Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Death of Josseline

Sixth in a set of posts about the October UUA Board meeting

Like many UUs around the country, I am reading The Death of Josseline by Margaret Regan, a reporter from the Tucson area who has done border reporting in Arizona for the last decade. The Board's January meeting will be in Phoenix, with many of us coming early to Tucson to meet with some of the groups that Regan mentions in her book, including the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, which adopted the group No More Deaths (No Más Muertes) as a ministry in 2008.

I certainly knew there were deaths connected to the attempt to reach the United States, but not until I read this book did the magnitude hit me: in just the Tucson sector, 262 miles of border, nearly 600,000 are apprehended each year, over 200 found dead (emphasis on "found"). And one of the lines from the book haunts me: how far would you go to feed your children?

Many of those who cross (or attempt to) are not aware of how dangerous it is -- a walk of "just a day" described by the coyote (people smuggler) turns into 3 or 4, people from places like the Guatemala highlands unused to 110+ degree heat. If they cannot keep up, they can be left behind to not endanger the rest of the group, with hopes that they will be found by the Border Patrol in 90,000 square miles of rugged terrain . But many of them are aware of the danger, and try multiple times.

I break from the book to check on the work I am having done on my house, appreciative of any chance to practice my Spanish. One of the men walks right out of the book.

Roberto tells me his first language is K'iche', a Mayan dialect. He is from Sololá, near the houses I worked on several years ago with Habitat for Humanity, near Lago Atitlán. He has been here two years, and crossed the desert with his sister. Es muy peligroso - it is very dangerous - pero gracias a Diós estamos aquí - but thanks to God we are here. The rest of his family is in Sololá, including his wife and two children. According to the Guatemala representative for UNICEF, half the children in Guatemala are chronically malnourished - in indigenous areas, like Sololá, chronic malnutrition of children under 5 can reach 80%.

How far would you go to feed your children?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Regionalization Question

Fifth in a series of posts about the October 2010 UUA Board Meeting

Friday morning (all of it) was labeled as a "Report on the Districts (Terasa Cooley) and future direction on regionalization". Terasa had no "report" but rather opened up the space for a wide-ranging discussion on current and future regionalization issues. As reported here before, there are two very different aspects of "regionalization", governance and service delivery, though they tend to be conflated in districts (like my own, the Pacific Central District) where the governance boards are heavily involved in both.

Terasa and Peter addressed the service delivery side. From Peter's perspective "it is hard to underestimate the problems co-employment caused… we are really tripping up over that arrangement… [we are using] a one room school house model." Teresa gave the example of Mountain Desert, which has 4 staff members, and 54 congregations spread across roughly a million square miles, compared to more compact districts. Are we serving the Mountain Desert congregations in a way that does not discriminate because of their location? Sara Lammert gave the example of program consultant Tandy Rogers from the Pacific Northwest District serving as the interim director for the Youth and Young Adult office. Tandy is co-employed -- though the right thing to do, sorting out the financial and other implications is not simple.

This coming weekend the District Presidents' Association will be meeting to address the governance side. Three UUA board members (plus the board liaison and moderator) have been invited to join. As one of those UUA board members, I am also attending to discuss the linkage done recently by the UUA board, and invite the DPA to collaborate with us on whatever linkage we do next.

These are not easy issues. I do not think the same structure used for service delivery is necessarily the right structure for governance, could suggest eliminating co-employment as one of the steps in decoupling them.

The UUA Board does not have a grand governance plan for districts which both protects and damns us. The district boards need to determine their own fates. But thinking about governance takes me back to linkage -- what would our member congregations and other accountability groups answer to classic linkage questions like the following?
  1. What do you see as the role of the district board?
  2. If districts did not exist today, for what reason(s) would we create them?
  3. If this were 2020, and we were looking back over the past ten years, what would you like to be able to say is different within our congregations because the district was here?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Appreciative Inquiry

Fourth in a series of post about the October 2010 UUA Board Meeting

The interviews described in the linkage work above were based on Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a powerful methodology that is based on some interesting assumptions:
  1. In every society, organization, or group, something works.
  2. What we focus on becomes our reality.
  3. Reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple realities.
  4. The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way.
  5. People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the known).
  6. If we carry forward parts of the past, they should be what is best about the past.
  7. It is important to value differences.
  8. The language we use creates our reality.

From the Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry

Sue Annis Hammond, Thin Book Publishing Company, 2nd Edition, 1998

What if, instead of interviews with 65 congregations, we could create an environment where hundreds of our congregations were having deep conversations about what is important to them and how we can work together as a whole? What if a natural part of that process was then meeting with other congregations to uncover common themes about what has worked, and dreaming together about what could be?

This was the proposition brought to the board by President Peter Morales, Moderator Gini Courter, and Amanda Trosten-Bloom, a noted AI expert who also happens to be a member of Jefferson Unitarian Church. Originally conceived as a staff effort, the power to impact the Board's work as well was quickly realized by Peter and Gini, and brought to the Board. Here was a way to involve congregations directly in created our Shared Vision, also known in Policy Governance® parlance as "ends".

Congregations were heavily involved in the creation of the current set of ends -- through hundreds of their delegates to General Assemblies in 2007 and 2008 (also based on AI), and subsequent discussions with dozens of congregations and district boards in early 2009. Yet the finished product had almost no sense of ownership from our member congregations. The fact that not a single congregation mentioned their GA delegates as "representing the congregation" in the linkage interviews may have something to do with it.

This effort is just beginning, and involves collaboration with more than Board and Staff. It has the power to do so much more than come up with revised "ends" (though that could be a by-product). AI is not only about dreaming, but the transformation we go through to make that dream happen.

May it be so.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What were they thinking?

Third in a series of posts about the October 2010 UUA Board meeting

Who would I talk to if I wanted to talk to a “member congregation”? What in that conversation could move both of us to the kind of connection and mutual appreciation that would ultimately result in “one strong body”? What differences do our congregations want us to make together, and are they similar to the goals that were established by the Board after two years of input from various UUs and groups across the country? And can anyone believe – really believe – that these goals are not merely aspirational – that together we really could make them happen?

These were some of the questions the UUA Board explored in 64 conversations with randomly selected congregations over the past 8 months. This intentional selection of a statistically valid sample congregations was a way of using a smaller number of personal, real time interviews to get a sense of the whole.

Some of the findings were surprising, some not – for example, I expected that elected and called leadership would primarily be “who speaks for the congregation” – but not that there would be such a hunger for real, two-way conversation. I expected healthy relationships would be built on things like trust and respect – but not necessarily that mutuality and common goals would be cited. And I did not expect that so many congregations would describe themselves as feeling alone.

And most interesting was the shift in possibility that many of us felt in the conversations. We started from a place where there was significant “us” and “them”, congregations feeling isolated with little recognition of any relationship with “the UUA” other than staff, to excitement about what it could be like to be part of a strong Association with common goals.

