Sunday, May 22, 2016

A New Party !

They're talking about a new party again ! Some of the disappointed Sanders voters are going to start a new party ! Feel the excitement !

There has not been a successful new party start up in the United States since the formation of the Republican Party in 1854, 162 years ago. And History is littered with the bones of many an effort. There have been Marxist parties, Socialist parties, populist parties, progressive parties, candidate-based parties, centrist parties, reform parties, revolutionary parties, even the present Green party. And that's just on the center-left side of the spectrum.

Some of those parties, like the Communist Party USA or the Socialist Workers Party are to be sustained presence, not by attracting voters in elections, but by creating a body of professional, or semi-professional, organizers united by a Leninist party structure. But no party, including them, has become an electoral power.

Yet, the dream of new electoral party remains the go-to dream of frustrated progressives whenever their candidate loses. As a threat to Democrats, it has a certain power, but as a sustainable organizational strategy, it is laughable. And its power as a threat is not that the new party might outpoll Democrats, but that it is an organized way to urge people to abstain from the election.

If you step back, it is not surprising that new party formations don't work. Instead of going to where the people are, it is going to where the people are not and waiting for them there.




Sunday, May 15, 2016

Many congregations will not able to handle it.

Another gleaning from the Followup Conference on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry ......

There are significant new regulations coming about the hiring and compensation of employees that may well be beyond the ability of smaller UU congregations to handle.

One area of new regulation is the use of overtime. In order to declare an employee exempt from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the position must meet certain requirements. Those requirements are being tightened, both in terms of overall salary and job definition. The practice of treating some church staff as exempt or salaried employees, paid a certain amount regardless of the number of hours they worked, will be harder to do within the law.

It's all fiendishly complicated, of course, and that is the point of this story. All but the largest of our congregations do not have professional Human Resources personnel on their staff. Richard Nugent of the Office of Church Staff Finances thinks that many of our congregation are not in compliance with labor law already. And in our smallest congregations, these matters are handled by part-term administrative staffs, supervised by volunteer treasurers.

The economic sustainability of our ministries (in the broadest sense) depends on the infrastructure to collect revenue and to legally employ people in an increasingly regulated labor market. Our polity as a religious movement has distributed that infrastructure down to our smallest operating units -- the local congregation.

I don't think that that arrangement is going to work much longer.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Report from Sarah Lammert on Follow Up Conference on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry

Two of my recent posts dealt with issues that came up from at the Follow Up Conference on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry. The Rev. Sarah Lammert was one of the co-conveners on the conference and here is her preliminary report. Much to think about.



May 4-6th, 2016
Twenty-five UU leaders gathered in a follow-up session to last year’s Summit on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry. A lively keynote address was offered as the kickoff event by Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston, authors of "How We Gather" and "Something More”.  

Attendees then worked in smaller groups on two issues: Stewardship Education and Lay Ministry. Using design theory as a frame, the first group looked at how we can re-energize and re-frame the relationship of Unitarian Universalism with money, based on a robust theology of covenant. Participants came up with the idea of curating current resources into an “OWL 4 MONEY” that mimics the very successful all-ages UUA curriculum around human sexuality. A second group worked on a design for unleashing the power of lay ministry. There has long been a yearning in UU circles for an alternative path to doing ministry that is different in scope and less involved than seeking ordination. Recognizing that there are already many forms of lay ministry in the UU universe, participants came up with the idea of building a network of such groups to share best practices around formation and accountability, with the hope of moving toward a reciprocal recognition that could include and encourage diverse forms of recognized lay ministry.  

On the final day, Richard Nugent, Director of the Office of Church Staff Finances, presented a preliminary report (and asked for input) from the ongoing redesign of “UUA Compensation Guidelines” for UU religious professionals. His office is working with a consulting firm in a multi-year, comprehensive process to provide a balanced, just, and achievable set of standards for congregations to compensate their professional staffs for their faithful work. 15 focus groups have already been held with UU religious professionals; the coming year will focus on engaging lay leaders in similar groups, with a rollout expected in 2018.  

