Annual Seaway Gathering

The annual Seaway Gathering and Gould Lecture was held on April 13-14, 2018 at the First UU Society of Syracuse, NY.

The Gould Discourse titled UU Sniffing Salts was presented by Sheila Schuh and the keynote presentation titled You Can’t Spell Church without J-O-Y was presented by Rev. Megan Foley. Workshops on a variety of topics including Restorative Practices 101, Helping Small Congregations Connect with the Next Church-Going Generation, Sticky Membership and Understanding Micro-Aggressions were offered. The graduating youth from the Upstate New York Youth were bridged during the closing worship service.

For those of you who who could not make the event, or who want a refresher on what happened, we offer video of the Gould Lecture and the Keynote Presentation and Megan Foley’s workshop Helping Smaller Congregations Connect with the Next Church-Going Generation. We also thank Til Fritzshing from the Watertown NY congregation who took photos and shared them with us, a few are posted below.

Bridging Youth at Seaway Gathering
Networking sessions at the Seaway Gathering
Networking Sessions at Seaway Gathering



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Relentlessly Useful Resources for Leadership Development

What would Unitarian Universalism look like if we trained our lay leaders as highly as we train other religious professionals such as ministers and religious educators? We would no longer be able to joke that we’re too disorganized to be called “organized religion.”

Your UUA Congregational Life staff has been working on a variety of online resources for lay (and professional!) leaders, and it’s now ready for its Beta release. (This means that it is operational, but there are still some missing components and some bugs to work out: In other words, it’s not perfect, but an expectation of perfection is one of the constructs of the white supremacy culture that we are trying to dismantle.)

Introducing: LeaderLab!

LeaderLab is our new home page for congregational leaders. There you will find the portal to our leadership material database, training for board members and congregational leadership development teams, leadership schools (both in person and the online UU Leadership Institute), upcoming live webinars and on-demand online courses.

Searchable Database!

We are assembling a searchable database of curated articles, webinars, videos, workshops, and other resources for lay leaders. You can search by tag, keywords, author, format, and date range. This will be a one-stop-shop for congregational leadership materials from the UUA.

Board Member Training!

Use this 12-Part training to onboard new board members, to use as a monthly board in-service training, or for a quick reference during board meetings.

Leadership Development Planning for Your Congregation!

Identify and train potential leaders and provide continuing training for more experienced leaders. We will give you tips and tools to design your own program as well as resources for the actual training.

Online Leadership Courses!

We have completely redesigned our online version of leadership school (replacing UULTI and Eagles) with Centered Leadership Part 1 & Part 2. Detailed course syllabi are available on the course main pages. We also offer upper-level courses and electives.

Live Webinar Listing!

What’s coming up? Browse the list of upcoming webinars offered by your UUA.

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Falling Forward

Rev. Megan Foley

You may remember that last spring the UUA was embroiled in a controversy over hiring practices for staff such as myself who serve our congregations. It was a perfect storm of UU crisis: a significant portion of our UU family calling out important, long overdue problems with the UUA. A social media firestorm with plenty of blame to share. Defensiveness and poor messaging from leadership. The resignation of the UUA’s President, Chief Operating Officer, and my boss, the Director of Congregational Life. And then, a UUA commitment to once again tackle the perennial UU problem of embedded structural racism and white supremacy culture.

In the midst of all that spring madness swirled so many questions: What really happened with the Southern Lead hire? How did we get to the firestorm in which we found ourselves? And, not for nothing, how can we sift through it all and learn from it so that we might be able to do better, next time?

Last month the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change issued a report about the events of last spring that has helped shed some light on how we found ourselves where we did. Helpfully, this report also offers suggestions for how to move forward. You can read the report here.

One of the things I found most instructive in the report was the claim that our UUA structures, our chosen policies, were often seen to be archaic and unhelpful, so they often weren’t followed, with negative consequences. This reinforced what I see as a need for structures at the UUA that function and work for the people they are supposed to serve. I am committed to that work in this region and in the Congregational Life staff group as a whole. Our systems matter; they can help us do the work for liberation in the world or they can contribute to oppression and pain. I want to help us choose the path of liberation and my staff team and I are working to be sure that is so.