And most interesting was the shift in possibility that many of us felt in the conversations. We started from a place where there was significant “us” and “them”, congregations feeling isolated with little recognition of any relationship with “the UUA” other than staff, to excitement about what it could be like to be part of a strong Association with common goals. Together we sing "We Would be One", and recognize in our worship services the power of being part of something larger. Sometimes we blame "congregational polity" for the fact that we often are not working collaboratively with other congregations or within the Association, forgetting the part about covenanting together. And many of us no longer use the term "herding cats" with pride.

We can be one. It starts with recognizing that it is possible -- and for some brief moments in these interviews, we did.

I will post a link to the summary report as soon as it is posted on the UUA website, which includes the recommendations that came out of it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Internet Highway to General Assembly

Second in a series of post about the October UUA Board Meeting

Last June a small group of volunteers at General Assembly (GA) in Minneapolis created a novel way for 11 GA delegates to watch two plenary sessions, participate in the plenary conversation, and vote (tabulated but not counted). What made this "novel" is that the delegates were in the state of New York; Athens, GA; Brewster, MA; Key West, and Houston. Using existing technology, duck tape, and baling wire, the trial was universally praised by its participants, and proved that the idea just might work.

And why would we want to do it? There is clearly no way that an "off-site" GA will capture the richness of experiences that singing, worshiping, and discussing with several thousand Unitarian Universalists brings. Yet the UUA Board is keenly aware that delegates typically do not represent our diversity of membership -- it is difficult for many people with family and job responsibilities, financial limitations, and/or physical limitations to take that much time and money to attend. Add to that lingering concerns about safety in Phoenix 2012, as raised in the responsive resolution from the Youth Caucus.

The Off-site Planning Team (co-led by myself and Mark Steinwinter) submitted three motions to the Board on Sunday, which were all approved:
  1. Implement a complete technology and process solution for Off-site delegate participation in 2011. Votes will be published but not counted for decision-making until 2012. The solution will address: 1) allowing offsite delegates to watch, listen, and speak during plenary session, 2) allowing offsite delegates to watch, listen, and speak during mini-assemblies, 3) queuing of offsite delegates who wish to speak, and 4) secure credentialing, voting, and tabulation for offsite delegates
  2. Place the following (non-C) by-laws change to Section 4.5 on the GA 2011 agenda: “Subject to procedures and guidelines adopted by the Board of Trustees, delegates not physically present at General Assembly may be deemed present in person to participate in and vote at General Assembly by means of remote communication.”
  3. Authorize expenditures for GA 2011 for off-site delegate work up to $75,000. Pursuant to policy 3.2.7.c, these funds may be taken from the General Assembly reserve fund.
Additional team members include board members Lew Phinney, Eva Marx, and John Hawkins; Christopher Wulff, who came to us through the Continental UU Young Adults Network (CUUYAN), Rev. Randy Becker, one of the original delegates; Tim Brennan, Don LaPlante, and Lynda Shannon Bluestein as liaison to the General Assembly Planning Committee. We will likely add more people to specific parts of the project. Interestingly, though the Board needed to approve the project, taking it forward is really staff work under Policy Governance®, so the 4 board members are wearing volunteer hats. It is an interesting experiment, with high commitment from team members. We will limit Charlotte to 250 delegates, focusing on congregational sites. Look for more information through multiple channels, including a dedicated site on the UUA website, and the opportunity for your congregation to participate -- if you can't come to Charlotte!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Antidote to Exhaustion

First in a series of posts about the October 2010 UUA Board Meeting

The October UUA Board meeting was significantly different than the first full board meeting I attended in 2007, though just as many hours – 60 hours of board activities spread over 5 days. A full year into Policy Governance®, we still struggle with detail that may not entirely be board work - for example, we have over 20 board committees and 4 working groups, which are probably a bit more than John Carver had in mind. Still, we are focusing in much different topics than we were when I first joined the Board.

Topics from the Board meeting that will be explored in more detail over the next few months include the conversations held over the past 8 months with member congregations, regionalization of service delivery, plans for a Justice GA, potential by-laws changes, how the Board holds itself accountable, and some exciting approaches to further conversations with those we are accountable to.

What is emerging amid the liaison and committee reports and the hours spent within those groups, are some deep and important discussions that give me a glimpse of what it is like to focus on values and the future more than the past – and that make me hunger for more of it. Never have I been so keenly aware of the opportunity cost of “the way we do things around here” – the hours (within the board meetings and beyond) spent by board members (UUA and District) and so many other volunteers that keep us incredibly busy – and may or may not be moving us further towards what we are longing for as a faith.

On Wednesday night, board member (and the Reverend) Will Saunders quoted an exchange between poet David Whyte and Brother David, an Austrian monk who was a friend of his. Whyte had been working non-stop with a non-profit and finally hit a wall, bursting into a meeting to ask “Has anyone seen David? I need to speak with David.”

There was only one David in the organization – himself. After a moment of stunned silence, everyone in the room laughed – except Whyte. He had been serious – and was exhausted. Later he said to Brother David “Tell me about exhaustion.” His friend replied “the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest… the answer to exhaustion is whole-heartedness”.

I have mentioned before in these posts the strange combination of tired and alive that comes out of these meetings. One of the things that sustains this board is the underlying worship that goes with it. We started the Board meeting this past week with more than usual - and we all felt the impact. Share part of it with us by clicking here and on the video link on the right to see (the Reverend Doctor) Susan Ritchie's vespers that preceded Will's recounting of the story above.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I could be illegal

I was running late.

It had taken longer than I expected to drive from Goodrich, AZ, to the State Capitol, where I planned to park my car, and take public transportation to the beginning of the rally to protest SB1070. Just as I saw my bus drive by, I saw three cars with people piling out carrying signs -- planning to do the same thing as I.

I asked if they were going to the rally -- yes. Could I have a ride to the train station? Sure! That is when I realized that 4 adults, a child, and a wheelchair were all going into the Vega - plus me. I thanked them profusely, and said I would wait for the next bus, but they were happy to pile all of us into the Vega - "just like college", said David, the driver.

We drive carefully to the train, alternating in Spanish and English. David works in Admissions for Arizona State University, heading an outreach program for k-12. His love for what he does is clear. Saul works at a local Spanish language radio station, producing and presenting a program on basic economics for his community. Katarina is David's sister, wearing a back brace, obviously in pain, but determined to be part of the march. Patricia and her daughter Daniela, part of Katarina's fiance's family, speak only Spanish and may or may not be undocumented. I don't ask.

We are joined by Sergio as we wait for the train. Sergio is undocumented -- "I am giving my best", he says in Spanish. "I work hard and am part of this country." As we board the train, more and more people join on the way to the rally and march. One of the first people I see on the train is Neal, minister from Reno. It is good to see him and the energy he has brought to his new congregation now part of this march. "Ask me for my papers" says one sign: "I'll show you my degree from ASU". Another sign shows three figures in cap and gown furtively crossing the border.

