Joining the ESUC Board of Trustees this past July was a difficult decision as I thought “policy-based governance” wasn’t my interest. I was putting my energy into things I thought more faith-based – Right Relations, RE and racial justice. Then I started “Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership” by Dan Hotchkiss. Ah – the Bible of governance! I was moved and relieved to see that church governance includes holding “the big picture of the congregation’s mission and priorities.”
Hotchkiss highlights the unique tension between organizational structure and spiritual transformation, noting that congregations tend to fall back into their business behaviors, recruiting people to committees, finances and buildings. “A congregation that invites people to participate in organizational life appeals to only a few, but a congregation that invites people directly into spiritual growth and service appeals to many.” So “if souls are not transformed and the world not healed, the congregation fails no matter what the Treasurer reports.”
In fact, Hotchkiss sees religious organizations as a hope in a world losing communal organizations that used to build social capital and teach service and civic skills necessary to democracy. More than ever, we need spaces for dialogue between people of different ages, backgrounds and political philosophies. He sees many congregations stepping away from these opportunities, avoiding conflict. He challenges us to “dare to keep difficult conversations on the table at all times, and handle discussion well – educate congregations in the arts and practice of civic life.”
So I was overjoyed when the ESUC Board, at our very first meeting, took time to create a covenant and guidelines for how we will be with each other. These build trust and acknowledge that our relationships are why we are here, and that difficult dialogues are how we can best support the congregation’s mission and priorities – and be transformed. Governance is faith-based!
Following the Right Relations service on September 26, I was moved to share our covenant and process with you, and how much it means to me. Everyone participated and shared ways we can make this a living promise, so the commitment to relationships and faith transformation is alive in us as we meet each month to do the organizational tasks of the Board. Read the Board Covenant here.
Hotchkiss says some congregations focus on evangelism – external recruitment. Some focus on being what which they wish to see in the world. I believe we strive for the latter, and we are intentional and caring about embodying this model for what the world can be. And that will transform us all even as we share with the world the incredible gifts of our progressive faith. Covenant means “We will walk together with each other toward the lives we mean to lead, toward the world we mean to have a hand in shaping, the world of compassion, equity, freedom, joy, and gratitude. Covenant is the work of intimate justice.” Victoria Stafford’s article, Bound in Covenant, from the July 1, 2013 issue of UU World.
by Louise Wilkinson, Trustee