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MidAmerica as a Learning Network of Faith Communities:" Proposed as a Provisional Covenant of the MidAmerica Region, UUA

Approved September 23, 2014 by the Board of Trustees, MidAmerica Region, Unitarian Universalist Association, for publication preliminary to inclusion on the MidAmerica Annual Business Meeting Agenda in April 2015.

The Learning Network Covenant

In keeping with the multifaceted sources of our Unitarian Universalist tradition -- direct experience of mystery and wonder; words and deeds of prophetic people; wisdom from the world’s religions; and teachings from the Jewish, Christian, Humanist, and earth-centered traditions -- we, the delegates present at the 2015 MidAmerica Regional Assembly, do covenant to become a “Learning Network” as follows.

  • We will recognize and celebrate each of our congregations as a community engaged in learning, collaboration, innovation, and action, and grounded in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. We will explore together the new opportunities possible within our Region, strengthening these capacities and envisioning what we might become.
  • We will engage those new opportunities through a learning process of dialogue, reflection, consultation, experimentation, and democratic decision-making. We strive to (1) express and embody our covenantal relationship within our Region and our Association; (2) work together to support and nurture our congregations and our larger movement within and beyond MidAmerica; and (3) work together to support and nurture our Region.
  • We will encourage our congregations to affirm a congregational version of this covenant, and actively explore the new opportunities possible in our region.
  • Within these processes of learning, we will welcome the participation of non-congregational UU groups situated within MidAmerica, such as professional society chapters, campus ministries, social justice networks, schools and camps, and other organizations "beyond congregations."

Examples of How Congregations Might Embody This Covenant

  • Collaborate intentionally to learn and act together with geographically proximate congregations, or with those that share affinities, in a virtual or in-person format.
  • Select recognized congregational leaders as delegates to Regional Assembly, and create opportunities for discussion of MidAmerica business items within the congregation in advance of Regional Assembly.
  • Engage actively with learning opportunities that relate to the congregation's context, such as workshops at Regional Assembly and General Assembly, webinars and other educational options.
  • Create “Board-to-board” meetings wherein the leaders of two or more congregations share insights and experience related to issues of governance or mission.
  • Organize or participate in a social action initiative with another UU congregation or as part of a larger (e.g., statewide) social justice effort.

Motivation, Intention, and Process

In April, 2013, the delegates of the Central Midwest, Heartland, and Prairie Star Districts of the UUA voted overwhelmingly to reorganize themselves into a single governance unit, the MidAmerica Region. While the delegates understood that this larger organization would achieve significant economies of scale, they also aspired to create a "New Era in UUism" within the Region.

Since that vote, both the Board and the Staff of MidAmerica have worked hard and accomplished much to integrate the three organizations into a single entity. In doing so, we believe that we have laid the groundwork for the new era. The covenant proposed here opens a broad, participative process of envisioning the possibilities of that new era and bringing them into reality. The active participation of our congregations and other UU communities throughout this process is essential if we are to create of something truly new, authentic, powerful, and true to our Unitarian Universalist tradition.

On April 26, 2014, the MidAmerica Board approved posting an earlier draft of the proposed learning network covenant for public review and comment. We received several suggestions during the review period, and have incorporated many suggestions into this version.

The covenant above is published preliminary to inclusion on the Agenda of the MidAmerica Region Annual Business Meeting to be held in April, 2015. In doing so, we hope to engage congregational representatives in an open, moderated, and constructive value exploration and planning process in order to improve aspects of the MidAmerica Region's governance, programs and services, or administration.

Questions or comments regarding this version of the Learning Network Covenant are welcome, and should be emailed to [email protected] -- please include your name and the name of your congregation or organization. Thank you!

Frequently Asked Questions regarding the proposed Learning Network Covenant

1. Is the UUA "on board" with MidAmerica's Learning Network Covenant initiative?

Response: The short answer is "yes." The MidAmerica Board has a strong working relationship with Rev. Scott Tayler, Director of the UUA's Congregational Life group. He has agreed that this initiative meshes well with the Congregational Life group's focus on "interconnection, innovation, and impact." Our collaborative relationship has been expressed in a formal covenant that ensures that input from MidAmerica congregations and the MidAmerica Board are used in identification of Regional goals, programming, and staff development.

2. What are the boundaries of the Learning Network? Can I suggest anything that I believe would strengthen Unitarian Universalism within MidAmerica?

