Step by Step…..Inch by Inch

Joan Van BecelaereRev. Joan Van Becelaere
CER Regional Lead


I love that old vaudeville routine that Abbot and Costello used to do that was sometimes called “Niagara Falls.”  You know the one – where one of the characters tells his complicated story to a stranger,  and it eventually leads to the lines:   “Then slowly I turned…..step by step.….inch by inch…..

This old sketch reminds me of the next phase of existence of our Central East Region (CER), as we work on all of the steps and stages that are part of our regionalization transition this summer and fall.

Slowly I Turned:

Now that all of four of our districts have voted and approved plans to dissolve and move the locus of governance to the Board of the Unitarian Universalist Association, we can implement the details of the regionalization plan that our Transition Team has been working on for over two years.  Yes, it was a long time of discussion and planning, and the details are many, but this should all serve to facilitate and support a smooth transition.   Our turning was slow, but deliberate.

Step By Step:

footsteps-962147_1920Metro New York and St Lawrence Districts have the most complicated transition.   They have had to create dissolution and final distribution of asset plans that met the regulations of the state of New York, have these plans approved by a District Assembly and then submit the plans to the State Attorney General for final approval.   Of course, all of this required legal help and both districts were fortunate to find an excellent UU lawyer to guide them through this.  It may take several months, perhaps into early or mid-fall, for the New York legalities to be finalized.

Joseph Priestley District in Delaware and Ohio-Meadville District in Ohio are only required to submit a simple form to the Secretary of State for each of their locations.  These forms are relatively easy to file and can be submitted at any time.

As of July 1, all of our CER events and workshops and conferences will be covered under the larger UUA insurance umbrella.  Each district is currently submitting the paperwork to close out the different insurance accounts each kept and paid for separately.  We are moving step by step to update, revise and transfer our four district websites into a single regional site hosted by the UUA servers (with great savings to the region). And the lease on our Wilmington DE office and the copier there are being transferred from the Joseph Priestley District to the CER.

Meanwhile, regional staff, including our CER Financial Manager, Cristina Sanchis, are working out all of the nuances of transferring the assets and various restricted fund accounts from all four districts to the special Central East Region section of the UUA accounting and banking system.  CER will continue to handle all its own funds, annual budgets, expense forms and bookkeeping, but enjoy the benefits of being part of the larger UUA accounting and finance system.  It is planned that all of the financial matters be transferred by the end of July 2016.

It is astounding how complex some of our district accounting structures have become over the years. But slowly and surely, step by step, the various elements are being reviewed, listed and set up for transfer.

Inch By Inch:

If all goes as planned, all of these financial and legal and administrative steps and stages will be completed by October 2016.  We will then be left with the ongoing relational task of building our regional networks of communication and clusters and congregational collaboration.    The relational task take time and move in small increments, inch by inch.

But whether we are moving ahead step by step or inch by inch, we are moving ahead –  we are CERGing Forward – together into a new way of living out our Unitarian Universalist mission and faith.

A Free Faith for All – the Promise of Unitarian Universalism

Laura ConkleLaura Conkle
Secretary, Ohio-Meadville District

All four districts’ delegates have now voted to make the final commitment to regionalization. The districts have begun the work of dissolving, allowing our congregations and communities to move into new relationships with each other and our association. After years of negotiating and exploring ideas and options, we’ve come to learn that we can grow better together and support our faith communities better in this new way of being.

We have strong relationships among lay leaders, ministers, staff and others. Now is the time for all of us to breathe deeply and remember, we are striking off in a new direction. Change is hard, even good change. If we can break our old cycles of doubt and mistrust, we will indeed create a space where we are including more folks and living our purpose as a life changing and lifesaving faith.

CER LogoThere are concrete steps in place, and you’ve read about them here on this blog. Our Memo of Understanding with our association is guiding our progress. Right now a team is forming to nurture the implementation of our region. You’ve heard about our Advisory Council that works with our congregations and communities to ensure healthy feedback and communication with our staff. It’s true; Wisdom Seekers would have duplicated the many ways we already have to participate in our national governance. And so rather than duplicate and disempower these existing structures, we ask our congregations and communities to get to know each other better and build collaborations. I know from personal experience that our association’s board is interested in knowing and hearing from all of us. If you haven’t yet, you can check out their board meetings on livestream.

