Find Your Primary Contact

All four districts have now voted to dissolve and regionalization is now fast becoming a reality. Because the purpose of this blog was to inform our members about the regionalization process, we are retiring it and it will now become an archive.

 

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. As congregations shift clusters your primary contact may change over the summer, but we will let you know when this happens.

 

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Gratitude

Jeff DonahueJeff Donahue
CERG Transitions Team Chair

 

I retired from Binghamton University in 2010 and a year later I was elected to serve on the St. Lawrence District Board.  Two years later I was president of the district and shortly thereafter I began serving as the chair of the newly formed Transition Team for the Central East Region.  My presidency ended after our delegates voted to dissolve the district in favor of our region at District Assembly a few weeks ago.  And at the upcoming General Assembly the Transition Team will conduct its final meeting.  It’s time for me and many others to move on.

thanksgivingwordle50I am amazed how much was accomplished in the last few years.  We established a new course for Unitarian Universalism in our region and to some extent across the country.  The number of details the Transition Team and our four boards attended to is astonishing.  The level of commitment and dedication of our regional lay leaders, ministers and staff is astounding.  Gini Courtier challenged all of us in her final Moderator Report at General Assembly to stick with the hard work before us.  I took that seriously and the Transition Team, four boards, and the staff got it done.

I am deeply grateful to so many for their fine work, commitment, dedication, and love.  My fellow district presidents in the Central East Region became very close and supportive of one another.  Mia Morse, president of Metro New York, kept going with her full-time job, nursing classes, and raising her teenage daughter.  The president of the Joseph Priestley District, Dennis Wellnitz, continued his full-time job in astrophysics at the University of Maryland.  And Rev. Matt Alspaugh, president of the Ohio-Meadville District, served his congregation, the First UU Church of Youngstown, Ohio, while helping all of us transition from districts to our region.  These people are super heroes in my book.

The members of our Transition Team came from our four district boards — two from each — along with two incredible staff members:  our Regional Lead, Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, and Rev. Scott Tayler, the director of Congregational Life at our UUA.  Each of these team members contributed so much to our process and the successful outcome.  With my deepest appreciation, I thank all the current members of our Transition Team, including:

Laura Conkle, Ohio-Meadville
Margaret Harlow, St. Lawrence
Paul Pinson, Joseph Priestley
Charlie Schott, Metro New York

Given the amount of time it took to do this work, perhaps it was inevitable that the sorrows of life would join us.  Two of our leaders passed away during our effort:  Lillian Christman, president of the Joseph Priestley District, and Rev. Christina Neilson, Congregational Life Consultant.  The loss of each of these dedicated individuals was heartbreaking.

So many UUs from across this country advised us throughout the process.  Ministers, lay leaders and UUA staff from the MidAmerica, Southern, New England, and Pacific Western regions all contributed vast perspectives that helped us discern our own path.

I have met and befriended so many UUs in the last few years.  Seeing many of them at General Assembly is a great joy.  Tears are coming to me just thinking about seeing them again.

This effort has been so time and energy intensive, many of us are beginning our own discernment as to what to do next.  For me, I’ve made my decision.  I spent the last three days in Baltimore with a group of about 30 UUs from across the country, all being trained to be members of the newly formed Ministerial Transition Team.  I’ll be helping congregations who are in search for a new minister.  I am very excited to have this new ministry to share.

It’s been so amazing to have directly contributed to improving Unitarian Universalism.  This work has been extraordinarily gratifying.  I thank you, my friends, for giving me such a great opportunity.

In Faith & Service,
Jeff Donahue

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Transitioning

Jeff DonahueJeff Donahue
Chair, CERG Transitions Team

Three of our four districts recently met and delegates overwhelmingly voted to dissolve their districts in favor of our region, the Central East Region. Metro New York meets on May 7 to have their debate and vote. What brought so many Unitarian Universalists together on these votes?

Most of us have already experienced what it will be like to be a region. The staff in all four districts have already become one: they are all UUA employees with one boss and a common structure for salaries and benefits. And our congregations have experienced what it’s like to have such great depth and breadth of expertise among our staff.

Cluster DiagramWe’ve seen our district-only programs grow into multi-district or fully regional programs. The leadership development program in St. Lawrence and Ohio-Meadville, has transitioned over the last few years from EAGLES to UULTI to H-UULTI to UU Leadership Institute that not only serves our region, but has international students. Ohio-Meadville’s Commissioned Lay Leader program has expanded into St. Lawrence and at a retreat this weekend discussion will occur regarding its expansion and future.

