Mark Speaking-WE DO

As part of a recent review of my performance as Lead Minister of this congregation, the Board of Trustees asked me to give them a sense of how I organize and prioritize my work here. It was an illuminating exercise for us both. My Letter of Agreement with this congregation identifies those areas of work that are my responsibility, but how that work gets organized changes over time as my role here changes and as particular circumstances demand. In keeping with our theme of “Revelation” for worship and small group ministry this month, I thought it might be useful to share with you some key elements from that document in the hope that it might offer a revealing look at the shape of my ministry with you.

My report to the board focused on four areas – Worship, Administration, Pastoral Care, and Outreach. So, let’s touch on each of those.

You have made clear that providing vital, engaging, even transformative worship is one of the central ways that you hope to realize your mission as a congregation. And so as your worship leader, I make it my top priority to make sure that Sunday morning services meet that expectation. Specifically, the Ends Statements in the Governance Document created by the Board of Trustees says I should see that Sunday worship “guides us in individual and communal response to the sacred, honors our Unitarian Universalist traditions, and embraces a wide range of creative, artistic, and musical experiences that move, uplift, and sustain us.”

Doing this requires research and reflection on my own as well as planning and coordination with other staff and lay leaders and participants. My own planning begins around this time of year, when I am developing a sense of the arc of the worship year ahead, including what next year’s themes might be. But I’m also in conversation with Music Director Milt Crotts, Lifespan Religious Education Director Joy Berry, and Associate Minister Lisa Bovee-Kemper about their hopes and plans for the worship in coming year.

Otherwise, Milt and I meet for at least an hour a week to talk over upcoming services, and I meet with others, too, depending on what’s coming up. I’m also in conversation with our eight Worship Associates about their roles in upcoming services. I also conduct an annual training for new and continuing Worship Associates as well as meeting every other month to review past services. For myself, I set aside two afternoons a week for worship planning and preparation and set aside Fridays to write for Sunday, though circumstances often push the writing into Saturday as well. And then, of course, there is presenting worship on three out of every four Sundays during the church year.

A congregation of our size and complexity demands a good deal of time and attention to make sure that things are running well, that staff and lay leaders have what they need to do their work, and that we’re all onboard with where we’re going. The “org chart” of our governance puts me at the top as Executive, but in many ways that’s an illusion. I collaborate closely with other senior staff – Lisa, Joy, and Director of Administration Linda Topp – as well as leaders of the Board of Trustees, especially President Jane Bramham.

Our four senior staff – Linda, Lisa, Joy and me – have a standing meeting every Tuesday morning, and our full staff meets monthly on the first Wednesday morning. And, of course, there are many impromptu meetings, emails, and phone calls in between. As chief of staff, I’m also responsible for reviewing the performance of senior staff and working with Linda on the ongoing development of our personnel policies.

Our bylaws make me an ex-officio, non-voting member of the Board of Trustees, so I attend and participate in all meetings as well as meetings of its Executive Council. Policy Governance provides that I make regular reports to the Board noting progress that staff and lay leaders are making in achieving our Ends Statements and staying within its Executive Limitations. The Board sets a schedule for me to report on each of those. In addition, I give them a monthly report on “What’s Happening Now” in the congregation to keep them apprised on important developments in the life of the congregation.

Other important areas of administration where my attention is needed is in the development of our annual budget and in the work of our Annual Budget Drive. Linda is charged with putting together the budget, but we work closely in deciding priorities and areas of focus. To get a look at our proposed budget for the coming year, please plan to attend a Town Hall meeting at 2pm on Sunday, April 26. With our combined capital and annual campaign, this has been a year when I’ve been deeply involved in planning, development, and even participating in the campaign.

We are blessed with a strong and effective pastoral care program at UUCA, led by Lisa and her team of Pastoral Visitors, but the ministry of pastoral care really touches all of us and is an important dimension of what makes ours a caring congregation. So, Lisa and I meet frequently to talk about and plan for care needs. I make myself available for visits when requested or when it seems appropriate. In the case of a death, I am in touch with the family and make arrangements for and usually officiate at a memorial service.

On the happier side, I also offer child dedications to families in the congregations. In the case of weddings, I pretty much limit myself to members of the congregation and refer outside weddings to Lisa or other area UU clergy.

To make a difference in the world, the ministry of this congregation has to reach out beyond its walls. For my role in this, I look for areas where my time and my leadership can help promote the values we stand for and build bridges to others who we can work with in common cause. Sometimes this is a matter of writing letters or op-ed columns to the newspaper. Other times it is joining as a clergy leader or simply as a witness in public events that promote our values. And it is also looking for opportunities to reach out to others in need of our support. An example of this currently is my participation in Asheville’s Stop the Violence coalition, an interfaith, interracial group working to promote conditions that reduce violence, especially against African-American men.

I also am in regular contact with other UU clergy in our area and in our wider denomination. Our campus regularly hosts meetings of ministers at congregations in the Western Carolinas Cluster. I chair the Nominating Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association and I serve on the Nominating Committee of the Southeastern UU Ministers Association. I attend meetings twice a year of the Southeast Minister’s group and a week-long annual meeting of the Senior Ministers of Large UU Churches. And I attend our UU General Assembly each year.

It’s a busy life, but also rich and full, and I’m grateful to have it. I’ve taken a good amount of space to lay this out, but I hope it has been useful to give you a better understanding of how I have framed this ministry with you.