One of the things that was new to me and many white-identified folks on Congregational Life staff was the vastness of the extent to which our religious professionals of color feel misused and abused by our congregations. We learned and are growing to see that when those conflicts come to the attention of Congregational Life staff, we can contribute to the abuse and oppression rather than mitigate it. We in the Central East Region are doing our best to hear that and to plan ways to do better. In partnership with religious professionals of color and our congregations, we are committed to learning together how to create new paths out of the damaging practices of white supremacy culture and into a new future where all UUs can bring their whole selves to their work. This will in no way be easy; American racism is nothing to take lightly. But if anyone can do this work, even a little, as hard as it is, I think Unitarian Universalists can. We staff of the Central East Region are committed to this work, and are learning with other regions and our headquarters staff how to do it better.

We know our congregations are also committed to a future that is less racist, more liberating and more just for all. We’re excited about partnering with you on this journey too. Maybe you’re wrestling with many of the same questions the UUA is wrestling with. Maybe you’ve also had painful experiences and are trying to learn and do better, and it feels awkward and embarrassing. Let’s do this together. We UUA staff will be talking more about our learnings as we go along; stay tuned as we offer more resources and tools as well – here’s a start. In the meantime, be in touch with me or your congregation’s Primary Contact if you are looking for ways to do this work better.

It will take all of us to move us forward. No one is in this alone, and a group of people asking powerful questions in the midst of suffering and not-knowing is a group of people poised to do something important. I can’t wait to travel down this path with all of you.

Rev. Megan Foley
CER Regional Lead

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Resources for General Assembly 2018

Attending General Assembly is a whirlwind of activity. Attending for your first time can be overwhelming! Your Central East Region team wants you to feel prepared. Here are some resources we think you might find helpful. Several are good for off site attendees as well as on site attendees.

As a note, early bird registration ends on April 30 – you need to register today if you want to catch the lower price!

The Central East Region is hosting a GA Orientation webinar on Tuesday, June 13 at 8 pm ET.  This orientation is recommended for everyone attending GA but especially first timers and especially delegates. If you are attending as an off-site delegate, don’t worry we have you covered too! The GA Orientation Webinar for Off-Site Delegates will be Wednesday, May 24 at 7 pm ET. Rev. Darcy Laine will share how her congregations used this opportunity to create a community event.

New to GA? Not sure what to expect? There are two resources we recommend.

  • The GA Forums has a number of discussion boards you can ask questions on. There is a topic specific for questions from first-timers, those who are participating off-site, delegates and GA business, information about the elections and more. You must have an account on the UUA website and be logged in to participate.
  • And download or access the GA App. The 2018 update will be live in early June. You can download the app to your phone now. It’s available from iTunes, Google Play and as a mobile enhanced web app for others. I highly recommend you use the app at GA to track your calendar, look at workshop options in advance and find maps. You can also provide feedback and connect with others attending GA.

One suggestion we make is to look at the program schedule ahead of time and make some preliminary choices about what you want to do. You’ll make changes on the fly once you are there but it helps to have a starting point. The preliminary schedule is already up on the GA Webpage, so you can start planning now.

The UUA has provided a series of resources to help individuals prepare for General Assembly this year. You can find the full list of resources at the UUA website. There are readings, videos and actions individuals can do to prepare themselves fully for the GA experience in Kansas City and complete several actions and you can even earn a ribbon. Those attending off site can also participate and let the UUA know what they’ve done via an online form.

If your congregation does not have a full complement of delegates attending GA in Kansas City, you can opt to send off site delegates. Off site delegates have access to livestreamed video of all the activity in the plenary hall, plus any business workshops (the budget hearing for example) as well as a selection of some workshops. They are able to speak on the floor during meetings and to vote in real time, including the election. Learn more about off-site delegates and general off site participation.

Those attending GA will receive an email from us highlighting CER events during General Assembly in June.

We’ll see you in Kansas City!

Beth Casebolt, CER Communications Consultant and Operations Manager

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Sharing Vision Statements

After developing a vision statement, it can sometimes be difficult to communicate how it should impact the ministry of the congregation.  The UU Fellowship of Greater Cumberland created this stunning Vision Visual to help guide that process. They plan to share it at…and post it…. So that it can guide the board, committees and ministry teams going forward.  And they have graciously agreed to share their Vision Visual with the rest of us.

