Report on behalf of the Staff Team
MidAmerica Region, UUA
May 14, 2018
Susan Frederick-Gray, our new UUA President, has given fresh impetus and challenge to our work, calling UUs to courage, perseverance, and faithfulness in our journey to Beloved Community. Our MidAmerica staff team feels honored to stand with the congregations of MidAmerica in support and witness as they have responded to this call in amazing ways. Just to name a few examples: UU Church of Greater Lansing received a Breakthrough Congregation award for its partnership and outreach with the local Muslim community. The UU Society of Coralville, Iowa, moved into an amazing new energy-efficient building and the UU Fellowship and Church of Bismarck-Mandan partnered with Native American communities in support of the Standing Rock Witness, hosting hundreds of visiting UUs. The UU Church of Minnetonka, Minnesota, completed their new building after a decade-long odyssey. Congregations across the region have stepped up to offer sanctuary or other support participate to immigrants. And now our congregations are taking courageous part in the Poor People’s Campaign. Just this evening I was able to participate with our UU leaders in a very wet and soggy beginning of this campaign at the Minnesota state capitol.
Our journey to Beloved Community has also led into self-examination regarding how our denominational structures and our congregational ways of working have presumed white upper-class ways of working and have tilted our systems towards a preference for Northern European ways of working—which is to say towards white supremacy. The controversy over hiring a Regional Lead in the South forced all the regions, including us in MidAmerica, to see how much the issue of white supremacy culture was internal to our own structures. We in MidAmerica have followed in the journey of learning on this subject. We have re-examined our own procedures for hiring. We are developing new partnerships. And we are rethinking much of what we have regarded standard advice and standard wisdom for congregations.
Our congregations have participated in this journey of learning also. More than half of the congregations in our region participated in either the first or second teach-in on white supremacy. Many supported our Chalice Lighters call for support of Black Lives UU which helped fund the Black Lives UU Revival in Kansas City, Missouri, this spring, and participation of people of color in other UU gatherings.
We are only beginning to recognize the depth of rethinking that will be required of us all. Indeed, the “best practices” of a generation about leadership now need to be rethought. This is perhaps best expressed in the dynamics of how we have implemented policy style modes of governance in our congregation. Policy style governance remains deeply appealing as a means of helping to clarify and coherently delegate authority.
Yet now we are challenged to learn—and teach—new lessons. How do we share leadership and authority between our religious professionals and between our religious professionals and lay leaders? How do we do more beyond preoccupation with the writing of policies? How do we learn to have uncomfortable conversations directly with each other?
Overall, the three areas in which our MidAmerica regional work has grown the most in the past year are support for the social and racial justice work of congregations, the increase in online approaches to leadership development (both on our own and as partners in the national UU Leadership Institute), and continued movement to digital and online administrative approaches (notably through increasing use of shared national UUA software and IT platforms).
It seems now that, no matter how much support we give to congregational social justice work, there is always a hunger for more. Last year at GA in New Orleans, our MidAmerica Board led a listening session for congregational leaders. The idea that generated the most energy was a series of webinars on social justice work for congregations that emphasized social justice as religious work and as faith development work. We sent out a request for proposals to our state action networks for partnership on this and received excellent proposals. We made a tough choice, and partnered with the Minnesota UU Social Justice Alliance in presenting a series of webinars that has been popular in the region, as well as receiving national attention.
We have pursued a variety of additional projects. We hosted a national youth gathering, CommUUnity at Heart: Youth Revival, at Countryside Church in Palatine, IL. We did this in partnership with the other regions of the UUA and our national youth office. After thirty years of hosting our MidWest Leadership School at Beloit College in Beloit, WI, we moved it to a new location: Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. We presented a series of extension workshops under the title of Love Reaches Out. Phil Lund has created this series growing out of the UUA branding work three years ago that helps congregations create approaches to outreach that build upon their missional and social justice work in their communities. And we hired a new lead administrator for the region and worked with our administrative team to reorganize their work.
Through all this our main work remains serving you in fulfilling our shared mission of Unitarian Universalism, whether this is helping with transitions of religious professionals (and there were a lot this year!), helping you engage conflict positively, or coaching you through a building or planning process, lending a listening ear, or witnessing to your amazing work.
Thank you on behalf of all of our staff team.
Ian S. Evison, Regional Lead
Congregational Life Consultants
Ian Evison, Regional Lead
Andrew Zallar, Regional Administrator
Peg Boccard, Regional Administration Assistant
Katie Phillips, Regional Administration Assistant
Gretchen Ohmann, Technology Director