Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Gift of Freedom

by Kathy McGowan, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life staff

Many of us on the Southern Region staff have been doing a great deal of reflecting on freedom recently. Freedom is one of the values that Unitarian Universalists hold dear. I agree that freedom is a wonderful thing. However, I cannot think about freedom without thinking of the responsibility that goes along with it. Once we are given the freedom to think and speak freely, we must hold ourselves accountable for our actions.

The world around us is changing very rapidly. We encounter difference every day. We have the freedom to choose how we are going to respond. What will our actions be? Will we act out of our fears or out of our longing for deep connection?  

We do not need to lose our sense of self when change is happening around us. We can choose to hold on to our identity even when the current culture may seem different from what we have known. If we have a good sense of our own identity, we are able to stand firm when we encounter difference. We also do not have to change others in order for us to be our true selves.

We can encounter change and difference with curiosity and a genuine willingness to learn. Instead of making assumptions about our changing culture, we can ask questions. Instead of assuming that the new ways of doing things are better or worse than the old ways, we can step back and ask questions, listen and observe with open eyes.

Just because we are free to choose to leave a situation does not mean we will. It is up to each of us to commit to what matters. Staying at the table is an important choice to make. Building and growing into relationships takes work.

To stay in relationship when the going gets tough is at the heart of what it means to live in covenant. To remain open and respond in love even when things get uncomfortable is living this wonderful faith. An encounter with change and difference is the most important time to make the mature choice of calling ourselves to more deeply live our covenant.

Before we blame other people or new ways of doing things for the problems we are having, can we look deeply at ourselves? I know we have the ability to find our courage and to give up being right in order to be more effective.

Because we have the gift of freedom, we must make the choice of where to commit our hearts. Even when our hearts are broken, it is our responsibility to honor our commitment. It is this covenant that binds us to a greater purpose.

We are truly better together. 

In covenant,

Kathy

Monday, March 2, 2015

“No one likes change except a wet baby!”


by The Reverend Kenneth Gordon Hurto


In our Leadership Experiences, we teach congregational leaders the dynamics of change. One tool, called “The Roller Coaster of Change” shows how new initiatives begin with excitement for those proposing a change. That excitement immediately runs into system inertia and negative reactivity. Leaders experience a rapid downward sensation as objections and criticism appear. Congregants react to a sinking sensation that something is about to be lost and are unclear about what is to be gained. There is confusion, even anger amidst the anxiety no matter how good the idea is or who offers it.

Like a roller coaster plunge, the de-forming stage of change is scary. Things feel out of control. A point comes at which an idea is dropped or begins to re-form in a new way. If leaders stay calm through the fear, hope returns, better informed by the critical reactivity to lead to a new point of excitement. 

The truly hard part is that leaders and followers are often at different places on the up, down, up cycle. 

Just over four years ago, your District Boards all met to consider a new way of doing our shared ministries and cross-District collaboration. The idea was to spend less time and money on District management and to free up our dedicated volunteers to actually serve congregations. Since then, all four Districts worked together to form the Southern Region, embraced our UUA Ends as our own, and concluded you did not need over 40 people to manage 4. There is now a unified budget and, as of July 1st, all our staff (10 in total) will be fully employees of our UUA, supervised by the UUA Director of Congregational Life. The goal of broader engagement in ministry is envisioned in a new Council of Elders who will work collaboratively with the UUA field staff to increase our capacity of service to the congregations. Additionally, an advisory team will work with the Director of Congregational Life and the Regional Lead to ensure the efficacy of staff services.

This process has been its own roller coaster ride — with all the attendant feelings of excitement, discouragement, confusion, and, occasionally, conflict. Now, your Board leaders are on the upside of hope. The next step rests with the congregations.

This April 18th, delegates to all four District Assemblies will be asked to do away with the governance or business management component of Districts. Delegates will vote on a formal resolution to empower the Boards to “go out of business," and to establish the initial membership of the Elders Council.

