Lay Leader Blogs
President’s Column, February 2018
One of my goals as a congregational leader is that this community we call UUCB be as strong for the next 127 years as it has been for the last 127. To that end, the board is taking steps to ensure the financial sustainability of the congregation. We don’t expect this to be an easy or quick process, but it’s an important one and one that will take all of us.
As this newsletter goes to press we are engaging the congregation in considering needed repairs to the buildings and how best to pay for them. Just as importantly for the future, we have been involved this year as a congregation in a process of Mission and Visioning. Who are we? Who can we be? How are we going to be sustainable?
The time for action is here. The Board of Trustees is putting together working groups with board members and other congregational members, who will collect information about several important factors over the next year.
1) A feasibility study on a capital campaign to update and repair our buildings.
2) A full staffing assessment, to identify what our needs are and what we can afford. Some of this work was done during our interim ministry, but more remains.
3) Whether, in the long run, another location for the church is possible and whether it would make sense to consider it.
Also we’ve been talking about Freestone for a very long time. We need to make decisions about Freestone, our Sonoma County retreat property, and the board will be facing that issue and working with the Freestone Committee and the congregation to reach a decision on what to do, possibly selling Freestone or investing in making needed repairs. What we do has to be compatible with our vision as a congregation. The plan is to present a board proposal in Fall 2018 about how to move forward.
We’ve been waiting and preparing for this moment in our congregational life for a long time. For the last three years we’ve been taking a hard look at ourselves, looking at our resources and our needs. We called new senior co-ministers and now together we are working on a sustainable vision for the next era in our congregation’s life. The board’s job in this work is not to make decisions, but to offer concrete proposals to the congregation who will make the decisions guided by our mission and vision.
This month we will be asking members to join us in the working groups to look at these issues and to make recommendations. In the coming months the board will be considering the recommendations of the groups and making proposals based on those recommendations. About a year from now we will have finished the first stage and we can move forward with a plan for the future.
The time to be sustainable is now.
President’s Column, January 2018
This is going to be a hard year at UUCB. The financial reality of 380 some members in a facility built when UUCB had a thousand members has finally sunk in and now we must figure this out, not put it off any longer and make concrete plans for a sustainable future. One of the obvious answers to our dilemma is to grow our congregation larger to support our church. It’s not just our problem; most old-line liberal churches including other UU churches are declining in membership the same way. The long-term trends are against us.
We are all members of UUCB because it fills a space in our lives and our families that is very important to us. For me the key to UUCB is fellowship, a place to bond with people of different backgrounds and experiences in a community of respect and open inquiry. Unitarian Universalists are not unique in providing welcoming fellowship; our liberal sisters and brothers do much the same thing and their numbers are dwindling too. The difference is we guide ourselves by our principles, not a creed.
I think in a way we are failing our broader community. We personally know the hunger for a human fellowship of values that we satisfy by being UUs. We heartily welcome people when they find us, we are a vital community with new people joining us, but are we actively going out and sharing what we ourselves have found? For most of our history Unitarians have been a small group of people not tied to the strictures of the past, outliers. More than a hundred years ago Universalists actively shared their understanding of God’s universal love, but when that message began to spread through other denominations the evangelism of Universalists dwindled. It’s wrong to keep it to ourselves, we’re not an exclusive club. Our community needs what we have.
We have members who already think this way and are taking action, but as a congregation we need to support their efforts, make it more central to our mission and follow their lead. I think we’ve kept the secret too long, that one can be a rationalist or a mystic with an open mind and still deeply involved and accepted in a religious fellowship, that creed is not necessary.
I’m not comfortable “selling” Unitarian Universalism. When someone asks I get all gummed up in explaining what we’re not. Proselytizing evangelicals, whether they’re pushing the Bible, a guru, or chanting to happiness have never made me comfortable and I’m not about to go knocking on doors or passing out literature at BART stations. But I think as an Association and a Congregation we need to overcome our shyness and frankly our elitism and get out there and reach people, not because we need members to sustain ourselves but because now more than ever our religion without creed, our spirituality without strictures is a desperate need in our world.
There are people out there who know that there’s more to community than a digital connection and that consumerism, individualism and materialism don’t satisfy the human spirit. We need to seek them out and tell them who we are and what we do.
I’m not aware of any campus outreach on our congregation’s part even though Cal is an important part of our history and many members are associated with the university. Have we even considered Contra Costa College? Reverends Christian and Kristin have begun Church on Tap. Should we be stepping out of our comfort zone more? And by actively reaching out to the people who need a place for connection and values we can become a stronger community and we hope a sustainable community. Instead of needing people to fill the space we would need space for the people.