I’ve written before that the district structures felt to me like a false barrier. I’m excited to explore how each of us can build and maintain stronger relationships in an open and inclusive environment. In my work I’ve held my focus on our first principle of inherent worth and dignity. I read somewhere recently that dignity is the allowance we make for each other simply because we are human. Each of us personally knows the feelings of anxiety and fear that can be triggered by change of any kind. And right now we are in the midst of great change. Please join me in assuming good intent as we explore together. It’s important to remember that we are all in this together, and we have the same goals. Unitarian Universalism calls each of us to create a better world.

I ask that each of us honor that we are feeling many things right now – to some extent excitement, some amount of anxiety and need for control, and I hope, a bit of joy at embarking on a new adventure together. Let’s be patient with each other as we move through implementing this brand new way and fulfilling the promise of our merger many years ago. May we take comfort in the knowledge that our siblings in the South are a bit further down the road than we are in this process.

We are not alone. We are among friends. We have the same goals. Let’s take great care of ourselves and each other as we create an environment where our faith can flourish. Many thanks for all you have already done to free our message and share our promise with the world.


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.

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.

The End of Strategic Planning

This is a post from Doug Zelinski, Leadership Development Director in the New England Region, and our former MNY Staff Member.  As we move towards regionalization, we’re all looking for ways to connect and grow.  Doug’s insight is timely.  Enjoy!

Doug Zelinksiby Doug Zelinski,
Leadership Development Director

Smaller congregations in many denominations are struggling to survive. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily “doing church” badly. But it does mean they need to do church differently. Intuiting this need, church leaders often begin gearing up for a strategic planning process.

Strategic plans have been viewed as the epitome of responsible church governance since the 1970s, however… That view is shifting. Experts now speak of the “death” of strategic planning so frequently we thought it fitting to summarize their views in the following obituary.

Mr. Strategic Plan quietly passed away in the first decade of the 21st century. He was born many years ago in a military camp, later adopted by businesses, and then spent his last years among non-profits and churches. He flourished in a time marked by its slower pace and greater institutional resources. He believed that tomorrow would turn out to be much like today and that with enough data and a clear, sure sense of self he could chart the best path forward into the distant future. Upon exposure to social and cultural shifts, Mr. Strategic Plan took ill and went into isolation. He was neglected in his last years and his death is only now being noticed in some quarters.

Mr. Strategic Plan is survived by many agile, shorter-term, best-guess strategic actions launched from a common ground, driven by individual or small group passions and coordinated just enough to reveal the congregation’s evolving understanding of its role in the world.

In this moment, the trend is away from massive, linear, comprehensive plans that define a specific future and the steps to get there, toward agile, bold actions plus reflection that move us now into our destinies. Direct those actions toward creating Beloved Community and practice a reflection that is spiritually centered, and you have the new way of framing congregational strategic planning.

This reframing eliminates the long search for a single set of all-inclusive goals perfectly balanced to achieve unanimous approval by the congregation. Instead, leadership creates a framework that supports groups of congregants passionately engaged in the community to give and receive gifts of service, hope, and love. For church leaders, this reframe is both a shift in thinking and a shift in behavior.

The Big Shifts in Strategic Planning

The biggest mind-shift may be giving up the idea that we can continue to do what we already do­, except more and better. Common expressions of this mindset include, “We just need” [more members, bigger pledges, the right minister, a revised governance structure or bylaws, or a larger draw on the endowment]. Good leaders are already squeezing benefits from doing the familiar. But if we meet only these kinds of needs the future will arrive, welcome or not, and tell us to close our doors for good.  Strategic thinking is a shift in stance from knowing to not knowing and from the familiar to the unknown and maybe even the risky.

With this reframe, the biggest shift in leadership behavior may be away from a top-down approach with the board gathering data and then determining goals. Instead the board equips its members to become instruments of strategic thinking and exploration as they minister out in the community. Shifts are not just top-down to bottom-up but also inward focused to outward engaged.  The most critical strategic information about a congregation’s future lies in active engagement outside of its walls.

This reframe of strategic planning also requires shifting from:

  • Slow and deliberative to nimble and experimental
  • Comprehensive and unanimous to targeted and personal
  • Knowing the “right” path to learning from success and failure

These are a lot of shifts and the question of “How?” surfaces almost immediately. New England Regional staff will share what we are learning about this reframing and answering the question “How?” at our upcoming event “The Future of Small to Mid-Sized Congregations” happening April 18 in Reading, MA and again on May 2 in Springfield, MA . You can read more and register for either of these events on our website.

We invite you and your congregational leadership team to join us as we explore how best to chose your future before it chooses you.

