Thursday, January 29, 2009

Purpose, Principles, and the Commission on Appraisal

Fourth in a series of posts about the January UUA Board meeting

Included in the January Board packet was one of the best reports I have seen about what can be a delicate and difficult process: a review of our purpose and principles, as required by our by-laws. The Commission on Appraisal (COA) was asked to do this review. Led by Barbara Child and Orlanda Brugnola, this team got feedback from over 1700 individuals and congregations on what we might change – and had the audacity to suggest we actually do that. Some of you may have seen an earlier report put out by comment by the team in September – referred to as the “kitchen sink” report, this version included essentially most major suggestions made and came across that way.

You will find the most recent Commission on Appraisal Report, received by the Board and placed on the General Assembly agenda with one minor change, a very different document. Changes are minimal, and the logic reiterated by the COA for these changes is compelling. Other than putting this on the agenda, the Board has taken no official position on it, and will participate, as you will, in a two year process to discern if this is what we should do as an Association. The Salt Lake 2009 GA delegates will discuss the document, and if a majority passes it, it will be placed on the 2010 GA agenda for a 2/3 majority to pass. No amendments are allowed in this two year process.

My gratitude to the COA for their dedication and work on this.

Next post: Sustainability and White Privilege

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Independent Affiliates Revisited (Again)

Third in a series of posts after the January UUA Board Meeting

I have dealt with Independent Affiliate (IA) status a number of times previously in this blog, wrestling with the need to get an out-of-control process back into something manageable and meaningful. For years the UUA Board had been approving essentially any application for IA, resulting in nearly 90 organizations that may or may not have been serving multiple congregations and filling GA slots with topics that played more to special interests than the needs of the Association and its over 1000 congregations. The tightening up of the rules meant only 7 IAs by January of 2009, with the idea that the Board would have a close collaborative relationship with each of them.

This was not exactly happening, but what did happen was the perception that the “rejected” former IAs were not valued by the Board and/or the Association itself. This meant there were many outstanding and hard working UU-identified groups that felt hurt and unappreciated.

At the January meeting the Board passed a resolution that sunsets the current Affiliate status by June of 2010, contingent upon the staff “creating a strategy to honor and harness the incredible talent, passion and experience present in this large group of dedicated UU volunteers. We encourage these important organizations to partner with the staff to create best practices for engaging with congregations, districts, and staff in carrying out our vision for Unitarian Universalism and the hope we have for healing the world.” Applications for new AI (under the current “rules”) will no longer be accepted after June of 2009.

This is a good step. The staff has also been uncomfortable with the Board’s stringent guidelines, and is committed to create positive relationships with these key organizations. Kudos to those who continued to thoughtfully reconsider this action, and initiated these steps.

Next post: Purpose, Principles, and the Commission on Appraisal

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Musings from the Mall

Rather than come home directly from the Board meeting, I flew to Washington, DC to attend the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States with 2 million of my closest friends. We left the home of my Bethesda friend shortly after 5 am, drove to park at another friend’s house by the bus route that would take us to within a couple of miles of the Mall, picked up more friends, then walked the rest, arriving about 7:30. Eight of us staked out our postage stamp-sized spots with silver space blankets, and waited for the ceremonies to begin at 10, which we would watch on one of the many “jumbotrons” spread across the Mall, culminating with the peaceful transition of the governance of the United States at noon. This photo is the (standing for 7 hours) view of the Capitol where the inauguration actually took place. The Mall was already full when this was taken, about 8:30.

Bless the planners – starting at 8 the jumbotrons rebroadcast the “We Are One” concert held Sunday night. The crowd was into it, clapping, jumping, dancing (what a great way to stay warm in 23 degrees!) – especially when the songs were the “oldies” most of us knew the words to. The crowd was diverse in every respect, with everyone talking to everyone else, sharing handwarmers, trailmix, coffee from thermoses, and information gleaned from text messages (a lot of cell phones were not working by then). This view is sitting down, which is why everyone is standing.

It was clearly a partisan crowd. When Bush appeared you heard loud boos (rather disrespectful and less clever than the chant started by a group near the actual stage at the front: “na na na na, na na na na, na na na na, good bye”). When Obama appeared, it was an exuberant swell of hope and joy, many people crying when he finally took the oath.

It was a great occasion to feel part of, and was worth the early up, miles of walking, and 7 hours of standing. Two things disturbed me though: all the trash left by those of us on the Mall (didn’t we just have a day of service on Monday?). My friends and I filled our three trash bags to the brim and carted them to the dumpsters, watching others just throwing things on the ground.

