GA Preparation Materials Available

Prepare your heart, mind, and spirit to enter into the Resist and Rejoice experience in New Orleans, arriving at General Assembly ready to learn what the people, culture, history, and geography have to teach! Check out these resources to help you prepare. Before heading to GA, print the READY booklet and tell us what you did. Turn in your list at the UUA Expressway to receive a READY ribbon to affix to your GA name badge!

General Assembly in New Orleans will awaken and deepen the commitment of Unitarian Universalists to the power and possibility of working in solidarity with those on the margins. The activities that have been prepared fall into five categories:

  • Encountering New Orleans: People, Place and Stories
  • Understanding Intersections: Race, Class, Economics
  • Enhancing Capacity to Build Relationships
  • Centering the Experiences of People of Color
  • Examining Whiteness

In each category there are recommended books to read, videos to watch and ways to apply what you have learned in a variety of ways. Those who are attending GA can print the pdf, record what they did and present that at the UUA Expressway to receive a ribbon. Those not attending GA can email what they did to [email protected].

Download the entire booklet or review what activities are recommended at the UUA website.

This year’s Ware Lecture will be presented by Author Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy: A story of Justice and Redemption, the 2015-16 UUA Common Read. Learn more about Bryan Stevenson and the Ware Lecture.

Want more preparation or experiences? Then register for the Pre-General Assembly Conference, Undoing Racism on June 20-21, 2017. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the General Assembly Planning Committee (GAPC), and the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR) are partnering together in bringing this unique custom workshop offered by The People’s Institute, a New Orleans-based, national, multiracial, anti-racist network dedicated to ending racism and other forms of institutional oppression.

The Resist and Rejoice! theme of this General Assembly calls us to embody a more antiracist, anti-oppressive and multicultural faith. This two-day pre-GA training is intended to:

  • prepare and equip UUs to engage in the justice work organized for this GA
  • encounter other GA participants in less oppressive and more inclusive ways
  • bring an antiracist equity and intersectional lens to the justice work in congregations and communities

Learn more at Reduced registration rates for this pre-GA event available through April 30th.

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Focused Church

Who knows why our Central East Region staff decided to schedule our congregational check-ins for February this year? What a surprising opportunity it turned out to be to see how congregations turn from crisis and overwhelm to resolve and commitment.

I happened to have planned a video call with DC area clergy for the day after the election. What a surprising crowd turned up. It seemed that everyone wanted to be together in an incredibly tender time. They were a shocked and overwhelmed lot. They were afraid for the vulnerable among us. They wondered how they would craft their Sunday message when they themselves were struggling. They wondered how to minister to both the devastated Democrats and the unseen but present Republicans. They were confused and hurting.

Contrast that day to what I found from my calls just three months later:

  • “Our pews are full of people seeking meaning and sustenance.”
  • “We used to have a scattershot approach to justice work. Now we’re really focusing.”
  • “Our stewardship campaign is going strong.”
  • “We used to fight over stupid things. Now we pull together.”

Folks, people and systems are resilient. We thought we had to make resilience happen, but it turns out that it happens on its own. That’s the nature of human recovery, and thank goodness for that.

What will our congregations do next with this focus and resolve? Will we breathe a sigh of relief and fade back to our old, perhaps less directed, perhaps less effective ways? Or will we learn the lessons these times have to teach?

I think we’ve just re-learned what focused church can do. It comforts and strengthens those who suffer and those who work hard at recovering. It is a place where love and compassion are planted and sprouted so that those who participate are at their best in the rest of the world. Church can serve as a countercultural beacon, declaring through words and action that no matter what happens out there, love wins in here.

Don’t forget that what you do matters, you are not alone, and your Central East Region team is here to help. May we keep the resolve and focus that have been hard won over the past few months. May we see our value more than we ever have, and use our power more than we ever did. May our churches be the shining light that both welcomes us home and lights our way forward.

