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Board President’s Report

Written by Jeff Walberg, UUS Board President

Before I write about the past year, let me back up in time a bit. My family re-engaged with UUS in 2015 after several years away when our son was in his teens. We started to reconnect when UUS purchased its new property and members began dreaming of its future. 

I was inspired by the commitment to sustainability, the visions for welcoming diverse visitors into our space, and the aspirations for significant membership growth. My enthusiasm led me to serve for three years as Publicity Coordinator, eager to spread the word to a new generation of UUs who could find the type of meaning my family had found, while in turn helping the congregation live out our mission and vision more fully.

As you likely know, things didn’t work out exactly as planned. Membership remained essentially flat, weddings and events didn’t bring in as much revenue as expected, and increased staffing and unexpected building costs caused a significant gap between revenue and expenses. 

But the congregation’s vision and ambitions also helped us weather what was about to come. Our elevated staffing undoubtedly helped us remain stable during a period of interim ministry and the COVID shutdowns. Lessons learned about rentals and events helped inform new post-pandemic ways of approaching community engagement and revenue generation. And our efforts at outreach, combined with our commitment to preemptive radical inclusion, have resulted in a steady recovery in membership and visitors, with many people seeking the type of values and opportunities for connection that UUS has long provided. 

So even as we continue to work through budget challenges, I think it’s also important to recognize that we have remained stable and cohesive through an extraordinarily challenging period of building transition, ministerial transition, and global pandemic. And this stability is due, at least in part, to the investments that an ambitious, vision-oriented community made to its future, even if its specific goals weren’t realized exactly as planned, and its budgets weren’t sustainable over the long term.

This brings us to today, which I would characterize as a period of “thoughtful right-sizing.” We are in a phase of adjusting staff roles, programs, committee and team structures, and policies to better align our operations with our human, fiscal, and physical resources.

We’ve made significant progress in addressing our budget deficit by reorganizing staff roles after our Director of Congregational Life left a year ago. This has not been an easy or simple transition, and it is still a work in progress.

The Board is now working with the Finance and Endowment Committees to think more deeply about long-term stewardship, sparked by a recent assessment conducted by UU consultant Mark Ewert. This effort at cultivating and aligning financial resources with our near and future needs is critical because the congregation has voted to require a balanced budget for 2025, which also coincides with our mortgage renewal. Discussions are beginning on ways we might reduce our mortgage obligation, which may potentially involve a larger rethinking of how we develop and use endowed funds. The overall hope is to find creative ways to bring our expenses in line with our revenue instead of simply making additional cuts.

Another important but less obvious area for right-sizing is in our shared ministry governance model. The congregation adopted a new policy-based model in 2020 that is more ideally suited for congregations with significantly larger membership and staffing levels. This new governance model offers many benefits, with a key element being that it shifts a significant amount of responsibility from the Board to the minister and staff, with the minister’s role restructured to be more like the executive director of a non-profit. 

Overall, this is a terrific direction for the congregation, as it provides a lot more focus and coordination for our programs and operations. But we’re finding that the minister and staff are being stretched more than is healthy, which makes it difficult to reap the full benefits of a shared ministry approach. So the Board is working closely with Rev. Diana, staff, and ministry team leaders to adjust and clarify the shared ministry model in ways that better suit the resources of our congregation at this moment in time.

Related to these realities are noticeable changes in post-pandemic volunteerism, not just at UUS, but across all volunteer organizations. People seem generally less interested in long-term commitments and favor action-oriented ways to contribute over sitting in meetings. (Puzzling to me, as someone who loves group process.)

A year ago, the Board adjusted to this reality by reducing the size of the Board and the length of trustee terms. We are so far very happy with the results. We’ve continued these right-sizing efforts this year by reducing the scope and size of some of our Board committees, while adjusting policies to distribute work more effectively and clearly between the Board and its committees. A large part of the goal is to free up more volunteer capacity for our ministry teams, which are the groups who are actively living out our mission and vision. Another goal is bringing more focus to important areas like how to provide care to one another, especially now that the minister has less responsibility and time to devote to pastoral care.

None of these changes are easy or without stress or disagreement, and they are happening at a time when most of us are anxious about the state of the world and the regressive policies in our own state. For our part, the Board has engaged in a significant amount of work over the past 18 months on trust-building and learning how to embrace conflict as a necessary part of being in community. 

The Board’s perception is that the congregation as a whole has been in a period of relatively low and generally healthy conflict, especially given all the changes we’ve been living through as a community. But we are also noticing a few episodes where conflict is not being approached as constructively as we’d like. We’re in early stages of discerning how we might engage the congregation more broadly as we seek to develop our individual and collective capacities for working through conflicts in ways that strengthen rather than threaten or deplete the community.

In summary, this is all complex and important work with no clear instructions and many moving parts. This is what I love! I wake up nearly every day feeling immensely grateful to be serving in this role at this particular time. My first term as president has been personally meaningful and fulfilling, and I appreciate your confidence as I enter a second term and welcome four new Board members.

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