The Results are In – OMD & SLD

CER LogoThe St. Lawrence and Ohio-Meadville Districts are pleased to announce their delegates have voted to dissolve their districts in favor of our Central East Region.  Each district will legally dissolve at their own pace based on the laws where each is incorporated. It is anticipated both will be dissolved in the next few months. The Joseph Priestley District is scheduled to have its regionalization vote on April 9 and Metro New York District on May 7. These votes are the culmination of several years of work on this evolution of our governing and operational structures. The goals of this restructuring are to improve services to congregations and enhance congregational interdependence.

Jeff Donahue, President, Saint Lawrence District
Rev. Matt Alspaugh, President, Ohio-Meadville District

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.

Central East Advisory Council Survey Results

Joan Van BecelaereJoan Van Becelaere
Central East Region Lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.

Beloved Community

Margaret HarloeMargaret Harloe
Vice President, St. Lawrence District

This is District Assembly season. Throughout the Central East Region, professional staff and dedicated volunteers are busy, busy, busy preparing programs, organizing schedules and attending to the final logistics. Recurring themes in our assemblies this year are covenant and working together both within and beyond congregational walls. As we prepare to vote on dissolution of our districts in favor of the Central East Region and our UUA, these themes will be important reminders that as UUs we are a family that extends beyond a congregation’s walls and a people who reach out to engage and help the wider world. Perhaps you have attended District Assembly for years and are looking forward to (and already registered for) this year’s with anticipation, or maybe you are thinking about attending your first DA. If the latter – there is still time to register and to participate in a monumental vote.

CER LogoIf you have been following this blog, you know that the four Districts that make up the Central East Region will vote to formally dissolve (and if you are new to this blog, scroll down to learn more). In many respects, the Central East Region is already functioning to serve our congregations and to strengthen the UU network throughout the northeast. From northern New York south to West Virginia, and from western Ohio east to the Atlantic Coast, we are linking arms as never before with a unified professional staff and congregational clusters that are based on geography or interest areas such as social action or small church partnerships. And with the greater efficiencies achievable through regionalization we have been able to stretch limited resources farther.

I joined the UU Church of Canton, New York, because I found a loving, accepting and supportive community, and I stepped into leadership because I wanted to do my small part to help my community continue on for those who came after me. Along the way I have learned that being in intentional community is challenging. We are a very diverse bunch and we certainly don’t always agree, but we share a deep connection with and commitment to one another. Over the years my church community has changed in many ways – we’ve mourned losses, celebrated new additions, added space and even renovated our kitchen! Change wasn’t always easy for us, but we were able to lean on and learn from one another and we grew together. Ours is a most beloved community indeed.

I am hopeful and optimistic that the regionalization proposal will be strongly supported at our upcoming District Assemblies and that the Central East Region will thrive as our beloved community writ large. Yes, we are a diverse group and undoubtedly we will not always agree, but we share an abiding commitment to our Unitarian Universalist faith and a covenant to each other. May we step into the future together and work together to create the next chapter of our story.

Remember – there is still time to register for your District Assembly!

A Unique Central East Style of Lay Ministry

Joan Van BecelaereRev. Joan Van Becelaere
CER Regional Lead

“Gentlemen, let me remind you, Jesus was not a parson.”

This quote by the Unitarian theologian Dean William W. Fenn of Harvard Divinity School was famous among Unitarian theological students early in the 20th century.   Dean Fenn emphasized to his students that Jesus was a lay person, not a member of the priestly caste in Judea.

Later, the Unitarian Universalist (UU) theologian Dr. James Luther Adams wrote eloquently about the radical laicism that Unitarian Universalism has inherited from our roots in the radical branch of the Reformation, speaking again and again about the creative and transformative call of lay people to the priesthood and prophethood of all believers.

Ministry is the way in which the faith community promotes the creation of the Beloved Community and the transformation of the world.  Dr. Adams believed that all Unitarian Universalists receive a call to participate in this mission.   When lay people carry out sacred and justice oriented work in society, which is the priesthood and prophet hood of all believers in action, many people call this lay ministry.