Megan Foley, CER Regional Lead

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Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore

Lifetree Gathering at North UU Congregation, Lewis Center, OH
Lifetree Gathering at North UU Congregation, Lewis Center, OH

That’s the title of a recent book written by Joani and Thom Schultz.   The title shouldn’t shock many of us anymore. There is a lot of evidence for its assertion. According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. As it turns out, less than 20 percent are actually in church. In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are finding other things to do and places to be on weekends.  We also know that somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors every year. Some researchers put that estimate higher, between 8,000 and 10,000 churches closing.

The “Why” in the title is a question with a variety of answers.  We know there are a number of factors involved: changes in the way people regard Sunday services,  demographic changes,  different ways we now view volunteering, competition on weekends, fewer young families with children, and more.  Some people feel spiritual but no longer find institutional church meaningful.  Some don’t want to be in a place where they feel judged for who they are or what they believe.  Some are not certain and won’t commit till they have had more time to consider.   Others are simply not interested.

So inviting people to come to a church on Sunday morning when that’s one of the last places they want to be might not always be an effective means of outreach.  There are other ways, however, we can use to invite people into meaningful spiritual community that are not focused on Sunday morning.

A number of faith communities from different traditions are experimenting with spiritual Conversation Cafes.  One of the best known of these Cafes is “Lifetree Café.”  These 60-90 minute weekly Cafes focus on guided dialogue on a wide variety of topics in an intentionally welcoming, open, “non-churchy” atmosphere.  They are often held in coffee shops or tavern party rooms or libraries or other non-church spaces to eliminate the ‘stigma’ of being inside a church building.   Participants are invited from the sponsoring church and through Facebook and Meet Up and personal friend-to-friend invitation.

Lifetree gathering at a local Panera, North UU Congregation, Lewis Center, OH

These Cafes are a little like small group ministry, but there is no expectation that the same people will show up each week.  Instead, each Café begins with a short introductory exercise that assume people do not always know each other – yet.  Then the following program is designed to lead to deeper levels of discussion and relationship building, moving eventually into some form of spiritual question.

North UU Congregation in Lewis Center OH has been experimenting these past two months with the Café format and is using Lifetree Café curriculum (sometimes with small edits to maintain a general UU orientation.)  People who have experienced these North UU Cafes have found the chance to meet and engage in dialogue with non-church people meaningful and feedback has been supportive.  But participation has varied widely depending the topic.  The established curricular topics are very general and, in light of the major social issues facing us today, some topics have seemed relatively inconsequential.

Consequently, the North UU Café volunteer team has decided to create its own conversation café curriculum beginning March 2017.   They have been discussing the use of topics that are more immediately relevant to current social and political developments, with the expectation that these may be more inviting to both congregational members and non-members.  But the Conversation Cafe dialogue format is something they want to keep and cultivate and expand.

This experiment in outreach is still  in development and it will be evaluated continuously as the team moves to create new curricular topics.   The experiment has already highlighted the fact that Sunday morning in a church building is not the only time and place where meaningful spiritual community can be created.

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General Assembly Registration Opens March 1

GUUA GA 2017 logoeneral Assembly 2017 will be held in New Orleans, LA on June 21-25. Registration and housing for the general public open March 1.  Here is some basic information you need to know about GA. The theme this year is Resist and Rejoice!

Every year General Assembly includes plenary sessions where congregational delegates vote on the business of the UUA, workshops on a variety of topics, a public witness event, the Ware Lecture, this year by Bryan Stevenson, and worship services. This year is an election year and includes the election of the UUA President. Please see our blog post two weeks ago for details on that process.

To learn more about General Assembly, please visit the UUA GA Pages. Of particular interest are:

March 1 is the date registration opens for everything. You can register for the Pre-GA Racial Justice Training, Youth Registration, Children’s Programs, Off-site registration, Choir Registration, Financial Aid requests, Accessibility Services, and Housing. Click the registration link above to get to all registration pages, click the travel and housing link to make housing arrangements.