Let this be a sincere request that you send delegates to your District’s gathering. They can be fully informed by reading materials sent to each congregation and posted on the Region’s website: http://www.uuasouthernregion.org. An FAQ sheet is posted there as well. You can speak directly with Board Leaders and staff during an up-coming webinar on the plans March 12, 28, or 29. Of course, Board members and the Region’s field staff are also available to hear your concerns or respond to your questions.

It is not true that only babies like change. Those who believe in our future and who feel the urgency of instilling our life-affirming, life-giving values of the free church and liberal religion to a troubled society are eager to change in ways that empower us to do more ministry. Gandhi urged, “Be the change you wish to see in the world!” Come be part of this change. Help us bring more hope, more joy, more justice to the world.

The Reverend Kenneth Gordon Hurto
Southern Region Lead Executive & Congregational Life Staff Member
khurto@uua.org or 239.560.5628

Monday, February 16, 2015

Wholehearted Leadership

Leadership.
Leader.
Chair.
Captain.

Do some of these words make your sweat glands activate, or your mouth go dry? Perhaps they excite you, and make you want to thrust your hand in the air and yell, “Pick me, pick me!"

We have members at all levels of comfort with the term ‘leader’ and we need all levels of participation to make our congregations healthy. I am fond of saying that even if you do not “put on the cape of leadership”, you can still be an influential leader in your congregation. Leading by presence and being, is as important as having a leadership title, if not more so in some cases. Your actions, even when you do not feel like you are leading, can inspire others to leadership. One of the cool, yet sometimes scary, aspects of this is that you might not even know you are doing anything inspirational at that moment! 
Speaking of inspirational leadership, I want to take this opportunity to lift up the members of the four District Boards for their wholehearted leadership. Whether they wear their ‘capes’ or not, they have done an excellent job of guiding our Districts and Region! They have piloted our Region through some serious discussions about how might we further our Faith, and the best way to practice shared ministry in our next phase of being southern Unitarian Universalists.

Our District presidents have been meeting often, sometimes weekly, to discern the next steps for the Districts they serve and the Region as a whole. They have boldly moved us closer to deep, healthy, covenantal relationships, always remembering we are all interconnected and deeply longing for closer connection to our Faith and to one another. They are still hard at work, making preparations for the District Assemblies and facilitating several webinars for those who wish to become more familiar with the governance changes being proposed for a vote at the Assemblies. You can find more info on the webinars and how to register for one of them here: http://www.uuasouthernregion.org. I say a big “Thank You!” to our current and previous District Presidents that have led us where we are now, and continue to encourage our members to widen our circle of connection and possibility just a bit bigger!

This is not to leave any of the other Board members out! All District Board members have actively participated in various task forces to get all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed leading up to the Annual Assemblies and the governance vote. The Elders Taskforce worked in deep relationship to envision what is next for building up lay leaders, how we might bolster neighboring congregations and clusters through the deployment of recognized Elders, and how to best utilize the first of its kind Elders Council in the near future. You can read more on the Elders Model here: http://sruuacomm.blogspot.com/2015/01/everything-youve-always-wanted-to-know.html

The Communications Taskforce has been doing a fabulous job in keeping all our members up to date on the happenings in the Region as it pertains to the movements of the Boards. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with some of the recent news, you can read the blogs from the last few newsletters here: http://sruuacomm.blogspot.com. To these taskforce participants and to all the others, again a hearty “Thank you!” for all that you have done and will continue to do for the District you serve, our Southern Region, and our Faith at large!

I also wish to say a full-hearted “Thank you!” to all of our congregational leaders! Without your caring, forward thinking, and thoughtful action, our Faith would not be what it is. Without all of your tireless efforts, we would not be able to step into a new way of being together with deep covenantal relationships at our foundation. I invite interested members and all of our leaders, whether you wear capes or not, to attend our annual District Assemblies April 17-19. Take part in the bold move to deeper relationship with fellow congregations, the Southern Region, and our Association as a whole. Information on the Assemblies and how to register can be found here: http://www.uuasouthernregion.org/aa2015.html

In Faith and with great Hope for our shared future~

Maggie Lovins

Southern Region Congregational Life Staff

Monday, February 2, 2015

Fortune Favors....

by Connie Goodbread, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff

Change is life - how it differs from the rocks… - Jefferson Airplane

Change is all around us.  In this whirling time and ever changing landscape, it is sometime difficult to find footing.  We know that in change there is loss, and yet we also know that change is pregnant with possibilities.  Knowing how to keep that which is most valuable while letting go of what is no longer useful is an art form.  We know that to grow, we must change.  We know that we are only human and so we will make mistakes along the way.  We also know that we will achieve much if we dare to be bold.  