An “idea journal” with detail is forthcoming from the organizers of the conference. For more coverage, watch the special on-site edition of the VUU. Link here to The Lively Tradition blog posts on the conference. Come to the workshop “Economic Sustainability of Ministries: An Ongoing Discussion,” at General Assembly, Saturday June 25, 3:00 – 4:15PM Hyatt Regency Union AB.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Zero Sum Game?

Lay Ministry and Ordained Ministry.

Would training more lay ministers to perform some of the functions of ministry drive down the economic prospects of ordained ministers? 

Would small and struggling congregations choose to hire a trained lay minister rather than an ordained minister? Would a larger congregation choose to supplement their ordained parish minister with a few trained lay ministers, some of whom might even be volunteer, rather than add an ordained associate, or assistant, minister? 

You could argue that more trained lay ministers would inevitably have that effect.  

You could also argue that deploying more ministers, of whatever level of training, is essential to the growth of Unitarian Universalism. And that’s where our economic sustainability ultimately lies. 

The economic sustainability of Unitarian Universalism is a wickedly complex problem. There are a lot of moving parts: Ministerial indebtedness, the high cost of preparation, tight congregational budgers, soaring real estate prices in many areas, the income stagnation of the middle and working class people. A lot of proposed fixes just shift the problem to somewhere else in the system.

If there was an obvious answer somebody would have done it already. 

Does training lay ministers just shift the burden to the already ordained ministers as a group, if not individually?

Your thoughts, please?









Monday, May 09, 2016

Two Ideas on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry

Two ideas to advance Economic Sustainability of Ministry.

Two ideas came out of the recent Summit on Economic Sustainability of Ministry.

#1. We need “OWL FOR MONEY”. There is a soul sickness and an ignorance about money in our society. We need to an educational program for different ages and circumstances that teaches about money and leads people in a process to discern their values and relationship to the economic dimensions of life. We can’t just talk about stewardship and generosity without working with people and their whole economic lives. Imagine a program that has sequences aimed at high schoolers, young adults, middle adults, retiring adults, lay leaders in congregations, and stewardship leaders. 

#2. We need a network of organizations that are training lay ministers. And that are more than just a few. Those organizations need to learn from each other, develop best practices and begin the work on unifying around common systems of accountability. They need to develop ethical guidelines for lay ministers. Lay ministry training is already going on; no one organization, like the UUA staff, can pull all of it under one system at this point. In fact, more organizations from individual congregations to the professional organizations or identity based groups should be welcomed into the work. Let a hundred flowers bloom. 

These were the top ideas to come out of the Summit. 

For background: the Summit is convened by some units of the UUA’s national staff to advise and consult on the wicked problems in the economic dimensions of organized liberal religion. The two organizers are Sarah Lammert from the Department of Ministries and Faith Development and Richard Nugent of the Office of Church Staff Finances. 


A first Summit was held last June in St. Louis and a followup last week in Boston, MA. Various staff groups of the UUA were represented as well the Presidents of the two UU identified seminaries. Professional organizations like the UUMA and LREDA were there as well. 

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Whole GenX UUA President Thing

The UUA President; Generations and Ages.

Allison Miller and Susan Frederick Gray were guests on the CLF’s VUU video broadcast and the observation was made that either one of them would be the first Gen X UUA President, after the long (and oppressive) rule of the Boomers.

The historical fact that the last four UU Presidents were of the Baby Boomer generation was brought up.  

The last four UUA Presidents were born in a narrow span — 1946 to 1949 — it is true. But that also means that they were elected over a broad range of ages. Schulz was 35, Buehrens was 46, Sinkford was 55 and Morales was 64. 

I think the issue is less passing the torch to a new generation (Boomers to GenX) as it is choosing leaders who are in the lifestage appropriate to leading the UUA. 

The Swiss psychologist Erik Erickson hypothesized a lifestage process of development. 

He divided adulthood into three stages of adulthood: a younger (up to 35), middle (35-60) and older (over 60). 

