Let Me Sleep on It…

The congregational meeting was held right after the Sunday service to guarantee a quorum.  There were a couple of important issues to discuss, including passing a deficit budget to help fund a part time membership coordinator in service of their desire for growth. Standard reports were given by the board, the minister, the religious educator and various committee chairs. Bellies were starting to feel hunger and eyes were starting to glaze over.  The last report was from the finance committee, presenting the deficit budget and opening up the discussion.

The first member to speak explained that she was retired, debt free, and on a fixed income and couldn’t possibly pledge any more.  TheWoman Sleeping next member accused the finance committee of “dropping this bomb” on the congregation at the last minute.  The next threatened to withhold their pledge if the congregation passed a deficit budget.  Tempers continued to flare until the budget was revised to take out the additional spending.  The leaders felt that the congregation’s vision was sabotaged, and that affected their ability to serve with joy for the rest of the year.

We know from brain science that when humans feel that they are threatened, the amygdala become engaged and the higher brain functions such as reason and creativity are overshadowed by flight or fight responses. When the brain has experienced this sort of amygdala hijack, it takes three or four hours to regain full cognitive functioning!

Some congregations understand this and have separated out the presentation and discussion parts from the voting parts of their congregational meetings so that the discussion can happen without the time-pressure of an immediate pending vote.  This way members can share their concerns, leaders can listen deeply and decisions can be made with our creative and rational neo-cortex and not our emotionally reactive cerebellum.  It turns out that “sleeping on it” does help us make better decisions!

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff, Central East Regional Group

 

Reflections on Right Relationship

Photo by Paul Barfoot
Photo by Paul Barfoot

I often hear the question, “Is there a spiritual practice that is particularly Unitarian Universalist?”  I believe that there is–living into our covenantal relationships.   Being in community can be challenging. But being in a faith community can give us the opportunity to explore our edges and test our assumptions.  Covenant offers us an invitation to be curious and humble, to make room for mistakes by pre-promising that–when we fail–we are willing to forgive and try again.

Recently, the Rev. David A. Miller offered his “Reflections on Right Relationship” in a Facebook post and agreed to let me share it here.

I thought these eighteen questions could be helpful for congregational leaders as a reminder of how we might–as a spiritual practice–remain true to our covenants:

1. Am I assuming the good intentions of the other?

2. Am I communicating directly with the person with whom I am having an issue?

3. Am I resolving issues or am I spreading them through gossip, anger and/or frustration?

4. Am I reflecting on what personal wounds, issues, and tendencies of mine that are contributing to the issue?

5. Am I willing to be an active participant and to work in good faith to clear up issues?

6. Am I projecting on to someone else through my own framework what they are thinking or doing vs. engaging them and asking them to share their thoughts and story?

7. Am I actually trying to live the principles and values of Unitarian Universalism by acting with compassion, respect and a high value of our interdependence?

8. Am I actively listening to what others are saying and not formulating a response or the next comment or question while they are talking?

9. Can I let go of my need to control the situation?

Rev. David Miller
Rev. David Miller

10. Can I graciously leave space for others by letting someone else speak first or by not speaking my mind if the point has been raised or made already?

11. Can I help lift up the life of another or the group in my words and actions?

12. Can I have disagreements with an individual or group, do so in love and respect, and continue to stay in community?

13. Can I take into account the importance of the task in relation to the importance of the relationship?

14. Can I reflect on how my attitude and actions contribute to the tone of our community?

15. Am I willing not to have to be right?

16. Am I being the change I wish to see in the world, and that means really acting the way I would like others to act??

17. Am I willing to be changed?

18. And finally, can I remember to ask the question, “What is the most loving thing I can do or say right now?”

The Difference When You Make a Difference

turtleThe scholarship fund at the Midwest Leadership School, called “Flame Keepers” was not growing.  Sadly, in the summer of 2013 only $10 had been donated to the fund.  The volunteer lay staff had all experienced the transformative power of the week-long school and had enthusiastically promoted the fund with skits and songs to help provide that experience for leaders with financial need.  This past summer they decided to try something new, based on a lecture about stewardship by visiting faculty member Kathy McGowan.  She had said:

People give money to make a difference.  People give money to change lives. You need to tell the story of how you are making a difference in the lives of real people.

