Lay Leader Blogs
President’s Corner, February 2017
This is my last message to you from the “President’s Corner.” After our congregational meeting immediately following the 11:15 service on February 12th, the board will meet briefly to elect new officers, and unless there is some sort of palace revolution (of which there have been no indications whatsoever!) Jack Duggan will become your new president. Jack has already demonstrated his signature blend of gentleness, strength and understanding; I know that UUCB will be in very capable hands.
Fortunately, we have an excellent transition built into our governance system, in which ex-presidents continue on as board members for two more years. I have certainly been grateful for Jean’s mentorship during the remainder of her board tenure, and I look forward to continuing to be of service. In particular, I look forward to helping to put back together two essential governance elements that we have taken apart: I aim to support and see brought to completion the revisions of our ends and governance manual.
The past three years have, undeniably, been intense and demanding: Barbara and Bill retired; we survived the whirlwind house-cleaning and cultural revitalization that mark a successful interim period; and we have begun a promising new shared ministry with Reverends Christian and Kristin. At the same time, this has been one of the most challenging and fulfilling chapters of my life. For a fairly quiet, introspective person, it has been a good stretch to become more publicly the person I have always been within my family and in my work as a teacher, to tap into and expand my resources for listening, loving, linking and lifting up all that is best in you, my church family. I cannot imagine a more supportive and limitless setting for this kind of personal growth. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
President’s Column, December 2016
Deborah Schmidt, President, Board of Trustees
I know that many of you were as stunned, bruised and heartsick in the aftermath of the election as I was. The potential impact of this administration on the two inextricably linked causes of social and environmental justice is especially frightening. This will be a test of the checks and balances of our system. It will be a test of our resolve and of our engagement in the democratic process.
Part of our challenge is learning to listen, avoiding the temptation to demonize the other half. I hope we can come to understand the fear, frustration and alienation that pushed people who are really not so much unlike us to this vote. I highly recommend watching Van Jones’ Messy Truth, three short videos of frank and respectful conversations with Trump supporters.
I am finding comfort in the resilient spirits and moving words of so many amazing people, including our remarkable new ministers. I am proud of California, proud of all the unstoppable progressive voices – and more proud than ever to be a part of this church. Attendance is up as many brave souls turn to us for comfort, community and positive direction. On November 13th we collected 5,547 pounds of food and close to 5000 dollars for the Richmond Emergency Food Pantry. The same day, we contributed $1000 to the Standing Rock legal defense fund and sent fired-up, flyer-armed “yellow t-shirt people” to join the protesters linking hands around Lake Merritt.
This simply can’t keep us from continuing to become the best people we can possibly be, continuing to add all the weight of our love to that long moral arc as it bends toward justice. This world needs us now more than ever. To quote Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ inspiring and poetic post-election piece, “We were made for these times!”
President’s Corner, November 2016
Thank you for participating in our Start-Up Workshop! We were 64 strong in the morning, with about 20 staying for the afternoon. In the morning we created a timeline of our history and then split into groups to identify our unwritten rules, the stories that are alive for us, our traditions, and truths often unacknowledged. Some of this was familiar from the Congregational Conversations held during the interim ministry. But, while the interim period pushed us to constantly question and improve ourselves, this workshop included a wonderfully refreshing time for lifting up our strengths. Some of the following are quotes taken right from our easels:
We have a beautiful campus and a retreat center, both in stunning locations. We are welcoming to all. We have no creed, but we have a great mission and values. We are a well-functioning, thriving, caring, covenanted community of amazing people, of friends who value each other regardless of the length of our membership. We have a rich diversity of expertise, creativity and innovation– and a capacity to disagree. We are not fragile; we bounce back, we fix things.