The stage of younger adult is defined by the contradiction between “intimacy” and “isolation”. 

The middle stage, in which first three Boomer UUA Presidents served, is a defined by a contradiction between “generativity” and “stagnation.” The current President was elected within the range defined as middle adulthood. 

The older stage is defined by the contradiction between “integrity” and “despair”.

The younger adult stage is defined by the intimacy vs. isolation. This is not only about finding a life partner, but also making the decisions about the people you are committed to as cohort.

It is not hard to see the call to become a denominational leader is an act which completes the task of choosing cohort of one’s life companions, and the completion of the lifestage of young adulthood. 

The task of the middle adult life stage is “Generativity” vs "stagnation." 

Generativity is sometimes defined as “creativity between the generations” and in family terms is about setting the conditions for the young and education. It also surfaces in life as the creation and building of new organizations, organizational redevelopment, strategy setting for the future, building programs. Under the right conditions, this is the most productive time of life. 

We should expect that leaders of sizable organizations would be in this lifestage, and younger in it, if the work to be done is building, creating, expanding, growing.

I have observed in myself and in other Boomers that the Generative work we do as we move to the end of our Generative stage is what I call ‘perfecting work:” the work of improving what we have done, fixing mistakes, creating better management of the processes we have been working on. The work that so many of us have been doing around governance, stewardship and leadership development is all about perfecting what we have spent our lives doing.

One example is President Morales’ growth strategy of “stop repelling visitors!” We have been doing Sunday congregational worship for quite a while; let’s finally do it right. It’s a perfecting energy at work.

So, it is appropriate that many would want to elect someone in their 40’s as UUA President, because of where they are in their stage of life work. The Boomers are passing out of the Generative stage of their lives.  The GenXer’s are in the full bloom of that lifestage. 






Wednesday, April 06, 2016

84% Democrats: What does that mean?

The UU World ran this article summarizing a recent poll about the political affiliations of various religious groupings in the USA. In brief, it shows that 84% of UU identify as Democrats. Only historic Black denominations are more Democratic.

Who was surprised that UU's were as strongly affiliated with the Democratic Party as this poll shows?

What does it mean?

What one thinks about this probably has a lot to do with what you think the highest value of Unitarian Universalism is.

If you think that inclusion and diversity is the highest value, then the poll is discouraging news. We are not very good at making Republicans welcome in our congregations..

But if you think that living our faith is the highest value, the poll shows our growing maturity as a faith community.

Everybody says that we live in a politically polarized time. That means more than that people of similar political opinions are forming tighter associations with each other. It means that both liberalism and conservatism as becoming clearer, more defined, and more ways of life.

Corey Robin argues that modern conservatism is defined by the defense of local hierarchies of power, such as the power of the father in the traditional family or the owner of a business. Wherever there is a hierarchy, conservatives instinctively try to preserve it against any democratizing influence. Conservatives say they oppose the state, but only when the state is breaking down the many small kingdoms of the world.

This same line of thought shows up in the popular meme that the political differences in the USA all come down to differences in our parenting preferences: the authoritarian parent vs the nurturing parent.

The Republican Party has become the conservative party in our time. The GOP is becoming ideologically conservative; it supports the relationships of domination and subordination in just about any sphere that you can think of.

Unitarian Universalist thinking has been moving quite deliberately in the opposite direction. I think that our commitment to become an "anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural religious movement" has set a moral imperative before us that is radicalizing us. We are increasingly seeing the petty tyrants and small kingdoms of this world, even in our churches and congregations, and opposing them.

You can even say that our vision of covenant as the ideal of all social relationships as being a direct contradiction of conservatism. A covenantal relationship is not one of domination and subordination but one of equality and mutuality.

I may be wrong, but I don't think that the 84% UU identification with the Democratic Party is really based on a commitment to the Party itself. I think it's anti-conservatism at work.

We are growing into the full meaning of our theological commitments. The evidence that we are gathering at one end of the political spectrum in a country polarizing over fundamental differences is a result of, and a sign of, that growth.