Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hearing Voices

Second in a series of posts about the April UUA board meeting

Last January the Board drafted a set of outcomes for the Association – what results do we want to produce, and for whose benefit?  In partnership with the District Presidents Association, we have received feedback from more than 1000 Unitarian Universalists.  You can see the draft here.

More than 150 of these voices were called and elected leadership of congregations chosen by the district boards because they were superb examples of the values of Unitarian Universalism.  These were rich interviews conducted by our district partners.  Over 100 called and elected congregation leaders responded by survey.  About 200 were drawn from our Current and Future Generations – Youth, Young Adults, Children (through proxy with Liberal Religious Educators), and people who identify and Unitarian Universalist but are not currently members. These were done through both focus groups and survey.  Interviews and surveys were also done with a little over 200 people from those  representing our Vision of Beloved Community.  A number of historians and the writings of key historical figures were consulted.  In addition to the roughly 600 people who represented our Sources of Authority and Accountability, we had nearly 400 individual UUs who responded via survey. 

What did we hear?  A lot.  A quote that typifies the overall reaction to the draft came from one of our selected congregations in response to the question “To what degree does this reflect the values of your congregation?”  Though 94% of them said it “strongly” or “mostly”, one congregation also said:  “As a matter of substance, yes.  As a matter of style, not so much.”

Some of the feedback was more about language than concept, but a significant number also addressed the latter.   For example, a description of congregations as “intentionally inclusive, multi-generational and multi-cultural in powerful mission to, and with, under-served and un-served communities” was taken to task for the patriarchal tone of “servicing” communities rather than being in partnership with them, as well as raising polity concerns about the UUA describing the mission of a congregation. The concept of “covenanted communities” raised both plaudits and concerns (described as “bubble-speak” by one), and while many liked the clear specificity of language around net increases of congregations, people served, and inspired leadership, others groaned “it is SOOO not about growth. Growth is an unavoidable outcome of doing covenanted community well.”

In response to this feedback, trustees have started rewriting some of these statements.  The DPA/UUA Joint Task Force on Linkage, which has been collecting and analyzing the feedback, will be making suggestions to the board in an iterative process over the next month.  The intent is still to have a final draft for the board to approve in its pre-General Assembly meeting in June.  This then becomes the guidance for the Administration, which has been a key part of creating and revising these statements.   

Monday, April 22, 2013


First in a series of posts about the April 2013 UUA Board Meeting

Last Monday’s twin blasts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon were just the beginning of a surreal UUA Board meeting.  Most of us arrived Wednesday evening, as the police were still combing through photos with no one claiming credit for the violence. I took the subway, less crowded than usual, but with lots of MBTA officials standing at every subway door, national guard and police readily apparent.  As I hauled my suitcase across the Common to Beacon Hill, a young man’s voice right behind me offered to carry the suitcase up the stairs.  It was the first offer of help in carrying luggage since I started coming to board meetings (and using the subway) six years ago.

Meetings continued on Thursday, but several people were unable to get into them because the transit system was shut down.  The events that started Thursday evening and essentially led to Boston and the surrounding suburbs on “lock down” most of Friday were even more surreal.  Financial Advisor Dan Brody, unable to leave his home in Newton, described the eerie quiet of his neighborhood as “an invisible snow storm”.  I had made it down to Starbucks early that morning– there was an unusual comraderie in the half full coffee shop.   It was shut down by the police right after I left. 

Most of us trooped quickly the half block from Pickett and Elliot, the UUA’s inn located behind the headquarters, into 25 Beacon – and stayed there all day.  It appeared no one was actually being prohibited from being outside – but everything was closed, and we saw mostly police and heard mostly sirens and helicopters.   

When the “shelter in place” was lifted, Kathy Burek (District Presidents Association President) and I walked down as close as we could get to the blast site (2 blocks away from it) where I took the this photo of the impromptu memorial – sacred space so close to tragedy.  The cross for the Chinese national (was she Christian?) was tastefully draped with a Chinese flag. 

That night the Common was filled with people.  People were lining up to shake hands and get their photos taken with the police officers there.  What you perceived was a product of your experiences.  Was it a group of mostly young men celebrating deliverance by chanting sports slogans?  Or was it a drunken mob that could have easily exploded in violence, targeting someone with the “wrong” head gear or facial features?  

Being with a group of Unitarian Universalist lay leaders and ministers was not a bad place to be this week.  We shared a lot of tears, poetry and prayer – including this beautiful one from Sue Phillips, District Executive for Massachusetts Bay District, at a vigil last Tuesday night, created as a video by Jessica Ferguson.