Saturday, November 5, 2011

Current and future generations

Seventh in a series of posts about the October UUA board meeting

The Steering Committe of the organization-formerly-known-as-Continental-Unitarian-Universalist-Young-Adult-Network met in Boston at the same time as the board. Several of us joined them at lunch to talk about the future of their organization and the UUA. The timing was interesting -- the board had just had its conversation about the scope of the organization.

I have heard both dismissive and earnest comments about Young Adults whose congregations are the conferences they attend -- dismissive by those who think you have to sign a book and show up religiously on Sundays, earnest by those who think we need a much broader definition of what it means to be in covenant. Not surprising, the Young Adults we met with were in the latter camp, talking eloquently of what it meant in their lives to be Unitarian Universalist. Many of them were also active in their home congregations, but not all. Rather than attempt to convince anyone that Young Adult "cons" did not compete with traditional congregations, this group embraced it, renaming themselves "Conference Attending Young Adult Network" (CAYAN, pronounced like the pepper).

A 1960 Harvard Business Review article by Ted Levitt about organizations defining themselves too narrowly (is our business about railroads or about transportation?) comes to mind when we talk about congregations. I personally do not think one can be a Unitarian Universalist in isolation -- for one thing, it is too easy, especially for someone who may define Unitarian Universalism as believing whatever you want. That said, is the only option signing the book in a congregation, whether bricks and mortar or a sanctioned virtual one like the Church of the Larger Fellowship?

Paraphrasing Ted Levitt, is our mission about congregations, or is it about covenant? I welcome our Youth and Young Adults to help the rest of us figure that out.

Our covenant

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

My board orientation in 2007 included getting a copy of the Board covenant in our binder. Somewhat put off by what appeared to be a cavalier attitude toward covenants, we six newly elected trustees complained.

In typical fashion, Moderator Gini Courter gave us the opportunity to readdress the covenant in the next board meeting, which we did. This included a survey that showed differences in how we perceived our adherence to the covenant, depending on whether or not you were a Person of Color, young, or new. Not much has been done by the Board with the covenant since, in spite of adding several new trustees.

Until this board meeting. In addition to creating a covenant, from scratch, we agreed to start each board meeting by reading it together. I am copying it below in its exact form, though we did agree we needed to clarify our intent about the bridges:

We promise to:
....listen deeply, speak boldly and keep an open mind, balancing views of self and others authentically humble, prepared and present and focus on governance as the board's essential role, while taking the long view, and maintaining accountability for anti-racism/anti-oppression/multi-culturalism
....have respect and affection for each other, assuming the best of intentions and honest needs
and building new bridges and bridges that are broken
....remember our sources and whose we are, giving space for faith

....learn and grow, practice self-care, laugh and sing!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupy Boston

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

Knowing I spent years as a senior corporate executive, a friend asked me last night how I felt about the Occupy movements.

I support them. I may cringe sometimes at what I perceive as naivete - a lot of good things are enabled by corporations' abilities to raise and invest money, leaving me decidedly NOT anti-corporation. But I am anti-what-many-corporation-have-become, where the profit motive has outstripped psychological, ethical, and moral contracts.

So there I was with the rest of the UUA Board, wandering between tents, stages, and humanity at Dewey Square. Some of us (trustees) washed dishes in the mess tent, some of us held signs, and others talked to the people who had been there for several weeks. This includes Andy Coates, one of the UU "protest chaplains" who can't do a lot of blogging without wi-fi right now. Among the crowd I encountered Katherine Allen, the young woman from Minneapolis I sponsored at General Assembly last summer; Lucas Hergert, who serves our Livermore (CA) congregation; and a long time (non UU) friend from Boston.

The mood was festive, peaceful; a drumming circle at one end; Marshall Ganz and Noam Chomsky at the other. Ganz encouraged the crowd not to give in to the calls for organization, clear goals, and clear leaders. He cited the story of David and Goliath: David tried on the armor of a "traditional" warrior, and it didn't fit; he went on to fight (and win) his own way. Food was free, clothes were free.

