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"