Getting Better at Planning and Measuring, One Step at a Time

OK, I have to talk about “policy governance” here for a bit, but KEEP READING! 

A brief refresher for our newest leaders:  the Board works to discern the will of the congregation and writes Ends Statements that give direction for our ministries and programming.  The Executive (Rev. Mark Ward) takes those Ends Statements, writes a few paragraphs about what he thinks they mean “in action” and then works with staff who work with volunteers to move the congregation toward the Ends Statements.  The Executive is then evaluated on the achievement of the Ends.

This year, the Board suggested that the Executive choose a small subset of the Ends to work on and then propose measurable goals for them.  That way, by next June, we ought to be able to see if we’ve met those goals.   It’s a very sensible way to organize an institution, but it’s not easy.

Here is the Executive’s 2016-17 WORK PLAN FOR ACHIEVING ENDS:


“We will embrace principles, values and practices which explore the sacred in the world and the mystery of existence.”

“We will gather together in worship which guides and sustains our individual and communal response to the sacred through multifaceted creative, artistic, and musical experiences.”

Our chief goal in this area is to more deeply integrate families in the worship & spiritual life of the congregation.

What we will measure and plan (hope?) to report to the Board next summer:

  1. 30% of registered families will be present in Sunday worship at least twice a month.
  2. The lead minister will report that at least 50 children or youth had roles in Sunday worship at some time during the regular worship year.
  3. The director of lifespan religious education will report that at least 10 UUCA families have developed family spiritual practices at home.
  4. At least 4 parents of children in religious education will have given statements in worship about why this congregation is important to them.
  5. We will hold 6 planned multigenerational activities during the year at which at least 8 children and 4 adults participate.


“Congregants will feel welcome and connected with each other”

Our chief goal in this area is to improve retention of UUCA members.

What we will measure and plan (hope?) to report to the Board next summer:

  1. 75% of congregants interviewed at each stage of the Connection process – visitors entering new member classes, those contacted after their first year & those contacted after three years at UUCA, will report that they feel welcomed and connected to the congregation.
  2. 66% of new members will report being involved in some activity of the congregation within six months of joining.
  3. 50% of members contacted after their first year will report being currently involved in some activity of the congregation.
  4. 33% of members contacted after three years at UUCA will report being currently involved in some activity of the congregation.


We will act meaningfully and visibly in community service, advocacy, and education.”

Our chief goal in this area is to broaden meaningful participation in the Social Justice ministry of the congregation.

What we will measure and plan (hope?) to report to the Board next summer:

  1. At least 150 congregants will participate in the Just Change workshop.
  2. At least 150 congregants will take part in programs arising from the Just Change workshop.
  3. At least 25% of congregants will have reported some activity during this church year to broaden their understanding or awareness of racism.
  4. At least 25% of congregants will participate in service, advocacy and education outside of the congregation.

Kay Aler-Maida: Open Space What?

We’ll be launching UUCA’s new active Earth and Social Justice movement this month, September 24-25, with a forum entitled JUST CHANGE using Open Space Technology.

Open what?just-changeflower

If you’ve registered for JUST CHANGE and are familiar with Open Space Technology, you can skip the rest of this. If not, please read on.

Open Space Technology is not the latest coffee shop for geeks (in fact, it has nothing to do with electronic gadgets) but a way to enable all kinds of people, in any kind of organization, to hold meetings that get stuff done. Participants create and manage their own agenda in parallel working sessions around a central theme of strategic importance.  

The result is effective connecting and strengthening of what’s already happening in the organization: planning and action, learning and doing, passion and responsibility, participation and performance.

Open Space Technology has been around for over 30 years and has been proven successful with groups as small as 5 and as large as 3,000 and with organizations of all types and structures.

How does it work?

The facilitator opens the space by inviting people to post agenda topics. These people become the conveners of those topics.

Participants pick from among the posted agenda items and join small group working groups led by the conveners.

  • All the issues that are most important to those attending are raised and included in the agenda.
  • All of the issues raised are addressed by the participants best capable of getting something done about them, although you don’t need to be an expert to join in. All you need is interest or passion.
  • All the most important ideas, recommendations, discussions, and next steps are documented in a report.

Everyone’s focus is on what speaks to their heart and from that comes the future. Its power lies in the simplicity of drawing on the passions of the participants and opening the space.