There are hundreds of Unitarian Universalists, including 80 clergy, UUA President Peter Morales, and Moderator Gini Courter. Local members walk among us at the beginning, dispersing muffins, water, and frozen citrus. Water is offered free all along the route. We walk in gold t-shirts, dispersed among several banners proclaiming "Standing on the Side of Love". I walk beside many of the people I know, former interns, congregation members, and ministers, glad to see them all. I fall in next to a woman I don't know, dressed entirely in white, long sleeves and hat nearly covering her dark skin. Together we sing "Marching in the Light of Love" - camina-a-ndo en la luz de Dios... I wonder why we find it easier to sing about God in Spanish. Both of us are delighted that we know the words in three languages. The heat doesn't matter - like little frogs, we started early in the coolness of the desert, and let our temperatures rise with our surroundings as we walk the 5 miles (my iPhone says 6) to the State Capitol.

I wonder how Katarina is doing in her chair. I wonder about Patricia's future. I am grateful to David for including me in his family for that brief connection.

I wear my button "I could be illegal", knowing it is highly unlikely that anyone will ask - ever.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who speaks for the congregation?

The UUA Board's primary authority comes from its member congregations -- and we in turn are accountable to those member congregations. In my last post I talked about the kinds of conversations should be having in my UUA trustee role. But who, exactly, should I be having them with?

For many UUA trustees this has traditionally been with district boards, delegates at district assemblies, and/or the most vocal members of various congregations. All of these are welcome and valuable, but do not exactly fit the description of a "congregation" -- and brings up the potential for listening to the best known and/or loudest voices, and not necessarily the most representative.

This is why the UUA Board choose a random sample of 100 congregations across the United States to ask questions like "who speaks for your congregation?" and "what does a healthy relationship between organizations look like?" Interviews have been going on in person or by phone for the past few months, and will be reported out at General Assembly. The UU Church of Stockton was the only one selected in the sample from the Pacific Central District, so I have been having these conversations in other districts as well.

Our hypothesis was that the Board president and called minister(s) (if there are any), would speak for the congregation. That has been true (so far) a little over 60% of the time -- sometimes it is the church administrator, sometimes another board member, or sometimes the person with the most knowledge or greatest set of communication skills.

"Who speaks for the congregation" is most clear once a year -- during General Assembly when it is that congregation's delegates. Yet many of those delegates do not feel empowered to vote on behalf of their congregation. So we have delegates empowered by the by-laws of the Association to direct resources of the Association, but often doing so without being empowered by, or speaking on behalf or, their own congregations.

One of the responses I hear is "delegates don't do anything important anyway". That is probably true if you look at "important" as the kind of urgency that will be in place this summer with the vote on where GA 2012 will be held. And to some degree it is a self-fulfilling prophecy -- as a board member I want to be directed by a thoughtful body of delegates that has worked through the implications of what they are doing, and bring the force of their own congregations with them. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Staying in touch

I always find meeting with congregational leaders, as I did Sunday at Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church, a really interesting and enjoyable look at what is on their minds in terms of the Association. A list of questions collected prior to the meeting gave me a great chance to reflect on the past three years and try to put some perspective on it -- particularly this one:

How do you, as PCD trustee, stay informed about the needs and interests of the 38 congregations? How much time do you spend with them? How often, on average, do you receive inputs from the average congregation? What kinds of issues or problems do they bring to you?

I still struggle with this one. One of my goals as trustee is to have a substantive meeting with each congregation in the district, "substantive" meaning an opportunity for two-way dialogue with congregation leaders. I have met with a little over half, many of them more than once, so will continue with this quest. What I have come to realize, though, is the need to think of what we talk about and who I am talking to.

Most UU members, if interested in "the UUA", are interested in the services that are provided by the district and national staff. In my first year as trustee I distributed lists of resources available from the UUA and instructions on how to search the website to find what you were looking for.

I realize now that's not my role.

Talking about "what the UUA can do for you" is a conversation with someone in the customer role, the receiver of services. That is not a bad thing - it is one of the mains reasons the UUA was created. It is the appropriate conversation with UUA staff.

And there is another role, best described to me in congregational terms by then Board President John Cahoon when I joined the UU Church of Berkeley: "the next time you walk into this place, walk into it as if you owned it, because now you do." He went on to describe being a property owner, landlord, and employer as part of the church membership. "Owners" care about what is being delivered as services, but also about the long term viability of the congregation as an institution. We want the church to make a difference in the lives of more than just ourselves. We picture a future world where we have made an impact in our communities, on our children, and continue to offer a different kind of salvation to people who need to hear that message. What impacts do we want to make? This is the conversation I want to have with our member congregations as a UUA board member.

Next post: who speaks for the congregation?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Apologies from a not historian

With thanks to Larry Ladd for his information and graceful way of providing it and apologies to Gini for misrepresentation

Sometimes when one is not familiar with the details of a situation, they are still able to capture its essence with the key facts being correct. And in other cases they -- well, don't.

I did not, in summarizing Gini's comments at the governance change workshop at the PCD District Assembly. Though history is always open to interpretation, I misrepresented some key facts about our early formation:
  • Districts WERE originally set up for service delivery, not to elect trustees. In fact, trustees were elected at large until 1969.
  • As Gini mentioned, districts were pre-dated by Unitarian area conferences and Universalist state conventions. These conferences and state conventions often had their own source of money. The new UUA leadership's task was to combine them into districts -- whether that was "gerrymandering" or paying attention to "identity, money, and jobs", as Larry suggests, depends on your point of view. My understanding is there is a substantial difference in perspective between those who came to our faith as Unitarians versus those who came as Universalists.
  • Per Larry: "The important point here is that the muddled mixture of funding began in 1961-64, far earlier than the blog indicated and for very different reasons." He goes on to describe a complex set of negotiations in terms of where the funds from the existing conventions and conferences would to (which Gini also described). "So when the financial problems of the UUA emerged in 1969-70 many districts already had their own sources of funds (I served on the Connecticut Valley District Board during that period and we were glad to have the Connecticut Universalist Convention money!). The reduction in direct UUA support certainly created incentives to raise more funds but not a lot could be raised by the churches, by and large, were in decline during the 1970s. Ironically, the financial problems also led to the creation by the UUA of InterDistrict Representatives [the field people mentioned by Gini], who were regional service delivery people very similar to the structure that is emerging now (except that now there’s more money and staff)."
One of the Board's "Sources of Authority and Accountability" is "the heritage, traditions, and ideals of Unitarian Universalism". This is a living example of why that is important, and how historical context needs to inform our decisions.

Friday, May 7, 2010

By the time we get to Phoenix...

Report from the May 6 UUA Virtual Board meeting

Ever since SB 1070 was signed by the Arizona governor, the UUA board emails have been non-stop, primarily among ourselves, but also lobbying from various groups urging us to boycott Phoenix, site of the 2012 General Assembly. At least four districts who have had assemblies in the past few weeks have passed resolutions asking the President to "re-examine the decision". [Note: per the by-laws, the decision is the Board's.]

The reasons are compelling. The lack of welcome if not downright fear for the safety of our Latino/Latina community has given all of us a right to question our presence there. Yet many of us (myself included) were reluctant to just walk away, and it was not about money.

