It has become a tradition each June for the incoming and outgoing Presidents of our Board of Trustees to interview each other about their experience in the previous year and hopes and plans for the next church year. Here is a back-and-forth between Jerry Wagnon and Gaye Webb.
Gaye: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the congregation in the coming year?
Jerry: Looking back on my response to this question last year, I realize we never know what the future will throw our way. I thought the process of planning a new facility would be our biggest concern; however, it went smoothly and on time. Several other challenges, however, at times took center stage and will need ongoing work.
Bringing the members of the congregation back together after some divisive times this last year will certainly require attention. Moving forward on our developmental goals also got sidelined during the last year, including creation of clearer policies and procedures within the greater context of mission and visioning work. And we know an ongoing challenge is becoming a “virtual church” indefinitely and then preparing to reopen as an in-person experience. This affects our financial as well as spiritual health, as we try to develop a meaningful worship experience along with social justice, caring, and faith development opportunities. And then there is the process of negotiating construction and other contracts.
I do not know what the greatest of these will be, or if something else will come along out of the blue, so be flexible and fasten your seatbelt.
Jerry: What are you most looking forward to, as you look toward your year as President?
Gaye: I am looking forward to the construction of our new church building at 1719 E. 29th street. As the brick-and-mortar activities are happening, I hope the Board will lead the congregation through a covenanting, mission, and visioning process. Subsequently, we can develop a strategic plan and goals to work toward our vision to prepare us to share our faith in new ways with each other and with the local community. Our current congregational covenant, mission, and vision were created by the congregation about 10-12 years ago and for our location on Welborn Road. We are in a new time and will soon be in a new place. Through conversations together, about who we have been, who we are today, what we want to be tomorrow, and how we will be together, we will deepen our connections and reveal a path for our future. It is through the sharing and listening to each other’s stories that we will either reaffirm our current covenant, mission, and vision or create new ones. To me, that’s exciting work.
Gaye: What was the biggest surprise you had during your term – what happened that you did not expect?
Jerry: Despite all that I had read over the years about the possibility of a pandemic sometime in the future and the economic and social consequences it might bring, I certainly did not see our transforming into a virtual church in the wake of COVID-19. If this experience proves one thing, it is how interconnected the church is with the social, political, and natural environments.
Jerry: Is there anything in particular you are doing or have done to get prepared for your presidency?
Gaye: I asked myself if I should wait until after the election before I spent any time preparing or if I should prepare to “hit the ground running” immediately after the election. Because I am a planner, I couldn’t just sit around and wait for the outcome of the election. Therefore, I have used the last several weeks to refresh my memory of my previous presidential terms, one at UUCBV and another congregation. Also, I did a lot of reading to gain new knowledge about best practices in governing a small religious organization. I have identified resources from the online UUA Leadership Lab, as well as other places, to share with the new Board. As we work together, it is my hope that we will identify the unique personality and culture of our congregation and consider which of these practices are best for us.
As a family-size church, most of our governance history, including policies, has been shared by word of mouth and has been dependent on members with institutional memory. Often, our boards have “reinvented the wheel” by making decisions that have already been made or by overturning previous decisions without even realizing it. Therefore, I have researched our online storage of church documents to identify board- and congregation-approved policies to share with the new and future boards. I am collecting and compiling these in one place, which can serve as the beginnings of a virtual UUCBV Policy Manual. Future boards will be able to more easily add new policies and other documents as they are approved. Supplements to this manual might also contain other important church documents such as the articles of incorporation, congregation bylaws, the organizational structure, covenants, mission, vision, strategic plan, goals, legal documents, and insurance policies.
To this end, I am asking former UUCBV church leaders to search their paperwork and computer files for board/governance documents and email them to the church office to be added to our official UUCBV Policy Manual.
Gaye: How do you draw upon denominational resources in making decisions that affect UUCBV?
Jerry: In the search for an interim minister, we have certainly relied on the Transitions Office for guidance and assistance. Perhaps the resource I found most helpful not only for ideas but for realizing that we are not alone in the issues we face as a congregation is the monthly Southern Region Presidents’ Webinar. And though I had no inkling of things to come, it gave me a head start on using a well-coordinated Zoom® meeting format.
Jerry: What new ideas, big or small, will you bring to the work of the board this coming year
Gaye: In addition to the ideas I mentioned earlier, I work best as a member of a team. I believe that members of a team do their best work when they are in a covenantal relationship with one another. In addition, when we apply our unique skills and abilities to the work that we are passionate about, we will be unstoppable. I will encourage the Board members to share their unique values, skills, strengths, and passions and align those with the Board’s work. The synergy we create when we are the best can help us lead the congregation to be the best it can be.
Gaye: How do (did?) you juggle the demands of your day and church leadership?
Jerry: Very poorly. When I accepted the nomination to serve as president-elect, I had temporarily retired and was looking to a couple of possibilities for non-work income, but those fell through. I was forced to take a job in the private sector that did not allow any flexibility for a block of about thirty hours mid-week. That seemed to be the time when the most emails and urgent items of church business would come my way and by Friday, I felt overwhelmed. Still, I usually get to bed early, and I do get some reading in. Perhaps now that I am finally settling into the new normal, especially without the time spent commuting to work, church and other places, I can concentrate more on health and spiritual practice.
Jerry: What do you enjoy most about the UUCBV community?
As a daughter of a Southern Baptist minister, I was raised in a church community where we were taught to believe in the father, the son, and the holy ghost; in other words, it was our faith that mattered – not our works. It is my belief that our works based in love are what matters. This is what attracted me to Unitarian Universalism: working together in love to achieve that which matters to us and our neighbors. We join other congregations in covenant to affirm and promote our seven principles. As members of this congregation, we have our own covenant about how we will be together as we live out our values.
Many say we are “like-minded” folk – but in reality, we are anything but like-minded. In fact, diversity in thought and beliefs is the unique characteristic that makes this faith exciting and free. Often, I am asked, how can you UUs be together when you don’t believe in the same things and don’t think alike? My answer is because of our covenant.
Philosopher Martin Buber says, “human beings are promise-making, promise-keeping, promise-breaking, promise-renewing” animals. His theory is that promising makes us social beings and as his formula suggests, it can be a challenging thing to negotiate. Not all promises are easy, not all promises are wise, not all promises are kept, and even when promises are broken, our relationship doesn’t end. As UUs, we are committed to continuing relationships in love, even when we break our promises.
I look forward to this coming church year with anticipation because in this church, we have some of the most creative, compassionate, intelligent, and interesting people I know. Together, we can make a difference in the life of our congregation and in the community.