Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Men, Wake Up

Over the past year or so, I have started the process of waking up. The Circles of Trust leadership program that was introduced by Reverend Aaron, the anti-racism work at the church including the Live the Pledge workshop, Allyship training, the recent White Supremacy Teach-in, and the election of President Trump have been my teachers in recognizing the role that white men play in our society and my own role in the latent complicity with the status quo. I have also come to realize that our church is complicit, and operates de facto, in the shadow of white supremacy and patriarchy.

We hide behind our liberalism and moral righteousness that is the signature of the Baby Boomer liberal elite. The argument we make in our defense of our complicit encouragement of white supremacy and patriarchy is a tautological one: "How could we possibly be perpetuating white supremacy and patriarchy here at UUCA?" we ask. "After all, we are UU's, and UU's are the poster child of opposition to such injustices with our unrelenting activism."

In principle, yes we are, but not in practice. Yes, we do march, we do resist, we do sign petitions, we do advocate for the marginalized, but allow me to ask some wondering questions about ourselves:

  • I wonder why we have so few people of color at our church and in the UU more generally?
  • I wonder why our Senior Minister is a white man, and the interim before him, and the Senior minister before him, and the Senior Minister before him... back to 1948? 
  • I wonder why the board chair is a white man, and the two before have been white men?
  • I wonder why men out number women 5 to 4 on a board that represents a congregation that is 67% female? 
  • I wonder why, in the first Live the Pledge workshop, out of the 23 people enrolled, there was 1 white man?
  • I wonder why the finance committee, that has the highest visibility of our finances, is comprised of all white males? 
  • I wonder why the strategic planning committee and capital campaign were led by white men?  
The list could go on, but you get the picture. What should we make of this duality between what we "believe" and what we practice? How do we change ourselves in order to get different outcomes?

Our common response is to put on our armor, separate the good guys from the bad guys, and fight for all we are worth. But before we take action and start a protest movement to make changes now (after all, we are people of action), I would offer this quotation from Thomas Merton:

"There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence... (and that is) activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence."

What Merton is describing is "fixing" everything with action so we can have a 'solution'. This approach has become the narrative of the entire western world where dominant white male culture writes the rulebook. This is the world we live in. Success, progress, capitalism, pushing, measurement, striving for more. Separating good and evil. It all happens right here in our church. Where is nurturing in this equation? Where is healing? Where is the empathy? Where is embracing ambiguity? Where is inner work and deep thought? As board chair, this job exhausts me, as I am sure it has exhausted board chairs before me. I think this is due in large part because of the form of violence that Merton describes.

We cannot "fix" this deeply rooted problem by employing the same tactics that got us here in the first place. So, if action in the traditional UU-way isn't the answer, then what is?

One of the valuable lessons I learned in the Circles of Trust work, and in Reverend Aaron's teachings is the difference between "doing" and "being". It was not until I did inner work and went deep within myself, in the most vulnerable way that I awoke to the indignities of my own privilege and my unfortunate contributions to the perpetuation of white male supremacy. This was a focus on my very own being and how I interact with the world. I was, and still am complicit to the problem. This is very personal work. And this is very humbling.

Being called out as part of the problem or receiving "hate" emails from congregants does not move me, and in fact, hardens my defenses to the point where I might never achieve an awoken state.

Where do we go from here? I am asking the men of this church to start a journey with me toward waking up to our privilege and exploring our role as an ally to marginalized groups. This will not happen overnight-- it has taken me years to get to this point, and I am humbled by how much more I need to go. In my journey, I did not get to my understanding of male supremacy until I did inner work on understanding my own privilege. Different people take different paths, but it is definitely white males that need to make the next move and save us from ourselves.

I am asking men to consider stepping back from their traditional leadership roles of the church, but not before we understand why that is important to do that, and empower women and people of color in this church to replace us.

Here are some immediate suggestions for men, particularly white men:

  • Listen more and talk less. Time after time, I witness meetings at the church where men dominate the decision making process, even when they are outnumbered in the conversations.
  • Make room for women to lead. Encourage and empower women and people of color, then play a supporting role. Set them up for success.
  • Read Ta-Nehisi Coates Atlantic article The First White President
  • Enroll in Live the Pledge or Allyship Workshops
  • Build small circles of trust among your own
Allyship training, which has its roots in empathy and love of humanity, taught me that my responsibility as someone with privilege is to be an ally to those who are marginalized. After all, it is not the marginalized that are responsible for their oppression.  