The cancellation costs could be as high as $615,000, assuming no mitigation with the hotels. More important were our values, and reasons for boycotting. Is this about sticking by our principles and showing the world what we believe? or is it about overturning this draconian not-yet-law? or both? or something else?

One of the values of the UUA identified by the Board, then-president Sinkford, and the two presidential candidates a few years ago was "transformation". What acts will move us away from fear and reaction towards the Beloved Community? Van Jones' words kept ringing in my ears: prepare to govern, prepare to engage -- you are so good at being against things. Prepare to lead.

The call had a wide-ranging discussion, with excellent input from the staff and a number of Arizona members. In the end, the Board decided to turn the decision over the the General Assembly this summer, recommending that we move General Assembly. The Board's role is to govern between general assemblies, and this was the kind of substantive, values-packed decision that the Board wants more of for assembly delegates. We envision a full discussion of how we both engage and make our values clear, raising the money not only to defray any cancellation penalties, but also support Standing on the Side of Love in Arizona. To that end, the Board also decided to move either the October 10 or January 11 board meeting to Phoenix.

Here is the full text of the resolution that will be considered in mini-assemblies at GA:

Whereas the state of Arizona has recently enacted a law—SB 1070—that runs counter to our first principle, affirming the worth and dignity of every person;

Whereas the Association stands in solidarity with allies using a widespread economic boycott of Arizona as leverage for Love against this hateful legislation;

Be it resolved: we will not meet in a state of fear.

Accordingly, the Assembly hereby:

• Directs the UUA General Assembly Planning Committee to recommend to the Board of Trustees an alternate location for General Assembly 2012 at a location outside the state of Arizona;
• Pledges to generate from Member Congregations the amount sufficient to cancel arrangements in Phoenix for GA 2012;
• Pledges further to generate an equal or greater amount to fund ongoing efforts to Stand on the Side of Love in Arizona.
• Pledges to renew and redouble our efforts to become a multicultural, anti-racist Association; to live as a people standing faithfully in opposition to systemic racism in our congregations, local communities, and in our own lives.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What does this have to do with us?

Second of a series of posts about district governance

"How will this help the PCD?", the PCD board member asked. Gini Courter's response was not necessarily appreciated.

"It's like health care," Gini answered. "We have a lot of people who are happy with what they have, so are unwilling to change a broken system because what they have is working fine for them."

If I had been able to come up with a brilliant set of reasons why the PCD directly benefited from governance changes, I would have done so a long time ago. I have combed through the reports, looking for inequities in how our congregations are served, and although I don't have access to a lot of the data, I find no glaring disparities that would suggest we are not getting our "fair share". Sure, I would love to have more staff, who could then go deeper into their expertise and not need to do it all (not to mention not have to work 24/7, which our staff appears to do), but that is more a function of being one of the smaller districts. Then I decided I was probably missing the point.

What we are doing in this district is not sustainable in the long term if the entire Association is not healthy. Just like health care, there are systemic issues that need to be fixed to have a viable denomination. I am not looking for just a church with a great worship service that attends to my pastoral needs (though I have that) -- I am looking for something that connects my faith to something much larger, to really make an impact on the world around me.

I have friends who view people without health care as somehow bringing it on themselves -- I wonder sometimes about the parallel when I hear a certain smugness about how membership in New England, the bastion of 25 Beacon and all that represents, is declining.

Should I care if their side of the boat is leaking?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Governance Detour

A slight (but important) detour into governance from a district perspective

The round up of "what have you heard" in a late evening Saturday workshop at the Pacific Central District Assembly was fascinating: the representation of congregations will shift, the money is in the west [while] the people [members] in the east, there will be a huge Western region, extending from Hawaii to the Rockies, technology will replace a lot of face to face, [the opportunity to develop] personal relationships will be eliminated, regionalized staff will be centralized... Joined by UUA Moderator Gini Courter, who came over for the evening with former UUA Board Trustee at large Tamara Payne-Alex, Mary Ellen Morgan (our district president) and I led a lively discussion with an audience whose most vocal members were PCD trustees with no desire to change the current governance structure, which from their perspective was working well at a district level.

In fairness, PCD has consistently had one of the highest rates of attendance as a percent of membership, district assembly participation, general assembly participation, and fair share congregations. Why tinker with that? We even increased slightly in terms of membership this past year, though we have one of the highest percentage of congregations that are decreasing in membership, and it has been a long time since we have added any congregations.

Even more interesting were some of the underlying assumptions expressed in the workshop: the plan has already been put together (what about that map?), what may work in the rest of the country won't work here (and "we" have the courage to say it), and a great deal of confusion between governance and service delivery.

The "plan" has not been put together. Attempts at changing the governance structured inherited from 50 years ago have crashed and burned a number of times. "That map" that shows a western region extending from Hawaii to the Rockies is an informal arrangement for service delivery, put together by staff, not governance of the Association put together by anyone doing governance. This workshop was part of a discussion that started with the District Presidents Association (DPA) and the UUA Board last November. What started as a conversation about how the President can most effectively hold co-employed staff accountable led to some district presidents questioning why districts existed at all. [PCD disclaimer: Mary Ellen was not one of them, though as the president of the DPA this past year she has gracefully maintained her role as a non-anxious leader creating space for the conversation.]

Gini led us through how we got to where we are: districts were initially created to elect trustees to the newly formed UUA board, with the boundaries gerrymandered to insure control by Unitarians. Existing boundaries were not created for effective service delivery, because that is not what they were set up to do. In the early 1970s, the financial crisis of the UUA led to essentially all field staff being laid off. Concerned about the resulting lack of services to congregations, districts decided to raise their own money and hire their own staff, in a number of cases forming 501(c)3 organizations to do it. If you raise money, you need someone to oversee its collection and use, which led to district boards that in many areas became more and more involved in not just the oversee, but also the delivery of the services themselves, as working boards, much as many of our congregations' boards do. The result is two "fair share" asks to our congregations (one from the UUA, and one from the district), co-employed staff, and a complicated set of funding mechanisms that have wide disparity between districts. Per the January 2008 "Congregations Come First" report:
  • In the Southwestern UU Conference, a large geographic district, two full-time professional staff members and one full-time equivalent administrative position serve 76 member congregations and five emerging congregations. In the relatively smaller and more compact Joseph Priestley District, six professional staff (four full-time, two half-time) and two administrative (one full-time, one half-time) serve 64 member congregations and four emerging congregations.
  • The ratio of district staff members per congregation ranges from 1:11 to 1:45.
  • The amount that our UUA reimburses districts to support their offices ranges from $23,000 to $78,000 as a result of financial agreements dating back as far as 1982.
  • -- On a "dollars per congregation" basis, the reimbursement ranges from less than $500 to over $1,600.
  • -- On a "dollars per member" basis, the reimbursement ranges from less than $4 to almost $12 per member.
  • While some districts are hiring additional specialized staff, another is requesting a line of credit from our UUA to pay its one staff person.
Next post: what does that have to do with us?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Landlords of the UUA

Fifth in a series of posts about the April 2010 UUA Board meeting

I find most of the Carver style "ends" established by congregations, districts, and the UUA Board (that's me) rather "fluffy" -- who could disagree with "our congregations are intentionally multi-generational and multi-cultural"?

