthusiastic about this idea, and it was only when I read the literature and did the research with the Two Services Exploration Task Force that I became convinced that adding a second service would be good for the church. I was also fully aware at the time that even considering significant change in a congregation brings up anxiety and stress, and that the task force recommending we consider adding a second service was likely to provoke anxiety and tension in the congregation. So, honestly, if I was just looking to pad my resume, there are other projects I could have pursued that speak directly to me personally, that were less risky, that were less fraught, and that frankly would have been less work. So please, if that’s one of the gaps you filled in, I hope you’ll consider adjusting your narrative.

And I’ll ask also, please join me, as you make your decision about how to vote on adding a second service, please join in me in considering what you think will be best for the whole church, both in the present and in the future. I know that for some of you this isn’t your first choice, that you have misgivings, and fears. And it may be that you think it’s better for the whole church, present and future, not to try doing this, and I respect that. Many of us though, when looking at the big picture, see trying the addition of a second service for a one-year experiment as a relatively low risk, potential for high rewards way to try and help us get unstuck and through this size transition.

I do hope that as we move through this last month of this process, that we can try and remember that our bonds of connection are more important than anything else, including our differences of opinion, and that we can try our best to remember to always treat each with dignity, honoring each other’s inherent worth. We’ve gone through and are going through a time of uncertainty and ambiguity, regardless of the outcome of the vote. In the end, I hope it makes us stronger.

See you in church!

peace, love and blessings,

Seth