Otto Scharmer, on the faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, likens the current corporate system to a cancer -- it has grown out of control, and its primary goal in life is to feed itself, not caring if it is destroying the system around it. His proposals around Capitalism 3.0 are interesting, as is his work with some of the more enlightened corporate CEOs.

Like Scharmer, I am not quite ready to give up on capitalism. So in my next life I may become a corporate healer. In the meantime, Occupy community members are making some very important points about income disparity an a system stacked against the 99%.

Governance: turnng a corner?

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

I doubt it is any secret that the transition to Policy Governance® has been a somewhat rocky one for the UUA. Part paradigm change, part culture shift, and part stand-in for other issues, the board (including me) and the staff have managed to talk past each other quite successfully.

This meeting was different. According to Carver, monitoring reports are mostly part of a consent agenda – unless there are issues, you really don’t need to talk about them.

This time we didn’t need to talk about them. It was the second year for most of them, the staff used a format that was easy to understand and evaluate, and there really weren’t any issues other than a lower than acceptable number of trustees doing the evaluations. So we addressed the latter in a constructive way that will help us as trustees to be more compliant.

I went from the UUA Board to one the following week I just joined that is not under Policy Governance. It is a well run, sophisticated organization with a member database to die for. We (happily) met for two days from 8 to 5, which tells you it is a very different board from the UUA Board.

What really stood out for me in terms of this board’s financial reporting were the very detailed reports on investments and audit statements that had the familiar glazed look from most of the board members – these are smart people with strong backgrounds, including finance and business, but it struck me that what we really wanted to know about our new investment manager did not require a long presentation. Few of us have the experience to judge the wisdom of post initial hedge fund tenders, the 20 year median OAS, or the OECD CLI. We didn’t even get the headline “Twisting in the Wind” joke referencing the Fed’s Operation Twist (I wonder if they were taking bets on that?) What we really wanted to know was who are these people and how do we know we can trust them with our money?

That is at the heart of Carver’s philosophy – non-profit boards are typically not financial wizards and shouldn’t have to be, fiduciary responsibility not withstanding. So how does management know their records and decisions are sound? What proof do they have of that? This is a very different approach from showing board members all the data and expecting them to figure it out.

A big thanks to the UUA staff for answering the right questions.

Next post: UUA Board at Occupy Boston

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Who are we? Part II: the Association

Third in a series of posts from the October UUA Board meeting

As discussed in earlier posts, the Board and UUA President are sponsoring Gathered Here, an Association-wide inquiry into what connects us to our faith, and what differences we want to make in the world. This is in partnership with a growing list of UU organizations. There are two simultaneous paths for the inquiry – one for congregations that helps them identify their own goals and outcomes, and one that builds up to districts and an Association-wide shared vision roughly a year from now.

An interesting thing happened in the very first planning team meeting for Gathered Here last February.

Gathered Here is a combination of congregational and community events and one on one Appreciative Inquiry interviews. One of the commitments from the UUA Board is that these interviews would include more than those “typically at the table” but also the “historically marginalized”. This led to a conversation about Young Adults, mostly raised UU, who still identify as Unitarian Universalists but do not belong to a congregation. Would we include them?

The answer was yes. To some degree this flies in the face of the UUA Board’s strong position that we are an “Association of Congregations” (italics mine), though the by-laws proposal from the board last summer opens the potential for congregations to be other than bricks and mortar “fellowship” and “churches”. When we look forward to what Unitarian Universalism is/shall be for our children’s children, is that enough? Is an “association of congregations” more than the sum of its parts? Are we a “movement”? Are there institutions other than our congregations that are or should be in mutual accountability within that “movement”?

There questions form the basis of a year long conversation with our congregations and other key stakeholders about who we are, starting with the District Presidents Association on November 4. What comes out of these conversations will impact how we define Unitarian Universalism.

Next post: Governance: turning a corner?