It took me awhile to realize they are supposed to be that high-level -- it is the President/CEO who makes them "real" by coming up with an operational definition that you can touch and feel. It is part of the latitude given to the President -- as long as this definition is "reasonable", it is good to go, even if it wasn't precisely what the Board thought it would be.

That's why I was disappointed in the operational definitions provided to the Board at the last meeting. Saying the ends were too interrelated to interpret separately, the board was given a strategic plan that appears to have little if any foundation in ends. It is not necessarily a bad plan, just one that makes it very difficult for the board to say "yes, we are moving toward these goals, and holding the president accountable to them on behalf of those who are the source of the Board's authority." For example, how exactly does the President operationalize "multi-generational" (a sore point around youth leadership, and the only place where this is addressed in the ends) and what programs is he providing that will insure we get there? The resulting conversation between the board and staff on these issues was pretty direct, and resulted in the president requesting more ongoing collaboration with the Board to get a greater meeting of the minds. The Board appoint three people to do this -- Nancy Barlett from Mid-South, Donna Harrison from the Southwestern Conference, and me.

Is this just about format, or something deeper? Since I often do my best thinking by analogy, I tried it in terms of a landlord/tenant relationship. Assume I have a house you want to rent, and we decide to express the rental relationship in Carver terms. I have certain values in play around the property: insure the value of the property is maintained, the neighbors are not disturbed by the you the renter, and the rent is paid on time. I could make sure all these happen by direct inspection (walk through the house annually, check with the neighbors) but what if that is not an option? What would I need to know from you to be comfortable that my values were not being violated, to insure what I thought was good renter behavior? So we start with operational definitions: rather than me providing a long list of dos and don'ts, you could tell me what you are willing to do to maintain the property value (for example), and I can decide if it is reasonable to me. I may find you are willing to do improvements to the property that never occurred me, that give you better living space and me a more valuable asset.

What would not be acceptable is a list of all the good work you are doing, and not tying it back to my values-based list. I don't need a list of the parties you have thrown, but rather the precautions you have in place to insure they do not get out of hand, and a good word or two thrown in by the neighbors.

There is a paradigm shift between classic staff reporting and Policy Governance modeling reports that can be subtle and exasperating. A classic report gives a litany of all the things that have been done to address a certain issue -- a monitoring report asks "what systems do you have in place to know if what you are doing is working?" We are not monitoring the activities -- we are monitoring the accountability of the President, and how he knows something is or is not working. I am not suggesting this is easy, or that any of us have all the answers. But I do believe it is worth working through to really allow the staff the latitude that comes with the accountability. We need both.

[Please note there will not be any more posts until next week after the Pacific Central District Assembly.]

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Observer

Fourth in a series of posts about the April 2010 UUA Board meeting

I moderate posts to my blog, and other than the daily "spam" about wonder drugs and adventurous women that clog blog comments as much as they do your email, there are very few I do not publish. But clearly my comment about an observer with a "single minded pursuit of justice" hit a nerve. I am not going to publish the comments in response from bloggers who have been his target. I would like to explain why.

This blog is not about his claims, and will not include any judgment from me about their validity. I do not publish his comments unless they are relevant to my posting. If I publish the comments protesting my description, it does not seem fair to ban his inevitable response. It becomes a very long rabbit trail.

The Board typically meets in working groups on Friday -- when "the observer" showed up for the Board meeting, a helpful person directed him to one of those groups, which happened to be the "Excellence in Ministry" Working Group. He attended the meeting, and by all accounts was respectful and relevant to the conversations at hand, as he was at the Saturday and Sunday board meetings. He was accorded the same hospitality as any observer would, including recognition to speak to the Board, which he did concisely and in my opinion with respect and relevance to the topic(s).

Those of us who blog know him as a person who posts inflammatory comments on UU blogs about his treatment by a minister many years ago, condemning most of us (and Unitarian Universalism) with strong words. I have learned to check innocuous comments for hyperlinks to his own pages. Yet I thanked him after the meeting for the dignity he showed throughout the weekend.

What all this brought to mind was the powerful John Murray Distinguished Lecture at General Assembly last summer by the Rev. Nate Walker. Walker is the minister at First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, which was at the center of a storm over the church's rental to a "racist, homophobic, [anti-immigrant], hard core band". Local anti-hate groups and Unitarian Universalists all over the country demanded to know why the church would allow the band in the church. But rather than unilaterally banning them, Walker met with them. After a fascinating discussion detailed in the lecture, the band decided to cancel the show: "You have shown us respect so we’ll respect the church.” Walker goes on to say:

We use our imaginations to picture ourselves in another person’s shoes. We observe how misperceptions are born and how fear is fueled. We imagine the pain that has built up over time with those who have been in conflict for over a decade... Imagine but a simple truth: “hurt people hurt people.” To imagine is to empathize, to sympathize and to understand. And while understanding need not imply agreement, understanding is necessary in order to heal the poison found in a heart bound by fear and to heal the poison found in a mind bound by judgments. The discriminatory mind is healed when we imagine ourselves as the other, which leads me to close by reflecting upon the nature of pride and to pose a final question.

You would need to read Walker's lecture to fully understand his question:

Who do you save from the fire? Everyone. Why? Because we are all worthy of being saved from the fires, even the ones that we helped to create.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Healthy Relationships

Third in a series of posts about the April 2010 UUA Board meeting

What happens when 25 UUA board trustees start making "cold calls" to UUA congregations to ask about healthy relationships between the Board and their congregation?

Well, they are not all "cold calls" -- but the random selection of 100 congregations for this project means many trustees are calling congregations outside of their districts, in addition to the face to face meetings between trustees who know the leaders of the congregations they are meeting with well. We intentionally choose a representative sample of congregations, not members, so half of the congregations we are interviewing have less than 100 members (as do half of the UUA member congregations).

The interviews are not completed, but an early, consistent, and not surprising finding is that most congregations we have talked with feel they have no relationship with the Board, good or bad. When they think "UUA" they think staff. Congregations are appreciating the contact, as are the trustees. The interview process is based on Appreciative Inquiry, which asks people to identify some of the best of the past, so that it can be part of a bridge into the future. We are getting a number of concrete suggestions for how we create a future healthy relationship -- we will be providing a summary at General Assembly, and I will post more here when the interviews are completed.

What I am most struck by though, is how many of the conversations really do end up painting a picture of a UUA with fully engaged congregations achieving things that matter. Asked how she would feel if we really were able to work together to accomplish what had been identified, one interviewee simply said "I would cry".

