Opportunities to Be a Part of Summer Institute

This is a guest blog post by Gina Phillips

I’d like to take a moment to tell you a little about what it’s like to receive a campership for helping make SI happen. Actually, scratch that. I’d really just like to tell you what it’s like to be a part of the work that makes SI happen. The campership, while nice, is just a bonus.

The first time I received a campership, it was for babysitting infants and preschoolers in the afternoon. Since then, I have served on the planning council, lead an afternoon workshop, and been a touchgroup leader in the youth program.

Here is what I have learned about serving at SI: it enhances my enjoyment of SI a hundredfold. There is no better way to connect to the community than to work for and with it! I have met so many wonderful people of all ages through the work I have done and many have become dear friends. By doing a variety of jobs, I have had the chance to meet the littlest campers, youth, and adults. And I have learned that they are all completely delightful! There are so many opportunities for service both during and before SI, offering a wide variety of types of work and time commitments.

There is truly no better feeling than being at the closing ceremony at the end of a wonderful week and knowing that you helped make it happen. I had this feeling after being the chair of the Summer Institute Planning Council for a year, which may seem obvious, but I also had this feeling after playing with the babies during the week, and after hanging out with the youth for a week. I have seen firsthand how all our contributions, big and small, connect us to each other and our beloved community. If you have not yet had a chance to help make the SI magic through your service, I highly encourage you to give it a try.


It takes many hands to create the magic of CERSI and your hands can play a part.  That driver who takes you around in the golf cart?  Campership.  The person who teaches you a new art?  Campership.  The nurse who patches up your kid?  Campership.  Tie dye, bookstore, choir, religious education, vespers child care.  All those activities are made possible by fellow CERSIers who applied for camperships.

Each of these positions comes with a financial thank you.  The value of the campership is tied to the actual costs and to the amount of work involved with doing the job.  While the exact amounts cannot be determined until we get this year’s costs from Oberlin, last year the values ranged from $115 (level 4) to $460 (level 1).

List of available camperships

Campership application

Applications may be submitted any time before Friday, February 1, 2019.

Questions:  [email protected]

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We Need Churches

Paula Cole Jones

The communities where we live and work and go to school are constantly changing.  The nation and the wider world is constantly changing.  There is so much that we do not control.  We face everyday challenges as we go through the various phases of our own lives and the lives of family and friends.  And in these challenges there are many opportunities for us to stretch and grow.

I grew up in the UU church, All Souls in Washington, DC.  It helped to shape me.  In my younger years I was skeptical about organized religion.  It was my belief that we don’t need to go to church to be good people, and there was no guarantee that people would be better because of church.

Somewhere along the way, my attitude changed.  My appreciation for what the church had given to me deepened and I wanted to give back.  The more I got involved, the relevancy of the church in people’s lives and in the wider society became more apparent.  I started to see churches as critical centers of community life that  tend to important individual, family and community needs.  The church is where we mark certain cultural and life transitions: child dedications, graduations, marriage, anniversaries, and celebrations, caring and memorials when life comes to an end.  It is where we bring our joys and sorrows and know that we are not alone.

In addition to my own lived experience, I had an interesting window that helped to shift my understanding.  Most Sundays I attended services with my mother.  We processed sermons together and attended meetings.  She was usually the first person I called to bat around some new ideas or to make sense of confusing feelings.  At the same time, my daughter was being raised as UU.  I was seeing church through three generations at one time.

When my mother retired from teaching, the church community became more central to her life.   There she could find people she loved, inspiring messages from the pulpit, music to soothe the soul.  She could count on our church for continued intellectual engagement, and being active in a caring community contributed to a healthy emotional life.

At one point, I became evangelical in my belief that everyone needs to belong to a church.  I wanted to shout from the rooftop, everyone needs to belong to a church, no matter what church it is!  There are things that are essential to our lives and churches are perfectly suited to be centers that contribute to quality of life for each of us.

Recently, someone shared that they joined a UU church, after the last election.  They found us on the internet and knew they had found their people on the first visit.  There are many others who are in need of sanctuary, community or safe harbor in a troubled world.  The program year is well underway and the next election is approaching  Let’s keep building healthy ministries and be ready to welcome newcomers.

