Friday, May 15, 2015

How is GIFT Doing?

by Rev. Susan M. Smith

A lot of you know that I love to study spreadsheets as a form of divination, so I’ve been deep into the GIFT figures as of April 30. The news is good and bad, but the future is full of possibility because of who we are as member congregations of our Association.

The first thing to say is that there are $212,000 in outstanding pledges that I know you will be getting to us by June 30 (though June 1 would be nice, too). But that amount alone will not get us to our expected income for the fiscal year that is ending in about 6 weeks. So, if you have paid your pledge or otherwise contributed to the common good of our Southern Region financially, please take a look at those figures again. Some of your sister congregations have already done so. Eight congregations have paid more than their pledge and given more than $9,000 of what we call in Louisiana lagniappe (something extra that turns good enough into more than generous). Fifteen congregations have given more than their Fair Share amount. That’s right! Several congregations pledged more than their Fair Share.

Comparing Fair Share amounts for FY15 and FY14, I see that the Fair Share GIFT for seventeen congregations was the same this year as last. For 82 congregations, the Fair Share amount for FY15 was actually less than that for FY14 by amounts varying from $3 to $6,000. Can you imagine telling 40% of your congregation that they should give less this year than last? If they took you up on it, your stewardship drive would look like an abysmal failure.  You would really be counting on the 54% who were better off financially this year than last and were asked to increase. Every member would have to give serious thought to what they are truly able to give to make that system work. Can you imagine if only 31% of your members had both made and completed a pledge with only 6 weeks left in your fiscal year?

As we’ve talked to congregations for the past two years about GIFT, we’ve heard near unanimous approval for the principles that it embodies - asking each to give according to their financial rather than numerical size and giving the larger Association a stake in your bounty and your losses. However, I can see now that it gives your congregation a stake in the health and vitality of your neighbor congregations far and near. 

In the past 5 years, the Southern Region has been able to do some amazing things financially. We have added an additional .5 FTE to our Congregational Life staff after many years of functioning with the smallest staff in the Association. This allows us to now have 7 full-time deep generalist powerhouses scurrying around the region sharing their expertise, offering support and bringing you together for education, social justice and fellowship. We hope to have 8 in the near future. We’ve created a highly-skilled administrative support team moving two of our contractors to employees who offer information technology to your webmasters and database managers and event logistic support to your cluster and district gatherings. However, we could use additional help to keep popular programs like Chalicelighters going because they require a lot of staff time without bringing in revenue to the region itself. We’ve taken successful programs from one part of our region and offered them elsewhere even though we sometimes suffer financial losses. Because regional collaboration is first and foremost a way to provide equitable services throughout our large and growing part of the Unitarian Universalist universe.

As I’ve said many times at our two Leadership Experiences and the numerous stewardship workshops I’ve done around the region, you must have three kinds of giving every year in your congregation. There must be a chance for every member to make a stewardship commitment in the form of a pledge. There must also be some fun fundraising from parties and events for people like myself who have been known to pay 3 figures for some sweetheart’s homemade pie in heat of an auction. And there must be the “emergency” appeal, for the angels who want to know that their donation will make a difference whether to bail the congregation out of a jam or make it possible to take advantage of some great opportunity. It’s one of those times, but I refuse to worry. We have always been remarkably generous congregations in the past, and we will continue to be so. We have made great things happen, and we will make even greater things happen in the future. Our legacy as Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists in the South goes back more than 200 years. I know that we will be thoughtful stewards of this legacy even as we venture into unknown territory and bold experiments.

Okay, Now What?

by Connie Goodbread

Every change changes everything.  - Rabbi Edwin Friedman

In science, the “observer effect” refers to the fact that the act of observation will change the phenomenon being observed. The mere presence of the scientist in the experiment effects the measurements.  This is a great example of systems theory in action.  Systems theory is the biological theory of wholeness; everything is connected.  Isolated parts cannot be fully understood until they are understood within the system.  It is a trans-disciplinary theory, therefore, it applies to human (emotional) systems as well as physical systems.  Cleaning off your desk will affect the way you work.  Painting the nursery in the Education Wing will affect how the congregation behaves.  Every little change in a system affects the entire system.

There has been so much change in our Association that, at times, it can make your head swim.  Whether you have been paying attention or not, you need to know that every little change will have an effect on our system, yours and mine, and big changes are sometimes too big to even comprehend.  The big changes that we have been working on lately are so large that the system must now play catchup.  Building a new way means not doing things the old way, and yet the old way is in place and so homeostasis pulls us back in the old direction time and time again.

Our Southern Region did not create a large District called a Region.  We are really trying something new.  Trying something new can be scary.  It’s an adventure and that is exciting, but there is nothing sure about it - there is no road sign that says “the right way.”  Things that we are used to will change.  Mistakes will be made - course corrections will need to happen.  Great successes will be had and celebrated.

Every change changes everything.  The rest of the system does not reflect, and at times does not support, the changes that we have made.  In other words, the support system is in place to maintain the way things used to work – not necessarily the way they work now, much less how things will work in the future.  Sometimes leaders get confusing information.

For example, here is how the Southern Region supports Renaissance Modules and OWL trainings.

