MOURNING CHRIS NEILSON
It is with great sadness that we tell you that our beloved Rev. Christina Neilson passed away on July 9. Chris suffered with leukemia since early 2014. Our deepest sympathies go to her wife, Sharon Hoyenga. Plans for her memorial service are still being developed - we will pass this information on as soon as it's available.
COVENANTING WITH CONGREGATIONS
There’s a lot of talk in Unitarian Universalist circles about covenant. Many congregations have or are working on a behavioral covenant – how each person is expected to behave within our community. But that’s a different type of covenant eluded to at the beginning of our principles and purposes:
“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote ...”
That statement isn’t a covenant, it’s about covenant. It’s about how our congregations are going to be together, not independent of one another.
Rev. Sue Phillips, the New England Regional Lead, gave two fascinating presentations at this year’s General Assembly on covenantal relationships and our polity. Yes, the two are very much connected.
Rev. Phillips defined polity as, “a doctrine of church, specifically the way churches are connected to one another.” Note this describes how our congregations are connected, not independently owned and operated churches. Yes, our congregations are self-governed, but we are also interconnected: we must join the UUA to be a UU congregation.
But how do we connect with our sister congregations and association? I believe we need to find a way to go into an ongoing process of covenanting with our congregations and the UUA. How do we live into the Cambridge Platform that promotes such a relationship among congregations, in times when some congregations are healthy and others have stepped out of that covenant?
Rev. Phillips gave us an interesting example of what this is like. The act of signing a membership book is over as soon as the pen is raised. Covenanting is what happens after that. Imagine our new members entered into a covenant to become members, and that covenant was reviewed each year using a discernment process that engaged individuals and congregational leaders. Imagine if we had clusters of congregations participate in a similar process every year. Imagine if those cluster covenants went beyond their boundaries to include our UUA.
Just how our congregations could be in covenant isn’t defined yet, but I hope all of us in our region and association will strive to develop a process to bring us into a mutual covenant.
CENTRAL EAST REGION HIRES NEW STAFF
Rev. Scott Tayler and Rev. Joan VanBecelaere are very please to announce the addition of three new staff to the Central East Region Congregational Life Team as well as several other additions to other regions. Raziq Brown, Rev. Megan Foley and Rev. Hope Johnson will join the team this fall. To learn more about the new staff, please visit the CER website.
There’s lots of discussion and work on the variety of ways our congregations can collaborate. Much of this is now under the umbrella of “multisite” congregations. “Multisite, to put it simply, involves multiple congregations or covenanted communities sharing staff, programming and mission to have greater impact and reach than any of them could have on their own,” (from Tandi Rogers’ blog, Growing Unitarian Universalism).
Congregations of all sizes are developing very creative ways to collaborate. Some people have only heard one way: congregations merge into one entity in multiple locations. This scares many congregational leaders – they become fearful the smaller or less affluent congregation will become absorbed and its identity lost forever. There are times when a merger of congregations works, but it’s certainly not the only way multisite is working.
“Yoked congregations” is when the staff and programming of each congregation are shared. Each congregation retains its own bylaws, board and budget. Congregations can be of any size. We have an example of this in St. Lawrence: the very large First Unitarian Church of Rochester and the small-sized UU Church of Canandaigua are in such a relationship.
The partnership model is when an existing congregation partners with or creates a distinct covenanted community. The fundamental idea is for the congregation to expand its mission in its community. An example is the Sanctuary Boston where they meet once a month in a Boston UU church and another UU church in Cambridge. The other weeks they meet in members’ homes in small group format for deeper conversations and connections.
A “branch and campus” (or satellite) grows another site (campus) or offers its support to another congregation as a branch. This model is good for congregations wanting to grow outside its walls, help other UU congregations, and grow Unitarian Universalism.
The merged or networked model creates one church in multiple locations. Unlike the yoked model, merged or networked congregations have one set of bylaws, one board, one budget. One of the goals of congregations entering into this model is for Unitarian Universalism to have a higher profile in their community.
All of this information and much more detail is available to you via the UU Multisite web site: http://uumultisite.weebly.com/. If you’d like to speak to someone about whether your congregation’s mission fits any of these models, contact your CERG staff members, Rev. Joan Van Becelaere or Mark Bernstein.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT INTERIM MINISTER SEARCHES THIS YEAR
We are in an unprecedented situation with regards to the interim ministerial search this year, one that has not occurred in the recent history of Unitarian Universalism. In the broadest description, the issue is that there are significantly more congregations this year looking for interim ministries than there are ministers available to fulfill those interim ministries. Not Interim Ministers… ministers. There are significantly more congregations looking for an interim ministry this year than there are experienced or Accredited Interim Ministers available… and even the number of available ministers without interim experience is smaller than normal.
