Helping Leaders Find Their Way

Rev. Renee Ruchtozke

About twenty years ago, I was sitting in my minister’s office, discerning whether I should put myself forward as a candidate for Moderator of the congregation. The old guard of leaders were tired and burnt out. I and the other new members who were considering board positions were inexperienced. But we said yes.

We learned “on the job” and made a lot of mistakes. Luckily, the congregation was (mostly) gracious and forgiving.

Some of the older leaders had gone to a leadership school, and raved about its impact on their leadership and on their understanding of Unitarian Universalism. But I had a small child that I couldn’t leave for a whole week. Even if I could, I only had 2 weeks of vacation available and needed those to recharge from my stressful job. And I didn’t have several hundred extra dollars to spend.

Eventually, I cobbled together my own leadership training from books, Saturday conferences, and—eventually—seminary. If only that soon-to-be Moderator sitting in that minister’s study 20 years ago (as well as the other new leaders) had access to leadership training, the congregation would have benefitted greatly.

Today, we have seen the impact when congregations have leaders who have been through leadership training—either a leadership school or a version of Healthy Congregations® training. They are healthy. They are resilient. They are able to have nuanced conversations about tricky issues. We know that the more we can make training and affordable, more congregations will be able to offer training to their leaders.

In order to help our congregations, we are offering a series of four online leadership development courses for only $30 each. They are designed so that prospective or new leaders can take beginner courses and experienced leaders can take higher level courses. The topics in each of the courses align, so that all of the leaders can get together in person and—together—can work case studies, do interactive learning and discuss topics with materials that we provide.

Here are the four courses:

Faithful Membership
For new members and those interested in possible leadership. Covers covenant, healthy communication and boundaries, shared ministry, and stewardship. Also provides an introduction to congregational polity, UU theologies, and the wider UU movement.

Healthy Leadership
Includes family and other systems thinking applied to congregations. (Similar to Healthy Congregations®) Learn healthy leadership practices, communication and conflict skills, the importance of being mission-focused and how to communicate across differences

Strategic Leadership
Develop a deeper understanding of how to focus your congregation on mission, build trust and develop a cohesive leadership team. Learn about stewardship, strategic planning, annual goal setting and ministry assessment and the basics of congregational governance.

Adaptive Leadership
Develop advanced leadership skills that will help identify challenges. Learn how to help others see challenges in new ways, empower others and find creative solutions together. This course includes working on a case study with other participants.

We hope to see you online!

Rev. Renee Ruchotkze, CER Congregational Life Staff and Co-Dean of UU Leadership Institute

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Resources for Congregational Leaders

CER VerticalIt’s almost time for a new church year and you have new congregational leaders. Where do they find resources and training they need?

Here are a few resources we think can help:

  • New or returning board member? Board Basics will be offered as a three part webinar series on August 24, September 7 and September 21 at 7:30 pm each night. Details and registration at the CER website.
  • The UU Leadership Institute is an online leadership school. Classes are $30 each and run over a full semester of about 16 weeks. Modules are released every 2 weeks and you can complete them at your own pace. Occasional webinars are scheduled for face to face conversations with classmates and the instructor. Topics vary from Healthy Leadership 101, Outreach and New Member programs to Stewardship and focus on Small congregations. The fall semester begins September. On Demand courses are available all the time. The full course list will be available soon at uuinstitute.org
  • CER YouTube Channel has videos of workshops, keynote speeches and short videos created by our staff. Topics cover the full range of congregational life. Some topics and events are organized in playlists.
  • The CER website contains several sections that can be of help to those looking for resources and help. The Events and Webinars section can show you what events are current scheduled around the region and give you details for those that are open for registration. The Programs section has detailed information on programs we regularly offer in the region including Chalice Lighters. The Resources section has links to resources for Guest In Your Pulpit, the Link2Lead Program and more. www.uua.org/cer
  • If you are looking for information about your cluster, please visit our Cluster page. Here you can find information about the congregations in your cluster and links to any social media or other sites we have for the cluster. If your cluster’s social media links are missing, please send them to us!
  • The UUA has resources to help congregational leaders on a variety of topics. Visit the Congregational Leaders section of the website to see what’s available. Do note that this section is currently being updated, so check back often for improvements and we’ll let you know when the updates are completed.
  • And finally, every congregation is assigned a regional staff person who serves as your Primary Contact. This is the person your congregation should contact for assistance on any topic. If they can’t help you, they know who can. Learn more about this program and find out who your Primary Contact is at our Primary Contact page.

