6H for a Relentlessly Useful UUA (Cooley)

We all know that as the world around us changes, congregations need to change as well. Doing it the way it was done 50 years ago doesn't work anymore. And I don't believe it will work for our Unitarian Universalist Association, either. While there certainly have been changes and reorganizations since 1961, it mostly continues to follow along the same lines, with departments that have similar-sounding names and that often function as silos – unaware of what other departments are doing. Lest you want to argue with me, first ask me to tell you about my 2013 General Assembly experience, when I got up-close and personal with many different areas with the UUA administration and learned the truth of this siloing first hand.

In addition, I believe that it is in our congregations that our mission and vision is best incarnated. It is through our congregations that we change ourselves, our communities and our culture. Please note that I am not using the traditional definition of “congregation” here, but am expanding it to include any community of faith. For these purposes, a congregation might be a covenanted community or other emerging organization that does not fit the traditional definition.

So what is the UUA (organizationally) supposed to do? How might we have a "relentlessly useful" UUA?  I think that, in part, rather than serving as a denominational entity, the UUA would best serve the needs of congregations (and thus the larger world) by being a macro-congregation. That is, just as individual people participate in a congregation, so do individual congregations participate in the UUA.

In a post over on my blog, I proposed a 6H Approach for congregations to use to best serve their mission. This is a philosophical reorganization that would have ramifications in a congregation's structure. I think the UUA could adapt this model in relationship to the congregations it serves. And this is what it might look like.

Using the 6H Approach, the UUA would be busy...
  • HEALING congregations. Many of our congregations are wounded and struggling. Issues such as clergy misconduct, unhealthy system dynamics (and much more) mean that before we can expect these congregations to best incarnate our UU ideals, they must be given the resources to heal. A part of this would be holding congregations accountable for their own healing by providing opportunities for regular assessment and followthrough. For instance, congregations that have a history of abusing clergy would be required to go through a particular course of action before being allowed to participate in the settlement process.
  • HOLDING congregations in care by providing congregations with the tangible things they might need to lift their vision off the floor. For instance, many of our smaller congregations have difficulty finding and funding such essential positions as bookkeepers and webmasters. The UUA could provide such resources for a much reduced fee, freeing up valuable resources in the congregation for mission. Additionally, the UUA might provide conventional support, such as an updated “Church in the Box” that has what people need to start small covenanted communities: how to advertise, material to use (or where to find it), how to ask for money, things that work well to build community (maybe built on the youth group principles).
  • HEARING congregations. Once congregations are healthy and are being held in care, they can better listen and discern how they are called to minister in the world. Tandi Rogers has done some excellent work on finding a congregation’s sweet spot. Congregations should be encouraged to focus outward – how can they best “Love the Hell out of the World?" The UUA can support this process with tools for discernment and a framework within which congregations can work. Congregations should not be encouraged to hang out in the HOLDING phase as this does not serve our greater mission.
  • HELPING congregations. Once they have discerned their mission in the world, congregations may need assistance and support in bringing their mission to life. The UUA can connect congregations doing similar work (for instance, putting together congregations looking at serving a meal to the homeless, or installing solar panels). This is also where CSAIs and SOCs come in – what sort of questions should congregations be considering? Similarly, UUA social justice programs, such as the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, help congregations live their mission. The UUA can also connect congregations to resources they might not have thought of otherwise, such as alternate revenue streams or interfaith efforts in the same arena.
  • HANDING OFF. Congregations that make it through to this stage are now experts in their mission. Congregations at earlier stages of HEARING and HELPING might be referred to these leadership congregations – much like the Leap of Faith initiative. This also removes from the UUA the burden of providing these resources and places it again in the hands of a congregation. I would encourage certification of leadership congregations with specific areas of leadership identified. The UUA does not have to contain the experts, it just has to know where to find the experts.
  • HOMECOMING. This stage provides the essential accountability and ongoing connection between the UUA as a whole and the member congregations. I see General Assembly being such a celebration, with congregations learning about the resources available at the phase they are currently in as well as the one they aspire to, making connections with other congregations who have discerned similar missions, and getting leadership from leadership congregations identified in the HANDING OFF phase.

Just as with congregations, the UUA could use the 6H Approach not only philosophically, but structurally. The focus would shift from providing resources, to connecting resources – with the exception of special expertise.


  1. Steve Cook10:07 AM

    CI'd like to see this explored very fully, as a way to expand and strengthen the base of our "movement," that has always been within local congregations. Without doubt, there have been too many "Islands of Misfit Toys" created by congregations (to use a trope from some other posts) that need to be connected to the larger UUA and the world around them, but I think a model based on a huge CLF run from Boston (which I fear is the "And Beyond" approach) that largely abandons small, local congregations to stand or fall on their own will, in the long run, transform us into just another national, meliorative agency.

  2. Thanks, Steve! Without a central authority, like the Vatican or another strong denominational authority, I think our strength and movement MUST come from the congregations themselves. History would agree, but though history informs it does not dictate the future. We COULD decide to go with a stronger denominational authority, but I don't think that would be in our best interest.

    Accountability would be key between the UUA and congregations to help make sure we don't end up with too many "Islands of Misfit Toys" - an accountability that I think is currently lacking.

    So I guess I am saying that we need both less central authority and more associational accountability.

  3. Let me rephrase that in the second paragraph: an accountability that I think has been _historically_ lacking.

  4. I see how these "H's" are applied to congregations, and I am reminded of an aphorism meant as a tongue-in-cheek critique of UU organization(s):

    The UUA is an association of congregations ... not people.

    I hope we don't forget that, without people, there would be no congregations, no UUA, and no UU "movement" to speak of. Yet many of the problems touched on above seem in my eyes rooted in how we place organizations and institutions above the people they were intended to serve, many times even leading to genuine hurt and alienation.

    So ... how do we apply these "H's" to bringing us back to congregations and other institutions serving people -- indeed, putting people first?

  5. Desmond, good point, though my understanding is that the UUA has dropped the "of congregations" for the most part.

    I think that the UUA can do its job best by serving congregations (however one defines them) and allowing our congregations to serve the people. This is why the first post I wrote, over on my personal blog, was directed at congregations.


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