Ministry in Governance

Co-presidents Letter for May 2024

One of the first books I read when I joined the UUSA Board of Trustees nearly three years ago was Governance and Ministry by Dan Hotchkiss.  This reference is a standard read for board leaders of many faiths and helped ground me in the work of the board.  About the same time there was a minor kerfuffle within the congregation about the word “ministry.”  Some of us seemed to want to reserve the word ministry for the designated minister, and others saw the work of our many committees as “ministering” to the congregation.  Personally, I believe that everything we do is ministry. 

I have come to understand ministry as service.  In our case, it would be service consistent with UU Principles and Values.  One of my problems with the Dan Hotchkiss book is that it seems to imply that “governance” and “ministry” are two separate functions.  But this is changing as the feature article in the most recent issue of UU World titled “Shared Ministry Helps UU Communities Thrive” suggests. 

The other book I read (yes, I’m a bit of a book nerd) early in my tenure on the board was adrienne maree brown’s modern classic, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.  This is a deeply spiritual book that offers us hope for a better world.  Brown guides us toward strategic and radical change in our institutions and our lives in ways that are consistent with our 8th Principle (to dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions).  One of her teachings is called intentional adaptation.

We all adapt to changing conditions, often as a knee-jerk reaction to an unexpected crisis (like a pandemic) or stress (like a budget shortfall).  The key to “intentional adaptation” is to change in response to changing conditions while holding tightly to our mission, but not necessarily to specific pre-conceived outcomes.  Rather than following a “five-year plan” we must “build the road while walking.”  Strategies that result in success will emerge in non-linear, iterative, and perhaps unexpected ways.  It requires faith.  It requires hope.  It requires love. 

This sounds like “ministry” to me.

This past year, one of the adaptations that we have experimented with on the UUSA Board of Trustees is the practice of sociocracy, known in UUA circles as dynamic governance.  Those of us familiar with the competitive, rough and tumble form of governance known as New England Town Meeting guided by Robert’s Rules, benefited from learning a different way to deliberate and make decisions. It has been an interesting and gratifying experiment. We are still learning.

I see sociocracy as a means of intentional adaptation for UU’s.  Sociocracy is deeply embedded in a commitment to the worth and dignity of every person (First Principle), justice, equity, and compassion (Second Principle), the search for truth and meaning (Fourth Principle), and as mentioned, it allows us to practice our Eighth Principle.  Sociocracy has helped us practice governance as a form of ministry. 

If any UUSA committee, ministry, team, or circle wants to learn more about how the tools of sociocracy might help you in your own work, please contact me to arrange a consultation with members of the UUSA Sociocracy Support Circle.   It’s another form of ministry.

In community,

John Gerber

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