At this very moment in time, the world feels broken and sick. We are living in an American tragedy. It has always been there-- it is nothing new. But now it is seeping into the long-slumbering consciousness of the privileged. So, we now have a moment. As one privileged person speaking to others, it is not enough to work on changing the system. The first work is to change yourself.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Annual Meeting Board Update

The following is the speech I presented at the UUCAVA Annual Congregational Meeting June 4, 2017

My name is Warren Wright and I am Board of Trustees Chairman. Today, I am going to provide you with an overview board report. Some of you may wonder…what does the board do? Essentially, we uphold the mission of the church, and are accountable in three area:

-       Policy – Creating policy based on the needs of the church community
-       Communication – both hearing from congregants as well as communicating the policy that is created
-       Monitoring – Monitoring the Senior Minister through an executive limitations process under policy governance.

But we also have another responsibility that is not part of the job description—is to be the leadership body that think in long-term time horizons, and always have our eye on the future. Setting a course and steering a ship, and measuring our progress as we travel on this journey. We are Unitarians, so maybe the analogy is piling in our 1969 VW bus, and making our journey with a map, a lot of coffee, and good fellowship. 

Thankfully, we have the ability to periodically pause, take a breath, and see how far we've come, and discover what else we can do to get us toward our goal. The annual meeting is one of those times, and I want to use this opportunity to share with you-- from a birds-eye view-- how far we've come.  

To do this, I am going to use the 3M's-- 3 things that are most important to a vibrant church: Mission, Membership, and Money. In each of these M’s, we have the ability to measure how we’re doing. Many of you know I am a numbers guy, and I believe that measurement matters, especially measuring the things that will help us grow into a vibrant and healthy church. The three M’s matter.


The First "M" is "Mission". Fortunately, we have a valid and reliable tool to measure how we are doing on our mission. It is Congregational Survey.  We have done this comprehensive survey twice recently—once in 2013, and once in 2016. You may have seen these results, but we did not talk about them in the last annual meeting because the 2016 results were not completed at the time of the meeting, so many of you will be hearing these results for the first time.

CONNECT “People feel they belong and are cared for” Are we achieving this? YES
      79% say they feel welcomed, encourages, and able to be part of the church community.  (An increase from 2013 measurement) 
      For the statement, “I’ve developed close relationships with others at church” 67% agrees, an 18% increase from 2013

GROW “People of all agers experience a spiritually vital faith community and have the opportunity for personal and spiritual growth.” Are we achieving this? YES 

      66% say they've found ways to grow spiritually, and 
      72% say the church has challenged them to be their best selves. (This is big increase from previous measurement)

SERVE “The church is a force for service, social justice, and environmental justice” Are we achieving this? We are doing pretty good, but we are not there yet.

      53% say they are serving the larger community. This is actually down 2% from last measurement, BUT a vision has been put forward by our senior minister to deepen our ties with a core group of existing partners, etc. The idea moving forward is to be more meaningful to fewer organizations. Instead of spreading ourselves too thin, we need to enhance on our existing partnerships like VOICE and our work related to Guatemala-- NISGUA/PAG/ADVIMA


By “Members” I am referring to a larger group that includes Friends, Inquiring Friends, Newcomers, etc. Are we gaining new members/friends, newcomers? (YES. 83 new members and 200 new inquiring friends, and RE attendance is up almost 20%). We have never seen such a surge of newcomers in such a short amount of time in this church’s recent history. We are doing something right.
Not just quantity but a diverse quality of members. We are gaining more younger members, and membership is slowly becoming more diverse.
2016: 92% white
2013: 98% white

Are we financially sustainable? YES. Pledges have been flat for several years, but just this past year, we are starting to see new patterns of giving. We are seeing new growth where we’ve never seen before. 

·      A large percentage of members doubled their pledge, 
·      We’ve received a high percentage of pledges that are not even members yet. 
·      A large percentage of first time pledgers
·      More people are giving more than giving less
·      We raised over $50,000 in our 100% online “Giving Tuesday” campaign in April. 
·      Actively interviewing consultants in preparation for a “Reduce the Debt” Capital campaign, retiring out $3.3M debt, and putting our church debt free for the first time ever!
·      Tamara has implemented significant cost controls on expenditures
·      We have a plan and a direction


Most UU churches are in decline, and are averaging a 2% membership loss per year. If you do the math, that is a 20% decline over a 10-year period. There are a few large churches that are bucking that trend, specifically, Unity Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul, All Souls in NYC, and All Souls in Tulsa. There are four primary factors that those top performing churches share:

1.    They have a solid governance structure, and in the case of the best-performing UU churches, and almost all large UU churches, they use a policy governance system. Like the constitution of the Unites States, it provides a framework to operate in (it does not guarantee perfect interpretation and execution!) That comes from best practice churches second point…

2.    They Have a culture of leadership and leadership development. The best churches grow their own leaders. They model good leadership, recognize and recruit leaders within the congregation, and spend a lot of time on leadership development. The combination of good leadership in a policy governance framework assures decisions are made for the benefit of the mission. 

