Special BOT Meeting, May 20, 2020 — Facing the Year Ahead

by Pam Collins, Board President

To weather the “perfect storm” of COVID-19 reality and attempting to live into the expanded charge of the new By-Laws, your Board of Trustees agreed to a special meeting to consider two questions:

  1. What steps do we need to take to move forward effectively in the near future?
  2. What is, or should be, the relationship between our UU values and our work as a Board?

These are big questions and the Zoom hour we spent on them wasn’t sufficient to address all the details, but we did make some sound decisions that will set a context for moving forward.

Some of you may already know that last week, the UUA made the recommendation that UU congregations continue with virtual services until May 2021.  (See the message from the UUA president here:  https://www.uua.org/pressroom/press-releases/message-uua-president-updated-guidance-gathering).  I found that to be shocking and sobering, both from the perspective of what that means for our congregation on so many fronts, but also for the reality check on the extent to which the virus has us in its grip.  But the recommendation is also a highly responsible and selfless suggestion.  It truly puts the welfare of individuals and communities above that of the denomination.  (Although it could be argued that in the long run, it will strengthen the respect of the denomination as we live our values through making hard choices).

Staying virtual for a year not only means maintaining the heightened energy and commitment it takes to put together virtual services, but it also has fiscal and psychological ramifications for our congregation, as well as challenging our creativity and flexibility in maintaining all the modes of expressing our UU values that we are used to engaging in, to say nothing of our expressed dream of an improved space in which to gather, teach, worship, plan and play.   As much as the Board is beginning to be aware of the full ramifications of this, I suspect there are aspects that won’t be obvious until they’re upon us.  To that end, Rev. Joe has made the recommendation to establish a special task force to help us think through and execute strategies for maintaining the integrity, solvency, and energy of our congregation during this rare and challenging time, an idea that the Board heartily endorsed. Exactly what this task force will look like and who will populate it is evolving, but it is front and center in our thoughts, and we will keep you informed.

Our second question for consideration involved the interplay between our UU values and our roles as Board members.  Some of the questions related to this are, how do our personal UU values influence our behaviors and actions as congregational leaders?  What is the role of the Board in guiding the congregation in ways commensurate with UU values?  And finally, how do we support each other in expanding our understanding of what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist?  Many seekers come to us because we are a safe haven for personal and spiritual exploration, and a source of ethical and spiritual inspiration free of the confines of more traditional religious sects.  But how deeply do we understand UU values, history, and vision, and how do we expand our knowledge these things?

Rev. Joe has, obviously, been a strong advocate for this deepening of our UU understanding, but another impulse to considering this was the change to the By-Laws that articulated a role for the Board as “visionary,” the hope being that rather than just being re-active, the Board would become pro-active, helping the congregation to define itself not only as it is but as it wishes to be.  At our Board retreat last January, we listed working in that direction as one of our goals for 2020.  (Little did we know then what kind of challenges we would be facing in this COVID-defining year).

On paper the goal sounds exciting and prophetic, but in practice it’s more difficult to achieve.  Despite our efforts to address it, it quickly became clear that a 90 minute Board meeting once per month did not allow adequate time for such soul-searching exploration.  Furthermore, conducting the business of the congregation and having soul-searching discussions did not sit comfortably in the same space and context.  (Because despite the aspirations of the new By-Laws, the business of the congregation still needs to get done.)  

But this Board is inclined to take both charges seriously.  Our solution was to commit to quarterly “mini-retreats” throughout the year to devoted to exploring more visionary, philosophical, spiritual issues of leadership, and leave the business meetings to business.  I’m impressed that the Board is in unanimous agreement to extending their commitment in this way, and it is a mark of their deep caring for this community, as well as their commitment to UU values, that they are embracing this more esoteric visionary and spiritual aspect of leadership.

Let me close with this observation.  Who we are (all of us) as UU’s and how we will survive the restrictions the pandemic has demanded, are inseparable.  So much of what it means to be members of a UU congregation is expressed and supported by our human, physical interactions.  The hugs, smiles, spontaneous conversations, social gatherings, singing together, speaking our covenant together, touches of recognition, support and affection, watching people place their stones of sorrow and joy…all these things are currently held hostage by an inescapable act of nature and may continue to be for an uncomfortably long time.  How do we hold on in that reality?  I know that our commitment to UU values is deep and abiding…I’ve seen it in so many of you.  Our values have roots beyond physical “church.”  Clearly it is time, as the song says, to go to the well.  Draw nourishment into our roots from deeper, less visible waters.  But we are human, and as humans we are pack animals.  Community is essential to our survival.  It is going to take all of us, in all of our myriad perspectives and super powers, to draw from that well and bring it to the surface, to manifest it in new and creative ways to keep our community whole and thriving.  “We [must be] the one’s we’ve been waiting for.”