With 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 to the congregations who pay their fair share to 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. Megan Foley, Cristina Sanchis, Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Andrea Lerner, Rev. Hope Johnson, Patricia Infante, Rev. Megan Foley, Beth Casebolt, Evin Carvill-Ziemer, Paula Cole Jones, Rev. Sunshine Wolfe, Amy Kent and Shannon Harper

If you are feeling grateful and want to share your bounty with others, Giving Tuesday, November 27th, is a wonderful opportunity. Giving Tuesday kicks off the holiday season, when charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world come together in common purpose: to celebrate their cause and to give. Donations to the UUA on Giving Tuesday will be doubled. Learn more at their website. Faithify.org, our UU Crowdfunding platform has a number of worthy projects that you may also consider.

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Holiday Greetings from the CER Staff

From all of us at the Central East Region, we wish you Happy Holidays and a joyous New Year.

Please remember that the UUA offices are closed from December 22nd through January 1st to allow our staff time to spend with their families during the holidays. We’ll be back January 2nd.

In honor of the holidays we bring you this reading from WorshipWeb

We are in the midst of the season of celebration.
Of the birth of new hope,
Of the festival of lights,
Of the triumph of freedom.

The darkness of the year is lifting and the time of light grows longer. We have gathered with an anticipation of hope for peace on earth and in our homes.

We have gathered in this season of celebrations seeking comfort to soften the pain and the losses our lives have suffered in the fast retreating year.

We have gathered to worship joyfully within this season of celebrations with the tenderness and love of family and friends around us.

Let us be embraced by the strength and power of this sacred space that we each bring as we create this beloved community.

Let joy and sorrow join in the fullness of our living.

Let the power and strength we embody join us together as we move through the seasons of celebration into a new year with a new vision of hope for peace on earth.

Let us be silent together.


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Find Your Primary Contact

All four districts have now voted to dissolve and regionalization is now fast becoming a reality. For those of you who are now asking but wait, how do I know who to call? Where do I go to get help? We have an answer. We ask that you start with your primary contact. What is a primary contact you may ask? This is a CER Staff person with whom you can build a close, working relationship, who will have an intimate knowledge of your congregation’s blessings and challenges, and can be proactive in helping you to share those blessings and meet those challenges. Your Primary Contact can help you to navigate all the support and opportunities available to your congregation.


You can find your primary contact by selecting your congregation in this form.


This map shows you the congregations in our region and their assigned primary contact. Most primary contact assignments match up with our clusters. If you need help finding your primary contact please contact us at [email protected].

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Central East Advisory Council Survey Results

CER VerticalIn Fall 2015, the recently created Central East Regional Advisory Council conducted in-depth interviews with a limited number of congregational leaders and clergy around the region.    This fall survey focused on Large Church leaders, Congregational Cluster leaders, and those who had experienced either the old in-person or current on-line leadership school in the Central East Region.

There were literally hundreds of pages of comments, feedback, good ideas and suggestions gathered during the interviews.  All of this material has been given to the Central East staff and will be used in setting goals for next year and beyond.

Some of the major themes that the Advisory Council found in the survey material are:

  1. A desire for building stronger relationships with staff Primary Contacts
  2. A commitment to creating deeper congregational collaboration through cluster organization
  3. A recognition of the value of a hybrid leadership school experience (on-line with in-person components) that allows more folks to participate than older models.  The older models of in-person leadership schools were also valued, but it was recognized that changing times brought new needs.
  4. An excitement about having access to highly skilled unified staff across the region.
  5. Multiple expressions of interest in learning to “do church” in the 21st century and creating sustainable growth.

This coming Spring 2016, the Advisory Council will send a short on-line survey to all congregational leaders and clergy in the Central East Region. Then next Fall, the Advisory Council plans to conduct more in-depth interviews.  The areas of focus have not yet been determined, but it is anticipated that youth programming may be one of the areas for discussion.

