by The Reverend Kenneth Gordon Hurto
Congregational Life Consultant, Southern Region UUA
Most congregation members have modest interest in how our larger Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations or the Southern Region or Districts work. That's quite understandable; ministry begins at home.
Yet, you might be interested to know that later this month, the Board members of all four Southern Region UUA Districts (Florida, Mid-South, Southeast & Southwest) and the Congregational Life field staff will meet for a "next step" meeting at which we build on the remarkable break-through of a similar meeting that took place 2 1/2 years ago in Orlando. That meeting, echoing our history, promulgated a Platform (found here: http://www.uuasouthernregion.org/resources/orlandoplatform.html) that called for a broadening of collaboration among congregations and the Districts.
Your Boards and Congregational Life field staff took a leap of faith that, by working collaboratively, these four Districts would create something genuinely new to better serve our people, our congregations, our times. Since then, we've been working diligently, learning as we go, to implement a cross-district ministry. We've consolidated budgets and office operations for greater efficiency; we've added staff and established a roster of field staff "1st go-to" assignments (look for this on the Regional website very soon). With a common communications network, we are more agile in our responed to urgent needs (the Regional appeal for last spring's tornado relief in Oklahoma raised more than $70,000!) as well as more accessible for any given congregation. Nonetheless, it's time to take stock.
The core idea of the Orlando Platform draws on our founding document, the 1648 Cambridge Platform of congregational governance and discipline. That document gave us our understanding that congregations were where ministry takes place and that each congregation is free to do its work autonomously. The self-determining congregation is readily understood. However, the Cambridge Platform also called for congregations to provide moral support, even succor, and at times admonishment. The Orlando Platform picked up on this "2nd half" of polity. It challenged our leaders to re-vitalize that notion of congregational inter-dependence.
For instance, at a workshop on Stewardship, I asked whether any there knew of a neighboring congregation that was having financial difficulties. Nearly all said they did. Then, I asked: "Did you reach out to offer any help?" No one did. One participant remarked, "It never occurred to me that we could, let alone should." This is the promise of Regional collaboration: Not only that we can but that we ought to be deeply connected, celebrating success and helping out in times of sorrow. It calls us to go from "my congregation" to "our ministry."
Without prejudging what will come of what I've come to call "Orlando Redux" next month, your Boards and staff are committed to administrative and program structures that will provide more support to our congregations. At The Mountain, we'll look at what's been learned. We'll develop further our understanding of volunteer "Elders" who will network among congregations. We are eager to build new networks of affinity-based clusters (e.g., consider 5 like-sized congregations committing to a peer-review relationship for a two year period) while strengthening the existing geographical ones. And we'll explore how else we may yet work together for our shared, common good.
"The world is too much with us, late and soon," penned Unitarian poet Wordsworth. Every day we are reminded how urgently the world needs our ministry of love, compassion, and justice. This, too, drives our meeting at The Mountain: We have no time to waste, let's get good at, let's get better at ministering together, growing souls and saving some part of our world.
All blessings on your and our ministries,