Response: We hope to engage the congregations and other UU organizations of MidAmerica in a broad, open, and constructive dialogue. Assuming that the delegates vote to adopt the covenant, the MidAmerica Board will appoint a task force to structure and conduct the process. That group that will determine any limitations on what can or cannot be proposed within the Learning Network Covenant process. For instance, suggestions that are really national in scope may be referred to the UUA. Alternatively, comments proposing an amendment to the MidAmerica Bylaws might be referred to the MidAmerica Board for possible action. Nevertheless, we hope to explore the ways in which every suggestion can inform the overall process.

3. If, as a delegate, I vote in favor of the Learning Network Covenant at the 2015 MidAmerica Region Annual Business Meeting, what have I actually committed myself to do?

Response: In the current (September, 2014) version of the covenant, your affirmative vote would commit you to encourage the leadership of your home congregation to consider adopting the covenant. It would also commit you to some level of participation in the Regional Learning Network dialogue, leaving you flexibility to determine whether you should participate yourself, or encourage others to participate on behalf of your congregation.

4. Does this mean that the MidAmerica Region has put everything else on hold for the period of the Learning Network, and that this is all we're doing for the next several years?

Response: The short answer is an emphatic "No!" The Learning Network Covenant process is intended to develop a shared, long-range vision of MidAmerica, but our Regional Staff Team is continually working to improve congregational services -- transition support, leadership development, congregational support consulting, etc. This year, the Staff is presenting six new resource programs, in addition to supporting the Learning Network Covenant and another new Board-driven initiative. And of course, a great deal of MidAmerica innovation originates in, between, and among our congregations!

5. Isn't the focus of the Learning Network Covenant really the MidAmerica Region Board's job?

Response: Yes and No. The Board certainly acknowledges a responsibility to synthesize and communicate a vision of what MidAmerica can become. The Board understands the Learning Network Covenant as a means to that end. Yet the Board also recognizes its own limitations, in terms of understanding the rich set of resources and opportunities present within each of MidAmerica's 200 congregations. Part of the Board's role is to create forums in which congregational leaders can share insights and resources with each other, and can collaborate in the identification of opportunities for UU innovation and impact. The Board has a responsibility to ensure that the vision is developed and communicated, and realizes that it cannot alone create the vision that will engage the spirit and energy of our congregations.

6. Isn't the Learning Network Covenant what we -- the delegates at the annual meetings of Central Midwest, Heartland, and Prairie Star -- voted to do in April, 2013?

Response: Different people may understand those votes in different ways. While we hope that everyone understood those votes as authorizing the combination of the legal structures, resources, and governance roles of Central Midwest, Heartland, and Prairie Star into MidAmerica, some delegates may have understood them as indicating their explicit personal commitments to "create a New Era in UUism." However you may have understood the votes in 2013, we encourage you to commit yourself to the Learning Network Covenant in 2015, and to engage the process of envisioning the "New Era" actively and intentionally!

Please Note: Suggestions of other questions that should be included here, as well as possible improvements to any of these responses are very welcome, and should be emailed to [email protected] -- thanks!

Questions for Congregational Engagement with the proposed Learning Network Covenant Initiave

These questions are intended to help congregational leaders "prime the pump" for conversation in relation to the MidAmerica Region Learning Network Covenant by clarifying the possible value of the covenant to the broad membership of a congregation.

  1. What are the best things our congregation can share with other congregations and our larger Unitarian Universalist movement? How are we a resource to our movement right now?
  2. What resources would best enable our congregation to move to the next level? Do we know where to find those resources?
  3. What is the greatest potential benefit our congregation might gain by participating in the Learning Network Covenant process? Alternatively, what is the greatest cost or risk we might incur by doing so?
  4. What could we accomplish working with other UU congregations that we cannot accomplish on our own?

Proposed Learning Network Covenant Process

MidAmerica Board   *   MidAmerica Delegates   *   MidAmerica Congregations

Learning Network Covenant Concept Shared at 2014 MidAmerica Annual Business Meeting (April, 2014)
Proposal Version of Learning Network Covenant (Feb, 2015)
Review and Revision based on Feedback; Revised Covenant Posted 9/30/14
Discussion and vote on Proposed Learning Network Covenant at MidAmerica Region Annual Business Meeting (April 18, 2015)
Consideration of the Revised Draft Covenant by Congregations and Other Organizations (October to December, 2014)
Exploration of Learning Network Concept Public Review and Comment Period (May 15th to July 31st, 2014)
Draft Covenant Approved for Public Review/Comment