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.


Communications, Legalities and Reasons

Jeff DonahueJeff Donahue

President, St. Lawrence District


The four elected district boards have dedicated much of their work these last few years to transition us from districts to the shared ministries and resources of our region.  We’re in the home stretch.  In a few months all four districts will ask their delegates to vote to dissolve their district in favor of our Central East Region.


Much of our current effort is communicating with our 202 congregations and other regional communities to let you know what we’ve accomplished, why we’re doing this, and what the next steps are.  Presentations to congregational clusters and group meetings are occurring in person and online.  We also created a web site filled with videos and FAQs on the what, why and when issues of regionalization:


It was inevitable that we would need a lawyer in this process.  In the last week I conducted phone interviews with six lawyers under consideration to help the St. Lawrence and Metro New York districts prepare to navigate through the complexity of dissolving our districts in New York state.  It appears Ohio-Meadville and Joseph Priestley districts have a simpler process in the states they are incorporated in and therefore don’t require a lawyer.  The St. Lawrence Board has selected an attorney and the Metro New York board is considering the same person.


All of this work is for one primary reason:  to improve services to our congregations.  We’ll all have access to a greater number of staff with a broader range of expertise.  We are working hard to bring our congregations together in clusters and partnerships to support one another and build new ways of growing Unitarian Universalism.  And we have new ways to connect with our national association, the UUA, to build our strength and share our values and principles.


This is exciting change – and no doubt a bit scary for some.  Our elected leaders in all four districts have been immersed in this work, so if you’re feeling uncertain or uneasy about this evolution, please contact your district president – we’ll be happy to have a conversation with you.

Beyond UU Districts

Charlie SchottCharles Schott
MNY Board Member

Those of us involved with Unitarian Universalism beyond our own congregations have typically been very invested in our districts, and have assumed them to be an essential structure within our UUA. Looking back to our consolidation in 1963, we see that the original plans were to have the UUA, UUA staffed regional support centers and congregational districts. However the regions were not formed at that time because of financial challenges. So the districts became the intermediate structure between the UUA and the individual congregations. Our district boundaries were formed based on various historical relationships, geography, negotiation and compromise. A primary purpose of the districts was to foster face-to-face relationships among congregations.

Without the regional organization, our UU staff was organized at the district level rather than regionally, typically with a generalist District Executive and other full and/or part-time consultant and administrative staff. Happily, as of the July 1st this year, the UU staffs of our region have integrated and unified as UUA employees. This integration, which has been evolving for many years, has allowed for specialization and deeper portfolios among our staff, as well as economies of scale, which has lead to enhanced services and consultant expertise for our congregations.

Until recently our district boards were responsible for managing the district’s staff and for raising the funds for their staff and their programs. Now with our regional staff reporting to the UUA Director of Congregational Life, the governance function of managing staff falls to the UUA. Currently each congregation is asked to give their fair share to both their district and our UUA. It is the plan of the UU regions and the UUA that we will go to a “single ask” from each congregation to support our UUA regional staffs and our UUA thus eliminating the district fund raising function of district boards.

The governance linkage of the UUA board has always been directly with the local UU congregations, largely independent of any intermediate entities. Each congregation has their own governing body. Transferring district/regional governance to the UUA board eliminates an unnecessary level of governance and frees up individuals and resources devoted to regional governance for ministry in the region and the world.

The formation of UU regions across the country realizes the original plan for regions and unified regional staffs. Successful district programs can continue and be expanded throughout the region. The strong emphasis on congregational cluster formation enhances our face-to-face opportunities and expands our collaboration with one another. Our transition from districts to a region strengthens our collective interdependence and better prepares Unitarian Universalism for the future in our changing world.

Learn more about how our districts came about with this video by Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie.

A Long Look Forward

Paul PinsonPaul Pinson
Joseph Priestley Board Member

As a professional strategic planner, my task was to stare into the misty future and tell my clients what to expect and how to prepare for it. How far into the future? In the computer and telecommunications business, 18 to 36 months was considered “distant” – things move fast in that industry.