This is what we will be doing at JUST CHANGE – opening the space to include you and me and all at UUCA in creating the future of our Earth and Social Justice movement. The future belongs to those who show up.

Kay Aler-Maida, President, UUCA Board of Trustees

Sermon: Walking the Path of Fear (audio and text)

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Maybe it’s because of this trying election year, but it seems that fear pervades our lives these days. So, how do we take stock of this state of affairs without getting stuck in it? We’ll explore that as we enter this month of Covenant.



Lost by David Wagoner
From The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
“I think about swimming with him into the cave at Portuguese Bend, about the swell of clear water, the way it changed, the swiftness and power it gained as it narrowed through the rocks at the base of the point. The tide had to be just right. We had to be in the water at the very moment the tide was right. We could only have done this a half dozen times at most during the two years we lived there, but it is what I remember. Each time we did it I was afraid of missing the swell, hanging back, timing it wrong. John never was. You had to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He told me that.”


I had the oddest experience about a month or so ago. I woke in the middle of the night out of a dead sleep, sat up on the side of the bed and had no idea where I was. The dark was so deep that my eyes were useless to me and nothing seemed familiar. I rose cautiously and began to feel my way around.

In my confused mind, still partly wrapped in sleep, a kind of fear verging on panic began to arise. What place is this? How am I going to get out of here? Gradually, though, I seized onto something – it might have been a chair, a dresser, I don’t remember exactly what – but I was able to make a connection – Oh, this is our bedroom! The panic subsided and wearily I made my way back under the covers.

Fear is funny that way, isn’t it? How we can get so easily frightened sometimes by the silliest thing. We even like to play with each other that way: waiting around a corner and jumping out when a friend happens by: BOO!

Psychologists remind us that at its root the fear response is actually a good thing. It’s what we rely on to get out of physical danger. Our muscles need to be primed for action, so the blood quickly gets pumping. The thinking part of our brain essentially shuts down, since we may not have time to weigh the proper response, and instead the body’s old fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in. I’ll bet we’ve all had moments where we’ve been grateful for such a response that saved us from some minor peril.

Of course, there are times when some of us like to have fun with that fear response. There is, after all, a kind of exhilaration that we feel in the moment when fear strikes. To me, that helps explain the popularity of the horror film genre. The first time the zombie pops out, it scares the bejesus out of us. But with each subsequent scare the intensity of the fright diminishes, but we still feel the rush of the quick hit of adrenaline. I have to say that such films are not my taste, but I get how they can be a draw.

But as a rule, fear is not a state in which we want to spend much time. It’s exhausting and disorienting. We don’t think clearly or respond compassionately when we’re afraid. We just want to find safety, whatever in the moment we might take that to be.

The truth is many of us don’t even really like to admit to scary experiences. We’d rather dismiss or deny them. In fact, we feel a little embarrassed by them. Even then, though, we don’t forget the emotional intensity around what happened.

Depending on the circumstances, that intensity can become the source of an internal narrative, a story that we tell ourselves that justifies our response, and the idea – “I was right to be scared” – somehow gets attached to the memory of that event. Even if overblown, exaggerated, or flat out fabricated, the memory is retained, and its intensity gives it the feeling of truth, whether it is in fact true or not.

In time, that memory can become one of the building blocks that we use in creating our world view. The problem is that the learning that we take from our experiences of fear is notoriously unreliable. That’s because, again, it comes from a time when we weren’t thinking straight, when our judgment was skewed, and yet at the same time we experienced intense emotion.

It can take a real effort of will to seek out and find the actual truth in the situation, like waking up from a nightmare with our pulse racing and needing to calm ourselves back down again: “It’s OK. It was just a dream.”

In our day to day lives, though, we may not immediately recognize when fear experiences are triggering us. In the moment, we may not be able to surface that fear, examine it and challenge it. After all, through most of our lives we come to rely on our emotional responses. If something doesn’t feel right, there must be a good reason for it, even if we can’t specifically say what that reason is.

It becomes even harder if we’re challenged. A fear-based experience is not something we can really cite in an argument with someone. It may even be something we don’t especially want to fess up to, but that doesn’t mean that in some way we still don’t cling to it as truth.