MLWS Chair Jennifer Thomas reached out to a MWLS graduate, Sayer Johnson, that she had met when she was a student in 2011. Thomas asked for a testimonial that could be shared when they invited the current students to donate to the Flame Keepers fund.  This is the result:

Jennifer Sayer
Jennifer Thomas reads testimonial by Sayer Johnson. Photo by Darthe Jennings.

MWLS changed my life.

 

As the week unfolded, I knew I’d never be the same, and I was right.  My congregation saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself and they took a chance on me. My congregation was generous with their open hearts. Strangers were generous with their financial support, and because of a Flamekeepers scholarship, I was able to make MWLS a reality.

 

Two years before stepping foot onto the Beloit campus I was emerging as my authentic self. I was declaring my space as a transgender man. My family and my congregation stood by me, held me up, and eventually challenged me to be here–where you are now–and have this experience at Beloit. My time at MWLS resonates with me still.

 

My time at MWLS was my first experience with meeting folks who only knew me as Sayer…not by my old name  and not as my former self. It was daunting and frightening and overwhelming, but in the end one of the most amazing and soul-inspiring welcomes into my new world as I could have possibly wished for.

 

Beloit lit a spark… and because of the Flamekeepers, the spark became light. MWLS would  NEVER have been possible for me without the generosity of strangers.  

Now four years later, I’m still benefiting from my time at MWLS.  Upon returning, I was able to facilitate growth in my congregation. I also co-founded a support group for other transgender men in the St. Louis metro area. The impact of MWLS is powerful, intimate and far-reaching.

 

My story is one of many.  And I am grateful.

The response was amazing. People wrote checks. People rounded up their bookstore purchases to donate to the fund.  MWLS student and folk musician Darthe Jennings donated all of the proceeds from her CDs sold at the bookstore to the fund.  The result?  Instead of $10, the fund received over $1000!

Make a difference, then tell the story of how you make a difference.

Additional Resources:

Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate: A New Vision or Financial Stewardship by J. Clif Christopher

The Power of Stories: A Guide for Leading Multiracial and Multicultural Congregations by Jacqueline Lewis

The Generosity Path: Finding the Richness in Giving by Mark V. Ewert

The Wi$dom Path: Money, Spirit, and Life A Tapestry of Faith Program for Adults  by Patricia Hall Infante and David H. Messner

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff, CERG – The Central East Regional Group

 

 

 

There’s a Hole in the Bucket…

bucketIt happens more often than you think it should.  The church seems to be vital, even growing, but the money in the collection plate doesn’t keep up with the growth, or there seems to be a shortfall every month.  There might be grumbling about how the new folks aren’t pulling their weight financially.  Then someone notices some irregularities, even though a trusted, long-time volunteer has been responsible for the money. And then it comes to light that hundreds, even thousands of dollars are unaccounted for.

Churches are especially susceptible to theft, embezzlement and fraud.  We foster an environment that encourages trust and vulnerability in other aspects of congregational life.  We are often so desperate for volunteers we don’t ask for the kind of skills or accountability that we should to meet our fiduciary responsibilities.  And we often inherit systems, habits and volunteers that would be hard to change without a good reason.

