Ten Reasons Why I Plan to Attend General Assembly This Year…

… And Why You Should As Well

Paul Pinsonby Paul Pinson
Joseph Priestley Board member


I’m going to General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio this year. If you’re undecided about going, here are ten reasons I have for going that you may wish to consider.


  1. UUA GA 2016 LogoThis year’s General Assembly is in our region. It’s less than a day’s drive, so we’re planning to carpool with friends. No airport security checks, cramped airplane seats, layovers, etc. – and cheaper.
  2. I’ve made so many friends working on cluster, district, and regional efforts, I’m looking forward to being with them all in person rather than on videoconferences.
  3. A minister I’ve worked with closely is receiving final fellowship this year, and I want to cheer when she is recognized in the Service of the Living Tradition. We’ve also lost a long-time minister who passed away this year. He’ll be recognized as well.
  4. As one who has difficulty carrying a tune, I can only really sing out loud when surrounded by several thousand other UU’s. Feels good.
  5. Incredible worship services – wonderful music, terrific speakers, thoughtful messages.
  6. Plenary sessions are amazing examples of how to run meetings effectively, despite the challenges of size and issues. Our moderators are and have been impressive to watch.
  7. Ware Lecture – always incredible – this year Krista Tippett.
  8. There are always more workshops I’d like to attend than time in my schedule. Have to pace myself, but really get a lot out of the ones I can attend.
  9. We’re likely to get our first real insights into the candidates running for President of the UUA, and in a forum much more rational and issues-based than other campaigns I can think of.
  10. I always come back from General Assembly energized in more ways than I can count (even though exhausted in some other ways).


You may have even better reasons for attending … Go ahead and comment!


Hope to see you there!

It’s Time to Vote on Regionalization

Jeff DonahueJeff Donahue
President, St. Lawrence District

After years of planning, preparation, debate and step-by-step implementation, delegates at our four district assemblies this spring will be asked to vote to dissolve their district in favor of our Central East Region.

CER LogoMuch has already been decided and implemented by our four district boards in conjunction with our staff and the UUA. You won’t be voting on these items – these are components of our region already in place.

  • Staff in all four districts are now UUA staff. Everyone now has one supervisor and a common foundation for salary and benefits.
  • Each congregation has a primary contact, a staff person to contact when a need arises, as well as access to the expertise of all 13 staff members.
  • Our Congregational Life Advisory Council provides a mechanism for all congregations in our region to communicate with our UUA staff what your congregations needs and desires for programming and services are.
  • Wisdom Seekers, linkage mechanism between our congregations and the UUA Board of Trustees, is under development and expected to be implemented in the next few months.
  • Building and supporting congregational clusters is underway and a major goal of our staff.
  • District programs will continue to be supported and developed into regional and in some cases national programs.
  • Event registration and meeting planning is handled by our regional staff. Staff will explore greater efficiencies by uniting this work with the national office.

The four district boards have also agreed to several steps that will be taken after the votes to dissolve our districts.

  • The locus of governance will shift from the districts to the UUA. No intermediate judicatory (district or regional governing body) will exist.
  • District assets will be held in restricted accounts in the UUA’s Common Endowment Fund. Only the region will have access to these funds – the UUA will not have access.
  • The UUA’s Stewardship and Development office is developing a new mechanism for determining and collecting “fair share” contributions. It is expected there will be one request each year that combines the former districts and the UUA.

The vote to dissolve our districts is the final chapter years in the making. The fundamental goal throughout the process has been to improve services to our congregations. We are creating efficiencies; bringing our staff together to work in teams; building clusters for congregations to be more inter-connected; and freeing up loads of volunteer time that’s been dedicated to the governance of our districts that can now be used in the ministry of each volunteer’s choosing.

We are 90% into regionalization. Your vote to dissolve our districts in favor of our region will complete this process of making us better … together.

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.

Better Together – But How?

schottCharlie Schott
Member Metro New York District Board and CERG Transition Team

There is growing recognition across our region and denomination that we are, in deed, ‘Better Together.’ This has been a catalyst for enhanced collaboration and linkage among and between our various UU constituencies. In our Central East Region, we unified our four district staffs into one regional staff under the UUA Director of Congregational Life (DCL). This was the outgrowth of increasing collaboration among our districts with staffing and programming. It has enabled our staff members to develop a broader range of deeper portfolios by shifting from their more generalist district roles to further develop their individual areas of expertise and calling. This all enhances the breadth and depth of services and support available to our congregations.