The members of the Central East Advisory Council (including UUA staff liaisons) are:

  • Rev. Lane Campbell, First UU Columbus OH, Minister of Religious Education
  • Laura Conkle, Allegheny UU Church of Pittsburgh PA, Ohio-Meadville District Board Member & Central East Transitions Team
  • ev. Jude Geiger, serves the UU Fellowship of Huntington NY, Metro NY District Board Member
  • Rev. Craig Hirshberg, NJ State Advocacy Network Director, Metro NY District Board Member & Ministerial Settlement Representative
  • Carla Johnson, UU Fellowship of Pottstown PA, Joseph Priestley District Board Member
  • John Shea, First UU Society of Albany, NY
  • Rev. Kate Walker, serves the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church, VA
  • Rev. Kimberly Johnson, serves the UU Congregation of the South Fork in Bridgehampton NY & Metro NY District Board Member
  • Rev. Scott Tayler, UUA Director of Congregational Life
  • Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, Central East Regional Staff Lead
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Our Districts and the UUA

We’ll be expanding this blog to posts from all our regional staff and feature the work and unique programs of all congregations and clusters in the region. Next week will be our first regional post at our new home.

This week we offer guest blogger, Jeff Donahue, President of the St. Lawrence District and member of the CERG Transitions Team.

Jeff DonahueFor the last few years our district leaders have been working toward building the Central East Region. At our next District Assemblies, we will ask all of your congregational delegates to make it official – to dissolve your district in favor of our region and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The latest task is to create a “Memorandum of Understanding” between the four Central East Region’s districts and our UUA. This will be an agreement that safeguards each district’s finances, programs and staffing. It also articulates a new way to be in relationship, in covenant, with our sister congregations and national association. It is a bold plan of how we can be better together.

Five major outcomes are featured in this agreement.

  • Governance
  • Staff
  • Stewardship
  • Congregational Life Advisory Council
  • Wisdom Seekers

regionsmapGovernance: The proposal is to transfer governance from each of the four districts to the UUA. The role of district governance has been diminishing in recent years, yet the structures remain requiring people to serve on various committees. Transferring governance function to the UUA will free up our leaders’ time to serve the ministry of their choosing. Our congregations will have improved connections with the UUA board through our Wisdom Seekers programs, the efforts of our UUA Moderator, Jim Key, and UUA board.

Staff: All district and regional staff are, or soon will be, UUA employees. This clarifies reporting structures, salary and benefit packages, and goals. Our “primary contact” model and emphasis on congregational clusters provide faster responses to congregations from staff with a wider variety of expertise.

Stewardship: We are planning to move to a simpler, more fair way of asking our congregations to support all our UU congregations. There will be one ask for congregations to financially support congregations in our district, region and nation. The recommended contribution will be based on a common list of congregational expenses rather than a headcount of members. Local leaders will be supporting our UUA’s Stewardship and Development office in this effort.

Congregational Life Advisory Council: This newly formed entity is designed to provide two-way communication between our congregations and Congregational Life office in our UUA. Each of the five regions across the U.S. has a new council, providing information to the Director of Congregational Life about congregational needs and working on how life in our congregations and beyond could be improved.

Wisdom Seekers: In the future our region will initiate a Wisdom Seekers program. This will be a forum to discuss the current major issues facing Unitarian Universalism and society. UU’s from across our region, the UUA Trustees, and the public will all be invited to these events. In addition to having deep discussions of current topics, this gives our UUs the opportunity to grow and serve into leadership roles.

We have been growing into our region in the last few years. Initiatives such as Wisdom Seekers promises a future of engagement, connection and growth.

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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Past blogs in CERGing Forward and some in Better Together have outlined a number of the reasons that factor into our discussions about regionalization:  a desire to live our theology of interdependence,  our covenant responsibilities within the tradition of the Cambridge Platform, a desire to forgo duplicative efforts,  the need to streamline communications, a desire to create new structures to  meet  the needs of our ever changing social context,  the need for coordination and team effort to better support our congregations and their ministries,  and more.  Look at the past blogs and you will see a number of these reasons discussed.