Next post: The Observer

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Commission on Appraisal Funding

Second in a series of posts about the April 2010 UUA Board Meeting

In the end, the Board restored most (but not all) of the Commission on Appraisal (COA) funding for next year, as well as restoring part of the funding for the Commission on Social Witness (CSW). Because we require a balanced budget, about 40% of it came directly from the Board of Trustees budget, and 60% from the Administration. Before I left for the Board meeting, someone jokingly asked me if the COA wasn’t using their entire budget by attending the Board meeting. Aside from the “which budget year” timing issue, to their credit the Commissioners who came did so on their own dime, wanting to appear scrupulous about how they spend the money entrusted to them.

The COA is one of those committees that does not fall neatly into operational versus policy categories, as their recommendations over the years have fallen into either category. They are specified in our by-laws as an independent body, and are elected by General Assembly delegates. Since the Board is charged with conducting the affairs of the Association between GAs, we decided the funding decision was in fact the Board’s.

More fundamental though is the question of the purpose of the COA. Trustee Susan Ritchie, who teaches history and UU identity at Starr King, gave an excellent history of why the COA was formed in the 1930s, in an atmosphere of mistrust of the American Unitarian Association (AUA) administration, which had its own business meeting, separate from the delegates. There was no place to take issues when the board itself had no independence from the administration. Teed up, but not to resolution, is the question of whether or not there is a need for the commission going forward.

Assuming the existence of a COA, which we do until and if the by-laws are changed, I personally have two question:

1. What is the best way to get input on Commission areas of inquiry? The budget is almost entirely the travel expense of the Commissioners. When asked about electronic versus face-to-face meetings, we were told that face-to-face is necessary because not everyone is comfortable with technology. What is the trade-off between accommodating those who can physically attend a hearing (which I understand is seldom more than 50, and often less), and casting a wider net with those “willing to use technology”?

2. How do we insure that we are not duplicating effort, especially in difficult financial times? My understanding is that the Commission has chosen “ministry” as its focus this year, which topic has current ongoing efforts in the administration, the UUA Board, the Panel on Theological Education, and the UU Ministers Association. Acknowledging that the Commission is independent, to what degree are they willing to collaborate with those already engaged in these efforts?

The COA has played a valuable role throughout the history of the UUA. Its commissioners spend long hours of volunteer time. I am very grateful to the COA for taking on the Article II examination, as they could have said no to this required review. They did not, and in the end the Article II rewrite was defeated, with even some Board members voting against it. This would not feel like a "reward" (or much support, for that matter) for taking on something because the Board asked them to.

Next post: Linkage Update

Saturday, April 24, 2010

April 2010 Overview

First in a series of posts about the April 2010 UUA Board Meeting

The UUA Board is not necessarily one that relishes conflict, but this time it seemed inevitable: there were two topics on the agenda that had the potential for generating a fair amount of it. Three members of the Commission on Appraisal attended in person, with more by phone, to appeal their cut in funding. And three meetings into our monitoring schedule, we appeared to be at an impasse with the President in how we monitored our ends. Add to the mix an observer who is relatively well-known to most UU bloggers for his single-minded desire for justice. These topics, along with information on the UUA Retirement Plan changes, UUA finances, what the board is hearing in its direct conversations with congregations, my own AR/AO/MC journey and other topics will be posted over the next few weeks.

Next post: Commission on Appraisal funding

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ted Koppel, Glenn Beck, and the Little Red Church on the Hill

I love The Interdependent Web, a weekly round up of Unitarian Universalist blog posts by Chris Walton at UU World. It provides a brief description and intro into interesting posts by UUs everywhere -- if you are intrigued, you just click and follow the link to read the entire post.

I recently followed one of these threads to a video by Glenn Beck about President Obama's early childhood experience under the influence of his maternal grandparents, who were members of "the little red church on the hill". It reminded me of a presentation I recently attended by Ted Koppel, whose condemnation of most of today's media was pretty strong (NPR excepted). He encouraged the audience to take the time to read/watch what was going on out there, rather than sit back and blissfully watch only "ours". He made connections to the complacency of Germans in the 1930s, or other societies who just could not believe that anyone took "those idiots" seriously until it was too late. He predicted that Sarah Palin would be a serious presidential candidate, and could win.

As Unitarian Universalists, we are fairly good at not taking our freedoms for granted. And we are not so good at seeing/reading/talking with those we really disagree with, without dismissing what they believe in -- and why.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

April 2010 Board Agenda

Major topics for the April Board meeting include the pre-GA meeting with District boards, a discussion with UUA Director of Communications John Hurley on board communication, the role of committees and task forces in future governance, the President's interpretation of the UUA "Ends", the approval of next year's budget, and learnings from conversations with congregations across the US. The April Board packet can be found here.

As part of our continued effort to be more transparent, and allow more access by more people, parts of the Saturday Board meeting, dealing with the Commission on Appraisal and Commission on Social Witness, will be online. The Board held a highly successful online board meeting in February, with 100% of 49 people who responded to the survey saying that based on that experience, they would do it again. Contact Nancy Lawrence if you would like to participate in the online portion.

A number of Board members have been contacted by advocates of the Commission on Appraisal, asking that we restore their budget, which was cut significantly. These are not isolated cuts, as the COA's budget is mostly travel. Travel is being severely cut throughout the UUA budget, as we are attempting to rely more on access through technology in these very difficult times. Are our congregations better served by face to face or electronic hearings? This also raises questions about role, as the President sets the budget within the constraints given by the Board, and about the ongoing role of many UUA Committees and Task Forces.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Next 50 Years

[Note: I am postponing the post about immigration reform because I do not yet have some material from one of our speakers -- this will happen in late February when I return from an extended time away from email, phones, and civilization.]

In June the Unitarian Universalist Association will celebrate its 50th Anniversary. We essentially have the same governance structure we inherited at merger, where many compromises were made to address issues that are no longer relevant. What should governance look like for the next 50 years?

Last Thursday the UUA Board held their first "virtual" (using Internet and telephone) board meeting, a special meeting called to consider the language crafted for a motion on governance transformation that the board had supported in concept at the San Antonio meeting. A small group of trustees agreed to follow up that meeting with crafting language and supporting materials, getting input from trustees on various drafts before presenting the final version on Thursday.

This motion put the UUA board on record as working with other leaders across our Association to transform governance at the Association, General Assembly, and District levels. Materials for the special meeting can be found here.

Quoting the supporting documentation:

"Over the last forty-nine years, at least five separate task forces have studied governance in our movement. These task forces have all described the same basic condition: our governance is too complex. They have observed that we elect leaders but do not authorize them to do their jobs, that the Board of Trustees is too big to be effective, and that General Assembly is too expensive -- especially when many delegates are not accountable representatives of the congregation's priorities. In short, these task forces have observed systemic brokenness in the governance of our Association. "

The board starts with working with other leadership to significantly reducing its size, inviting other leaders to continue the conversation started with the District Presidents Association on the shift toward regionalization during General Assembly 2010, continuing to hold Board meetings outside of Boston, and insuring we include the voices of traditionally marginalized groups in our discussions.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Immigration Reform

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

She had graduated from high school at 16, and college, with a degree in biology, at 20. Smart, articulate, funny, she had been told by her parents that she had been born in the United States shortly after they immigrated. The parents became naturalized citizens, but by some series of mistakes, she did not -- which was discovered when she applied for a job and could not prove her citizenship.