Fortune favors the bold - Latin proverb.

In 2009 the four District Boards met in Orlando.  They talked deeply of their longings and shared ideas and thoughts.  They talked about a better world in which the values of Unitarian Universalism had more of an impact.  They talked of their faith.  The Orlando Platform was born out of this deep sharing. This was a bold move on the part of our elected leaders.  They have been brave and bold ever since.  

The first step toward regionalization was to become more efficient, identify where the system was redundant, and then reorganize so that work is not duplicated.  The second step was to end co-employment of the District staff and give supervision over the staff to the Director of Congregational Life.  The third was to examine our relationship with our larger Association and re-covenant.  The fourth was to adopt our UUA ends statements.  The fifth was to combine our budgets.  None of this was easy work.  However, it has been accomplished.

Now we find ourselves at the next phase.  Our District board members have done more amazing work.  They are leaders who care deeply about Unitarian Universalism, the congregations, relationships, and how best to grow our faith.  They are leaders who know that growth should not be merely for our glory but rather for all, so that we can be a vital part of affecting and infecting the world with more love, hope, justice, wisdom and joy.  They are leaders who are practicing shared ministry.  They are leaders who are doing their level best to be the servant leaders we need them to be.  They deserve our deepest gratitude and our heartfelt thanks.

I hope you will honor the work and dedication they have put into their service by finding time to attend one of the webinars designed to explain where we are at this moment in our move toward regionalization.  The explanation is clear and concise.  The times of the webinars are varied. Please look for them here on the home-page of our website.

We live in exciting times.  May our lives continue to be blessed with great leaders. May we ever be bold so that fortune favors, or at least smiles, nods, and winks at us.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Just Skate

by Natalie Briscoe, Congregational Life Staff for the Southern Region of the UUA

Roller Derby is a spiritual practice. It has been a few years since I left the sport to take what I liked to call my “Pregnancy Sabbatical,” but I miss playing a sport that was both aggressive and nuanced, that required both physical and mental strength. And I assure you that I never, ever imagined hitting members of my own congregation while I was out on the track. I would never even dream of it. 

One common misconception about Roller Derby is that the sport is all about brute force: going fast and hitting whatever player is in your way. That myth couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are so many rules that teams often have several practices per month dedicated to creating, learning, and practicing new strategies, and skaters must take a yearly rules test that would rival any college exam. A good coach is two parts athlete, one part motivational speaker, one part counselor, and three parts lawyer. The game is played best when you know the details in the rules and can use those rules in, well, let’s just say “creative” ways.  

As you can imagine, teaching these rules and strategies can get quite complicated. I remember so many practices where 100 skaters would be lined up, listening to instructions for a drill. Very often, the explanation was longer than playing the actual drill itself, and many of the skaters often looked around to their teammates with inquisitive looks, wondering what in the world the coaches were talking about. It is very hard to describe in words the actions that are needed.  Our words fail us, and the only way we can get to the other side is by doing. 

My philosophy in times like this was, “Just skate.” Whenever anyone would ask me if I knew what was going on during a drill, I would just say, “Nope, I haven’t got a clue. I’m just going to skate.” 

During these times, it was an act of loving trust to “just skate.” I trusted my coaches to lead me through the drill. I trusted my teammates to support me. I trusted in my own knowledge of the game and my own abilities. I trusted that I wouldn’t be laughed at if I failed.  

There is a time for thinking, for listening, for planning – and then there is a time to skate. 

