Tuesday, February 7, 2017

What Does the Board Actually Do?

What does the UUCA Board of Trustees do?

The title of my last blog was, "The Board's 2017 Agenda: Build Trust in Leadership."

I'm dedicating this blog to describing the board's purpose, and the activities it pursues in support of that purpose. As board leaders, it is our job to explain and educate the congregation on the church's basic governance guidelines. The board's ability to articulate its purpose and activities is a vital component of building trust.

The Board's purpose is to promote the mission of the church. Our responsibility can be separated into three categories/activities: 1) Communication.  Establishing a strong communication link with congregation, not only to listen to their deepest needs, but also to educate and inform on relevant policy decision, 2) Policy. Establish the policies, based on congregational communication that support the mission of the church, and 3) Monitoring. We monitor the performance of the senior minister in his or her ability to meet the defined "ends" or goals (see below) that support the mission. It is important to note that the board does not monitor the day-to-day operational elements of the church. This is solely the responsibility of the senior minister and who s/he delegates to do so. The board is not tasked with micro-managing the senior minister, but rather to monitor the ends with measurement tools such as the congregational survey.

 Many of you know that the church's mission is to connect, grow, and serve, but fewer may recall how we arrived with these three words. The board, along with a core group of lay leaders went through an intensive dialogue with the church community (called Appreciative Inquiry) to arrive at this mission. I recall Bill Fogarty and a team of facilitators held over 20 sessions on the topic, with over 300 people participating. After that process, the board went through an arduous 2-year process of teasing out these three words-- connect, grow, and serve-- into a more coherent version of our three end statements. End statements (much like goals) are designed to articulate the mission. They are:
  1. People feel they belong and are cared for (connect)
  2. People of all ages experience a spiritually vital faith community and have 
    opportunities for personal and spiritual growth (grow)
  3. The Church is a force for service, social justice, and environmental justice. (serve)
End statements support the mission, and the quality and integrity of the ends statements depend on the board's ability to translate the hearts and minds of the congregation into the ends.

One thing to note: The board represent the interests and are accountable to the church's moral owners. The moral owners are defined as a broad group of people that include current and future member and friends of the church and their children, our ancestors and forbearers, our neighbors in the local community, and even all those who share our religious values. This is a helpful framework because it encourages the board to always be thinking beyond what current members might be interested in today, to the much broader definition of moral owners's need for tomorrow.

The board's goals and 'operating procedures' are articulated in the Board Policy Manual, which, in my opinion, is a thoughtful, thorough,  and very effective document. Like the constitution, it can be amended, but its integrity is sound. It went through a major overhaul in the last 5-years, thanks to the hard work of the previous members of the board.

Have I put you to sleep? I hope not. Reflecting on the nature of this material, I am struck by how much care and effort has gone into creating a governance structure that can stand the test of time. Board members will come and go, but the board's role is clear.

As always, your comments are welcome either written or in-person.

Gratitude.  Trust.  Commitment.  Compassion.  Diversity.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Board's 2017 Agenda: Build Trust in Leadership

As the new year begins, I wanted to share what the board has been talking about/thinking about for 2017. In the new year, one of the most important outcomes we hope to achieve is building trust between the congregation and the board through better communication.

It is no secret that our church has a long history of mistrusting leadership. Some of that might be for a good reason, and some of it may be the way we're wired as UU's. Challenging authority and breaking convention has often defined who we are as people. After all, we are fighting against injustice, we are breaking the conventional norms of economic inequality, and we are tearing down the barriers of structural and institutional racism. Combine this UU ethic with the Baby Boomer's signature traits of fierce individualism, and institutional mistrust, and you have... well, a challenging environment for leaders.

That's just the way it is. No one ever said leadership shouldn't have challenges. With this framework as a general context, it is the responsibility of church leadership to build trust.

It is our intention as a board in 2017 to promote not only transparency about the decisions that are being made, but also educate congregants on board governance process (as boring as it seems). By doing this, we hope to build confidence in the process and a trust that as board members, we are doing our best to stay true to the mission of the church. Just as importantly, we want to be more intentional about listening to what congregants are saying, particularly congregants who we may not typically hear from. Please don't mistake this for an opportunity for you to complain to a board member who will magically make all the issues you have with the church go away. This is not our offering. But what we are offering is to listen and listen deeply so we can more effectively align the needs of the congregation to achieve our mission to connect, grow, and serve. Our door should always be open for a meaningful conversation.

Look for more in the coming weeks about our efforts and your participation in building trust. As a thought starter, how would you answer this question:

"What does it mean to be a trusting and vulnerable church community that transforms us into our best selves? How can this help us to grow and serve?"

Write your answer to me by commenting at the bottom of the blog, or email me at: fwarrenwright@gmail.com

I look forward to hearing from you and Happy New Year!

