The Central Midwest District UUA merged in 2013 with the Districts of Heartland and Prairie Star to form the MidAmerica Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
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Enough Already on Carver

Four or five years ago John Carver’s model of Policy Governance broke over UU congregations like a wave. It seemed them that Carver’s admonition for boards to focus on policy and stay out of the minutia was just what we needed. It would be hard to say it wasn’t. Anyone who has served a term on the board of a UU congregations knows the little emotional roller coaster of attendance at a board meeting. At 8:00 PM the meeting is going well. Three little items left on the agenda. How long can a report from Buildings and Grounds take? You actually begin to hope that you might be able to get a little time with the family before bed. And then it balloons–the report on the work-party leads into a discussion of how there were not enough tools for everyone last Saturday which leads into a discussion of who might donate tools how really you can’t store the tools in the back hall and, if you get more tools, you need to build a new shed. For some unfathomable reason this leads into a discussion of run-off, drainage, and whether that corner or your property might not legally be considered a wetland. As this happens you get a sinking feeling as the possibility of getting home before 9 or 9:30 or. even 10:00 drains away. Anyone who has been through this can readily see the wisdom of the advice that board should focus on setting policy and deciding on proposals, not on generating proposals or on general discussion of issues. Even boards that have solemning declared themselves to be policy goverance boards and have done their best to live by the precepts of Carver’s Boards that Make a Difference find it very hard to discipline themselves not to get drawn into this. Indeed, I myself have found it irrestitable to contribute what I knew about the such things as latest in wetland laws (my wife works for the Environmental Protection Agency) even as I despaired at how long the discussion was taking. Our congregations have a lot to learn from Carver and even those congregations that have officially made the jump into policy governance do well to discipline themselves to keep at it.

Yet can we say that good governance can be reduced to a matter of simply doing Carver dilligently? Someone observed that to balance out our openness about theological exploration UUs have a tendency to organizational fundamentalism–to believing that following the latest organizational expert with sufficient exactness will get us where we want to go. Yet, are our congregations really well served by well when the boards set the organizational end and then limit themselves to negative statements concerning means the executive should not use to achieve those ends? And what about the experience of being a board member? Is it a satisfying board experience to be really kept entirely out of the consideration of means–at least at the strategic level, if not at the level of where to find more rakes for the work next work party?

Some years ago Chuck Olsen did a study (Transforming Church Boards into Communities of Spiritual Leaders) of the experience of congregational board members and came to the startling and disturbing experience that a high percent of board members and an even higher percent of board chairs find the experience of serving so draining and disillusioning that they leave the congregation . As younger leaders move onto boards they have been leven ess willing to tough out a bad board experience and have demanded that it be a quality experience, if not a “spirtual” experience. The impulse for policy governance doubtless began in part as a wish to do something about this. Yet, does it really improve matters if things are taken to the other extreme–having boards limit themselves to setting ends and holding the executive or executive team accountable to these ends? Once the end statement is set, experience on such a board can feel more like being an outside auditor than being a participant ia community of leaders.

Recently many people struggling with this have been reading Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards by Richard Chait, William Ryan, and Barbara Taylor. For congregations who have been trying to “do” Carver, the first piece that has been freeing is the clear claim that governance should be leadership. Beyond this people are finding very helpful Chait’s the division between the three areas in which board have roles: fiduciary, stratetic, and generative. Each can be framed with a question:

  • fiduciary: How do we hold ourselves accountable? How do we measure ourselves against the ends we have set? What measures should we use? How do we handle issues of accountability in ways that work for us?
  • strategic: How do we learn to think two steps out? How do we move beyond responding to the issues that come before us–first in terms of our own work at a board and then in our work at leaders in helping the congregation?
  • generative: How do we see our situation in larger perspective? Chait observes that this is the wisdom function. Congregational boards, at least the best of them, find a way to move beyond being responsible and beyond being strategic to serving as a wisdom voice.

I have been impressed how useful it has been for boards, especially boards who have been dilligently working policy governance for a while, to ask themselves these questions and see where it leads. I sincerely hope (dare I say “pray”) that Chait does not become our new governance guru the way Carver has been the past few years. Yet, it does seem that Chait’s questions are ones that our congregational boards are finding very useful to ask themselves as they struggle to find a way make their fullest contribution without descending into discussion of detail that others are far more capable of handling.


