Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Fifth Principle

"The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large." The "Fifth Principle" of Unitarian Universalism

After the presidential election, and before we get really into the election of our own UUA president, and amid the discussions about changing our principles, comes the Fifth Principle Task Force. Formed by Board resolution in October of 2007, this Task Force is addressing the issues I hear raised in a number of "hallway" conversations: does our General Assembly governing process, often attended by congregational delegates named in a hasty process (or no process) who can afford to attend, really exemplify the Fifth Principle?

This task force has recently provided its first report, and has been soliciting feedback from a number of places, including the District President's Association. Included in the draft is a proposal to have both a General Assembly, with today's workshops, exhibit hall, and UU University; and a Delegates Assembly, a shorter version focusing on governance of the Association. The two assemblies would meet in alternate years, possibly starting as early as 2011. As these proposals evolve, you will hear far more about them.

There will be a number of opportunities to express your opinion about this (including a GA 2009 Workshop and a planned online survey), but in the meantime add your voice with the short survey (with thanks to fellow UUA Trustee John Blevins) to the right. I welcome this examination, but wonder if it will add the gravitas to the delegate selection process within many congregations that appears to be lacking.

Why is it lacking? I think it is primarily because many UUs do not find the UU organization outside of the walls of their own congregation relevant, and feel that "congregational polity" keeps them immune from interference from any decisions made outside those walls. Rather than viewing being part of a larger whole as a strength, I hear things like reducing the "constant initiatives" from district leaders.

That is not to point a finger at these leaders - there is a valid reason for those feelings. We are all part of the problem - are we all willing to be part of the solution?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Congregation-Based Community Organizing

The term "congregation-based community organizing" (CBCO) may still elicit blank stares, until someone says, "you know, what Obama did". Obama, following in the footsteps of Saul Alinsky, learned and practiced a form of community organizing that is not only effective, but promises to revitalize the congregations that participate in it. It certainly had an impact on Obama.
Jim Eller, minister at All Souls UU Church of Kansas City, met with the Board on to "preach the gospel" of CBCO on Thursday. It is an exciting approach that the Veatch Foundation is supporting through matching grants for churches to join and train their members. Though Unitarian Universalism has a rich tradition in social justice, congregations do not always find their efforts as effective as they might like in dealing with the underlying issues.

CBCO addresses some of the barriers to effectiveness congregations may face, such as lacking relationship within the communities they wish to impact, or assuming problems of poverty and systemic racism do not affect us. It impacts change by creating networks of religious organization, community groups, and (sometimes) unions and schools that use democratic principles to determine local priorities. The network sets up the process and trains leaders to work within it. These "leaders in training", according to Congregation-Based Community Organizing: A Social Justice Approach to Revitalizing Congregations, "learn the technical skills of organizing, including weighing alternatives, negotiating differences, and developing strategic plans. They also learn concrete skills such as clariying one's self-interest, viewing and accepting conflict, and analyzing the power dynamics of institutions." PCD congregations listed as affiliated with a formal CBCO network include the UU Church of Palo Alto, the UU Fellowship of Redwood City, the First UU Society of San Francisco, the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, and the UUs of San Mateo. I would be interested in hearing experiences from any of these congregations - just post your comment.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

UUA Finances in Difficult Times

Second in a series of posts on the October UUA Board Meeting

The day I flew to Boston the market dropped nearly 800 points, right after a 936 point rally the day before. Though I would occasionally check the market on The Magic Box (my iPhone), I was glad I had something more important to do.

The short version of how this impacts UUA finances is that it has a major and immediate hit on the balance sheet (because of the drop in the value of the UU Common Endowment Fund), but so far income reduction on the operating statement is offset by reduction in spending. This is because most of the income reduction is in special donations for specific projects which are not implemented without those funds. These donors do not want to liquidate funds (sell) in this market.

The longer term impact is yet to be seen, but will likely include the annual transfer of funds from the endowment to the operating budget (about $2.2 M, but less as the market value drops), and the impact on the annual program fund (the annual support from congregations, just over $7 M), and Association Sunday (currently projected at $350,000). The estimates for essentially all income sources have been decreased by the UUA staff, with corresponding decreases in expected expenditures. These are not easy times, but we are blessed with timely and accurate information we can trust, and an executive team that takes fiscal responsibility to heart.

According to President Bill Sinkford, our non-profit partners have seen a major drop off of income. What does one do in these kinds of times?

Though it is tempting to “hunker down” to protect what we have, I believe generosity is even more important now. In his book Who Really Cares, Arthur Brooks provided study after study that shows that people who give to others, regardless of income level, are healthiest and happiest. Though it may be counterintuitive, I believe the best way to make it through these times and remain whole in spirit is to share what we have been given.

