Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Are we part of a larger movement? GA Access

This post started out as a way to generate discussion around some way of providing recognition to organizations with UU values that identified them as part of a larger UU movement - whether or not they were an Independent Affiliate (former or not). That discussion still needs to take place, but I am finding much of the "Sturm und Drang" of this discussion centers around General Assembly, its delegates, and the meaning of congregational polity.

Do (the former) "Independent Affiliates carry the vision and the work of UUism into the world, and to a larger pool of UUs at GA, in ways that congregations cannot" as the Rev. Kurt Kuhwald points out in his response to an earlier post? Or do they have "the undesirable of effect of creating pseudo-congregations, groups who had influence on the governance of the Association without having a degree of accountability equal to the member congregations" as Keith Goheen asserts in a November 23 post to the UU Historical Society chat list.

Does the IA presence provide a valuable education service to GA attendees, or does it divert them from what should be their primary role in focusing on governing an association of congregations?

What we are talking about here is access to several thousand attendees at GA. In other circles this would be referred to as lobbying. Having been one on Capitol Hill in a previous life, I never identified with Jack Abramhoff, but rather thought of myself as being a valuable resource on a complicated topic that was not well understood by the senators, representatives, and staffers who were making legislative decisions about that topic - and that my presence helped prevent what could be some serious mistakes based on lack of information. Others viewed it as a not so subtle attempt on the part of special interest groups to influence legislation. And while I can already hear the cries of "we are not special interests, we are the embodiment of UU values!" I would point out that many (legislative) lobbyists feel exactly the same way.

Does the [special interest lobbying] presence provide a valuable education service to [Congress], or does it divert them from what should be their primary role in focusing on [policy making for the United States]?

Now imagine that taxpayer money was used to subsidize the workshop and meeting space for these lobbyists while Congress was in session and you may have a sense of the indignation expressed by some UUs over what Goheen described as "the World's Fair of Unitarian Universalism...[rather than] a council model wherein thoughtful church
leaders assemble to reflect on and devise means by which the congregations
improve their individual and collective health."

I empathize with both views. Delegation selection is a haphazard and apathetic process in far too many congregations. Given a choice between a plenary session and a great workshop, even some delegates vote with their feet. If we really think we are going to be governed by congregational representation, we need serious change. Perhaps shifting the focus at GA from special interests to thoughtful discourse will do that - but I doubt it. I think it means that even fewer people would attend GA, with fewer of us talking to ourselves.

This "World's Fair of Unitarian Universalism" has inspired more first time (and multi time) UUs than "thoughtful reflection" could dream of. Particularly for us "comer-inners", GA provides a cacophony of sounds, sights, joy, diversity, conflict, and meaning that opens up the world. If we are to survive, we have to walk the line between inspiring a larger community of UUs and what may feel to long-timers as a sacrilege of our historical roots.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Who sets the vision?

First is a series of posts following discussion with the Pacific Central District Board

The UUA Board is in the process of moving to policy-based governance, currently establishing executive limitations (which we are calling “Global Leadership Covenant and Expectations”) and expecting to fully operate in this mode by 2009. One of the major changes in the standard Carver model from the current view is that the Board, not the President, is responsible for setting the vision, working with the congregations to do so. This vision is then codified into a set of statements generally referred to as "ends". This is a very different model than that of traditional business institutions, where a CEO is often hired because of his or her "vision" of what the company should be, and is expected to inspire employees, investors, and often customers to implement it successfully.

A fundamental difference with non-profits (including churches) is that "customers", "investors", and "employees" become very muddy terms that do not translate well to a non-profit model. It may be totally realistic for a CEO to take a light bulb company and turn it into a multinational conglomerate selling everything from entertainment to jet engines (as General Electric has evolved) but member congregations (an amalgamation of "customers", "investors", and "employees/volunteers") might not feel the UUA should be branching out beyond its core mission - however that is defined.

