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Board approves two-year project to shape UUA’s vision

Will invite congregations to use Appreciative Inquiry to develop ‘shared vision for denomination’s future.’
By Jane Greer And Christopher L. Walton
11.29.10

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UUA Board of Trustees

UUA Board of Trustees (UUA/Nancy Pierce)

At its November teleconference, the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees voted to launch a two-year project to engage congregations and other stakeholders in developing a shared vision for the UUA. The project will use the Appreciative Inquiry organizational development process.

The goals of the board’s Congregationally-based Appreciative Inquiry Linkage Project are to deepen the UUA’s understanding of congregations’ values and aspirations and to develop a “compelling shared vision for the denomination’s future, which will shape and direct strategic and operation decisions going forward,” according to a proposal submitted by Amanda Trosten-Bloom, a consultant from the Corporation for Positive Change and an expert on Appreciative Inquiry. Trosten-Bloom, a member of the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colo., will lead the Association in its use of the Appreciative Inquiry.

“The process is about gathering information from congregations,” said UUA Moderator Gini Courter.

“We believe in congregational polity,” Trosten-Bloom explained. “It makes sense that the UUA staff and board would want to be as connected as possible to the people in the pews when they’re making decisions at the national level.”

According to a timeline proposed by Trosten-Bloom, planning and training for the project would take place between now and the summer of 2011, with a denomination-wide introduction to Appreciative Inquiry around the time of the General Assembly in June 2011. Clusters of congregations would meet with Appreciative Inquiry facilitators in early 2012, with the board and UUA staff developing a shared vision statement using reports from the congregational clusters during the board’s April 2012 meeting.

Courter said the UUA staff was still looking over the proposal and would be making recommendations about how to train congregations to use Appreciative Inquiry.

The board hopes to use Appreciative Inquiry to achieve “linkage” in Policy Governance terms. The board adopted Policy Governance as its system of governance in July 2009. In Policy Governance, “linkage” refers to supporting relationships between the board and its “sources of authority and accountability.” The board identified these sources as the UUA’s member congregations; current and future UUs; the “heritage, traditions, and ideals of Unitarian Universalism”; “the vision of Beloved Community”; and “the Spirit of life, love, and the holy.” Through linkage, the UUA board seeks to understand the values of its sources of authority, enabling it to govern in a way that is accountable to these sources. Trosten-Bloom said that the AI process would incorporate the voices of historically marginalized groups, including youth and young adults.

UUA President Peter Morales has used Appreciative Inquiry before and is a strong supporter of its adoption. “I am enthusiastic about AI as a tool to help our congregations focus upon what is most valuable to their members,” he told UU World via email. “I see the benefits of this process primarily as threefold: helping our congregations have important conversations that can help them become more relevant and vital, helping to build relationships among congregations, and helping the UUA to shape programs and workshops that respond to the aspirations of our congregations.”

A form of Appreciative Inquiry was used at the 2008 General Assembly to help congregational leaders identify UUA priorities.


In other business at its November 18 phone meeting, the board heard reports from the Commission on Social Witness about Actions of Immediate Witness and from the Ministerial Fellowship Committee about a plan to reduce the number of MFC meetings each year.

David May, head of the UUA’s elected Commission on Social Witness and a member of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston, Tex., told the board that his five-member commission had begun an informal survey about the value of Actions of Immediate Witness. The board has expressed concerns that AIWs, which are social justice resolutions introduced by petition at each year’s General Assembly, are too time-consuming and are not adequately representative of the UUA’s congregations. May said that a majority of the people the commission had consulted want to keep AIWs in some form, however.

One of the biggest reasons for keeping AIWs, May told the board, was that the resolution-by-petition process allows General Assembly delegates to raise immediate issues that can’t be handled by the four-year Congregational Study/Action Issue process that produces Statements of Conscience. AIWs can respond to important issues right away, rather than go through a long, deliberative process. AIWs also serve an important function in representing the current GA’s position on different issues to the outside world, May said.

May said the CSW’s current thinking is that AIWs should be retained, but said that the number of AIWs considered by delegates in plenary sessions could be reduced by using rank-order voting to reflect delegate interest and judgment of importance. Currently, delegates may approve placing up to six AIWs on the agenda. In addition, May said, procedures should be developed to encourage more congregational and advocate collaboration on AIWs before GA and to facilitate congregational action on AIWs after they’ve been adopted, including reporting back at the next GA. Some, but not all, changes may require bylaw revisions.

UUA Moderator Gini Courter said she was concerned that the current AIW process requires three plenary sessions, which it might be hard to accommodate at the 2012 “Justice General Assembly” in Phoenix, Ariz., which delegates at the 2010 GA voted to dedicate to immigrant justice, asking that denominational business be limited. “If we follow the current bylaws, we have to have plenaries on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,” she said. “The process doesn’t allow much flexibility.”

May said that the CSW would be taking AIW scheduling into consideration as it does its research for the final report.

The Commission on Social Witness will be meeting on December 3. Its final report on AIWs will be sent to the board in January.

David Friedman, trustee from the St. Lawrence District and board liaison to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, reported that the MFC had written a letter requesting support from the UUA board and administration for an experiment in 2011 that would decrease the number of MFC meetings from three times a year to two.

The MFC, the board-appointed committee that credentials ministers, would still see the same number of candidates, but would increase the number of panels at each meeting from two to three. Instead of having two panels of seven persons at a meeting, there would be three panels of five or six. Both meetings would be held in Boston.

The move, said the Rev. Wayne Arnason, chair of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee and co-minister of the West Shore UU Church in Cleveland, Ohio, would decrease costs. “There is a debate going on about whether credentialing costs too much money,” Arnason wrote in an email. “The MFC wanted to be responsive to this concern by experimenting with a less costly system of meetings and panels, and to determine whether the integrity of our process would be compromised in any way.”

Friedman said that UUA bylaws might have to be changed in order to allow the experiment. The current bylaws mandate that the MFC have 14 people on the panels, specifying the number of ministers, non-ministers, and board members. During the experiment, there would be 15 or more panelists and the composition of panels might have to change. UUA Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery will be contacting the UUA’s legal counsel to see if the bylaws would allow such an experiment.

UUA Secretary Tom Loughrey, trustee from the Pacific Southwest District, presented plans for an optional trip to the U.S.-Mexico border for UUA trustees immediately preceding the board meeting scheduled in Phoenix, Ariz., in January 2011. An optional three-day pre-meeting trip is being planned in which board members will be able to visit Nogales, a town spanning the Mexican-U.S. border, and meet with members of No More Deaths, a ministry of the UU Church of Tucson that provides humanitarian aid to people trying to enter the U.S. by walking across the desert. The trip will include meetings and social events with members of the Tucson congregation and the UU Congregation in Amado, Ariz.

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