There is probably no better example of this than all the forms of prejudice – race, ethnicity, gender expression – that float through our culture. I think of that song, “You’ve Got to be Taught” from the musical “South Pacific.” The Unitarian lyricist Oscar Hammerstein suspected that his song written in 1949 on the source of racial prejudice would be controversial, and he was right.
“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year.
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Because Hammerstein was pointing to one of the most intensely felt, fear-based fabrications that we live with. Racism, the song says, is not grounded in anything real. It is merely the accumulation of slights and hurts that we experience, together with misapprehensions and lies that we’re told about other people. I’m tempted, though to tweak Hammerstein’s lyrics just a little and argue that we are taught by our communities and loved ones not so much to fear as through fear.

Often, the fears that drive our prejudice are grounded not so much in our experience as in the experience of those who surround us. We take on the fears that are, in a sense, in the water of our upbringing. We experience their fears, then learn to adopt them, fit them into our world view, and justify them to ourselves. I don’t believe it’s a conscious process, but it can be powerful all the same.

And it is this brings me to reflect on the state of our politics and our nation today. I cannot remember a time in my own lifetime when so much in our public dialog was so driven by fear. The polls all confirm it: there isn’t any particular issue that’s roiling the electorate. It’s just broad suspicion that settles on random targets – immigrants one day, transgender people the next, and so on – but mostly, under it all, is a yearning for safety.

So, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that this should be the year where the most obvious signals of fearful thinking are not only lighting up but being celebrated wherever we look – name-calling, belittling, narcissism. It is tempting to tag Donald Trump as the cause of all this, and he certainly is its poster boy, but he succeeds really by poking this miasma of anxiety, rather than by inventing it.

There is much cause for concern in this toxic electoral season. But in a sense, the greatest danger is that we might somehow forget what politics actually can make possible. It is something that our nation was invited to see some 83 years ago when an incoming president of the United States remarked, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

“In every dark hour of our national life,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt told his people, “a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

In that terrible time, Roosevelt pointed to what was not only a political truth but also a spiritual fact: that people of inherent worth have the capacity to act together in a way that sacrifices none and benefits all, that our strength as a nation will be found in affirming common dignity as a common cause.

Not long ago, the Quaker writer Parker Palmer told of his own experience getting lost while on a 10-day solitary retreat. He had been out hiking on a poorly marked mountain trail when he suddenly realized he had missed a turn-off. He started back down hill, but couldn’t see it. As the sky started to darken, he panicked and began to run. “Just the right thing to do when you have no idea where you’re going, don’t you think?” he said, with some irony.

After a bit, thankfully, he stopped for a moment, settled down and let the fear subside. Palmer said he sat for a moment and remembered a few lines from the poem by David Wagoner that you heard earlier:
Stand still.
The trees ahead and bushes behind you are not lost.
Wherever you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.
Stand still,
The forest knows where you are.
You must let it find you.

And so he stood still, and listened. “I could not tell you what I was listening to,” he said, “except that it was something both in me and around me.”

After a few minutes he turned and walked slowly up hill, and began looking to his left. Before long, there it was, the trail that he’d missed.

Stand still. In the jumble of conflicting forces and feelings erupting in our lives, scrambling, scurrying, ducking and dodging, it is where we must begin if we are to come to terms with what drives our fear.

Fear, after all, narrows our view, and from such a perspective, there is so much we cannot see. When we broaden our view, so much more comes into focus. It is just such wisdom that I think Nancy discovered in that dark time during her first marriage.

The Buddhist teacher Pema Chodrun speaks of the opening that comes from confronting the fears that we carry. “Finding the courage to go to places that scare us cannot happen without compassionate inquiry into the workings of the ego,” she says. “So we ask ourselves, ‘What do I do when I feel I can’t handle what’s going on? Where do I look for strength and in what do I place my trust.’”

It’s a scary place to be, she says, so we treat it gently. Rather than go after the walls and barriers that hold us back with a sledgehammer, she says, “we pay attention to them. With gentleness and honesty, we move closer to those walls. We touch them and smell them and get to know them well.”

The way out, then, is merely taking the first step, befriending ourselves and looking for the path that will lead us back to wholeness.

The poet William Stafford offers similar advice in his poem, “For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid.” Fear, he counsels, is a country to be crossed. “What you fear will not go away: it will take you into yourself and bless you and keep you. That’s the world, and we all live there.”

Joan Didion discovered that in the year following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. It was a time when she says her grief led her to what she calls “magical thinking,” when we somehow persuade ourselves that if we just hope hard enough or do things in just the right way we can remake the world the way we want it to be.

