Thursday, June 07, 2007

Serving Congregations?

Well now, it seems that just everyone buys this new mantra that the purpose of the UUA is to 'serve congregations' and therefore, it makes perfect sense for the Independent Affiliates to show that they 'model interdependence by engaging congregations' or some such pile-up of verbified nouns and nounified verbs that pass as UU-speak. Everyone is buying the basic stated premise of the "Massacre of the Independents."

OK, I am being a bit strident, but I am feeling so ironic that it is causing narcissism in that all compasses point to me.

My point: organizations are complex environments and an interdependent web in which each part and parcel may have many roles and results. Precipitious change in the environment can throw the whole balance of nature out of whack.

So what role do the IA's play in the overall environment of the UUA?

1. They are intellectual centers. Congregations are not intellectual centers in which new ideas are developed, and old traditions reclaimed and revived. Congregations are united around their worship and tend to gravitate toward their own center. A GA in which there were unlimited congregationally developed workshops would have 500 sessions on how to grow and 500 sessions on how to avoid unnecessary theological controversy. IA's are portals in which new ideas, new perspectives and new associations come into our association. The former would document hopes and failures; the latter successes.

2. IA's play a role in developing the next generation of ministerial leaders. It's an entry point for seminarians who follow their interest into an IA, and then meet ministers already in fellowship. IA's give new ministers an opportunity to be involved in developing programs and presentations at GA.

3. IA's are content providers to the association -- turning out papers, position papers, pamphlets, programs, curriculums etc. Some of them are useful to congregations and some are not.

Who was it who first drew the distinction between foxes and hedgehogs. Maybe Isaiah Berlin? Anyway: hedgehogs know one thing -- the hedge that they live under -- and they know it very well. Foxes, on the other hand, know lots of things because they travel far and wide.

The whole "everything for the congregations" raises the banner of "All Power to the Hedgehogs." But we need foxes too. Bloggers, Independent Affiliates, the seminaries are all foxy people and organizations that bring in the new, cross-pollinate, spread ideas around, and keep things fresh.

I am afraid that the board is damaging our ecosystem by this large scale purge of our IA's.

BTW, I think that the focus on "congregations" and "congregational polity" -- which I have always been a fan of -- mis-states the central problem in Unitarian Universalism -- so almost anything can be done in its name. But that is for another post.

4 comments:

Ellis said...

::shrugs:: I don't really get the whole IA controversy. But my congregation is definitely a place where new ideas are developed, and old traditions reclaimed and revived. I feel pretty foxy at my church.

Zanne said...

Thank you for the foxes and hedgehogs analogy. I've been trying to figure out how to articulate this myself. Much of the commentary I've heard (mostly among ministerial circles) has posited that the work that IA's do should really be happening within the local congregations instead. I keep feeling stuck, wondering how to explain why that won't work.

Many IA's are essentially focus groups. It's a rare local congregation that has enough people with the same interest/passion/identity to sustain large, ongoing projects and discussions; instead, we form groups that span wider regions, to bring together the handful of interested and passionate individuals who want to do the work.

It seems to me that the work of these focus groups does benefit the congregations, even if it's not manifested in relationships with particular local congregations. But perhaps I'm just not understanding what is meant by "serving congregations" in this context?

Anonymous said...

I am very well-acquainted with one of the independent affiliates that lost their status, one which began as a ministry of a congregation, then got its own 501 (c)(3) but remains very much intertwined with the congregation in which it began -- it's an extension of the ministry of that church.

Call me crazy, but if the presenting issue is that independent affiliates are eating up the GA workshop slots that could go to congregations, why would the UUA board not proceed on a path that simply changed the rule about allocation of GA workshop slots? And if the issue is that the bar is too low for establishing IA status, communicate the raising of the bar and its purposes and invite folks to re-apply and see if they match.

As much as I appreciate and agree with your deeper analysis, LT, there is also something about simple relational ethics and transparent governance of an organization at play here. The logic does not add up. Why should we be playing guessing games at this?

Robin Edgar said...
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