Next post: Congregation-Based Community Organizing

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Policy Governance as Holy Work Part II

First in a series of posts about the October 2008 UUA Board Meeting

One way to gain insight into the UUA Board is to look at how we spend our time together. The October Board meeting was particularly grueling, with five more-than-full days, formal meetings running from 8:30 am to 9:00 pm, but many others before and after. Based on that criteria, the hands down winner for mind share is Ends Development and "owner linkage" in connection with the Board’s move to Policy Governance, which covered 2 1/2 days.

If you have been under a rock for the past few years and have never heard of an “End”, it is the John and Miriam Carver term for high level goals: what benefits we are providing for whom, and at what cost. Working with Unity Consultants, the Board spent Thursday reviewing the input from the Appreciative Inquiry at General Assembly, and listening to members of the District Presidents Association (including the Pacific Central District's President Mary Ellen Morgan) and the UU Ministers Association Executive Team. We spent all day Friday developing values, writing the initial “global ends statement” (more or less a mission statement), and defining our “owners”—those from whom we get our moral authority and to whom we are accountable. There is still significant work to develop the next layer of ends, which will have more specificity about what we want to accomplish, but we first need to evaluate "how we are doing so far" with our owners. These ends are what we provide to the next President, saying “make these things happen, but as you do so, don’t do this.”

In addition to the time on Friday, the entire Board traveled to Worcester (the second largest city in New England!) on Saturday to meet with 300 or so New England UUs. Together we watched Laurel Hallman and Peter Morales “debate” as UUA presidential candidates, with what I thought were far better performances from both of them compared to General Assembly. Then the Board did what the Carvers call “linkage” – talking to our “owners” about their values and what they thought the mission of the UUA was. Each of us sat at a table with 8-10 New Englanders and went through a rapid-fire exercise to get input on what we had created the day before.

The exercise was fun and insightful. Most of it was positive. Each Board member will be doing some version of this over the next six months within the Districts. Mary Ellen Morgan will be leading this with me, and we hope to get input from as many members in the Pacific Central District as possible, through a variety of means: travel to meet with congregations, at District meetings, through conference calls, and online. Look for more information through PCD Currents and here as it develops.

Next post: UUA Finances in Difficult Times

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My UU Carbon Footprint

Last year my Unitarian Universalist travel produced over 5 metric tons of carbon dioxide - even driving a Prius! That's over 20% of my total footprint for an entire year. The culprit, of course, is the coast to coast travel, primarily to attend UUA Board meetings. Multiply this footprint by other Board and Committee members, Commissions, Task Forces, and an annual General Assembly.

To this add what is close to a doubling of the cost of flying from Oakland/SFO to Boston, and we appear to have a situation that is not sustainable (literally). Recognizing both the ecological and financial cost of the way we do business, the UUA Board has chartered a "Virtual Teams Taskforce" (VTT), chaired by Finance Chair Lyn Conley and including Roger Thompson and Tom Loughrey from the Committee on Committees, Megan Selby and LoraKim Joyner from the Nominating Committee, and Harlan Limpert and Mark Steinwinter from the UUA staff. We have identified other key stakeholders (such as UU Ministry for Earth) to be part of this effort.

In addition to cost and carbon footprint, how many good people are excluded from participating in UUA committees and events because of time and other obligations? How do we best use technology to strengthen inclusion? How do we build trust without ongoing personal face to face interaction? How do our religious values impact what we do in this situation? We will be wrestling with these and other questions - as always I am interested in your thoughts.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Four ways to find things on the UUA Website

The following is adapted from a short workshop for lay leaders I have been doing in my travels around the District. I would love to visit your congregation too!

The website of the Unitarian Universalist Association is without a doubt the best resource for all things Unitarian Universalist - whether it is a history of our faith, resources for social justice activities, or practical advice for church administrators, Board members, or canvass chairs. The problem is: how do you find it?

The UUA staff has been working to add tools to help us do that. Here are my top 4 picks on how to find things on the UUA site - note that you can jump to the web page I am describing by clicking the blue link:

1. By position (yours): go the and click on the leaders link. You will see a list of various leader positions - click on one and you will see a list of resources relevant to that position.

2. By Topic: go to and click on “I am interested in”. You will see a "pull down" menu of various topics - click on one and you will get a list of resources available on that topic, including books, Internet resources, and DVDs.

3. Internal Google search: go to and input what you want in the search box. This is my least favorite way of finding things as you often get too many choices - try putting as much detail as possible into your search, putting quotation marks around things that belong together - instead of marriage equality, for example, put in "marriage equality". According the UUA staff member Susanna Whitman
The key to searching the Leaders Library is to use quotes around your search terms. And that if you do not find what you seek, to let know about it. If you let know about it, then they (or the relevant staff) will be able to add more search terms as a feature of the page to sharpen it.

