Collaborative Ministry, from Cluster to Region

We’re excited that our Fellowship is hosting the annual Tidewater Cluster gathering this year, and that the UUA’s new Moderator, Jim Key, will be our featured speaker!  The meeting takes place on Saturday, March 29th, from 9am until 3:30pm, with a lock-in for youth starting Friday evening.  You have just a few more days to register at a reduced rate, before it goes up on March 18th, so find out more here and register now!

Local clusters such as ours are being emphasized at the same time as the UUA’s districts — including ours, the Southeast District — are merging into larger regions.  We are part of the Southern Region, which includes Unitarian Universalist congregations across the south, from Virginia down to Florida and across to Texas.  This seems like a good time, then, for an update from the Southern Region’s Lead Executive, the Rev. Kenneth Hurto, which we are reposting here from his original article.

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The last three years have been a period of trying new things for our Region, even as we coped with sustaining what is already in place.  Your staff and Boards have embraced the notion of experi-fail to indicate the vulnerability we feel as we seek to create something very new to serve our Unitarian Universalist future and our existing congregations.

Premised on the idea of encouraging innovation, we’ve sought to risk new approaches to the larger ministry across four unique Districts and to collaborate in forming a unified Southern Region.

Two joint meetings since 2010 — see our website for the Orlando Platform and the Mountain View documents — have led to these outcomes:

  • routine and frequent collaboration between the four boards;
  • the launch of a twice-monthly regional newsletter and consolidation of four websites into one;
  • the addition of the Southern Unitarian Universalist Leadership Experience (SUULE) to the Dwight Brown Leadership Experience (DBLE) as annual events;
  • the establishment of Convocations of Congregational Presidents each spring, in addition to local and District-based trainings such as Fall Harvest, the Congregational Toolbox and Spring Training;
  • the transformation of 6½ District-based staff to seven Regional positions called Congregational Life Staff: each has a direct first-call relationship with roughly thirty to thirty-five congregations in addition to being available to the entire region;
  • the merger of four administrative offices into two; and
  • the creation of a unified budget for the whole region.

All of this, however, is mere re-arranging of the chairs unless we use the efficiencies and combined talents better to serve our congregations and their leaders, as well as create new inter-congregational connections and partner with like-hearted groups beyond the congregation.

The ways we are doing this include:

  • rolling out the new approach to Regional funding, called Generously Investing for Tomorrow (GIFT), a unified, single “Ask” for both our UUA’s Annual Program Fund and“dues” to support the Districts — see details here;
  • redefining the role of our Boards as at-large advisors or “Elders” to our congregations;
  • holding our first simultaneous District Assemblies/Annual Meetings April 25th–27th, with UUA Moderator Jim Key providing a live-stream address to all four gatherings;
  • fully integrating the four District finances while establishing protocols for the management of District-specific assets (e.g. endowments, Chalice Lighter funds);
  • developing strategies for strengthening existing and creating new cluster arrangements, including the establishment of new “affinity” clusters (such as, adding to the current three state-wide legislative ministries or linking congregations with campus ministries, etc.).

It is that last item that generates great excitement.  The philosophic idea that we are better together than apart — including the notion of shared nurture, support and accountability — challenges our congregations no longer to view themselves as separate, do it yourself communities.  We need each other to succeed.  The challenges of our time call us to reclaim the second half of our polity, that the autonomous congregation is also a connected congregation.  Clusters, geographic or affinity, are one way to do that.  Congregational coaching by one congregation with one or two others is another.

We have looked back, eager to retain what is solid and of value in our Districts.  We also look forward to what a larger, collaborative ministry across the Southern Region might yet make possible — all to ensure the voices of the Free Church, our liberal religious outlook, and our commitment to love and justice are heard more clearly, more often.

Let’s make this a great and shared ministry.


The Reverend Kenneth Gordon Hurto
Congregational Life Staff member
and Lead Executive for the Southern Region or 239-560-5628


About acmillard

Andrew serves as minister to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula in Newport News, Virginia.
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