As always, if you can’t find what you are looking for you can always contact your Primary Contact or me, Beth Casebolt, CER Communications Consultant at [email protected].

 

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Serving with Mutuality

Photo by Aria Nadii

My spouse and I are planning out a permaculture garden in the backyard of our new house. We don’t know much about permaculture yet, but we are learning. We are starting with the soil. The yard had been covered with concrete, so we are starting from scratch. We hauled several truckloads of leaf and tree mulch from the city and are watching it compost in place over the summer. There are a few volunteer pumpkins from discarded Halloween pumpkins that were mixed in the mulch, and we threw a few seeds in to see if they would sprout, but this is really a time for the organic material to decompose and welcome microbes and other creatures to make their home in our new garden. We are also augmenting the soil with our household compost, and we plan to plant a temporary groundcover in the fall that can be worked into the soil. Eventually, we will find plants, bushes and trees that allow for the soil to replenish itself while feeding the flora, thus the name permaculture.

Modern agriculture works from a different philosophy. We plant and harvest until the natural nutrients in the soil are exhausted. Then we may add fertilizer to the soil as a replacement for the natural nutrients. Or we may rotate the crops so that different nutrients are used. Or we may plant a temporary ground cover to plow into the soil and let the ground lie fallow while the soil absorbs the nutrients of the organic matter.

Even though most of us live far from our agrarian roots, I think they still have lessons to teach us.

In my work with congregational leaders I see some leaders who work hard in service of the church, and become burned out—sometimes to the point that they no longer want to be part of the church community. Some of these leaders might renew themselves with a volunteer sabbatical, but more often they have learned to associate church with a depletion of their time and energy.

But I also see other leaders who also work just as hard in service of the church, but don’t burn out. What is the difference? The leaders who are able to sustain hard work are in a mutual life-giving relationship with their faith community. These leaders find ways (or—better yet—the church leadership creates systems) so that the work is meaningful and impactful, and leaders’ hearts and spirits are fed and nurtured. The depth of planning worship, or participating in a small group is an important complement to the work of taking minutes or tracking the budget.

As we remind ourselves in our seventh principle, we are interconnected and interdependent in mutuality. May we create faith communities that live into that ideal.

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Congregational Life Staff, Central East Region

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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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Facing Religion in the Future

“I heard people call it a “wake-up call” and say that they were “inspired and energized.”  — Rev. Joe Cleveland,  UU Congregation of Saratoga Springs, NY.

The congregations of the Hudson-Mohawk Cluster held their first cluster leadership conference on October 22, 2016, at the First UU Society of Albany.   While the cluster has held an annual cluster Joint Worship service each spring for over seven years, this was the first time the congregations had come together to explore new knowledge, skills and strategies for strengthening their congregations.

More than 45 leaders and members of six different congregations met in Albany to discuss “Religion in the Future” and participate in workshops focused on social media, multigenerational social justice work, and new member engagement.   The six included the five congregations of the Hudson-Mohawk Cluster (First Albany, Schenectady, Glen’s Falls, Saratoga Springs and Kingston) and one neighboring congregation, Bennington VT, from the New England Region.

Opening worship was presented by clergy and members of the Schenectady and Saratoga Springs congregations, and included a dramatic reading of the Sufi story “The Little Mountain Stream” with slide illustrations.

The keynote on Religion in the Future, with the Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, UUA congregational life consultant, outlined eight major areas of social change that all American faith traditions face today:

  1. Increasing numbers of religiously unaffiliated adults
  2. Increasing numbers of people with negative feelings about “religion” and growing positive feelings about “spirituality” (spiritual but not religious).
  3. Declining participation on Sunday mornings
  4. Increasing diversity and pluralism and individualism
  5. Changing patterns in marriage and family life
  6. Declining religious socialization of children in the home
  7. Aging Baby Boomers and the rise of “active retirement.”
  8. The increasing influence of social media, online connections and the internet

The second half of the keynote explored several different ways congregations from several faith traditions are learning to proactively engage with these social changes.