There are numerous analogous opportunities for individual congregations working with one another on staffing and programming, as well as ministry and outreach. It is a primary goal of our regional staff is to encourage and support such connections, clustering and collaboration among our congregations. New linkage has been established between our congregations and our DCL and staff by the creation of our Congregational Life Advisory Council.

The initial thinking of the CERG Transition Team regarding governance was that we would create a regional board modeled after our district boards. As our vision and plans matured, and most governance functions were to be transferred to our UUA, such regional governance was seen as redundant and counterproductive. Therefore the Transition Team’s recommendation is that the locus of governance be moved to our UUA.

However, our district boards performed many generative functions in addition to their governance responsibilities. It provided linkage to the UUA board and it was a path for the development and growth of lay leadership. While the UUA board has always had a direct link to our individual congregation around governance issues, the Transition Team identified the need for some entity to facilitate this linkage that actively engages local congregations and clusters and their leaders.

The initial thinking of the Transition Team was that there should be an open and transparent group of regional and national leaders who could self-identify around their chosen activities and issues. They, in turn, would facilitate and enhance the two-way communications between the UUA and our congregations and clusters. Such a group was initially given the label of ‘Wisdom Seekers.’ There is now a working group charged with fleshing out the nature and functioning of such a group.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts about the needs for such an organization and your ideas for what it should be and how it would operate? Let us know – we would appreciate your input. This will inform the working group as they define its initial creation. This organization, of course, will evolve over time as it adapts to meet the changing needs of the region.


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

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.

Regionalization in a Nutshell

In this informative video, Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, UUA Congregational Life Staff member, presents an
overview of regionalization.  She explains our plan to draw congregations closer to each other, and to our
UUA.  The newly expanded staff currently serving our region, and the various opportunities for linkage between the groups is profiled.  All of this activity will culminate next spring’s vote at our District Assemblies.  Enjoy!



Taking It Home

This week we have a guest post from the Southern Region Communications Task Force and was originally posted on May 3, 2015.

It’s official. We are building a new way in our UUA Southern Region!

We are grateful to the congregations and their delegates in the region’s districts who shared the vision of new ways to be in relationship with each other. Now, let’s take the spirit of DA back to our congregations. Here are several suggestions on how you can “take it home.”

regionsmapRelationships – We are better together

  • We have a lot in common with UU congregations in our association, even more so with those in our backyard! At your board meetings, make it a practice to talk about activities with other UU congregations.
  • We need to be accessible in order to develop relationships. Update your congregational contacts regularly through my.uua.org. If you have contact information on your Web page, make sure it is up to date.
  • Respond to survey and discussion requests from the Regional Advisory Council and other linkage outreach

Let’s talk about our Elders

  • Start acquainting your congregation with the term, ,” wise leaders of any age and influential members of the tribe, community and society.
  • Talk with the Southern Region Congregational Life Staff and the new Elders Council about recognizing congregational Elders and helping them share their gifts with other UU congregations.
  • Elders can serve at a congregational, cluster, regional or even national level.
  • Elders can serve Unitarian Universalism on boards or councils, as consultant, teachers or small group leaders.
  • Elders can represent the larger Association at ceremonial events, joining as one strong body to evangelize the South for Unitarian Universalism

Bring new approaches to Clusters

  • Clusters are about building relationships between congregations. Let’s ask:
  • The Cambridge Platform states that churches should cooperate in several ways:
  • Mutual care and support for the good of the congregation and the advancement of the Faith.
  • Consulting with one another in regard to a church’s experience, process, or practice.
  • Admonishing one another.
  • Sharing Elders and professional staff
  • Giving recommendations to members who wish to move to another congregation.
  • Giving financial support to churches in need.
  • Sending Elders to the neighboring churches to introduce themselves.
  • Sending Elders to plant new churches.

Celebrate our UUA Southern Region

  • We are one of five regions in our UUA, and the only one to vote to date to dissolve district governance. The Southern Region includes 218 congregations, 30,000 members, 12 states, Mexico and the Virgin Islands
  • Your opportunity to meet UUA’s from the across the Southern Region will be in Portland at General Assembly. Make plans to attend the Southern Region in-gathering at GA from 5:45 pm-6:45 pm, Wednesday June 24.
  • Chose delegates who will commit to educating the congregation on the issue involved in General Assembly, both before and after. Honor the delegates’ work by offsetting some or all of their costs.

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.