In many ways the UUA has already acted in a "carveresque" manner through the various proposals, resolutions and study groups that are passed or created at the General Assembly - input that comes directly from the congregational delegates that can create a shift in policy and/or direction. The Board is expected to provide resources for these resolutions, and the President and Staff to see that they are implemented, which is in line with pure "Carver", though the Board's role in the detail of the numbers may not be. The Board began a more deliberate visioning process at Portland GA with the “open space” technology sessions which began to create the ends under which we will operate.

Is this realistic? To what degree are our congregations served by a "strong president" who may bring his or her own visions of what the UUA should be? How much flexibility should be inherent in the "ends"? How should the Board engage with congregations to further this kind of work? Do we start with a blank sheet of paper (as the open space technology did) or utilize the "best and brightest" of our lay and ministerial leaders to create ends that could be debated and revised by our congregations?

Next post: do we need to be part of a larger movement?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Eclectic Cleric: "Congregations Count"

The Eclectic Cleric: "Congregations Count"

In the "Shameless Promotion" department...

I just discovered the above link, which is a review of my General Assembly Workshop, "Congregations Count" about using process data to better direct membership efforts. This person does an excellent job of describing the workshop, and more importantly has some great additional insight into what this work is about. I have had good response on the workshop, which has been presented a number of times (including a couple of conference call workshops). I have a standard request at the end of each workshop: send me your data so I can refine the ranges for the benchmarks, which will make the concepts more useful for everyone. At GA I gave out 30 CDs, with the caveat that the takers would provide me their data - so far, zero.

Check out the Eclectic Cleric's post, and if you want to hear/see the presentation, go to Congregations Count where you can download both the presentation and the audio of me presenting it (which includes a lot of material not on the slides). And send me your data!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

White Privilege

Third in a series of posts from the UUA October Board meeting

I am still pondering something that happened during the UUA board meeting a few weeks ago.

I am well acquainted with the concept of privilege as something relatively unrecognized by the one who has it. I remember being a 26 year old telephone installation supervisor, the only female supervisor in a garage of men, being shown how to check the oil on my truck by my well-meaning manager.

I had been changing the oil in trucks since I was 14.

My boss did not mean to be unkind – it was just assumed that I would not know because I was a woman. This happened repeatedly, sometimes fairly and sometimes not. It was not until I started going out for a few beers on Friday afternoons with my male counterparts, and got to know them well enough for them to be honest, that I found out they didn’t know a lot of stuff either. But because people assumed a big strapping guy with a firm handshake and hearty voice did know what he was doing, he was seldom called on the carpet to prove it.

But back to the Board meeting.

Somewhat to our dismay, the Board has learned that the security conditions surrounding the Fort Lauderdale General Assembly site still include the need for a government issued photo ID. Viewed primarily as an annoyance by most of us, it meant something different to most if not all of our board members of color.

I have personally not been singled out for special security measures because of my color or ethnicity, nor jerked from a car and pushed on the ground because I was in the wrong neighborhood, nor questioned suspiciously about my citizenship at a border crossing. If I had, I might not be so cavalier about how “normal” this was in this day and age (try flying lately?) or so quick to feel confident that the people in charge would insure nothing bad happened. And I might – just might – try not to “fix” the pain reflected in these experiences.

I also have not lost substantial numbers of family and friends to violence, whether it is in urban neighborhoods, the Holocaust, or current genocides. There is much pain here.

A phrase sticks with me from a workshop at the Portland General Assembly: “The soul does not need to be fixed. The soul needs to be heard.” As I told one of the participants, I learned something from the Board exchange that I will continue to think about – I am just sorry that I learned it at someone else’s expense.

