Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Surprised People STILL React Poorly to the Very Large Project

My dear friend and colleague Dawn Cooley wrote a great article, "Surprised People React Poorly" back in February.  She's responding to the new UUA logo and the following critique of the logo that swept through social media.  In her post she says that people who are surprised react poorly, as the title states, and because of that she suggests a plan:
Towards a 2-part solution: Trust is a 2-way street.  I encourage those of us on the sidelines to recognize our own reactivity, our own distrust of authority, and remember that we are the UUA.  The people we tend to point fingers at care very, very deeply about our faith tradition and are hard at work trying to ensure our future.   We do a thorough job of holding them accountable, but can we practice occasionally cutting them some slack? Apparently, this new logo wasn’t a whim and wasn’t created out of thin air, but has been a year-long process of dialogue with 50 different UU stakeholders (according to the recent VUU episode available here, particularly at 30:49).
And, for the UUA Administration, it would be much easier to cut some slack if we had confidence in where we are going.  I am reminded of a GPS I use which won’t ever give me the whole map of where I am going, but only shares one turn at a time. I hate it because I never really know if it is directing me to my desired destination.  Give me the whole map at once (rather than just pieces at a time) and then I will be more likely to trust each individual turn. I want the same from my UUA Administration. You seem to have been working from a plan – please share it in more detail.
This week, another dear friend and colleague, Erika Hewitt, writes (here and again on Tom Shade's blog here) about being engaged in a "Very Large Project" for Unitarian Universalism, and finding herself "armoring up."  She says:
We find ourselves bracing for criticism not because our Very Large Project is controversial nor because we have paranoid temperaments, but rather because of the cultural patterns that we witness in the larger UU world (much of it online):

Often, our people respond to brave risk-taking by shaming the risk-takers.

Too often, our people respond to the vulnerable expression of creativity or vision by criticizing the creation or vision, and naming the ways it failed to suit their personal taste.
Erika and Dawn point to a very real problem of a lot of criticism that the people who lead in our movement are faced with.  We do need to give them more of a a measure of goodwill. 

But I agree more with Dawn's prescription for dealing with it, recognizing that it's a two-way street.  In the 2/13/14 UU World article on the logo, it says, "And the UUA is developing other resources for congregations, regional groups, and the national association to use. This effort is about much more than a new logo and a new look for the website, Cooley said." And on my 2/13/14 blog article, Deborah Neisel-Sanders from UUA youth/young adults comments, "I can say that the new logo is just the tip of the iceberg; a good number of wishes that the logo reveal has generated are already in development or scheduled to be."  Three months after Dawn's request for the "whole map," the fuller picture about the UUA Brand has not been released.  The answer may be that there is not a whole map yet -- but then tell us so, and tell us the points you know along the way.  Instead of providing more information, my sense is that people have "armored up" instead.  Information-seeking is not critique--but it's difficult to tell tell the difference when you're on the defensive.  And the defensive posture is understandable when you've been heavily critiqued.  It's a vicious cycle, but Dawn points the way out of the cycle. 

To Erika, then, I would say, you're right.  But at the same time, you need to tell us more about your Very Large Project rather than armoring up.  Surprised people react poorly, and wishing they wouldn't and telling them they shouldn't isn't going to change everyone.  Rather than preparing for the fight, avoid the fight by bringing people along with you on your journey.  You begin by showing us your map, and engaging us in the Very Big Questions that your Very Large Project is addressing.  Share the vision.  As you say, "Creativity and courage are contagious." 

You're so right to point us to a path towards trust -- but trust is something created between us.  Trust is a two-way street. 

Being Led by Our Principles

A friend and colleague asks, "When did our Principles ever lead us to a place we didn't already want to go?"

It's a bit like asking "When is something truly altruistic?"  The fact that I did something might argue that to some extent I wanted to do it -- that I felt doing it served some purpose.  But sweeping aside the philosophical question, I think I can point to places our Principles have led me that I was at least conflicted about. 

The first time I remember being pushed by my principles to do something that I was uncomfortable doing was in graduate school.  I became aware that I had what I knew was an unreasonable fear of people with HIV/AIDS.  And I felt that my principles called me to address my fear and get over it.  And so I volunteered to spend my spring break with the Alternative Spring Break program working for the Mobile (AL) AIDS Support Services.  I've written about that experience in this blog before.

The next time I felt like my principles were calling me to engage an issue that I was a bit uncomfortable with was when our movement started adding transgender people to our Welcoming Congregation.  My prejudicial view of transgender people was that they often reinforced gender stereotypes rather than breaking them down, in a way that was contrary to feminism, which taught me I can be anybody I want to be and still be a woman.  The more I heard things like "It's about more than just plumbing" the more I felt that, no, being a man or a woman is just about plumbing -- everything else is cultural.  And it put me in a logical loop where I had trouble understanding the struggle of transgender people.  I knew that this was something to work on, and that my principles were calling me to understand -- and to have empathy.  And it took both personal conversations with friends and putting my heart before my head to break me out of this loop and understand that what looks like strengthening gender stereotypes is a radical challenges to boxes, just from a different angle than feminism. 