4. Contact the UUA Staff: identify a UUA staff person with responsibility for the area you are interested in, and ask them where to find a particular resource. For example, email Tim Brennan, UUA Treasurer (, to find financial information or Susanna Whitman, Growth Service Program Manager ( for marketing resources. The email convention is (first initial)(last name)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Between Trapezes in Petaluma

One of the privileges of being a UUA Trustee is that I am invited to be part of the service at some of our congregations. Last Sunday was with the Unitarian Universalists of Petaluma, with the "world premier" of my sermon on change and transition, borrowing liberally from William Bridges' work, including a description of the place in between beginnings and endings: "like being between trapezes, like Linus when his blanket is in the dryer".

UUP is a lovely congregation - they meet in the Petaluma Woman's Club, a beautiful historic building with a nice feel - and have been working with the Rev. Ben Koch-Myers to see what they can do to evolve to a part time minister. I was impressed with the people I met, who were articulate about what they were trying to do, and who provided a service experience with warmth and sincerity.

Another benefit of sermon preparation is that you are forced to think through many of the things you are talking about. I included a story about a method of catching monkeys in Thailand that involves drilling a small hole in a coconut shell just big enough for the monkey to get his paw in, filling the shell with rice, and fastening it to something that cannot be moved. The monkey puts in his pay, grabs a fistful of rice, but cannot get its paw out without letting go of the rice. As the story goes, the monkey will be caught rather than let go of the rice.

I could tell from the look on many of the faces Sunday that this story hit home - as it does for me. How often are we "caught" because we cannot let go of something when change is happening?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Covenanting with Knoxville

Last Sunday morning, during a service that included a performance of "Annie, Jr." at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC), a shooter opened fire at the front row of the people in the Sanctuary watching the performance, killing two and severely wounding 6 more. For the past four days hundreds of UU congregations across the United States (as well as other churches) have mourned with the families in Knoxville, holding vigils and special services, aware that we too could be targets because of our "liberal beliefs".

UUA President Bill Sinkford was there by Sunday evening, along with two members of the UUA Trauma team and UUA staffers to help deal with the publicity that inevitably follows tragedy. Two former UUA presidents, John Buehrens and Robert West, had served TVUUC as ministers, but there is no doubt that any congregation going through such a painful experience would have the same kind of support.

A very moving service was held Monday night with members of many different faiths next door at the Second Presbyterian Church that had sheltered people the day before, ending with the cast of the play performing the well known "Tomorrow" at the end. I wept listening to the voices, many of them children, joined by the entire interfaith body on the second verse.

France's Le Monde newspaper declared "We Are All Americans" on September 12, 2001. This week we have all been members of the 4 Knoxville congregations that were together on July 27, and experienced this tragedy. We share your grief - and your hope for tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Two strong candidates

We have two strong candidates for UUA president, with very different styles. I have met and talked with both. Laurel Hallman is generally perceived to be the more "managerial" of the two, which is meant as a compliment by those who have used the term, referring to her proven ability to run a large organization. She calls for finding more depth in our spiritual lives and has written a new book Reaching Deeper. Peter Morales can be a charismatic leader who calls overtly for change, and says "growing our faith is a moral imperative". He is a known for his "repelling fewer visitors" audio and presentations.

The grapevine has it that Laurel is supported by most of the senior church ministers, who generally serve our larger congregations, through her 26 years of relationships built in the course of parish ministry. This appears to be borne out by the long list of endorsements by well known ministers on her website, though Peter claims some as well. It is interesting that Peter's endorsements include some of our better known "rabble rousers", such as Mike Durall (author and consultant) and Davidson Loehr (senior minister at First UU Church of Austin).

There were three direct opportunities to observe these candidates side by side - two workshops and the candidate forum. I did not attend either workshop, though feedback was consistent that both candidates appeared subdued. That was also my reaction to the Forum, though you can watch the video to see for yourself - it is only at the end that Peter's characteristic energy shows up. Feedback from the Youth Caucus expressed concern about both = apparently Peter's perceived lack of enthusiasm about Youth and Laurel's comment about our Youth serving in our nurseries were not taken well.

At this point I am choosing not to endorse. I would hope each of us take into account what we see and observe first hand more so than the recommendations of others. You will no doubt have the opportunity in the next year to hear both - in the meantime, check out their very different approaches on their websites.

And if you have not done so already, read the following blog. UUA presidential elections are one of the few things that allow absentee ballots, so every congregation will have its "full measure" of delegate votes. If you have a preference for who becomes president, are you content to let your delegates "vote their conscience"? If not, what will you do between now and next summer to insure that delegates represent their congregations?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What does it mean to be a delegate?

A few months ago we were discussing "UU policy" within the Pacific Central District when the question came up as to whether or not there was such a thing - particularly in regard to congregational compliance. After all, went the reasoning, NO ONE tells a congregation what to do except its members. Isn't that what congregational polity means?