Even though I don’t play roller derby anymore, I still tell myself to “just skate” all the time. There are so many times in church work when I am unsure of the path. It is in those times that I have to trust myself, my faith, and my fellow pilgrims and head forward into the unknown. We may not know what is going on with the world today, in its sad state, but we know we have to keep moving forward. We may not know what is in store for our congregations, for our clusters, or for our region, but we have to live into these new relationships and our new way of being with trust and good will. As our words fail us, may we gain clarity through action. And as we begin this new year in abundant love and gratitude, I will keep saying, “Just skate.” 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Got Vision?

by the Rev. Susan Smith

Once again I ask myself, “What did I come in here for?” (Or on my more grammatically correct days, “For what did I come in here?”) Probably you’ve had these so-called Senior Moments, too. Research suggests that most people do not have more of them when we age; we simply dwell on them more. We know we had a plan and a purpose when we headed into this room, down this aisle or toward this closet – probably a good one – but the thread is lost. Often I find myself doing something else altogether -- sometimes for a long time -- before I recall that I was on my way to accomplish something entirely different and much more important.

When I do this, there aren’t many serious consequences. When your congregation does it, the just and loving community that we are striving to create may be in jeopardy. A significant source of conflict and malaise in congregations is this loss of where we were going, what we were going to do when we got there and why. It can cause the wrong people to get elected to office or appointed to taskforces. It can be the source of our inability to pay for the new facility that we just built. It can generate those parking lot meetings about how the current minister/director of faith development/music director cannot take the congregation “to the next level.” When the thread is lost in a group enterprise, something in our human nature causes us to spend more time looking for the reason we lost it than trying to reclaim the thread itself.

When a congregational leader calls me for help, I always begin with the same request: “Send me a copy of your current long-range plan.” Usually they respond in one of these ways:
  • We had a long-range plan about 10 years ago, but it’s expired;
  • We did that mission/vision work with that facilitator 3 years ago, but I don’t know what became of all that; or
  • I don’t think we have a long-range plan.
If it’s my lucky day and we can locate a long-range plan (which should be the end result of community studies, visioning and research), it will usually be expired with no final evaluation of progress much less a successor plan in the works. Whatever you might think is the cause of your current congregational problem, I assure you that this lack of agreement about where you are going and why is that illusive first cause. 

When a congregation cannot envision the compelling and life-saving work that it must do right now for the community around it and the world at large, no one can lead it. Over-functioning eldest children like me will jump into the vacuum and try to drag the congregation in one direction or another. Occasionally, more than one of us tug it between us with such force and carelessness that it ends up in tatters. It is hard to repair tatters, I can tell you, and the result is never really whole again.

When a congregation has a plan that is only made up of building projects or governance changes or staff additions without knowing of what use these things will be to what great purpose, the effort of time, treasure and talent is largely wasted. “The earth made fair and all her people one” is not too high a bar to set. Neither is no poverty in our town or 100% graduation rates or the rebirth of the part of the planet in our care. Without this purpose, we quickly grow disenchanted with the new building, new committee configuration or new minister. We can even believe that our personal happiness with everything was the original purpose, and that is much too low a bar for the blood, sweat and tears of generations when the need is so great and the stakes are so high.

If you are a congregational leader who does not know where your congregation as a body has chosen to go and what is to be transformed when they have finally arrived there, your first job is to lead the congregation in developing a vision and the plan to get there. If you head a taskforce but you do not know what role in the master plan your taskforce plays, your job is to get clear about this and lead your team accordingly. If you know that your congregation had a five-year plan five years ago or if your congregation has not done significant visioning since your were last in search for a minister, you must urge your leaders to refresh this vision and relight that chalice of inspiration and determination which can make all things possible. 

Your entire regional staff will be meeting January 6-10 to refresh this work for ourselves. Please hold us in your thoughts and prayers as we meet. Surely one of our goals will be that the great congregations large and small of the Southern Region will dream a big enough dream to transform this world as well as the human heart and that we staff members can serve our faith alongside you to make these dreams come true.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Long Night

by the Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life staff

A few years back, I dropped cable television service and haven't gone to the trouble to figure out non-cable television options. For that reason, I sometimes miss the visuals that make it into our national news cycle.