Now, on behalf of my District Board and the CERG Regional Transition Team, I get to look into the misty future of UUA/Regional/District structure and share what I see, so that we can prepare for that future.

One area we’re already seeing change is Regional Staff. Our Central East Regional Group experiment started us on that journey. With the more recent introduction of Primary Contacts, we’ve made access to Regional Staff equitable and straightforward. Also by networking the staff in our region, we’ve given congregations access to a broader range of skills, improving the services we offer congregations without increasing cost. We’ve simplified reporting and personnel processes by having staff become UUA employees, yet retained oversight of service quality through an ongoing relationship with UUA supervision. In the future, our Region will field a Congregational Life Advisory Group, which will be our input to the UUA on the level and quality of service we receive and need. Members of the initial group have recently been identified.

CERG mapAnother area of change will be how we do governance and linkage. The Unitarian Universalist Association officially answers to congregations. Decisions are made by our delegates and the people we elect at General Assembly. Our District Boards primarily exist to oversee District Staff in the provision of services to congregations. A benefit of District Boards and District Assemblies has been a communication channel among congregations and with the UUA – linkage. With the Congregational Life Advisory Group and unified staff, other District Board functions will become less relevant. The real need is to establish and improve our linkage. The formation of clusters of congregations will help by encouraging collaboration among geographically close congregations and/or congregations with similar characteristics and needs. Within clusters, the people who work on interconnecting the congregations, and the region and the UUA will create linkage. We would like to call them Wisdom Seekers – carrying wisdom to and from congregations, clusters, and regional/UUA structures and encouraging greater participation of congregants in broader matters.

What we hope to have is a simpler structure that takes less volunteer “overhead” and leaves us more time and more collaborators to pursue our missions – preserving our liberal religious principals, sharing our values, finding and welcoming those who seek us, and ministering to a hurting world.

Cleveland UU’s Part of Interfaith Effort on DOJ Report

By Evin Ziemer
CER Congregational Life Consultant

Why are all those yellow shirts marching in Cleveland? They’re not all UU’s, the story is even better than that. And might help you know what to work on in your city.

You’ve probably heard about Tamir Rice, the 12 year old armed with a toy gun killed by Cleveland police. You have probably also heard about how Michael Brelo was acquitted last week after shooting 15 rounds through a car roof at an unarmed couple. You may not have heard Tanisha Anderson, a mentally ill Black woman, killed in police custody the week before before Tamir Rice was. Or Brandon Jones killed a few months ago. But perhaps you’ve read reports of the Department of Justice report on Cleveland police’s pattern of unreasonable force.

In other words–like many US cities, Cleveland has a problem. Unlike many US cities, Cleveland is able to turn out religious people from across the city–white Protestants, Black churches, Synagogues, and UU’s. You may have seen the great picture in the New York Times of this scene:

Cleveland religious leaders marching

That’s Rev. Wayne Arnason over on the left in the red stole. In some pictures Rev. Kathleen Rolenz is also visible. The local Episcopal Bishop is there. The leaders of the Black church are there. The leaders of the Cleveland Jewish community are there. This line is only a small fraction of the clergy that were marching in Cleveland on May 26th.

Together, they are the Greater Cleveland Congregations, a group that can do things like turn out 1100 people in February to present clear demands for things to be included in the eventual DOJ consent decree. And turn out these people on a work day to be on the streets when the announcements were being made, reminding leaders that they will be held accountable.

View a video from the march.

Making lasting change is long, hard work. It is not work we Unitarian Universalists can do alone. Greater Cleveland Congregations is an Industrial Areas Foundation community organizing style organization that has put in the long hours starting in 2011 to know who the “we” is and what the “we” cares about. Greater Cleveland Congregations’ members don’t agree on everything–actually there are substantial disagreements. But they’ve identified key issues they do agree on through one on one meetings and small group forums in member congregations. They’ve come together for actions, combining behind the scenes pressure with public events that demonstrate the numbers of committed voters involved. Each congregation gives a not insubstantial amount of money to support a small staff. And the religious leaders on the Strategy Team, the Executive Team, the issue teams, and the core teams have worked hard to move their agenda forward. It’s hard work. And our three UU churches in Cleveland had been in the trenches with everyone else. And now, on key issues facing Cleveland, you’ll see Greater Cleveland Congregations’ influence, influence far beyond what UU’s can do alone.