Well, partly. But it appears we may have forgotten the other part of the equation. The Cambridge Platform, considered one of our "founding documents" included not only the concept of autonomous congregations, but also the relationships among those congregations, based on inter-congregational covenants, also referred to in our case as the UUA Bylaws:

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote.... (Article II, Section C-2.1)

So what does it mean to covenant with other congregations? This was the topic of a Commission on Appraisal Report in 1997, which concluded (among many other things)

Congregations need to take fuller responsibility for the governance of intercongregational bodies and their official meetings (especially the General Assembly).

Which brings me to the original question - what does it mean to be a delegate? Only delegates can vote at the business meetings of the General Assembly. Resolutions passed by these delegates were addressed (and limited) early on - in 1962, in fact, by a resolution that basically said general resolutions were binding on staff and the UUA Board, but not on the congregations that sent the delegates. Furthermore, implementation of Statements of Immediate Witness fall predominantly on the delegates who pass them.

Chief Governance Officer (Moderator) Gini Courter has another take (which I have her permission to share):
Delegate -
v. transfer power to someone
v. give an assignment to (a person) to a post, or assign a task to (a person)
n. a person appointed or elected to represent others

What part of "delegate" do some folks (not a majority, I assume) not understand? When we make Joe our delegate, we empower Joe to represent us. That's why we should choose Joe and not someone unreliable, and make sure Joe is someone who understands what the rest of us think. Then we send him off, grounded in that understanding, to do his very best to represent us. We trust. Maybe we even have faith. And when Joe votes, he's voting for us -- that's why we sent him. This isn't complex; it's high school civics.

Gini continued this same theme in Sunday's closing worship, where she quoted Section C4.2 of the By-Laws: "General Assemblies shall make overall policy for carrying out the purposes of the Association and shall direct and control its affairs," and went on to say that General Assembly is a crucial component of Unitarian Universalist polity - and our polity (quoting Conrad Wright) "goes to the very heart of our theology."

So if we, as congregations, take seriously our commitment to each other in "covenanting together", how would we view the role of the people who represent us at the major event in which we gather together and make decisions? Would it be whoever shows up? Would we expect them to represent themselves or their congregation? What is required to represent a congregation? What responsibility does a delegate then have to bring those decision home and make a good faith effort at implementing them?

When I think of "binding" I think of contracts, laws, and penalties for non-compliance. This clearly does not fit with GA resolutions. But when I think of "covenant" I think of freely offering our best intentions to "walk together", which is a moral obligation if not a "binding" one. I fear most of us have lost this part of the polity equation.

Next post: the (UUA) Presidential Election

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Youth Empowerment

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the 2008 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association urges the Unitarian Universalist Association, its congregations and district structures to:
1. Invite ministerial support to youth and young adults through inclusive worship, intentional presence, and
2. Invest financial support in youth and young adult leadership bodies and programs when viable; and
3, Provide support for youth and young adult staff and volunteers to receive suitable training and resources, including self-directed anti-racism and anti-oppression trainings; and
4. Attend to the needs of youth and young adult constituents with marginalized identities by providing resources and opportunities within the congregation and at the district and continental levels.

They stood 150 strong behind the pro mikes, cheering as the resolution was passed. These were our youth - learning about the democratic process by participating in it with a resolution created by their own. The history behind this resolution is covered in a previous post (see "Youth Ministry"), and there is also a good description at I also attended one of the FUN TIMES (Folks Unanimously Networking to Imagine, Manage, and Execute Sessions), that elected the next Board Youth Observer and General Assembly FUN TIMES co-manager. It was inspiring to see these young people deal with the issues of fairness, representative, and respect for each person who spoke and/or stood for election. Both young people elected, including Nick Allen who is the new Board Youth Observer, were thoughtful, bright and articulate and will represent Youth and UUism well.

How could anyone oppose this kind of youth resolution? Some did because they felt it did not go far enough, but what I found most interesting was the opposition by Denny Davidoff, a highly respected former moderator, who said "I fear this resolution will be asking this delegate body to make promises that many congregations cannot keep." This went to the heart of my next post: to what degree are decisions passed by delegates at General Assembly binding on the congregations that make up the Association?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ethical Eating

Why does food figure so prominently in many of the world's religions? To what degree does our choice of food encourage farming practices that wear out the soil and contribute to environmental degradation? How does the unavailability of healthy food contribute to poverty and ill health? What moral guidelines, if any, should govern food production?

I hope you hear a lot more about this topic over the next few years. Chosen as a Congregational Study/Action Issue, our congregations will be exploring this topic over the next few years, culminating in a written position in 2011. It combines concerns about social inequality and environmental destruction, and uses our Fifth Principle around the right of conscience and the democratic process to determine the stand we take as a faith on this issue.