It is a road that fear can take us on, too. When things seem too painful to confront directly, we find a way of persuading ourselves that they’re not really a problem. What such thinking really does, of course, is dig us in deeper and make it that much harder to free ourselves.

Fear looms up like that swift and powerful current in the tidal pool that Didion describes – something that can either dash us against the rocks or propel us into our future.

Each time she and her husband swam in the pool, she says, “I was afraid of missing the swell, hanging back, timing it wrong.”

John, she says, never was. Well, whether he never was or never let his own fear hold him back, he showed her the way. And, at the close of a year of magical thinking, memory of that experience invited Didion into a more clear-thinking path to her future.

“You had to feel the swell change,” that impulse toward health and wholeness rising in her heart.

“You had to go with the change.”

Rev. Mark Ward: What Worship’s About

Last weekend I met with Worship Associates for the coming year for our annual training session. It’s a good time to review what we hope to achieve in worship here, what we understand as the role of Worship Associate, and to talk over some of the mechanics of how we make it happen. I am deeply grateful for those in our congregation who volunteer to serve in this role. They are a huge help to me and contribute a lot to what happens on Sundays. Look for the following people to be helping out in the upcoming year: Louise Anderson, Juliana Austin, Jane Bramham, James Cassara, Lisa Forehand, Jennifer Gorman, Nancy Heath, Isabel Horak, Charlie Marks, Stan Nachman and Sharon Van Dyke.

Especially since I’m making a few changes in how we regularly do things on Sunday, I thought it might also be a good time to share some of my thoughts on how I seek to frame worship here. Not every Sunday follows the same pattern, but there is a rhythm that we try to establish, and there is a goal we are seeking to achieve.

We begin with an important assumption that is central to our tradition, which is that religion for each person begins with individual experience. We each have foundational experiences that shape our deepest beliefs. One way to describe the feeling is as a sense of wonder, that we are deeply connected to each other and all things. Those are the experiences where we discover the centers of meaning in our lives. The point of religion, then, is to help us get clear on these discoveries and then help us draw them together into an ever-evolving fabric that gives our lives a sense of wholeness.

Another way that we describe this is the journey of faith. We are all born with faith, a feeling of that in which we can trust. This sense evolves over time in response to our experience. Liberal religion celebrates trusting that is life-giving and hope-filled. But it also provides space for us to reflect on and challenge trusting that results in ways of thinking and being that are unhealthy or destructive. In the end, the goal is to help us each discern that which we can trust so that we might live with compassion, integrity, service and joy.

So, our services begin with a Gathering time that starts with music and words that we hope will take you into a space where you are ready to engage with some of your deepest concerns. And we frame this within our Unitarian Universalist tradition with the lighting of our chalice and the singing of a hymn.

The biggest change to our Sunday worship is that every week we will begin with our entire community gathered in the Sanctuary. This change comes in part from the request of parents who wish they share the Sunday experience with their children more often. But since announcing the change, I’m finding that older members are happy about having the children present more often, too.

So, there will be a Time For All Ages every week where we’ll sing together and share stories and rituals. Then, the children and adults leaving with them will light a special chalice that they’ll carry on their way.

Once the children leave, the Worship Associate will open worship with a personal reflection on the topic of the day and invite the congregation into the practice of generosity with the announcement of the offering. We will continue to name community partners, who we hope you will make an effort to learn about and consider volunteering with. The Offering of the last Sunday of each month will go entirely to our community partner.

The middle of the service is largely unchanged: Spoken and Silent Meditation offer space to bring your true self present and open your heart to the work of growing faith; and the Musical Reflection, Readings and Sermon are constructed to invite each of us to the use all of our senses in wrestling with our own journeys of faith.

The other big change that you may have already noticed is that the section I had called Welcome has been moved from the beginning to the end of the service and been renamed Work of the Congregation. This is intended to remind us all that the work of our congregation extends beyond Sunday into the rest of our lives. This is where we welcome visitors and make important announcements.

I hope that you find our worship services meaningful and that they feed your spiritual hunger. Please send me any feedback you may have on our worship program at UUCA.

The service is intended to offer many different ways that you might be fed: perhaps the sermon or reading will do it, or if not, then perhaps the music, if not the music, perhaps the Time For All Ages, or perhaps the blessed opportunity for a few moments of gathered quiet in this community of your choosing.
Rev. Mark Ward, UUCA Lead Minister