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,


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