Creating Harmony with all our Voices: Seeking Common Ground
A solo voice, however melodious, does not provide harmony. One voice singing alone can be beautiful, yes, but harmony is created in the juncture of different voices, high, low and middle, stronger and softer, mixing and blending, moving through dissonance and consonance, sometimes landing together on a single note, at other times stretching out across the scale to create a chord that echoes in vibrant waves.
Singing in harmony requires patience and discipline, the willingness of each singer to vary and blend in volume and tone, to explore the possibilities as the voices come together. During church choir rehearsals, I remember being taught to move my voice by quarter-tones, and eighths and sixteenths, learning to hear ourselves and each other so that we could create together the subtlety of the harmony. Learning to tune my voice into the eighths of the step between notes was an enlightening experience.
As a developmental minister, I am much like a choir director, and my guiding principle is to coach the members and leaders of a congregation to create productive harmony in all they do. This requires that we listen to ourselves and each other, that all voices be clearly heard, and that everyone develop a good ear for healthy dissonance, for those clashing eighth-tones that let us hear the creative tension in community life. As we hear all voices, we can begin to bring the voices together to create the harmonic waves that carry us forward.
My understanding of the dynamics of this complex UUCCH community has been a gradual unfolding, and as I detect an area of dissonance I ponder what I might do, in my developmental coaching role, to help this strong and committed community grow the skills to sing together with more satisfying results. Sometime late in 2020 I began to recognize that there was history around the area outside the Sanctuary, the Commons. I am still picking up pieces of the story, hearing about tables and couches, flowers and tablecloths; welcoming and name tag decisions; display boards, display tables, shopping carts ….. It seems everyone has their own story about the Commons. As I learned and pondered, I saw an opportunity for voices to practice creating a new harmony, so I created a proposal which was approved by the Board of Trustees in January 2021, for what I call a “Commons stakeholder conversation.”
A stakeholder is someone who has a “stake,” a general or specific interest, in how we use and share the spaces here, especially on Sunday mornings. Each UUCCH stakeholder group was invited to designate a representative to participate in the conversation. This is a “conversation,” because all will bring their voices (in the literal and metaphoric sense) into the creation of a common vision, a common plan, and a collaborative approach to sharing the spaces we hold in Common. The main focus of the stakeholder conversation is on the Commons outside the Sanctuary, and will necessarily include our shared Sunday uses of the hallways, the Gallery and Fellowship Hall downstairs, since those are also spaces that contain and showcase our voices on Sunday mornings. And the focus is primarily on Sundays, since that is when the most of us are here and the largest number of our voices are singing in close harmony – while acknowledging that all these spaces are also used in various ways at other times.
Since the foundation of harmony is the full presence of each strong voice, we will begin the stakeholder conversation by listening, inviting each stakeholder to speak from their heart and to listen to each other with open hearts, sharing what each most values and loves about the Sunday morning experience at UUCCH before and after the worship service. We will take note of what each person (speaking for themselves, and for their stakeholder group) most values, and then we will look at where the loves and values intersect, the common ground shared – and where they diverge, the breadth of the common ground covered.
The next step will be to engage in conversation about how the common values may be expressed in use of the spaces, and how the various UUCCH programs and activities can be honored and supported in the shared space. From that conversation can grow a specific plan for scheduling, space planning, furnishings, whatever else is required to make sure all needs are met. All the planning will be participatory and collaborative, joining the melodies and harmonies of all we do here together to create a thriving church, with the flexible give and take that creates deep harmony in our relationships.
This stakeholder conversation process is likely to take several months, in order to hear and understand all the voices, all the values and needs, and to create a plan that works to support all the programs and activities. All will need to be patient, since this is too important to rush the process. And the good news is we have plenty of time to work on this, as the renovation of the sanctuary will continue at least into this summer, and as we continue to follow the guidance of our UUCCH Covid Response Task Force to assure that the environment is safe before we plan to gather once again in person.