From the President's Desk
Moving Forward toward the Annual Meeting-
A case for the Congregational Covenant
By Leigh Hoftiezer, UCN President
In just a few short weeks we will be gathering together to discuss and vote on key issues concerning life in this cherished community. Key issues will include approving the proposed budget for 2014-15 and deciding whether to accept the congregational covenant that has been written by several UCN members this year.
As a long term member I have seen people at their best here, working to strengthen our community with honor and respect for one another. I have also been witness to times when people were not at their best. The strife that created was damaging to the morale of our congregation and may have been avoidable. The purpose of a congregational covenant is to help remind people how we intend to be with one another, living our principles and pursuing our dreams in harmonious community.
Your Leadership Board, Rev. Julie Forest and several members of our church have worked together to write a covenant that can be useful to help us now and in the future. Its purpose is twofold: as a guide to members actively engaged in the life of the church, and as a statement that visitors can read to better understand how we intend to be with one another. If approved by the congregation, it will be reviewed in the coming years, on a schedule yet to be determined by the Leadership Board, and amended as needed. This covenant is a tool for each of us to use now and in the future.You will be invited to sign it, and it will become part of the Membership Book that our new members sign.
This year’s annual meeting is now scheduled for May 18. I ask each of you to read the covenant below, discuss it with others, ask questions of me, Rev. Julie and/or your trustees, and be part of the decision-making process at the important meeting in May. I have always felt very strongly that such toolshad to come from the congregation and be approved or rejected by the congregation in a democratic process. I hope you will engage yourself in this conversation. To assist with this process, a Barn Banter to discuss the covenant has been scheduled for Sunday, April 20, at 11:15 a.m. in the sanctuary.
Unitarian Church North Congregational Covenant
In support of congregational life at Unitarian Church North, we value the open exchange of ideas and we respect the deliberative process. We make the following commitments to one another:
We create an atmosphere where all of us feel included, safe, respected and accepted, and in doing so are mindful of each other’s personal space.
We remember that building a welcoming community requires active participation and stewardship. We give generously of ourselves and our resources, and we inspire others to do the same.
After expressing our opinions, we work toward consensus. We practice the democratic process for decision-making, understanding that we will then support the final decision.
We recognize that at times we will agree to disagree.
When conflict occurs we work directly with each other and attempt to resolve the issue through our conflict resolution process.
We are imperfect human beings. We forgive ourselves and each other, and when necessary we begin again in love.
With great regard for each of you,
As many of you know, I and my husband are privileged to live in a home along the western shore of Lake Michigan. Many hours are spent gazing east at the deck, the beach, and the lake from my comfortable work station (a.k.a., the kitchen table), and the resulting sculpture of the landscape by numerous weather events never ceases to amaze me. Remembering with great joy the times my family has had in summer introducing our children, friends, and various dogs to the summer beach, the beauty, if not the comfort of the shore in winter is equally as striking. The seemingly endless weeks of cold weather have caused ice to form all across the Great Lakes, and this week’s predominantly east winds have graced our western shore with multiple rows of ice mountains that are colored by the natural sand, raised up by the waves. This same sand is used during our Sunday services to support our joys and sorrows candles.
The natural beauty is so captivating and so diverse, contributing to the character of the entire area that it inspires me to think about parallels with our church’s congregation. Part of my responsibility as your president is to lead meetings in an effort to engender civil discourse and attain common ground to achieve a solution that will serve the needs of every person. Repeatedly I have come away from these meetings not only pleased, but happy, inspired, satisfied, and at times ecstatic over the way every person participated in the conversation and resulting decision making. We do not always agree at first, but during discourse we have honored and respected both ourselves and each other in order to create a better “whole” that is more than the sum of the diverse parts. With a greater number of participants involved in the discussion, solutions are achieved that are better than any that one person alone could imagine.
Just as my beach consists of sand, water, trees, grasses, flowers, and a wide variety of animals, UCN consists of people who alone have their strengths, but together inspire one another to reach a higher plane in the life of our church. Thank you for lending your wonderful qualities to the character of our spiritual home. We are better for it, and I hope you feel better for being here.
As you can read in other articles that have been included with this newsletter, the focus of UCN’s annual pledge drive this year is directed toward recognition of the very positive identifiable characteristics and activities our church engages in and promotes. We do great things to support one another, from spiritual guidance, to pastoral listening, to religious education, to caring for the Earth, to reaching out to the community around us in a multitude of ways. We are intentionally conscious of the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism, and strive to live them to the best of our abilities.
In addition, day by day many of our members make every effort to plan ahead to confirm that our church will continue providing the light of religious freedom in the warmth of a caring community. This means following through with the financial promises we made last year, participating in the work of committees that interest us, and looking for ways to achieve our dreams to support our spiritual home. Some of these dreams will not be fulfilled if we do not receive the financial support required.
