So, a new year unfolds. The annual rite of making of resolutions is in process. This notion has its origins in ancient cultures, notably setting people free from literal or spiritual enslavements.
There is something appealing about putting old habits to rest and think of a new year as a “fresh start,” a “new page,” or a “blank slate” upon which to write a new chapter. But we all know that power of the status quo to get in the way. We can anticipate news articles early next month about how few people were able to sustain their resolve for even a month. Ah, yes, the more things change the more they stay the same.
Even so, marking time’s passing helps one focus: what have we learned? What does that suggest for our next steps?
The last three years have been a period of trying new things for our Region, even as we coped with sustaining what is already in place. Your staff and Boards have embraced the notion of “experi-fail” to indicate the vulnerability we feel as we seek to create something very new to serve our Unitarian Universalist future and our existing congregations.
Premised on the idea of encouraging innovation, we’ve sought to risk new approaches to the larger ministry across four unique Districts and to collaborate in forming a unified Southern Region.
Two joint meetings since 2010 (see the website uuasouthernregion.org for The Orlando Platform and the Mountain View documents) have led to these outcomes:
Routine and frequent collaboration between the four boards;
The launch of a twice-monthly regional newsletter and consolidation of four websites into one;
The addition of (SUULE) the Southern Unitarian Universalist Leadership Experience to (DBLE) the Dwight Brown Leadership Experience as annual events;
The establishment of Convocations of Congregational Presidents each spring, in addition to local and District-based trainings such as Fall Harvest, the Congregational Toolbox, and Spring Training;
The transformation of 6 ½ District-based staff to 7 Regional positions called Congregational Life Staff. Each has a direct 1st-call relationship with roughly 30 to 35 congregations in addition to being available to the entire region;
The merger of four administrative offices into two;
The creation of a unified budget for the whole region;
All of this, however, is mere re-arranging of the chairs unless we use the efficiencies and combined talents better to serve our congregations and their leaders, as well as create new inter-congregational connections and partner with like-hearted groups beyond the congregation.
The new pages turning as we enter this new year include:
Redefining the role of our Boards as at-large advisors or “Elders” to our congregations;
Holding our first simultaneous District Assemblies/Annual Meetings April 25-27, with UUA Moderator Jim Keyproviding a live-stream keynote to all four gatherings;
Fully integrating the four District finances while establishing protocols for the management of District-specific assets (e.g., endowments, Chalice Lighter funds);
Developing strategies for strengthening existing and creating new cluster arrangements, including the establishment of new “affinity” clusters (such as, adding to the current three state-wide legislative ministries or linking congregations with campus ministries, etc.).
It is that last item that generates great excitement. The philosophic idea that we are better together than apart — including the notion of shared nurture, support, and accountability — challenges our congregations no longer to view themselves as separate, do it yourself communities. We need each other to succeed. The challenges of our time call us to reclaim the second half of our polity, that the “autonomous” congregation is also a “connected” congregation. Clusters, geographic or affinity, are one way to do that. Congregational coaching by one congregation with one or two others is another.
As we move into this new year, we look back eager to retain what is solid and of value in our Districts. We also look forward to what a larger, collaborative ministry across the Southern Region might yet make possible — all to ensure the voices of the Free Church, our liberal religious outlook, and our commitment to love and justice are heard more clearly, more often.
Let’s resolve to make this a year of great and shared ministry.
The Reverend Kenneth Gordon Hurto
Congregational Life Staff member
and Lead Executive for the Southern Region