Paula Cole Jones
Interim CER Congregational Life Staff

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Lead with Courage and Confidence

Our church needed a new roof and we didn’t have the money to pay for it. We had a member who yelled at people during coffee hour. New members weren’t stepping up to volunteer, let alone be leaders. When new people did step up, their ideas were ignored.

These were the kinds of challenges that I faced when I first stepped into a leadership position. I went to every local workshop offered by the UUA, and read every book in the church’s small library, but I kept making mistakes. Other leaders suggested I attend EAGLES, the Eastern Great Lakes Leadership School, but I didn’t have the money nor the vacation time.

That was over 20 years ago.

Since then, I felt a call to the ministry of Leadership Development, with the vision of having EAGLES-caliber leadership development available to all leaders, not just the ones with the money and vacation time.

The result? The UU Leadership Institute.

Your national UUA Congregational Life staff now offers a series of core leadership courses to equip your leaders with tools and wisdom so they can lead with courage and confidence.

  • Centered Leadership Part 1 focuses on what it means to be a part of a faith community grounded in covenant, both practically and theologically.
  • Centered Leadership Part 2 helps to widen leaders’ understanding through thinking systemically about the interconnected web of relationships that makes a congregation. It also helps leaders understand how their functioning in the congregation can impact the health and vitality of the congregation.
  • Strategic Leadership describes how good governance, strategic planning and feedback loops can enable the congregation to develop habits that reinforce health and vitality.
  • Adaptive Leadership provides a more nuanced understanding of systems thinking which is essential in the ever-changing world of the 21stcentury.

Each 8-module course is offered at a low cost of $30 each. Registered participants receive notifications every two weeks as each new module opens. Participants who register later can access “released” modules and catch up with the rest of the class.

In faith and service,
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

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New online course: Transgender Inclusion in Congregations

Is your congregation ready to take your welcome to the next level?

Our movement has come a long way with regards to LGBTQ inclusion, but there’s a long way left to go. A recent survey of trans UUs found that only 28% feel that their current or most recent congregation is completely inclusive of them as trans people. The average UU congregation was recognized as a Welcoming Congregation in 2004, almost 15 years ago, and has not done any deep, intentional work since to challenge assumptions and unintentionally unwelcoming aspects of congregational life when it comes to the full diversity of LGBTQ communities.

My dear friend Rev. Mykal Slack and I, both of us trans faith leaders, have personal, painful experiences of this. I was raised within Unitarian Universalism, and yet I have never found a congregation where it felt like I could get my spiritual needs met. Mykal found Unitarian Universalism later in life and has similarly struggled to feel like there is a place within this religion for all of who he is.

So we are issuing an invitation to congregations that are serious about changing this narrative: we’ve released an online course that we hope congregations will engage with as whole communities: “Transgender Inclusion in Congregations.” This is not limited to “trans 101”—rather, it’s a comprehensive, six-session online course for individuals, groups, and congregational teams that are committed to transformation.

Each of the course’s six sessions includes a 45- to 60-minute pre-recorded lecture by me and Mykal, reflection questions, and resources that take the conversation deeper. In addition, we will be holding regular live video chats for all current or past course participants.

The course is offered on a sliding scale to both individuals and whole congregations. There are lots of ways that congregations can engage in it holistically and we encourage you to get in touch with us if you have any questions or want to strategize. Once a congregation purchases the course, all of its members get access to it for as long as we run it (which will likely be several years), so the course can be taken by multiple groups over time.

I hope you’ll join me and Mykal in working to transform the experience of trans people within Unitarian Universalism. In the process, I guarantee that all of us will be transformed. Find out more and sign up here.

In faith,
Zr. Alex Kapitan
Transforming Hearts Collective

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Need Some Skills as a Board Member?

Do you have new board members joining your leadership team this year? Do you have returning board members?

Board leadership in a UU congregation calls on a unique set of skills and attitudes. Not every person elected (no matter how enthusiastic they are!) comes to the work with a full sense of what is means to serve and the skills needed to serve well. Do all your board members have the skills they need to be a strong board member and not become frustrated? Not sure? We have resources to help!