Here are some basic practices and policies that every congregation should have in place:

Finance Policies

  • Two signers for checks
  • Separate duties of income, check writing, check signing and reconciling accounts to provide checks and balances  (e.g. the person who makes the deposits should not write checks)
  • Reimbursements must have receipts and proper paperwork and signatures
  • Duplicate Bank Statements that go to non-signers
  • Mandatory vacations for employees who have financial duties
  • Have the finance committee or other appointed committee review church financial records annually
  • Have the finance committee track patterns of giving over time
  • Permanent financial records should be kept at the church, not in someone’s home

The Collection Plate

  • Have two unrelated counters of every offering
  • Rotate count teams
  • Have 2 copies of the deposit slip. One goes with the money to be deposited, the second goes to another person that can provide a financial check and balance
  • Immediately deposit the money after the service using a sealed bank security bag.  NEVER allow anyone to take the offering home.

Uh-Oh…We Might Have a Problem

If you think that your congregation might be a victim of theft, embezzlement or fraud:

  • contact your attorney immediately
  • contact your District or Regional Congregational Life staff person.
  • consider engaging a Certified Fraud Examiner to assist you with the formal investigation

  • DO NOT confront the person

  • keep the investigation confidential
  • don’t be afraid to press charges
  • Once the investigation is complete and charges have been files, be as transparent as possible with the congregation.  Let them know the amount of the theft and what changes in policy and procedure have been put in place to prevent such occurrences in the future. Your members need to know that their financial gifts are being well-stewarded.

Additional Resources:

Financial Management for Congregations  UUA Website

Subscribe to the UU-Money Email List A forum for congregational money leaders.

A financial pandemic is sweeping the country article from Church Mutual

We’ve Been Embezzled! from Church Law & Tax

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Congregational Life Staff

Going With the Flow

go-with-the-flow-thumb26062172In my travels around the region, I sometimes hear members of congregations say something like, “Church shouldn’t be like work.  It should be fun.”  Several current research studies support this contention and might explain one of the reasons that congregational leaders get “burned out.”

In a New York Times (September 7, 2014) article, Paul O’Keefe, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, contends that people who see a task as interesting and enjoyable will work harder on that task and perform better.  Further, knowing that your work will make a difference or has possibilities for changing things for the better will help people to feel energized rather than exhausted, motivated rather than morose.  One of the psychologists cited in the study calls it “flow”, the experience we have when we are in the zone.

The implications for leaders in our congregations, then, is obvious.  The more leaders see their tasks as interesting, enjoyable, and meaningful, the harder and longer they work on the task and the better they will perform at it.

So how do we help leaders to get in the “zone”?  Additional research at the Universities of Virginia and Wisconsin suggest that for most of us, whether we find something interesting and motivating is a matter of whether we find it personally valuable.  We need to help leaders see their work as meaningful not only to the congregation or to our faith, but meaningful and valuable to them as well.  Research also shows that social engagement in activities can foster greater interest and motivation.  Leaders need to know that they are not alone and church activities done in a group rather than in isolation will result in happier, more motivated and more productive leaders.

Perception truly is in the eye of the beholder.  As staff, ministerial and lay leaders, let’s help each other to see things in a positive and meaningful way.  Let’s work together so that no leader needs to feel alone.  Let’s make church fun.

 

Announcements: A Terrible Death to Die

announcementsI remember my first church family camp, the Ohio Meadville Summer Institute.  At the end of the morning worship, one of the planning committee members would go up to the podium and start singing:

 

 

Announcements, Announcements, An-NOW-ounce-ments!
A terrible death to die, a terrible death to die,
A terrible death, a terrible death, a terrible death to die.
Announcements, Announcements, An-NOW-ounce-ments!

I visit a lot of different congregations in my work, and occasionally this hits a little too close to home!

Fortunately, I also have had other experiences.  I was at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church last Sunday where the co-ministers announced that the announcements for that Sunday were going to be the last.  The Rev. Kathleen Rolenz announced the change and the Rev. Wayne Arnison articulated the discomfort that such a change will create.

How will people know what is going on?  How will we get more Sunday School teachers if we don’t ask from the pulpit?  How will we let people know that our pledge payments have dropped off over the summer, and we need folks to catch up?