There are several reasons for this situation. The first is that with the recovery of the economy, there has been a significant increase in the number of Unitarian Universalist Ministers who have chosen to retire from the ministry this year. This has a double effect upon the availability of interim and transitional ministers, in that it has meant an increase in the number of congregations requesting an Interim Minister, and it means that many ministers who might otherwise be available to “take up the slack” are leaving active ministry for retirement.
There is also a growing trend of Unitarian Universalist Ministers feeling called to ministries outside of the congregational setting. Justice making efforts, non-profit organizations, chaplaincy, and even some business settings are drawing more and more Unitarian Universalist ministers into engagement with the wider world. While this is in many ways a beautiful and hopeful thing, it also means that fewer of the ministers of our liberal faith tradition are looking for congregational based ministries.
There is a perception amongst our congregations that there is some great pool of available ministers out there, who are just waiting for an opportunity to serve congregations of our liberal faith tradition. While that may have been true at one time, it is no longer true. Many currently serving Unitarian Universalist Ministers are looking to retire from congregational ministry in the next few years. Other ministers are finding more and more opportunities to practice ministry outside of congregational settings. And some congregations are expanding their own staffs by hiring multiple ministers for the first time.
Our opportunities for professional ministry within the world are expanding, even as we are seeing a generational shift in those retiring from our ministry. And that means that a congregation simply cannot expect, when a minister leaves (or is encouraged to leave by congregants), that there will be a deep pool of candidates for that open ministerial position. Not for the foreseeable future.
For all of the congregations in search for an interim minister this year, our thoughts and prayers are with you as we navigate what can only be an anxious time. For all of the congregations who are wondering about their relationships with the ministers who are currently serving their congregations, we invite you to think deeply and closely about that relationship, in light of this changing and shifting reality. And for all of of our ministerial colleagues who are having to make difficult discernment decisions about where and how to practice your ministry, we walk with you in spirit.
Be well and Blessed,
The Central East Regional Staff
SLD CONGREGATIONS ARE PROUD!!
At District Assembly we invited our congregations to share their proud moments for the year with us. Please read them on the 2015 Proud Page.
DISTRICT TEAMWORK SERVES CONGREGATIONS
Sometimes a challenge can offer an opportunity to try something new.
In the Ohio Meadville and St. Lawrence Districts of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the sudden illness and extended medical leave of St. Lawrence Congregational Life Consultant, the Rev. Chris Neilson, resulted in an all-hands-on-deck response from the district boards and from district, regional and national UUA staff.
The governing boards of the four districts that make up the Central East Regional Group have been in discussion about moving to a "Primary Contact" model where each congregation has a "go-to" person who partners with the congregation's leaders to find the right resources and specialists from the UUA and region and to strengthen relationships within clusters. The model provides an improved Primary Contact staff-to-congregation ration in OMD and SLD (1 to 25-30 congregations). Staff will also continue to offer depth with their own portfolio "specialties" for the four districts in the region.
The Rev. Joan VanBecelaere (lead of the Central East Regional Group) and the Rev. Scott Tayler (director of Congregational Life for the UUA) saw the challenge of the medical leave as an opportunity to pilot this primary contact program. They devised a plan to redeploy existing staff from the districts and region for the duration of the medical leave.
Beginning July 1, there will be three staff persons in OMD and SLD taking on the role of Primary Contact for different clusters of congregations:
||Rev. Joan Van Becelaere email@example.com, 303-641-5896 (OMD Congregational Life Consultant and CERG regional lead)
||Evin Carvill-Ziemer firstname.lastname@example.org, 330-281-3306 (Program Coordinator for OMD and SLD and Acting Congregational Life Consultant)
||Rev. Renee Ruchotzke email@example.com, 330-554-0828 (Regional Congregational Life Consultant in Leadership Development)
For a quick reference on who will be serving your congregation, please check this map (above) or visit this easy to use form.
Of course, the entire CERG staff is ready to respond when needed and to support our congregations as we strengthen our Unitarian Universalist faith within and beyond our walls.
The staff and district boards will be assessing this program and its effectiveness on an on-going basis. Please share your observations and questions with our regional lead, the Rev. Joan VanBecelaere. Joan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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