I did hear you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Independent Affiliate Revisited

Second in a series of posts about the October 2007 UUA Board Meeting

One of the more interesting things about Unitarian Universalism is that we are a covenantal faith, which to me means that I choose to be part of this organization because I support its purpose, and also promise to take the time to delve deeper into what that is and how I am part of it. In turn, our congregations covenant to “promis[e] to one another our trust and support”, though at times it feels we have forgotten that part of it as we each focus on our own congregations, their needs, and our immediate community. With the idea of “covenant” in mind, I wonder which organizations (other than our congregations) would be in the category of ones we would choose to covenant with as a UUA Board? Which ones are clearly in line with the purpose of the UUA to serve congregations, and would merit (and be willing to take) the time to delve deeper with us into what exactly serving congregations means?

I am intentionally including a list of the (former and current) independent affiliates (IAs) at the end of this posting, to the extent they have been posted to the UUA website. Rather than scan it for your favorites, I would ask you to look at how long it is. Can a Board of Trustees really have meaningful collaboration with nearly 50 independent organizations?

Why would the Board even walk into this buzz saw? The easiest thing for us would be to react to whatever came before it, continuing a system by which Affiliates were actually encouraged to remain separate (more workshop slots, more opportunities for exposure), even though they may have had few resources and would have benefited from collaborating. I suspect few UUs have even heard of half of the organizations on the list. [Heard at the Board meeting: “I am getting these calls that this person just found out that [Organization X ] exists, and now they are really mad because we are not making it an affiliate.”]

The problem appears to be that there is an accrued set of privileges that have come with the designation of “independent affiliate”: a slot at General Assembly (GA), a link to the UUA website, participation in health and retirement plans, and a perceived “stamp” of credibility. The Board has taken the position that this is not the intent of the IA designation, particularly since these “benefits” are provided by organizations other than the Board.

The problem with this view (in my “not speaking for the board” opinion) is that it ignores the reality that the perceived benefits of the designation, whether or not appropriate, were real. Fortunately, the Board has already addressed the health and retirement plan benefits issue by adding a provision by which a former affiliate can be considered for inclusion in health and retirement plans by petitioning the treasurer, who then recommends to the Board. This is a great start. The GA planning committee has added extra slots for former IAs – though they need to compete for workshop time, this was likely to happen anyway as workshop requests outstrip available facilities.

What is left is the credibility issue, and whatever benefit there might be in linking websites. How might the Board think “outside the box” to address this? To what degree do congregations want to be identified as part of a larger movement? What is the best way to do this? What exactly is the value that a linkage to the UUA brings to outside organizations? What value do these organizations bring to our congregations? I will be interested in your comments, disagreements and ideas.

Next post: White Privilege

List of UUA Affiliates Per UUA Website
(Note this does not include Associate or UU Professional Organizations)

Council of UU Camps and Conferences
• Sunset Hall, Incorporated
• Unitarian Universalist Religious Naturalists
• Unitarian Service Pension Society
• Bethany Union For Young Women
• Channing-Murray Foundation
• Collegium
• Conservative Forum for Unitarian Universalists
• Council on Church Staff Finances
• Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans
Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries
• Ferry Beach Association
• Hale Barnard Corporation
• HUUmanists Association NFP
• Interweave Continental
• Lambda Ministers Guild
• Latina/o Networking Association
• Murray Grove Association
• New York State Convention of Universalists
• New Massachusetts Universalist Convention
• Pennsylvania Universalist Convention
• Project Harvest Hope
• Promise the Children, Incorporated
• Southwest Unitarian Universalist Women
• The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center, Inc.
• The Magi Network
• The Society for Ministerial Relief
• Unitarian Universalist Affordable Housing Corporation
• Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship
• Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship
• Unitarian Universalist Historical Society
• Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry, California
• Unitarian Universalist Men’s Network
• Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth*
• Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council*
• Unitarian Universalist Process Theology Network
• Unitarian Universalist Psi Symposium
• Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry Network*
Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry
• Unitarian Universalist Women & Religion
• Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society
• Unitarian Universalists for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
• Unitarian Universalist Council on Church Staff Finances
• Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform
• Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness
• Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East
Universalist Convocations

Organizations in bold have been accepted under the revised definition of “Independent Affiliate”
*considered at UUA October Board meeting

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tired but energized

First in a series of posts about the UUA Board of Trustees meeting October 17-21, 2007

My three word “check-in” at the combination debrief/planning session after the UUA Board meeting on Sunday afternoon felt like a bit of a paradox. This was the end of five full days, generally starting at 7:15 to 8:30 am (depending on what committee you are part of) and ending at 9 pm. Oh, and that’s not counting the information conversations that then go on in the living room of the Pickett and Elliott House (where Board members stay) for several more hours. I would normally be brain dead by the end of it but strangely wasn’t.