And Greater Cleveland Congregations has a t-shirt–it’s yellow. You have to look closely at the pictures to see the difference between a Standing on the Side of Love t-shirt and a GCC t-shirt. There’s a message there somewhere.

So, what is your congregation doing to build a foundation so that if the Department of Justice is negotiating with your city police, the religious community has a strong and unified voice and can make a difference?

Evin Carvill-Ziemer

Growth: Within, Among and Beyond

Charlie SchottCharles Schott
UU District of Metro NY Board Member
CERG Transitions Team Member

Several years ago I was a member of a congregational Growth Team working with Mark Bernstein, now a CERG regional consultant, and other congregations in our MetroNY district with the goal of enhancing the growth and vitality of our individual congregations. Our team labeled the foci of our efforts toward growth: ‘Within, Among and Beyond.’

The ‘Within’ focused on the individual congregant and their spiritual, ethical and intellectual growth. The ‘Among’ focused on the congregation at large, the growth of its operations, governance, and programs, and the strengthening of collaboration and relationships among our individual congregants. The ‘Beyond’ focused on our outreach and ministries beyond our walls, our work in the world.

People in circle - outreachAs we move forward with our regionalization efforts, one could view our efforts using those same labels for our individual congregations, all of our regional and UUA congregations, and our collective work in the world.

The ‘Within’ focuses on each UU congregation in all its dimensions. The ‘Among’ harnesses the synergy and power of collaboration and collective action of clusters, regions, and a nation of congregations. The ‘Beyond’ is all we can accomplish together in our work in the world – we are stronger together!

The key word here is ‘together.’ We start by intentionally reaching out, congregation-to-congregation, sharing, collaborating, and working together. These clusters of congregations, connected to one another, can be geographically based and/or affinity based. This is so important to our future that a primary goal of our regional staff is to be the ‘midwives of congregational connections.’

We all would like our own, our regional and our UUA congregations to grow, bringing others of like-minds and like-hearts into our faith, and thereby making a more positive impact in our communities and our world.

After the completion of the work of our congregation’s Growth Team, we communicated our findings and recommendations in a lengthy presentation to our board of trustees. Later, many board members admitted that they were initially thinking and focused only on our numerical growth – more members. A predominant theme running through our presentation was that it was by strengthening, broadening and enhancing our programs, our ministries, our relationships, our collaborations, and our collective work in the world, could we best create the conditions to grow in membership.

That same opportunity and challenge is now before our CERG region and our UUA.

Sharing Our Troubles

alspaughboardBy Rev. Matt Alspaugh
President, Ohio-Meadville District

In my minister’s report at our last church board meeting, I brought up a couple of particularly troubling events in the life of our church — things that happened in the last month. It was clear that many on the board were upset by these events. There was a stunned silence. Then one board member spoke up. He said, “I was on my process call with my H-UULTI class last night. There were a number of us lay leaders from churches all over the region talking. Whenever someone mentioned a problem at their church, others spoke up and talked about similar problems, some about how they dealt with those problems. These problems are not unique to us here. They are happening in other churches throughout our faith.”  The other members of the board were visibly calmed by these words. We were then able to talk about the issues in a non-anxious way.

Cluster DiagramI think many of us join churches, and continue to support and serve them, because we want to assure ourselves we are not alone. There are other people dealing with joys and sorrows, just like us. There are other people on the spiritual path, just like us.

In the same way, as church leaders, we are wise when we connect with leaders in other churches. We remind ourselves that others face the joys and sorrows of church leadership.  We learn from them new best practices we can use, and we can offer our own experiences to them. 

