Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Role of the UUA Trustee on the District Board

Sixth in a series of posts about the October UUA Board Meeting

There is no single model for the relationship between the district board and that district's elected trustee on the UUA board. Some of us are "ex officio" with no vote and may or may not be expected to attend district board meetings, some of us are full voting members, and some of us are not on the district board at all. My biggest surprise when I was elected as the PCD trustee is that I was on the PCD board as well -- the time commitment I had made had just doubled (the PCD board meets more often, but the UUA board meets for more days).

This works for a semi-retired single person with minimal family obligations -- which may be why so many of us who serve on boards are semi-retired people with minimal family obligations. While I consider myself good at understanding and conveying a variety of viewpoints, I'd rather have a more diverse group. We have created a situation with unintended consequences.

In January all board members will begin formal dialogues with congregations that will add to all of our time commitments, though this is exactly the kind of work we should be doing. As UUA trustees, we are working diligently at letting go of staff work, only to see a lot of it resurfacing at district board meetings we may be attending - which may well be the mission of the board of that particular district.

District board members and the UUA trustee are elected by the same body: delegates at the district assemblies. Regardless of whether or not the district is operating under policy governance (the PCD is not), the two boards are accountable to a similar group, but technically not to each other. The District trustees are accountable to the congregations that comprise their district, and the UUA trustees to all member congregations of the UUA (the UUA Board has added additional accountability to its list of "sources").

So what is the relationship between the two boards? This is somewhat complicated by the UUA board's adoption of Policy Governance. Two of its basic tenets are that the Board speaks as a unit to the staff through the CEO. That would suggest that a single UUA board member should not be giving direction as a voting member to a district staff person who is (also) employed by the UUA.

What we do know is that District Boards are comprised of some of our best and most committed members. I value the relationships that started there. Whatever changes occur over the next few years, these boards need to be at the table as well.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

UUSC Values in responding to humanitarian crises

Fifth in a series about the October 2009 UUA Board Meeting. Today's guest post is by Nancy Bartlett, Trustee from the Mid-South District, who previously served on the board of the UU Service Committee. The presentation she refers to makes one of the best cases I have ever seen on why we should be giving to the UU Service Committee.

UUSC report as a demonstration of how we can live out our AR/AO/MC values in world

Our denomination‘s commitment to anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multi-culturalism (“AR/AO/MC”) permeates all of our work, from programs to policies to process observations at our meetings. This commitment became even more tangible on Saturday afternoon when we saw how strongly our partnerships with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee reflect our AR/AO/MC values. Atema Eclai, UUSC Director of Programs, and Martha Thompson, UUSC Rights in Humanitarian Crises Program Manager, presented an evaluation of our joint UUA-UUSC responses to humanitarian crises resulting from the 2004 tsunami in Asia and Africa, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2005 Pakistan and Kashmir India earthquake. While our members generously contributed to these efforts, 5.5 million dollars, the most striking result was the way the money was used. The focus was marginalized groups, i.e., groups who traditionally are left out of relief due to their race, class and gender. Our goal in working with these groups was to help them access aid in ways that empowered them and to support them in addressing the inequalities they face. Examples of such groups included Muslim widows in Sri Lanka, Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, Dalits in India, and people from the 9th ward in New Orleans.

UUSC’s programs use the Eye to Eye partnership model, which is founded on principles of equality. They form equitable relationships, listening to the people who need assistance and analyzing together what is working. This Eye to Eye partnership model, coupled with UUSC’s expertise in identifying marginalized groups and strategies for their empowerment, creates a unique niche for us in humanitarian crisis response. Disaster response requires immediate action and the report includes acknowledgement of the challenges we have faced and lessons learned, such as the need for consultants on the ground, better reporting systems, and improved communication with donors and constituents. Future joint UUA-UUSC disaster responses will require improved staff coordination structures and rapid communication about fund dispersal. For all the challenges, the work is real and the need is great, particularly for those groups who so often remain invisible to the television cameras and traditional aid organizations. By identifying and supporting these people, we cry out against racism and oppression and give substance to the values we profess.

Next post: Role of the District Trustee

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Youth Leadership

Fourth in a series of posts about the October 2009 UUA Board meeting

I first wrote about youth ministry on this blog in May of 2008, detailing the Summit on Youth Ministry in July of 2007 and the decision to dismantle the current continental youth organization known as YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists). Unfortunately, despite many good intentions and a number of planning meetings, there is no national structure that has taken its place.

Do we need one? UUA President Peter Morales made a good point at the last board meeting the youth ministry cannot be "done" effectively by the UUA -- it requires strong commitment and engagement at the congregation level, as laid out in the Responsive Resolution on Youth at GA 2008. What I am realizing is that "youth ministry" and "youth leadership" are not the same thing. Though the Board has a strong interest in both, its immediate interest in "youth leadership" is even keener -- where do we provide the kind of training and experience that ensures the voice of our youth is "at the table" in the UUA Board room, and the various committees appointed by Board and staff, with the level of expertise and grace shown by Nick Allen and Joe Gayeski, respectively our current Youth Trustee at Large and Youth Observer? Nick reminds us that we are losing an entire generation of youth as the planning begins again with a new administration.

The Board is currently wading its way through how we hold the President and his staff accountable for their role in addressing this, versus what the Board needs to address through policy. This will be a major agenda item in January, where the Board will take into consideration the following information provided by staff:
  • Chronology about what happened from 2004 on
  • Where are we now on District and National Youth Leadership?
  • Administration’s vision
  • What are the models of youth leadership in other denominations?


  • Text of Responsive Resolution on Youth (from GA 2008)
  • Consultation to and with Youth
  • Mosaic Report
Each board trustee will also be contacting youth leadership in their own districts.

What are our values around youth leadership? How should this be reflected in policy?

Next post: Guest post on the UUSC "lens" by Nancy Barlett, Mid-South District Trustee

Thursday, October 22, 2009

So many policies, so little time....

Third in a series of posts about the October 2009 UUA Board meeting

The monitoring process can seem daunting. My quick count of total policies in the UUA Governance manual was 20 "Ends" plus nearly 130 executive limitations. The high number of limitations is tied to our desire – two years ago – to not leave anything out and started with a compilation of our existing policies. A somewhat more educated Board is realizing the wisdom of establishing policy for only those items we think we as a board need to monitor, and will be reconsidering the need for some of our policies in that light.

And lest we think the Board is off the hook, we have nearly 70 policies on our own self-governance, not counting the multiplicity of alphabetical sub-points. As painful as that may seem, being explicit about these kinds of things is part of the power of Policy Governance: the Board also monitors itself. It forces us to keep asking ourselves questions about how well we are meeting our own criteria. According to The Policy Governance Field Guide, one of the top reasons for Boards "failing" at Policy Governance is the failure to monitor itself, along with a failure to adequately train new board members.

Next post: Linking with our Sources of Authority and Accountability

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How do you eat an elephant?

Second in a series of posts about the October 2009 UUA Board meeting

I spent nearly five years creating monitoring reports as part of the Coordinating (Executive) Team for my home congregation, so one would think I knew a lot about how to write monitoring reports.

I didn’t.

What the UUA Board and staff are learning (together) is a very different methodology that I find really exciting. It has tremendous potential for providing the kind of clarity and accountability promised by Policy Governance(R), the Carver model that has been adopted by the UUA Board, over half of our Districts, and scores of congregations. This methodology is also a relatively new development in the discipline of “Carver-land”, so few of us in Districts or congregations are actually doing it this way.

This approach to monitoring reports has four components: an interpretation by the President of what a particular end or executive limitation means, the rationale for why that interpretation is reasonable, how he intends to measure progress on whatever he has identified, and then the results of that measurement. The “ahas” for me were the realizations that a) “less is more” – you really do not need long reports, b) there is a good reason that the discipline around structure and format is a key part of the Carver model, and c) a reasonable interpretation could potentially be the steps that one takes to even get started on something.

