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?

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