The Southern Region staff recognizes the tremendous value of Renaissance Modules and OWL trainings. Since Renaissance Modules and OWL trainings are generally requested by congregations, clusters,  religious educators and LREDA chapters the Southern Region staff sees itself in a support role for these events. The Southern Region staff will gladly help with registration, if needed, and publicity (regional calendar, newsletter, and website, as appropriate). Please check out our comprehensive planning guide for event planners and hosts, and let us know how we can help promote your event.

Link to event support guide:
OWL Training (UU):
OWL Training (UCC):
Link to RenMod:

This is not the way this has happened in the past.  It is not the way it happens in other regions.  So why is it different in the Southern Region?  For the last four years we have tried many different ways to offer Renaissance Modules.  We have polled groups of Religious Educators to see what they need.  We have offered Renaissance Modules as stand-alone trainings and as a track at a weekend event.  We have had trouble reaching the minimum requirements of ten participants.  We have been told that the added costs of travel, rooms and food make them too expensive.  The way it seems to work best is for a congregation to host, supply the food, space, and material and offer home hospitality.  We have had similar experiences when offering OWL trainings.

Your Southern Region Staff supports Renaissance Modules and OWL trainings being offered in this new way.  However, the rest of the system is still operating in support of the way it has been done in the past and the way it is done in other Regions. This is bound to result in some confusion. We ask that if you run into a problem, please contact us or follow the links above.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Congratulations Southern Region! You did it!

We Are Building A New Way!
by Natalie Briscoe, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life staff 

Congratulations Southern Region! You did it! 

Five years ago, the boards and staff of the MidSouth District, the Florida District, the Southeast District, and the Southwestern Conference came together in Orlando to address issues of structure and governance. These leaders raised a few very fundamental questions, including “How do we best serve Unitarian Universalism in the south?” and “How do we build relationships and walk together in this work?”

Over the course of the next half a decade, the shape of those answers emerged from murky waters. The answer was: We get out of our own way. We do the work of living into our values by having authentic relationships with one another rooted in trust and mutual care. We practice what we preach. We become open to transformation. We work together. 

Last week at our District Annual Assemblies, all four districts voted to walk into new relationship with one another. You decided to leave governance to the one governing body we have, our UUA board, as elected by the Association's member congregations. You decided that the best way to be together was rooted in our shared Faith. You decided that the most important time is now.  You voted to stop allowing policy and procedure to dictate your relationships with one another and instead rely upon our covenants – our sacred promises – to guide us in transforming ourselves, our congregations, and our Faith into one that truly serves this world. You chose to live Unitarian Universalism out loud, to bring its values into the world in a very real and personal way. You chose love and trust over fear and pride. 

HallelUUjah! What a great honor it is to be serving Unitarian Universalism at this time! What a wonder it is to see people so dedicated to bringing love and justice into the world that they would risk changing everything! What courage! What vision! Congratulations, Southern Region! You have truly done something unique, something that will rewrite the course of history for our entire association. The time to celebrate is now! 

It must not go without saying, though, that with great joy often comes a sting of pain. In fact, one might say that the larger the celebration, the larger the uneasiness that follows. Some of us are still wading in that murky water, not quite sure where this path will lead. Some of us still need to grieve for the structures that have been dismantled and the work that seems unfinished and now can never be. The last five years have been a time of great change, and change never comes without a sense of loss for all that was. Many of us worked very hard over many years to build and uphold the structures that were dismantled or changed in the last five years. Many of us were served very well by those structures, and it can be difficult to walk forward and rejoice when we miss what is behind and what lies ahead is still unknown.

Yet we have chosen to walk forward together. The remarkable courage that this new path calls us to have cannot be understated. And you have chosen to be brave. You have chosen to live into a new covenant, one of mutual respect and caring. You have decided that the best way to serve Unitarian Universalism in the new day is to get out of its way, to unfurl its wings, and to break the chains of that have held it captive for too long. You have chosen to see this new day dawn with a promise of more joy, more love, more hope, more justice, and more courage as we walk together into a future where Unitarian Universalism is alive and at work to heal a broken world. 

Brave, indeed! And the best part is that you have decided that we do not have to be brave alone. Our new covenant asks us to be both vulnerable and strong, to lean on each other and to be leaned upon. Our new relationships make it possible to bring our values into the world because it allows a deeper and wider space for our covenant to be practiced. No longer are there boundaries of governance around this work which dictate behavior, no longer are there policies which decide how we will be with one another. Finally, we can truly live our Faith through our authentic and deep relationships with one another. Individual to individual, congregation to congregation, cluster to cluster, throughout the whole Southern Region, we can finally live into our covenants without anything getting in the way. 

No one is sure what will happen. We are all human beings: fallible and vulnerable. Our relationships will never be perfect, but working at them is the real work of our Faith. We can show the whole world a new way of being together, of working to bring more Love into the world, even when it is messy and we aren't exactly certain of the way. You can be certain of one thing, though: The Southern Region is building a new path, brick by brick. The path gets clearer and more beautiful and more generous every day. More and more people are standing on that path, hand in hand, ready to walk wherever it leads. It's a new day for the Southern Region! It's a new day for Unitarian Universalism! We come with praise and thanks for ALL that is our life! HallelUUjah!