About the Author
Don Skinner
Don Skinner is editor of InterConnections and a member of the Shawnee Mission UU Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

‘People So Bold’ offers guidance for justice work

Congregations looking for support, guidance, and inspiration in doing social justice work can find it in a DVD and a book of essays, both called A People So Bold. Both were created from conversations on January 4 when a group of UU theologians, social justice advocates, ministers, educators, and others came together to talk about “not how we do social justice, but why we do it and what it means,” in the words of the Rev. Meg Riley, director of the UUA’s Advocacy and Witness program.

“We had a deep conversation about what it means to be engaged in the world,” Riley says, adding that the topics on the DVD include some not normally discussed in social justice contexts, including “how we as UUs talk about evil.” She says other topics include: “How does our faith hold brokenness, injustice, and suffering, and how do we develop a prophetic voice?”

Participants in the talks included the Revs. Rebecca Parker, Paul Rasor, Thandeka, Victoria Safford, and Marilyn Sewell, plus social justice advocates the Rev. Louise Green, Paula Cole Jones, the Rev. Kate Lore, plus Jill Schwendeman, director of youth programs at White Bear UU Church in Mahtomedi, Minn., and Annease Hastings, music director at Bull Run UUs in Manassas, Va. A complete list of participants is here.

The January 4 convocation was the result of a partnership between the UUA and All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, D.C. Three other congregations also participated in the conversations: First Unitarian Church of Portland, Ore., White Bear UU Church, and Bull Run UU Church.

The DVD and book are designed for churches to use every way they can––in lifespan education, by social justice groups, and for sermons, says Riley. Some of the information on the DVD was also used at the UU University session on justice presented at General Assembly 2009.

Congregations can request one free copy of the DVD by emailing socialjustice@uua.org. Additional copies are $10 each. The book, edited by the Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh, cominister of the Winchester UU Society in Winchester, Mass., is $16 from the UUA Bookstore. It is published by Skinner House. A DVD Discussion Guide is available free, online.

Peacemaking, ethical eating deadlines

Congregations may vote and submit comments until February 1 on the draft Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking, presented by the UUA’s Commission on Social Witness. Congregations can also submit information and resources until March 1 on the Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) on Ethical Eating. More information on both issues, including ways to solicit congregational feedback on them, can be found here.

To participate in the debate on these issues, congregations will need to log in through the Data Services Login for Congregations, which became available November 13.  Login information cannot be offered by the CSW. Contact your minister or congregational administrator for login credentials.

Both social justice issues will be discussed at General Assembly 2010.

52 Ways to Ignite Your Congregation

Growing a congregation is a matter of mastering the basics––are the bathrooms clean, are guests welcomed, is worship inclusive of people who are not insiders? But sometimes we forget the basics, and that’s why an occasional reminder is a good thing.

The Rev. Randy Hammer, pastor of United Church, Chapel on the Hill in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and a graduate of Meadville Lombard Theological School, has written a book of such reminders. The book, 52 Ways to Ignite Your Congregation: Practical Hospitality, devotes one page to each of Hammer’s 52 ways of making sure guests are welcomed. They include advice on holding special programs, providing guest parking, creating an attractive roadside sign, providing quality child care, and sprucing up bulletin boards.

The book can serve as a reminder of what we already know we’re supposed to do, and it can inspire us to actually do it. It is also useful as a checklist of items to think about as we review just how welcoming we are.

Hammer is also the author of Everyone a Butterfly: Forty Sermons for Children. Both books are available from the UUA Bookstore.

New book explores governance and ministry

At a time when many congregations are rethinking their governance structures in an effort to help their boards function more effectively and to grow in an ever-changing world, the Rev. Dan Hotchkiss, a Unitarian Universalist minister and senior consultant for the Alban Institute, has written a book that can help.

In Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, Hotchkiss, who has worked with hundreds of churches and synagogues across the country, calls governance an “expressive art,” like preaching. He invites congregations to grow beyond a “board-centered structure,” instead creating a strong relationship with clergy and other lay leaders in the congregation so that the board is not making all of the day-to-day decisions for the congregation.

Many congregations continue to be organized the way they were in 1950, says Hotchkiss. Yet as a congregation grows and programs multiply, so do the disadvantages of the board-centered structure, he believes. “A board that tries to manage day-to-day operations . . . will spend a great deal of time on operational decision making. If there is no other place for a buck to stop it will stop at the board table. Until a board is willing to delegate real authority to someone else it remains the default chief operating officer.”

Hotchkiss says Governance and Ministry will be most useful to congregations that are at least pastoral-sized––with a median attendance of 50 to 150 children and adults. Among the questions the book strives to answer is: How do we need to restructure our governance to grow larger?

