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Claiming the promise, round 2

Continuing the conversation with congregational presidents.
By William G. Sinkford And Gini Courter
January/February 2005 1.1.05

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Last year, we issued a special invitation to our congregational presidents to come to General Assembly. We offered free registration and a chance to help shape the agenda of our liberal religious movement. More than 300 congregations responded to our invitation.

The experience of being able to meet with so many congregational leaders for several hours on the Saturday afternoon of GA was deeply gratifying for both of us. But more important, the experience was potentially transformative for Unitarian Universalism. It got our congregational presidents into conversation and into relationship with one another. It was a first step in establishing them as a primary leadership group in our movement. This was a huge step forward in claiming the promise of the nonhierarchical way our autonomous congregations and our Association work together.

The term for this is congregational polity, and it is part of the very bedrock of Unitarian Universalism, dating back more than 350 years. Congregational independence was in no way intended to mean congregational isolation, but when we asked the more than 300 congregational presidents at GA how many of their congregations had a relationship with a neighboring church, only a dozen or so raised their hands. It was a sign of how isolated our congregations are from one another and from our larger family of faith. The gathering of those local Unitarian Universalist leaders at last June's GA, participating in the discernment and the decision making for this denomination, was a big step toward correcting the balance.

We want to continue the conversation with our congregational leaders; we consider this so important that we have taken the unusual step of writing a shared "Our Calling" column to underscore our point. General Assembly is the coming together of the delegates of our Unitarian Universalist congregations to do the business of the Association: to make real the covenant that binds us. We want to use our time at GA to shape the direction for our future, to witness to our values, and to forge the relationships that are at the heart of our faith. Our elected lay leaders are without question the right people to conduct that business.

And so, with the agreement of the UUA's Board of Trustees and its GA Planning Committee, I want to invite you to join us from June 23 to 27 in Fort Worth, Texas. GA registration will again be free for congregational presidents or presidents-elect (or a congregation's highest elected lay leader if called by another title), one per congregation.

We know that for our Association to be truly healthy, our congregations need to begin to set the expectation and to provide funding for their presidents to come to GA every year. We also know that it takes time to change congregational culture, not to mention congregational budgets. So in addition to offering free registration again this year, we plan to offer a declining share of registration costs over the next three years as well.

Our congregational leaders loved being at General Assembly last June. What they loved best was not the programming, although they loved that; and not the worship, although they loved that. What they loved best was the opportunity to be in conversation with and to forge relationships with their peers. And when we asked them what they wanted from the Association, their response was that they wanted more.

Well, we're offering you more. Make your plans now. We need to see you in Fort Worth this June.

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