Step Up, Step Back

In Unitarian Universalist youth groups and conferences, there is a phrase often repeated, almost always a part of the community covenant: “Step up, step back.” The phrase is both an observation of the habits that emerge in groups, and an invitation to change. Generally, some people are more likely to step up to take on the work and the leadership and others are more likely to hang back and follow.

“Step up, step back” means just that – it is the dance we do in community of stepping forward to take space and stepping back to make space. While we all need to do both at times, healthy community encourages everyone to practice stepping out of our defaults.  Those of us who default to the sidelines need to step up for our own growth and health, and for the growth and health of the whole. And sometimes we who are likely to take the center stage need to step back for our own wellbeing, and perhaps even more importantly, so there is room for others to step up.

This phenomenon of participation is described in management fields as the Pareto Principle. Many refer to it as the 80/20 rule: 20% of the people in an organization often do 80% of the work.

Step-up-step-back is an essential tool for maintaining balance and wholeness in a community over time. When 20% of people are doing the majority of the work, it is not because these people are inherently better organized or more responsible (although this is often how our puritanically-rooted work-focused culture may explain it). The 80% of people not doing the work are not lazy or self-centered. This distortion happens because there is often a lack of clear understanding in how leadership (and responsibility) is passed on. The most important role long-time leaders play in the life of the congregation is to create meaningful and joyful ways for newer people to move more and more towards the center. It is not just the responsibility of new people to come forward, it is also the responsibility of leaders to step back.

Sometimes, there needs to be space — a pause in programing or events — so that what is waiting to be born can step forward.

As we enter the summertime, we invite you to experiment with this concept: step up and step back. Marcus preached this past month about the challenge, and the importance of saying no.  When we say no, it allows us to say yes to what really matters, what really brings us alive. Discerning what is really important to you and what brings you alive takes time. It may require quiet reflection; it may require a conversation with a trusted friend you don’t speak with very often.

In July, the congregation will not be holding Sunday services, so we invite you to use this time as a Sabbath.  A Sabbath is an ancient religious practice in which we stop our normal routines of life and make space in our schedules as well as emotionally and spiritually, to listen deeply.  A Sabbath means time set aside from professional work, and also from household work (tasks such as laundry, cooking, cleaning).  In some traditions, people do not use electricity during a Sabbath, or even walk further than a certain distance.  This summer we invite you to join us in a Common Practice and a Common Read:

A Common Practice

We invite you this summer to create a Sabbath that is meaningful to you. Your Sabbath need not be a particular day of the week or last any particular amount of time. No particular rules or restrictions are necessary for your Sabbath. What’s important is to give yourself a chance to slow down, to reconnect with yourself and what you love, and to open to what emerges in this precious fallow time.

In our experience, wonderful creativity, generative thinking and fresh perspectives often emerge from intentional rest.  And if all that happens is you take a few deep, deep breathes, that is a “productive” Sabbath in itself.

Some possible ideas for how to have a Sabbath:

· Go outside. Get in the sunshine. Take your kids, or grandkids. Or take an elderly friend or family member. Focus on moving at their pace.

· Go offline. Set your cell phone and computer down for 24 hours, or 72 hours, or a week, if you can!

· Go on a solo adventure. Make some time, even an afternoon, to just be alone. Don’t plan to do any specific activities or tasks, just wander and see what draws your eye, your attention, your heart.

Try a weekly Sabbath. Assign one day each week and plan to get absolutely nothing done, not even chores around the house.

In August or September, let us know how it goes. We’d love to hear from you!

We recognize doing nothing can be particularly challenging for some people — ourselves included. Please stretch a little and try a Sabbath, in some form, however brief. 


A Common Read

If you are looking for something “to do,” we recommend reading Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller. This book explores the Jewish tradition of Sabbath with a wide lens, using inspiration from Buddhist, Christian and secular sources to share how the wisdom of Sabbath spans across traditions and cultures.   You can purchase it from Amazon by clicking HERE

For those interested in church leadership, we also recommend Erik Walker Wikstrom’s book, Serving with Grace. This is a short but profound read about how the concepts of Sabbath apply to church life.  

If you are interested in reading this book, please let our Church Administrator Janni (in the Church Office) know by July 14th. If there is enough interest, we will make a bulk order of this book and offer copies for purchase in August.

You can also order individual copies of this book (including an ebook version) for $12 from the UUA HERE.

by Revs. Emily & Marcus Hartlief