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NEWSLETTER: December 2011
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Donation deadline for CBD Fall 2011 Chalice Lighter program is December 31. [Details]  
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May, 2012

Making Way for a New Day:
supporting a culture of innovation 

SPhillipsby Rev. Sue Phillips, 

District Executive


For all the stories we Unitarian Universalists tell about institutional entropy and change-resistant congregations, we are in fact uniquely equipped to adapt and innovate. I didn't appreciate just how unique we are until I listened to the laments of leaders from mainline Protestant denominations.


I just returned from an Alban Institute training for denominational executives on congregational conflict. It was absolutely fascinating, but not for the reasons I thought it would be. I had hoped to learn some new stuff about conflict transformation, but the truth is what fascinated me most was spending three days talking with United Church of Christ, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Christian Reformed, and United Church of Canada denominational staff.


Every one of these folks is committed, faithful, and totally engaged in increasing their people's capacity to live into their faith. [More]


AssemblyBatteries Included!!!
(some assembly required)
April 28, 2012 - Hold the date!!! 
First Unitarian Church of Worcester, MA

For the first time, Clara Barton and Massachusetts Bay Districts will hold a joint assembly that will include each district's annual meeting. 
Norton, Parsa, SchadeWhether you are a congregational president, minister, DRE, delegate, or UU-at-large, we invite you to
  • participate in and enjoy a virtual banner parade
  • join in phenomenal worship that invites us into dialogue about the future of our faith
  • learn about and from our neighbors in faith in other congregations within our districts
  • enjoy good food, music and conversation 
And, of course, congregational delegates will have the opportunity to conduct the business of their district.

Details coming in the new year. For now, mark your calendar!
Making Way for a New Day (continued)
 FeatureThe ways we talk about our congregations and leaders are startlingly similar, and the conflict cases we discussed practically interchangeable. But here's where we parted ways: to a person, each of the 17 other leaders in the seminar lamented how ill-equipped their denomination is to adapt structurally or theologically to the 21st century. They are unsettled by their churches' dim prospects for relevant renewal. They have solid institutions, well-funded field staff structures, theological and doctrinal clarity, but still they lack faith that their people can engage the future. In short, my colleagues from other denominations fear that the gifts which have ensured their continuity for hundreds of years are insufficient to meet the challenges of the coming age.


According to one denominational executive present, mainline churches are facing a challenge on par with the Reformation.


Unitarian Universalism is by no means immune to the demographic trends affecting our neighbors, but I am convinced that we are better equipped to respond. As religious liberals, our theology prepares us to reinterpret our faith in light of new learning. As early adopters of new ideas and technology, we stay closer to the leading edge of important trends like using social media. Our Association, free as it is from holding a fixed place at the top of an ecclesiastical hierarchy, can and does adapt. We can snicker all we want at the latest UUA effort to reorganize, but these efforts reflect an institution that wants to change.


We have so many strengths to build on as we live into a future in which institutional affiliation is weakening, traditional churches are struggling to retain members, and people are organizing themselves in ways that were inconceivable ten years ago. Everyone at the Alban training agreed: if our churches are to survive, we need to experiment and adapt. Starting yesterday.(1) 

My MBD-CBD district staff colleagues and I have been thinking hard about how to support a culture of change and innovation among congregations in the Mass Bay & Clara Barton districts. We believe that Districts are the most nimble partners in our UU institutional system, and we intend to take advantage of it. So here's what we are going to do to help our congregations engage the future.

  • Transform MBD's Woburn grant program into a religious venture fund that supports UU growth and innovation, making fewer grants with the potential for greater impact.(2) Our goal will be to help fund bold experiments both within and outside of congregations. Stay tuned for details after the new year.
  • Launch Leap of Faith New England, in partnership with the Northern New England and Ballou Channing Districts. The  UUA's national Leap of Faith program successfully challenges the Association's past focus on resource development and expertise-sharing, and instead creates and supports learning communities of high-potential congregations. We'll replicate that program on the regional level, and connect threshold congregations across New England districts.
  • Re-envision District Annual Meetings as District Assemblies that give us a chance to come together for fabulous worship and joyful renewal. Join us on April 28 at the First Unitarian Church in Worcester for the first ever shared MBD-CBD District Assembly. Revs. Parisa Parsa and Tom Schade will be our preachers, and Beth Norton our music leader.
  • Teach less, convene more. While the Districts will continue our practice of offering big-picture-oriented leadership development workshops, we'll begin to focus more on helping leaders share their best ideas and experiments directly with one another. District staff will work to enable connections rather than being the connection among leaders in our Districts.

These experiments are rooted in well-informed, faithful speculation about how the Districts can help our congregations and Association stay relevant. I think and hope they will work, but who knows! I can't wait to find out.


Meanwhile, I am grateful beyond measure for the theological and institutional foundation our faith has laid for us all, that prepares us to respond to this new day.



Footnotes(1) "Many of our faith's most interesting leaders are thinking the same thing. For some recent reflections, check out the Minns Lectures.
(2) recipients will be restricted to MBD congregations per the intentions of the Woburn Fund's founders