I was not alone in that reaction. We got “fed”. For some people it was the worship and/or singing that provided the added energy, for others the genuine caring from other board members. Each session started (and often ended) with a reading, meditation, or prayer, and there were two longer worship services led by Board members. For me it was also the sense that we were working on something important.

This is a large Board (“too large”, several members say). There are 24 voting members (one from each District plus 4 “at large”, one of them a “Youth”) plus the Chief Governance Officer (CGO, formerly called Moderator), President, Financial Advisor, Executive Vice President, Youth Observer, Treasurer, and Assistant to the EVP and Board for 31 people around the table plus a Youth and a Young Adult observer. This includes 16 women and 4 people who identify publicly as people of color. Seven are ministers. At least 3 ("at least" because it is based on whether or not people referred to their partners in conversation) identify as GLBT. Though the older I get the less I can tell, no more than 5 (including observers) are under the age of 40. The dynamics and “air time” of a 31 member body make it difficult to have the kind of in depth discussion that is really needed for most of the complex issues we are discussing: ministerial excellence, collaboration with other like-minded organizations, how we govern ourselves (and the Association), how we elect our leaders, and working to end racism and oppression. So the Board created four “working groups” that have a general charge to delve deeper into the purposes of our association: to grow Unitarian Universalism, serve the needs of member congregations, to be in association with other groups, and to live our faith in the larger world. Recently a fifth working group on governance was added, which works collaboratively with the other four to sort out our governance structure. These groups meet on Friday, report out on Saturday, including offering motions that are then voted on Sunday.

The Moderator (now the Chief Governance Officer) is good – very good. Gini Courter facilitates the meetings as one part chair, one part teacher, and three parts “non-anxious presence”. She does this through humor, intellect, and giving us permission to struggle with “big issues” and process – pointing out that this is all very normal. We request permission to speak with large orange cards (that are also used to vote), with Paul Rickter, able secretary, keeping track of who is next with tiles with our names on them for Gini to see. Everyone uses a microphone (or risk being called “Mike! Mike!”). I don’t think there was anyone, including us five new board members, who did not participate in the discussions. Observers range from a few to many, but most of us forget they are there. There are disagreements, yet respect in the room. The process observations at the end of each half day are detailed and very insightful. It does not feel like a “clique”.

Over all of it are the frequent questions: are we incorporating our values into our discussions and how we interact? How do we “live our faith” within these conference rooms?

Someone recently said to me that they expected there would be a lot of interesting people on this board, as “we are far more interesting individually than we are collectively”. The first is definitely true – these are bright people, with a wide variety of viewpoints and experiences. I am happy to report that so far I find the collective experience just as interesting.

Next post: Independent Affiliates Revisited

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More conversations at Starr King

Would this faith be better served by having one or no theological schools? Would we prefer more or fewer of our UU ministerial candidates to be attending non-UU schools, basically "out-sourcing" most of the training of our ministers? And what are they missing if they do? Though we hear the oft quoted number that two thirds of our ministerial students are attending non-UU schools, to what degree do "our" schools provide the ministerial leadership in our congregations? Are our schools viable without the level of support we have been providing?

These were some of the questions I explored this afternoon with Rebecca Parker, the president of Starr King School for the Ministry. This conversation, our first, was direct and honest, with both of us struggling to look for a path less painful than the one we currently appeared to be on.