PS — Thanks to Stefan Jonasson who introduced me to Chait at a presentation to the staffs of the large congregations of Central Midwest District. Anyone interested in more in this general line of thinking should consult the online article about Stefan’s recent GA presentation on governance and emotional systems.

Using A Consultant Well

It seems to be a time of the year when many congregations are thinking about the work for the coming congregational year. I have gotten a number of questions about hiring consultants. One first thing to say about this is how much a congregation gets out of consulting assistance depends–more than anything else–on how much the congregation puts into the relationship. In particular, congregations would benefit greatly by spending more time clarifying the assignment for the consultant, clarifying the outcomes that they expect, and so forth.

In my previous position with the Alban Institute, we worked a great deal with the Indianapolis Center for Congregations. The Indianapolis Center has an excellent series of free online resource concerning how to use resources well. Their piece on how to work with a consultant is a good place to begin for any congregation considering use of an outside consultant. http://centerforcongregations.org/files/13/using_resources/entry323.aspx.

Those interested in consultants might also be interested to know that our district consultants group just completed their first brochure in time for our recent District Assembly. CMWD Consultants.


Sue Stukey's Great UU Acronym List

Our outgoing representative to the UUA Board of Trustees, Sue Stukey, created a wonderful list of Unitarian Universalist acronyms. I thought that this might make a good partner to the list of terms associated with ministerial search that I posted previously. I offer it here with Sue’s permission (CMWD Acronyms).

I present this list of acronyms with some misgivings and a word of caution. Unitarian Universalists love acronyms. Aside perhaps from the US Army, I know of no organization that loves them more. I find myself forced to use them sometimes. How else am I going to come up with a name for a budget line for the District Youth Steering Committee that is less than fifteen characters? But I distrust acronyms.

Why? Partly, I suppose, I take a perverse joy in being contrarian. Yet, it is more than this.

Acronyms are an insider language. We may begin to use them for ease and economy of communication. Yet, using them also communicates that we are part of an inside group and others are not. Use of acronyms can communicate this even when this was not intended. It is especially hard for newcomers and visitors not to get this message from use of acronyms.

When my family and I lived in Maryland, we were members of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church (that would be, CLUUC). It was a tradition there for the delegation returning from General Assembly to lead a worship service in which they shared something of their experience. More than once I found myself sitting in the congregation next to puzzled visitors as an enthusiastic delegate explained that it was a life-changing experience to “Go to the UU GA from the JPD to hear about Anti-anti-M, CLF, APF, and GLBT issues.” Perhaps the intent is to make people feel they want to know more about our association and to be more connected. The effect was not that.

To be sensitive to this is good hospitality. For those who need a more self-interested view, I would add this: All that ever has been written about congregational growth can be distilled into four words: “take the outsider’s view.”

I remember once meeting with a congregation’s membership committee. The people on the committee had a strong sense of mission, a strong sense that the congregation had entrusted them with an important task: their congregation needed to grow. To pay their staff adequately, they needed to grow. To offer the religious education program that they wanted for their children, they needed to grow. To maintain their building adeqautely, they needed to grow.

Yet, they realized that nobody ever joined a congregation to make it grow. Sometimes people join congregations because they like to be part of a growing enterprise, but that is something different. Nobody ever joined a congregation to make it grow. This committee had realized this abstractly, but they had not made it the organizing principle of their work. Until, that is, one committee member stopped and asked quizzically, “so, why do people join?”

This committee’s voyage of discovery in answering this question ended in the startling discovery that they probably did not even have the right people on their committee. Those who feel most strongly their congregation’s need to grow tend to be the insiders and the institutionalists: those who know just how little the staff is being paid, those who notice the tree work that needs to be done every time they drive into the parking lot, those who have seen the estimates for how much it is going to cost to bring the religious education rooms up to code. These people (and this include me) tend to be a long way from their own decisions to become Unitarian Universalists. And they (or I should say “we”) tend to be so busy enough during coffee hour that we are are not the main ones to speak to newcomers and visitors. The institutionals tend to have a list of people to see in coffee hour that is so long that they worry about getting around to all of these before they start to leave–let alone taking time to be hospitable.

What should be done?

1. Avoid acronyms. Adopt the discipline of speaking and acting in a way that is inviting and welcoming of newcomers even when they are not present. Do the work of explaining rather than putting onto a newcomer the work of understanding.

2. Have the center of gravity of your membership committee be with those who are more passionate about why people need to join than about why the congregation needs them. These will typically be new members but not very new members.