When liberal congregations fail to grow they often think that theology is the problem, says Hotchkiss. It’s not. “Well-organized congregations are succeeding (and poorly organized ones are failing) across the theological spectrum. The key trait such congregations have in common is their strong belief that they have something vitally important to offer other people.” That gives them the courage to let go of old ways of organizing. Improved organization can also inspire more people to volunteer.

He adds, “What healthy structures have in common is a clear understanding about the pathway to be followed when various decisions need to be made.”

As an incentive for change, Hotchkiss notes, “Congregations do some of their best work when instead of giving people what they want, they teach them to want something new.”

Governance and Ministry is $17 at the UUA Bookstore.  Hotchkiss is also the author of the 2002 book Ministry and Money: A Guide for Clergy and Their Friends.

Denominational Affairs committees strengthen connections

Q. Our church does not presently have a Denominational Affairs committee, and I am interested in developing one. Could you tell me how we might make it as effective as possible?

A. InterConnections wrote about this topic here. Beyond that, contact your district staff for guidance about how to go about this. Also, consider signing up for the Unitarian Universalist Association-sponsored email list UU-LEADERS, where other congregational leaders will be happy to share their stories about successful Denominational Affairs (also known as Denominational Connections) committees.

Susanna Whitman, the UUA’s growth services program manager, recommends the following:  “If I were on such a committee I would find out what is new that the UUA is doing (read the UUA.org news pages and the main page and UUWorld online, as well as InterConnections.) Keep an eye out for initiatives and programs that could be interesting or useful to your congregation. Check the Events page on UUA.org and check out events and trainings through your district office. Make an effort to keep the congregation informed of key issues from the UUA and affiliated organizations, including the UU Service Committee, so that members know what the wider movement is doing.

Also, attend any national and district events that you can where you can meet people from other congregations and share ideas. Learn about how congregations support the UUA through the Annual Program Fund so that when people in your congregation ask why it’s important to support the UUA you will have answers. After General Assembly organize a Taking GA Home Sunday service to share some of what went on. And be sure to share all of this information with new members so they understand what they are a part of.

Leadership starts with ownership

From November’s InterConnections feature story, now online at UUA.org:

There was a time when “leadership development” in a congregation might have referred primarily to the nominating committee’s assurance that “We know you can do this,” as it handed a committee assignment to you.

Times have changed. Congregations today generally try to be more deliberate about training leaders and prospective leaders. Toward that end, the number of leadership development opportunities available to them has grown. Congregations are creating their own, other leadership programs are available at General Assembly and through the UUA and district offices, and organizations such as the Alban Institute offer still more.

Nominating committees themselves are morphing into leadership development committees in many congregations. “Leadership development is one of the top two or three things that lay leaders want from us,” says the Rev. Dr. Richard Speck, district executive of the Joseph Priestley District. That can range from information about board leadership to the basics of running a committee, he adds.

Go to the full article.

Filming others may require permission

Q. Our congregation has an excellent choir. Our meetinghouse is a popular place for community dinners and other public events. Recently, one of our fellowship members produced a movie to tell our story to newcomers. Questions are now being raised about copyright and privacy issues. If we sponsor a Christmas fair and we sing Christmas carols from the Unitarian Universalist hymn book, do we need legal permission? Can we film visitors as they walk past our holiday displays? The  movie includes crowd scenes with two or three hundred people present.

A. Peter Bowden, a children’s television producer who also runs UU Planet Ministry & Media, which offers growth consulting and video production services to congregations, has this to say:

I’m not a lawyer, so please conduct your own thorough research and consult experts. However, in my work with producing documentary-style content for broadcast TV we always get a release form with this simple guideline—if you can tell who it is, get a personal release.”

“When filming crowds at public performances and other large events we generally post signs at entrances to the event notifying those attending that we are filming,” he says. “By entering the event they are thereby giving consent. When we do this we take pictures of the signs to document they were posted.”

“In short,” he says, “signed releases for everything! For people, for corporate logos, for property, for pets.  In the spring of 2009 I made a video for our congregation’s capital campaign (http://www.youtube.com/channingchurch). If you look at that video, which is primarily stills edited together, I only used recent footage with people I recognized and thought we’d have a chance of contacting. We went through the video and listed every person clearly recognizable. All of these people were contacted for permission. We went with simple verbal and email permission to be included and were explicit in stating the video would be posted online. I would have liked written releases but the verbal/email is better than many churches do.”

The dangers of not being thorough? “All it takes,” Bowden says, “is one person to discover they are in your video (or their former spouse and child are) and you’ve opened a can of worms. Maybe not a lawsuit, but you can quickly regret not doing the work to get permissions. If you have existing footage you want to use you’ll need to make your own judgment call.”