We are blessed with ministers and staff (family ministry, music, administrative and facilities) with phenomenal vision, gifts and training. We have increased our commitment to leadership development, including for youth, providing opportunities that build strengths and skills we can take with us down the road and into our lives. Our lively Social Justice programs, including Confronting Racism, Read Aloud, GRIP, and CCISCO, serve the community in multiple ways. We have a splendid rainbow of other lay-led programs, including Chalice Circles, Personal Theology, and Humanist Connections. Our incredible music and family ministry programs continue to nurture, connect and inspire us.
So as we give thanks this month, let’s celebrate the strengths of this beloved community!
President’s Corner, Oct. 2016
One of the joys of discovering and reclaiming my Jewish heritage has been learning about Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the High Holy Days. This year Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown October 2nd and ends the evening of October 4th. Although it is often called the Jewish New Year, it doesn’t bear much resemblance to our drunken holiday, except for the sober resolutions of the day after.
In a beautiful piece called “ReNewing at Rosh Hashanah,” writer Anita Silvert muses that this is a time to return, re-turn, turn again—to come back once again to the beginning. It is a time to renew, re-energize, re-engage. It is a time to remember, to be re-minded, to open ourselves anew, on the anniversary of creation, to the beauty of this world. It is a time of possibility, a chance to re-solve, reconnect, rebuild.
This year, Rosh Hashanah coincides with a new chapter in the story of this historic and vibrant church. Let’s carry the spirit of the holy days into our partnership with our wonderful new ministers.
Please hold October 15th for our Start-Up Workshop, which will be led by our UUA Congregational Life staff member, Jonipher Kwong. Tailored to UUCB, with elements both for leaders and for anyone in the congregation who wishes to participate, it will provide guidance in: “examining the myths and values at work in the congregation, recognizing the stories that are still influencing the congregation, clarifying roles and expectations, and setting some initial goals.”
As Jack Duggan, our vice-president, wrote recently: “in this time of new beginnings, it’s not just the ministers who can be new. We can as individuals renew ourselves, our own spiritual growth and the way we participate in the community.”
With wishes for a good and sweet year together – Shana tova u’metukah!
President’s Corner, September 2016
As our ingathering begins, I want to share some notable resources and directions that emerged from this year’s Fifty-Fifth Annual General Assembly, held in Columbus, Ohio June 22-26. The theme was Heart Land: Where Faiths Connect. While it is almost impossible to summarize a convention with such extensive offerings, and each attendee’s experience was unique, the focus on interfaith relationships was very timely and nourishing for congregations like ours that are seeking ways both to be more truly welcoming and to bridge into our surrounding communities.
The plenary sessions were remarkably civil, despite their challenging topics, and resulted in adopting the following: as congregational study/action issue, “The Corruption of Our Democracy”; the business resolution, “Thanksgiving Day Reconsidered”; the actions of immediate witness (AIWS), “Build Solidarity with our Muslim Neighbors,” “Some Guns, All Guns: Legislating Appropriate Restrictions,” and “Stop the Hate: Protect and Support our Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Family”; and the responsive resolution, “Reaffirmation of Commitment to Racial Justice.” It was very moving to be part of a democratic process crafting meaningful responses to current issues.
Yet there were thoughtful voices questioning the impact of all these agendas, committees, and carefully drafted verbiage. We voted to suspend AIWS during GA next year so that we can focus on justice-making. Our final worship service, created by members of the Black Lives of UU organizing collective, put out a powerful call to all of us to move way beyond passing resolutions and hanging banners.
The UUA has made available many videos and handouts from the workshops, business sessions, services, and lectures. I highly recommend the handouts from the workshops “What Are Microaggressions and Why Should We Care?” and “Adaptive Leadership for Tricky Challenges,” as well as Krista Tippett’s soul-expanding Ware Lecture on the art of living.
Next year in New Orleans!
President’s Corner, August 2016
Hip Hip Hooray and Hallelujah! We are thrilled to welcome our new co-ministers, Reverends Kristin and Christian Schmidt! This is the culmination of two years of dedicated preparation on the part of our leaders, the entire congregation, and, of course, our interim minister, Rev. Greg Ward.