Rich Birch at unSeminary points out in his article 8 Reasons People Aren’t Listening to your Announcements that announcements are counter-productive.  Our goal is to get people’s attention, but instead we get their eyes to glaze over.  The “added noise” of the announcements may actually interfere with the effectiveness of the transformative message that our worship team has worked so hard to provide.  What is our core purpose, to change lives or to staff the rummage sale?

Of course, re-thinking how we communicate to our members will require patience and creativity on the part of congregational leaders.  I think you are up to the challenge!   Please share your ideas of how you communicate more effectively!

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff

Additional Resources can be found at:  Communication Skills for Leaders

5 Shades of Ministry

Allegheny UU Church in Pittsburgh, PA has a commitment to shared ministry.
Allegheny UU Church in Pittsburgh, PA has a commitment to shared ministry.

I’ve spent most of my summer working with different programs and events that help to grow lay leaders in our faith.  I have had the blessing of encountering dozens of earnest, committed and evangelical lay leaders wanting to spread the good news of our liberal faith.  Ministry shows up in many forms, and each has high value and an important role in the life of our faith communities.  Often ordained ministry is held up as “real ministry,” relegating other forms of ministry to lesser status.  I think all forms of ministry are important and complementary.

Ministry comes in many shades that, when layered, become a  rich hue. I can think of five — perhaps you might come up with more.

  • Pastoral Ministry is compassion.
    It is offering comfort and care to each other when we are in need.
  • Teaching Ministry is consciousness.
    It is encouraging one another to form our beliefs, live our values and engage our world.
  • Prophetic Ministry is agency.
    It is how we use our religious convictions to transform the world.
  • Ordained Ministry is devotion.
    It is a life devoted to serving the transcendent religious ideal.
  • Shared Ministry is covenantal.
    It is the time and intention that lay people carve out of their busy lives, also in their commitment to partner in serving the transcendent religious ideal. It is the time and attention that the clergy give to the spiritual formation of those leaders. Shared ministry is the greatest of these because it creates space for all gifts of ministry.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Leadership Development Consultant

 

 

 

Art Doesn’t Happen by Committee – Part 2

I had just finished leading a worship service as a guest preacher. This congregation had been experiencing a gentle decline in membership over the past decade. Several congregants came up to me afterward and exclaimed, “It was wonderful how the music, the readings and the children’s story all connected to the sermon. Did you plan for that to happen?”  Actually, I made sure to work with the music director, the religious educator and the worship associate to help that to happen.  I casted my vision of the theme and made some suggestions, and they made other suggestions, and together we created a holistic service.

paletteWorship is a peculiar art form, especially in Unitarian Universalist congregations. The meaning of the word is derived from the Old English weorthscipe: ‘worthiness, acknowledgment of worth.’  In our traditional style of worship, we have a sermon, which is a kind of teaching, and the liturgy, which is the form of the rest of the service.  The meaning of the word liturgy is derived from the Greek lēitos ‘public’ + -ergos ‘working.’

In too many of our congregations’ worship services, there is a disconnect between the elements of the liturgy because the individuals contributing to it do not have a shared vision of the theme, or are not in alignment with the theme.

Similar to when an artist selects a palette of colors for a painting, the worship team should ensure that the elements of the liturgy blend together to achieve the desired overall effect. Having several diverse people contributing and riffing off of one another helps to create a rich experience.  However, there should always be a designated leader of the team who can make the final decision when there is disagreement or lack of direction.  Usually, that leader is the minister — a trained professional in Worship Arts and entrusted with “freedom of the pulpit” by the congregation.

When there is not a leader trusted with being the actual leader of worship for the congregation, or worse yet, there are factions that “control” the different elements of the Sunday service, the quality of worship suffers, and those who come for religious and/or spiritual sustenance leave unfed.

This year, the various worship services at our annual General Assembly had a much more holistic quality than they had in previous years.  The reason?  There was clear leadership by a worship professional who was entrusted with the authority to oversee the worship services and to ensure cohesiveness and connection to the overall theme of “Love Reaches Out.”