Gratitude and Appreciations

Special thanks to Hilary Allen, Congregational Development Director for the Northern New England District for her partnership in exploring this topic. We are grateful for the expertise and companionship of the following church leaders as we continue reframing strategic planning for our New England congregations.

Gregg Baker – First Parish Church of Groton UU, MA
Renee DeWolf – Hopedale Unitarian Parish, MA
Ann Dinsmoor – First Parish in Brookline, MA
Todd Herrmann – Unitarian Church of Barnstable, MA
Rev. Jeanne Lloyd – Mattatuck Society, CT
Rev. Bev Waring – Hopedale Unitarian Parish, MA

How Far We Have Come

By Margaret Harloe
St. Lawrence District

To get the juices flowing when I sat down to write, I perused recent posts to the CERGing Forward blog. Even a cursory review of the titles tells quite a story of how far we have come in building a stronger, more interconnected web of Unitarian Universalism in the Central East Region. Just consider the titles of some of the recent posts: “With Gratitude,” “Together, Our Vision Widens,” “Regionalization, What is Next?” and “A Covenant for the Future.” Out of curiosity, I looked back at the first posting in September of 2012, which was titled “Dreams of a UU Organizer.”

CERG mapI became aware of efforts to create the Central East Region in the summer of 2014 shortly after I was voted in as a trustee for the St. Lawrence District and accepted an invitation to join the Transition Team to replace a member who had to step down. A lot of work had already occurred by that point, yet much remained. Now, we have a unified staff, a clear Memorandum of Understanding between the four districts that will comprise the Central East Region and our UUA, and renewed energy in developing clusters and partnerships between congregations, which to me is one of the most exciting possibilities of regionalization.

Yes, indeed, how far we have come. And yet, our work is not done. Many who are involve in leadership at the congregational, district, regional or national level, or are devotees of this blog are well aware of regionalization efforts and progress nation-wide. But others are not. Those who are just stepping into leadership, or beginning to look beyond their home congregation for a broader and deeper connection to their faith, as well as those who are new to Unitarian Universalism will need support and opportunity to learn more about regionalization and to have their questions answered. So, spread the word, share the news, and seek the questioner! We have come a long way to make real the dreams of our predecessors, and we are the beneficiaries of the paths they forged. As we look forward to the 2016 District Assemblies when delegates will vote to formally establish the Central East Region, let us encourage and help others to walk with us because we are stronger together.

With Gratitude….

With Thanksgiving just past us and Christmas fast approaching, the season of thanksgiving and gratitude is now upon us and the staff of your region would like to take this moment to express our thanks.

CERG Gratitude wordle

Thank you to the congregations who pay their fair share to their district and/or APF 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 district and even 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. From the members of the district boards, our team and 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, Andrea Lerner, Rev. David Pyle, Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Rev. Megan Foley, Rev. Hope Johnson, Raziq Brown, Evin Carvill-Ziemer, Sue Tabone, Beth Casebolt, Patricia Infante, Cristina Sanchis, Jillian Conway

A Covenant for the Future

Paul PinsonPaul Pinson

Joseph Priestley Board Member


Have you heard that Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations is a covenantal organization?


What does that mean anyway? Well, for me, it means we reach an understanding of how we plan to “be” together, something we can call ourselves back to if we feel we are drifting away from the understanding. Covenants are built on respect, trust, and good intentions to remain in covenant. One alternative to covenantal organizations are contractual ones, which specify conditions and perhaps penalties or dissolution for departures from the conditions. Another alternative, of course, would be to have no understanding. For our congregations, clusters, districts, regions, and association, I prefer the idea of covenant.


Covenant Photo from UU Media CollaborativeFor the last several months, the Central East Region Transition Team has been working with the UUA to develop an understanding of how we want to be together when our districts join to become a region. We had a head start by having access to the understanding reached between the UUA and the congregations of the Southern Region.


We reviewed it carefully and determined what changes were appropriate for our region and went through several iterations with our four boards to ensure our interests were well represented.


We have outlined how we will be organized, how regional staff will function, what will happen to governance, how financial matters will be handled, and – most importantly – how the congregations and the UUA will communicate with each other, have input to matters of interest, and how we will call ourselves back to the understanding if necessary.


The UUA Leadership Council has recently returned the memorandum defining our understanding with a few clarifications, but no major changes, so we are well on our way to an agreement.


The Transition Team on behalf of the boards will review the clarifications and determine how close we are to an understanding on which the UUA and our congregations can agree. When we reach that agreement with the UUA we plan to share the memorandum widely.