Every year our staff offer Board Basics trainings in clusters around the region. These trainings are designed for both the newbie who has never served on a congregational board and your returning board members. Topics we cover include what makes congregational boards different from other kinds of non-profits or corporate boards, a governance overview, the role of the board member, how to manage dissent, and attributes of good board members. One other perk of the in person trainings is that you get an opportunity to learn with your fellow board members and to network with those from neighboring congregations. You can find the currently scheduled trainings on our calendar.

If you were unable to attend a training in your area, never fear, we do have other options for you.

The UUA LeaderLab has a 12 part training for board members that your board can do as a team or new members can do on their own. Each section contains a video or reading to illustrate the topic. There are many ways you could cover this as part of your normal board operations. You could assign a section for each meeting, then spend time talking about what you learned as a board during your meetings. If that sounds like it would add to a packed agenda, remember that some of the skills learned, such as consent agendas, are things that could shorten your agenda, allowing the room for this team learning process.

Last year we offered an online version of this training for those who were not able to attend one of our in person trainings. The videos from this three-part presentation are available on the CER YouTube Channel and embedded below.

Your regional staff wants your congregation’s board members to have the best experience they can while serving on your board. So we encourage you to explore one or more of these training methods to get your board up to date with today’s practices and procedures. Please reach out to your primary contact if you need help!

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Grow Your Skills In Battling White Supremacy Culture This Summer!

One of the things I love about summer is the way you can let concepts and ideas seep into you in a new way, swim around in your heart and gut, forming their own new paths of meaning and inspiring more active steps when the time is right. In that vein, the Central East Region would like to offer a couple of short learning opportunities for your contemplation over the summer.

These might introduce concepts that are new to you – or ones that are familiar, but could be helpful to your congregation. Feel free to share broadly!

Microaggressions: Say what?! Small slights … big impact! (video, 5 min).

How Microaggressions Are Like Mosquito Bites (animated video, 2 min, some vulgar language)

White Fragility and the Rules of Engagement, by Dr. Robin Diangelo (article, 3 pages). (And check out her new New York Times bestselling book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, published by our own Beacon Press!)

Hope your summer is filled with time for new ideas and the space to soak them in!

Love, the Central East Region staff

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What Four Years Has Taught Me

Rev. David Pyle

For the last four years, I have had the honor of serving the congregations of the Central East Region of the UUA, first as the District Executive of the Joseph Priestley District, and then as a Primary Contact and as a specialist in governance, staffing, ministry, and pastoral care.  I remember when I accepted the position, the Central East Region had been mostly a dream and an agreement to share a few staff between the four districts, and now it is a fully functioning staff team, and a growing set of wider relationships among congregations.  While the Central East Region is still growing and adapting, it is wonderful to see the ways in which what was once an idea has been “made manifest”.

As I am preparing to step away from serving on the Central East Regional staff for a year, to serve our country as a U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain during a deployment, I have been thinking about what these four years has taught me.  It is a little different than when I have departed from previous ministries, because I will be returning to the UUA staff when my active duty obligation is complete.  What I have been thinking about these last few weeks has been the learnings that I will continue to live into when I return.

The first and largest of these  is the realization that there are no two Unitarian Universalist congregations that are the same.

We can intellectually say that every congregation is a unique expression of our living faith tradition, but I think serving in the role of the Regional Staff is one of the few ways to really see that truth.  Every congregation makes decisions in a different way.  Every congregation understands its core beliefs in a different way.  Every congregation sees its purpose differently.  Every congregation has a different relationship between its leadership and ordained ministry.  Every congregation does faith formation differently. Every congregation has different joys and pains in its history, which lead to different assumptions and challenges.

As a consultant, I think I first thought that we should try to make our congregations more like one another.  As if there was one “right” way, or “best practice” that would work in all the varying congregations, cultures, and contexts of our free faith.  The arc of my development on this led me later to think that such commonality would be beneficial, but it might be impossible to ever actually occur.

What working with the wonderful and dedicated leaders of our congregations has taught me is that the strength and beauty of our religious movement lies in just how different all of our congregations are.  And that very few people are in a position to see that strength and beauty the way that members of your Regional Staff do.