So many of us feel this is where we belong because intangible needs are being met here. Not only do we gain from what is given to us in the inspiration and wisdom shared by others, but we benefit from engaging with others in the multitude of projects that are part of church life. This is where I belong because with you I am better able to integrate the seven principles into my life. Your journey helps support my journey, and together our liberal religious faith becomes stronger while we strive to make our world a better place. I know this is where I belong and am grateful that you all are a large part of why I am proud to be a member of Unitarian Church North.
Though this letter most likely will not be read until after the holidays, as I write our families and communities are preparing for end-of-year celebrations. The Hoftiezer family will gather from points near and far, weather and road conditions willing, to rejoice in reunion and the love for each other that has sustained us over the years. It will be our first Christmas without my father, and much of our time will be spent remembering and honoring him with stories of holidays gone by. By the time this is published, I hope that my loved ones and yours were able to have a holiday that will sustain them as winter moves in, and that all who traveled arrived safely.
As many of you know, a congregational discussion was held on December 15 to discuss whether UCN’s needs would be better served by holding only one service per Sunday throughout the year. Approximately 56 members attended and the final hand vote showed 50 were in favor of moving to one service, one voted against, and 5 abstained. In addition, in my numerous face-to-face conversations, telephone calls, emails, and printed notes from 33 members, the unanimous opinion was in favor of the change. Undoubtedly there was some overlap of the two groups, but the majority opinion was clear. The holiday schedule through January 5 has Sunday services beginning at 10:00. From that point forward, services will continue meeting at 10:00 every Sunday. Thank you to all who not only voiced their opinion regarding the question, but also to the countless members who worked very hard to help make the 2-services-per-Sunday schedule run smoothly over the past 5 ½ years. Working together, I have no doubt we will all adjust to the new time and benefit by being part of this strong community.
Behavioral covenant discussions that were held in November and early December proved fruitful, attended by those who had interest in the project. We will be moving forward with this in the coming weeks and months, engaging all who would like to participate in the writing of 2 or 3 drafts that would serve the needs of our beloved church. The congregation will have an opportunity to vote on the final draft at our annual meeting in May. More information about upcoming draft meetings will be provided through the Friday Flyer.
With peace and blessings to all,
Perhaps my message will seem late since this letter will be read after Thanksgiving has passed, but gratitude truly has no deadline or expiration date. Reflecting on all that UCN offers, I am moved by the compassion, sincerity, devotion, and joy that so many of you share with the rest of us. In a multitude of ways we are moving in a positive direction, embracing our values, living our dreams for a better world, and supporting not just fellow members but also the larger community. My gratitude toward all of you lies not only in the fact that you are sustaining the same kind of values that I have, but also that our work is having an impact in visible as well as intangible ways. The significance of being in community by acting out our liberal faith is not lost. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Discussions regarding the development of a behavioral covenant have begun and are being held in the Emerson Room. Numerous opportunities are available for you to join with others to talk about the why and the details of this process. Your input is valuable and necessary in order for it to be meaningful and reflective of UCN’s interpersonal needs. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or any Leadership Board member. The remaining schedule is as follows:
Tuesday, 12/3/13, 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, 12/7/13, 10:00 a.m.
Thursday, 12/12/13, 3:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Your trusted servant,
An open invitation to participate in developing something that will benefit UCN for years to come…
Study and discussions initiated a year ago by then-President Brian Mitchell were continued by yours truly at the leadership retreat in August of this year, centering around the concept of writing a behavioral covenant to serve UCN now and in the future. I have chosen to move forward with this conversation because I believe a functioning covenant could be very beneficial to us, strengthening our relationships and helping us to continue working well together for the future of our church. When churches face difficulties that challenge their members, having a clear idea of how members hope to interact with one another helps all to continue on a path that benefits the greatest number.
What is a covenant? In most basic terms, it is a promise.
- Covenants can be used by leaders to model healthy and faithful behavior to others in the congregation and the community.
- Covenants are promises to follow, not rules prescribing punishment.
- Covenants describe behaviors, not personality changes.
- Covenants are a daily, spiritual practice.
- Covenants can be used to monitor behaviors by periodically being reviewed.
A covenant will empower and encourage members of goodwill to seek the higher ground in times of disagreement. It is best to write it now, when things are going well at UCN, so that ideas can be shared and discussed calmly.
Having a great number of members participate in brainstorming what we want as expected behaviors will be key to its success. Your Leadership Board Trustees, along with Brian Mitchell, Jeanne Durnford, Jenny Goetz (Board Secretary) and I have agreed to lead discussions and to listen to what you have to say about this process. We are offering a wide variety of times when you may attend these discussions at UCN. The schedule will be posted in the Friday Flyer, as an insert in the order-of-service, and will be on the church calendar that may be found on our website, www.ucnorth.org.
