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The Story of CERG as of May 2012
The opportunities for our faith are breathtaking. We must prepare to minister to the multicultural America that we are living into or risk disappearing as a part of the religious landscape. Together, we can be the religion for our time.
–Peter Morales, UUA President
As the leadership of the Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the Unitarian Universalist Association changes, as new leaders come on and experienced ones retire, it's important to record the beginnings of regional cooperation and partnership. Here is the story of the first years of our venture, the start of the sharing of resources and talent among the four districts of the UUA that make up CERG.
The CERG districts are the Joseph Priestley District, the Metropolitan New York District, the Ohio Meadville District, and the St. Lawrence District. They are four of the currently nineteen districts of the UUA. The region stretches from the Canadian border of New York State to the metropolitan DC area which includes northern Virginia, from the Atlantic Ocean to western Ohio. Within the region there are about 200 UU congregations. With some 34,750 members, we are the largest region in the UUA.
Beginnings. Before there was CERG, there was NRG, the New Regional Group. This was simply a cooperative venture among district and UUA staff. They would consult with each other and plan some collaborative programs, such as leadership development with UULTI, the UU Leadership Training Institute, and conflict management. For a time, during a transition in district staff, a single District Executive led both SLD and OMD, so cooperation was perhaps further enhanced.
On April 4-5, 2006, the District Staff from JPD, MNY, OMD, and SLD met at Murray Grove Retreat Center to see if there might be new and improved ways to deliver services to our congregations based upon a four district regional model. It was assumed from the beginning that in this model that each district would maintain its own autonomy. It was also understood that each district would have a DE responsible for building the individual districts but that the services of the DEs and Program Consultants and other district based staff would be shared among the four districts based upon skills and talents.
Formation of an Intentional Regional Group. For District Presidents, the November 2009 meeting of the District Presidents Association was very significant. The UUA Moderator and the newly-elected UUA President challenged the Presidents to think in new ways. Many districts were using Policy-based Governance, and the UUA nationally had just adopted it. Did it make sense to have two different PG Boards direct the work of the District Executives? How should the DEs react to performance monitoring from two governing bodies? How much duplication was there in finding 19 different priorities and techniques to serve the UUA's congregations across the country? Might an organization of five regions be simpler?
With these questions in mind, the four District Presidents and the four District Executives of these regions met in Boston in December 2009. The UUA's then Director of Congregational Life, Harlan Limpert, participated as well. The agreement that emerged was to form a cooperative program among the four districts, to name it CERG, or Central East Regional Group, and to work together on programs and operations that focused on the potential for growth in the region.
Planning. A group of three District Executives, one District President, and two UUA staff worked together to work the December agreement into a planning document. They worked for several months, with frequent conference calls and shared documents. A draft plan emerged.
The plan had these characteristics. The District Executives would remain in place, with each one continuing a major role in serving congregations at the district level. But there would be three full-time and specialized regional consultants, replacing the district-level program consultants. Their specialties would be 1) lifespan faith development, 2) growth, and 3) leadership development. The UUA would pay 25% of their salaries; the districts would share remaining costs on a per capita basis. In addition, there would also be a quarter-time consultant for communications and IT support serving the whole region. The regional plan established a program to select and promote "threshold congregations," a group of congregations that could grow if they could get some advice and extra resources from the regional consultants or others, a group that would develop and follow their own growth plans and then serve as mentors for other congregations to grow as well.
The plan did not include any changes in governance. The emphasis was on operational cooperation and mutual support. Governance changes would develop and evolve over time.
Approval of CERG Proposal. At a large meeting in Harrrisburg, PA in March 2010, attended by most of the members of the four district boards, the four DEs (Tom Chulak, Andrea Lerner, Richard Speck and Joan VanBeceleare), and UUA staff involved in the plan along with Harlan Limpert, the four boards talked about the CERG proposal and worked out some details. Annette Marquis, the DE of the Southeast District, facilitated our two-day meeting. All four district boards approved the plan with minor changes, and subsequently all four boards or district assemblies (depending on governance structure) approved their districts entering into the partnership with the other districts and the region. The final version of the plan was produced, and the CERG website was launched.
Implementation of Plan. At a meeting at the 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis, the four district presidents and four district executives agreed to regular (weekly) conference calls over the summer and fall. We talked about the hiring of the three regional consultants. We determined the criteria for selection as a Threshold Congregation and we assembled the application form and material requested from congregations. This planning continued into the fall, along with continuous coordination with the UUA. The DEs came to agreement on the procedures for sharing costs of the regional consultants.
By the fall of 2010 the three regional consultants were all in place: Mark Bernstein as Growth Development Consultant, Patricia Infante as Faith Development Consultant and Renee Ruchotzke as Leadership Development Consultant. Also by the fall, the invitation to apply as a Threshold Congregation went to all congregations in the region. In January 2011, the first group of nine Threshold Congregations were selected. By the spring or early summer of 2011 work had begun between the congregations and the regional consultants.
Monitoring by Four Boards. In May 2011, representatives of the four Boards again met in Harrisburg. Laura Park of Unity Consulting facilitated the meeting. There was a review of what had been done so far as a region, and a wide-ranging discussion of next steps. Of particular importance was a greater understanding of the resources available on the Web for congregations and individuals to use -- webinars and tutorials and a wide range of other items. The four boards agreed to continue the collaboration and agreed further to meet again in the spring of 2012.
Brandeis University, which is responsible for an evaluation of a similar UUA program called Leap of Faith, was contracted to prepare an evaluation of the Threshold Congregation program.
Continuation. In the early months of 2012, a second set of nine congregations became our second class of Threshold Congregations. The four district executives, four district presidents, one other district Board representative from each district, and UUA Director of Congregational Life Terasa Cooley met in Binghamton, NY, again for a check-in and to plan the next meeting of the full Boards.