Which leads me to the elephant. I am constantly reminded of a joke from my grade school days that starts with the question “how do you eat an elephant?”. This is probably because I often worked on projects over the ensuing decades that attempted to do so (symbolically). So what if the “end” was to eat an elephant? Forgetting beneficiaries for a moment (for all the PG junkies), it might be totally appropriate to point out that we have to catch one first and prepare it in a way that makes it edible before we can even start eating. If the President provided an interpretation that reminded us we really didn’t have an elephant yet, laid out the plans for trapping, with some supporting documentation on the prevalence of elephants and trapping experience, and a timeline that addressed roasting and eating, I would be highly likely as a board member to accept the interpretation and rationale as reasonable – and the report as compliant even though not a single bite was taken. The next year I am going to want to know how he is progressing on the plan he has laid out.

This is an important point, since presumably we do not yet have systems in place to measure many of the outcomes we want to make as an Association. I would expect our creative staff in the short term can come up with surrogate measurements that give a good sense of direction when an exact measurement is not possible. I also think there is a real market out there for some consultant to come up with a system of surrogate measures that congregations under policy governance can easily incorporate and use as part of their monitoring. I would love comments from any of you who have developed such measures.

And why are we doing this again? So that we (the Board) can be accountable to our member congregations and other "sources of authority and accountability" for progress toward the outcomes they worked with us over the past few years to establish.

And why was the elephant in the refrigerator?????

Next post: So many policies, so little time...

October 2009 Board Meeting

First in a series of posts about the October 2009 UUA Board meeting

After several years of preparation, October was to be the “real” beginning of a new way of working with the President : a different way of holding him accountable, and a different way of the Board doing its own work.

It was. Aided by our Policy Governance(R) consultant Sue Stratton-Radwan, whose observations of our occasional floundering came at just the right time, it was an interesting preview of how we will operate into the future. Over the next few weeks I will be posting about how this change "feels”, along with posts about youth leadership, the role of the UUA trustees on their district boards, the move of the UUA Board out of Boston for their next meeting, and the AR/AO/MC “lens” of one of our partners that is making a real difference in lives around the world.

Next post: How do you eat an elephant?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Alligators and Congregation Board Presidents

One of the primary tasks for a board is to "link" with our "sources of authority and accountability", referred to as "moral owners" (analogous to stockholders in a for-profit organization) in the Carver model. In a previous post I listed these sources and explained the UUA Board's decision to not use "ownership" because of the painful history of ownership and slavery in the United States.

Congregations are, of course, at the top of the list. After all, we are an "Association of Congregations". But who, exactly, do we talk to when we "link"? Far too often it is the most vocal ones who contact us, which is why the Board has created a "Linkage Working Group" to set up a systematic way to be informed and collect information that the Board can then act on.

I asked four people who the Board should be talking to in the congregation, and got four answers:
- Simple. It's the board president.
- Easy -- it's the minister.
- But of course congregations are represented by their GA delegates!
- Anyone who is elected or called.

This question then became the basis for "cafe conversations" (a cross between small discussion groups and speed dating) between eight UUA Board members and the District Presidents at the last General Assembly. It was a very rich discussion, as the District Presidents have a similar issue, especially if they are also under Policy Governance.

What became clear was how difficult it is for many congregation presidents to get out of the role of "customer". Linkage is not only about who you talk to, but what you talk about: our congregations are both "customers" of services provided by the UUA (a conversation held most appropriately with the UUA staff), and "sources" (moral owners) who care deeply about what the institution of Unitarian Universalism provides to the world (conversations with the UUA Board). Congregation presidents are often so caught up in the crises of church life (even as a policy governance board) that asking them what differences they want the UUA to make in the world can not only catch them cold but also seem irrelevant.

In speaking to about 150 congregation presidents at GA, I used the classic metaphor of being "hard to remember your aim was to drain the swamp when you are up to your whatever in alligators". Lots of heads nodded, as they did when I recounted mythical survey results that said congregation presidents spend "49 hours attending congregation board meetings, 96 hours attending meetings they didn’t realize they were expected to attend before they agreed to be president, 47 hours either explaining why they were transitioning to policy governance or why they were NOT transitioning to policy governance, and a whopping 117 hours wondering why can’t we all just get along."

Is there time in there to be talking to their district trustee about their dreams for the larger vision?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

General Assembly highlights

I hadn't intended to post about GA itself since there is so much information out there already -- until a conversation this morning with another member of my congregation who was unable to attend this year made me realize not everyone knows where to look.

Click on the primary link for all the "official" GA information, including live blogs. If you have limited time, rather than set this all aside for later (which if you are like me you may never get to), here is the "quick start" version -- my "top 3" GA events in streaming video (make sure you have a high speed connection to avoid frustration). Note that these will take you to descriptions - the video link is at the top.

This year's Ware Lecture was by Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Associate Professor of Politics and African-American Studies at Princeton and a life-long UU. A frequent media commentator, it is easy to see why her star is rising along with President Obama's, who she profiled long before most of us knew who he was.

This year's John Murray Distinguished Lecturer was Rev. Nate Walker, minister at the UU Church of Philidelphia, a stand in for Rev. Gail Geisenhainer. Listen to his extraordinary story about hate, free speech, and love.

My third top choice is between Sunday's public worship service by Rev. Abhe Janamanchi and The Service of the Living Tradition by Rev. Mary Harrington, though you will need to wade through ritual of recognizing the milestones of many of our ministers in the latter if you just watch the video (though nice when you hear familiar names). You pick -- and list your own!

Next post: back to the Board meeting and congregation presidents

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A weird beginning

Second in a series of posts about General Assembly and the June UUA Board meeting

In response to the question "who sets the vision?", Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs replied during the UU University Policy Governance track (and I paraphrase) "The Board sets the vision. But don't forget that the minister has the pulpit."

UUA President Bill Sinkford had "the pulpit" as he gave his final report on Wednesday, and included a vision statement about the shift from "anti-racism" to "multi-culturalism". It was an important message from the first African American UUA president. One of my first surprises on the UUA Board was that our AR/AO/MC (anti-racist/anti-oppression/multi-cultural) efforts were so fixated on Black and White.

There was good reason for that. Watching the DVD "Wilderness Journey" helped me understand the intense pain that so many felt over the controversies of the late 60s and early 70s in Unitarian Universalism -- controversy that drove Bill Sinkford away from Unitarian Universalism at that time. [These events are also detailed in the new book "The Arc of the Universe is Long" which I predict will become THE reference for anti-racist UU history.]

So why would a vision statement about multi-culturalism irritate any of my fellow board members? The eloquent vision statement made no reference to any of the "ends" formulated six months before that had already made the same shift: the UUA "ends" refer to being "intentionally...multi-cultural" and "embracing and struggling with issues of oppression and privilege", but "racism" and its derivatives are nowhere to be found. This shift was made with the participation of all board members, including the current president and both candidates, but was never acknowledged in the vision statement set forth in the plenary report.

Why does that matter? It matters if you believe that collaboration is essential to effective governance with an elected president and board. It matters if you perceive past UUA Boards to have had relatively little influence with an agenda set and dominated by the President. It matters if the action in question (presenting the vision statement) is one in a long string (over decades) of unilateral action on the part of the UUA President. It matters if some of those actions are perceived to undermine other UUA-related institutions by going around them.

It matters if you are trying to model behavior for the rest of the Association about what collaboration looks like.

