MidWest Leadership School (MWLS) is a cooperative undertaking of the Prairie Star (PS), Central Midwest (CMWD) and Heartland Districts (HD) of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). It is officially sponsored by the Central Midwest District (CMWD).
MWLS Mission Statement
The mission of MWLS is to develop leadership skills, framed by the principles and purposes of Unitarian Universalism, of members of congregations, and seminary students not yet in Candidate Status, within the three sponsoring districts.
MWLS Leadership Definition
“Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.”
[Rost, Joseph (1992). Leadership for the Twenty-First Century. New York: Praeger.]
MWLS Finances and Authorization
MWLS is a self-supporting, self-managed, non-profit training organization, sponsored by CMWD, in collaboration with PS, and HD of the UUA. It is one of several UUA leadership training entities. MWLS Staff include lay personnel, ordained ministers, and representatives of the three sponsoring UUA districts. On an annual basis, staff set tuition and fees for participation, approve a budget, and contract for services required to operate the training experience. Staff members are responsible for marketing and recruitment of participants. Staff select officers and define roles needed to operate MWLS. Staff meet as needed (at least quarterly), to plan future MWLS training institutes and evaluate previous training institutes. Operation of MWLS is governed by policies contained in the MWLS Staff Handbook.
MWLS Goals and Objectives
Members of the MWLS staff endeavor to create a stimulating and safe environment in which personal boundaries are respected, and participants can share their personal religious paths, challenging themselves and others to experience spiritual growth. Participants attending MWLS can expect to increase their understanding of how their faith informs their active participation in congregational life, developing personal, interpersonal and organizational skills. During a one-week intensive learning experience, MWLS offers programming and resources that:
• enable participants to utilize skills in creating and strengthening shared ministries;
• develop skills in communication, organizational development, leadership, conflict management, decision making, implementation, and evaluation;
• encourage a sense of connectedness among Unitarian Universalists;
• build trust in group processes and dynamics;
• impart knowledge of and appreciation for Unitarian Universalist history and theological issues;
• encourage a sense of denominational awareness;
• develop skills in working effectively with boards of trustees and committees; and
• encourage exploration of issues of personal spiritual growth.
MWLS served 36 students from across the Midwest in July 2012. Districts were comparably represented with CMD = 14, Heartland = 9, and PSD = 13. The session commenced on Sunday afternoon, and closed the following Saturday at noon.
Sessions covered the gamut of topics on leadership, working in organizations, small group dynamics, organizational change, and so forth. Significant time was spent exploring the origin and history of the Unitarian Universalist community and its theology and culture. Each participant was involved in a variety of small group activities. In addition to education on the meaning and preparation of worship, participants were involved in eleven worship service experiences during the week.
Participants worked in six OD groups to expand their organizational and leadership skills, seven Credo groups to share and clarify personal and spiritual values, and nine worship groups (in participation with Youth School members) to better understand the worship experience by preparing and delivering a worship service.
Professional Staff Members
REV. DAVID BREEDEN, History and Theology Presenter, is minister at Minnesota Valley UU Fellowship, Bloomington, Minnesota.
REV. IAN EVISON, Organizational Development and Leadership Presenter, is Congregational Services Director for the Central MidWest District.
REV. RENEE RUCHOTZKE, Organizational Development and Leadership Presenter, is Regional Consultant for Leadership Development for Central East Regional Group.
REV. LISA PRESLEY, Chaplain, is District Executive for the Heartland District.
Lay Staff Members
DAVE BECKER, School Chair and Group Facilitator, is a third year staff member and member of the UU Fellowship in DeKalb, Illinois.
SYLVIA CRESWELL, Registrar and Group Facilitator, is a third year staff member and member of the UU Fellowship in Topeka, Kansas.
JIM LAUGHLIN, Technology Coordinator and Group Facilitator is a third year staff member and member of the UU Society of Iowa City, Iowa.
JENNIFER HUNDLEY BATTS, School Dean and Group Facilitator, is a second year staff member and member of UU Church of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
REBECCA GANT, Treasurer and Group Facilitator, is a second year staff member and member of the Unitarian Church of Lawrence, Kansas.
RYAN THOMAS, Technology Coordinator and Group Facilitator is a second year staff member and UU Church of Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.
SHANNON VAN LANDINGAM, Bookstore Coordinator and Group Facilitator, is a first year staff member and member of the Unitarian Church of Lawrence, Kansas.
MARIA WILSON, Technology Coordinator and Group Facilitator is a first year staff member and member of the First Unitarian Church of Omaha, Nebraska.
ROB KOCH, Assistant Treasurer and Group Facilitator, is a first year staff member and member of the UU Fellowship of Topeka, Kansas.
Collaboration with Youth Leadership School
In 2009, the Youth Leadership School was initiated to provide a Midwest Leadership School to high school age youth. Housed in separate facilities at Beloit College, collaboration between the Adult and Youth schools has involved shared participation in and preparation of worship services.
Comments from MWLS Participants
“It is my congregation’s tradition to send the President-elect. I’m hoping to help increase the number attending dramatically”.
“ As an extrovert, I learned a tremendous amount about working with introverts without overwhelming them. My congregation thanks you.”
“MWLS was a profound and moving experience which deepened my faith commitment, my understanding of our faith, and my intention and capacity for spiritual growth”.
“MWLS was a transformative experience for me. As rewarding and interesting as the academic aspect of it was, the spiritual aspect of it was unparalleled in my life. I have rarely formed so many deep, cherished connections with so many people so quickly, and feel powerfully blessed that it was within a religious tradition and community”.
“MWLS has reinforced my desire to serve my congregation as well as continue outreach with other UU congregations”.
MWLS 2013 Dean