Now she is being deported -- to a country and people she knows nothing about.

Maria told her story, along with two other people with similar family-wrenching stories, to the UUA Board at an interfaith meeting in San Antonio. These stories are not that uncommon. According to Nina Perales, head of the Southwest Region of the Mexican-America Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), who met with the UUA Board in San Antonio, nearly 13% of the people in the United States were born outside of it -- 43% of that number are naturalized citizens. Of the remaining, the Department of Homeland Security estimates about 11.6 million undocumented immigrants in 2008, of which about 7 million are from Mexico. Undocumented immigrants typically work in the least desirable jobs, such as meat packing, housekeeping, or poultry processing, and are constantly under the threat of being turned in. They do not qualify for educational aid, food stamps, healthcare, or housing subsidies. Because they cannot get a drivers license, in many cases they are forced to break the law just to be able to get to work.

What does this have to do with us? Every time we buy a cut of meat at the grocery store, eat chicken for dinner, eat in a restaurant off a plate washed by an undocumented immigrant, get a recommendation from a friend for cheap labor to do construction or repairs, sleep in a hotel bed made up by an undocumented person, or have such a person cleaning our house or watching our children, we are perpetuating this system. The 11-12 million people working illegally are "propping up the economy, making possible the American way of life" (Nina Perales, presentation to UUA Board, January 15, 2010). I have a "don't ask/don't tell" policy with Emelia and Miguel, who clean my house, and I am ashamed of my role.

Along with the increased attention on immigration has come increased racial violence directed at people who might -- based on appearance -- be undocumented. Nina read a letter she had recently received: "Go back to defending all these criminals, killing, raping, robbing innocent Americans. Fix your own defunct country, we will take care of ours... for hundreds of years, Mexico did not improve their quality of life for their people. You have natural resources, you have oil, an ocean." She is told, in harsh terms, to go back to Mexico, and gets calls for her citizenship to be investigated.

Nina was born in New York of Puerto Rican heritage, and is a life long UU.

Though we typically think of segregation in terms of Jim Crow laws aimed at African Americans, Mexican Americans were not allowed in many restaurants, pools, and schools throughout the Southwest until well into the 1960s and 70s. Even today, as long as "illegal" prefaces the term "immigrant", there appears to be permission to use racist terms. Polls show that Latinos and African Americans both perceive significant discrimination against Latinos, while Anglos do not. Sound familiar?

Gini Courter recently asked the board "given the lead up to the Selma march in the 60s, what would that Board have wished they had done before it happened?"

What will we as Unitarian Universalists wish we had done in the immigration debate?

Only now there is still time.

Why you should care about Article XV

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

Article XV is one of those by-laws sections that is on the surface even more uninteresting than most -- it describes how to amend the by-laws, as well as mandates a periodic review of Article II, our Purpose and Principles.

When our U and U fathers (mothers appeared to be in the background on this) created the merged organization we affectionately call the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, they designated set up a specific process for amending Article II, which makes it somewhat more difficult to change. The procedure to amend the Purpose and Principles includes a) it is a two year process, b) a simple majority the first year will move the suggested changes to the second year, which then c) requires a 2/3 vote. What has given people pause is that d) the proposed changes cannot be amended on the floor of the delegate assembly, even in the first year, but must be accepted or rejected in their entirety.

The 2009 GA delegates rejected the changes, in spite of the fact that there appeared to be energy around some of the suggested changes, just not all of them. What is currently being considered is whether or not to remove the prohibition against amendments from the floor during the first General Assembly consideration.

On the surface this seems reasonable -- a classic "don't through out the baby with the bathwater". What this would do, however, is open up the deliberative and cohesive work of a commission that has ostensibly consulted with hundreds of congregations, to any floor amendment proposed in the heat of the moment. Those of us who have watched this process will want to consider it carefully.

Next post: Immigration

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Remember the Alamo

Third is a series of posts about the UUA January Board Meeting

I do remember the Alamo – both the version I was taught in grade school (lost battle, deaths of many American heroes) and the one that came later about the United States seizing Mexican land. But why did the Americans want the land?

According to the Sunday sermon by President Peter Morales, the answer provides an interesting link between the two largest “minority” groups in the United States: in the early 1800s, Texas was a great place for growing cotton. Cotton was labor intensive, and the cheapest labor was via slaves. As Americans followed their “manifest destiny” by moving west and into Texas (illegal immigrants into Mexico, as Peter points out), they brought slaves with them. One of the problems, however, is that Mexico prohibited slavery. Though this may or may not have been the only reason for the Mexican-American War, I suspect it was significant, as Americans have always been good at economic self-interest.

Unitarian Universalism has a long history with African Americans, as documented beautifully in the book The Arc of the Universe is Long, one of whose authors is the Rev. Leslie Takahashi-Morris from our Mount Diablo congregation. For that reason I should not have been so surprised that our diversity efforts seemed to be mostly black and white. That is obviously changing, helped by the leadership of our current president.

I would hope this is not viewed as a zero sum game -- does more time on Hispanic culture and issues of undocumented immigrants mean less time for the concerns of African Americans? One of the most powerful concepts I have found is that of white privilege (or straight privilege, or able-bodied privilege, or….) which forces me to look in the mirror, rather than check out the color of the person across from me -- and transcends racial and ethnic boundaries.

Next post: Why you should care about Article XV

Monday, January 18, 2010

Revoking the Fifth Principle

Second in a series of posts about the January 2010 UUA Board meeting

At last summer's General Assembly, former UUA Moderator and widely respected Denny Davidoff threatened to introduce a motion to revoke the Fifth Principle if the General Assembly delegates does not pass significant reform of their meeting.


“General assembly” is defined in our by-laws (Article IV, Section C-4) as “[e]ach meeting of the Association for the conduct of business”, which go on to say “General Assemblies shall make overall policy for carrying out the purposes of the Association and shall direct and control its affairs.”

Note that there is nothing here about workshops, exhibits, or meetings of other UU organizations, as these were apparently not envisioned by our Founding UU Fathers. That does not mean these things are not important, or could not meet on any schedule that made sense to the mission of the Association. I have blogged before about my concerns about delegate selection -- since the UUA Board takes direction from the General Assembly, I would like to believe that the majority of delegates there are truly representative of the makeup and views of their congregations. I am even concerned with those congregations with excellent deliberative processes in choosing and informing their delegates, but do not fund the costs of attending. Many issues come to the floor and delegates must often vote their consciences -- if those consciences are mostly white, well-educated, affluent, and over the age of 50, we will perpetuate our own stereotypes.

So what exactly is this Task Force recommending?

