Congregational Governance is Soul Work

Professional Development continues at General Assembly. I am attending the Unitarian  Universalist University (UUU)  track “Governance.”

I appreciate that the workshop leaders from Unity Consulting (from Unity Church, Unitarian in St. Paul, MN) ground the workshop and this work of governing congregations right away in both our UU congregational polity and our theology.

How can governance liberate UU congregations to transform souls and bless the world?

They jump right into the Cambridge Platform, reminding us that since 1648 our congregational churches have sought to “walk in love within, among, and beyond” our congregations.

Point two raised from the Cambridge Platform – The consent of the governed first surfaced within the Cambridge Platform.  The  idea that a group of people should decided how they are governed that later surfaced in the Declaration of Independence was first articulated in European America in this church document.

The third point from the platform – the congregation is not a geographic construct. It is not the parish, but the community of visible saints. We are called into covanental relationship for transformation.

The workshop leaders reminded us of Martin Buber’s idea that human beings are “promise-making, promise keeping, promisebreaking, promiserenewing” creatures. The added, that we usually forget the last two.

We are covenantal people and church governance is a covenantal practice.

We can not engage in good governance until and unless we identify our values and our mission – for whom and to what end do we keep covenant and do our work?

The workshop is based on helping congregations learn the Carver Model of Policy Governance. I have gone back and forth on the Carver model and policy governance, but I am seeing through my engagement with this workshop that policy governance is not about losing the democratic process or role of the congregation in our congregrational polity as much as it is about role clarification, so that non-profit boards don’t end up micro managing their staff and can concentrate on defining values and mission and allow their staff to concentrate on means and ends.  It’s only day one, and I’m sure I’ll learn more – one of the big learnings of day one is that a big misconception of the Carver Model is that it set things in stone and it does not, it is supposed to be adaptable.

I found this tool helpful from the end of day one’s five hour session –

Indicators of Effective Governance in Congregations:

Trust – is trust present in the system? Does the congregation trust the leadership, lay and staff?  Do they trust you to hold the totality?  Do you engage in trust building activities?

– Can members of the congregation articulate the shared values, mission and vision of the congregation and is there investment in creating shared values of the congregation? Can everyone in the congregation give the same elevator speech about the congregation and its mission?

Creative engagement
-Is there room for new ideas?  Can people step back and take  a balcony view – when mistakes happen, do people feel blamed and shamed or is there an environment of “Oh well, let’s  try again?”

Investment and Commitment – Do meetings begin and end on time? Are people satisfied in their service? Are they living out their UU values? At the end of terms of service are they burned out or energized by their service?

Holistic View
– The totality of the system is foremost.  Are we able to understand and talk among one another?

Partnership – Are we able to establish cooperative partnerships with other non profits?

Orientation to outcomes – How do we measure the impact we are having? Are the results we’re getting the ones we’re seeking?  Are we getting the results articulated in the mission and values?

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