As respected search team chair Kay Fairwell pointed out when she addressed our special congregational meeting, one quality we sought in our new minister(s) was a collaborative leadership style. In answer to almost every question addressed to them during candidating week, the Schmidts demonstrated their commitment to this way of doing church. We are entering the shared ministry we hoped for.
Throughout our first year, there are several support mechanisms in play to ensure that we, both congregation and ministers, transition healthfully into our new work together.
The first will be the Start-Up Workshop offered by our Pacific Western Region congregational life staff. Tailored to UUCB, with elements both for leaders and for anyone in the congregation who wishes to participate, it will provide guidance in: “examining the myths and values at work in the congregation, recognizing the stories that are still influencing the congregation, clarifying roles and expectations, and setting some initial goals.” We will let you know more details as soon as this is scheduled.
We will of course be putting in place a Committee on Ministry, the primary function of which is, to quote the UUA website, “to do all that is necessary to elevate the effectiveness of the congregation’s ministry in fulfillment of its mission and to do so from the standpoint of this ministry’s holistic nature and synergistic possibilities.”
Our minister’s letter of call ensures that “within the first year of ministry, the Minister, Board of Trustees, Coordinating Team, and Committee on Ministry, with the assistance of an outside facilitator, will engage in a retreat for the purpose of arriving at specific understandings about the sharing of authority and responsibility, goals for the coming year, and a plan for periodic review and renewal of the ministry of the congregation.”
Preliminary goals that we have identified include: continued nurturing of trust; building on the organizational foundation established during the interim ministry, especially regarding clarification of roles and support of the Program Council; continued updating and enhancing of policies; and reducing demands on ministers and staff, which requires continued development of lay leadership.
We have called two ministers, but they will share one job. It is work that can all too easily become infinite, so we must help Revs. Kristin and Christian balance life and work. In doing so, we will contribute in an essential way to the health of this church, because the solution lies in shared ownership of our mission. Rev. Greg estimated that in the past two years we increased lay leadership by 20%. People that are engaged feel connected; connection is a force for change; and others will want to be a part of this united energy. We are on a bright and promising path; let’s stay on it!
President’s Corner, July 2016
My little red car proudly sports a license-plate frame reading “Unitarian Universalist Church: We are all connected.” Lately, I have been struck with the reality of this. Lisa Maynard and Joanne Wile have been working on our org chart; it is challenging to fit it into the available templates, when our actual structure is much more like an ecosystem than the typical hierarchical organization. There are all kinds of connections between organizational elements of UUCB, and beyond that, between all of you active and committed individuals.
I would love to see a one-month UUCB calendar that includes not only the impressive range of events scheduled onsite but the myriad other church-related activities that we generate or participate in together offsite. If you ask anyone around here what they have been doing lately, they will undoubtedly mention a committee meeting, a social event at another UUCB home, an outing with another UUCBer, or a regular volunteer commitment inspired and/or organized by this church. It is a circle dance, loving community in action, the rich, yeasty, very human manifestation of the “interdependent web of all existence.”
And now we are about to embark on another circle dance, a dance of mutual discovery, as we take advantage of the multiple activities planned for candidating week. This is our chance to explore the extraordinary match that our trusted search team is proposing for this extraordinary church.
The week culminates in a special congregational meeting, immediately following the July 10 service, to vote on calling the minister. For those who absolutely cannot be present for that meeting, there will be provision to vote by absentee ballot. Look for more details in your congregational meeting packet, which soon will be coming to you in the mail.
May our circles of connection radiate and multiply!
President’s Corner, June 2016
Your board is responsible for reporting to you annually on governance manual and policy revisions, task forces, et cetera: in brief, all of our nuts-and-bolts accomplishments. You will find all of this in the recently published UUCB Annual Report for 2015-2016. But perhaps it is even more important to address the state of our hearts, of our collective heart. So how are we really? Despite—perhaps even as a result of—our recent “unsettled” situation, our heart is big, warm, and pumping vigorously.
