What is the purpose of the Congregational Care Clusters?
The primary purpose of these clusters is to help us to care for each other. This is part of our congregational affirmation and covenant to each other – love, service, and fellowship. To that end, the clusters will give us a way to keep our connections strong while we are physically distant now, and when we come back together in the building; to keep track of each other and how we’re doing; to learn when there is something we can do to offer support; and to organize caring action when it’s needed. The secondary purpose of the clusters is to create another avenue for information to flow from WSUU leaders to congregants, and from congregants to WSUU leaders. Through both of these purposes, we are working to increase accessibility to congregational life.
This is a beautiful opportunity to connect in new ways – this can go beyond COVID-19, to create accessible connection and resource sharing that can strengthen our community long-term and build a stronger network of care for each other over time!
Love is the doctrine of this congregation,
The quest for truth is our sacrament,
And service is our prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve humanity in fellowship,
Thus do we covenant with one another.
Note About Equity and Congregational Care Clusters:
The board and WSUU leadership are bringing our best awareness and thinking to how we respond to this unprecedented pandemic experience. We also know that things are moving fast – in all aspects of everyone’s lives, not just in our church arena – and balls will be dropped. So if we bring our different lenses and perspectives together, our collective awareness will help us to act in ways that are much more beneficial to all. The inequities that existed before COVID-19, will be amplified by it. We invite every one of us, especially those who experience greater privilege in our culture, to consider this. And we invite those awarenesses to be shared with the board and all WSUU leadership to help us to amplify equity. That includes how we are moving forward with these Congregational Care Clusters.
How were the clusters formed?
Westside has had geographically organized “clusters” in the past, that have not been formally operational for several years. The clusters were meant to be a way for us to get to know each other better, and to provide support. People typically met for dinners in each other’s homes. The new Congregational Care Clusters were formed geographically also, to try to get people in groups with others who live close by for the possibility of providing neighborly support. These clusters are different than the original clusters we had at Westside, in part because we needed to keep the numbers in each cluster large enough to ensure supports could be in place, and small enough to be manageable. They currently range in size from 15 to 25. Also, we have incorporated new members and friends.
How were the clusters named?
We choose names that represent the geographic areas covered in each cluster. We can always change names in the future, but we wanted to associate the clusters geographically to begin. We are advocating that we not use numbers for cluster groups this time around.
What if I don’t want to participate?
Clusters, as with all aspects of congregational life, are optional. We hope that many of us will choose to actively engage at this time when social distancing can isolate us and leave us feeling disconnected. We recognize too, that other circumstances and responsibilities in our lives may affect the level of involvement we can each have with our cluster group from week to week.
Individuals can opt in to different levels of engagement and let their facilitators know if they want to participate in Zoom sessions and/or receive email or just be included for critical communications.
What if I have a closer relationship to people in my old cluster, or to people in my committees and groups at Westside?
Ideally, your care and support is a web of many nurturing threads. If your web already includes connection with a previous cluster, Westside committee, or group, you’re encouraged to maintain all healthy and practical connections. The Congregational Care Clusters are a consistent way to reach everyone in our community, and to ensure that none of us “falls through the cracks.”
What is the role of cluster facilitators?
Each cluster has two facilitators who have agreed to get things started. Some will choose to remain in that role for a longer time. Others may invite the cluster to consider shared leadership, or may wish to invite someone else to take over the facilitation. Our cluster facilitators have agreed to organize the cluster groups. They will set up virtual meeting times each week using Zoom. They can also reach out to WSUU leadership if there are needs that arise that the cluster is not able to address.
Another important role of the cluster facilitators is to help to facilitate discussion and input around decisions that WSUU leadership has to make on behalf of the whole congregation. Facilitators will have communication together as a team and with WSUU leadership through email, or on Zoom. They will be supported by our minister and the board.
How were cluster facilitators selected?
The board identified opening facilitators from each cluster once the clusters were formed. We started with consideration of the following elements:
- Engagement with the congregation
- Current roles and responsibilities in the congregation
- Diversity and equity
- Capability to hold the space for sharing in a difficult time
- Comfort level with technology
Given the reality that not everyone has the capacity to take something like this on in their lives now, we are appreciative of the folks who are able to fill the role at this time. Each of the current facilitators agreed to accept the board’s invitation to help to organize and kick off the cluster groups. Clusters can make their own choices about who will facilitate over time.
What will we be doing in clusters?
We are encouraging clusters to meet at least one time a week on Zoom, with a light structure that includes sharing joys, sorrows or concerns, and needs to the extent that anyone wishes to do so. A 40-minute session is thought to be a good starting time frame for a cluster meeting.
We will incorporate elements of our faith tradition that are part of all of our small group ministries, including covenanting together, lighting a chalice, and sharing a reading. We will also incorporate a process of sharing our individual access needs when we check in, which will refer to what we need to be able to engage in the cluster meeting, or to engage with the cluster between meetings. We hope to open pathways for us to share honestly about our needs, to create plans to offer support as we can, and to share knowledge about COVID-19 updates and resources. Also, facilitators may offer meeting opportunities to share information from WSUU leadership when there are updates and decisions to be made on behalf of the whole congregation.
Who do I contact if I have questions about the clusters, or if something isn’t working well?
You can start with your cluster facilitators, if it makes sense to do so. Otherwise, Shannon Day, our congregation administrator, can provide assistance (firstname.lastname@example.org), or any board member (or the board as a whole – email@example.com). For pastoral care needs, you can continue to reach out to our Lay Pastoral Associates (firstname.lastname@example.org), or to our bridge minister, Rev. Deanna (email@example.com).