Several people wanted to take the presentation back to their congregations, since they felt this was such timely and vital perspective on the changes in society and congregations.”—Rev. Margret O’Neall, UU Society of Schenectady.

Participants then gathered in affinity groups, based on role in their congregations or areas of interest, to discuss the keynote over lunch.  Following lunch, people had their choice of three workshops.

“It was a great reminder that none of us are alone in dealing with issues of membership, social media use, governance issues or increasing our cultural competence. We do that work better together.”  — Rev. Sam Trumbore, Fist UU Society of Albany

The workshops included:

  • “Strategic Uses of Social Media,” with Josh Shea, member of First UU Albany. With so many social platforms available, how do we know their best uses?  Learn more about how they work, and to determine which platform would be right for your group or congregation.
  • “More than Numbers: Making and Deepening Connections for Vitality,” with Kristin Cleveland, membership coordinator with the UU Society of Schenectady. How do we know which things we are doing help people feel welcome and connected, and which might turn newcomers away or make it difficult for them to find connections?  We’ll share ideas that better engage people in the activities and mission of the congregation and lead to dynamic and sustained connections.
  • “Helping Children and Youth Learn Through Service and Social Justice,” with Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer, UUA congregational life consultant. Maybe just tagging along is not enough. How can we help our children and youth use their experiences to become people who can connect across difference and understand the complexity of our world?  This takes a little extra attention – and attention to our own development too.

There are already plans to host another cluster leadership event next fall.

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Three Congregations Converge for Joint Board Retreat

Two rivers flow along the Southern Tier of New York—the Chemung through Big Flats and the Susquehanna the Susquehanna through Binghamton–and converge just south of the border in Athens, Pennsylvania before flowing south to Towanda. Another convergence occurred when the UU Congregation of Binghamton played host to a joint leadership training and board retreat for the three smaller congregations:  The UU Church of Athens and Sheshequin, the Big Flats UU Fellowship, and the Towanda UU Fellowship.

participants in the joint board retreat
Participants in the Joint Board Retreat

The three congregations share a minister, the Rev. Darcey Laine. (Rev. Darcey is the called half-time minister of UUCAS, the consulting quarter-time minister of Towanda and is a contract minister for Big Flats, preaching once a month and providing pastoral care.) Rev. Darcey and the board presidents of the three congregations met via Zoom conference call with their shared CER Primary Contact, the Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, to plan the day.

The morning program—which was open to all three congregations’ leaders–focused on hospitality and growth, starting with the video What if Starbucks Marketed Like a Church? A Parable, which served as a case-study for ensuing conversation. After lunch (which was organized by Binghamton member and out-going SLD president Jeff Donahue), the boards met separately to set goals for the upcoming year, which they then shared with one another at the end of the day. They also planned a January check-in web meeting with one another to share their progress toward their goals.

The day was a lovely example of interdependence in our UU movement!

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

 

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Resources for Congregational Leaders

CER VerticalIt’s almost time for a new church year and you have new congregational leaders. Where do they find resources and training they need?

 

Here are a few resources we think can help:

  • The UU Leadership Institute is an online leadership school. Classes are $30 each and run over a full semester of about 16 weeks. Modules are released every 2 weeks and you can complete them at your own pace. Occasional webinars are scheduled for face to face conversations with classmates and the instructor. Topics vary from Healthy Leadership 101, Outreach and New Member programs to Stewardship and focus on Small congregations. The fall semester begins September 2 and registration is now open until October 31. Find the full course list and details at uuinstitute.org
  • CER YouTube Channel has videos of workshops, keynote speeches and short videos created by our staff. Topics cover the full range of congregational life. Some topics and events are organized in playlists. Find it at www.youtube.com/cerguua1
  • The CER website contains several sections that can be of help to those looking for resources and help. The Events and Webinars section can show you what events are current scheduled around the region and give you details for those that are open for registration. The Programs section has detailed information on programs we regularly offer in the region with current offering listed. The Resources section has links to resources for Chalice Lighters, Guest In Your Pulpit, and the Link2Lead Program.
  • The On Demand Learning Center has recordings of past webinars and workshops, resources from workshops and made for online learning classes. This site requires registration but all classes are free to access. Do be aware that this site is in the process of being moved to the CER website over the next 6 months. Learn more at www.cerguua.org/ondemand.
  • If you are looking for information about your cluster, please visit our Cluster page. Here you can find information about the congregations in your cluster and links to any social media or other sites we have for the cluster. If your cluster’s social media links are missing, please send them to us!
  • And finally, every congregation is assigned a regional staff person who serves as your Primary Contact. This is the person your congregation should contact for assistance on any topic. If they can’t help you, they know who can. Learn more about this program and find out who your Primary Contact is at our Primary Contact page.