True or false? The Fifth Principle Task Force is recommending:

  1. meeting as a national body every other year
  2. reducing from approximately 5000 delegates (of which about 2200 attend) to 2000
  3. subsidizing delegate expense in whole or in part
  4. allowing delegate status for one settled minister per congregation
  5. removing the automatic delegate status from UUA board members

1 and 2 are false. The rest are true.

1 was a trick question. The Fifth Principle Task Force recommends moving General Assembly to every other year, but has no specific recommendations for the other activities normally associated with later-year General Assemblies, other than the potential for a program extension to the General Assembly as an alternative.

And while the 2000 figure shows up in the report, it is clearly meant as an example. I personally think that is still too many delegates, mindful of the comment by Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer, that if the United Church of Christ had the same proportion of delegates to members as what 2000 delegates would be for the UUA, they would have 10,000, rather than their current 925. This issue came up in the context of subsidizing delegate expenses. It is essential to our values that our faith’s delegates are not only those who can afford the time and money to attend. For the record, UCC, the American Episcopalians, American Presbyterians, and Reformed Judaism pay 100% of their delegate costs, but have proportionately and numerically far few delegates.

So here are the actual recommendations:

A. Biennial Delegate Assembly in odd years:

· Content is governance-focused. The Assembly is for delegate teams, UUA Board & Administration.

· 2 ½ days over a weekend in August

· Smaller number of authorized delegates with delegate teams fully or partially subsidized by the UUA

· Settled ministers (one per congregation) part of the delegate teams

· Delegates elected and certified by their congregation or board serve in an accountable relationship with geographically neighboring delegate teams and with UUA trustees

· Some at-large delegates are selected by regions (clusters of districts)

· Teams can include alternate delegates without UUA subsidy

· Non-delegate observers pay a registration fee

· No delegates from associate member organizations or from the UUA Board of Trustees

B. Same as “A” except that the 2 ½ day delegate assembly is immediately preceded or followed by a 2-day program assembly:

· Content of the program assembly similar to current GA programming

· Non-delegate attendees pay registration fee without UUA subsidy

· Delegate’s registration for program assembly is paid by UUA subsidy. Delegate subsidy for room & board covers the delegate assembly only, not the program assembly.

The entire report starts on page 46 of the January Board packet.

Next post: Remember the Alamo

Bienvenidos a San Antonio

First in a series of posts about the January 2010 UUA Board meeting

It’s the first time in recent memory that the UUA Board has ventured outside of Boston for its meetings, other than June’s General Assemblies. San Antonio, 9th largest city in the United States, with 61% Latino/Latina or Hispanic inhabitants, was a conscious choice. At 15% of the US population, Hispanics are now the largest ethnic "minority" in the United States. About a day and a half of the 4 day meeting was devoted to a deeper dive into Hispanic and San Antonio culture, and the complex issues of undocumented immigrants. We spent most of Friday with Julio and Elsa Noboa, faculty members from the University of Texas – El Paso, and Nina Perales, head of the Southwest Regional Office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) (all Unitarian Universalists). Saturday included a meeting with two San Antonio interfaith organizations who were working on comprehensive immigration reform – and the heartbreaking stories of three people impacted by its lack. I will be blogging on these experiences – plus the report of the Fifth Principle Task Force, election proceedings, Excellence in Ministry, monitoring reports, Youth Leadership, Section XV of our by-laws, and the continued reshaping of the governance of our Association – over the next few weeks.

Next post: Revoking the Fifth Principle

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Agenda: January 2010

Second in a series of posts about the January 2010 UUA Board meeting

The January Board Packet, which can be found here, is smaller this time -- and the meeting is shorter. Rather than face to face Finance and Working Group meetings, that normally take an extra day, many of us have been participating in multiple conference calls, that have been effective. The Finance calls have used Persony, a combination desktop display and conference call, that insure we are all looking at the same number(s).

Hot topics for January include our conversations with the DPA and how our two groups might partner, what to do with Article II (Purpose and Principles that were voted down at GA, but there are some that want a resurrection of at least part of it), Youth leadership development at the national level, monitoring reports on Policies 2.6 (benefits for related organizations) and 2.10 (asset protection), and the recommendation from the Fifth Principle Task Force. The last item concerns what General Assemblies might look like if they were focused on governance (per our by-laws), rather than the current "workshop and tradeshow" production that accompanies (and for many people supplants) the plenary sessions, which are ostensibly the purpose of General Assemblies. I am not opposed to workshops and tradeshows -- I understand the power this has for many GA attendees, but as expressed before, have major concerns about the lax nature of how congregations choose their delegates and hold them accountable.

Friday, still in formation, will be a multi-cultural experience. We are also spending most of Saturday with a number of congregations in the San Antonio area, a combination of "linking" (dialogue between boards and their "sources", what Carver calls "moral owners"), social action, and a fiesta.

Una reunión de la Tabla de Fideicomisarios en San Antonio

First in a series about the January 2010 Board of Trustees meeting in San Antonio

Hmm -- I didn't even know I was a "fideicomisario", which sounds like a "commissioner of fidelity", which is not a bad description. Breaking tradition, the UUA Board of Trustees will be meeting outside of 25 Beacon in other than General Assembly.

Why San Antonio? My "guest columnist" for the explanation is Will Saunders, Trustee for the Northern New England District:

There are at least three reasons for this decision. First, as the Trustee from the Southwestern Conference has written, this “is a purposeful move by the Board to visit a city that is on the forefront of demographic trends impacting the whole country…/and/ with a distinctly multi-cultural flavor.” As President Morales has observed, it is critical that the UUA engage directly and respond robustly with these changes if we are to remain relevant in the coming decades. This meeting will include opportunities for the Board to explore multicultural issues in new ways. We are taking our lead from President Morales, once a resident of San Antonio and Donna Harrison, current resident of that city.

A second reason is to challenge widespread notions that the UUA is wedded to Boston. We take seriously the admonition that the past should have a vote, not a veto. We recognize that there is a widespread belief among Unitarian Universalists that all things Boston have too much sway, consciously or sub-consciously, on the life and work of the Association. We are determined to address these issues so that our movement may truly be national in both intent and design. The neighborhood of Boston, once an amusing third party in the Unitarian Universalist trinity, is no longer merely amusing. It is a subtlety which must be addressed. We meet in San Antonio to begin removing the shroud of all things Boston from our deliberations and our work.

A third reason is that, as the Board lives into Policy Governance, we must be intentional about linkage with our congregations. This has proved to be challenging; our initial efforts at linkage have been mixed. We are very much in a learning mode on how to link effectively. Our meeting in San Antonio is part of this effort and we look forward to spending time with leaders of UU congregations in the area. We approach this opportunity for linkage with learners’ mind, with hope and with a desire to be servants of our congregations.

I would like to add one more thought to Will's: one of the reasons for remaining in Boston was the easy access to staff. As the board shifts more towards doing their own (board ) work, and less time reviewing staff reports, it becomes more feasible to have a board meeting with fewer staff present. It doesn't mean we don't appreciate or need their work, but Policy Governance is giving both of us more freedom without losing accountability.

Next post: the agenda