Two study topics were put forth at this year's General Assembly, the other Nuclear Disarmament. Though Nuclear Disarmament is clearly an important issue fundamental to the survival of humankind, Ethical Eating won hands down - as well it should.

Why? Those of you who have heard me speak publicly know I am a Stephen Covey fan, particularly around his "Circle of Concern" (everything we are concerned about) and smaller concentric "Circle of Influence" (what we can impact directly). Rev. Marlin Lavanhar must also be a fan, as he used the concepts in his Sunday morning sermon, though he did not credit Covey. These two study topic choices are a great example of the difference between the two Circles. Nuclear disarmament fits my perception of what stereotypical UUs are capable of having: a wonderfully articulate discussion that will likely not have any impact on anything.

Which topic has the highest probability of transforming the life of the person who delves into it, as well as transform the community around them? How can our congregations work together to share "best practices" in how we address this? Does your congregation have someone who will help explore this?

Or might that person be you?

Next topic: Youth Empowerment

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Forrest Church and Learning to Fall

We have all suffered, and will suffer, our own falls. The fall from youthful ideals, the waning of physical strength, the failure of a cherished hope, the loss of our near and dear, the fall into injury or sickness, and late or soon, the fall to our certain ends. We have no choice but to fall, and little say as to the time or the means.

Perhaps, however, we do have some say in the manner of our falling.

These words, from Philip Simmons’ beautiful little book Learning to Fall: Blessings of an Imperfect Life (Bantam, 2003), have stuck with me from the first time I read them. Perhaps no better of example of someone choosing the manner of their falling is Forrest Church.

On February 23, 2008, the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church announced to his congregation that his cancer had returned – and was terminal. His receipt of the Distinguished Service Award at General Assembly on June 28 could not have been a better match for the public life he has lived. Creator of such memorable quotes as “The opposite of love is not hate, but fear” and “Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die”, Church served The Unitarian Church of All Souls In New York city for 30 years and has written at least 20 books. As Church accepted the award, we all knew he was dying. His strong spirit brought to mind Yeats’ words about the soul “fastened to a dying animal”.

One small thing stands out to me about the presentation of the award – Roger Thompson, trustee from the recently-merged Northeast District, was the Board member who presented it with President Bill Sinkford. Roger is a tall, roughhewn mountain man, with a full beard who is partial to flannel shirts and canvass pants. The Board has never seen him dressed up – but he wore a white suit and tie as a sign of deep respect for Rev. Dr. Church. When I commented on it, he said, “it never occurred to me to do anything else”.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Van Jones and Green Collar Jobs

I had never heard of Van Jones before I learned he was the Ware Lecturer for 2008, joining such greats as Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Jr. , and Helen Caldicott - and now he appears to be everywhere. Founder of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, Jones recently worked with Nancy Pelosi last year to pass the Green Jobs Act of 2007, which authorizes up to $125 million per year to train workers in "green collar" jobs.

Like another better known African American leader, Jones does not shy away from fixing accountability, but offers hope along with a call for responsibility: “Martin Luther King did not give a speech entitled “I have a complaint!” Rather than a call to protest, his message was that we are at a turning point, with a need now to govern. It is far easier, he says, to be against whoever is in power, rather than having the responsibility to use power wisely to make the changes we have been calling for. It seems he knew his audience well.

Articulate, smart, funny, and passionate about his values, Jones got a rousing, standing ovation. As he shook hands with some of the people in the area where I was sitting, Board member Lyn Conley pointed to our 150 strong young caucus and said “the youth are over there”. Watching him join that young, excited, cheering crowd I was ready to go home, head to his office in Oakland, and volunteer to work for him – along with several other thousand of us.

In her “20 Reasons to Come to GA”, Moderator Gini Coulter said “ten years from now, you will be glad you heard him here”. I think she is right – read a review of his speech and hear his lecture via streaming video by scrolling down to Saturday and clicking on the Ware Lecture.

And if the Colbert Report is more to your liking, see Jones explaining what "green collar jobs" are with a little heckling from his host.

Next post: Forrest Church and Learning to Fall

Thursday, July 3, 2008

"It was a good GA."

Though significantly smaller in numbers (just over 3000) than last year, nearly everyone I have talked with (including the entire UUA Board) said this was a good General Assembly. Though a financial “hit”, a smaller GA translated into less hassle, shorter lines, and more time to connect with other people, without sacrificing content. The music (mostly contemporary, featuring 4 different choirs and terrific accompaniment) was superb, helped by the GA Planning Committee’s decision to pay for the UU Musician’s Network members GA registration, allowing many of them to stay after their own meeting in Fort Lauderdale. There were many great moments, featuring people like Van Jones from our own Bay Area backyard, who bowled all of us over with his message of “green”, working with urban poor, and hope, or Good Asian Drivers, a Lesbian singer/songwriter and Transgendered slam poet duo with incredible power in lyrics and delivery who were part of the Bridging Ceremony on Friday night. There were few dry eyes as the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church received the Distinguished Service Award, or as the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar spoke of losing his daughter a few years ago – or several thousand UU voices sang “Blue Boat Home” [worth checking this just to see what is probably an unauthorized cell phone recording on YouTube in Japanese].