We are the Unitarian Universalist Association

Laura Conkleby Laura Conkle
Ohio-Meadville District Secretary, and member CER Transitions Team

Last month, I was in retreat with my Ohio-Meadville District Board of Trustees, talking for hours about regionalization. We drew on the chalk board, sorting out operations from governance. We asked and contemplated many questions about how we have come to be in partnership with the other districts in the Central East Region. We explored potential paths forward and considered how to participate.

From a certain point of view regionalization is about correcting past mistakes. Our accidental formation of 19 districts to accommodate 19 staff members who needed a gig post-merger is reversed. Bizarre and sometimes irrational divisions, like the separation of Pennsylvania (and many other states) into different districts are reversed. Our staff will be solely employed by our UUA, and so co-employment is reversed.

From another point of view regionalization is about returning to our values: The Cambridge Platform, covenantal relationships, mutual accountability, and a sense of community.

UUA LogoAnother vantage point reveals that regionalization is about congregational polity. We are aligning our actions with our actual formations. Congregations are independent in guiding their own development and none can exist without the others. Quite literally our congregations join together through the Unitarian Universalist Association – yes – Association – formed by each congregation coming together. Congregations, through our Association, amplify our voices by joining our resources and decide how to behave on a national stage.

What are our districts? Perhaps each of these perspectives will provide a different answer.

What I see most is that districts are a buffer between our congregations and our Association which is to me a very bad thing. We don’t need a middle organization between ourselves and ourselves. We don’t benefit by delegating our relationships to each other.

Did you know? There is a robust exploration at our Association about General Assembly. Folks are wrestling with how to create more opportunities to participate in our governance, asking questions about how we meet and when we meet. Real considerations are underway around inclusion and welcoming. In addition, we now have a job description for our Association’s president for the first time in our history.

These events are real because our national leadership is committed to honoring our relationships and expanding our community. They are good people. They are us. We are the Unitarian Universalist Association.

For me regionalization is about honoring our promises to each other. We don’t need to protect ourselves from ourselves. We don’t need districts. If we vote to dissolve our districts, we will still be in relationship with each other. We will continue to gather and work together in ways that make sense for our congregations. And I hope that we will be in stronger relationship with each other through our Association.

Generously Investing for Tomorrow (GIFT)

bill clontz
Bill Clontz

GIFT is the pilot funding program for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Southern Region developed as part of an effort to identify viable and sustainable alternatives to the existing Annual Program Fund and district funding structures.
Update on GIFT.

GIFT changes the way we fund our district, regional, and national programs in two important ways:

  • Congregations in the Southern Region make one pledge, to both the UUA and Region (formerly Districts).
  • Congregational contribution requests are based on a fixed percentage (7%) of certified expenditures, rather than on membership totals.

For Southern Region congregations, the GIFT Program began in the 2014 Fiscal Year, and will continue into Fiscal Year 2016

For more information, please visit

To provide information and to encourage reflection on GIFT, the Southern Region has provided a number of GIFT information tools on this web site, including most recently a set of GIFT FAQs. This blog will, from time to time, focus on one of those FAQs in an expanded discussion.

Q: An amount based on 7% of our Certified Operating Expenditures seems like a big increase to what we were contributing to the UUA previously. Why is that?A: Remember that GIFT replaces not one, but two, calculations and contribution systems. GIFT includes both contributions to the UUA and to the region. What had been two formulas and two contributions is now one formula and one contribution. When most congregations compare their previous two-system amounts to what is asked of them by GIFT, they find the new system is simpler and in most cases asks no more from them.Q: I understand the calculation basis is 7% or our Certified Operating Expenses. However, I have heard that some congregations are contributing as little as 5% and still have been certified as Honor Congregations in supporting the UUA. What is the story about that variance?

A: The covenantal nature of our faith is mutual. The UUA recognized that the move to a 7% ask under GIFT might represent a challenge for a few congregations, so the UUA wanted to offer support to congregations with a plan to get to the full ask amount. Therefore during the first year of the GIFT program, congregations were accorded full Honor Congregation status when contributing at 5% or higher. This year, contributions of 6% or above will be considered Honor, but this too is a temporary “stopping place” on the way to the full 7%. Next year, 7% contributions will be Honor level. Remember, no increases were built into the GIFT program. The GIFT program is a more equitable funding program, but only if those who are asked to give do so. When we contribute less, less is available to support our wider goals and support structure.