Congregational presidents consider UUA changes

UUA Moderator Gini Courter and the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Association, met with several hundred congregational presidents Thursday afternoon to share information about changes within the UUA and to answer questions.

District Presidents' Meeting

Morales said the UUA staff is embarking on an era of “much closer collaboration and cooperation with congregations.” He said that consultations have been underway with ministers of thriving, growing congregations and in the next year some of the best practices of those congregations will begin to be shared in an intentional way with other congregations across the country. He described this as a “very cost effective” way of growing congregations, compared to some other ways the UUA has tried, including marketing.

He said another shift is underway to focus more social justice work at the congregational level instead of the national level. The UUA is reducing the size of its Washington office in a cost-saving measure.

A third shift is a focus on professional ministry. Noting that almost half of our ministers are 58 or older, he said it’s time to put new emphasis on recruiting and training ministers.  He said the credentialing process for ministers and religious educators is too expensive and will be reduced. “We put way too much effort into trying to prevent the wrong people from getting in” rather than encouraging the “right” ones to go into ministry.

Courter laid out plans by the Board of Trustees to revamp the UUA’s governance system. Noting that the system we have was a “compromise design from the beginning,” she said the idea of using gatherings such as GA as a governing tool for organizations dates to the 1700s and that some parts of that structure were designed primarily to protect an individual’s right of expression. It’s time, she said, to find ways where people can collaborate more easily and where more focus is on the community and less on the individual.

She also noted that changes are being planned for General Assembly, including the possibility of holding it on alternate years and holding smaller regional assemblies on the other years.

Courter emphasized that the earliest any of these changes would come before GA delegates for consideration would be next year.

One change underway is that of converting the UUA’s district structure to one of regions. Already several districts are sharing staff and beginning to work in other ways across district lines. If the UUA’s 19 districts were to become five regions, as has been suggested, it would be more efficient and would save money, Courter has said.

Earlier in GA Courter and other board members met with the presidents of the districts, who agreed to begin discussions with their district boards about this issue. She said many districts seem supportive of regionalization. She added, “Governance is slowing down the good work we could do together. Until we try something new we’ll never know if this is the best we can do.”

Rev. Morales noted that over time a system has evolved whereby districts are supported differently by the UUA because of their different needs and different staffing levels. He referred to “the crazy money laundering scheme between districts and Boston,” referring to the fact that money flows from congregations to the districts and to Boston and then comes back to the districts from Boston. “It’s unbelievably cumbersome,” he said

To a question from a man with a 60-member congregation who said he wished the UUA had more resources to help congregations like his grow to the next level, Morales said he is hopeful that neighboring congregations will support each other. “That would be more responsive than anything we could do from headquarters.”

Madeline Morrow, on the board of First Unitarian Church, San Jose, Calif., expressed concerns about regionalization. Courter told her regionalization would not be a fast process and that it would be up to each district and each regional group to determine,  “Does this fit us?”

  • Donald Wilson

    Our districts are too small. Their size is such that co-ordinating on the more-than-just-one-congregation is possible, but cumbersome, but because it IS possible, congregations forget to talk to their neighbors.
    Our congregations will only grow and thrive if they communicate and work together, and stop seeing their UU neighbors as “them”.
    Regions the size being discussed would discourage congregations into doing what they should be doing anyways.

  • Rev. Elz Curtiss

    Where is Henry Whitney Bellows when we need him? His efforts to organize regional connections for listening and mutual responsibility among congregations within attainable distance of each other showed respect for the Cambridge Platform, even as his desire for a national gathering respected the emerging era of larger entities. The living legacy of his efforts, many clusters already do much of the work being “called for” in this post, including social justice. So what we need at the top is less vision and more listening — and then sharing among ourselves.


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