Important Deadlines:

  • March 1 – all registration, financial aid and housing opens for registration
  • March 31 – deadline for financial aid applications (including to volunteer)
  • May 1 – registration rates increase

As you start choosing your congregational delegates, some may have questions. This UUA page explains what delegates need to do to prepare and how congregations are determined to be eligible to send delegates and how many.

Get Ready to Resist and Rejoice: Undoing Racism is a Pre-General Assembly Training for racial justice and community organizing at the New Orleans Convention Center June 20-21, 2017. The Unitarian Universalist Association, the General Assembly Planning Committee, and the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR) are pleased to partner together in bringing this unique custom workshop offered by The People’s Institute, a New Orleans-based, national, multiracial, anti-racist network dedicated to ending racism and other forms of institutional oppression. Learn more at Registration opens March 1.

As always, if you have questions about General Assembly please contact your primary contact and we’ll point you in the right direction. And please watch our newsletter, where we’ll include updated information as it becomes available.

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Presidents and Leaders Roundtable Offers Information and Networking

New this year is the monthly Presidents and Leaders Roundtable offered by our CER Staff on the 4th Wednesday of each month. Each month we offer the opportunity for presidents and congregational leaders to gather virtually. Each month offers a short featured presentation on a specific topic, followed by opportunities for discussion, questions and more. Presentations are offered by CER or UUA staff. The meetings are recorded and posted to YouTube within a few days for those who were unable to attend.

Upcoming roundtables and their topics are:

  • February 22, 2017 – Meet Rev. Hope Johnson of CER and learn about bullying and difficult conversations.
  • March 22, 2017 – Meet Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer and Shannon Harper from CER to learn about youth and young adult programming in our region and meet UUA staff, Norrie Gall, Congregational Giving Manager to speak about future transitions in the Annual Program Fund (treasurers may be interested in this one!)
  • April 26, 2017 – Meet Rev. Joan Van Becelaere of CER and learn about the Commissioned Lay Ministry Program.
  • May 24, 2017 – Meet Beth Casebolt of CER and learn about social media and communications.

A playlist of the past roundtables is below:


The topics of the past roundtables were:

  • October – Differences between Bylaws, Policies and Procedures with Rev. David Pyle
  • November – Regional Transitions Team and with Andrea Lerner
  • January – UU Leadership Institute with Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

The monthly calls are presented on the Zoom platform and the meeting information is:

Meeting Connection Information: Topic: Congregational Presidents and Leaders Roundtable

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android:

Or iPhone one-tap (US Toll): +14086380968,6260867416# or +16465588656,6260867416#

Or Telephone: Dial: +1 408 638 0968 (US Toll) or +1 646 558 8656 (US Toll) Meeting ID: 626 086 7416

We hope to “see” your leaders there!

Beth Casebolt
CER Communications Consultant

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Fall Interview Report: What did our Advisory Council find?

The Central East Region has an Advisory Council of lay and ordained volunteers who work with the Director of Congregational Life, Rev. Scott Tayler, to both assess the needs of our congregations and to track the effectiveness of our regional staff in meeting those needs.  The Advisory Council completes targeted, in-depth interviews each fall, and does a broad survey of congregations each spring.  This is what they found in their Fall 2016 interviews.

There were three focus topics for the fall interviews:

  1. Relentlessly Useful Administration questions (10 interviews; 5 Congregations)
  2. Start-Up Workshops/New Ministry Support (10 interviews; 5 Congregations)
  3. New Annual Program Fund Plans  (15 Interviews; largely directed by the Stewardship and Development Office of the UUA.