In May’s congregational meeting we celebrated a wealth of achievements and the remarkable people behind them. We celebrated bringing home district awards for Best Website, Culture of Generosity, and Youth Programming. We celebrated the completion of two major capital campaign projects. We celebrated last year’s pledge drive and the fact that current pledges continue in this generous spirit.
We unanimously approved a budget that includes salaries more commensurate with the gifts of our dedicated staff and, for the first time, a significant allotment to our Building Reserve Fund. We also voted unanimously to continue to support the Confronting Racism Project, to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and to use our BLM banner in public marches and demonstrations.
Yes, we have work to do: building on the organizational changes we have made, especially in support of our new and vital Program Council; continuing to put good policies in place; sustaining the growth of lay leadership; clarifying our vision and goals, and amplifying trust. For all of us, this time of transition has been intense, challenging, sometimes even exhausting. Even a couple of months ago I would have said that the reward was readiness for our new settled minister. Now I realize that our reward is who we are and who we have come to be.
President’s Corner, May 2016
Dear Fellow Congregants,
After consulting with our Search Team to determine the wisest course for the search process, the board has chosen the first option that the Search Team outlined earlier: an immediate, fairly brief second round of the ministerial search, concurrent with an application for a one-year interim minister. The UUA transitions office assures us that we can do these two things simultaneously. The Search Team will conduct the second round, and a board task force will complete the interim application and interviews.
We are extremely fortunate that our Search Team members are willing to see this through. They are an amazing group of people who are highly invested in a good outcome for our community. If the second round is unsuccessful, they are also willing to engage in another year-long search cycle. That is the scenario that would require another interim minister.
I know that this can feel very unsettled and unsettling. But the silver linings are multiple. We are holding out for the best possible settled ministry. Another interim year, if necessary, would support our progress toward clarity of policy and structure. And all of this throws us back upon ourselves in the best possible way. Barbara and Bill, in their last sermon, reassured us that their departure would not subtract anything essential, that we were UUCB. Reverend Greg encourages us to take “ownership of your future,” to “trust yourselves. Trust each other. Trust your vision and your collective call to serve the people of this area.” In response, Linda Laskowski wrote, “Greg’s letter reminded me that I am not part of this church because of the minister. I am here because of all of you, and what we can do/have done collectively.”
So take a moment to look around our church and be proud of what you see. We are UUCB.
President’s Corner, April 2016
“We are beginning to see the reward for all of our work: a community ready to dance into our next shared ministry with energy, lightness and trust.” My last message to you ended with those words.
A few days after that column was submitted, the board participated in a visioning exercise focused on the question of what we most need in order to begin our next shared ministry. On the table between us was a collection of stones, shells, feathers, pinecones, and flowering branches. After silently considering the question, we each picked the object that best represented our thoughts. Then we drew pictures to amplify or extend these symbols. When we shared our thoughts with each other, a recurrent theme emerged. There was a remarkable degree of consensus that what we need is trust: openness to growth, change, evolution, possibility, a new relationship, a new dance.
Trust comes hard, especially when people have been hurt. We have learned that, in the aftermath of ministerial misconduct, congregations suffer from a lack of trust. We are not alone in this.
Trust comes from compassion, from knowing that people really are doing the very best they can. Trust makes it possible to assume good intentions, which may be one of the most challenging parts of our covenant.
And how do we catch ourselves not trusting? How do we teach, allow, encourage ourselves to open up in this way? At our last board meeting, Reverend Greg encouraged us to constantly ask ourselves, as we act, as we communicate, “Is this trust-building? Is this increasing or decreasing trust?”
I believe we can grow in trust. We are doing this. I can see the beauty that is possible and already emerging among, between and before us when we walk together in this spirit.