He adds that some public events, such as newsworthy gatherings, have different standards. “As for music, if it has a valid copyright you need to get permission to use it in a video. Just last week I saw a UU video on YouTube that had a notice posted under it stating that the audio for the video had been disabled due to potential copyright violation. In the YouTube environment people and organizations are getting very sloppy. I advise organizations not to fall into this trap.” Information on obtaining copyright permissions for some UU materials is here.

In addition to his work with congregations,  Bowden created and moderates the website uuplanet.tv, a Unitarian Universalist video network. Through this site he is collecting and sharing all of the best UU television and video content from across the web.

Book table group offers discussions, solutions

An online community for congregational book table folks has been created at http://uubooktables.forumsplace.com/.

The UU Book Table Forum provides a place to discuss problems and solutions, make book recommendations, hear about new titles, get new ideas, and support each other, says Jim Davenport, cochair of the bookstore at First UU Church in Columbus, Ohio, and creator of the online forum.

All bookstore managers, volunteers, authors, and other book enthusiasts are invited to contribute to the discussions, he says. “One of the hallmarks of a Unitarian Universalist community is the openness with which it embraces a diversity of thought and a diversity of people. To serve this questioning community, books covering UU thought, UU history, world religions, spiritualism, social justice, racial justice, GLBT justice, and much more are out there to be found. A UU book table finds these titles and gets them in front of the members of its community for their benefit.”

Davenport explains that, for people new to a UU church or community, the bookstore or book table can be “an inviting refuge amid the sea of well meaning but often daunting post-service fellowship. Visitors can explore the ideas represented by the books on the table, talk with other book-lovers, or just browse in peace.”

He adds, “Book tables are run by volunteers following their own ideas of what books to order and how to run the table. Sometimes they hope to contribute monies to their community from the book sales or at least not run at a deficit. There hasn’t been a good way for these book table managers to talk with their counterparts across the country and the world until now.”

An earlier InterConnections article on bookstores is here. Contact the UUA Bookstore for information on starting a book table.

Recent uuworld.org articles useful to congregational leaders

The gospel of inclusion – Article about the experience of All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Okla., when it welcomed about 200 Pentecostal Christians. By Kimberly French. Fall 2009

UUA staff restructuring – Announcement of a new organizational structure in which staff will be divided into two groups: Ministries and Congregational Support, headed by the Rev. Harlan Limpert, and Administration, led by UUA Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery and Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and vice president of Finance. By Jane Greer. 9.14.09

Morales and Hallman reflect on UUA presidential race – UUA President Peter Morales, the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, and their campaign chiefs talk about their recent presidential campaigns, including travel, technology, the challenges of identifying delegates, and how congregations might help the next UUA election go more smoothly. By Donald E. Skinner. 9.21.09

Reach out to become a public church. Argues that a Unitarian Universalist church should see the greater good as its primary purpose. By Michael Durall, church consultant 9.7.09

Youth, adults bond through service trips. Service trips are a great way to help people in need. By Donald E. Skinner. 8.31.09

Sign up for a weekly email alert about new articles at uuworld.org, including information useful for adult study groups and worship, food for thought for lay leaders, and other stories about acts of social justice, UU history, and inspirational UUs and congregations.

New website streamlines information updating

There’s a new, easier way for congregations to update their membership and leadership lists with the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Until now, congregations were asked annually to fill out a paper form listing new members, as well as members who had died or departed, and to indicate changes in leadership.

The UUA uses the membership list for purposes of mailing the UU World magazine and the leaders and staff list for keeping a record of congregational leaders, including key committee chairs, who appear in the annual UUA Directory.

Now these changes can all be done electronically at a new website, my.UUA.org. One person from a congregation (or up to three, if desired) can be authorized to change a congregation’s list of members. They can do the following:

• Add and delete people to/from the membership list

• Change addresses and edit other contact information for member households

• Print a copy of the membership list

• Edit the congregation’s list of leaders and staff

Congregations are asked to update leadership data at least annually so that new leaders appear in the UUA Directory. In the past, the UUA Data Services Office sent a paper form listing elected leaders, committee chairs, and board members during the month of a congregation’s annual meeting. Now leaders can update this information continually so that new members receive the UU World as soon as possible.  Congregations will be reminded by email annually to update their information. Paper forms will still be sent to those congregations that do not have an email address on file with the UUA.

For more information look at the my.UUA.org Accounts FAQ pages, including a 14-page instruction manual that explains the steps for viewing and editing information. To authorize someone to use the system for your congregation, email Nick Rafeal with the person’s name, email address, and mailing address, and the name and title of the congregational leader who gives authorization. Only the person(s) designated by your congregation, plus district staff and certain UUA staff members, have access to this data. This new procedure is separate from the process used by congregations to update their  annual Certification of Membership, to be done by February 1 of each year.