I heard a lot of enthusiastic comments about our emphasis on building interdependence between our congregations and UUA. Clusters are developing with a stronger and sustainable structure. We have new ways for our congregations to directly communicate with the UUA, such as our operational Congregational Life Advisory Council.

Some UUs were pleased to hear we are eliminating some bureaucracy. This will free up time and energy of our district leaders who can now devote that energy to the ministry of their choosing, perhaps a social justice issue, a spirituality retreat, or improving a radically hospitable environment in their church.

Many ministers offered their perspectives, often theological, on our transition to a region. It was good to be reminded that our seventh principle calls us to respect our interdependent web of all existence, including our sister congregations in other districts. It was good to be reminded that we are indeed better together.

Overall, I heard a sense that our district leaders did a good job of working through the multitude of details in this transition and people were ready to take the next step: to dissolve our districts in favor of our Central East Region. I support Metro New York’s delegates who are doing their discernment of what the best future of their district is. I hope you join the other three districts in coming together to officially form the Central East Region.

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Wisdom Seekers

schottBy Charles Schott
Member Metro New York District Board and CERG Transition Team

The initial goals of the Wisdom Seekers were to facilitate linkage between our Central East Region congregations and our UUA Board, and to identify replacements for our District Assemblies. The Transition Team discussed a variety of approaches to achieve these goals and established a Working Group to explore them in depth.

The conclusion of the Wisdom Seekers Working Group regarding linkage was to build on existing channels and mechanisms and to encourage and expand their linkage activities. They first identified what exists today and soon realized that a whole new structure would be largely redundant and could compete with and dilute our existing mechanisms.

In the past our district boards were one agent for congregations to communicate with our UUA Board. However, in the future any 15 congregations in the same district or region or across regions have the authority to bring an issue to the General Assembly. This implies a level of inter-congregational connection and communication. A primary mission of our Central East Regional Staff is foster, nurture and strengthen these connections.

CER LogoOne conclusion of the Working Group regarding District Assemblies was that a regional assembly would impose an unfair level of cost and burdensome travel on too many. While congregations could still choose to continue DA sized events, the Working Group and Transition Team strongly recommend building on the growing interconnections among congregations and explore all the many ways we can network and collaborate together. Our regional staff and Congregational Life Advisory Council will work with our congregations to facilitate these connections and events.

Just a couple weeks ago on April 9th I had the opportunity to experience first-hand what our future working together can be. There are only three congregations in the Central East Region from Connecticut. We were each invited and all attended a “Cluster Connections” event with nine other Connecticut UU congregations at the Unitarian Society of New Haven. It was a marvelous day of workshops and widespread networking. There are now new collaborations among these twelve congregations in a number of areas including alternative services such as vespers, lay-lead services, governance and social action.

This geographical and affinity clustering encourages and facilitates the innovation that often starts with our individual congregations. These initiatives can then be readily shared with other congregations in the region and beyond with our UUA. This empowerment, innovation and collaboration at the congregational level is precisely what our UU faith needs to adapt and thrive in our rapidly changing world.

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Final Steps

alspaughMatt Alspaugh
OMD President

Ohio Meadville and St. Lawrence Districts both hold their Annual Meetings this first weekend of April. The big item on the agenda of each meeting is the decision to dissolve the district. Joseph Priestley and Metro New York will be considering the same question next week and next month, respectively. These dissolution decisions are among the last steps to complete the creation of the Central East Region.

CER LogoI’m sure some may be thinking, “Why can’t we just keep these districts around? What’s the harm?” It could seem innocuous enough. After all, there are many decades of history in those districts, good memories and good works.

I’ve moved my home three times in the last ten years – from Denver to Berkeley to St. Paul to Youngstown. Each move was necessary in my career. I look back on each move with fondness, for I became a wiser, better person through these moves. But that doesn’t mean the moves were easy.

Each move brought choices about what to keep and what to let go of. These were often difficult decisions. Giving away tools and hobby supplies meant realizing that a phase of my life might be over. Selling off some family furniture meant another kind of letting go, to make space for something new. Yet, on the other end of each move, I found that I cherished the things I did keep because keeping them had been a conscious decision.