Are you still not sure whether you think a behavioral covenant is worth pursuing? In my research on the topic, I contacted a variety of UU churches whose covenants I found online. Having been asked whether they thought it was worthwhile, one church responded thusly:
The behavioral covenant was born out of a time of controversy prior to my arriving in 2007 to be their minister. It sat as a dormant document for a period of time, surrounded with a system of resolution that seemed too big for a small congregation. But, after a few years of dormancy, it was called upon in another time of controversy (or should I say attempted controversy) and the Covenant was cited by many in asking for and then affirming action by the Board to uphold those principles. Once a clear line was both on paper (Covenant) and in practice (removal of a member for actions which threatened the well-being of the congregation), life became much easier and our shared community much richer. The Covenant remains quietly in the background, but I hear on a regular basis how it has called people back to good behavior and right relations. (emphasis added)
Please consider joining us for this conversation. YOUR voice needs to be heard because you and every member of UCN are a key part of who we are today and how we will proceed tomorrow.
Life is good here at UCN. With the resumption of activities that we normally see during the academic year, there is much to choose from for those who are interested in becoming involved. Many of the articles you will read in this Northliner, see announced in the weekly Friday Flyer, hear about from the pulpit, or see advertised in flyers around the church are indicative of the diverse interests and passions that help define us. If you haven’t already investigated those things that have sparked your curiosity, please do so. You can ask the church officers or any Board member for assistance. Our blue name tags will help you locate us on busy Sunday mornings.
On August 24 the annual leadership retreat was held at UCN, with members of UCN’s Leadership Board as well as committee chairpersons in attendance. Key points addressed at the meeting were developing the church calendar, reimagining UCN work for better use of volunteer time, the church-wide social justice initiative, and the introduction of behavioral covenant discussion where every UCN member will be encouraged to participate. Rev. Julie mentioned some of these in a recent sermon, others are discussed in this newsletter issue, and more information will be made available in the coming months.
This year one of my goals as your president is to help UCN develop a behavioral covenant that will serve our members in times of crisis. A covenant is a promise, and a behavioral covenant refers to how we treat each other and work together. As I mentioned above, things are going well at UCN currently, which means this is the time for us to engage in the discussion about healthy behaviors we want to continue and support.
Your Leadership Board is preparing to lead meetings at different times of the day and the week so that every person will have an opportunity to voice their opinion and discuss what they feel is important to our community. Not only will we talk about desired behaviors, but as a community we will determine what recourse there will be should a problem remain unresolved. Sign-up sheets will be available in October, with the discussion sessions taking place in November. We sincerely hope you will participate, sharing your ideas, your concerns, and your passion for helping to maintain the congregational health of UCN.
Leigh Hoftiezer, President
With this, my first missive as your new president, I would like to thank the Nominating Committee and UCN’s members for entrusting me with this important role. I am honored and humbled by your actions, and will do my best to fulfill the responsibilities of the position. Accepting the nomination was, for the most part, without trepidation because my extensive experience with all of you has been so positive. We support each other through thick and thin, and help one another succeed in myriad ways. Knowing in my heart that the community is there for me, and for all of us, I anticipate this year as president to be very rewarding personally. Whenever you have a question or concern regarding the church, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. I promise to do what I can either to answer the question myself or to direct the query to the person or committee that can.
There is much to celebrate and be proud of at UCN. This summer we had a truly outstanding variety of Sunday speakers who provided well-conceived and delivered, thought-provoking sermons. From learning about creatures with naturalist educator David Stokes, to exploring questions about Unitarian Universalism with UU clergy, to being inspired by experiences shared in social justice work, there was something to catch the interest of the many people who attended our services.
At the end of June, 32 UCN members and friends represented UCN in the Mequon-Thiensville “Family Fun Before the Fourth” parade, carrying the American flag along with banners and placards that informed the public about our programs and our historical figures. Organized by Peggy Creer with help from Dean Johnson, Constance Fisk and Tiffany Meekey, we presented our message with honor and respect mixed in with a lot of fun.
The Social Justice Committee has continued working on the congregation-wide initiative throughout the summer and has exciting progress to report. The Landscape Committee put in hours of work to improve the beautiful grounds around the church, and welcomed the efforts of several people who weren’t members of the committee who wanted to help. Our Green Committee has made plans for the upcoming electronics recycling event, and the Religious Education Committee is gearing up for the coming year so that our children, and that of our visitors, will have an enriching program to fill their Sunday mornings.
Events that were “sold” at our auction last April have almost all taken place, and from all reports everyone had a marvelous time getting to know one another in a casual setting, either over a meal or an educational opportunity, or both! These connections help enrich and strengthen our relationships with one another, and many will be offered again at the auction next May.
The SCRIP program continues to flourish, with gift cards from several local vendors available for purchase immediately after church services. Several people stepped up to sell the cards every Sunday, so that both our members and the church itself were well served in this regard. As always, you may still preorder gift cards on-line. If you need help with that process, get in touch with UCN member/SCRIP Coordinator Mike Strauss.
I am looking forward to the start of another great year at UCN, and hope you are, too.
See you soon,