What were they thinking?
Who would the UUA Board talk to if a trustee wanted to talk to a “member congregation”? What in that conversation could move both trustee and congregation to the kind of connection and mutual appreciation that would ultimately result in “one strong body”? What differences do our congregations want us to make together, and are they similar to the goals that were established by the Board after two years of input from various UUs and groups across the country? And can anyone believe – really believe – that these goals are not merely aspirational – that together we really could make them happen?
These were some of the questions the UUA Board explored in 64 conversations with randomly selected congregations over the past 8 months. This sample was selected as a statistically valid way of getting a sense of the whole through personal, real time interviews. It was part of the UUA Board’s work in better understanding the values of our member congregations, referred to as “linkage” in the Policy Governance Model. Some of the findings were surprising, some not – for example, we expected that elected and called leadership would primarily be “who speaks for the congregation” – but perhaps not, as we found, that there would be such a hunger for real, two-way conversation. We expected healthy relationships would be built on things like trust and respect – but not necessarily that mutuality and common goals would be cited. And many of us were surprised at the number of congregations that described feeling alone. We were not surprised at the level of dedication and leadership that exists within our congregations.
Recommendations accepted by the Board included:
- Collaborate with the District President’s Association (DPA) to continue real time person-to-person interviews with called and elected congregational leaders.
- Ensure that future linkage has input from all Sources of Authority and Accountability (Carver’s “moral owners”).
- Follow through on the UUA board communications plans established at the April 2010 meeting, utilizing 2-way personal touches in content and delivery, including social media and video conferencing. Emphasize respect, trust, and honesty in communications and actions, the need for mutuality and support from all parties, and our common goals.
Additional recommendations will be considered at a future time.
The most interesting finding in conducting the interviews was the shift in possibility that many of us felt in the conversations. We started from a mentality of significant “us” and “them” thinking, where congregations felt isolated with little recognition of any relationship with “the UUA” other than staff. This shifted to excitement about what it could be like to be part of a strong Association with common goals.
Together we sing “We Would be One” from our hymn book and recognize in our worship services the power of being part of something larger. Sometimes we blame “congregational polity” for the fact that we often are not working collaboratively with other congregations or within the Association, forgetting the part about covenanting together. And many of us no longer use the term “herding cats” with pride.
We can be one. It starts with recognizing that it is possible — and for some brief moments in these interviews, we did.
You can read the complete report here.
Trustee from the Pacific Central Dictrict