The most recent time when my principles led me where I was reluctant to go was on the issue of immigration reform.  I didn't want to get involved in this issue particularly.  I had never really connected with it.  But the work that our denomination was doing and how it was grounded in our principles made it clear to me that it didn't matter that I personally didn't really connect with the issue.  I needed to study it and understand it and then take action and speak out. 

I'm not always perfect at listening to my principles.  There are places that my principles are leading me now where I'm resisting.  In a word: vegetarianism.  So I'm not perfect at this.  But I do try to let my principles stretch me and grow me.  It's not often that our Principles lead me somewhere where I don't want to go -- but both figuratively and literally I didn't want to go to Mobile, and I didn't want to go to Phoenix.  I'm glad I did, and I'm glad I listen to our Principles and stay open to new understandings and new ideas.  And I hope that they'll lead me someplace unexpected soon. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

And Let Them Know About It!

A colleague pointed out recently to me that I do something fairly naturally which is not something every minister or even every congregation knows how to do, which is to get the word out about significant actions that I or my congregation has taken, both within the UUA and in the local media.

I credit two people with having trained me to do this.  One is my internship supervisor and mentor Drew Kennedy, who I remember talking to me during internship specifically about how to work with your congregation and board around your media presence.  The second is a workshop that was held at our UUMA chapter meeting with John Hurley presenting that I attended during my first year in ministry.  I've attended subsequent workshops, and now teach communications at our local college, so all this has been added to in small ways over the years.

The basic is this: If you're doing something newsworthy in your congregation or town, let people know about it.  Let them know about it beforehand, and then let them know about it afterwards.

First, for ministers, a word of caution, straight from what I remember Drew teaching me back in 1999-2000, but it's still as wise today.  It's important to have a clear understanding with your board and your congregation about the minister's role in contacting the media and being a media presence.  And even if you have that sort of clear understanding, contact them and tell them every time you know you'll be in the paper, if you have time to do so, before the article comes out.  It is helpful, but not sufficient, to have something in your letter of agreement, but the real understanding need to be there between you and the congregational leadership.  My letter of agreement simply says this: "The Minister is encouraged to be visible and involved in social action in the community, preferably in consonance with the social mission of the Congregation."  But over time, we've developed an understanding that I'm pretty free to, and even encouraged to, talk to our local press.

With that said, before your big action or event, if possible, you want to tell your local press.  Develop a relationship with the reporter who is the one who covers religion, but also with one who covers the local news beat in general.  You don't always want to be on the religion page only.  E-mail your press releases to the paper itself more generally, but also to the specific reporters.  Develop a quick press release format where you don't have to spend too much time writing, or find a specific volunteer in the congregation who is particularly good at this.  I'm lucky that my RE Coordinator also is handy at this, so if I want a press release to go out and there's enough turn-around time, I contact her.  It helps to develop a list of local media sources with their contact information, so that you can send it out to a bunch of sources all at once. 

For example, when I said I was not going to sign marriage licenses anymore, I wrote up a quick press release.  I had one from ten years earlier saved on my hard drive about a related stance I took in Massachusetts, and I changed the quotes and dates and details, and e-mailed it to the reporter that had written the most recent article at our local paper that I had been involved in on marriage equality.  It bounced back saying she was out of town and giving some other writers' e-mails, so I sent it on to them.  The next morning I awoke to a phone call from one of those reporters.  And then the day after that, I was on the front page of the paper.  It was really that easy, because I had a template and knew what to do and who to contact.  The most important thing about getting that article was that I thought to tell them.  Too often we take great actions in our congregations and don't think to tell the press.

After you've done something, and particularly if you have an article in your paper or or on local TV, it's time to tell the UU movement about it.  There are a few places you want to share your message about the exciting and interesting things your church is doing.  The UUA will often find out without you telling, partly because they have a clippings service.  But some of our local papers might not get picked up by that, and it never hurts to tell them yourself.  If you have a "congregational life story" you can send it to websubmissions @  And then there's the UU World, where Rachel Walden compiles a media round-up of UUs in the news weekly, which can be found at  This is a list of UUs in the news, so if your congregation or minister has made the local paper or TV station, you can submit your story to the UU World directly for inclusion there.  If it's a big enough story, the UU World may elect to do a larger news article on it, as well.  So as soon as something has happened in our town where it makes the local paper, I e-mail that article to the UUA and the UU World, just to make sure they don't miss it. 