Commitment.  Diversity.  Compassion.  Gratitude.  Trust.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What Do We Do Now?

On November 9th, The United States of America learned about who we are as a people. Half the country experienced a painful electrical shock-- an uneasy and incredulous punch to the gut. The other half experienced a sense of relief, a weight lifted off their shoulders, a perceived long-due recognition that their voice is finally heard. We are split, tragically, a huge gap between opposing sides.

How can we have such opposing views? How did we get here? How do we bridge this tragic gap?

For the past two weekends, I attended workshop called, "Living the Pledge to End Racism" that was brilliantly organized by UUCA lay leaders  Jessi Ray and Tracey Rogers. Three members of the board-- Janice Morris, Andrea Ryon and myself attended two consecutive Saturdays Nov 12th and Nov. 19th. So did 20 or so brave souls, many who were not UUCA members, and several who were new to UUCA.

We learned about the Black Lives Matter movement, recognizing and confronting bias, speaking up against microaggressions, and the difference between structural and institutional racism. Most importantly though, it was an opportunity to process our feelings, and start to solidify our role in a rapidly changing landscape.

The one thing I have been absolutely certain of is that the mission at UUCA has never been more clear and more urgent. Now is our time. We were built for this moment. All the pettiness has just fallen to the wayside, and we are called to play a central role to bridge the tragic gap in order uphold the principles of American democracy and human decency. Sound dramatic? Well, it is. We are in dramatic times, and this calls for dramatic action.

If UUCA cannot be a leader in upholding the principles of social justice, gosh, even justice itself, then who can? We must hold leaders accountable for their actions, advocate for the oppressed, educate leaders, and nurture our spirit in order to give us the courage to act. This is going to be very hard work. As Chair of the Board in Trustees, I am encouraging each and every member of this church to participate, volunteer, and lead. We need you. We need each other.

More workshops are planned starting in January. But we will need more leaders, more volunteers and more resources so we can accelerate our efforts.

What can you do right now? Center yourself over the Thanksgiving Holiday and ask yourself to  recommit to End Racism, and help bridge this tragic gap. There are a couple ways you can get involved:

You can sign up for the Race Reflection Session, which is a covenantal-style two-hour session reflecting on the issues of race, justice and white privilege. These will fill up quickly, but we will add many more.

You can go to  The Pledge to End Racism in Northern Virginia Facebook page to get resources and keep current about events, workshops, and seminars.

Finally, get in touch with Jessi Ray at jessica.huffman@yahoo.com, and she will put you on a volunteer list so you can help with future events.

The iconic Generation X rock band Jesus Jones wrote: "I've been waiting for this... Right Here, Right Now, watching the world wake up from history." History has caught up to us, and now we are called to act-- right here, right now. Let's join hands and let's do this.

Friday, October 21, 2016

First Blog, Our Values

Hi Everyone,

This is my first blog as the Chair of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. The reason I wanted to start a blog is to communicate with the congregation in an open and honest way what is on my mind. This will not be a repository of helpful information about the church, nor will it be a tidy re-cap of the board's weekly progress. But it will be an open diary to some of the issues the board is facing and things that I am thinking about, from the perspective of the board, and also my personal perspective.

Well, let's get right into it:

Last Tuesday was my first UUCAVA Board meeting as Chairman. I thought very hard about the kind of meeting I wanted-- not a lengthy discussion on strategy and tactics, but rather a discussion on our values and how our board to can work together as a team. We cannot accomplish anything as a board unless we first build a sense of trust and teamwork among ourselves. This will be my underlying focus for the first year. The good news is that I think we can get there quickly, as work has already been done in this area, and we have a highly capable and self-aware board.

Over the course of e-mail chatter back and forth the week before the board meeting, Kristen Patterson and Andrea Ryon both uncovered a long-lost archive (actually only 1-year old) document that we called the Covenant of Mutuality. It states this--

The Board and the Senior Minister will abide by a covenant of mutuality in a spirit of openness and deep respect:

Gratitude – in appreciation of our togetherness, we actively seek reasons for gratitude and we express our thanks fully, freely and frequently.

Trust - assuming good intentions, we extend trust freely and hold it reverently, and when the going gets tough we turn to wonder.

Commitment -authentically present, we bring our whole selves, we honor our commitments, and do not give up on one another

Diversity – listening deeply, we seek out diversity, celebrate our differences, and practice empathy.

Compassion - practicing kindness, we communicate honestly and compassionately, making room for one another's feelings.

I am so glad this re-surfaced. If you ever are confused on where to start on any journey, start with values-- and not just the words, but the real meaning behind them. 

I am grateful the hard work had been done to come up with these values and this important covenant. These are the guideposts on how we act toward each other-- between board member, between board and Senior Minister, and through modeling this behavior, board member to all congregants. 

Be Kind, Be Well,