MidAmerica UUA Region: Consider Our Future Together

Why are you writing this blog?

The boards of the Prairie Star, Heartland, and Central Midwest districts voted unanimously last Fall (2011) to propose to our districts that we move from district governance to regional governance. We will discuss this at our District Assemblies this Spring (2012). We will vote at the DAs of 2013.

We advise congregations to prepare their congregations for important decisions by communicating proactively and encouraging full discussion. The staff of the region, with invited guest bloggers including our district presidents, aim to do this with this blog. We need your wisdom to create our future together.

This is more than a conversation about district and regional structures. We are all learning to minister in a very different emerging world. We need to figure out how to do this together. We invite you into a conversation about these things.

ian07In a previous blog post I answered the “why” about the changes happening. Here I want to briefly review the “what?"

The best brief statements on the “what” of regionalization are those by the presidents of our three districts when they announced the unanimous decisions of each board to recommend the creation of a regional level governance structure and discontinue district-level governance. These three come from Rev. Brian Covell (Central Midwest), Amy Taylor (Heartland), and Kathy Burek (Prairie Star):

The decision had been made already to create a unified program/administrative structure to be fully functional by July 2013. The boards have each voted unanimously to propose to the district assemblies that we create a regional governance structure on the same time-line.

NancyHeege2002As our team of six Field Staff [Ian Evison, Dori Thexton, Lisa Presley, Nancy Combs-Morgan, Phil Lund, and Nancy Heege] began to imagine what the staffing for a larger region might look like, we realized that there was quite a bit of duplication in the work. There are newsletters produced by Central Midwest, Heartland, and Prairie Star Districts. There is a separate web site for each district. There are three budgets, three accounting systems, three filing systems [some paper, some virtual], three sets of equipment, one physical office and two virtual ones, with their staff working from home offices. Each district has a full time Administrator; two districts have part-time Web Coordinators; one has a very part time Clerical Assistant. As Ian noted in an earlier blog post, it’s clear that we’ll never go back to the “old normal” in district and congregational financing. Those days are gone.

Although each district has made cuts in various areas, it’s clear that our financial picture is not sustainable. Central Midwest and Heartland have moved from physical to virtual offices; Prairie Star still has a physical office. Two of our three districts asked their staff to sacrifice and take a week’s furlough. The districts that have reserves have begun to spend them, which were built up over years when income exceeded expenses. The reality is that congregations are no longer able to fully fund the contributions it would take to sustain the kind of staff and programming we have enjoyed in the past. We can no longer expect that income will exceed expense.

We asked ourselves, “If we combined our forces, could we reduce some of the duplication?” The answer was yes. We asked our three Administrators to tell us how many hours per week they could imagine would be needed for a regional administrative staff. Their answers suggested that we could reduce our three full time administrative staff to two Full Time Equivalent staff. We think they are correct. So two years out, we let our Administrators know that we would be reducing our administrative staff by one FTE position by July 1, 2013. We are developing job descriptions for two FTE staff positions, and we’ll invite our current staff to apply as inside candidates, if they choose to do that.

At the same time, we started talking about developing a new regional web site, to serve our congregations. We currently have a Web Coordinator in Prairie Star District who works ten hours a week; a Communications Coordinator in Central Midwest District who works eighteen hours per week; and no extra position in Heartland. (Their Administrator does their web site.) Our PSD Web Coordinator has let us know he’ll be leaving the position to pursue another line of work before the summer. Our latest thinking is that we’ll create a new regional web site by mid-summer, 2012, and that we’ll develop a job description for a 20 – 25 hour tech position, to which the CMWD Communications Coordinator could apply as an inside candidate, to begin this summer.

Changes such as these can’t be made overnight, so we have begun them, in advance of a formal decision to dissolve the districts and create a new regional body. We value our staff and wanted them to have plenty of notice when we are thinking of reducing our staff hours. It’s the right thing to do. -- Nancy Heege

Why is this shift towards regions happening?

Rev. Ian EvisonIn answer to the question “why the change?”, we describe a three-legged stool:

(1) Changing congregations and changing world require changed way of working. District structures the last thirty years have changed little. District staffs were based on what we took to be the ideal staffing structure for a midsized suburban congregation in 1980: two roughly parallel religious professionals, a parish minister and a religious educator, with support of an administrator. For both our larger congregations and our smaller ones this model now does not fit, and of course the model has never fit for our many lay-led congregation. Models of leadership structure are much more diverse and are quickly changed. We are becoming conscious of this as part of an overall series of changes which are exciting to engage and require of us some basic rethinking of how we work. Two summaries of the trends that we need to pay attention:

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Rev. Ian EvisonWhat are some of the features of the future religious landscape?

The previous 15 or 20 years of prosperity (pre 2007) is giving way to a “new normal” of more austerity. Some congregations are exceptions to this story. Some whole parts of the country seem to be writing a different story (e.g., the Southeast). However, as a nation we are thinking through what it would mean for our children not to be able to afford to own the houses in which they grew up—literally and metaphorically. The latest census shows us moving into a world where a diversity of diversities—cultural and racial—is fast becoming the norm. And we now have growing up amidst us the first generation who are natives in a digital world.

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