 

As always, if you can’t find what you are looking for you can always contact your Primary Contact or me, Beth Casebolt, CER Communications Consultant at [email protected].

 

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Did You Know? General Assembly is in our Region this year!

General Assembly, the annual business meeting and gathering of the UUA will be held this year in Columbus, Ohio on June 22-26. This is a great opportunity for our members to experience General Assembly and benefit from the resources provided there close to home.

UUA GA 2016 LogoThe theme for GA 2016 will be Heart Land: Where Faiths Connect. The faith world is increasingly multifaith. People are crossing borders of religion and spiritual practice to create wholeness in their lives individually and collectively. The labels—Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, theist and non-theist—no longer define who or what we love, or how spirit moves in our lives. General Assembly 2016 in Columbus Ohio will assemble leaders and communities of many faiths to worship together, learn from one another, and create a new vision of faith that no longer divides us, but connects us to an interdependent future that works for all. Ware Lecturer will be Krista Tippett, host of NPR’s On Being.

What should you know about General Assembly?

  • Everything you need to know including a preliminary schedule and workshop listing is on the UUA website at www.uua.org/ga
  • This year we are asking attendees to prepare in advance to be part of this learning community. As stated on the GA web page – Unitarian Universalists come together not only to do the business of our association, but also to learn from one another and from presenters, to worship and witness together, and to focus together on questions and commitments facing our faith today. We form a learning community. As you prepare for General Assembly in Columbus, we ask that you prepare your mind, heart, and spirit for what you will experience. Get ready to learn, to grow spiritually, and to increase your capacity to be a leader in your own faith community and in your local context! Here are three ways to prepare.
  • Eligible congregations have been given a set number of delegate slots based on your membership number. Delegate information has already been sent to all congregations.
  • A stories and testimonials page has been set up on the UUA website for folks to share their previous GA experiences. If you have not attended, this is a way to learn more about what to expect. If you have attended, please share your story with us!
  • There is a GA Forum on the UUA website where you can ask questions, figure out room and ride sharing, learn about Columbus and more. A section for first-timer questions is there as well. This is a replacement for the old GA Email list.
  • Please make sure you put the CER Ingathering on your schedule for Wednesday evening. We will be celebrating our historic votes by our districts this spring.

 

Registration is now open and the Early Bird rate ends on April 30th. You can register to attend for one day, the weekend or the entire General Assembly. Sunday morning worship, the Service of the Living Tradition on Thursday evening, the public witness event and Sunday’s exhibit hall hours are open to the public. All other events require registration.

Questions? Check out the GA Forum or let one of the staff know. We’ll do our best to help you find the answers you need.

Beth Casebolt
CER Communications Consultant

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Sandusky UUs Explore New Ways to be in Community

UU Firelands LogoThe Rev. Mary Grigolia has worked with the UU Fellowship of the Firelands in Sandusky, OH for four years, leading services once a month, facilitating a workshop/discussion after service and coffee hour/lunch.  But last March she encouraged them to take a different path, totally dropping Sunday services in favor of what they love and do well: social action, programs bringing on a progressive voice to a very conservative area, social gatherings, and occasionally road-tripping to other UU congregations.

 

Some background:

  1. SOCIAL MEDIA – the year before they hired their minister, they hired a dynamic young adult (Lauren Berlekamp) who put together a really fun Facebook presence. This helped to attract young adults and middle-aged adults to their social justice programs and concerts, but not to Sunday mornings.
  1. RENTED SPACE – was secured perhaps 8 years ago in the basement of a UCC church in Sandusky. It was really, really depressing. It was amazing any new-comers came back. And few did.
  1. NOT A CRITICAL MASS – the core group worked very hard to keep Sunday morning services alive. It defaulted to a handful of people, led by a woman in her 40s with two elementary/middle school-aged boys. Tragically, she died 18 months ago. And the stalwart few went into self-blame and paralysis.
  1. MEDITATION GROUP – Meanwhile, for the last 5-6 years, two of the core members have facilitated a weekly meditation group, eclectic, drawing from Fellowship members and beyond. So there is still an on-going gathering.
  1. COMMUNITY THEATER – And they are also almost all involved in the production of a vital community theater that also keep feeding their need for community and expression.
  1. BLESSING – And so as numbers dipped beneath 10 on a Sunday morning and the energy was going elsewhere (not Sunday morning), Rev. Grigolia encouraged them to reinvent themselves, committing to a series of programs (talks, concerts) for the larger community, social action programs, and social events. That is what they’ve been doing. They had a successful Jim Scott concert, celebrating the vision of Pete Seeger. And they continue to employ a young-ish adult (Rose Hollo) who maintains and energizes their Facebook and sends out beautiful, engaging Constant Contact campaigns.

They were surprised and so grateful that they could continue to be a Fellowship and to serve their community and each other without holding Sunday services.

They didn’t want to let me go, but (and) Rev. Grigolia assured them that she would be very glad to respond to whatever pastoral needs they have on a case-by-case basis, to perform weddings and officiate at memorial services. She gave and give them my blessing.

You can check out their website and Facebook page to learn more about their alternative programming.

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Innovative Ministries and Programs Highlighted in Dawning Future Conference

Gabrielle Rockenfield GA ChaliceHaving a keynote speaker share an idea increases its influence and impact.   Having a dozen speakers has a multiplying effect. Video-recording those speakers and sharing the presentations widely can have an exponential effect. That’s what happened at the Dawning Future Conference hosted by the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock and the Central East Region and you can help the impact be exponential.

The morning was filled with short TED-talk style presentations. The afternoon featured workshops with each of the presenters so that participants could go more deeply into the topic.

Tom SchadeThe program was moderated by the Rev. Tom Schade, author of The Lively Tradition, a blog about the intersection of UU Theology and the current historical moment. He started out the morning with his talk The Gravity of the Situation: What Holds UUism Down and Prevents Us from Rising (YouTube 15:18)

Themed Ministry presentation by Washington Ethical SocietyThe Opening Worship (YouTube 33:26) and the talk Connection, Depth, Efficiency: Being a Themed Congregation (YouTube 14:08) was presented by the staff of the Washington Ethical Society: Rev. Amanda Poppei (minister), Robyn Kravitz (Coming of Age and Teen Coordinator) , Melissa Sinclair (Director of Lifelong Learning) and Bailey Whiteman (Chorus Director). They shared the story of how they moved from Theme-based worship to using themes throughout the life of the church. (They shared more of their model in their afternoon workshop: Part 1 (55:28) & Part 2 (40:11).)

Rev. Meg Riley, the minister of our largest congregation – the Church of the Larger Fellowship – shared how her ministry is reaching places that no other UU church can, in her talk Authentic Connections in a Virtual World (YouTube: 20:04)

Bill ClontzNationally-known stewardship consultant Bill Clontz used humor and wisdom in his talk Let’s Talk about UUs, Money, Power and Secrecy: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (YouTube 15:33). Bill helps to bring the FUN back to FUNdraising. (He shared more of his wisdom in Part 1 (41:38) and Part 2 (48:10) in his afternoon workshop.)

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke shared her big hairy audacious goal for offering wide, deep and affordable training for church planters as well as leaders of existing congregations in her talk Lay Seminary in Your Pocket (YouTube 12:48) where she describes the online UU Leadership Institute.

Kenny WileyThe conference then moved toward justice concerns with a two part talk Hope, Anger and Empty Chairs: A Black Lives Matter Conversation. The conversation started with the Rev. Barbara Gadon, the Lead Minister of Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, MO, whose congregation has been on the front lines of the protests over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. (YouTube 13:06). She was followed by Kenny Wiley, #BlackLivesMatter activist and UU World Editor. (YouTube 13:43).

The morning talks were capped off by the Rev. Sue Phillips sharing the power of Faithify in her talk Cool Things Crowdfunding Can Teach Us About Church (YouTube 22:10), followed by a Q&A Session (YouTube 4:31)

The Central East Staff and the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock hopes you find ways to share these presentations and use them to inspire your own creativity!

You can watch the entire playlist on YouTube below.

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