To me, the worship also seemed to have a deeper quality, because of the common theme and the variations on that theme that each worship service provided.  (There is a movement among vibrant congregations to use monthly themes for worship, faith development classes and small group ministry for this very reason!)  Reconnecting to our depth is what will help our faith bend the arc of the universe toward love and justice.

In the closing worship service, Nora Collins shared a reading from “Reimagining the American Dream”, an essay by Marilyn Sewell that captures the need for depth:

I [am] intrigued by…words often attributed to Rudolf Behro, an East German dissident: “When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.” I…[think] about us as Unitarian Universalists. This is who we are—we are not afraid to be insecure. We are not afraid to search, to go deeper, to find the truth, even when the truth is unpalatable. We are seekers who want to live out of that truth….

 

Unitarian Universalists, though few in number, can be the yeast in the loaf. However, let us be wary of the usual distractions and follies of our movement. It’s grown-up time now. We [can] no longer prioritize petty quarrels about how “religious” our language should be, conflicts between the humanists and the more spiritually inclined, or squabbles about who is in charge. The mission of the church is not to meet our needs; the mission of the church is to heal our world. It is to give ourselves to something larger than ourselves. Ironically, when we give of ourselves in this way, we find that our deepest needs are met.

Resources for Worship:

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Leadership Development Consultant, CERG (The Central East Regional Group)

Teamwork for the Win!

Our Guest Blogger today is Jan Gartner.

The World Cup has been the big talk lately, but I’m never on the leading edge of sports conversations so I’m still thinking about the Basketball playersNBA playoffs! I was not surprised when the San Antonio Spurs skillfully beat the Miami Heat in the NBA finals. Why? Well, to be honest, I don’t pay a lot of attention to pro sports. So you could have told me that the Podunk Potato Heads won, and I wouldn’t have been too surprised about that either.
No actually, my husband, Mike, had explained the situation to me: this was a re-match between the two awesome teams who’d played each other in last year’s Finals. In 2013, the Heat had won after a riveting 7-game contest. Heading into this year’s playoffs, there were a lot of folks who seemed to think – how could the Heat not win again, with 3 players as incredible as LeBron James (even I know who LeBron James is), Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh? So, I was drawn in by the drama…and I found myself hoping that the Spurs would get their turn as champions.
I’m obviously not a sophisticated spectator, but I couldn’t help but notice that the Heat’s offense revolved around the talents of the 3 superstars. Meanwhile, watching the Spurs, I could see that it was truly a team effort. Each player seemed to have this uncanny intuition about his teammates’ strengths and style. It wasn’t about any particular person; at any given moment, it was simply about what was best for the team as a whole. The way the Spurs worked together was cohesive and synergetic.
This got me thinking about congregational leadership. Sometimes we tend to rely on one impressive leader (or a small handful) to rack up the points for us. Maybe it’s the minister. Or the music director. A number of the congregation’s efforts may fall to an exceptional lay leader or two. These standout performers become the focus of the congregation’s attention and activity.
Of course we need strong individual leaders in our congregations! But what will really make our faith communities fly is teamwork. Among the professional leadership, this means staff who appreciate and leverage each other’s talents to create experiences that transcend any individual’s contributions. Moreover, it requires staff to trust one another, to strive for common goals, and to focus is on what’s right for the whole organization. There are no ball hogs.
For lay leaders, roles are not prescribed by job descriptions and the “team” is far larger – effectively (ideally) the whole congregation. This presents the opportunity for intentional exploration of gifts and passions. Are congregants’ time and talent being utilized effectively? Is the work of the congregation (or a particular ministry area) distributed well among the team? What roles and responsibilities tend to fall to your “LeBron” and why?
In their book The Wisdom of Teams, JR Katzenbach and DK Smith define a team as “a small number of people with complementary skills; who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach; for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” The success of the Spurs proves that your congregation can be a winner without LeBron, Dwyane, or Chris – without Reverend Remarkable or Lucy the Luminary Lay Leader. What you do need is a theology of teamwork, with cohesiveness, common purpose, and collective accountability at its core.
So here’s the drill: explore how teamwork can improve your congregation’s score. I’ll be rooting for you!


