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


Bill Baar said...

Though the older I get the less I can tell, no more than 4 are under the age of 40.

That's not a good sign.

Linda Laskowski said...

Assuming you are not referring to the the first part of my statement, but the last part, I would suggest this is more than just an issue with the UUA Board. I doubt there are many UU congregational boards that have a higher percentage - translated roughly as 1 in 8.

The question is what are we doing about it?

Paul Worhach Hudson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Hudson said...

The seeming significant GBLT under-representation (at least from a bi-coastal prespective) is of more concern to me.

I'm a former church board member, while ages 33-37. I was born UU(one of the 10%-ers), largely non-active between ages 18 and 25, fell in love again with UU via my congregation, and was encourgaged and invited into church leadership when I was ready.

A path that might have taken me
to leadership at the district and perhaps continental level was interrupted by family and professional life - realistically, I can't see being as engaged as I once was until the nest empties out. I would guess this is pretty typical for 20 and 30-somethings, and it does seem like the UUA board is fairly well representative
of congregational leadership.

Frankly, 4 under-40s is doing pretty well. I'd say the UUA board well represents age demographics in leadership, probably under-represents overall membership, especially those with young families.

There is a "Youth" rep, presumably chosen from YRUU leadership. Might there also be a "Young Adult" rep from UUYAN, that could focus on representing the interests
of 20-30 somethings?

As for people of color, in both leadership and membership, this is probably pretty representative. There-in lies, I think, your big question of "what are we doing about this."

Oh, by the way, thanks for this Blog, not to mention your service to the UUA, Linda!

Linda Laskowski said...

In addition to the Youth Board member, there are observers from both Youth and Young Adult. If you include both of them, you get 5 or 6 under 40.

Riley37 said...

There is some merit to creating a role of "official" youth and "official" young adult. It would be even more awesome if we actually got youth and young adults engaged as members without age portfolio. Rev. Thomas Starr King at 35 was not "our young adult minister" at First Unitarian of San Francisco; he was, plain and simple, the senior minister.

I have deep concerns over the practice, required by current PCD UUA bylaws, of having PCD YRUU select the youth member of PCD Board. I would prefer a "youth member" position that was only open to minors, selected in the same manner as any other Board member, and ratified at District Assembly. Some of our best and brightest young UUs are not into the conference scene, and currently they are not eligible for consideration.

Linda Laskowski said...

To your point, one of the more positive things on the Board is that the (regular, not youth) Trustee from the Central Midwest District is a very competent, very bright young woman who is not yet 21.