Here’s an overview of what the Advisory Council learned:

  • There is a strong connection between our congregations and their Central East Region regional staff, especially through primary contacts. Congregants and congregations clearly go to their primary contacts to gather resources.  That connection does not need to be face to face.  Some congregations are worried our primary contacts may not be supported enough.
  • Administrators and clergy clearly need help with the practicalities of payroll, staffing, state taxes – all aspects of managing the “business” end of church.  It is hard work and the congregations don’t feel they have the skills.
  • Our congregations are very worried about money.  Stewardship is changing.  Churches seem to be saying that the new, younger folks don’t understand or participate in the traditional way of raising money.  Congregations seemed focused on attracting younger members or people with children.  They’re either proud they’ve got younger members or they’re worried that they don’t.  At the same time, when congregations talked about younger members, they often mentioned that their per-unit pledge had dropped.
  • Congregations were not eager to talk to the Advisory Council about the Annual Program Fund, the way the congregations fund the UUA. (Learn more at There was a low level of understanding about the APF.  For the most part, just a few leaders or the minister knew about it and anchored the rest of the congregation.  There was a real hunger for more information about the Annual Program Fund, with congregations wishing for resources like videos or a full Sunday service package, or for the UUA to come to their churches to inform them.
  • Ministerial Start Up Workshops, traditionally offered by regional staff at the start of a new religious professional’s tenure, are appreciated by congregations.  There is not much consensus on the best timing of ministerial start up workshops.  Some thought they were best timed for right away in the new relationship.  Others thought it was better to have them later, after the religious professional and congregation had time to get to know each other.  There was a desire for a follow up check in later, if there was an early start up workshop.
  • Congregations seem to have a growing understanding of clergy and sexual misconduct and how that impacts congregational health.  They also have a growing understanding of congregations’ behavioral and emotional systems and how anxiety affects a congregation.

Learn more about the Congregational Life Advisory Council (CLAC) at their webpage.

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UUA Presidential Election News

UUA Presidential Candidates, l-r - Rev. Alison Miller, Rev. Jeanne Pupka, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
UUA Presidential Candidates, l-r – Rev. Alison Miller, Rev. Jeanne Pupka, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray

From Harlan Limpert, COO of the UUA:Democracy is a core value of our faith. In June, delegates till vote for our next UUA President. Let’s work together to make certain everyone entitled to vote knows how to vote.

Below is a link to a document that describes the many opportunities for UUs to become familiar with all three UUA presidential candidates and important information about the voting process.

2017 UUA Election Voting Information (PDF Flyer)

Please share this broadly with anyone in your congregation who may be attending as delegate or who is just interested.

Those who desire more information about the election, including an FAQ (PDF), can go to

The UUA presidential election page has links to learn more about the three candidates:

You can join the Elections Discussion Board if you have questions about the election process, the UUA Presidency or the candidates.

Finally, the three candidates participated in a forum at General Assembly in Columbus, OH. The video of that presentation is available on the UUA website.

And from your CER staff:

You have an opportunity to hear from the UUA Presidential candidates yourself on April 1 when we host the CER Presidential Candidate Forum. This event will be live at Cedar Lane UU in Bethesda, MD, but it will also be live streamed to locations throughout the region. You can see where on the map on this page. More congregations are being added each week. The forum will be recorded for those who can’t participate at any location.

If your congregation would like to host, please contact your primary contact.

On the same webpage, we are accepting questions to ask the candidates. So please submit your questions.

If you have questions about the election or the forum event, please don’t hesitate to contact one of us and we’ll point you in the right direction.

Beth Casebolt
CER Communications Consultant

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Congregation Takes a Risk – and Succeeds

Chris Crass presentationDuring the Martin Luther King Day Weekend, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Mill Creek, in Newark Delaware, invited racial justice organizer and activist Chris Crass to present a Courage for Racial Justice / Courage for Liberation Conference and Training that brought together area congregations from multiple faith traditions and the local activist community working on issues of Racial Justice.  “We had 113 people attend the Saturday workshop, and 111 attend the worship service the following day.  Two-Thirds of the attendees were Unitarian Universalists, but the rest were members of our local community” says Rev. Gregory Pelley, minister for the UU Society of Mill Creek.  “It became an interfaith community event”.