Let me be clear here that one of the reasons that I agreed to run for the Board was Bill Sinkford. He did not disappoint. My respect for him continued to grow over the two years I had the privilege of serving with him. I doubt he perceived any of his actions as "going around" anyone, as within the culture of what it has been to be a UUA president he was doing what the UUA President did.

Hence the "weird beginning": a statement read by one of the Board members very near to the beginning of the first meeting with the new President that essentially said the Board wanted more collaboration. It came across to at least some of us (including me) as a scolding for a President who had been on the job for 12 hours. Add to that the "missing moderator" from Saturday night and conspiracy theorists could have a heyday about Board vs. President.

Though it wasn't initially clear, the statement was a personal one with input from just a few Board members. Though Board members agreed this was not exactly how we needed to start as a new Board, I appreciate us naming this "elephant", albeit awkwardly, so that we can address it in the future.

The President does have the "pulpit" and I expect him to use it. I also expect him to publicly acknowledge the partnership he has entered, at least until we all reach the comfort level of a Lao Tzu.

Next post: the life of the congregation president

OK at the Deer Valley Corral

First in a series of posts about the June General Assembly and UUA Board meeting

Anyone looking for a showdown at the first UUA Board meeting at the Marriott Deer Valley Room between the new UUA president and the moderator who endorsed his opponent would have been sorely disappointed. Not only did Gini welcome Peter with open arms (literally) but I watched the two play off each other's senses of humor throughout the meeting. It was genuine, appreciative - and exactly what I would expect from both.

I called Gini in early May to tell her I was endorsing Peter shortly after I called Peter to tell him the same thing. She did what Gini does -- listened attentively, understood my reasoning, and thanked me for letting her know. She made no attempt to change my mind or disagree with me, and before we hung up said that though she had endorsed Laurel, she would be fine if Peter was elected.

She is.

So it is particularly unfortunate that not showing up at the post-election celebration at 10 pm on Saturday evening has been interpreted by some as sour grapes. Gini was not the only Board member absent, and who came was not a function of who they endorsed.

Because of the large number of meetings and workshops Board members are expected to attend, we typically work together to identify which events need to be covered. For whatever reason, the election celebration was listed on the compiled Board schedule as 8:00 to 8:30, even though the GA Program listed it at 10:00 pm, so a number of Board members did not even realize there was a celebration until the next day.

Gini typically spends Saturday evening preparing for a long Sunday that includes her Moderator's report -- and a plenary that needs a lot of patience, good humor, and respect for those who come forward to present end-of-session responsive resolutions. This year she also prepared the eloquent charge to the congregation she gave for installation of the new president. So she was in her room when GA Planning Committee Chair Beth McGregor called out her name. Those of us there know Gini is often called to counsel, advise, or otherwise provide her time, and it never occurred to me that her absence would be any kind of statement. Once she realized what happened, she apologized the next day to the assembled delegates.

Why would we think otherwise? Are we so starved for drama that we make it up? I loved the example set personally by both Peter and Laurel Hallman in terms of their campaigns and respect for each other. I could have easily worked with Laurel as president. Not only do I highly respect her, but learned years ago the power of setting aside personal preferences for the mission of the organization I was part of as long as I could remain true to my values.

I suspect the term "gunfight" really does not resonate with many UUs, with good reason. There are so many better ways to use our time and energy -- especially when this "gunfight" never existed.

Next post: the "weird beginning"

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hiring and firing the President

Policy Governance, some say, can't work in an organization that elects its CEO - unless the Board has the power to hire and fire the executive, the logic goes, there isn't a strong enough incentive for the two to work together.

Huh? First of all, the Board DOES have the power to fire the President. Per the UUA By-Laws:

Section 8.5. Removal of Officers.

Elected Officers. An elected officer may be removed by a three-fourths vote of the entire Board of Trustees at a meeting at which not less than three-fourths of the entire Board is present if in the opinion of the Board such officer is incapacitated or unable to carry out the duties of the office. The President may also be removed by such a vote of the Board if it determines that such removal is in the best interests of the Association.

(thanks to my fellow Board member Jackie Shanti for pointing this out)

The Board also has final authority on the budget (per most state and federal laws) so could choose to not fund an out of control president.

The thought that we would ever get to that point is inconceivable to me. We are watching a rigorous election process with two highly qualified candidates who have both spent the last year at all the Board meetings, providing input into the Policy Governance deliberations. Moreover, they start with UU values, which is where Policy Governance starts. For those of you not familiar with the process of creating "ends", the statements about what difference we want to make for whom, and that are given to the President to interpret and make happen, you start with your values and it is those values that are translated into policies.

My experience in 30 years of hiring and firing managers is that a difference in values is often what leads to trouble, especially in more senior positions. If I am part of a Board that believes in treating employees with respect and the CEO rides roughshod over them, I am not going to be happy - or I object to the use of overseas suppliers with sweatshops and the CEO insists this is the only way we can reduce our costs and compete, there will be a problem (these are both real examples, by the way).

Another problem Boards often face is a CEO (often the founder) who has outlived his or his effectiveness as the organization changes under them. Our term limits deal with that.

Underneath all of this concern about hiring versus electing is what I consider a fairly unhealthy view of how to use power. Totally aside from Policy Governance, the Board (or manager, for that matter) that has to depend on obsolete notions of "command and control" is operating in the last century. "Facilitative leadership" or similar concepts replaced it for most corporations and other professional organizations decades ago, but my experience is that far too many UUs still assume the old model.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Everything you have ever wanted to know about policy governance...

Can't attend General Assembly in Salt Lake this summer? We would still like your questions and comments for the Board's "Learnings on the Way to Policy Governance" that will be on Thursday, June 25, at 10:45. Part of the workshop will be "town hall style" and we would like to intersperse your questions with those of the audience. Either respond to this with a comment that includes your question, or send to me at Include your name and email address and we will make sure you get a written version of the response.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Endorsement for UUA President

I continue to feel a little uncomfortable with the idea that the Board endorses UUA presidential candidates - somehow it seems more dignified to remain neutral. That said, after the appearances of both candidates at the Pacific Central District Assembly two weeks ago, it became clear to me that I would endorse Peter Morales.

I first "met" Peter as many of you have through his "drive time essay" on "repelling fewer visitors". I appreciated his passion for the subject, and the very practical approach to making a difference in our congregations by simply paying attention. I met him in person two years ago at the PCD District Assembly, long before he declared his candidacy -- and for the next two years quoted his statistics on how many people had friends they could really talk to. He was smart, engaging, and thought outside the box of what had been my UU experience so far, probably because he had an unusual set of experiences prior to becoming a minister. For perhaps obvious reasons, I really appreciated someone who was passionate about applying lessons learned in an entirely different field to this faith, not to mention actually knowing who John Kotter was.

Yet I waited because I wanted to know who Laurel Hallman was. My experience over the past year is that she is an extraordinary leader: caring, intelligent, and (as she says) tough enough to be in the public spotlight. I heard story after story from people about how she ministered to others in so many ways, a role model for other ministers and lay leaders. I observed a management style somewhat like my own -- not seeking the limelight but really taking the time to understand the issues. She is solid, deep, and brings a spritual awareness to what she does.

So what happened at DA for me to endorse Peter? In a somewhat unusual format, Laurel and Peter appeared separately at our district assembly in two different formats. Many people asked the same questions, and we were able to compare answers at different points in time. It was these different answers that triggered my decision.

For example, when asked about his first 100 days, Peter continued to lay out his vision of the direction we needed to take, and the urgency to do so. Laurel said she would start with the staff, those who needed to work with and for her, and likely felt bruised and uncertain around UUA financial concerns and the change in administration.

