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.