This is not the first time these questions have been raised - Robert West's memoir, Crisis and Change, talks extensively about the same issues raised in the 1970s and into the 80s. All organizations have to make tough decisions, but as we move through the discussion on this one I will look for clarification on some very basic things:
- what decision are we making? are we clear about the impact of the actions we are proposing to take?
- how much of this decision has been overtly delegated to the Panel on Theological Ministry?
- how does the timing for the study results interact with the schools' curriculum and scheduling, as major cuts typically involve programming and staff?

Conversations at Starr King

Meeting with students at any level is interesting and stimulating, and gets more so as the intensity and depth of what the students are studying goes up. This was certainly true yesterday in my discussion with Dave Sammon's class on UU polity at Starr King School for the Ministry. In addition to policy based governance in general and as the Board is working on it, we talked about the Independent affiliate issue and funding for theological education. Unfortunately (for me) I had to leave the last part in Art Ungar's capable hands, who is steeped in the history of funding as well as a variety of governance projects around the UUA board.

Part of my role is to insure the views of the people I represent within the Pacific Central District are understood and heard by the UUA Board - and that the Board views are understood (even if not agreed with) by the members within PCD. I suspect on the latter I was only partially successful. Though I think the focus on serving congregations is understood, to a person (or at least it appeared) the class of about 15 did not agree with the new paradigm for Independent Affiliate status. I am hoping the class members will post some of what they expressed, but much of it fell into these general areas:

- disagreement that organizations such as those with a religious focus did not directly serve congregations, often based on personal experience within a congregation
- a belief that focusing only on directly service congregations ignored the larger needs of "the institution of Unitarian Universalism" (to quote Art Ungar).

Our District Executive, Cilla Raughley, addresses it this way:

"The UUA Board seems serious about the move to reestablish the UUA as an association of congregations, and that's surely a good thing. But I also really believe our congregations want to be part of a **larger movement,** and these affiliated/disaffiliated organizations are such an important part of what that larger movement is. They represent causes and interests that need a national platform to get a critical mass that can't happen at a congregational level, and is incomplete at a district level."

Monday, October 8, 2007

October Board Packet

I am part way through the 3 inch stack of materials sent a few days ago under the guise of "October Board packet". Though that much material is somewhat daunting (in addition to current letters or other materials sent to the board via email) it also provides a very interesting look at how we spend our resources of time and mind share. In addition to the requisite agendas and minutes of the Board as well as each of the various committees and working groups, there is background information on a number of issues that appear deeply rooted in our UU history - funding for theological education, policy governance, work with youth, and work in anti-racism/anti-oppression. The reports from the various staff departments give insight into what these groups do (I suspect most of our congregations have no idea).

I also found the financial numbers interesting: the UUA is a $26M + organization, of which half is income for very specific purposes, such as theological education, the national marketing campaign, and various international work. Like many organizations, it is hard to understand what is really being funded unless you have a reference that explains all the UU specific terms.

You too can share in this wealth of knowledge - the packet is posted on the UUA site.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What does an ex officio member DO anyway?

One of my surprises after agreeing to run as a candidate for the PCD trustee position was that I was expected to attend more than the 4 annual UUA Board meetings and additional associated sub-committee meetings. I automatically became an ex officio ("by virtue of one's position") member of the Pacific Central District Board, which also meets at least 4 times per year (and more like 6). This actually makes a lot of sense - if I represent the District, and the Board is elected by the District, there should be a strong linkage.

So what does an ex officio member do anyway, except in this case not vote?

As I listened to the conversation at the PCD Board meeting last Saturday in the beautiful UU Fellowship of Santa Cruz County sanctuary in Aptos, it occurred to me one of my most important functions might be to insure that the two Boards I am on actually understand each other's positions and logic. Not necessarily agree, but definitely understand.

So with that in mind, here are some of the comments from the PCD Board on issues currently under discussion by the UUA Board.