Laurel was right -- but that is not what the audience needed to hear. They needed to hear inspiration and passion that would involve them. The same is true for the primary presentations each gave -- Peter's was his "stump speech" (a very good one), short, with a lot of time for questions from the audience. It felt interactive. Laurel gave what felt like a thoughtful sermon, albeit with questions afterwards. Though I appreciate what she brings to the concept of "going deeper", and the importance of doing so, I believe Unitarian Universalism is far too inward already. I want a faith that feels a strong urgency to get "out there" - and that is integral to Peter's candidacy.

If this faith is saved from irrelevance, it will be because most of our 1000+ congregations are able to perceive the need for change and move in the direction that keeps us relevant. Though I believe Peter will work closely with the Board, it is the President, not the Board with our 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of "ends" (which I love, by the way), who is expected by these congregations to make that kind of impact. I believe Peter has the ability, skills, and drive to be that leader - and take us with him.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Do the UUA's "Ends" violate congregational polity?

Eighth in a series of posts about the April 2009 UUA Board meeting

In his May 6 post, Rev. Fred Hammond expresses concern about the final draft of the UUA "global end", which reads:

“Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world.”

I actually agree with everything in Rev. Hammond's post with the exception of his conclusion and corresponding examples:

"The...statement is a directive to the member congregations and the subset ends that follow contain possible criteria for enforcing that directive.

An "end" is a statement given from a board to its executive (in this case, the UUA President) that describes what difference the organization will make in the world. We are not giving this statement to the congregations and saying "make it be so" -- we are giving it to the President and saying "make it be so". It will be up to her or him to inspire and create the programs that enable congregations to do what they told us they wanted to do at our ends development sessions at the last two General Assemblies and the past six months of discussion with trustees across the United States -- and up to the congregations as to whether or not they want to use what is provided. The reason the statement was changed from the original "the UUA will inspire" was the many people who pointed out that it should be clear that the UUA primarily worked through its congregations rather than directly "inspiring".

I love it when someone notices and cares enough to post. This is important -- even holy -- work.

Next post: UUA Presidential Candidate Endorsement

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Excellence in Ministry

Seventh in a series of posts about the April 2009 UUA Board meeting

This is NOT about funding for theological schools, though if you read to the end you will find something about that.

Half of our UU ordained ministers will likely retire in the next decade. Who will replace them and what kinds of skills will they need? What kinds of skills will they have? For that matter, what kind of congregations will be have -- I doubt our current standard of "sign the book in a bricks and mortar congregation" will remain the dominant model. And who will serve the small congregations in out of the way places that have difficulty finding matches already? This will be in a world that is far more diverse, far more technologically savvy, with an even greater need for business skills as more and more boards opt for forms of governance that empower ministers to act like managers.

Add to that the calling many lay leaders feel for ministry, especially in their later years. Is devoting yourself to several years of seminary the only option to satisfy this deep longing?

This is what the Saturday evening session on "excellence in ministry" was about. I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know it is a much bigger topic than funding for theological schools. The Board has reorganized working groups, and now has one devoted to "excellence in ministry", convened by Rev. Doug Gallagher, who is also a member of the Panel on Theological Education, and attended the December Summit. Doug used that session as an opportunity to get input on the broader issues from the rest of the Board.

I do, however, feel some softening toward our two seminaries, Meadville-Lombard and Starr King School for the Ministry. I suspect it may be tied to the keynote delivered at the December summit by Daniel Aleshire, from the Association of Theological Schools. This provocative address identified two things a movement needed from theological schools to be excellent: education of leaders, and identity. So even though only 30% of our ministers are being trained at either Meadville-Lombard or Starr King, Aleshire argues that "identity partners" need a different kind of funding and attention.

Which finally brings me to funding our schools. Though not a long term solution by any means, the Veatch Foundation (Bringer of All Things Good) just gave $100,000 to each of the two UU schools to support their transition to their new educational models. In addition, the Panel on Theological Education, which administers an endowment trust given by Veatch in the 1970s, was able to provide an additional $25,000 to each school above the $190,000 they were expecting. This provides some short term relief to each school -- along, I hope, with a desire by all involved to be sitting on the same side of the table, looking together at the problem.

Next post: Do the UUA's "ENDS" violate congregational polity?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

We get to decide

Sixth in a series of posts about the April 2009 UUA Board meeting

In response to my question about what the fifth principle was at last weekend's District Assembly, a woman in the audience said "we get to decide". Certainly one aspect of "the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within congregations and society at large".

How well do we use the democratic process? I have posted on this before, and have indicated some concern about the casual way many congregations choose their delegates for district and national events, part of our congregational myopia. [Full disclosure: I have been there too.] The result is often a combination of "DA/GA junkies" and those attending their first GA, at least some of whom never set foot in a plenary session, delegate or not. Realizing the money and time prohibit many from attending, the Board funded several years of GA registration for congregation presidents.

Needing additional creative thinking, the Board also chartered the Fifth Principle Task Force, led by former moderator Denny Davidoff to identify ways to change General Assembly to make it more accessible and insure a solid voice in governance. The Task Force has been making appearances at District Assemblies across the US, including PCD last weekend, led by Joe Sullivan, one of the very talented and dedicated people on this Task Force.

Changes like these require revision to our by-laws. The Task Force will be making their recommendations at the UUA Board meeting next January (2010), which would put it on the agenda for final decision in 2011 (a two year process).

Yes, we get to decide.

Next post: Excellence in Ministry

Describing the South Americans

Fifth in a series of posts about the April 2009 UUA Board meeting

I finally understood some of the undercurrents connected with the UUA's AR/AO/MC (anti-racist, anti-oppression, multiculturalism) efforts after I saw Wilderness Journey, a video that gives the history behind the loss of hundreds of Afro-American Unitarian Universalists in the early 1970s, as part of my UUA Board training two years ago: why did we appear to be so stuck on Black/White relationships?

Though the training I got included concepts (such as race identity) that were applicable to any group, it still felt very much geared to righting old wrongs, focusing on the "AR" with some "AO" but not much "MC". The Board committed to addressing this when it came up in the second report from the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee: "it is important to note that when we talk about responding to racism and a host of other oppressions, the concept of multiculturalism is often an afterthought" (page 17). Led by Trustee-at-large Jose Ballester, the April Board training included education on basic definitions ("culture" and "ethnic") and concepts such as assimilation and acculturation -- not to mention photos of 18 members of the French national soccer team, none of whom "looked" French. We then broke into small groups to discuss situations faced by "our" congregation in a set of disguised scenarios.

My group was given a scenario around a suburban UU church in Southern California, mostly white but surrounded by a population 35% Hispanic/Latino, 33% White, 18% African American, and 12% Asian. The suburb had grown up around a hospital and migration from South America, but a clinic serving low income families in the area had recently closed. The scenario got more complicated, but one of the questions involved describing the needs of the South Americans.

We were smart enough to say we didn't really have enough information to do so (a key learning in anything multicultural -- don't assume!) but managed anyway to described the recent immigrants from South America as needing housing, support in Spanish and in learning the English language, as well as job-training skills.

At the end Jose described what really happened in each scenario. Somewhat to my group's discomfort, the "real" South Americans had migrated in order to fill key spots for medical personnel: doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and administrators. They were nearly all professionals and doing quite well, gracias. The service workers who needed the support -- and the clinic -- were mostly new immigrants from Southeast Asia. The neighborhood had shifted demographically, and one of the reasons the clinic closed was because it was focused on serving the needs of an Hispanic/Latino population that didn't really use it anymore.

Hmm... don't assume. I remember the old joke about the surgeon who would not operate on an accident victim by saying "this is my son", yet the surgeon was not the boy's father -- and how few people figured it out. I felt like I had done the same thing.

Next post: "We get to decide"

Monday, April 27, 2009

UUA Finances: why you should care

Fourth in a series of posts about the April 2009 UUA Board meeting

Before your eyes glaze over, I would like to try to make a case for why you should care about UUA Finances.