Those are the primary places to notify with your news in our movement, but your district or region may have a webpage where they post stories, as well. The MidAmerica Region does.  And if you have a state-wide advocacy network, you might let them know if they do a newsletter.  And lastly, if you're writing up your story yourself and it fits their mission, you can send it to Standing on the Side of Love for their blog and e-mails.

As an example of this, after our brief day of marriage equality where same-sex marriages were performed in Michigan, I realized how instrumental UUs had been in the four counties where our clerks had opened for Saturday business.  I wrote up a synopsis for the MidAmerica board, because we write little things to each other about what congregations are doing and what justice efforts are being done in our states.  The MidAmerica staff asked to share it on their webpage, and then our state advocacy network, MUUSJN, asked to share it as well.  I posted that to Facebook, where it then got shared with friends on staff at the UU World.  Realizing their interest, I e-mailed them and the UUA a copy of what I had written, and then the UU World contacted me and then other ministers to get a longer story.  Would the UU World have known what happened if I hadn't done this?  Yes, they would've seen news clippings of the individual actions of UU ministers in the four counties.  But contacting them helped them to put the story together into one larger story, which is that ministers serving UU churches were instrumental in making what happened that day possible.  And that helped create the larger and important narrative for our movement about what we're doing. 

Back when I took that workshop with John Hurley in 2002, he said to send him an e-mail when we were in the paper.  Back then the articles didn't have links, but they could get the article through their clipping service.  And they would take those articles and circulate them around the UUA.  I imagine a manila folder.   I don't think they do that anymore -- they probably just read the UUs in the News column weekly.  But I still send my news articles to John Hurley -- and now he tells me he'll forward them to Rachel Walden for UUs in the News, so that's really the place to send them.  But it was neat when I sent him the article about not signing licenses that he remembered when I had sent him the press coverage I got ten years ago, and was pleased that this could still have an impact in our local communities, which it does.

The moral is, don't be afraid to be a little shameless about telling your story and getting your word out there.  It's exciting for other Unitarian Universalists to hear what you've been doing, particularly when it comes to justice work.  We learn from reading the stories of the work done in other congregations, and we feel more connected as a movement.  And in your local papers, showing that your congregation is doing justice work is not only important for getting the justice cause heard, it's important for telling your community what Unitarian Universalism is.  It's okay for justice work to have the side benefit of raising your congregational profile in your community -- let your acts shine.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Nickel and Dimed in Bivocational Ministry

In the last week or two, I've been hearing a lot of talk about "bivocational ministry" as the potential saving model for sustainability in our movement.  The subject has come up in a number of collegial conversations, and Scott Wells introduces the subject in a recent post

First of all, as far as I can see "bivocational ministry" is just a fancy term for "part-time ministry" that makes it sound like something the minister wants because they have some other wonderful job they don't want to give up.

What are the problems with bivocational ministry?  It can be a great choice if:
  • You're independently wealthy
  • You're a second-career minister with a lucrative first profession
  • You have a spouse with a good income
On the other hand, it's not so great if:
  •  You're a first-career minister
  • You're not independently wealthy
  • You don't have a spouse with a good income
I was a part-time minister for a couple of years.  You could call me "bivocational" since I had a second part-time job.  As a first-career minister, I don't have a professional practice in psychology to make up a second job.  What I have is an M.A. in English, and so I taught adjunct at a community college.  I continue to do that now, even though I'm in full-time ministry.  But I taught enough during my 3/4-time ministry to make up 1/4 of my income through college teaching.  And I gave up that life as quickly as I could to go into full-time ministry.  Why?

Part-time work in this country usually comes without benefits.  As a 3/4-time minister, I therefore threw much of my total cost of ministry (TCM) into benefits.  I had a benefit package that looked much like a full-time ministers, but with a tiny salary attached to it.  The other 1/4-time job would make up some of the income difference, but not all of it.  Full-time work, because of the benefit balance piece, pays better than two part-time jobs.  Esssentially, you see, I was paying for 1/4 of my benefits that wouldn't be part of a balanced 3/4-time job out of salary.  And adjunct salary being what it is, it wasn't equivalent to 1/4 of a professional salary.

This leads to my second point: part-time employment is usually under-paid.  Even if the minister isn't underpaid in their half-time ministry, their other half-time job probably is underpaid, especially if this is a first-career minister.  As you find in ministry, being well-trained for ministry doesn't exactly put you on the top of the market for non-ministry jobs out there.

And part-time ministry is overworked.  Full-time ministers in our movement often get one Sunday a month off.  Most half-time ministers seem to get two Sundays a month off.  And 3/4-time ministers get one Sunday a month off.  That's what I find as I talk to my part-time colleagues.  So a 3/4-time minister is often doing full-time ministry for 3/4 of the money.  And since full-time ministry is often a job and a half at full-time pay, that's even worse.