Look for these – and more – in postings over the next several weeks. And if you were there - what is YOUR opinion of this year's GA?

Photo taken in Fort Lauderdale courtesy of Tom Loughrey, UUA Trustee from the Pacific Southwest District, used by permission.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Are you coming to GA?

Fourth in a series of posts following the UUA Board meeting April 17-20.

I describe General Assembly (GA) as part revival meeting, part convention, and part tradeshow. Originally meant to be where the business of the UUA was conducted, it also provides a wealth of workshops, information tables, and every sort of book, jewelry, music, and information booth of interest to UUs or that you can stick a chalice on. For people wondering how to feel part of "something much larger", a trip to GA will usually do it.

First of all, there is the experience of being among thousands of people who actually have similar value systems to yours. There is a comraderie in the lunch lines, workshops, and plenaries that will start conversations easily, and have you meeting people all over the country. Our president, Rev. Bill Sinkford, is always inspiring and amazing, and watching Gini Courter run a plenary is worth coming for by itself. You will find more things to think about, books to read, and ideas to take back than you thought possible.

But what if you can't fly or drive to Ft. Lauderdale? Start making plans now to attend the one next summer in Salt Lake City. This was be our presidential election, with two extraordinary candidates, Rev. Laurel Hallman and Rev. Peter Morales.

But you don't have to lose out on everything in Ft. Lauderdale. Most of the major events will be via streaming video - you can find out when they are by checking out the GA home page, and either watch in the privacy of your home on your computer, or better yet, set up a projector and screen at your congregation and invite others to join you and discuss what you saw afterwards. Maybe not as good as "being there" but a great way to catch the spirit.

Next post: Fellowship culture

Friday, May 2, 2008

Youth Ministry

Third in a series of posts following the UUA Board meeting April 17-21, 2008

In October of 2004 the Board passed a resolution “to request that the President convene a consultation for the purpose of renewing the Association's vision of its ministry for and with youth”. This 3 year Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth culminated with the Summit on Youth Ministry in July of 2007. From this process came the view that “a clear consensus emerged from both youth and adult stakeholders that the present continental structure of YRUU does not well serve the majority of UU youth or UU congregations.” [Excerpt from Frequently Asked Questions] A 15 member Youth Ministry Working Group was appointed to carry the recommendations of the Summit forward. Prior to the April Board meeting the YRUU Steering Committee (by all accounts a group of exceptional and committed young people) expressed their concerns about the Working Group to the UUA President and Board, primarily in the area of how youth were chosen for the Group, the high ratio of staff to youth on it, and concerns about funding: the current YRUU structure was terminating prior to the establishment of a new one. The latter point was of particular interest to the Board, because it meant there would be no "youth sanctioned" body to advise the Board in the interim. We passed the following resolution in response:

"The administration shall make the transition in youth ministry an institutional priority now. This process must be transparent and those responsible for implementation must be in authentic relationship with the youth community and its elected leadership. During this transition, the administration must provide monthly progress reports to the Board. The administration shall ensure that UUA support for youth ministry programming is maintained throughout the transitional period.

Philocrates comments:

I'm interested to know how trustees (individually or collectively) interpret the resolutions they passed regarding youth and young adult ministry.

In my opinion the Board is giving a clear signal to the YRUU Steering Committee and the other youth who are aware of this situation that they have been heard. I believe the administration, including Bill Sinkford and Kay Montgomery, are fully committed to making this process work and will insure that it does, with or without this resolution.

It is not unusual for an organization to discontinue one structure/program before another is firmly in place. Done intentionally, it can leave time for healing and preparing for what William Bridges calls "a new beginning". Done inadvertently, as I think was done here, leaves those depending on that program to founder. Unfortunately, The Youth Ministry Working Group did not start meeting until February as key people were on sabbatical, so it appears that momentum was lost, and the YRUU funding would sunset on June 30, without a mechanism in place to elect youth representatives for the interim. Continued funding will allow the YRUU Steering Committee to follow through on a their proposal to create a new interim advisory group to the UUA leadership and Youth Ministry Working Group.

Next post: Are you coming to GA?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Funding the Gulf Coast Relief Volunteer Center

Second in a series of posts after the April 17-21 UUA Board Meeting

What happened in New Orleans made many of us very uncomfortable - not only did we see a disregard for what was clearly predicted, but the response to the disaster, particularly for those with the least resources, seemed more than inadequate. But what really made it uncomfortable was that we were seeing the "seamy" side of all that one happy family jazz celebration culture - and it appeared that a disproportionate part of the people left with nothing were African American.