Rev. Gordon McKeeman
Rev. Gordon McKeeman

In the 1970’s, the UU minister, the Rev. Gordon McKeeman in Akron, OH, noticed that there were scores of lay people willing to step up and take on long-term vital roles of service and lay ministry in their congregations.  But there was no UU program to support these lay leaders in their efforts to obtain the knowledge and skills they needed to be truly successful in their ministries.  And there was no formal means to give these lay ministers public recognition for their outstanding service to UUism.

To address this need, the Ohio-Meadville District (OMD) Board, with the creative guidance of Rev. McKeeman, created OMD’s Commissioned Lay Leader (CLL) program in 1976.  The program’s focus and structure drew on Rev. McKeeman’s deep understanding of our Universalist legacy of the importance of strong lay ministry and the need for leaders that emerge from within congregations.

The CLL program recognizes that many talented lay leaders hear a call to serve but are not necessarily called to the ordained ministry.  For these lay leaders who desire to take their commitment and service to a deeper level, the CLL program over the years has offered a satisfying alternative to becoming a professional clergyperson.

Other denominations have similar programs of lay service and call them by various titles: Deacons, Local Pastors  (if they are serving in a congregational pastoral role), Ruling Elders, Lay Ministers and more. For years, OMD has called these lay people engaged in service “Commissioned Lay Leaders”, but increasingly, the simpler, more easily recognized term “Lay Minister” is being used.

In the OMD program, qualified individuals, supported and selected by their congregations, engage in an individualized training program and mentored experience to learn to serve their own congregations more effectively. The OMD program enables CLLs/Lay Ministers to partner in positive ways with professional UU clergy and religious educators and learn from them and with them. Individuals who satisfactorily complete the study and mentoring requirements, are evaluated by the CLL Committee before they are recognized as CLLs/Lay Ministers.

In many American faith traditions, the number of lay ministers are now increasing. “Local pastors”, trained but not ordained ‘elders’, are numerically on the rise in the United Methodist Church where they serve in a range of different positions and church sizes.   The Presbyterian Church in the USA is seeing a rise of “Commissioned Ruling Elders.” These are knowledgeable, trained lay leaders who act as part time pastors in churches, serve on ministry teams in larger churches, act as chaplains, organize social justice efforts, and engage in other specialized forms of ministry.  Faith traditions are coming to realize that more service, more ministry to people is urgently needed in all congregations, whatever their size, as people struggle with today’s stress, confusion, and anxiety.

A growing number of lay persons have also prepared for and are engaged in service and leadership in UU congregations of all sizes in the OMD.  Dozens of these CLLs/Lay Ministers have served in:

  • Pastoral Care
  • Chaplaincy
  • Worship Team Coordination
  • Social Justice Organizing
  • Performing Rites of Passage (weddings, memorial services, etc)
  • Adult Faith Formation
  • Denominational Connections
  • And more.

The Rev. Peggy Clason, Minister Emerita of the UU Society of Cleveland, has been involved with the CLL Program since its beginning.  A couple of years ago, she noted that the CLLs have successfully served congregations both with and without settled ministers: “The program started as an arena for training leaders in congregations without ministers.  It then grew to also become a training ground for lay leaders in congregations with ministers.  Having worked with a number of different CLL’s, I personally know how a skilled and well-functioning CLL contributes to the well-being of the institution and the minister.”

Throughout the regions and districts of the UUA, there are not many truly “unique” programs.  But in the OMD, this one successful and historically unique lay ministry program developed and is actively growing today.  It is now in the process of being reviewed and updated for the changing needs of the 21st century. And UU lay ministers will be more strongly encouraged to communicate and connect with one another, knowing that we learn best when we learn with and from each other.  The updated program will then be introduced to other districts in the Central East Region.