I left part-time ministry for health reasons: I was pregnant.  And I had good health care through my ministry profession.  I probably could've gotten maternity leave (although this was a debate with the congregation, which is another story).  But an adjunct professor gets no paid maternity leave.  So essentially getting pregnant meant I would lose 1/4 of my income at the same time as I gained 1/3 of my family.  That math didn't look good or sustainable to me.  And the idea of working as much as I was working with a baby also didn't sit well.  And so I found myself in search and pregnant at the same time. 

For me, bivocational ministry looks like a ministry model to attract older and wealthier ministers.  It looks like an even more classist ministry.  And it looks like a future that if we pursue it will lose a lot of ministers who would add a lot to our movement, but who simply can't afford the luxury of part-time work.

In a movement that's talking about how work should be sustainable for a family, let's quit the talk of bivocational ministry as our future fix, and keep thinking about how to make a sustainable ministry sustainable for congregations as well.  It's a challenge, but if we don't meet this challenge we aren't living our faith.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Equality Comes to Michigan -- Part Four: Weddings

It's time to finish up my series about my memories of that day in Ann Arbor.  With the abundance of clergy we had, the blessing was that those who had religious communities were often able to find their own clergy person and have them perform the ceremony, and many others were able to find someone who represented their own faith tradition, whether Christian or Jewish or Pagan.  I did see one African-American couple come down who were specifically looking for an African-American minister.  It sounded like they had seen him earlier and were trying to find him again.  I don't know if they did, or not.  I hadn't seen him, but the room was very crowded for most of the day. 

Those couples without connections to local clergy had their pick of the rest of us who were there available. I officiated at two services.  And just enjoyed the day and celebrated with other couples and witnessed and helped the rest of the time. 
The first wedding I performed that day was for Adam and Michael.  They have been together over a dozen years, and had had a wedding before, although it wasn't a legal ceremony.  They'll now have two spring anniversaries to celebrate.  Adam and Michael were glad to hear I was UU -- they said they were hoping for either a UU or Unity minister.  Here in this picture (by Annette Bowman), I'm blessing the wedding rings that they have been wearing for years.

At the end of the ceremony, I copied what the Rev. Gail Geisenhainer of the First UU Congregation of Ann Arbor had been doing during all the ceremonies she had been performing that day.  I held their hands aloft, and loudly proclaimed them married and introduced them to the room.  As each marriage was thus announced, all other activity in the room would pause and the room would all cheer and celebrate together, and then other ceremonies would resume.  This picture (by Jon or Kathy McLean), is taken just as we're bringing our hands down from that moment.  It captures Adam and Michael mere seconds after their marriage has become legally recognized. 

The second ceremony I officiated at is one I don't have pictures of except from The Detroit News, where they're shown in the slide show here (slides 8 and 9).  Shirley and Shirley were among the last couples to get married that day, and the room was emptying out.  You have to be a resident of the county to get a license there, and one Shirley lives in Detroit, but the other Shirley is an Ypsilanti native.  It was fun introducing Shirley Hayslett-Cunningham and Shirley Cunningham-Hayslett to the room, though I got a bit (understandably, I think) tongue-twisted with that one. The room cheered and laughed in a friendly, loving way.  

Before long, it was after 1pm, and couples were being turned away as the Washtenaw County Clerk's office closed.  Despite the fact that our governor is refusing to recognize these marriages and a stay on performing more is in effect, the law of Michigan right now still stands that our constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is overturned, and same-sex marriage is legal.  Refusing to recognize the marriages while the appeal is pending is to refuse to recognize couples that were, and are, legally married.  Thankfully, the Federal government is recognizing these marriages. 

It puts a damper on that day that these couples are on hold, certainly.  In cases like Michael and Adam and Shirley and Shirley, these couples literally don't even know what their own name is, since hyphenating your name is a perk of legal marriage, without any other steps necessary to have a legal name change.  It's just one of the thousands of legal problems that couples whose marriages aren't legally recognized have arrange separately.  It's the smallest example, and one that heterosexual couples just take for granted and don't even think about.  Some of the same-sex couples were startled to find, that day, that this was something they could easily and legally do in a legally-recognized wedding. 

Name changes are one thing --  although names are fundamental to our identity, and meaningful -- but the inheritance rights and the adoption rights are very significant and have a huge impact.  So many couples in my community live in situations where if one person dies, the other parent will not have any legal claim on the children they have raised and parented together.  The court case in Michigan began as an adoption case for this very reason. 

I find myself unsure about how to end this post.  This was a joyous, celebratory day, full of love and full of the joy of recognizing families in our state.  We knew that a stay would come to the decision, but I had hope that these marriages would be recognized in our state until and unless an appeal was successful.  I think it's a crime that they're not.  And so a day of joy is still a day of joy, but followed by anger and sorrow.  We are still are fighting for equality in Michigan.