From Good Grief to Good Governance
During the final plenary session of General Assembly, UUA Moderator Gini Courter spoke at some length relative to the over length of her Moderator’s Report about congregational governance. She made a lot of the same points she made at the ends of the Governance track at UU University (and, yes that was way cool having Gini be the closing 15 minutes of that two-day 10 hour affair).
I think Gini is tops, the best, and it’s obvious that she has the overall respect of the overwhelming majority of delegates and I personally have never met anyone who thinks she’s done a poor job as Moderator. Quite the opposite.
What follows is my best attempt at capturing what Gini said. I wont’ claim it to be an exact quote as I typed as fast as I could, but missed some things and had put in some words and phrases here and there.
Gini said that if governance at the UUA level is clear it can be a better model for our congregations and that over her time as moderator and that she has recognized matches and similarities between the governance of the UUA and our congregations.
Some of these similarities are – there tends to be a mystery about who holds power and how they get it. There are congregations where duly elected boards where some self appointed individual or committee is holding power and duly appointed boards are afraid to make decisions for fear of offending the self appointed power be it an individual or committee.
Some congregations are expecting ministers to parent them out of sticky situations. In good economic times things are fine, but when it comes time to make hard economic decisions in tough economic times, we pay the price for not being clear about who we authorize to make decisions in our congregations. Our vices that become habits become really bad habits in bad economic times
Gini recalled a conversation she with a minister about governance and the minister said “We’ve stopped letting the crazies ride the bus.”
Gini told us she told that minister, that was not the language she would use, but the folks who drive (our congregational busses) should be the ones who are clear that they are driving in the direction the majority want to go.
We need to have holy conversations – that generation vision, mission goals and stay on those courses.
We have to have conversations about staff compensations and things, but some negative people turn it into their personal discontent and we’re afraid of the pledge that might walk out the door, we have to say we don’t make decisions based on the pledge that walks out the door or a view of one self-appointed power or committee.
Gini recommends the practices of the governance track and said the path to power is not hold the congregation or minister hostage, or have a personal agenda.
No minister can save us or get anything accomplished in that environment. We have to get right the relationships between elected boards, called ministers and volunteer committees.
Isolation is also something we have to overcome. We have to talk to each other. If the congregation down the street is in trouble, Gini said, go be with them.
We have to note the importance of rules and how well they’ve served us at GA (I believe she was referring to plenary) and how important it is to be kind to each other, to have rules and follow them. It is important to honor the inherent worth and dignity of each other.
AMEN! Preach it, Gini!
When Gini Courter visited the UU University Governance track, she also emphasized that poor governance was one of the main reasons the UUA loses good ministers.
Gini said that we need authentic shared ministry 365 days a year. Shared ministry, she said, is not having a lay led service once a month, but having elected lay leaders go good governance 365 days a year. “We have religious professionals who do their jobs and we need to work with them.”
Then Gini addressed head on what some people call “drinking the Kool Aid.” She said, good governance is the key and the responsibility of those in the workshop was taking the information and learning home to our congregations and working hard and well to pass it on, but being under no illusions we were going to be received as people coming home with the good word. Instead we are going be viewed as suspect, but we have others who we can now network with who attended the training and we can support each and help each other teach each other’s congregations and leaders.
We were paired up with partners to make a So What, Now What “to do” list. I paired up with a colleague from my Greenfield Group ministers study group and we shared good governance goals for ourselves and I am going to check in with her in September and further on down the road to keep myself (and hopefully my congregation) on a path to good governance.
This colleague shared with me an interesting tidbit. The word hierarchy actually really means holy organization. That word carries a lot of baggage about top-down, power over structures, which I would rather not use, favoring power with, lateral structures, but we need to learn not be afraid to empower and be responsible, be accountable and hold others accountable, and have holy organization.