A few weeks ago, I watched Wilderness Journey, a video of interviews with UUs who took part in the actions around the General Assembly resolutions in the late 60s and early 70s, and the efforts at Black empowerment in a predominantly white culture. Though far more complicated than I can describe here, the UUA Board ended up taking an action they felt they had to take as part of their fiduciary responsibility that severely damaged the relationships with many Afro-American Unitarian Universalists -- damage that probably continues to this day.

Unintended consequences of sloppy bookkeeping, not enough transparency, and a GA body that wanted to do the right thing.

Though perhaps an extreme example, given the current economic times, the UUA could again find itself unable to fund programs needed and wanted by the GA delegates and congregations it serves. So far the budget for this year has been addressed by reducing travel expenses and General Assembly costs, and so far the Annual Program Fund (funding from congregations) remains relatively strong. The primary reduction has come from "friends" contributions, with the resulting delay or elimination of the programs funded by other than the congregations.

Next year will be more difficult because of the reduction in the transfer payment coming from the endowment, and more congregations are struggling to meet their own obligations. The UUA staff has been reduced by 13 FTE (full time equivalent positions), mostly by attrition, with a number of other cost saving measures. These were the "low hanging fruit". It may not be enough.

As each congregation makes its decision about "fair share", generally a "per member" dues to the UUA and district, the result will determine what programs will be delivered. Like most non-profits, employee-related expenses form the bulk of the budget. If more congregations reduce their dues, the next round of cuts could be the people involved in programs for things like youth, lay education, and multi-cultural work -- important commitments we, the UUA, have made as part of our values.

I understand the temptation to balance a congregation's budget by not paying national and district dues. My congregation, the largest in the Pacific Central District, has been a fair share congregation for all but one of the last 16 years and will be next year as well, in spite of a difficult budget. Our dues are an investment in our faith.

We are stronger together.

Next post: Describing the South Americans

Sunday, April 26, 2009

We covenant...

Third in a series of posts about the April 2009 UUA Board meeting

When I think about how the UUA Board might be accountable to the "heritage, traditions and ideals of Unitarian Universalism", one of our "sources of authority and accountability", I think of Burton Carley.

The Reverend Burton Carley is the minister at the Church of the River in Memphis, Tennessee, and an outgoing member of the UUA Board from the Southwest District. During my two years on the Board, Burton has consistently been the voice representing our historic traditions and reminding us that we are a faith, not merely an organization.

Friday night's conversation on covenant, led by Burton and the Rev. Barbara Merritt, senior minister at the First Unitarian Church of Worcester, continued this practice. The earliest covenant from our historical Biblical perspective is the one cited in Genesis 9: 12-15 between God and humans: a rainbow, promise that there would never again be a flood to destroy them. Burton has written an excellent paper that goes from here through history, including the Mayflower Compact and Cambridge Platform, to our current Purpose and Principals.

Over the past few years I have come to appreciate the role that covenant plays in Unitarian Universalism, a concept that is far too absent in our conversations and practice. Burton identified 4 covenants: the primary one is what we have in relation to the community we join as a congregation member. Though we may often think of ourselves as a "big tent", holding all comers, I think it is more accurate to describe our faith as a voluntary covenant, replacing a creed, agreeing to work and worship together. This would argue that the roughly half million UUs who show up in census counts but are not members of some sort of congregation (including the Church of the Larger Fellowship) may have UU values, but have failed to accept one of the most important tenets of the faith.

We talk even less about the lateral covenant between congregations, called out in Section C-2.1 of our by-laws: As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support. "Mutual support" between congregations happens, but we congratulate ourselves for activities that appear to be few and far between. This is not intentional -- most congregation members do not tend to think beyond their own congregation (I have been there). Perhaps a better understanding of our historical heritage and traditions would change that. Per Burton:

It is the communal memory of the historical nature of covenant that gives depth to the present reality of covenant. It creates a people rather than a disparate collection of individuals. It joins past to the future. It binds the many into one community without sacrificing the individual. It grounds the power of voluntary belonging. It lifts us up and bears us through the world when by ourselves we would be bereft of courage and without consequence in the larger culture. It bonds us to something more than ourselves and calls us beyond self concern to be partners in justice making. It causes us to remember the promise of who we are and who we might become. It gives the context for the present day reality of our covenant that joins individuals from all peoples. It makes rich our worship which is the primary location for the covenantal practices of memory. It makes real how we practice a faith.

[for copies of Burton's paper, contact]

Next post: UUA Finances

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What were they thinking?

Second in a series of posts from the April UUA Board meeting

Somewhat to my surprise, over 70% of the groups who provided feedback on the global end said it captured "most or almost all" of what they want the UUA to be. Over 80% of the groups said the nested ends reflected "most or almost all" of what they wanted.

I view that as high praise from Unitarian Universalists.

"They" in this title refers to our "sources of authority and accountability", which in Carver language is referred to as our "moral owners". The UUA Board has chosen to not use that language because of the shameful and very real history of ownership in the United States. Asked to consider these statements from the vantage point of someone more concerned about the sustainability and legacy of the organization than what they received from it, "they" characteristically also provided excellent suggestions for improvement.

"They" are 14 of the 19 districts that provided feedback on their meetings. This included 3 "at large" meetings, 10 district boards, 4 groups of ministers, 3 annual district meetings, 4 groups of congregational presidents, 3 groups of religious educators, and one theological school.

We incorporated significant trends into the draft, with a few notable exceptions.

The first change we made was to the “global end” (sometimes referred to as a mission statement) to clarify that the Association works through congregations to inspire and thus transform people and the world, rather than doing so directly. Changes to the “nested ends” (further detail) included:
- restructuring to allow each of the three levels of ends to reflect “within” congregations, “among” congregations, and “beyond” them. Our thanks to Laura Parks from Unity Consulting who originally gave us this construct.
- replacing the phrase “agents of mission and extension” with “growing congregations” and "living their mission within our communities".

We also got comments complaining about language that was either too secular or too spiritual - so made no changes in this arena. Some struggled with the term "Beloved Community" or "oppression and privilege" but we felt the conversations engendered by these words were the kinds of discussions we needed to have.

The resulting draft is a living document that will continue to evolve as we have these kinds of discussions with our "sources of authority and accountability" at General Assembly and beyond. It will be provided to the next President of the Association to begin writing interpretations of the language to turn it into something tangible -- and actionable. Note that this is NOT a "new mission" or "purpose" for the Association, though these words can be used to describe "ends". These are statements of what difference the UUA should be making in the world to whom - created specifically to provide direction from the Board, on behalf of the "sources", to the President.

ENDS for the Unitarian Universalist Association

1.0 Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world.

1.0.1 Congregations that unlock the power that transforms lives. In our congregations, participants deepen their spiritual lives. People:
a. Develop a personal spiritual practice
b. Participate in meaningful worship
c. Learn and practice empowered leadership and generosity
d. Find their ministry in the world Our congregations are:
a. Vibrant — joyful and excited about their ministries
b. Intentionally multi-generational and multi-cultural
c. Embracing and struggling with issues of oppression and privilege
d. Open and inclusive in their outreach and welcome
e. Ministries deeply shared by ministers and the laity
f. Active participants in ministerial preparation and development
g. Growing in membership
h. Living their mission in their communities

1.0.2 Congregations that live our covenant with other congregations in our Association through
a. A strong, articulated sense of UU and community identity
b. High expectations of their members
c. Full participation in Associational life
d. Networking with each other

1.0.3 Congregations that move toward sustainability, wholeness and reconciliation. Our congregations answer the call to ministry and justice work:
a. Grounded in the communities in which they live
b. Nationally and internationally
c. With interfaith partners and alliances The public engages in meaningful dialogue and takes action informed by our prophetic voice and public witness.