I hadn't seen the video of Eric Garner's killing until of the day of the grand jury decision not to indict his killer, police officer Daniel Pantaleo. My Facebook feed filled up with reactions from friends and acquaintances near and far. I watched in utter horror at the sight of a completely non-combative man being surrounded by police and choked to death on a city street in broad daylight.

What could be more terrifying than being attacked by the very people one should be able to call for protection from such violence? And then to know that there would be no deeper investigation as to how such a thing could happen?

I couldn't think. Unlike Eric, I could breathe, but the air around me seemed very thin. And I could feel: my heart racing, my throat going dry, the tears spilling onto my cheeks. I couldn't write, but I shared a picture of myself from those moments on Facebook, as I changed my cover photo to one of Eric just before he was wrestled to the sidewalk, in the last seconds of his life.

As my ministerial colleagues have written and preached, I have struggled to find words to compose that capture even a fraction of what I feel. This is my first attempt.

Like Eric, I have literally been in the cross-hairs of the police, my life at risk simply because I was a black man at the wrong place at the wrong time. One night in the late 1980s, as I was waiting for a bus on Georgia Avenue in Washington, DC, a car pulled up toward me slowly. The next think I knew, the lights of the car were shining on me, and a police was leaning out of the car with a firearm pointed at me. "Get your hands up, mother-f**ker!" he shouted. I did as I was told. In moments, I was surrounded by police cars.

One of the officers pushed me onto the trunk of one of the cars. I was frisked and searched. I was asked what I was doing, why I was standing there. I told them the truth: I had just gotten out of church choir rehearsal and was trying to get home. The searched my coin purse, presumably for drugs. After they were done, I asked why they had chosen me. One of the officers said that they were looking for someone in a black jacket and blue jeans who was carrying a concealed weapon. When one car rear-ended another and fled on the opposite side of the street, they all sped away in pursuit.

I cried that night too ... Grateful to still be alive, that I hadn't made a false move, and that the cops had not been trigger-happy.

After the non-indictment in the Michael Brown case, I wondered what an appropriate response would be, one that might make a difference. I'm unsure of the efficacy of tactics used in the past. I understand boycotts and public protests, but I wonder if those of us today have the fortitude of the Montgomery bus boycotters, who forewent public transport for a year until their demands for equality were met. While I appreciate the commitment to keep these urgent concerns in the public eye, I have difficulty seeing what it will matter over the long-term.

I do believe that younger generations -- as Dr. King and his contemporaries were in the 50s and 60s -- hold keys to progress and need to be empowered by those of us who are older to lead. And I do believe that, as during the civil rights era, change will come as a result of the persistent efforts of courageous people working over a variety of fronts over time. I believe in the power of partnership and relationship -- as we say in one of our mottoes for the Southern Region, "We are better together."

With that in mind, I am co-facilitating a Region-wide conversation with Elandria Williams, a member of the Education Team of the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee. It was there that Rosa Parks received her training before becoming the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Elandria is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist and a passionate activist. I am grateful to have her as a colleague in justice work.

Directions for joining that conversation will be posted in the next Southern Region newsletter, and on the Southern Region Facebook page. We look forward to being on that call with you.

Also, in conjunction with our congregations in East Tennessee, I will lead a weekend workshop on Marshall Rosenberg's approach to Nonviolent Communication, also known as Compassionate Communication, January 30-31. I believe that compassion for all people is going to make a difference in this present confusion. You can learn more and register for that event by clicking here.

My prayer is that love will guide us through this long, hard night in our nation's history. May we be willing to be saviors to each other, now and always.

God bless us, every one.

