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.