I think of the dissolution of the districts in the same way. We’re letting go of things that no longer serve us well, old governance structures in particular. We’re keeping things that are important, like Summer Institute and Commissioned Lay Leaders. And we’ve expanded some things — like our staff and youth programming — so we can serve our congregations better. Because we have made conscious choices about what we keep and grow, and what we release and dissolve, we can better appreciate our new regional structure and the programming we will continue to do together.

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Transitions!

Mia MorseMia Morse
President, Metro NY District

Last Saturday, the MNY BOT hosted the district Prestidents to talk about regionalization.

As we started down the road of introductions, the incredible aspect most of us had in common is that we’re in search,
hoping to begin a search, or looking for innovative ways to increase the salary to attract a minister.  This was an amazing fact.
one that I’d never experienced.  Out of the 20 Presidents, over half reported some search activity.  This is both exciting and
overwhelming at the same time.  Rev. Maria Valentin sums it all up.  Enjoy!

Rev. Marta Valentin
Rev. Marta Valentin

Guest blog: Turning as One
By Rev. Martia Valentin, Ministerial Transitions Lead, New England Region

Right now, for some congregations in our region and around the country life is simply “the business of ministry as usual.” As we move deeper into 2016, we are busy doing church in all the ways we know and love, finding newer/bigger/better ways to welcome the stranger among us and bring them into our circle of mindful caring. We are chugging along, accepting the challenges that unfold before us as stepping-stones into a new and unseen part of the journey. We are stretching our hands across aisles and pews to touch each member of the family with a knowing force held by our Unitarian Universalist center of gravity. Life is good in all its guises because at some visceral level we recognize that we are not alone. For all our independence, it is our inter-independence that is our saving grace.

In this spirit of interdependence, as a new member on your New England Region team, I have the honor of ministering to congregational leaders for whom the business of church feels as though it has stopped in its tracks with the impending departure of their minister. I like to call this process acompañamiento – Spanish for “accompanying.” I also have the privilege of being a “minister to ministers” as I listen and hold all the reasons a departure is necessary. Endings of any kind are a mixture of glee and grief to varying degrees.

And so, under cover in the darkness of winter, search committees are doing their clandestine work, drilling down in search of answers to important questions. The hope is that with clarity, they will find the minister best poised to accompany them into their future. One congregation’s ministerial loss can be another’s gain. We turn as one but cannot see the whole from our distinct vantage point.
There are congregations feeling the sting to ears and hearts of the announcement that the path between them and their minister is about to diverge. Though these announcements are inevitable, they are still a surprise. The long and distinguished ministries of the past are a rarity today. Yet the spiritual gifts that live within each acompañamiento is the reality that even when the paths diverge the initial experience that brought minister and congregation together cannot be taken away. Even if the divergence is painful and consequently sought, the lesson contained within (which I will not presume to name) can deepen a sense of ministry for both the minister and the congregation. That, I imagine, is the desire.
Change Ahead SignIn my own transitioning experiences, I have felt the comforting hand of another who was accompanying me, for which I am grateful. Now, that gratitude manifests into the privilege of accompanying the transitioning congregations and ministers. Sometimes it is with great joy, other times with heartbreak, but both are pieces of the circle of life. In a time of many changes, what appears to the untrained eye as a kind of chaos, the trained eye sees as a weaving happening as congregations and ministers receive the resources they need for the next part of the journey.
Some search committees have been deep into the Settlement Handbook that guides them step-by -step. Others, still in the middle of the feelings that arise when an end is near, are beginning to turn the pages of two resources for “the in-between time”:
This time is a gift that many have overlooked in the past, viewing the interim as a momentum-crushing placeholder. Yet, used wisely it can be an exciting time of claiming the past, looking inward at strengths and challenges, assessing leadership structures, strengthening connections to our UUA and, using all this new found knowledge, turning (as one!) to look outward for the minister who will collaborate with them on their desired future.

Under cover in the darkness of the wintertime, may all of you who are turning remember you are not alone. Together with my New England Region colleagues, I welcome the chance to accompany you. We can tell you what to pack for the journey. We can remind you amidst the do’s and don’t to pack a smile and a sense of humor. To trust the process and let it unfold before you. To take deep breaths knowing that each breath brings inspire-ation. But mostly to help us all remember that from “here” to “there,” the New England Regional staff’s ministry is to accompany you toward a new light and watch you shine. And when that has happened, we know, we have truly turned as one.