1.0.4 These are all at equal priority and are to be achieved within a justifiable cost.

Next post: We covenant...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April 2009 Board Overview

First in a series of posts about the April 2009 UUA Board of Trustees meeting

It was a good omen.

As my flight landed in Boston, I found myself responding to the question from the woman sitting next to me: "what do Unitarian Universalists believe?" At one time I would have been desperately trying to remember my elevator speech, mumbling something about salvation and love with the Universalists, and character with the Unitarians. No more - now I talk about a different paradigm for a religion, one with a covenant rather than a creed; where I worship with a community of people who may differ in religious beliefs, but like me have chosen to "stay at the table" with that community (even when it is hard to do so) and work together to impact the world around us. And I talk about how that has impacted my life.

The woman on the other side of her leaned over and said somewhat incredulously "are you a UU?" Turns out she was a former Board member from the San Francisco church, and we had even been at a meeting together some years before. After more discussion, I think the woman between us (who lives on the Peninsula) will be checking out one of our congregations soon as I gave her the website.

This meeting was bittersweet because this was the last regular meeting for several trustees who will be going off the Board -- not to mention President Bill Sinkford. These are strong leaders, who have made a significant impact on the Board's culture.

In terms of time, governance once again took first place, as we listened to the feedback gleaned from our conversations across the US in the preceding months, amending our draft "ends" based on this feedback, and grappled with the criteria for what a board committee should be doing. We are also reorganizing the board working groups to work more effectively in our new governance process. Multicultural training helped us realized how dangerous assumptions could be, and the "deep chair" conversation on covenant with Burton Carley and Barbara Merritt was exceptional. I will be posting on these and more over the next few weeks.

Next post: Governance as Holy Work: What were they thinking?

Monday, April 13, 2009

April Board Meeting Agenda

At 407 pages, the April Board packet is not for the faint-hearted. Closer examination though shows that the length is dominated by three reports: a 90 page evaluation of the UUA Health Plan (kudos to those who conceived of and have made this plan so successful), 115 pages on the Mosaic Project, and the 24 page Youth Ministry Working Group report. The latter two should be must reading for every Unitarian Universalist -- click on the link above and download both. I especially like the index on the Working Group report!

The agenda includes planning for General Assembly, a major opportunity for the Board to interface with members. In addition to the presidential election, GA includes UU University as an integral part this year, featuring tracks in Stewardship, Multigenerational congregations, Multicultural Congregations, Governance, Justice, and Theology. There will be an interfaith public witness on immigration issues. Entertainment includes comedian Kate Clinton and Sweet Honey in the Rock's Ysaye Barnwell. For further information, housing, and registration, click here.

The Board will also be reviewing the feedback collected over the past few months on the draft Ends: "what difference the Association makes to whom" and adopting our initial set of "ends". Although not all trustees have reported back on their meetings, we have met with (at least) 8 district boards, 6 groups of congregational presidents, 4 UUMA ministers/chapters, 3 district annual meetings, 2 religious educator chapters, 1 theological school, and the GA Planning Committee. The overall response has been positive - 71% said the global end captured "most" or "almost all" of what they wanted for the UUA, and 84% said the nested ends capture "most" or "almost all".

Saturday night will focus on Excellence in Ministry. This is a difficult area, because no matter how broadly the topic is posed, there continues to be a sticking point around the UUA's relationship with the UU seminaries. Look for posts on this and many other topics starting next week.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Perfect Form of Governance

The “perfect form of governance” does not exist. All forms of governance have their pluses and minuses, and like a strategy, how it well it is implemented is a greater determinant of success than how good the strategy was to begin with. So with all due respect to those who question Policy Governance and the UUA Board’s move to it, there is nothing inherently wrong with Policy Governance in a Unitarian Universalist context. While I agree our convoluted organizational structure would give pause to ANY system of governance, the more I get to know the Carver model, the more I like it.

Five years ago I experienced the implementation of “policy-based governance” in my home church – and while I was somewhat put off by the “thou shalt nots” and the work that went into creating really fluffy ENDS, anything that would move the Board from meetings that went to 11 pm and dealt with far too much trivia seemed like a really good idea. We called it “policy-based” because we did some picking and choosing of the Carver principles, and Carver is a little sensitive about that. But we didn’t really understand the power of the model – I say “we” because I spent five years on the executive team so am guilty as charged.

Several weeks ago Rev. Dan Harper posted some thoughtful reasons why the Carver model was inappropriate for a membership organization, the first because “it is the membership who set policy, not the Board, which means that you cannot follow the Carver model of having the Board set policy (which is what the UUA is trying to do here).”

I agree a voting membership like the General Assembly complicates things, but shareholders in for-profit organizations vote as well, and do not change the need for a board to establish policies. While the GA process results in a number of key positions and priorities, the idea that this non-representative body (I wish it were representative) researches, creates, vets, revises, and refines the large body of policies for the UUA is a stretch. The level of thought put into most of what is ultimately brought to the plenary sessions is usually Board-driven, other than actions of immediate witness. The policies they do approve bind the Board and staff, who typically create a lot more context for implementation. I also suggest almost all of the General Assembly actions are "means" rather than Board-established "ends". Carver’s model sets three roles for the Board: linkage (communication) with owners, setting ENDS, and monitoring: GA delegates do a partial job on the first two within the confines of a few days, change from year to year, and may or may not represent the wishes of their congregations.

One of the further criticisms of Policy Governance is that it does not hold the executive (in our case the President) sufficiently accountable. I would have agreed with this statement before I learned about the relatively new monitoring methodology from consultant Susan Stratton, who has been working with the UUA Board. The monitoring reports my church team churned out monthly were filled with stuff, and we got very little response from anyone on them. This new methodology addresses not only accountability, but my hang-up: fluffy ENDS. It turns out that is the point: “ends” should be broad to allow management to interpret them with as much creativity as possible.

So the first thing the executive team (CEO/President) does is interpret the "fluff", giving concrete definitions, scope, and tangibility to those broad statements. And then tells you in concrete terms why that interpretation is a reasonable one for that church/organization, environment, time in the life of the universe. And then results! Not activities (“we did this many workshops, held this many worship services” – what Carver consultants call “wingflaps”) but results that measure whether or not we are getting to the goals set by the Board.

This is very counterculture. And while some of it is just plain good management from the for-profit world (like measuring results rather than effort) it demands an accountability that most non-profits – and churches – do not have.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bay Area marketing campaign data

This post has me with my "regional marketing gUUerilla" hat on (rather than UUA Board member), a group I have been chairing for the past four years that has about 10 people from 8 different congregations working on low or no cost ways to keep our faith visible in the Bay Area. I spent the last two days in various meetings and workshops with Valerie Holton, UUA Marketing Director, including highlights of the 2007 Bay Area marketing campaign, which I share below.

There were five objectives for this $300,000 media campaign:

Build brand awareness of Unitarian Universalism
Increase visitor attendance at local UU congregations, [resulting in]
Increased membership
Build excitement and pride among Bay Area UUs
Build a sense of UU community among Bay Area congregations

The campaign used a "media mix" of TV, BART ads, newspaper ads and inserts, radio, direct mail, and the Internet. The "call to action" in almost all the media was to go to the website, which we hoped would connect them to one of our congregations that they would then visit. That meant we could track results through web hits during the campaign and visitors who walked through the doors. We also attempted to track new members, but converting visitors to new members was up to the congregations rather than the campaign.