Is it time to consider becoming Evangelical Unitarian Universalists?
President’s Column, December 2017
I believe my job as President of the Board of Trustees is to work to find a consensus of what the congregation wants to do, aware of what sacrifices have to be made to be the congregation we want to be.
I have opinions but my opinions aren’t my guide. For instance, when I joined the congregation I didn’t like the way our location put us so far above our community. When I joined the leadership, I realized that our congregation wouldn’t survive whole if we tried to sell the Kensington property and resigned myself to making the best of it. When I wrote the article last month on how expensive it is to keep our large church maintained, I wondered if I really wanted to keep maintaining an expensive piece of real estate. Does the property really support the mission of our congregation? Do we need to change the way we use it? I don’t have an easy answer for that. I trust our congregation, and I trust the process we are using to make decisions. My opinions count but only as another member of the congregation, and I have a lot of listening yet to do.
In the end, all of us will be called upon to make sacrifices. I’m not saying we will have to sell our cherished and time-honored site, but if we choose to keep it we will have to make the personal sacrifices to do that. What is valuable to us and what contributes to that value?
I see my most important goal as President of the Board is to keep the congregation whole and vital. In other words, whatever decisions we make we do it holding hands, and at the end of this process we are still holding hands, acting together and aware of the sacrifices we have to make to do that.
President’s Column, November 2017
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
Thirty-four years ago when I first learned that prayer it meant coming out of denial for me, accepting my reality for what it was and changing. By the time I changed, I felt like I was at the end of my life, everything was over and I was accepting the inevitable. What I learned was that coming out of denial, dealing with reality, made everything possible.
I am optimistic about the community of UUCB, but there are realities for which most times I seem to be in denial.
Those realities are: that as strong as our congregation is, as an active, diverse, and inspired group of people, the way we are today is not sustainable.
We are a congregation much smaller than the one that built our church in Kensington over 60 years ago.
The hard realities are we occupy a sixty-year-old building that requires considerable maintenance and repairs that have been postponed for way too long.
- The rafters are dry rotting and need to be sealed.
- The windows and the rest of the building need to be waterproofed; the seals are giving out.
- The kitchen floor needs to be replaced; the gaps for bacteria are a health hazard.
- The Safir Room and the rooms above it require expensive remediation and repairs.
- The doors between the Atrium and the Social Hall need replacement.
- The heating system is obsolete and one day will not even be repairable.
- The building needs new systems: electrical, water, and lighting.
- The bathrooms, chancel and stage are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act for accessibility.
- Audio-visual, IT and media are in desperate need of updating.
Just the repairs alone require over $1.5 million in today’s dollars. We don’t have it, and the longer it takes us to fix these issues the more expensive they become. Several years ago it was estimated that we should be budgeting about $250,000 a year for facilities maintenance and repairs.
The Freestone retreat requires upwards of $50,000 to make it habitable. It could be much more. For years we’ve been talking about generating new income for Freestone, but it hasn’t happened.
In the past few years, our regular operating budget has had a running deficit. The congregation is vital, we are attracting new members, but with attrition we are not growing. We are not alone; many congregations, UUs and others, are in the same position.
We are in a predictable downward spiral. Old facilities are in need of repair and maintenance, assets that once were vital are marginal, but require expenditures just to maintain. While we are attracting new members, young families come with lower incomes and higher expenses; housing takes more money than ever
just to live within 20 miles of our location.
We’re not a dying congregation—that I am optimistic about—but we are in an unsustainable position. We need to come out of denial about this. It is not going to go away. It is time for a radical transformation. Now is the time to face the realities we need to accept and decide what we can change.
So let’s talk about the hard realities and let’s change together. For me, this is what this process of Visioning that we have begun is all about.
President’s Column, October 2017
The agenda for the board meeting in September at this writing has the usual reports from the ministers, the Coordinating Team and the Treasurer, confirming committee nominations, and business guidance. From month to month the board takes care of the church’s business, approving actions of the various committees and the staff of the church. We ask questions, give guidance and try to plan for the future.
Next month at a congregational meeting the whole congregation will decide on how we pay for operating funds and maintenance. With Freestone, the board is trying to consider the risks of deferred maintenance with the desire to use the building while balancing the overall financial needs of the congregation. The board represents the congregation, and with the congregation, we are concerned with the details of running our community. We are well aware of the overriding financial concerns, a nagging deficit and unmet maintenance costs, while at the same time we are striving to be a vital, unified and relevant community.
I believe it’s important that we pay attention to the day-to-day issues of UUCB, that we run a good organization, and I thank god that she has given us people who are better at that than I am. By myself I couldn’t do it, but together we can.