To learn more about the OMD’s Commissioned Lay Leader/Lay Ministry program, see the OMD Up Close feature from 2009 and the OMD CLL webpage.

Announcing the NEW Central East Region Website

Joan Van BecelaereRev. Joan Van Becelaere
Regional Lead, Central East Region

cerhomepage Efficient and effective communications are essential in support of programming for our Unitarian Universalist congregations and members. One of the immediate benefits of regionalization is the ability to create a website that takes advantage of the UUA’s hosting and software resources.

The Central East Region is extremely porud to announce that our new website is up and running. On this site you can find your primary contact, check and subscribe to calendars, view clusters and lean more about regional programming.

Many thanks to the hard working Central East staff and the UUA web team who have made this possible. Over the next week the old site pages will be redirected to the correspondign new pages, so don’t be surprised if you click on a bookmark and it goes somewhere new.

Please explore the new site pages – Find Your Primary Contact, Central East Region Home Page, Calendar and Events, Clusters, Regional Programs, Youth Programming and Regionalization.


Finding Resources to Learn About Regionalization

Laura ConkleLaura Conkle,
Secretary: Ohio-Meadville District Board of Trustees
Member: Transition Team,
Member: Congregational Life Advisory Council

I’ve written here previously about how we are our Unitarian Universalist Association. I’ve covered our Memo of Understanding which guides the formation of our Central East Region. I’ve written about getting stuck and unstuck and other topics. You can find my previous posts by searching my name or scanning through older posts.

CER LogoAs I sit to write today, probably my last post before our historic votes this spring, I’m filled with gratitude for my opportunities to serve. Which is not to say that my work around regionalization has been mostly easy or fun. In fact, lots of times my heart has broken wide open and my faith has been dinged. Staying committed to the real-world work of regionalization, which is much more an ongoing process than a one-time action, has required my faith to mature and deepen. And for that I’m grateful.

With respect and trust I show up at meetings, give presentations, write documents, create videos, and speak and listen to folks. I know that there are some folks in our congregations who are uncertain about dissolving our districts. That’s ok. It’s ok to be in discernment. In point of fact, it’s awesome to be in discernment. That’s how I’ve spent the last three years of my life as I worked on regionalization.

There are a lot of resources available online for you to explore as is convenient. There may also be an online presentation that you can attend. We’ve managed to get out in person to make some presentations whether at past District Assemblies, individual congregations, clusters, LREDA or UUMA chapter meetings. And it’s ok, if you’re looking at these resources for the first time.

Please join in this historic effort to create a more interconnected, healthier and stronger association.

Thank you for all you do to carry our life-saving, life-giving faith in this gritty world.

The “Network” Effect

Paul Pinsonby Paul Pinson
Joseph Priestley Board member

An idea goes “viral” on the internet when many people who encounter it decide to share it with other people they believe would be interested. The same idea applies for humanity in general, spreading cultural ideas such as clothing fashion, food choices, entertainment, and even religious practice.

From my experience in the Computer and Telecommunications arena, we called this the “network” effect. It underlies good things like the ability to communicate information widely and quickly. It also, unfortunately, underlies the spread of computer viruses and other malware.

Even now, political organizations are working to build their networks in anticipation of primaries and the general election. Look for it in the telephone calls, emails (I watched two pop up in my email while writing this blog), and snail mail you receive. Politicians use it because it works.

Cluster DiagramCongregations can use this idea as well to spread social action and social justice participation as well as to invite people into relationships with our congregations. Now, when there is so much fear and oppression circulating in our society, is the time to network our message of acceptance, inclusion, and healing.

The network affect is also built-in to our plans for regionalization. Clusters, in particular, support networking among congregations. Regional and national UUA staff are networked to improve services to our congregations. Also, our regionalization approaches to communicating across congregations and with the larger UUA are designed around networks of staff, clergy, and volunteers.

Come join the network! One thing I can say after years of involvement in the larger UUA is that you’ll meet some of the nicest and most interesting people our denomination has to offer. What a wonderful network!