Since this disaster, the UUA and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee have partnered in addressing the needs of the New Orleans community, first through the generous contributions of UUs across the world who contributed $3.5 million that was shared with the local congregations and greater community. A second appeal raised funds that went directly to the Gulf Coast Relief Volunteer Center that has been doing a stellar job of connecting the volunteers showing up on its doorstep with the needs of the community - and providing some context and understanding of the systemic racist and economic oppression that helped create what they are seeing.

That funding is coming to an end. The issue is whether or not the UUA should fund the center, either through continued appeals or as part of the annual budget - and what role this center plays in our core purpose in serving congregations. Is the UUA a "service delivery" organization, helping New Orleans to recover? Or is the Volunteer Center much more than that, a living laboratory of racism and oppression? How does this compare to the many other needs of groups across the country - and world? Should the Center be funded by all congregations (as a budget item) or just the ones who choose to participate in its programs? What role, if any, does the UUA have in helping the three congregations in Greater New Orleans to rebuild? We have "bought time" by working with the GA Planning Committee to do another appeal for funding in Fort Lauderdale, but the long term funding depends on the answers to these questions. I encourage your comments to this post.

It is easy to sit in our Bay Area houses, most of which are perched on top of earthquake faults, to criticize those who "chose" to live in below lake level neighborhoods, not have insurance, and did not leave when the warning first sounded, without recognizing that we are doing the same thing. My earthquake insurance cost nearly $1600/year for a 1500 square foot house, with a $50,000 deductible. I am fortunate I can afford to pay it. Many cannot, and are likely to be those who will suffer most.

Next post: Youth Ministry

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

April Board Meeting - the Overview

This is the first of several posts about the April 17-21 Board Meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Over the next few weeks I will be posting information about decisions made at the board meeting just held in Boston - youth empowerment, funding of the New Orleans volunteer center, the UUA budget for next year, the next step in policy governance, and a series of successes from Beacon Press. In the short term, take a look at the agenda and let me know what you are most interested in.

I will start by posting two overviews of our faith from our president, Bill Sinkford. His interview in the St. Petersburg Times a few weeks ago is a beautiful summation of Unitarian Universalism and his report to the Board a few days ago identifies the "sea change" we are experiencing. Both great reading!

Next post: Funding the Gulf Coast Relief Volunteer Center

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sunday Morning Service - Remembering 1968

Third is a series of posts from the January 2008 UUA Board of Trustees meeting

Sunday morning worship at 25 Beacon is an intimate affair - gathered on the second floor landing with William Ellery Channing peering down at us after having spent 2 or 3 intense days together is a time for reflection and gratitude. We sing familiar hymns that are listed in our order of service, and both Sunday worship services I have attended have been led by one of the lay members of the board.

This one included two talented young men, one on clarinet and one on viola - both sons of Dan Brody, Financial Advisor on the Board, who led the service. Clearly a professional level of music, but what I remember most were the photographs Dan included in the OOS that he had taken in 1968.

The first shot was in Arlington Street Church, taken from above, of two young men holding draft cards. It was April 3, 1968. The photo on the back showed the cards being destroyed on Boston Common. The third photo was of several young African American men holding a handwritten sign "We will always remember the King". It was taken on April 5. The day between the two photos was the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Dan spoke movingly of the journey that had taken him from 1968 to the room we were in, titling it "On Service".

Those of us who spent our formative years in the 60s and 70s were an idealistic generation, who knew that once we got "into power", we would leave the world a better place. We haven't. What went wrong? Were things just too complex? Did the "wrong ones" end up getting the power? Or did many of us "sell out" as life got comfortable, and the gravest injustices around gender and race appeared to be solved - or at least addressed.

One of the things that permeates the UUA Board meetings is the resolution passed by the 1997 General Assembly that says in part "the 1997 General Assembly urges Unitarian Universalists to examine carefully their own conscious and unconscious racism as participants in a racist society, and the effect that racism has on all our lives, regardless of color...the General Assembly urges the Unitarian Universalist Association, its congregations, and community organizations to develop an ongoing process for the comprehensive institutionalization of anti-racism and multi-culturalism, understanding that whether or not a group becomes multi-racial, there is always the opportunity to become anti-racist." In addition to time set aside for education and training, process observations are made with an anti-racist/anti-oppression/multicultural lens.

To what degree have we as congregations (the "real" UUA) have an "ongoing process for the comprehensive institutionalization of anti-racism and multiculturalism"? I have to admit I don't like defining myself as what I am against, but don't have a better alternative for this kind of work. I suspect many congregations don't see the need for it - if it weren't so politically incorrect they might even admit they feel that way.

In 1968 there were far too many people who had a similar observation about women's place in society - we could vote, attend schools, own property - what more could we want? The subtleties of glass ceilings and role expectations that are obvious forty years later weren't so obvious then.