I also believe that the answer to our long range issues is not to address them one by one but to look at the big picture, to look at how we operate for our vision and our mission. That’s why I am very excited about the Mission and Visioning Process that we have begun. I don’t think it’s as much about deciding a mission and vision, we have that to update and refine. For me it is about how we decide to put that mission and vision to work, how with a long view we act in present time.
When I first came to UUCB, I was looking for a meeting mostly on Sundays with people who shared their struggles and triumphs. I found that here. And much more. I didn’t expect to be challenged but I found a community that challenges me in who I am, what I believe, and how I act. I found a community that demands much more of me than I thought I had to give. I found a community that can make me uncomfortable. I began to look at the part I play in marginalizing people. I began to see more clearly how I can contribute to a truly universal and diverse community. My opinions, my understanding have changed in the last six years.
As the President of the Board of Trustees, I have opinions about where we should be going as a congregation, but I’ve also learned to be open and trust my friends. And that’s why I am excited to participate in the process we have begun. I trust this congregation. Together we can participate and learn and together we can plan where we go as a community.
President’s Column, August 2017
It’s been a month since the UU General Assembly in New Orleans. I am still digesting what I learned and saw. There were a lot of people there. I was both intimidated and pleased to be a part of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I went to New Orleans aware of the troubles that the Association has had over racism. It seems we are all taking a hard look at ourselves, not just the Association, but our congregation, and I myself. I am reexamining my experience and my own implicit racism. I was very uncomfortable at the General Assembly and that’s a good place to start. The narrative is changing. That’s a good thing.
I was struck by how many people of color were at the Assembly and their voice was strong in the workshops and proceedings and it was being listened to. I commented on that to someone not expecting good representation based on the criticism we’ve been leveling at ourselves. They said the UUA had made a special effort bringing people to the Assembly, that it was a case of affirmative action.
I am a believer in affirmative action and have been since I joined the workforce. Back then it was so obviously white and male, not mostly but completely. When I joined the corporate world affirmative action was just beginning. It was not easy and there was a lot of resistance, trial and error, mistakes made but the effort was ongoing. Fifteen years later I remember walking down the street and seeing a group of tellers from the bank where I worked coming toward me. They were a group of African Americans, whites, and Asians and maybe a Latino or two and they were all friends. I thought these young people just beginning to work have no idea how unusual they would have been not only working together but friends only a few years before. Proximity as I’ve learned to call it is a good thing.
There was and still is a long ways to go and affirmative action is still called for. The phrase itself has fallen out of usage, been discredited and the regulations and effort that promoted it have diminished but the door was opened. We’re not there yet but we know where we need to go.
I marked the workshops that appealed to me and found myself learning and thinking about classism. I have just begun to understand intersectionality. For me it was new to add class to the identities that intersect in the system of oppression we live in. I have my own class insecurity, my mother was from deep in the Ozarks and was left out of school at 9 years old when she went deaf from the mumps. Her mother was deceased, her father was crippled and somehow my mother managed to achieve a middle class life with her children always fed and clothed, educated and raised with better prospects than she had had. She was always insecure about her background and passed along her class insecurity to me.
So class and race, and I was very uncomfortable at the Assembly, with my own remaining biases and insecurities. Intersectionality is a new way of thinking about it for me. I have a lot of work to do, we have a lot of work to do. I bought the book Class Action: The Struggle With Class in Unitarian Universalism and I read it. I was pleased to learn that UUCB has already scheduled a UU Class Conversations workshop (I’m in Mexico and don’t have the details but they will be forthcoming).
The Ware Speaker Saturday night was Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Institute. He was perfect for what we were thinking about and what we are trying to do, UUA and UUCB. I recommend you listen to him speak on TED for a full hour at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky9VQeDeh5Q. His address at the Assembly is not available in video.
He recommended four things to bring Justice, which he called the opposite of poverty. They are:
- To change the narrative
- To be uncomfortable, to take risks
I found that we at UUCB are in the ideal position and time to oppose racism and oppression, to look at ourselves and practice affirmative action, to penetrate the walls of privilege that have excluded people who are different, to address our own -isms in our congregation and in our community. I think this is something we need to do deeply and honestly at UUCB and in the communities of the East Bay where we live. And that these things that divide us are the same issues that today make our nation so difficult.
We need to be close to each other, to break down the barriers between us, in UUCB but also in our communities. We need to change our own narratives that hold us back and the ones we’ve been told. In doing this we can support each other in our hopes. We will be uncomfortable and encourage each other, give each other heart, and doing that, we will grow. We can change and be more of who we want to be. I can change and be more of who I want to be.