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Dissolving Our Districts

Jeff DonahueJeff Donahue
President, St. Lawrence District

Sounds shocking, doesn’t it? “What do you mean dissolve our district? We’ve been together since the early ‘60s – since the merger. What do we need to dissolve our district for?”

This simple answer is the time has come.

For the last several years our elected leaders of the four districts in the Central East Region (St. Lawrence, Metro New York, Ohio-Meadville and Joseph Priestley) have devoted untold number of hours working through every option to improve services to our congregations. We have concluded one larger region without a governing body, and no districts, will allow your congregation to be better served.

CERG mapThis is a bold step – a very bold, very big step.

So do we still need district governing boards? Let’s take a look at what they have done and the energy it’s taking to keep this bureaucracy functioning.

  • District Boards and Staff: All four of our district boards agreed to stop supervising staff. Up until then staff had two bosses: district boards and UUA officials. Last year this became official and all district employees became UUA employees with a common set of job descriptions, salary classifications, and benefit packages. Boards are no longer supervising, hiring and firing, evaluating, or recruiting.
  • Budgets: This fiscal year coming year will be our first when all four district budgets will be combined into one regional budget. The vast majority of each budget has been staff. Since all staff are now employed by the UUA, the district board’s role in developing those budgets is greatly reduced.
  • Bookkeeping: The four boards agreed to share our staff to be more efficient, so instead of four bookkeepers, we now have one.
  • Communications: We are also consolidating much of our communications, both print and online, resulting in less work for district board members.

With so many functions no longer in the job description of District Trustees, why would we want to perpetuate this work of UU volunteers? The answer is we don’t. The time has come to shut our districts down in favor of our new regional and national structures and give back time and energy to all the district volunteers, both lay and professional, so they can devote themselves to the ministry of their choosing.

This really is a bold step – one your elected leaders have toiled over for years and are now ready to ask for your vote. At each District Assembly this Spring you will be asked to vote yes to dissolve your district. It’s a big, bold step toward improving services to your congregation.

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Regionalization: A Retrospective

Dennis WellnitzDennis Wellnitz
President, Joseph Priestley District of the Unitarian Universalist Association
Member, Central East Regional Group Transition Team

Way back in 2010, on Wednesday, June 23, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during the day before the evening opening of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 49th General Assembly, the members of the Boards of all of the Districts of the UUA were invited by President John Sanders of the District Presidents Association and Moderator Gini Courter to meet together to consider the history of the UUA and the Districts, the problems facing the UUA and the Districts, the impediments to changing our ways of working together as congregations of the UUA, what some regions (CERG and New England) had already done as regions, and what we as regions could see ourselves doing in the future.

For many of the Board members attending the meeting, that meeting was the beginning of a UUA-wide regionalization initiative. We, the Districts of CERG had already been working together for a few years to establish region-wide collaboration and had recently launched an initiative to share resources to hire three and a quarter regional staff to do things as a region that we were having difficulty doing as individual Districts. This work was held up as a model of how things could be done in other regions, if people wanted to pursue such a course of action. However, it was recognized immediately that there was likely not a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of regionalization, and each of the five regions would need to identify how they would like to form their own region.

CERG mapThus was born the idea of a Central East Regional Group Transition Team, to put forth a proposed method of transitioning to a Central East Region. I was one of the people who volunteered to be on that Transition Team of eight representatives of the CERG Districts, as one of the two representatives of the Joseph Priestley District. Over the years the Transition Team has considered many possible paths to regionalization, and for quite a while pursued an approach very much like the one eventually adopted by the Midwest Region in 2013: incorporating the region as a single super-district (the UUA by-laws did not at the time recognize governance at a regional level), replacing the three districts of the region. In contrast, the abandoning in 2014 of all governance but that of the UUA organization as a whole by the Districts of the Southern Region was an experiment viewed with trepidation by many, but as the UUA and the Southern Region successfully negotiated the transition, and the Midwest Region ran into increasing difficulties, the model developed by the Southern Region appeared increasingly attractive to us, and was, after considerable deliberation, adopted by the CERG Transition Team and individually by the four Boards of CERG.