The congregation intends to put the Vision Visual on posters and post them in the sanctuary, our community room, and the room where the Board meets. They will devote part of one Sunday service next month to discussing the Vision Visual with the congregation, then present it again at the Annual Meeting on May 5. Each Board member will get a copy for the Board Manual and we will distribute a copy to each congregation member. An additional Strategy Vision for the board was also created.

Thank you to the UU Fellowship of Greater Cumberland for sharing this with us all.

Download a PDF of the Vision Visual


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The Learning Lab of Life

Innovation! Adaptation!! Experimentation!!! We live in a time of incredible change and shifting paradigms. Technology continues to zoom along at a pace that is breathtaking and society seems to be chomping at the bit for the next big thing. At the same time, some of the things we thought we could count on to stay the same have fallen away or been eroded all across our society and our planet. Human rights, glacial ice, democratic principles and civility are under attack and there are moments when I wonder if the universe is testing humanity to find out if we are really up to the task of living meaningful lives.

Then I remember, nothing in this life is settled or guaranteed. We all exist in a constant state of adaptation and experimentation with the inner and the outer world. Who am I today? Who and what matter to me today? What will I do for the first or last time today and how will I be changed by it? Imagine a congregation of 50, 100, or 500 people who are changing every minute, every second – how are we adapting to this unyielding state of flux? By their very nature, congregations are organic, evolving systems and yet even as the people within change and adapt to new ideas, new understandings of self and our companions on the journey, we expect the institution to remain static and to continue to be the same place we have always known. If we are changing, shouldn’t our congregations do the same?

Some congregations adapt quickly and confidently to new ideas – always seeking the latest “best practice.” For those not leading, it can seem dizzying and arbitrary. Some congregations move more slowly, changing only when a crisis is upon them and there is no other choice. Again, for those not in leadership, that may feel frustrating and lead to a sense of “stuckness.” So who wins the race – the tortoise or the hare? Guess what, it isn’t a race and what works in one place may be a complete failure in another.

Congregations struggle in myriad ways and I often get asked the question, “what’s the best practice for this problem I’m facing?” Certainly there are “common” practices often shared by staff or between leaders but the “best” practice for your congregation is the one that is manageable and sustainable for you at this time in your history. If someone tries to tell you there is a “right” way to do church, push back. Experiment with new ways of worshipping, new models for engaging with families, new styles of music, or new ways of gathering in community. Nothing will last forever so why not become a laboratory for exploration and adaption? Despite Yoda’s best advice, it is okay to try. The anxiety of making the budget or fixing the roof won’t disappear but maybe we will feel better about the work when we unleash our creative spirit in the pursuit of joy and spiritual growth.

All of us are living in a lab – we are part of the grand experiment called life. We can’t know what lies before us and how each of our days will unfold but if we make space for community, joy and creativity, we have all we need to make it to tomorrow

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Be a Learning Congregation!

It’s no secret to UU’s that I work with that my call to ministry is  lay leadership development. I take shared ministry seriously, and I want our lay leaders to be every bit as equipped to lead as our religious professionals.

When I first came on regional staff 7-1/2 years ago we had a tradition of week-long leadership schools. I remembered EAGLES (The Eastern Great Lakes Leadership School) from when I was a new lay leader, but I had neither the money nor the vacation time to attend. The region had moved into a new model, UULTI (The UU Leadership Team Institute), with the understanding that a team of four or five leaders attending together would have more impact on their home congregation. It had a wonderful curriculum that was transformative for attendees, but it was expensive and participants needed to take a week out of their lives to attend. We did see the positive impact on congregations who regularly sent teams.

We also offered a different model of leadership development, using the Healthy Congregations® curriculum. This was less expensive (which enabled larger congregational teams to attend) and was offered locally over a series of 6 weekends. We saw a remarkable positive impact on congregations that had most of their leaders attend these trainings.

So I imagined, if we could have ALL of or congregational leaders have this training, if we could stop fighting with one another and start fighting for justice, if we could spread our liberal religious values, what impact might we have on the world?

Imagine if these values were shared valued throughout our communities:

  • No one of us has all of the answers. The world around us is always changing and we always have something new to learn.
  • All relationships should be consensual (never coerced)
  • Our communities should be places where all souls can flourish
  • We are called to build the Beloved Community and we have faith that we have the resources to do so
  • We need to work at being our best selves
  • We need to be able to make mistakes with humility and forgiveness
  • Our Covenants (or other social contracts) help us to be accountable to all of the above values

This is the “creation story” of the UU Leadership Institute. Offering the same kind of leadership training online, with interactive materials that congregational Leadership Development Teams can use in person, could make a version of this transformative training available on-demand and at an affordable cost.

