Open Source or Best Practice?


What does the UUA recommend?  What is the right way to do XYZ?  These are questions that district and regional staff get asked all the time.  We are, after all, the “go to” persons, the “experts” who have made a career in church work.  Because I have gotten to know fairly well roughly 50 congregations of all sizes in 9 states, yes, I have seen a lot of mistakes which can be avoided and many things that worked well.  And our UUA, drawing on the experience of 1000 congregations, can indeed speak with some authority about best practices.

from the UUA websiteOn the other hand I have lost count of the number of times something has been tried which bucks the conventional wisdom, yet works!  Recently I have been reading Open Source Church: Making Room for the Wisdom of All by Landon Whitsitt.  He discusses the collective wisdom of crowds as opposed to the views of select experts like me.  An Open Source Church is always in flux, changing and evolving, and thus stands a better chance of surviving in a changing world.  But it is scary!  By accepting new members we give them power to change the mission and ministry of MY church.  Is nothing sacred?

Should we be open to the wisdom of the crowds OR the wisdom of the ages?  The answer of course is YES!  There is a dynamic tension between roots and wings, navel gazing and star gazing.  May we work on finding the balance between each in our personal and congregational lives.

Karen LoBracco
Lifespan Faith Development Consultant

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Changing Diapers

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, CERG Staff Lead

There is an old joke – a very old joke – that says the only people who welcome change are babies with wet diapers. And yet we face changes every day. One might think we’d be used to it by now.

I can easily understand why we might resist change if something that is working or something we love is going to shift for the worse. The change might be inevitable and we’ll have to learn to accept it; but I can understand why we would resist.  But why do we resist change that is clearly, logically for the better? Why do we fuss when we are presented with positive change in something that isn’t currently working?

Recently, I have assisted several congregations with rethinking their committee structures. Their current structures were not working. Some congregations had literally dozens of committees, many non-functioning, others with only 1 or 2 members. The committees had unclear charges and overlapping responsibilities and there were resulting turf battles. It was nearly impossible to find volunteers to staff them and those brave souls who did, faced burn-out.  The systems simply did not work.

5488_1169480367614_7602613_nAnd yet, after the boards of these congregations gathered input from members and struggled with developing a workable, logical new structure – one that everyone on the committees agreed was much better – there was still obvious and painful resistance by some to the new system. Why?

I know that we humans have evolved to love stability.  We want to be confident that the sun will rise tomorrow.  We want to know where our next meal is coming from and that we are safe.  That certainly accounts for some resistance – we are uncomfortable when our stable situation is disrupted even if we don’t like the state of the stable situation.

Along the same lines, we fear the unknown.  Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.  Better the bad situation that you know well than a new one with uncertainties.

And we fear loss in the midst of change.  Even if we are changing to something better and we know that intellectually, we fear losing something that, at one point, had value to us.  Even if the situation is bad now, at one point in the past it did work or it did have meaning and we remember that fondly.

And we fear loss of control.  The current system may be bad, but we know how to work at least some small part of it.  And we like that small part; we know how to control it.  We know where we stand in the larger system.

While all of the above concerns and fears are present to one extent or another in times of change, I think the greatest fear about change is that we will have to change ourselves.  We have to adapt to a new system, to a new way of interacting, to a new understanding of our place in the structure.   That means personal, internal change. That’s probably the hardest hurdle to face and very likely operating at the root of our resistance to positive change for the better.

Gandhi once said that we have to BE the change we want to see in the world.  This is more than revising things at the surface or changing diapers on a bad situation. This means engaging in change – scary, uncertain, anxiety producing change –  at the soul level for the sake of the world itself.

(Next month, we’ll look at the Roller Coaster of Change.)

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Networks for Justice

There are so many open questions about how we can collaborate regionally. One of the ones that’s very intriguing to me is how we can work together on social justice. My biggest excitement about this right now is a UUA effort on Reproductive Justice. I know that’s not regional, but let me explain why it’s an experiment I’m watching closely: 

I’m watching because our old models of doing social justice aren’t working the way they used to. It’s like this in other areas of life too. The old, late 20th century, model involved institutions and structures. The new model’s buzzword is network. I’ve seen this change in congregations as well as our districts. In several churches I know the old model was one social justice committee that worked on multiple projects. Everyone who was interested came to monthly meetings. It worked! But now it doesn’t work so well. There are lots of people who want to work on social justice projects, but don’t want to come to a formal monthly meeting about multiple subjects. They just want to work on the subject that they are passionate about (partly because they don’t have the time to do more than that!). They’d rather respond to an email or a Facebook thread than drive to church for a face to face meeting with an agenda and notes. Many of our congregations are coming up with new and exciting ways to transform the old model into ways that capture the energy in the new world. (If you have questions about this, I’d be happy to connect you with churches doing this!)

But how will we do it as a region? The old model was a district social justice committee where members would drive to have meetings…that model doesn’t capture the energy in the new world. I have been wondering how we create the networks we need around the issues we care about. Networks where any member of any congregation can be connected with other UU’s who care about that issue and who share resources, build community, and encourage each other.

Our state legislative networks are one way–a way for us to make our voices heard collectively in the governing of our states. Ohio has UUJO, Pennsylvania has  UUPLAN, New York participates in Interfaith Impact.

Another network springing up is Faith Communities Together (FaCT) for Frack Awareness is an interfaith effort with congregations from West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

It’s my hope that we see even more networks emerge, particularly ones focused on single issues like FaCT. To make an impact we need to work together and share resources. Sometimes the place to make a difference is on the state level, sometimes it’s the local level, but we can still share and support each other even if the work we’re doing is right at home. So, I’m excited about a new effort by the UU Witness Ministries. Jessica Halperin, who grew up in OMD, is spearheading an experimental way to organize UU’s around Reproductive Justice which is our current UUA Study/Action issue. Instead of simply mailing congregations a resource packet–a late 20th century institution model–she’s gathering UU’s interested to learn more collaboratively, sharing resources, attending joint webinars to learn more, and support each other. If you’re interested you can email her at jhalperin @ I am going to be watching her efforts closely because I think it’s our future.

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