Over 5000 unique visitors went to the uuba website in the 90 days that covered most of the campaign. This was more than 3 times the average daily traffic before the campaign started. 1127 visitors filled out registration cards in our 17 congregations between September 16 and January 6 (though that data is short about 30 weekly reports from congregations that did not consistently report). We do not know how that compares to "normal" visitors as most of our congregations were not counting visitors the previous fall, but we do know that 236 of these visitors specifically cited the marketing as what brought them to the congregation. We also know that more than 322 people joined in the Bay Area (data missing from 2 of the 17 congregations) the 12 months following the start of the campaign, though we don't know how that compared with the year before. You can download Valerie's complete report from the UUA website.

Ahh, the tyranny of incomplete data! Not to mention the hassle of trying to get congregations to actually report it. I understand that we are all volunteers, and have different priorities, but it does make simple questions hard to answer.

Was the campaign a success? It certainly increased web traffic, visitors, and (probably) members. There is a stronger sense of congregations working together, and I heard a lot of positive comments from UU members who saw the ads.

It was not the silver bullet many of us hoped for, with the Bay Area an expensive market that is not exactly pre-disposed to go to church. If we did it today, we would probably do more with less traditional media, though no one really knows quite how to do that yet. Valerie and I met with two agencies in San Frnacisco on Friday that have some interesting approaches.

Speaking as a donor, I am glad we had the financial commitment from over 600 people in the Bay Area that allowed us to try - and that we did. I'd love to see your opinion in the survey on the right.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Owners and sources of authority

"Ownership" is a useful concept in the non-profit world - analogous to "shareholder" in the for-profit world, it implies a level of accountability not present in words like "stakeholder", or "customer".

It is also an uncomfortable word. My ancestors were never "owned", at least not in the past 300 years. So the UUA Board has opted for the term "Sources of Authority and Accountability" and made some minor changes to what we had created in October at our January meeting. So who are these "sources of authority"?

The obvious answer is the member congregations of the UUA. But we did not stop there - I think the longer list is intriguing, and a more accurate portrayal of who or what we are accountable to or from whom or what we get our authority.

• Our member congregations
• Current and future generations of Unitarian Universalists
• The heritage, traditions, and ideals of Unitarian UniversalismLink
• The vision of Beloved Community
• The Spirit of life, love, and the holy

What is more intriguing is how we would actually demonstrate that accountability/source of authority -- which makes for a great discussion.

[See also Governance as Holy Work, Part III]

Monday, February 2, 2009

Independent Affiliates Revisited (Again) (And Again)

I have received more feedback on Independent Affiliates (IAs) than any other postings I have done - mostly from people active in (former) IAs. As a Board member elected to the Board after the new, more restrictive definition for IAs was put into practice, it is easy with 20/20 hindsight to say I might not have implemented the changes quite the way they were done (or not), and avoided what I perceive as unintended consequences (or not): valuable organizations who felt demeaned and dismissed by the change in relationship with the UUA Board. The decision to sunset the current IA status and replace it with one that appropriately recognizes and values these organizations is an attempt by the Board to fix this concern. So I am not quite sure I understand the outrage in several of the comments to my last AI post that we would do this. Enlighten me?

I do believe that changing the IA definition was necessary, and that a lot of work went into making it a smoother transition than it ultimately was -- and that the IAs themselves are partly responsible for the trainwreck. Read on.

The following is a fairly detailed history of the issue written by Chief Governance Officer (also known as Moderator, Board chair, and Mom) Gini Courter in response to an email she received on the issue - I have Gini's permission to post it here (with apologies, Gini, for the "Mom"). It is worth the read -- all the way through -- for anyone concerned about this issue:

At the time of consolidation, there was an assumption/hope that other liberal religious groups might wish to affiliate with Unitarian Universalism. That’s why they were called Independent Affiliates. In nearly a half century, that hasn’t happened. Sometimes we dream big, and I love us for it.

Fast forward 40 years from consolidation. No other religious groups have sought Independent Affiliate (IA) relationships, and the Board is happily using the IA designation as a sort of Good Housekeeping Seal for groups inside UUism. Staff and committees are relying on a group’s IA status to confer other benefits: reduced rates for advertising in the UU World and vendor space in the GA exhibit hall; the ability to participate in the UUA health plan; workshop spaces at GA; a listing in the UUA directory and on, and so on.
When the board finally began examining the role of Independent Affiliates in 2002, there were about 90 Independent Affiliates. The affiliates were allocated over 60% of the workshop slots at General Assembly (GA). Congregations were allocated 0% of the workshops. In the meantime…the proliferation of affiliates had resulted in an annual meeting of congregations that was much more expensive, and where congregations and their needs had been completely displaced. At GA, The “little churches” of James Luther Adams’ ecclesiola in ecclesia weren’t churches at all. We didn’t have any space for our congregations because the Board, staff, and committees were covenanting (loosely, for sure, perhaps “contracting” would be a more appropriate term) instead with non-congregational entities.

You might wonder: Why we didn’t simply keep the IAs as they were and work separately on providing space for congregations at GA? The GA Planning Committee earnestly tried a couple of alternatives, but they didn’t work. In 2008 and 2009 they quit trying for other reasons discussed in a few paragraphs.

General Assembly was not the only venue where the displacement of congregations by IAs was taking place – it was only the easiest to see. For example, the UUA staff chose to provide expertise and resources to some affiliates (as well as discounts for advertising in the UU World, etc). At the congregational level, affinity groups parleyed the national relationships into congregational affiliation, and congregational boards were sometimes hard pressed to turn down requests from groups if the UUA Board had recognized the national organization as an Independent Affiliate. Often the relationships between “local” affiliates and the congregation’s board precisely mirrored the relationship between the IA and the UUA Board – an almost non-existent relationship with little or no accountability from either party.

Now, jump halfway back in time. The Board’s decision in the 70s? 80s? -- whenever it happened – to repurpose Independent Affiliates from a finite number (zero is pretty finite) of external partners to what would become a sizeable number of internal partners without providing criteria had created the problem. The Board began addressing this issue in earnest in 2002.
Every affiliate organization was surveyed by trustees from one working group. The working group had one-on-one phone conversations with the leaders of over 80% of the IAs. Hearings to help the board understand what the leaders of IAs wanted from their relationship with the UUA were held at the GAs in Long Beach and Fort Worth. From 2002 to 2006 the board reclassified about two dozen affiliates. For example, Starr King and Meadville were asked to quit sending applications: “you’re not affiliates, you’re UU seminaries”. Same with the DPA, LREDA, and others. The criteria for Independent Affiliates was communicated to all the IAs in 2006 and implemented in April 2007. By April 2007, every Independent Affiliate had received a letter each year explaining the Board’s process and intent; a survey; invitations to participate in two hearings, two workshops, and direct conversation with the board members facilitating this process.

At the 2007 General Assembly, I invited leaders of then-current and former affiliates to meetings to try to help them imagine what they could/might do next because I knew there was lots of frustration about the changes. The UUA trustees who had been most closely involved with implementing the new criteria wished me luck and said I shouldn’t expect too much from these meetings. I’m an optimist, but they were right to be skeptical of the results of my efforts. I was verbally abused and treated in other totally inappropriate ways by leaders of some of our former independent affiliates. I also learned a lot, and have continued to work with some of these leaders to figure out how the Board and the Association staff can support their efforts. I was able to direct some of the former IAs to the relationships that would actually meet their needs and enable them to ask the right questions. For example, an IA that is primarily a funding panel should be in relationship with other funders and the staff that support them. When they’re participating in the right relationship, they can ask the right questions such as: why should our group pay for ads to give money away to UUs?

t’s all about relationship. I’m glad I had these meetings at GA in Portland, because I know with absolute clarity that there is no confusion about what the Board was trying to do among IA leaders who were part of the process from the beginning. There is denial, but no confusion. There is a sense of entitlement, but no confusion. Some newly-elected leaders were confused because their predecessors told them nothing about the process, but I routinely hear that a specific leader of a former IA “doesn’t understand” what the board was attempting to do when I know that to be untrue.