Perhaps there is a lesson there.

Next post: Meeting with DRUUMM

Policy Governance as Holy Work

Second in a series of posts on the January 2008 UUA Board of Trustees meeting

I was looking forward to the two sessions with Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs and Louise Wolfgramm from Unity Church-Unitarian of Saint Paul. Unity has long been known as one of the congregations that is making policy governance work, and I had heard Rob speak on this issue some years before. I had a whole list of questions on monitoring, how to avoid a downturn in volunteerism, the fine points of limitations, and other meaty governance questions.

That's not at all what they talked about. The exercise they took us through was elegant in its simplicity - and took us to a level of discussion and way of framing our discussion that was nothing less than brilliant. Starting from our own experiences with "the Holy", we moved from that into how we brought these values into our Unitarian Universalist ministry. We were like a group lost in a thick jungle who finally got to a hill high enough to see where we were.

We will repeat the exercise in the fall with the UU District Presidents Association, and hopefully the UU Ministers Association as well. I also plan on "stealing" it for my own congregation.

It was a gift. It was also a reminder of how important it is to include elements of worship and wonder into our more mundane activities. The simple act of lighting a chalice speaks volumes about committee deliberations being "more than a meeting" - and our time as more than volunteerism.

Next post: Remembering 1968

Where are the villains?

First in a series of posts on the January Board meeting. Portions of this post were previously sent in private correspondence to a UU member.

In January the Board voted to affirm the choice of Fort Lauderdale as the site of this summer's General Assembly (GA). As a UU member said to me today "the GA Planning Committee has done the best they can with a very difficult situation".

I agree. You can find an excellent set of frequently asked questions about the conditions, precautions, and considerations about this year's GA on the UUA site.

I was part of the decision making with two different major conferences in the late 1980s after then Governor Evan Mecham rescinded Martin Luther King Day in Arizona. Though the dollar amounts were not as great, they were significant, and a stand worth taking with a clearly defined goal - and a clearly defined villain.

Quoting one of my fellow board members, there are no villains here. Four years ago the GA Planning Committee recommended the site for all the right reasons: multicultural, gay-friendly, inexpensive; and the Board agreed. The City of Fort Lauderdale and their convention bureau are not any more interested in having their facility in a security zone than we are - and could not envision that it would take 7 years to address the issue (a road by-passing security is supposed to be finished in 2011). The Bush administration? Well, yes, but I doubt they care much about UU conventions in Forth Lauderdale or would be the least bit impacted by our decisions.

So I look for the clearly defined goal. We move the site for what purpose? To put pressure on the current administration so that they no longer secure our ports? Or do what with those who have no IDs? To force the Convention Center - to do what? It appears to be a fairly internal one - that each of us can follow our conscience, rejecting white privilege by standing by delegates that could be turned away for lack of an ID, and/or asserting our right to not have to show an ID to worship. Obviously the strength of feeling on this across our membership varies. I have full respect and admiration for both positions, but my personal preference is to put my energy into battles that achieve more than that. If moving GA is the remedy, I strongly suspect we will accomplish nothing for those without ID that truly improves the situation for them. From an external perspective, it may just look like we made a mistake by holding the assembly in a place that had even the possibility of a security check. I am hoping this controversy has sensitized and energized enough people that the "teaching moments" at GA will result in real change.

From a board perspective, I do share the fiduciary responsibility for the financial health of the UUA. The nearly $1 million penalty we would incur if we attempted to move GA is 1/7 of this year's annual program fund - one seventh of all the money contributed to the UUA by the 1043 congregations that make up the UUA membership. Who would make it up? How would the members feel who do not feel as strongly about this issue feel about having to pay significantly more for registration (the estimate is that it would double because of the late date and the fact that Ft. Lauderdale is so inexpensive) or could be called on to contribute more to keep the organization viable?

I understand the dilemma of wanting to stand by those who are denied the privilege of an ID. But I also think every time I fly I am invoking a privilege - every time I cash a pension check, or take a write-off on taxes for home ownership, or collect rent money on the property I own. I could renounce all material wealth and live on the street in solidarity with the homeless - or use my privilege for a "greater good". Part of what I love about this faith is that it continues to challenge me to address the greater good.

Next post: Policy Governance as Holy Work

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

January UUA Board Meeting

Four more packed days at 25 Beacon! Items on the agenda at this Board meeting included access to General Assembly at Ft. Lauderdale, the degree to which we are providing leadership in anti-racist/anti-oppression/multicultural changes within our faith, new investment policies, and a very intriguing session on Policy Governance as Holy Work. These (and more) will be posted over the next few weeks.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Update on GA Security

In case you have not seen it from other sources, there is an excellent (and updated) post in UUWorld Online about the security concerns at General Assembly in Forth Lauderdale.