The equivalent of the week-long leadership school is offered in a 2-part course called Centered Leadership Part 1 and Part 2. We also offer the advanced leadership courses Strategic Leadership and Adaptive Leadership.

We also offer several elective courses and unique premium courses each semester and several on-demand courses anytime on UU History, Identity and on special areas of interest for various ministries in the congregation. You can enroll in Spring courses until the end of March.

Please check them out! We would love to have you be part of our learning community!

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Dean UU Leadership Institute and CER Congregational Life staff.

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Want to Grow? Time to Adapt!

Youngstown Board MeetingIs your congregation looking to be relevant in a culture where most mainstream white religions are in decline? Many UU congregations are growing, even areas that have declined economically. What is their “secret sauce?”

It’s as simple as congregational health, a sense of purpose, open communication, and covenantal community.

And it’s as complicated as congregational health, a sense of purpose, open communication, and covenantal community. These are not things learned in a single workshop or by reading a single book. They are processes—ways of being in the world. These are not skills that a single leader can gain and take to their congregation. They are group skills that are best learned by a critical mass of the congregation (20% or so) learning together.

The UUA has made it easy and affordable for your congregational leaders to learn together, taking core leadership courses as a group, and then using what you learned by applying it to case studies and other activities.

  • Faithful Leadership is a great beginning course, covering how our history, theology and polity inform our faith communities.
  • Centered Leadership focuses on healthy relationships and communications, developing a shared sense of purpose, and how to lead through a change.
  • Strategic Leadership is for boards, strategic planning committees, bylaws task forces, etc. helping you lead strategically through governing documents and processes.
  • Adaptive Leadership helps leaders develop a more nuanced view of the congregation as a system during uncertain times.

The courses each have 8 sessions. They open every 2 weeks, and each participant will get an email when each new module is open. The cost is only $30 per course per semester per participant.  There is a combination of YouTube video presentations by UUA Congregational Life staff and guests, as well as readings and links to more resources.

The first module opens January 26, 2018, so you have plenty of time to enroll!

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In Gratitude

With Thanksgiving past and the holiday season approaching, this marks the beginning of the season of thankfulness and gratitude. And so we want to take this opportunity to say Thank You.

thank you wordle

Thank you to the congregations who pay their fair share to the region and the Annual Program Fund and those who stretch to pay as much as they can. Your funds make our work possible and allow us to provide resources, trainings and support to all our congregations in the region.

Thank you to all our Chalice Lighters who make a commitment to help those beyond their own congregation with growth and outreach projects, or to recover from devastating situations. Your generosity has an impact on the lives of our congregations and members that you cannot imagine.

Finally, we could not do it without our volunteers. Those who volunteer in our congregations to make them representatives of our values in your communities. The committee chairs and members, those who plan events, congregational volunteers who help us with on the ground planning and logistics for events and more. We would not be able to do anything without our volunteers. To you we say Thank You over and over again.

So to all of you who make these many things possible, we say Thank You.
Your Regional Staff

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, Sue Tabone, Cristina Sanchis, Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Rev. David Pyle, Andrea Lerner, Rev. Hope Johnson, Patricia Infante, Rev. Megan Foley, Beth Casebolt, Evin Carvill-Ziemer, and Shannon Harper

Giving Tuesday is November 28th – and the UUA has a special matching gift campaign going on. Please check out for details.

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Board Basics Series Helps Boards Develop Skills

This year, the Central East Regional Staff decided to offer a 3-part webinar on Board Basics. While normally an in-person, all day training, we realized that not all our congregations could take advantage of that. So the webinar idea was born. The purpose of the webinar is to be a primer in what it means to serve on a Congregational Board, how healthy Boards function, and what are ways your congregation can function better. The webinar is presented by Rev. David Pyle, CER Governance Program Manager and Beth Casebolt, CER Operations Manager and Communications Consultant.

The webinar series is in three parts. Part 1 covers the theories around board governance. Parts 2 and 3 will cover various skills board members need.

The current webinar is full, however we are recording the series and offering it for anyone who is interested to view. You can view the first session below. Additional sessions can be found on the Board Basics playlist on the UU Leadership Institute YouTube Channel.

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