The delegates of the congregations of each of the four Districts in CERG will be voting at their District Assemblies this spring to permit their Districts to dissolve according to the timetable set forth in the Memorandum of Understanding, eventually leaving only the governance of the UUA organization as a whole for the Central East Region.

I hope that the delegates of the congregations of the Districts of CERG will attend the presentations now being provided online and throughout the Central East Region and seek out all the information they need to make an informed decision about permitting the dissolution of the District of which they are a part.

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Regionalization: What is next?

Laura ConkleLaura Conkle
Secretary, OMD Board

 

First, a little history: each of our four districts has elected a Board of Trustees for their specific district. From that group of elected leaders, each board selected two representatives to serve on our Central East Region Transition Team, pictured below with our Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly Chalice on August 13, 2015.

CER Transitions Team
Top left to right: Laura Conkle, Jeff Donahue, Rev. Scott Taylor
Middle left to right: Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, Laura Howe (with Chalice), Mia Morse
Bottom left to right: Dennis Wellnitz, Charlie Schott, Margaret Harloe, Rev. Matt Alspaugh, Paul Pinson

The Transition Team has collaborated with all four elected boards to discern the best way to organize and support our common Unitarian Universalist goals. On this blog you can read past posts about how our boards have found greater wisdom in unifying our staff. We’ve shared our creation of Advisory Councils as an opportunity to collaborate with staff around services. You can also read past posts on this blog about our discernment that governance belongs between and among our congregations and covenanting communities through our association. We’ve shared our plans to create Wisdom Seekers as a governance linkage opportunity.

Members of our four boards and our UUA staff partners have been offering regionalization presentations at District Assemblies, Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association and Liberal Religious Educators Association meetings, Leadership Days, Cluster events, and other gatherings.

In order to clarify how we may regionalize, our four boards, our Transition Team and our Partners at our Unitarian Universalist Association explored our shared journey to regionalize by creating a Memorandum of Understanding Between the four Districts of the Central East Region and The Unitarian Universalist Association. This discernment, visioning, planning and creating is grounded in our shared Unitarian Universalist values and done in alignment with each of our bylaws, as we meet the responsibilities and expectations of our elected positions.

I’m pleased and proud to share that our four districts have signed this Memorandum of Understanding with our Unitarian Universalist Association.  You can download the file and read it at the CER website.

Signature portion of MOU

Our four Districts’ Presidents gathered at this month’s District Presidents Association (http://www.uua.org/uuagovernance/dpa) meeting at Unitarian Universalist Association headquarters in Boston. On Saturday, November 8, 2015, Joseph Priestly District President Dennis Wellnitz, Metro New York District President Mia Morse, St. Lawrence District President Jeff Donahue, Ohio-Meadville District President Matt Alspaugh, UUA Moderator Jim Key, UUA President Peter Morales, and UUA Congregational Life Director Scott Taylor signed a Memorandum of Understanding Between the Districts of the Central East Region and The Unitarian Universalist Association. UUA Chief Operating Officer Rev. Harlan Limpert signed later.

This is the text pictured above the signatures:

“Covenanting Parties

All parties listed below have reviewed and affirmed this Memorandum of Understanding. All parties understand that full implementation of these agreements requires affirmative votes of the four district delegates of the Central East Region at their spring 2016 District Assemblies, after which time the parties listed below will gather to review this Memorandum of Understanding again to plan implementation.”

The full implementation of this Memorandum of Understanding Between the Districts of the Central East Region and The Unitarian Universalist Association “requires affirmative votes of the four district delegates of the Central East Region at their spring 2016 District Assemblies.”

We’ve created a playlist on YouTube of short videos that describe our aspirations. You can watch it below:

Whether you’re reading about regionalization for the first time, or like so many folks, you’ve been in discernment for years, I invite you to join in the regionalization conversation. We are stronger together, and we hope you will join us at our Spring District Assemblies for this historic vote.

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How Regionalization Carries Forward the Original Intents of the UU Merger

Dennis WellnitzDennis Wellnitz,
President, Joseph Priestley District
Central East Regional Group Transition Team

As a person who began participating in a UU congregation in his 30s, I have found presentations on the history of the UUA by the Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie to be quite illuminating. In particular, I would like to share with you a recent presentation “How the Districts Got Their Shapes”, which describes how both Districts and Regions were originally envisioned and how the limitations of finances shaped the UUA over the years. Now our current efforts at regionalization are implementing the original concept that services should be delivered regionally.

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