3. Talk to newcomers. Every newcomer is on the way to becoming an institutionalist. For this reason, every congregation and especially every membership committee needs a way to stay close to the experience of newcomers. One mechanism works surprisingly well and is wonderfully easy. Gather the newcomers at regular intervals–ideally those who have been around long enough to feel comfortable speaking out but short enough that they remember vividly the experience of being a newcomer. Ask them what they were searching for when they came, what they feel that they have found, what helped them feel connected and what stood in their way (this wisdom comes from the book by Roy Oswald, The Inviting Church.).

In recent years many Unitarian Universalists have read with much interest and benefit the book Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love by Lonni Pratt and Daniel Hoffman (My colleague, Dori Davenport, does a great workshop on the subject). Pratt and Hoffman observe that authentic hospitality is a spiritual discipline. As any who has been a guest of the Benedictines can attest, this the tradition of this still lives with the Benedictines. It is a powerful, prophetic ministry that is both ancient and newly relevant to a contemporary world where too often we must work to make ourselves secure from each other.

At their best, the Benedictines make hospitality a powerful spiritual tradition and religious witness in part because they do not allow it to reduce to a growth strategy. Rather, each time I have enjoyed Benedictine hospitality, someone (often an elderly nun) has found a discrete way of affirming me on my own path, of meeting me where I am. Benedictine communities are as anxious as any on the subject of membership. Doubtless most Benedictine communities have more space to be welcoming of strangers than they would like!

Yet, the Benedictine tradition has much Unitarian Universalists can learn about hospitality because it allows hospitality and recruitment to be independent values. Good recruitment is good hospitality. But hospitality cannot be allowed to reduce to recruitment. Hospitality is authentic–it works spiritually–only in a community where it is so live and powerful that it can challenge as well as support the institutional values. Benedictine communities spend a great deal of time in discernment about the question of who is the stranger to us now, today. Properly done, there is always a degree of tension between the answer to this question and the answer to the recruitment question. Today, for example, many Benedictine communities have felt led to work with undocumented aliens (following Leviticus 19:34, “You shall love the immigrant as yourself, for you once were an immigrant.”).

Does this say that we Unitarian Universalists should work on social justice rather than recruitment? No. It only says that hospitality can work in service of insitutional values like membership only when we allow it to be an independent value. For Unitarian Universalistics, there is a particular danger that we feel uncomfortable with evangelism or recuitment and so rename it membership and then–still uncomfortable–rename that hospitality or radical hospitality. We can forget that hospitality must not become just another way of talking about getting more members. We keep all this straight, not by letting go of our institutional concerns, but rather by keeping ourselves at that place where we still see and still work the tension.

This ramble takes me a long way from Sue Stukey’s list of acronyms. My point is only to say that I do not offer you this list to recommend you use them. Rather I offer it in the spirit that Sue created it: to make the work of the Unitarian Universalist Association more hospitable to the newcomers and guests.

CMWD Acronyms



  1. The Emerson Avenger Says:
    July 10th, 2007 at 1:27 am

    Well interestingly enough CUC Executive Director Mary Bennett saw fit to modify the UU acronym by inserting an all-inclusive asterisk between the twin cheeks of what is now known U*U world-wide as U*Uism.

    I’m still ROTFLMU*UO!

Sustainably Associating

I write again from GA in Portland, Oregon. Interesting for me to see this year how the subject of sustainability is brewing. Ecology is always and perpetually big with UUs. The Seventh Principle Project (http://uuministryforearth.org) has a presence in many congregations. But somehow the question of sustainability has come into focus in a new way in our Association in the last year, even just the last few months: how do we do this work sustainably?

On the district staff the voice of this newly focused concern is Karen Brammer, small church specialist in the Northeast District. How do we do our religious associating in a way that is sustainable? So far, I get the sense that we are not yet at the stage of plans and programs. Rather we are just feeling the discomfort of the question--the discomfort of the implication that how we are doing things now is not sustainable.

Very often the internal measure by which we judge the success of what we do in this work is by how many people show up--average Sunday attendance. Or, number of people at GA. I wonder about this. I recall I went to Russia in the seventies. A tour guide pointed with great pride to some factory smokestakes belching out smoke. To her they were a symbol of progress. The group of American students were a little embarrassed. We did not want to be bad guests but to us--US college students from the seventies--factories belching smoke had another meaning. Might there come a day when our ways of counting our success in building religious community be similarly backward?

