A few weeks ago, I attempted to cancel (for the second time) the newsletter which continues to come to my house, addressed to “Rhode Island Baptist Women.” I called the number that seemed logical for this newsletter, and explained as gently as I could to the woman who answered the phone that I was not part of the “Rhode Island Baptist Women’s Group” and that continuing to send a newsletter to my house was not helpful for either one of us. The woman on the other end of the phone sighed and said “It’s such a shame….we’re losing so many members.” I hastened to tell her that they weren’t really “losing” me – the only reason I was ever on their list was because once, years ago, I served as the chaplain at a historically Baptist nursing home and did an event with the Baptist Women’s Group. ”I’m Unitarian Universalist!” I cheerfully told her, “you don’t want me on your list anyways!”
The woman on the other end of the phone did not share my excitement. ”But you’ve been on our LIST” she said flatly. ”I’m sorry you don’t want to be any more. Even if you are Unitarian Universalist now, you might change your mind.”
I felt there was some kind of miscommunication going on between us. I explained as clearly as I could that I was highly unlikely to convert to being a Baptist any time soon, since I was a minister in another faith, and that though I had a great deal of respect for the Rhode Island Baptist Women’s Group, I was emphatically not one of them and never would “come back.” Particularly since I was never there in the first place.
This all got me thinking about what it means to be a member of something. Some of my memberships I take very seriously – the membership to my college alum association (I love my college), for example, and my membership to the UU Minister’s Association. Others mean less to me….like apparently my membership to the Rhode Island Baptist Women’s Group.
I think for membership to be relevant, three things have to be present in the relationship:
1). You have to care about the organization you are member of and contribute to it through time, money, skills etc.
2). The organization has to care about you and value you as a stakeholder, even if they do things you don’t always agree with. You have to be valued.
3). The organization has to be relevant to your life and meaningful to you. Otherwise, the membership is pointless.
How do we keep our memberships reflecting who we are in living into our best selves? And what do we as churches do with our “members?” What does that word mean in the context of a church whose goal it is to help people become their best selves and live their spiritual lives to the fullest?