[In your email], you ask a great question, and it’s the same question that I asked at the meetings at the 2007 GA. Here’s the question: So when have we told our Affiliates, if they seem to us merely self-serving, how they should better serve the Association as a whole? What have we told them, other than "go away"?

A mission of the UUA should be precisely to enable our independent groups to be more effective in projecting their concerns into the congregations.
It’s not appropriate for the UUA Board to try to maintain relationships with 80+ affiliates, particularly since many of the IAs aren’t really interested in relationships with the Board. It’s not an appropriate use of UUA staff to have them use the funds provided by congregations to resource 80+ affiliates. Each affiliate doesn’t appear to be asking for much, but taken in the aggregate, it’s overwhelming. In the meetings at the 2007 GA I asked – to be honest, I begged – some groups of affiliates to organize themselves so that we could better support them. For example, the large number of single-issue social justice affiliates masks the fact that we don’t adequately support social justice ministry. If there were a council of social justice affiliates defining common interests, we could begin to address the common functions of a social justice ministry such as promotion and training. Such a council also meets the criteria that the UUA Board established for IAs. Such a council begins to be an interesting partner, not just for the UUA, but for other groups like the UUSC. The possibilities are amazing and limitless and worthy, but leaders of most of our former IAs chose to spend their 90 minutes with me and, more importantly, each other, explaining how they have nothing in common with any other group of Unitarian Universalists. It’s a failure of imagination that’s tragic.

The GA Planning Committee has dreamed aloud of a kind of conference of religious traditions day at GA: imagine a GA Saturday where every workshop is a worship service or spiritual practice group. The Planning Committee doesn’t have the bandwidth to do this with a dozen IAs. It’s not just providing the space, it’s building the relationships between the Planning Committee and the groups, and between the groups. Imagine brochures in every congregation outlining “spiritual paths in UUism” or “celebrating our sources”. At the 2007 GA meeting the leader of one former IA laid out this vision to the other groups, and was almost shouted down. The discussion returned to the comfortable topic of the bone-headedness of the UUA Board, and her idea curled up and died on the floor while I watched. It’s a failure of imagination that’s staggering.

At GAs 2008 and 2009, the rubber is really meeting the road. If the UUA Board had done nothing about IAs, there would still have been many IAs without workshops at GA 2008. The Ft. Lauderdale convention center did not have enough rooms to accommodate the many IA workshops. Here is the trend throughout the industry; convention centers are being built or renovated for a different conference style – small breakout rooms are being replaced with larger meeting rooms.
Salt Lake City has more rooms than Ft. Lauderdale, but in 2009 the GA Planning Committee is moving UU University into GA programming space.

In the fall of 2003, we surveyed congregational presidents to find out what they needed from the Association that would make the greatest difference to their leadership. Over 80% responded that leadership development for lay leaders was the place where they most struggled. UU University was designed to respond to this need. The hundreds of leaders who attended UU University in 2006, 2007, and 2008 had to come to GA early and pay extra. In 2009, the programming that our congregational leaders have requested is finally part of their General Assembly. It’s taken five years, but we are making General Assembly the meeting that the elected leaders of our member congregations tell us they need. With the 2009 GA, the choice is very clear: we can provide the programming that our congregational leaders tell us they attend, or the programming that former independent affiliates want to provide.

I don’t just support the UUA board’s choice. I celebrate it, and I’m grateful that the Board tackled this as a governance issue rather than simply waiting until the IAs were squeezed out by space considerations, because it’s really about the relationships, not the space.
Thanks for your questions and concerns, [name removed]. I’m grateful for the opportunity to lay this all out. I’ve copied your trustee (since you mentioned that you spoke with her) and I’ll be sharing my reply with some other folks who are thinking about and working on this issue. The Board just approved a new independent affiliate, and some board members are working with other former IAs on their journeys. I hold out hope that the social justice groups, in particular, will organize. There is so much opportunity not just for the IAs, but for our congregations. I remain optimistic that with continued work and care, we’ll arrive at a better place as an Association.

In faith and hope,
Gini Courter, Moderator/Chief Governance Officer Unitarian Universalist Association

Amen. Though I am empathetic and apologetic to all IA members who felt devalued by this process, I too think it is time for imagination rather than pining for what was not working -- and is gone.

Business is Booming

Kudos to whoever at All Souls Church in Washington, DC wrote the following words:

"All Souls Church is proud to be one of the bright spots in the current economic crisis. The worse things get on Wall Street, Main Street and every other street, alley, avenue, you name it, the more relevant who we are and what we do becomes to our community. If we were a business, we'd say things are booming. Demand is very high right now - demand for a spiritual safe haven and for comfort during troubling times. Demand for a helping hand to those in need right here in our neighborhood. Demand for things that have real and lasting value and matter in the day-to-day lives of real people."

Great words! So how do we best live it? Would love to see your posted comments on how we make this “real” in each of our congregations.

UUA financial support from our congregations has continued strong despite the economy, with many people prioritizing their giving to their church . The UUA Administration is taking a number of steps to reduce costs though, especially for 2010, when we really start to feel the impacts of the market losses in the endowment. This year we have about $2.2 million in unrestricted operating income from the endowment, with an estimate of that dropping next year to $1.9 million. The GA Planning Committee is also reducing expenses for GA2009 in Salt Lake, though so far not in a way that will reduce the impact and quality of this UUA election year event.

As already reported in PCD Currents, the Board passed the following resolution keeping Annual Program Fund (APF) contributions from congregations at the same level as last year:

Recognizing that the economic recession being felt across the country affects Unitarian Universalist congregations, the lives of their members, and the Association, the UUA Board of Trustees resolves that:

* together we shall seek creative ways of reducing costs while enhancing environmental sustainability, using technology in new ways, and supporting one another through the challenges sure to be ours over the near future

* the Association shall continue to deliver essential services to member congregations and assist them in addressing fiscal challenges, while examining all expenditures and programs carefully for their centrality to our mission.
* we approach these challenges with the spirit of positive reinvention

Further, we will hold the Annual Program Fund Fair Share contribution for fiscal year 2009-2010 at the current rate of $56 per member and hold the percent of budget option for large congregations at the 2008-2009 level.

Next post: Independent Affiliates Revisited (again) (and again)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sustainability and White Privilege

Fifth in a series of posts about the January Board meeting

There is probably no issue more pressing to the survival of ourselves and our planet than global warming and the toxic effects of what we have been doing to the Earth. Recognizing that, several of us argued forcefully for elevating “sustainability” in our ENDS to a premier position. Twice I heard one of our Board members of color state that they could not in good conscience elevate this concern over our anti-oppression efforts – and then I suddenly got it.

It is hard to be concerned about environmental effects on future generations when you are not sure you and your family will make it through the week. Most of us learned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Psych 101 – too many of our brothers and sisters are struggling on the bottom levels of that hierarchy. Many of us forget that not having to do so is a privilege that is often tied to our race or ethnicity. I was able to get a good education that lifted me out of fairly humble beginnings, but was also supported by a stable family that was capable of instilling certain value systems that work in the dominant culture, and a system that saw me as capable and worthy of investment.

Interestingly, the concept of sustainability includes anti-oppression, though many of us think of it in only environmental terms. According to my friend, CJ Hunter, Principle of Leading Sustainability, there are three pillars of sustainability: “economy, equity, and environment” or “people, planet, prosperity”. She bemoans the fact that the term is often connected only to environment, when you really cannot be sustainable without all three.

We often hear more about the environmental aspect of sustainability because that has been viewed as the weakest - which is probably not the view of those having to face societal oppression on a daily basis.

Next post: Business is Booming