The passion I think I will return to is how to help those serving in the leadership of a congregation to see the strength and beauty of their own congregation.  To see and celebrate its uniqueness.  To own the history and culture that create their congregation’s identity in such a way that inspires them to be the best of both.

To stop thinking of the differences in our congregations as something that “needs to be fixed”.

And… to begin to see the strength and beauty in other Unitarian Universalist congregations as well… not to copy them or even to learn from them, although learning might happen.  No, I want all of you to see the ways in which our differences make for who we are as a movement of liberal faith.

I look forward to seeing you all when I return, and to continue to be amazed by your dedication and love for one another.  Thank you for allowing me to journey with you these last four years, and I look forward to catching back up to you on this path.

Yours in Faith,
Rev. David Pyle

Note: Paula Cole-Jones will be filling in this next year for Rev. Pyle starting on August 13th.

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July 1 marks the beginning of the summer season for the UUA. During July and August, the UUA has a shorter work day from 9a to 4p. Our regional staff also work shorter days during these two months.

You are welcome to reach out to us as normal, but don’t be surprised if you get an autoresponder if we’re on vacation or just taking a day or two off. We’ll get back to you as soon as we’re back in the office or direct you to someone to help while we’re out of the office.

As we get into summer, we do ask that your congregation update your congregational board and leaders on myuua.org so we have up-to-date information for your congregation when we start gearing up for fall. Please include email addresses since that is our primary form of communication. Questions? Contact your primary contact or our Communications Consultant, Beth Casebolt at [email protected].

Looking for summer reading ideas? Check out InSpirit, the UU Book and Gift Shop. There are a number of new titles that would make a great summer read. Read their latest newsletter where they shared the most popular books at GA 2018. The book Justice on Earth has been named the Common Read for 2018-19 if you want to get a head start for the coming church year.

Happy Summer!

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Maintaining the Beloved Community

Shannon Harper

Summer is a glorious season. Traditionally it’s sold as a leisure time, a time to relax, enjoy yourself, get outdoors and have some fun. But anyone who has ever had children in or around their lives knows summer can actually be even more work – scheduling, planning, coordinating and entertaining – than the rest of the year. And whether because of travel or change in routine or just wanting to enjoy some extra lazing hours on cool Sunday mornings, many of us find our church attendance slipping during the summer months. But the beautiful part about beloved community is it calls us to practice our values beyond the limitations of Sunday mornings in the sanctuary. When I reflect on what keeps me coming back to my congregation in the fall, ready to re-commit, pouring our sacred water in covenant, I think about the relationships I’ve formed there. These bonds have not only expanded my own world, they’ve tied me to the congregation as a whole.

If “othering” or seeing persons or groups of people as somehow “different” or not “fitting in” is one of the stumbling blocks of beloved community then relationship is the jackhammer that breaks it down. I see this happen all the time in youth communities like Goldmine and Midwest Leadership Schools. We take teenagers from many different backgrounds with many different personalities and ways of being in the world and ask them to basically live and learn together for a week. During our time together we build covenant, play games, learn technical skills like how to plan a worship service or lead a meeting and even have some fun and insightful history and theology lessons. But the real magic is in the work we do together. Physical work like cooking and cleaning, gardening and taking care of our temporary home. Challenging work like creating a worship service and receiving feedback. And spiritual work like reflection and deep sharing. That work, done side by side and collaboratively, builds relationships that see them through not just the challenges and tests of the week but for many of them into young adulthood and beyond. It turns a bunch of teenagers who were apprehensive and nervous at the beginning of the week – who said they came to Leadership School because it would look good on their college applications or because their parent/minister/DRE made them – into family. The Group – the friendships – were now the reason they were there and why they didn’t want to leave.

Congregational life also gives us many opportunities for building the relationships that bond us to one another in community. And we can create even more connections on our own. This summer make some new friends in your congregation, invite someone over to your home for dinner, arrange a family playdate at a local park, spend time weeding each others gardens, or preserving your bounty together; build a shed, paint a fence, teach a new driver how to do minor maintenance on their car; coordinate a group trip to a local destination or a carpool to the library or shopping center. There are so many ways to spend time together in more personal ways. Nurturing authentic relationships that build solidarity and break down walls within our faith communities seems like the perfect summer homework during the season of leisure!