For me, it would be only too easy to apply this line of thinking to General Assembly. Is it a mark of success to have convinced so many people to fly to Portland? Yet this is unfair. General Assembly is not one of my favorite things. More pointed question for me would concern all the miles I drive to visit congregations as a district staff person. One of my goals for the year has been to visit as many congregations in the Central Midwest District as possible. I have a big carbon footprint. One oil tanker a year from the Middle East is just for me!

I cannot imagine doing this work of weaving religious community without a lot of travel: Seeing people face-to-face, feeling the spirit of the land--driving through a quiet pine forest in Northern Wisconsin in January, standing in the little cemetery in Central Illinois where Mother Jones and the IWW miners are buried, sitting in a coffee shop in the West End in St. Louis. I want to do more of this, not less. How do I do this without the need for my own personal supertanker?

This same ambiguity, of course, exists in each congregation. We have built measures of success based on physical presence in a world where presence requires questionably sustainable use of resources. Common wisdom among congregational experts is that inadequate parking is a certain limitation to congregation growth. We have got to have space for more cars! Can I imagine a day when I would feel the same way about a big church parking lot that I felt thirty years ago in Russia looking at those factories belching smoke?

And what to do? Right now I sense we are in the stage of feeling the weight of the question, feeling the tension between the value of sustainability and the value of religious community.

I know that one thing this means in a practical sense is that this gives a new significance to the district's strategic goal of communication. Feeling this tension over sustainability raises the stakes involved in our work helping each other do a better job communicating electronically.

Ian Evison’s Entirely Unofficial Glossary for Match-Making between Ministers and UU Congregations

Draft: May 8, 2007

Match-making between UU congregations and ministers is governed by a somewhat technical vocabulary: interim minister, consulting minister, settled minister, and so forth .[1][2] There is no adequate guide to this terminology—and for good reason. It is inconsistent, changing, and disputed. What follows attempts to orient the uninitiated. This glossary is should also be regarded as an object lesson. In spite of the attempt to explain, the meaning remain fuzzy. Congregations and ministers are well advised to define terms and clarify expectations.

Called minister. The term “call” refers to the means by which a congregation decides to employ a minister. If the minister is employed through a vote of a congregational meeting, that person is said to be “called.” A called minister only may be asked to leave through a vote of the congregation as a whole (under the terms specified in the by-laws of the individual congregation) except when the Executive in a congregation governed according to policy governance possesses such delegated power.

Consulting and acting ministers. These terms refer to the breed of arrangements lying between settled ministry and interim ministry; consulting ministry refers to service of less than 75 percent time, acting ministry to 76 percent up to and including full time. In contrast with a settled minister, an acting or consulting minister is hired by vote of the board, for usually a year-to-year contract with or without an end point. Often the possibility of a call may lie in the future. Each of these ministries is to be distinguished not only from a called minister. They also are distinguished from an interim minister, who is almost universally restricted from serving longer than two years.

Compensation consultant. A volunteer lay person who advises congregations on issues regarding compensation usually for ministers but also on occasion for others employed by the congregation. Compensation consultants are appointed, trained, and supervised by the UUA Church Staff Finance Director in consultation with the District.

Fair Compensation Guidelines. The Unitarian Universalist Association seeks to model justice within our congregations as well as to work for justice in our communities and our world. It is an unfortunate reality that our congregations all too often offer working conditions and compensation are not on a par with what we would expect of other employers. Our Fair Compensation Guidelines are our effort to practice what we preach. These guidelines also represent our cumulative experience about how best to attract excellent minister and build relationships with them that endures and flourishes. See: http://archive.uua.org/programs/ministry/finances/compglines.html, http://archive.uua.org/programs/ministry/finances/compensation.html

Fellowshipped minister. Fellowshipping is the method by which the denomination accredits ministers. To be fellowshipped, a minister must hold a degree from an accredited theological school and also undergo various other interviews and background checks. Unitarian Universalist rules of congregational polity allow a congregation to call anyone as minister. The denomination and the district serve all congregations who are members of the association without regard to whether the minister is fellowshipped. However, the denomination only assists in the settlement process for fellowshipped ministers. Any congregation that decides to call a non-fellowshipped minister should recognize that it takes on a heavy burden of due diligence regarding the background and credentials of their candidates. When a person enters the process of moving towards fellowshipping, they are called “aspirants.” When the UU Transitions office has determined that people are ready to seek employment, they are granted “preliminary fellowshipping”. After successful completion of a probationary period (normally three years), the Ministerial Fellowship Committee grants “final fellowship.”