Jan gartnerJan Gartner is Professional Development Associate for Religious Education and Music Leaders in the Ministries and Faith Development Staff Group of the UUA, telecommuting from her home near Rochester, NY. Her portfolio includes staff team development.

You are not the boss of me!

combine1My father-in-law was a no-nonsense businessman who worked a 600 acre farm. Fiercely independent, he liked to play by his own rules.  When he bought a new piece of machinery, he would remove all of the pesky shields and other safety devices that slowed him down or got in the way during maintenance or repair.  It was a family farm, so it was unlikely that OSHA would have investigated or intervened — at least until there was an “incident.”

In some ways, our UUA board, staff and professional organizations (UUMA, LREDA etc.) operate like OSHA:  We are Congregational Safety and Health advisors.

  • We recommend best practices for governance, finance, growth and leadership development.
  • We offer leadership schools and other trainings to help our leaders foster healthy systems and behaviors in their congregations.
  • We advise on how you might implement safety policies to keep your children safe from predators and your community safe from disruptive behavior.
  • We do our best to make sure our religious professionals are equipped to serve and are held accountable to professional guidelines and actionable codes of conduct.
  • We provide a process where ministers and congregations have the opportunity to learn deeply about one another before a call or a hire.

And yet, we still have congregations who–in the name of congregational polity–circumvent the safety and health recommendations.  Then, when conflict or other trouble erupts, the “Congregational Safety and Health advisors” are called in.

How do these patterns happen?

My father-in-law felt that the farm was always in danger of going under, so he did everything he could to avoid losing money or productivity.  The danger might have been real in the early years, but the habits remained when the farm was consistently profitable.

The story behind a congregational habit of stubbornly rejecting “best practices” is a bit more complex.  Part of rejecting solid advice is a pervasive allergy to authority that still lurks in some of our liberal religious communities.

Being suspicious of authority is part of our congregational birthright and is reflected in our polity.  We rejected the authority of bishops and presbyteries because of they held power and power tends to corrupt.  We kept the power and authority in the gathered body community — not to be a “majority rules” democracy but a covenantal community.  We choose our own leaders to teach and guide us and  we discern together to test our assumptions and beliefs. We organize as an association of congregations, and hire staff (like me) to help share knowledge, experiences and resources.

Holding ourselves accountable to one another in service of our transcendent values is also a part of our congregational birthright. When it is done well, the sense of purpose in the community is joyful and palpable to the visitor.   This accountability is our ultimate safety shield.  Without it, a liberal faith community is in peril.

A recent article on Occupy.com pointed out five dysfunctional liberal tendencies that plagued the Occupy movement.  These tendencies also show up in our troubled congregations.  The one that resonated the most for me was the tendency of Liberal Libertarianism:

“The Liberal Libertarian would rather see our collective efforts grind to a screeching halt than see one person “silenced” for any reason under any context. The Liberal Libertarian doesn’t actually care about collective power; they simply seek individual self-realization.”

In our congregations, the Liberal Libertarian is not interested in what it means to be “free” in a faith community.  They do not want any kind of accountability for their behavior.  The article recommends:

“We need to be vigilant against the attempts of isolated people to impose their priorities on everyone else in the name of their individuality (after all, the beauty of free association implies the option of free disassociation) and use organizing structures that are durable and designed to withstand interference.”

In other words, we need to trust the leaders that we choose to hold the boundaries that will keep the congregation healthy. This will enable the congregation to put its energy into building the beloved community rather than dealing with disruptions.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

Congregational Resources: