New arrangement will allow districts to offer a broader range of expertise.
Discussions on the agreement began in 2009 when Clara Barton District Executive Lynn Thomas retired. The Rev. Terasa Cooley, district executive of the Massachusetts Bay, will serve both districts as district executive. Deborah Levering, Clara Barton program consultant, will become director of faith formation. The Rev. Sue Phillips, Massachusetts Bay director of program development, will be director of congregational development. Another person will be hired to be director of leadership development, a position neither district has had. The new staff structure begins July 1.
Clara Barton has 64 congregations in central and western Massachusetts and Connecticut. Massachusetts Bay has 55 congregations in eastern Massachusetts.
The agreement is part of a trend among UUA districts of working more closely with each other. Over the past 10 to 15 years, as communications have improved, including the sharing of information via online “webinars,” the UUA’s 19 districts have been moving toward functioning on a regional basis. They have created five regions covering the United States. For example, Massachusetts Bay, Clara Barton, Ballou Channing, and the Northern New England districts comprise the New England region.
Maris Cornell, president of the Clara Barton District board of directors, said the new relationship will permit Clara Barton to have a district executive without the need for a training period and will give congregations access to a staff member who specializes in leadership development. “Being able to attend to this need alone is most gratifying,” she said. “We’ll have a staff of four rather than two. These are very exciting times for us and for our movement.”
Patricia Manley, chair of the Massachusetts Bay district board of directors said, “I cannot say strongly enough how excited we are about this staff arrangement. We see it as an opportunity to have access to people with specific skill sets that will be very useful to our congregations.”
The two district boards will continue to operate without change.
Cooley said, “One of the great benefits is not only the depth and breadth of skills we will have to offer, but we’ll have a team that can support, encourage, and help train each other, rather than each of us working as lone rangers.”
Both districts’ administrators, Judy Murray in Massachusetts Bay and Mary Ellen Wilson in Clara Barton, will also stay on. Clara Barton will give up its office in Westford, Mass. Massachusetts Bay has an office in Watertown. Cooley said the staff sharing arrangement would cost about the same as having two separate staffs.
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.