Full-time minister. Under congregational polity, congregations have the right and responsibility to determine what work they will ask and what compensation they will give for positions that they advertise as “full-time.” If a congregation decides to offer less than what the UU Fair Compensation Guidelines specify for their position, they are encouraged to reconsider their expectations for the position and to make the position into a part-time position. If a congregation decides to decides to list as full-time a position paying less than the minimum recommended Fair Compensation, a notation will be made indicating that the pay is substandard.

Hire to call. Sometimes very small and very large congregations find the need to adapt the usual processes of selecting ministers. Recently, two large congregations in the Central Midwest District have employed associate ministers through a process termed “hire to call.” The decision to employ has been made under the authority of the board of trustees (in consultation with the senior minister), without a vote of the congregation, but with the understanding that—if the relationship went well—there would be the option for that person to be called later by a vote of the congregation.

Lay minister. Some congregations designate and train lay members to carry out ministerial functions such as preaching, pastoral visiting, or rites of transition (e.g., marriages). This happens both in small congregations without professional ministerial leadership and in large congregations. While some districts and congregations have had programs for training lay ministers, there is no continent-wide program for training or certifying them.

Interim minister. Twenty-five years ago, the Alban Institute found that a minister who followed a long ministry or a conflicted ministry, often did not last long. In response, a number of denominations began to strongly encourage congregations in those instances to select a minister who has been specially trained for work in transitions and to give that person a term limit (usually no more than two years). Increasingly, the term “interim minister” has been applied to any ministry of short duration—whether by design or not. To recapture the original sense of the term of “interim” sometimes the term “intentional” interim is used. Some who end up having short-term ministries did not intend it that way! Those who have received the special training for this work are sometimes called “accredited interims.”

MOD minister. The Central Midwest District and Meadville/Lombard Theological School co-sponsor the MOD (or “Ministerial Opportunity Development”) program. Under this program students in their final year of theological school are paired with congregations for part-time ministry (often one weekend a month). It is intended for congregations working for growth and willing to make the commitment to an arrangement nine-month’s duration and to pay the costs of the program (a start-up seminar in addition to the fees of the student). This program is primarily for congregations of the Central Midwest District. Congregations who would like ministerial services from students outside of this program are welcome to request them through the Meadville/Lombard pulpit supply program.

Ministerial settlement representative. A person from the district who volunteers to work with congregations advising them on issues regarding search for full-time ministers. The minister’s chapter of the district nominates this person. Often it is a minister, though not always. This person is trained by the Transitions Office.

Ordained minister. Normally one expects that an ordained UU minister be fellowshipped and have a degree from an accredited theological school—but not always. In Unitarian Universalism the authority to ordain, and to determine who to ordain, lies entirely with the congregation. Stated negatively, a congregation should not assume that an ordained minister is also fellowshipped.

Part-time minister. See “full-time minister.”

Pulpit supply. This refers to one-time agreements with theological students or with ministers to lead worship.

Settled minister. The term “settled minister” has various, differing meanings. Often it used in contrast to an interim minister. One hears congregations say “we have an interim minister this year and are looking for a settled minister to start next year.” However, there are instances where the term is used more broadly. For the purposes of determining who may be a delegate to the UUA General Assembly, the UUA Board defines a settled minister (Rule 4.9.2) to be any minister serving a congregation more than half time or any community minister affiliated with the congregation.

[1] The official UU denominational document governing the process is the Settlement Handbook, http://archive.uua.org/programs/ministry/settlement/handbook.html). See also the supplement (http://archive.uua.org/programs/ministry/settlement/resourceguide). The guidelines of the UU Ministers’ Association also play a crucial role shaping this process: http://www.uuma.org/Documents/guidelines.html. The one other attempted glossary I have been able to find is specific to the Canadian Unitarians, though it seems generally applicable to the UUA, http://www.cuc.ca/ministry/Part_time_ministry_process_guide.pdf.

[2] Unitarian Universalists also have a great—and I would say overweening--love of acronyms. It is a convenience but it is also an insider language. You may feel excluded when you hear someone say that they went to GA where you heard an MFC representative discuss anti-anti-M. One very incomplete list of these is included as a glossary in at the end of the Settlement Handbook. Heartland District’s website includes another, also partial: http://www.heartlanduu.org/news/alphabet_soup_explained.php.