Report to the Annual Meeting
Ian Evison on behalf of the Staff of the Region
March 29, 2017
In early November I stood on a hill at Standing Rock, North Dakota, looking out over the long line of those who had come to witness. It was exhilarating to be there with so many, including so many UUs from around our MidAmerica Region and beyond. This was indeed part of a larger movement that has included so many of our congregations: from the Occupy protests, the movement for same sex marriage, Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, Black Lives UU, the Women’s March on Washington and on to the congregations who have given sanctuary to undocumented residents. Since the Civil Rights era in the 1960’s, this is the greatest sense of Unitarian Universalism being swept up into a movement for social change, with many of our congregations taking courageous faithful action. I can think of no better example of a small congregation with a big ministry than our Bismarck-Mandan UU Congregation who has worked tirelessly to support the Standing Rock Sioux.
A major issue in our MidAmerica Region and in our whole association — is finances. Recently this hit home for us as a region with the decision of our UUA to reduce Congregational Life staffing. As a result, we are in the midst of saying good bye to Dori Davenport Thexton after 19 years of service. This is very sad for us as a staff team. And, speaking personally, my professional partnership with Dori beginning in the Central MidWest District is one of the most important of my career.
At a broader level we understand that we are only going through the same painful adjustments so many of our congregations have gone through since the 2007 recession. Going forward, our aim must be to restructure in ways that make us leaner and more agile with better focus on what is most essential. Painful as it is, we on the MidAmerica staff team and Board look forward to the discussion with you both as to how we can best serve within the current budget constraints and how we can work with you our congregations to increase your financial support. Thank you all for the amazing support you already give.
As I write this I am looking forward to our MidAmerica Regional Assembly in just a few weeks. On Friday evening at Regional Assembly we will enjoy an in-person forum with candidates for the UUA Presidency. This will both be a time when we can be part of shaping the future of our movement as well as a time when we can together see a bit what the next chapter might be.
Currently the UUA is facing a controversy about racism and hiring practices within the UUA. The hiring of a white male minister as the staff team lead in the Southern Region has stimulated self-reflection regarding the ways in which white cultural assumptions pervade our institutions, including our congregational life staff. Each of our three UUA presidential candidates has declared that they want to make dealing with the issues raised by this a top priority. I am painfully conscious of the ways cultural assumptions unfriendly to diversity of participation and leadership are baked into the structures of our institutions and how we do things — how could they not be, given the culture in which we live. This is a time of self-reflection and active learning for all of us. I see opportunities in this, and we as a staff team intend to productively engage in this work.
There is an arc of work in any denominational administration in which the maximum space to work the biggest and most exciting issues tends to be at the beginning. All of us on the MidAmerica Regional Staff are looking forward to the opening of the space to work on the large things, even as we know that it will be profoundly challenging as we work to restructure our team and how we work to support you all.