by The Reverend Kenneth Gordon Hurto, Southern Region Lead Executive
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.
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