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Almost 200 Unitarian Universalists met to participate in the Central Midwest District Assembly April 27-29 in Oak Brook, Ill. Highlights of the weekend were the opening night ceremony featuring the Rev. Bill Schulz, president of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and past president of the UUA, and a keynote address by the Rev. Marilyn Sewell of Portland, Ore. Saturday workshops focused on leadership development. At the opening ceremony, the Rev. Schulz spoke about the work of the UUSC and their current partnership with the UUA in forming the new UU College of Social Justice.
Following worship on Saturday morning, the annual meeting included district business and a presentation and open discussion about regionalism led by District President Rev. Brian Covell and District Congregational Services Director Rev. Ian Evison. The two leaders outlined discussions that are leading to a new and larger regional entity that will combine the Prairie Star, Heartland and Central Midwest districts.
Rev. Evison outlined three main drivers of regionalism:
- The evolution of congregations, including staffing and volunteer leadership
- Technological advances that make it easier, less costly and more efficient to communicate and conduct operations online
- The costs involved in maintaining three separate districts.
Rev. Evison pointed out that the UUA is not leading the movement toward regionalism, but that regionalism is emerging in different geographical areas across the U.S. “All we are doing is creating a frame in which congregations can work,” he said. “I expect it to be collaborative and I expect the unexpected.”
The current target date for the new entity is July 1, 2013. According to Rev. Covell, a new governance structure is under development and will be rolled out at a joint meeting of the three districts in August 2012. He asked Assembly attendees to stay informed, share and provide feedback and vote as delegates at the 2013 annual meeting.
“This will enable you to have a far broader group of resources at your disposal while keeping the local network and connections,” Rev. Evison added. He said congregations will have “deeper and more profound relationships with wider resources” within this larger Region.
The annual meeting was followed by a stirring keynote address by the Rev. Sewell, who was the subject of the inspiring documentary film “Raw Faith,” shown Saturday evening after dinner.
“A good leader helps an institution define and execute its mission,” Rev. Sewell said. Leaders inspire others to own the problem and help create solutions; leaders know their own strength; and leaders have strong and clear convictions, she explained. Citing the Tuskegee Airmen, Eleanor Roosevelt, explorer Ernest Shackleton and President Lyndon B. Johnson, Rev. Sewell said that power, hierarchy and even dominance can be used wisely and fairly. Stay on a spiritual path and stay on mission, she advised listeners, adding, “use your power for good.”
“When a leader leads with strength and love, that power is multiplied and used to bless the world,” she said.
Saturday afternoon featured 18 leadership workshops covering ministry, immigration issues, multimedia, staff and volunteer issues, growth, and stewardship. Daytime activities concluded with a vespers service led by young adults.
The assembly concluded with a sermon titled “Acts of Faith: Interreligious Engagement as Transformative Spiritual Practice,” by sermon contest winner Nicolas Cable. The topic was inspired by Eboo Patel, with whom Nic studied.
Ann Dee Allen, UU Society of Milwaukee
Rev. Sewell's documentary DVD is now available online via Amazon.com.