Somewhat to my surprise, the Independent Affiliate (IA) topic had more energy around it than the theological funding issue, but that may have been because it was first. Most PCD Board members disagreed with the underlying criteria by which IAs were now being evaluated:
"We appear to be shoving them away rather than bringing them in."
"Why would we diminish the impact of Unitarian Universalism by pushing people away? Don't we need all the allies [with common values] we can get?"
"Most of these groups are too small to have a national presence or work with individual congregations"
"Many of these groups may not have credibility to work with local congregations without national affiliation."

There was particular concern about the retired ministers' group not being affiliated:
"They have served their congregations and their faith for years [but now that doesn't count]"

Around the funding issue, there were some strong views on the need for a UU view to be inculcated into our ministers, with belief that could be done best at our own schools. There appeared to be a general sense that there should be accountability on the part of the schools for how funds were spent, but there was greater concern about the quality of the ministers being trained.
"We are asking the wrong questions. We see far too many seminary candidates who do not have a call to serve - it is all about them."
"Something is broken at screening and recruitment."
"We appear to have more work towards anti-oppression than parish ministry."
One board member indicated his opinion might change based on what percentage of the students from Starr King and Meadville Lombard became UU ministers.

The PCD Board is a group of hard working, intelligent people who care about Unitarian Universalism. All of us had other things to do rather than attend another meeting. But we did so willingly, in a collegial atmosphere with respect and kindness towards each other, punctuated by laughter. May it continue to be so.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Entering the new land

Greetings from one of the newest trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations Board, representing the Pacific Central District. This includes Northern Nevada, Northern California, and Hawaii. I use the full title of the UUA because I am impressed with the degree to which the Board defines itself as being about support of the congregations, as you will see below. I have no doubt my inexperience will lead to errors of interpretation and fact on this blog, so will invite all you readers to keep me honest!

Board Meeting One was just two and a half hours long for us "newbies", as the six incoming board members left at 10:30 to join a (very good) day and a half workshop on anti-racism/anti-oppression training, joining other UUA leaders from the Nominating Committee, Commission on Social Witness, and District Presidents. Even in that short time, it was clear that at least two issues would be somewhat controversial: financial support for theological education and the status of affiliates to the UUA Board. Both areas reflect what appears to be a shift in thinking.

The rationale behind the review of affiliate status is described in this open letter to the leadership of Independent Affiliates. In essence the letter affirms the UUA as an "association of congregations" and that the purpose of the affiliation should be to directly serve the congregations and/or encourage them to work together to achieve their goals, rather than be an independent voice for a particular issue or cause. Affiliates can reapply should their mission/charter change to reflect a more direct intent to serve congregations, particularly working with other organizations with common goals.

Financial support for theological education is around a recommendation to shift to "funding of ministerial formation, development, and excellence [as] the first priority...rather than the current singular focus on support for the theological schools". There are two UU theological schools: Starr King in Berkeley and Meadville Lombard in Chicago. A 10% reduction in funding for the 2008 fiscal year was approved, with those funds to "clearly articulate a vision for the ongoing use of Theological Trust Funds for Unitarian Universalist ministerial formation, development, and excellence".

Why would the UUA reduce funding to our two seminaries? There are clearly valid concerns around any loss in funding such as identified in this Letter from the Starr King School for the Ministry and I anticipate talking with many people about this over the next few months to insure I am an educated participant. I did find a conversation with Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt helpful. She is one of the other incoming Board members (and a speaker at Rev. Christopher Craethnenn's ordination) who has been part of the study panel and is a former member of the Starr King Board of Trustees. The proposed reductions in general operating funds may or may not mean pulling funds from these schools, but rather providing the funds for programming that is specific to Unitarian Universalism. Apparently 65-70% of UU ministers are actually trained in other seminaries than Meadville Lombard or Starr King, just as at least some of the Starr King and Meadville Lombard may be non-UUs. Is there a way to use our financial resources to further education that is specific to the development of UU excellence, rather than the basics of being a minister? Should some of the funds be used to support UU thinkers in higher education that will continue to develop our faith?

These questions (and more) will be debated over the next few months and years - let me know your views!