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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.

Ian-Evison-11-2012Rev. Ian Evison, Congregational Services Director, Central Midwest District; Lead Staff, MidAmerica Region
One question we on staff get about regionalization is — more or less — "Will we still see you?"
The very short answer is "yes, of course." We staff are not moving anywhere as part of this process. We all on staff take great joy in all the relationships we have developed with congregational leaders and we look forward to continue to deepen and broaden these relationships. Our hope, in fact, when we no longer are maintaining three district administrative structures, is that we will have more time and resources available to work with the congregations. This will include both time and resources to be face-to-face with you. There is no substitute for that. At the same time, we do plan to work increasingly across old borders and by electronic means. Keep in mind here that so far the most frequent reason for mixing up old divisions of who works with whom has been the request of congregations for a new perspective or a different personality. And frequently the largest driver for doing more work electronically is that congregations find it difficult to gather leaders for the long working sessions that might have been possible earlier. Even when we do work face-to-face we find that the congregations prefer shorter meetings. What was an all day session becomes a morning followed by lunch together. Follow-up is increasingly electronic. Our staff will have more periods when they focus on special projects—like perhaps having a staff person spend a few weeks revamping our system for supporting you through transitions in professional leadership. During such special projects, that the person might be temporarily unavailable. Yet, overall, we all look forward to making new connections. We are grateful to those of you who have reached out to us to do that across old district boundaries. We also do plan to continue to learn together how to use the plethora of emerging technologies of connection and communication.

nancy combs-morganYou may have seen various posts on our MidAmericaUU website, and on the Heartland, Prairie Star and Central Midwest websites on regionalization. Much of that important news has been focused on the impact on governance for our respective three districts. At our most recent MidAmerica staff retreat this last December, we had a shared “aha,” that we should start a series on the “adaptive possibilities” that we can realize together due to regionalization.

Let’s begin with some good news. A few years back Dori Davenport Thexton, Phil Lund, and myself began to have a conversation about how hard it was to sustain the viability of offering Renaissance Modules for our respective three districts. Despite the challenges, we shared, and continue to share, a conviction that offering meaningful and worthwhile continuing education opportunities for religious professionals, and seminarians, who want to learn more about the Philosophy of Religious Education, Teacher Development, Administration of RE programs, and UU Curriculum Planning, Ministry with Youth, Multicultural Religious Education, Worship for All Ages, is something that we want to maintain and sustain.

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nancy combs-morganAs I look up and out to our immediate horizon, I begin to imagine what possibilities lie before us in Unitarian Universalist faith formation. Let’s assume that we are mapping out a course together. If we were conducting a MapQuest search, our driving directions would start with the address of where we are today. Our location in the present is that we have a thousand plus congregations who endeavor to provide lifelong religious education, largely in Sunday morning, age graded, classrooms. There are wondrous examples of the successes of many of those Sunday morning experiences….preschoolers engaged in Spirit Play (a Montessori model); children, youth, and adults immersed in workshop studios to experience a central value, such as the “Golden rule,” in drama, poetry, music, etc…., (the Rotation Model). This is important, I am not saying that there aren’t wonderful experiences of Sunday morning religious education taking place, and that should continue taking place, but here is the part when we get back to our driving directions. If our end location is the beloved community we say that we are aiming for, and if our end sight is achieved, in part, by growing our faith and raising lifelong Unitarian Universalists, THEN we must think beyond bricks and mortar experiences.

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Rev. Ian EvisonCreating our regional structure we wish to both learn from the best wisdom of our congregations and reflect good practice to them.  I interviewed Stefan Jonasson, UUA expert on growth and on large congregations regarding what he sees as key issues our larger congregations are working. It was fascinating to see how closely many of these issues mirrored things we have been considering in creating our new region. Here are Stefan's thoughts on the first of the issues he mentioned. I will post more of Stefan's thoughts in the next couple of weeks.

Accept with agility continuing staff transition.  It is fascinating how naïve many large congregations can be about the reality of frequent transitions of key staff.  They need to regard staff transition as a continuing reality.  If a year passes when there isn’t a transition of a significant staff member, it should be considered an odd year.  I constantly see our larger congregations thrown back on their heels by the departure of a staff member.  Our congregations need to be prepared for continuing transition—for the comings and goings of staff and the need to re-form.

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