The other was the chants of “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!”.

I would have felt a lot better had we been chanting “Yes, we can! Yes, we can!” I fully recognize the power this charismatic leader has in turning around the apathy, lassitude, and despair so prevalent in America today. But from the beginning we appear to be elevating him to a sort of demi-god stardom far too much in line with our celebrity obsession. Better that we hear and respond to his message of empowerment and working together so that when we lose him (please hear my prayers that it is after 8 years) we can still do the work that needs to be done.

Next post: Independent Affiliates Revisited (Again)

Governance as Holy Work – Part III

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

By far the greatest amount of time at this and the last Board meeting was around the development of values and ENDS for the Association – “Association” meaning the entirety of the Board, administration, and the 1000+ congregations that have covenanted to be together to form the Association. Those of you familiar with Policy Governance will recognize that ENDS is not an acronym, but rather a Carver branded term for the broad vision and strategic directions developed for a non-profit organization. Based on the Open Space sessions at GA2007, the Appreciative Inquiry of GA2008, and conversations with the UU Ministers Association, District Presidents Association and others, the Board has created initial language for the values, vision, and strategic direction of our Association. I have been meeting with a number of congregation boards to get feedback on these, and will be doing so much more in the next three months, including “webinars” online that will allow all of us to discuss them in the comfort of our own homes.

Here is the “Global End”, or mission statement created at the October Board meeting:

Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the UUA will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world.

The following (draft) strategic directions just developed are the broad directions that the Board gives to the President:

Our ENDS are growing Unitarian Universalist congregations that. . .

Unlock the Power that Transforms Lives
• In our congregations, people deepen their spiritual lives. They:
  • Develop a personal spiritual practice
  • Participate in meaningful worship
  • Learn and practice empowered leadership and generosity.
  • Find their ministry in the world
• Our congregations are:
  • Vibrant—joyful and excited about their ministries
  • Intentionally multi-generational and multi-cultural.
  • Networked with each other
• Congregations are:
  • Active participants in ministerial preparation and development
  • Shared ministries
  • Agents of mission and extension

Invite people into congregations that live out covenant through:
• A strong, articulated sense of UU and community identity
• High expectations of their members
• Full participation in Associational life
• An open and inclusive outreach and welcome
• Embracing and struggling with issues of oppression and privilege

Move toward sustainability, wholeness and reconciliation through ministries, partnerships, and alliances.
• Our congregations answer the call to ministry and justice work:
  • Grounded in the communities in which they live
  • Nationally, internationally
  • With interfaith partners and alliances
• The public engages in meaningful dialogue and takes action informed by our prophetic voice and public witness.

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

Does this reflect your dreams for Unitarian Universalism? Post a response and/or take the survey on the right.

Next post: Musings from the Mall

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Is it still snowing? Posts from the January 2009 Board meeting

There is one dimension upon which the Board is divided into two camps: one of them moans over the cold temperature (7 degrees – guess which camp I was in?) and flocks to the window to watch the big white flakes cover the trees and grounds of the Massachusetts Capitol right next door. The other is somewhat dismissive of the cold (“it felt warm compared to where I came from”) and sees the snow as a mechanism to impede their way home.

But it WAS beautiful, including at night, when these photos were taken on Sunday night in Boston’s Public Garden with The Magic Box (also known as my iPhone).

Unfortunately it meant a number of flights were delayed or cancelled on Sunday, the end of the Board meeting, and a number of Board members who had not intended to stay the night did so.

Like all the Board meetings I have attended, this one was long, intense, and energizing. A significant reason for the energy is the fact that we are intentionally a religious board, with worship elements in the agenda as well as impromptu admonitions from a number of our board members (and you know who you are). One of the readings on Wednesday night’s vespers by Board member Will Saunders particularly struck me, and is excerpted below:

Pause with us here a while.
Put your ear to the wall of your heart.
Listen for the whisper of knowing there.
Love will touch you if you are very still.

If I say the word God, people run away.
They’ve been frightened – sat on ‘till the spirit cried “uncle.”
Now they play hide and seek with somebody they can’t name.
They know he’s out there looking for them, and they want to be found.
But there is all this stuff in the way.

I can’t talk about God and make any sense.
And I can’t not talk about God and make any sense.
So we talk about the weather, and we are talking about God.

(excerpted from Tom Barrett, What’s in the Temple)

Look for posts about UUA Ends, Independent Affiliates, Purpose and Principles revisions, White Privilege Part II, and my trip to DC for the Inauguration over the next few weeks.

Next Post: Governance as Holy Work, Part III