If you have ever wondered what benefit we receive from our financial contribution to the UUA in Boston, this blog is for you! Last month three of the UUA Congregational Life Staff facilitated a workshop for UUCA staff, board members and lay leaders to reflect through candid conversation on the first year of my ministry with you. This gathering brought together approximately 25 individuals on a beautiful May weekend when many would have preferred to be enjoying time with their families. I am grateful for each one of them and their commitment to supporting my ministry with you.
Our gathering involved a lot of storytelling. The story of the position I hold, the story of policy governance at UUCA, the story of the journey that led me to you and the story of this past year. Last month, Mark’s blog described the story of my position. This month I will reflect on the time I have spent with you and the takeaways from this gathering.
However, I will begin with a brief summary of why I chose this position. When I read the job description I felt it was tailor-made for me. Faith development was my ministry as a seventeen-year religious educator and I had always dreamed of serving a large congregation with a thriving religious education program. Check. I also wondered what it would be like to serve a congregation that offered midweek worship, fellowship, and programs. UUCA has The Wednesday Thing. Check. I also wanted a position that would allow me to develop my pastoral care and worship skills. Check. I applied with excitement and apprehension…. and was offered the job!
During these ten months, my ministry with you has been rewarding and challenging. Just what I expected it to be in a position that is “experimental” because two positions, religious education director and minister, were combined into one. I have spent time getting to know the congregation and the systems at work within it. I have also worked with committed individuals who serve on the RE Council, Congregational Care Team, The Wednesday Thing Planning Team, and the Committee on the Ministry whose time and talents ensure that the ministry of Faith Development thrives at UUCA. I cannot do the work delineated in my job description alone. We share the ministry at UUCA. During one of my first sermons with you, I used this anonymous quote to describe my view of ministry. It is worth repeating:
“Ministry is the act of ministering to. It is the way we are mindful and nurturing of each other. Ministry is not something only ordained ministers do. When we care with someone, when we stand with them through struggle, when we help them learn and grow, we are engaging in ministry. When we offer programs that engage the heart, the mind or the spirit we are engaging in ministry.”
Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas of challenge and improvement. Those surfaced during our conversations, as well as other important learnings. I have summarized them into five takeaways that I will continue to explore in the coming year.
- Covenant is central to our work together. We make agreements as staff or members of UUCA about how we are going to be with each other. My ministry relies on upholding the covenants made among staff, ministers and the congregation so that together we can fulfill the purpose of this church, which is ultimately to transform lives by connecting hearts, challenging minds, nurturing spirits and serving the community. With covenant also comes the reality of fallible humans breaking covenant. How do we re-covenant when we inevitably miss the mark? How many of us are familiar with our congregational covenants (Yes, there is more than one)?
- Communication is crucial to our work together. One of the challenges I have faced is the assumption that I am the director of religious education. While I supervise and provide leadership to our adult and children’s RE programs, I have other responsibilities which make it unrealistic for me to function in that capacity. I wonder how I can better communicate this to the congregation? Also, in providing leadership for The Wednesday Thing and Congregational Care, how do we effectively communicate what we are doing and what congregational support is needed?
- Recruiting individuals to support the ministries of UUCA is vital. Right now, RE is recruiting facilitators for next year’s RE program. Last year we had 75 individuals willing to serve as facilitators. (Thank you!!) It was affirming to honor them during the Teacher Dedication on the first day of RE. I am optimistic by the end of the summer our teaching teams will be complete. And yet, we have other areas of ministry that require individuals willing to serve, too. When volunteers are lacking, people are paid to do tasks such as preparing the coffee after Sunday service and cleaning up afterward, or weeding and raking leaves. However, that approach is not the best way to use our precious financial resources. How do we encourage greater service and participation? Are we trying to do too much?
- We are understaffed. OR Is there a body missing? When I started my ministry with you, our religious educators, Jen Johnson and Kim Collins, took on the role of DRE and had everything ready for the new RE year. I wish I could say I came in and took back many of those roles. But the reality is that my other job responsibilities have made that difficult. Their job descriptions say they are coordinators, but they do more than that. We are spread thin and can’t do it all. Our children and youth programs are rich and diverse. What do we let go of? What can we let die so something else can be born? How can we work realistic hours and provide the excellence in religious education that the congregation expects? Is there a body missing?
- Policy governance is an imperfect model, as are all governance models. My understanding is that it delegates authority with accountability within the parameters of the mission and vision of UUCA. However, during the gathering it became apparent that there was a disconnect between the board and the ministry of faith development. It led to the question: Where does the vision for Faith Development reside? If the work of the church is transformation as participants develop a UU identity, deepen their spirituality, and put their faith into action, what is the board’s role in strategizing how this will happen? How do they stay connected with the ministry of Faith Development while avoiding micromanaging staff and programs?
These are my takeaways and the questions that arose during our time together. What is missing is that as a result of my conversations with Mark about my work so far, we decided to switch portfolios. He will lead pastoral care and I will lead social justice. That is part of the “experimental” nature of the position I described earlier. That is content for a future blog.
It is done. I have shared my learnings and assure you that I continue to be excited about my work with you. I am committed to continue to collaboratively work with staff, lay leadership, Mark and you, the congregation, to explore answers to these questions. I welcome and encourage your feedback and thoughts as I continue this sacred work of ministry into a promising, exciting second year.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development