3.    They have a culture of embracing change. Congregations that see change as a friend, not an enemy are healthier churches. Growth and change are interrelated; you can’t have growth without making changes. Please refer to my Blog-- “Growth, Change, and Being Bumpy” – declines are almost imperceptible. They are like piutting a from in a pot of water and slowly turning up the heat to a boil. Before you know it, you are dead. A 2% membership loss a year is little enough to be unremarkable, but over time, we are that dead frog. Growth can be a wild ride, particularly with new initiatives happening all the time. New growth is bumpy and sometimes uncomfortable. 

“If you want to do something new, you have to stop doing something old” – Peter Drucker

4.    They have a visionary senior minister—The best performing churches have visionary ministers. In our search process for a new minister back in 2013, we asked on the survey the type of minister we wanted. There were four choices: 1)The Administrator—a leader who crosses his t’s and dots his i’s on all issues, 2) Pastoral – a minister that tends to the individuals in the flock—usually good for small churches, 3) An intellectual- a minister that challenges your brain, but not your heart-- perhaps like Rev. Kim Beach in the 90's, and 4) The Prophet—a minister that leads with vision and charisma. The survey clear what we wanted… the prophet.

We have not arrived on our journey of accomplishing all the outcomes we want.  We don’t quite have all the 4 pieces together of a best-practice church.

But if you haven’t notices, the world is burning outside of these walls, and the world needs us. And if that’s not enough motivation to being as effective in our mission as possible, I don’t know what is.

So this is a Board report—aren’t you going to talk about Board stuff? This IS board stuff. Critical job of the board is to elevate the conversation to the big picture, to the long haul, and to focus on measurable outcomes. We do sweat the small stuff, we do get into the nitty gritty of daily life at the church, but our true north compass faces the future. 

All that said, we are going through changes right now. Our Faith In Action minister is leaving at the end of the month. This is hard for many of you. The board does hear you. But we will move on. We’ve had ministers here for 19 year and survived, for 13 years, for 5 years, and we even survived an unpopular interim minister for 2-years and survived. We will be fine. 

We will make this work, we will move forward, and we will do it as a community that is grounded in our values of COMPASSION – GRATITUDE – TRUST – DIVERSITY – COMMITMENT.

Thank you. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Growth, Change and Being Bumpy

Our church is changing before our very own eyes, and depending on your set of eyes, you may be seeing things a different way. If you are a long-time member like me, you notice that things are not the same compared to the past. The senior minister, in his 40's, invites rap music artists to perform during worship service. Sermons tend to be visceral, soulful, and poetic food for the heart,  rather than intellectually challenging food for the head. There are no more joys and sorrows, we now sing to our children as they go to their classrooms, and sing Spirit of Life in Spanish. After a long hiatus, covenant groups are back.

But if you are a newer to the church, you are seeing things for the first time. And there are LOTS of new people, seeing things for the first time. Lots of new, young people. We just recently signed in 82 new members, and newcomers are entering the church at a pace we have not seen since 9/11.

Are all these changes good or bad? What does this change mean for the future of our church?

Most UU churches are losing members-- consistent trend for the category known as mainline Protestant churches. In fact mainline Protestant churches have declined at a faster rate than any other Christian group, including Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. The average mainline Protestant church is declining 2% a year-- and this is true for UU churches as well. The Pew research points out that there is a relationship between age and decline. The average age is getting older because the younger generation is not joining at the same rate the older generation is leaving. (See Pew research Study here). This is what I would call a generational replacement deficit.

Research by David Roozen from Faith Communities Today (FACTS) suggests that churches whose average age is younger grow at a more accelerated rate. Roozen, in his report, goes on to describe the profile of the growing church-- less than one-third of its members are seniors, at least fifteen percent of members are young adults, and there is "very much" innovation in worship service.

All of this points to the fact that if we want to grow, we must enhance our efforts to attract the next generation of members. That is an easy thing to say, but harder to do. One obvious place to start is to be open to change. A church cannot grow without change. Growth is not a perfect linear path. Whereas decline is often slow and steady, growth is more bumpy, because growth requires encounters  with the new and the unfamiliar. To grow is to change.

This month's theme is "transformation". This is a good month to consider the bumpy ride a shiny chrysalis goes through to become a butterfly.

Roseann Cash said, "The key to change... is to let go of fear." That's easier to do when we are all on the same team, when we are supporting each other, when we are in covenant with one another. Let's be courageous together, be open to change, grow our spirit, and serve others. And... be bumpy.

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.