July 2008 merger of New Hampshire-Vermont and Northeast districts to offer revitalization and increased services.
“The Northeast District had been losing members and congregations for the past 40 years,” said Roger Comstock, the Northeast District’s representative on the UUA’s Board of Trustees. In 2002, both districts lost a combined five congregations when the Canadian UU churches left the UUA. “We began a conversation about merging,” he said. “From our point of view it made a lot of sense.”
The UUA’s 20 districts play an important role in providing services and assistance to UU congregations. Each district has a district executive or district consultant. The district executive or consultant serves as the UUA’s representative in each district. District program staff can also include full- or part-time growth, religious education, and small-church specialists. Each district has its own elected board of trustees and a representative serving on the UUA’s Board of Trustees.
At their annual meetings, both held in April, the New Hampshire-Vermont District endorsed the proposed consolidation unanimously, and the Northeast District voted overwhelmingly in favor of the move with 58 for and 6 against.
Some of the consolidation process is already underway. The UUA and the two districts hired a new district executive for the combined districts, the Rev. Mary Higgins, who began in July 2006, and a half-time small church specialist, the Rev. Karen Brammer. The two district offices have also been merged into one in Concord, N.H.
The task force for consolidation proceeded smoothly in its three years of work. “We took our time and did it carefully,” Sanders said. “Every time we got to a concern, we’d stop and address it.” Higgins, the new district executive, concurred: “The merger demanded that everyone pay attention to the rough spots and not smooth over them. It was a process that honored differences and focused on what was to be gained.”
The joint task force has appointed several committees to oversee the transition, including a finance committee, to study the process of dealing with both districts’ endowments; a bylaw committee; a nominating committee; and a symbolism committee, charged with a naming contest and developing a logo and newsletter for the new district. The symbolism committee will be sponsoring a competition to find a new name for the district, with a winner chosen by October 1, 2007.
One of the main reservations about the consolidation has been related to travel, said Sanders. “People are concerned about the extra distance involved and the increased expense and ecological impact of having to drive farther for meetings,” he said. Another concern has been raised about both districts’ endowments, he said, a matter that has been delegated to the new finance committee.
Both Comstock and the Rev. Will Saunders, the New Hampshire-Vermont UUA board member, will retain their positions until 2009. At that point, Saunders will serve as the board member for the consolidated district until his term expires in 2011, when a new trustee will be elected to represent the consolidated district.
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Jane Greer is a former senior editor of UU World magazine.