And that’s what I was thinking at the UU General Assembly and since and those are the issues I want to bring to our work as we ask who we are, who we want to be and how we get there. I’m writing this in Mexico City. I am returning in August. The summer will soon be over and the work we do together begins anew as we come back together.
President’s Corner, July 2017
Jack Duggan, President, Board of Trustees
Reverend Christian, myself and a number of other congregants from UUCB are here attending the 56th Annual Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in New Orleans.
It is very busy and very tiring. I’m surprised how quickly I run down, but I tell myself I’m not a wimp so much as not used to such hot weather where the temperature and humidity are nearly equal. When we first arrived a Hurricane turned Tropical Storm named Cindy was coming ashore in Louisiana. It seemed to be no big thing for the locals, but I told them we weren’t used to storms with names in California or air that fogged my glasses when I stepped out of the air conditioning of the Convention Center or the Hotel.
At the General Assembly itself I was struck by how many Unitarian Universalists there are. There are a lot of us and we come from all over the country. It’s gratifying to see so many UUs from places we think of as red states. We are the future. I am surprised by the diversity of the gathering. Somehow I had the impression that with all the recent controversy that nationally UUs weren’t that diverse. If anything the association is more racially diverse than our own congregation, so as we struggle with White Supremacy and implicit racism, we do it with a variety of perspectives and the discussion is the more for it. Diversity, like justice, once experienced demands more.
I myself have been ambushed by discussions of classism. I wasn’t expecting to be so personally affected by discussions of class. I am beginning to understand intersectionality and with that perspective I’m learning more about the intersection of racism, classism, genderism and populism. It seems we have a long ways to go yet. Yes, I am very pleased to have had in the course of my life my mind opened on these issues as far as it is. I am a liberal progressive and we’ve come a long ways, but . . .
We have a long ways yet to go. We can and we will be better together and it’s not always comfortable. The work we’ve committed ourselves to can’t be done from our comfort zone. In the general sessions and the discussions in smaller rooms afterwards truth is being spoken and real issues being addressed.
We also were able to celebrate with Maryann Simpson and Cynthia Asprodites the installation of their daughter Aija into Permanent Fellowship with the UUA. I got stopped by Laura Bogle, who was the interim director of family ministry when Suzette, Paloma and I first arrived at UUCB. Laura is doing well in Tennessee and has three girls now, most recently twins. She also was installed in Permanent Fellowship.
When I return home we will be well into summer and vacations and the summer doldrums will be going on. I expect the activism and work of UUCB will continue to be strongly needed and done during the summer as we do. The planning and the congregational work that supports us will begin in earnest again as we all gather at the end of summer and the beginning of fall. I look forward to bringing what I have learned, the inspiration I have felt, the interconnectedness I have realized and sharing those at UUCB. We have work to do and fellowship to build and enjoy.
And no, I don’t know yet who I am voting for for President of the UUA, but I am listening hard. I know we have three very good candidates and one will be, to my surprise, the first woman to be President of the UUA.
President’s Corner, June 2017
Jack Duggan, President, Board of Trustees
We’ve just come through a long period of getting ready. Since Reverends Barbara and Bill Hamilton-Holway announced their retirement we’ve been preparing ourselves for today. It hasn’t been easy. We did a capital campaign that has paid for needed repairs to the church buildings. With Reverend Greg Ward we made painful personnel changes. We made changes that improved our governance structure and operation. We began searching for new ministers, a long process that in the end left us waiting and wondering.
And then the Reverends Kristin and Christian Schmidt found us and we found them. The strength, care and hard work of our Search Committee, so well done, paid off. Kristin and Christian made the move, settled in with their family and became part of our family. This May we affirmed our commitment to them and they to us.
The waiting is over, we are here. As UUs we know that the congregation, the leadership and the ministers are jointly responsible for who we are, who we are becoming and what we do. Like the legal phrase “jointly and severally,” we rely on others but we also take responsibility for ourselves. We are not by nature followers, which can make the process difficult but richer for the effort. Our relationship with our leadership and our ministers is one of joint responsibility and decision making.
In my opinion our greatest strength is who we are. My family and I came to UUCB because of the members who call this church their community. We are inspired by and supported by this extraordinary gathering of people.
We the congregation can take credit for this because it has always been the congregation that makes UUCB work. We have done the work. Now we have new ministers who have joined us in doing that work, who are committed to doing their part, adding their experience and wisdom to ours.
Yes, we have a nagging deficit. It’s even worse this year than we originally thought. It’s not insurmount-able but it’s a problem that must be solved. Financially we are barely keeping up, and deferring maintenance and needed improvements on a sixty-year-old building is not sustainable. Like many churches we have a shrinking and aging congregation.