After hearing Chris Crass speak at the UUA General Assembly this past summer in Columbus Ohio, one member of the congregation, Linda Lucero, decided to work to bring Chris Crass to speak at Mill Creek.  The congregation partnered with the two other congregations in the Wilmington Delaware area, including receiving financial support for the First Unitarian Church of Wilmington.  They also conducted a successful Faithify crowdfunding campaign, and received registration and advertising support from the UUA’s Central East Region.   “With recent developments in our country, we wanted to have someone who could talk about organizing for Racial Justice in a way our members could get engaged with” Rev. Pelley explained.

The congregation has experienced renewed energy for the work of Racial Justice, and a deeper sense of connection to area congregations and the racial justice activist community.  “The surprise was that we pulled it off, and that we raised all the money we needed to raise to make it happen.”  The event was a risk for a congregation of 141 members to attempt. When asked what the congregation learned that could be useful for other congregations, Rev. Pelley said “Go for it… take the risk and put your energy into it.  We were successful because we kept broadening the vision and the scope to include as many people as we could.”

Chris Carss workshop Chris Crass workshop

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Celebrating 200 Years of Universalism in Western New York

Many churches celebrate important anniversaries, but it’s rare that congregational historians take a wider view. But when Bill Parke, the Church Historian of the UU Church of Buffalo noted this anniversary, he researched the topic and came up with this lovely display and story.


2016 is a bicentennial year for our faith! All the way back in 1816, The Reverend Stephen R. Smith arrived here and began a preaching circuit, bringing a new religion — Universalism — to Buffalo and Western New York.


Take a moment, and teleport yourself back in me and imagine life in June, 1816 when 27-year old Mr. Smith arrived:

At this me, except on the great lateral roads from Genesee River and along the shore of Lake Erie, the settlements were comparatively few – and sometimes “far between.” There every thing but the eternal woods and waters, was new. –Almost every family still occupied its primitive log cabin–the roads were but cart-paths in the interminable forest–the streams were in most instances without bridges, and the soil deep enough to render every traveled way almost impassable. And yet, it was among these settlements, that the preacher of Universalism was to find hearers, and friends, and hope to raise up congregations!


Just a few years earlier, the village of Buffalo was overrun by British soldiers during the War of 1812. Nearly all its buildings burned. Recovery was slow. And just two Universalist societies existed in New York west of the Genesee River. But even if there weren’t churches, there were early believers: Benjamin Caryl, who helped found one of the village’s first businesses, a bank, was one. He had a house in Williamsville and invited Mr. Smith to stay with him and begin preaching. As a result, Universalism arrived in our land. Here is Mr. Smith’s own account:


On the 24th of June of this year (1816), a Masonic celebration in the then village of Buffalo, furnished a convient (sic) opportunity for the introduction of Universal Salvation into that place. The appointment was accordingly made; and at 5 o’clock, P.M. the same building and the same seats were occupied for the service, that had been fitted up for the festival. It was a new Barn, attached to one of the Taverns— and though its accommodations would now be thought rather humble, they were the best which the place afforded, and were duly appreciated by the citizens. A respectable auditory attended, and gave very patient and candid hearing to a discourse from the 6th ver. of 126th Psalm—“He that goeth forth and weepeth bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”


Mr. Smith found receptive audiences for his message and established a preaching circuit which, he wrote,

in its windings to and from the vicinity of Buffalo, embraced about two hundred and y miles. And from this time, during most of the year, this distance was very regularly traveled every four weeks. The number of discourses usually delivered in making the circuit, varied from twenty to thirty-two—that is, from five to eight per week.


What about in winter? After all, today many Buffalonians shy away from winter weather; but not the circuit riding preachers of yesteryear. Roads would be frozen and not muddy, making travel easier. In January, 1817, Mr. Smith wrote from Buffalo to his parents, “I have preached twenty-one times in twenty days.”


In most localities, Universalism was wholly unknown. Mr. Smith was “the pioneer, the first herald of salvation, within their borders.” Mr. Smith himself wrote, “Doors are opened everywhere, and the walls of Zion are, by the divine blessing, laid in fair colors.”