Carlton

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tradition and Change

by Kathy McGowan, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff

My Christmas tree is up and decorated. The trimming of the tree has always been a part of my culture. I grew up in the Midwest in a house with high ceilings and expansive rooms, so we always had a very big tree. Another tradition started with my relationship with my husband: putting the tree up on Thanksgiving weekend. He traveled a great deal in December for work and we also traveled back to the Midwest to visit both of our families, so if we wanted to be able to enjoy the tree, we needed to put it up early. We would put it up on Friday, let the branches fall out, then, on Saturday, put the lights on in anticipation of a few guests joining us that evening for the “trimming.”

Revisiting this tradition every year reminds me how much of the tradition stays the same, and how much I have changed. Our ceilings are lower, our rooms are smaller, and the kids are no longer here to add their touch, but we still get the largest one we can, and it still goes up on the holiday weekend.

The beauty of the ornaments and the overall effect of the tree used to be so important to me. Now, what resonates is the story that my tree tells. The new ornaments I added this year are from the new places I have visited this fall: The Blue Ridge Parkway and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. In addition to these two, the ornaments that took the front spot this year are the ones that represent the people of my life. They were given to us or placed on the tree at one of our tree trimming parties. I relive memories from the past with every one I hang.

I think it appropriate that these are at the center of the tree, as relationships are at the center of this faith that I love so dearly. While it is true that this time of year evokes a flood of memories of the past, it is only the present that is truly before us. For now is the time that needs our attention.

It is easy to say that relationships are important to us, but they need tending. I need to pay attention and give care to my current relationships in order for them to thrive. This is often not easy to do, as they take time, and I must often put my own desires aside in order to be truly present to others. One of the biggest gifts we can give to one another is listening. We so often listen with only half our attention as we are thinking about what our response will be…so, therefore, we are only partially listening.

Lynne Baab, author of “The Power of Listening” says that “healthy congregations are comprised of people who listen well.” I could not agree more. This care toward listening shows up in all sorts of places from one-with-one conversations and committee meetings to larger conversations. A congregation that understands the value of listening will invest dearly in “the process.” A good process for discernment and exploration is critical to navigating change.

I believe that if we can listen deeply with open hearts and minds, we have a good chance of making the world a better place. In order to do that, we have to be willing to have our hearts and minds changed. Some of us took so long to figure out what we believe that it is a scary prospect to be willing to give up some of those beliefs. But how else can we be in deep relationship with those who are different than us?

Our world is quickly becoming smaller and more diverse. In the Information Age, we can be in relationships all around the globe. We need to adapt to this constantly changing world. I cannot write here without acknowledging the pain of our sisters, brothers, and cousins across this nation in the wake of the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri. What will it take for us as a nation to truly listen to one another? How can we let our assumptions be questioned without becoming defensive? Can we risk being wrong? Can we let ourselves be vulnerable in order to learn how to appreciate each other? Can we let go of what makes us comfortable in order for us all to benefit? Are we willing to sacrifice something of ourselves so that others may live a life in more humane conditions? Can we ask our best selves to come forward to live into this faith where we put relationships at the center, even if there are no guarantees what the future will look like?

We humans long for deep connection. We must tend to these connections. The tree in my living room is smaller than the trees of the past but it represents my journey from my past to my present. I do not know what the future will bring, but I will hold onto my my values, my relationships, my truth, if you will. I will hold on loosely, for I will have to let go of some things, and make room for others. That is the complexity of this wondrous life.

I wish you all blessings during this time of memories and hope.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Talking about Democracy in our Congregations

by Maggie Lovins, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life staff

With the current election cycle coming to a close, the divisiveness in our nation’s politics, and gridlock in Washington, talk of democracy is everywhere. It has been a topic of conversation in the news, social media, and in our congregations, as well. I have conversations with our congregational leaders quite often about what it means to be a representative democracy. I am often asked how the Fifth Principle, “The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large,” applies to congregational life. To have a voice and be heard, to feel a part of the decision making process, and to have a vote in our church home are key components of our polity for sure, but what that really means can be fuzzy around the edges. Sometimes we forget to apply relationship to the equation. Our Principles are not "siloed" statements; they are meant to go hand in hand, much like nesting bowls. They build upon one another, and should not be selected individually to suit our agenda of the day, or we can miss the beauty, depth and meaning in the full message.

