Pat Manley is not the sort of person to join a church and just sit in the pews. Eleven years after joining her first Unitarian Universalist congregation, she was elected to serve on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Board of Trustees.
“I only join things that I’m going to participate in,” said Manley, who joined the UUA board as trustee from the Massachusetts Bay District in June 2011.
Manley lives in Holliston, Mass. Her town doesn’t have a UU congregation, so Manley belongs to the nearby UU Area Church at First Parish in Sherborn, Mass. The congregation’s long name resulted from the merger of First Parish in Sherborn and a church in nearby Natick. She and her husband began attending it after their daughter entered college and he proposed they go to Sunday services.
Before long, Manley was serving on a committee to plan the 25th anniversary celebrations of the merger of the two congregations, work that got her noticed by congregational leaders. She was asked to be treasurer, then a board member, and then president—a position she held for three years.
While president, Manley began to attend the North East Leadership School, a weeklong program for leaders of UU congregations that once provided trainings on Cape Cod. She had a crash course on UU history, leadership, worship, and roles within congregations. “I came back with a different understanding of Unitarian Universalism,” said Manley. “And I learned that leading a congregation is different than leading a nonprofit.”
After working for many years as a computer systems analyst, Manley had served as executive director of a nonprofit that provided support to adults with developmental disabilities. She had also served for nine years as a member of the Holliston School Committee. Congregational leadership drew on lessons she had learned in those endeavors, but also required distinct skills and focus.
Excited by her work in the Leadership School, Manley applied to a lay leadership certificate program offered through The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center in Highlands, N.C. It was an intense, yearlong program that combined online learning with periodic gatherings at the retreat center, offering workshops on governance, worship, history, and theology. “It was leadership school on steroids,” Manley said, recalling that she read 40 books and wrote 17 papers. Twenty-three people started the course, and 13 finished it, she said. (The program is no longer offered.)
She began to implement the lessons she learned in the leadership programs in her home congregation. One of her first changes was in the congregation’s stewardship drive, a process that had long been shrouded in secrecy. Manley discovered that no one was privy to the list of the congregation’s largest donors—not the president, and not the minister, either. Manley successfully persuaded the board that she should be able to see the list. And she proceeded to handwrite each of the lead donors a thank-you note. She also sent every other donor a typewritten note that she hand-signed, thanking them for their contribution. “People started coming up to me and told me that no one had ever said thank you before,” Manley said.
She continued to work to help the congregation improve its practices around stewardship and compensation. They worked to become a Fair Share congregation in both the district and the UUA. At the same time, membership grew significantly. In 2004, Sherborn had 150 members. It was recognized as a Breakthrough Congregation by the UUA in 2010, and it now has a membership of 255.
Manley wrote a successful grant proposal for the congregation to enable it to hire a membership coordinator. Another grant enabled them to hire a communications coordinator. The church combined the positions into one part-time job. The work was so helpful to the church that Manley told the district executive about it in hopes other congregations could emulate their work. Manley made a presentation about it to the Massachusetts Bay District Assembly, and soon thereafter started getting involved in district volunteer work. She said yes when she was asked to serve on the district board, and then served as its president for two years.
Manley grew up around the world, the daughter of a Navy officer who relocated the family—which includes three sisters and a brother—every few years. She wanted to be rooted in her own adulthood, and after graduating from Boston University and marrying her husband, Dwight, they decided to settle in Holliston, where they have lived for 35 years. Manley tends a large flower garden outside her home, and also cultivates raspberries and herbs. She’s a frequent pie baker, known for her delicious contributions to the annual church auction. Her lemon meringue pies have been known to fetch $125 each.
Her board work is guided by words her father gave her during difficult labor negotiations she oversaw while on the school committee. Her father became director of the Navy’s Office of Civilian Manpower Management, and he was a veteran negotiator and conflict resolver. “He said, ‘You only make progress when you all roll together’,” says Manley. She keeps this advice in mind on the UUA board when difficult conversations surface.
Her service on the UUA board will come to an end in June of 2013. She has decided not to apply for another term on the board, and she is considering what form her volunteering with the organization will take. “I know I want to serve the movement,” she said. “I truly believe we have the right message for so many people.”
An abridged version of this article appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of UU World ("Training sharpens Manley's skills," page 48).