CERG LogoUnfortunately,  there are also several other stories going around about why we are moving to regionalization – stories that may contain some fact but are mostly fiction.  Let me outline a couple of these that seem to be spreading in parts of our region.

  1. Fiction — We are moving to regionalization because one or more of our districts are going bankrupt.
    Fact – Two of our districts are smaller than the others, but none are going bankrupt.   All of the districts in the Central East Region (JPD, MNY, SLD and OMD) have areas of strength to share with the others and we are stronger when we bring these strengths together.   And all have weaknesses that we can help alleviate when working as a team.  We are much better together.
  2. Fiction – Regionalization was a plan recently developed by the UUA president and administration to save money.
    Fact – Folk in our Central East Region started talking about sharing staff and resources and working as a team more than seven years ago.   And our districts began to put these ideas into practice about five years ago with our initial staff sharing arrangements.   This inspired other districts and regions to change the way they work as well.
  3. Fiction – No matter who came up with the idea,  the goal is still to save the UUA headquarters money.
    Fact – It is not planned that our regionalization efforts will result in saving money.   Yes,  we plan to reduce redundancies.  And eliminate duplicative efforts and expenses.  But the plan is to then reallocate savings in those areas to increase support for our congregations and their leaders.   And we hope to use any savings to develop new ways to support emerging UU groups and multisite efforts and other new congregational ministry efforts.   Regionalization won’t save any money.   Actually,  we hope that congregations will become more generous with their Fair Share as they see what all of us can accomplish when we work together.  And this increased sharing will  enable CERG to increase its support for congregational efforts to an even greater extent.
  4. Fiction – UUMA Chapters and LREDA Chapters will have to merge.
    Fact – UUMA and LREDA Chapters are not part of district governance structures.  They are separate entities of the UUMA and LREDA.  There is nothing that would make them change their current configurations.   It is hoped that chapters might find value in reaching out to one another and find areas where they can positively collaborate.  But that is entirely up to the LREDA and UUMA members.

There are a number of stories out there about regionalization.  These are just  few that have been repeated to me.   I hope that if you hear something that is questionable,  you will check it out with one of the district Board members or one of the  CERG staff folk so we can separate fact from fiction.

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere
Congregational Life Staff and CERG Staff Lead

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“Boston” is Everywhere

Rev. Chris Neilson in her car9/23/13
By Rev. Chris Neilson
Congregational Life Consultant for St. Lawrence District
Stewardship Consultant for CERG

Often I hear comments when I am on the road about “Boston” or the “UUA” as being very far and removed from the everyday life of our congregations.  We hang on to this image of elitism from our past, where rich white men rule the UUA at our headquarters in Boston.  One church member even asked me to “ask the rich people in Boston to send some money our way because our church is really struggling.”

The view of the road from our traveling staffArguably, we do have this image that still taints us, but I want people to understand that “Boston isn’t Boston” anymore.  We do still have the headquarters there, but it is moving to the Innovation District, which invites a whole new way for how we practice our faith.  One main difference is that many UUA employees do not live in Boston, and only occasionally do they show up for meetings in the headquarters building.  Yes, the administrative side lives there, but the programmatic core is everywhere- like I am- living in Rochester, NY, but on the road much of the time. Our Congregational Life staff does not live there, unless it’s their region.  Even President Morales does not live there, or Harlan Limpert our Chief Operating Officer, or Terasa Cooley, the Program and Strategy Officer, not even Scott Tayler, Director of Congregational life.   Technology has opened a vast opportunity for us to be in all corners of the United States, enabling us to stay in touch in ways that were not possible before.

We know that churches are struggling.  Only innovation will aid our struggles.  We have to do church differently, moving beyond the safety of our walls.  We are doing that in Boston, and we need to do it in our churches as well.


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