Our congregational polity states that our congregations are self-governing and set their own bylaws, policies and procedures, but there are always questions and struggles around board authority and decision-making.  So tell me if you have heard something like this, “Well, I didn’t vote on that! Who made that decision?” or “Who gave them the authority to make that decision?” I bet most of you have heard that in your congregations about one thing or another. Sometimes it’s a really small thing like rearranging the chairs of the sanctuary or changing the brand of coffee being served, something slightly bigger like changing the color of a wall, or maybe even a big thing like professional ministry or a second service. No matter what the issue is, I’m willing to gamble that you have uttered or heard some combination of those words. Queries like those beg the question---where is the relationship in statements like that? Where is the trust that we are all serving our congregation's mission and moving toward the building up of beloved community?

I often see leaders try to ‘fix’ an adaptive relational issue with a technical solution, AKA a vote. Voting around an adaptive issue only polarizes the situation. If you have 50% that wants to paint the fellowship hall yellow, and 50% that wants it painted blue and you put it to a vote, what do you think will happen? Maybe by some strange happenstance you get a winner by a vote or two, but there will still be many members with very hurt feelings who are left feeling unheard. Yes, you might have a resolution, but no relationship. As I am known to repeat often, it’s all about our relationships! How will you reestablish communication between those two groups? How could this issue have been rectified before coming to this division of people who love each other? A few conversations around why the yellow paint people are so passionate about their choice of color might have been a good start. And what about the blue paint people? Why are they so passionate about their choice of color? There is a chance that the blue walls might make the yellow paint people feel closed in. Or maybe the yellow walls cause a glare that hurt the blue paint people’s eyes with the florescent lights in the room. I’m willing to bet there is a solution here that doesn’t involve a vote! Changing out the light bulbs to a softer tone might help the blue paint people adjust their eyes better to the yellow walls, or changing the shade of blue would make the room feel bigger to the yellow paint people. You will never know that if all you do is put it to a vote.

We are the people of democracy, but a representative democracy, which means we must have faith in and trust those who we vote into our church leadership to represent the whole of the membership. This is especially hard when we are so very discouraged by what our leaders are, or are not, doing on the national stage. Serving your congregation is hard work; I thank you for giving of your time and talent! For those courageous enough to step up to the call of service the least we can do is empower them to do the job we have elected them to do---lead us to the betterment of our congregational mission. You cannot vote a relationship in to being; you can only work on it a piece at a time, day by day. This is what it is to be in covenantal relationship.

Theodore Parker said, ‘Democracy means not “I am as good as you are,” but “You are as good as I am.” I would like us all to remember our leaders come from a place of congregational greatest good. Our leaders want the greatest good for their members and for our faith just like we do. Why else would they serve? If you don’t feel that your leaders are moving your congregation in that direction then there is always the next election cycle to voice your opinion via your vote. Democracy and voting cannot ‘fix’ a relational issue; only genuine conversation and deep listening can heal a divide and find a way forward.

Please don’t beat up your leaders with the Fifth Principle, or use it as a bullying stick! Instead, support the greatest Faith we can imagine by supporting and empowering your elected leaders to lead you and your congregation in to the next phase of being. And to our leaders---lead us! If you are working for the greatest good of the mission, you have nothing to fear. Be bold, and lead us in to the next stage of building the beloved community!

With Gratitude and Appreciation,
Maggie Lovins

Monday, November 3, 2014

Commentary


by The Reverend Kenneth Gordon Hurto, Southern Region Lead Executive

“Revelation is not sealed;…Truth and right are still revealed”
Light of Ages and of Nations by Samuel Longfellow, 1860

“New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;   
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth.”
The Present Crisis by James Russell Lowell, 1845

These two poems are part of our musical tradition. They appeared at a time when the nation was needing to face the tyranny of slavery and envision a new America, a land where all would be free.