Shannon Harper, CER Youth and Young Adult Coordinator

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Delegate at General Assembly? Look Here!

Attending General Assembly can be an overwhelming experience even for those who have attended several times. Being a delegate and needing to understand what is happening in plenary is even  more challenging.

Your Central East Regional team has some help for those who are delegates (and those who are not) for this year.

  • Attend a General Assembly Orientation Webinar. The Central East Region is offering an orientation for those attending GA on June 13 at 8 pm ET. The webinar is free but you do need to register. Attending from off-site? We held our off-site orientation webinar in May and the video is now available if you missed it (see below).
  • Learn about the Business Items You’ll Be Voting On. You can read all the agendas and documents for the general sessions (aka plenary sessions, aka business meetings) in the Final Business Agenda at the UUA GA website. In addition, the UUA Board is offering a webinar titled What Delegates Can Expect at GA 2018. There are four sessions being offered, each will be about 75 minutes long and they will cover the same material. Dates are June 5 at 8p ET, June 7 at 8p ET, June 9 at 4p ET and June 10 at 5p ET. Learn more and get the webinar info at their webpage. Do note that this is for both off site and on site delegates. If one of those dates doesn’t work they will record them and post it to the webinar webpage.
  • Make Sure You Have Your Credentials. All delegates need their credentials which your congregation can provide to you. The UUA has an online system for congregations to access those credentials. Need more information? Check out the Credentials page on the GA section of the UUA website. Don’t leave home without them!
  • Visit the Delegate Page for General Assembly. This page on the UUA website has links to important documents such as the General Session Participation Guide, an FAQ for delegates and information about being an off-site delegate. Learn more at the delegate page of the GA section of UUA website.
  • Learn about this year’s Public Witness BEFORE you leave home. This year our prophetic ministry at GA will not include a demonstration or rally. Instead we will kick off our #EndMoneyBail work and materially support local Kansas City organizing. So instead of your marching shoes, please bring a gently used purse or bag and generously support the Wish List of items for the care package build. This is an evolving event, so check the Public Witness page of the UUA GA website to learn more.
  • Download the GA App to your Smartphone. This app will allow you to network with other attendees and receive notifications and access documents such as the final business agenda and daily documents like the CSW Alert. It also contains the schedule, a list of exhibitors in the exhibit hall and information about the Public Witness plans.  The app allows those who have smartphones to be greener than having as much paper at GA as well as allowing for networking and feedback. Learn more at the UUA website or search your app store for UUA GA.

New This Year!

  • Networking Sessions – This year there are two opportunities for individuals to network with others along different topics during time set aside just for this purpose. The first session is Wednesday at 4:30-6 pm and will be led by UUA staff and include networking, introductions, resources and information on the topic area and highlights for other GA programs related to the topic. The second session is Friday at 7-8:30 pm are organized by affinity groups. Please check the program book for the extensive list for each session to see what interests you.
  • Poster Sessions – This year there are two opportunities for individuals to showcase projects or programs in a poster display during GA. The three sessions are Thursday at 12:15-1:30, Friday at 12:15-1:30 and Saturday at 12:15-1:30. The list of presentations for each session is listed in the program book.
  • Workshop Lengths – This year the GA planning committee offered workshop presenters the option of having different time lengths of workshops. When you check your program book or app, please check the start and end times of the workshops you are interested in. Some workshops may run through two or three time slots this year.

For everyone attending, do check out the GA Prep materials to help you prepare for this year’s General Assembly. All the activities and a downloadable pdf can be found on the UUA website.

Plan ahead what you want to do by checking out the schedule of workshops and activities but be prepared to change your mind if you hear information about activities that make them sound more interesting that you initially thought. You can view a pdf of the program book or look at the activity listings on the GA App.

Are you a singer? The choir is currently registering online and is filled on a first come, first serve basis.

Questions about GA? Please ask them in the comments below or contact your congregation’s primary contact.

See you at GA!

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