Southeast District Dissolved & Regionalization is now Our Plan

by Sandra Engelhardt & Alicia Hofler

The last business meeting of the Southeast District of the UUA was held on April 17-18 at the UU Church of Greensboro, NC. UUFP delegates were Sandra and Alicia. This meeting ran concurrently with meetings in the Mid-South, Southwest and Florida districts to discuss and vote on our districts’ future connection and structure within the UUA. The meeting opened with a live simulcast from Florida of UUA President, Rev. Peter Morales’ remarks on the proposed governance changes for our districts and his answers to questions about those changes and upcoming General Assemblies. In the new governance structure, local churches are empowered to work together to solve problems and act regionally through clusters, and UUA professionals, relieved of many time-consuming and often conflicting administrative duties, can be more intentional in interactions with the parishes and the UUA. Two points from his remarks stood out. One, these four districts are the leaders in this movement to make our governance practices reflect the philosophy of our principles. Two, the South is the only growing part of the country and key to the growth of our movement.

Next, Rev. Jean Pupke of Richmond delivered the keynote speech live from Greensboro to all four districts. Her title was “After Orlando: Stream Keeping as an Act of Faith”. In her remarks she stressed four things that we as a religious denomination must do. One – Actively seek out individuals (children who grow away, lost members, and new people searching for a liberal religious home) and remind people we are still here.  Passively waiting for visitors to come to our churches is not enough. Two – Work with clusters. The way we did business under the old governance structure did not always make sense.  Attuned to regional differences, clusters can more effectively share expertise and customize solutions to meet local needs.  Three – Share and support other churches. She spoke of her weekly trips to Norfolk and reminded us that a call to provide such support is spelled out in the foundational Cambridge platform. Four – Tell stories that make a difference.  The South is rooted in a storyteller culture, and we have good stories to tell that can introduce and illustrate our message to diverse audiences.

Immediately after the plenary sessions, the districts held separate business meetings.  Our local business meeting centered on two topics: discussion and vote on the new governance and the Chalice Lighter program.  Before the governance vote, we learned that the new model has three pathways for congregational feedback to the UUA on the how new structure is working: 1) Elder council (former District board members), 2) Regional advisor council (put together by Southern Region), and 3) Linkage (connections) within UUA Board. After much reading (prior to the meeting), attending information sessions, and digesting the messages from Rev. Morales and Rev. Pupke, there were few questions about the district dissolution. The vote passed with no nays. We later learned that it passed in the other three districts as well with only two negative votes. Anyone interested in more details of this meeting can go to the Southern Region’s website www.uuasouthernregion.org or ask Sandra or Alicia.

The Chalice Lighter report covered the social action grant program.  When the Chalice Lighter program sends out a call, often contributions arrive too late to support the initial need, and the funds are set aside to fund future large-scale endeavors such as emergency response to Hurricane Katrina.  Recently, the Southeast District’s Chalice Lighter Committee decided to use some of these reserve funds to support social action projects. This year there were 14 applications for three $5000 grants. The three winners were: Unitarian Coastal Fellowship (Morehead City, NC) with a Voters’ Rights Project; Eno River UU Fellowship (NC) with an Outreach to Historic Black Colleges; and the last is shared between the UU Congregation of the Low Country (Blufton, SC) and UUF Beaufort (SC) for an anti-racism and anti-oppression program involving a Beloved Conversation with Food Pantry partner organizations. Normally, there are two Chalice Lighter calls per year, and the committee is considering adding a third call making it possible to offer five social action grants.

The afternoon was devoted to workshops.  Sandra went first to “Theme- based Ministry 2020” by Rev. David Messner. He had given us a very interesting sermon on Friday night about moving forward while honoring our past. The workshop quote I remember most is “You are either growing or dying.” The second workshop was by Rev. Ken Hurto, Southern Region Staff “Many Voices, Diversity in Worship”. He asked the group many questions and we came away with the importance of the need for diversity in the calendar and to be intentional about music diversity.  Alicia attended two leadership related workshops: volunteer leadership opportunities in the UUA and creating an environment to develop youth leaders and keep them engaged.

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