The past three years in our district have been a tough time economically for the Midwest, including our member congregations and district. All of us have had to make hard choices regarding what we can afford and what we can’t. In making these choices we have reinvented our work using less paper and less hydrocarbons and using technology more—and for the district office itself letting go our brick and mortar office and creating an entirely virtual office. Now we are post recession but not out of the economic woods; early signs are appearing of new energy. Congregations are talking about capital fund drives. When you recertified this Spring, you reported growth of one per cent after two years of trimming the rolls. This is slight growth but still like having one additional congregation of 177 people.
While we hope that this growth will continue, we expect we will still need to hold in tension our vision for liberal religion in the MidWest and what we can sustain in resources. Our region and the congregations of our district likely face the prospect of many years of deep change as has been described in the NPR series of the past few months, www.changinggears.info. We will need to raise money in new ways. Grow in new ways. Develop leaders in new ways. Grow our souls in new ways. And refocus our missions from just providing liberal religious spaces, to also providing a progressive religious voice in the public arena. As I write our UU congregations in Madison are seeking to do just this regarding the rights of public workers in Wisconsin. There will be many instances where we will need to figure out what it means to Stand on the Side of Love (www.standingonthesideoflove.org) and then do it--individually and collectively.
For the district, deep change will mean working more sustainably and at the same time being more agile. Key to this will be increasing partnership with Prairie Star District to the West and Heartland District to the East. The necessities of economics and the possibilities of technology drive us to ask how to do more together over longer distances while also understanding more profoundly the realities of local context and personal connection. We don’t know where asking these questions will lead us. But we expect that the change it will bring to district work will be as profound, or more profound, than our shift to a virtual office three years ago.
Our current basic district structures were invented in a more prosperous era when the only way to do office work over a distance was to physically move paper; and when making a long distance call was a big deal. Likewise the only way of us having an event together was for us all to get in our cars and drive. It was also an era when we could better afford to do that and none of us had heard of a carbon footprint.
In the next few months, the staff our three districts will put forward a proposal for us to discuss—and improve--for a new unified structure for the administrative and programmatic side of our district work. Our district boards will lead separate a discussion with you of what governance structures will be most appropriate to the newly emerging realities.