Our work towards regionalization is largely about creating better ways for making such connections. Some of these ways are emerging, like the recently developed H-UULTI leadership school, with its on-line gatherings. Some ways are in development, like the proposed new Wisdom Seekers program, which, with its annual meetings, will provide governance feedback to our UUA.  My hope as we do this work in the region is that you, as church leaders, will feel more connected with each other and less isolated — in both the good times and the bad.

Congregational Collaboration

alspaughboardRev. Matt Alspaugh
President, Ohio-Meadville District

When I hear a great idea, I immediately tie it on a knot in the neural network of Great Ideas in my brain, where it languishes, lost and forgotten. When I hear of a great idea more then once, I go to tie the knot again, notice the old knot, and remember.

Thus, two weeks ago my ministerial intern mentioned a Small Group Ministry program called Soul Matters that she experienced in her home congregation. Then, a week ago, I was looking for some information on worship themes, which led to an internet search, which turned up the CERG website, and a course called “Programming 110: Theme Based Church.” This was a video of a presentation by Rev. Scott Tayler, formerly co-minister of First Unitarian Church of Rochester NY, (now Director of Congregational Life at our UUA), presented to church leaders in Joseph Priestley District a few month ago.

Soul Matters Wordle
Soul Matters Wordle from the Soul Matters Circle website

As the minister serving the UU Church of Youngstown, I have been planning worship around monthly themes for a year now, using topics like “hope”, “creativity”, and “preparation”. The congregation has been pleased with this model, since themes allow us to go in greater depth and to take divergent perspectives on a broad topic.

But with the Theme Based Church video, I was amazed to see the theme idea taken to a whole new level. Small groups meet to reflect on questions related to the monthly theme. In some churches, Religious Education curricula are also based on the theme, so parents and children have a common topic for discussion at home. Some churches even go so far as to use the small groups as the support network for pastoral care and as the basis for their stewardship program.

What truly excited me about the Theme Based Church model from Rochester was that there is a network of churches that work together on the themes. Some 70 UU churches are part of the Soul Matters Sharing Circle. People in these churches curate and share materials related to the monthly themes. (I’ve also learned there is a similar model called Touchstones originating from the First Universalist Church of Denver.

When we’ve imagined clusters in our region, we were careful to define them more broadly than merely geographic clusters. We’ve even suggested the name ‘congregational connections’ instead. Groups like this Soul Matters Sharing Circle are perfect examples of churches working together, sharing, supporting each other. Collaboration is an important part of the future of Unitarian Universalism, and this is why I am working on our efforts to create the CERG region.

Want to learn more? Here are some resources for programs like this:

Reflections on Regionalization

Laura Howeby Laura Howe
Vice President, OMD District Board

Several weeks ago I was part of a panel talking about CERG at a district event. There was good discussion.  In reflecting I realize that there have been some major steps taking place toward being region.

One of the reasons CERG started focused on very talented staff members.  We have great expertise in several areas that any one district would be unlikely to be able to afford. We were able to have several specialists in membership, religious education, leadership development and the ever evolving social media.  This support model has evolved with the primary staff contact.  This is a single person that should be able to be more connected to their assigned congregations since the ratio is lower.  They know the resources (both people and program) within the district and within UUA.  The team has been evolving programming based on our congregational needs and evolving trends.  Have you participated in H-UULTI?  This program combines learning on demand with hands-on meetings.

CERG mapCluster formation where congregations that are close geographically has been an on-going activity for several years.  Our staff has made a point to ensure training options are opened to other congregations in the area.   With the primary contact supporting several congregations in a geographic area the opportunities for interdependence increases. When I have attended events and had a chance to talk to other UUs, I come away with ideas either for my congregation or my personal spiritual practice.  Each geographic cluster needs to form based on the congregational needs.  Not all clusters will have the same needs.  It is exciting that Pittsburgh recently had their first cluster assembly.

The next big step is changing our governance model.  This is not a small undertaking.  There will be a variety of forums to discuss the proposal and get feedback.  If you would like to understand more about the proposal, please contact the transition team at [email protected]