I believe the way to address our financial concerns is to build the kind of community we want to be that includes enthusiasm for who we are, a unity of purpose and a strong sense of responsibility for each other including the financial sacrifices necessary to sustain our community.
When I look around at us, our staff, our community and family ministers and interim ministers there is a great vitality, energy and people actively engaged in making this work and in applying our principles and faith in humanity in the larger community. We are attracting new members and our programs for the members and outreach to the community are strong and active. We are a welcoming congregation and it works. Our success tells us we need to reach further.
In the coming months we will be working on defining our Mission and Vision and our path to the future for this time of renewal. One more time we will take responsibility for who we are and who we want to be and commit ourselves to the work we need to do. One more time we will renew ourselves.
I am very confident knowing our community and now knowing our ministers that we are going to do good things together.
President’s Corner, May 2017
As I sit down to write this, it has been a day of details. As often happens, I’m just barely keeping up, rushing to get to what I promised to do, need to do, said I would do, working on deadlines with tasks that I put off doing until they were almost too late. And dinner got started later than I planned. I have to admit last night I woke up, and I couldn’t get back to sleep with all the details chasing each other in my head.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by it all, frustrated that I can barely keep up. Being President has a very impressive ring to it, though lately a little tarnished, but in reality the job is one of details, signing checks, making agendas, trying to coordinate our efforts, attending meetings and making phone calls, the details of an organization with nearly 400 members, more than 10 people on staff, and countless volunteers.
I certainly am not in charge. I’m not the commander in chief. My job is to be one of the people who try to keep up with it all. Making that task more interesting is that all of our members and many of our friends are Unitarian Universalists, interesting people, good people, but not the easiest people to keep up with, to keep informed, to know what they want and what they need. UUs are involved and sometimes it feels like 400 cooks working in 400 pots.
So, in all of this it’s easy to lose track and forget why I’m here.
I ask myself who are we? Understanding who we really are takes a lot of questions and listening to each other. A good question is who would we like to be?
What are we doing? As a congregation we do a lot, in fact, we have activities within our congregation that build community among us and many members who do outreach to the community around us. As a community we try very hard to live our principles, to take care of each other and to take care of our community and our world. The question isn’t so much what we do, but how we do it.
How can we use our energy and resources to the best effect in the world?
For me the answer is that when I live this way, when I am part of a community that calls me to be generous with my time and resources, who supports me in what I do, and who needs my support I feel more human. I feel better about who I am and what I do. I more easily see the good in people around me. I am a part of people who do good, who make a difference, people who “stand on the side of love.”
So, together in a spirit of goodwill let’s take care of the details, worry together about the things that need worrying, getting things done, serving on committees and boards, showing up to meetings and events, so that together we can get better at who we are, what we do, and why.
For me, the community of our church has been a great gift and one I want to share with people and pass on to my children and my grandchildren, not the same but better. And take care of details.
President’s Corner, April 2017
I have the good fortune of being optimistic. For some people in the world and nearby optimism is a luxury taken away by the need just to survive. In November the need for optimism and action gained a new urgency. For many survival has become even harder. Too many people are marginalized in our world and it’s taken a turn for the worse.
At first I was stunned but as soon as we began doing things about it, I began to feel more optimistic. Inequities and injustice existed before the election and the election either way wasn’t going to magically solve them.
I’m optimistic when I think about the challenge that we face today. In my lifetime the call to action has never been so clear and so widely heard. The threat to the good has always been there, but now it’s in the open, the need for real change has never been so obvious. What we tolerated in the past, what we were blind to, has never demanded our attention so strongly. It’s no longer possible to sink back into a comfortable world and congratulate myself on how far we’ve come.
I made a conscious decision to think locally, to think about what I could do in my daily life to make change for the good happen. I’m fortunate to have the time and the well-being to volunteer in a local school.
I’ve joined a group that advocates for civil rights for all. I’ve joined marches and attended meetings. I’ve looked at and renewed my part in making UUCB sustainable and better. This Church, this community is where I am inspired and restored and where I have an opportunity to contribute my spirit to the collective effort of our congregation. Like a beacon we are a light to the world.
So my family, UUCB, this wonderful community of the East Bay and California and all the people in our country who believe in the good are still here and it’s time to strengthen what we have and who we are. As the Blue Oaks, the Buckeyes and the fruit trees begin to return to life in the green hills around us, it’s time again to preach the optimistic gospel instead of the gospel of fear and insecurity. We’re still here. That makes me optimistic.