Having laid a foundation of faith, in 1817 Mr. Smith departed. Ensuing years brought ebbs and flows to Universalist fortunes here. Many open-minded Bu alonians were recep ve, but the Universalist message contrasted sharply with Christian beliefs of the time, and general acceptance was hard-won. Thank goodness for stalwarts like Benjamin Caryl. He helped establish the first permanent Universalist Church in Buffalo, by organizing the first board of trustees, signing a certificate of organization to form a congregation on December 6, 1831, and seeing a church built on Washington Street. Shortly after it was dedicated in August, 1833, Mr. Caryl wrote to Mr. Smith: “Br. Smith: We have got, as you have heard, a beautiful house dedicated to the worship of Almighty God, but unfortunately, we are destitute of a minister…” However, Mr. Smith could not be persuaded to return. Finally, in a turn of events presaged in words spoken by Mr. Smith in his first service in Buffalo in 1816 — “He that goeth forth and weepeth bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” — Mr. Smith did return to Buffalo, commencing a ministry on the 1st day of May, 1843 and remaining in the pulpit for six years. The city was booming, the church “was highly prosperous and, above all, there was aboard in the place and neighborhood a spirit of deep religious inquiry.”


In time, however, Mr. Smith’s exertions over the decades took their toll. He preached his last sermon in the Buffalo church in 1849. In declining health, he was forced to give up his beloved pulpit. Then, one Sunday in February, 1850, the end arrived. And in fitting fashion, Mr. Smith connected with his faith — and our church — on his last day: “When the bells rang for church in the morning, he listened to them with deep interest, and finally selected that of the Universalist church from among the rest, and appeared to listen to it with unusual pleasure.” At the end of the day, “— in calmness, in peace, in purity, — closed the earthly career of one of the best of husbands, one of the best of fathers, one of the purest and most upright and exemplary of men, and one of the most eminent and faithful of the disciples of Christ and servants of God.”


Bill Parke, Church Historian
November 4, 2016

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Are you ready to Show the Love this week?

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK, Jr.

As I look at what is happening today, I return to lessons learned from a speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that is as appropriate now as it was some 50 years ago. Rev. Dr. King was way ahead of the curve when he warned us of the “deadly triplets” that Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center cites are alive and well today: racism, militarism, and materialism. The triplets live on while Rev. Dr. King was assassinated a year after that speech.

At this “Sankofa” moment, from the West African tradition, we must take the time to look back, so that we can be rooted in the task at hand, understand the present, and then re-shape the future. “Woe is me” is old. The “days of lamentation” better be over. Our perpetuation of ignorance coupled with good intentions is stale. It’s time to get real. We can better understand what got us to this “reality show” in which we find ourselves by doing our homework so that we will effectively shape that Beloved Community that we still long for, and dream of, despite the harsh realities of the day.

I urge you to read Dr. King’s stellar “Speech to Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam” shared at Riverside Church, NY some 50 years ago. . I urge you to review the resources cited below from the UUA Program and Strategy Outreach Office that give insight to this critical Week of Action January 14-21, 2017. I urge you to study the “Show the Love” resources listed on the UUA website.

Unitarian Universalists embody the Living Tradition. Rev. Dr. King’s legacy lives on through each of us. Let’s find our voices. It’s time to GET BUSY!!!

Yours, HOPE

Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson
UUA Congregational Life Consultant
Central East Region

  • The UUA has gathered events that “Show the Love” and stand up for our values on their webpage, Show the Love. Congregations and groups are invited to add their events to the map and list.
  • If you are particularly interested in activities this week, check the Show the Love updates page created by our UUA staff to help individuals find events and activities they can participate in at home or in Washington or anyplace in between.
  • And if you are looking for resources to help you and your congregation learn more, the Show the Love resources page can help with that including how to prep your greeters for the increase in visitors we are currently seeing and ways to partner with other organizations.
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