About that time, another Unitarian, Emerson, wrote in his essay Nature, “the sun shines today also.” He was concerned with “hand-me-down” religion. In that same vein, another Unitarian Transcendentalist, Theodore Parker preached eloquently distinguishing between the “Transient & Permanent” in religion, arguing how we live is the true test of any religion. Together, they argued that we not become captive to out-dated ideas and forms, but keep always open to new possibility.

“Revelation is not sealed” is the 1st of the Smooth Stones characterizing the Free Church. This is true for you and me personally. We are souls-growing, ever maturing in our understanding of what truly matters.

Likewise for institutions. If our forms and procedures are not to calcify into the seven last words of a dying institution (“we have always done it this way”), we need to embrace change in all its opportunity and its anxiety and confusion.

Change is certainly afoot around our UUA and in the four Districts of the Southern Region. New occasions certainly do teach new duties. Over the next few months, our District Boards will offer recommendations for restructuring how we do our work together in the Southern Region. Congregational representatives will decide on those ideas at concurrent Annual Assemblies of the Districts to be held the third weekend in April, 2015 (17th to 19th) in Greensboro, NC, Montgomery, AL, New Orleans, LA and Orlando, FL. The Reverend Jeanne Pupke, senior minister of the 1st Unitarian Universalist Church in Richmond, VA, and former UUA Trustee, will be our keynote speaker.

Some background:

Our District Leaders have been working carefully since the adoption of the “Orlando Platform” in December, 2010. This document put into words a heartfelt desire — after nearly 50 years since the UUA’s founding — to rethink how District ministries with congregations could make better use of our resources and tap the creative love of our volunteers for growing our faith.

Since then, there have been many institutional and management changes:

  • The Boards have consolidated all programmatic and financial operations into one Southern Region. Each Board has been reduced from as many as 14 members to 5. The four Presidents, along with the Regional Lead, serve as an executive committee for the Region.
  • The professional field staff are now fully UUA employees, supervised and accountable to the Director of Congregational Life and the UUA Ends. We hope this year to include our three administrative staff as UUA employees, as well.
  • Economies of scale have allowed us to add one full time professional consultant, providing now seven people to serve our congregational leaders.
  • Separate “dues” payments to each District and the UUA Annual Program Fund (APF) assessment have been unified into GIFT (Generously Investing for Tomorrow). This single “Ask” is based on a more equitable percentage of congregational expenditures (in contrast to the traditional “head tax” of per member dues).
  • There have been countless dotting of “i’s” and crossing of “t’s” to re-vision the shared work. Among the most important has been designing a way to empower the gifts of our lay volunteers. The Boards envision a ministry of relationships, led by an “Elder Council.” This group of volunteers will work with the professional staff going forward to increase our capacity to link congregations together in new “cluster” formations and direct service to unique leadership development concerns.

The emphasis of all these changes has been to become more robust in our service delivery to congregations, more nimble and adaptable to a rapidly changing cultural context, to grow our faith by doing more ministry while stepping out of governing four small business enterprises.

The Boards’ Communication Task Force will keep you apprised of the next steps. They and the staff all recognize change can be confusing, sometimes disconcerting. We eagerly seek your input and are committed to being fully transparent.  It is a high priority to ensure our democratic process is honored and intact — indeed, we plan to expand that by utilizing remote voting procedures at the Annual Assemblies.

The theme for the Annual Assemblies is “We Are Building a New Way.” This is taken from the popular new hymn of similar name (#1017 in Singing the Journey). Indeed, we are — so much so that I often say we are creating something we’ve not ever seen before, an expansive, inter-twined, inter-connected set of ministries linking Unitarian Universalists across the Region as never before.

As with any change, I know some fear losing what’s familiar (the current system of District governance) to a vague promise of what might be. Thus, we need to remind ourselves of a few things: to assume good intentions, that we are truly stronger together than apart, that we share a common aspiration to see love and justice grow, that we want our congregations and ministries to be effective as never before. To embrace the changes involved in that requires creativity, to be sure, but trust and courage as well. So, I invite you …

Come, build a new way … free of hate and greed, that feeds our every need, and cultivate peace and freedom. May it be so. May we be so. Blessings, Kenn