Reflections from the President, Lee Cornell

In February 2013 I signed our membership book, in May 2014 I was elected to be a Board Member At-Large, in July 2016 I became Board President. A year later I prepare for life after the board, but what a year it has been.

Reflections on 2016-2017

July was, as July’s are in Athens, relatively quiet. August found UUFA gearing up for the new program year while Reverend Alison took her first month of sabbatical leave, but we were ready.

September and October seemed normal and things were running smoothly. The US election process was in full motion, we had a terrific retreat at The Mountain, and plans were firming up for the launch of our capital campaign. Then November 8th came, and the world shifted in response to an unexpected outcome of the US elections. Still we were ready.  Reverend Alison was prepared to offer comfort and encouragement amid disappointment for some and celebration for others. Our community came together in love and we supported each other as we worked to understand what this change in our government would mean. (Work that still continues)

Throughout December, January, and February we were executing our very successful Capital Campaign. We exceeded our goal for the campaign, demonstrating that we are ready for a building project.

Spring found us again without our Parish Minister as Alison continued her sabbatical, but we were more than ready thanks to our “trial run” in August. We have had, in my opinion, a wonderfully diverse group of guests that sometimes pushed us outside of our comfort zone. I would like to extend thanks to the Ministry Council, the Worship Arts Committee, and the Sabbatical Team for all of their extra work and leadership through Alison’s much deserved absence.

March and April brought more change as our DRE announced her departure next week; and our UUA President, chief operating officer, and director of Congregation Life resigned amid controversy over UUA hiring practices. Still we were ready. Members of our congregation came together to form a search team to hire Kelli McConnell as a temporary Coordinator for Religious Exploration. We have had discussions at many levels on what the resignations at the UUA, the controversy that sparked them, and our own policies and practices mean to our congregation here in Athens.

This month the leadership of our congregation has had many passionate meetings discussing a wide range of topics including the resolution on racial justice and equity, our annual budget, the building expansion plans, our investment practices, and the UUA’s challenge to have a White Supremacy Teach-In just to name a few. We have faced controversy over issues, practices, and procedures within our community, but we were ready to have those discussions because we came together in love and with common principles that allowed the conversations to happen.

What does it mean to be a member of the UUFA Board of Trustees? What does it mean to be President of the Board of Trustees?

Hesitantly accepting the offer to be a nominee three years ago I wasn’t able to find an answer to these questions. Having served on the board for a year I still didn’t really know the answer. Today as an outgoing president, I’m starting to get a rough idea of the answer.

For me being a member of the UUFA Board of Trustees means being a steward of our physical, financial, and human resources. Being a Trustee means earning, keeping, and honoring the trust that you placed in me when you voted the slate three years ago. It means respecting my personal feelings and opinions along side many others’ opinions that often are at odds with mine. Being a Trustee who had only been a member for a year meant a lot of cramming. Learning the Bylaws, Policy and Procedures, Robert’s Rules of Order; the history of the Board and the Congregation; what our Governance structure is, how we came to it, and how it is evolving. Being a Trustee means thinking on where our fellowship will be in three years time, when you aren’t on the board anymore, and working to make sure the board three years from now has the resources they will need.

For me being President of the Board of Trustees means learning to temper your own emotional response so that you can guide your team through a discussion while at the same time honoring your personal response and opinion as being of equal worth. It means getting to see behind the curtain at all the moving pieces that make our fellowship run.  It means seeing where the duct tape is that holds some of those pieces together, where duct tape is needed, and where pieces just need to be reengineered. Being President means lots of meetings (lots of meetings); some short, some long, some easy, some hard. It means getting stopped in the doorway, half awake, before coffee, on Sunday morning to respond to a concern or event. It means, not having all the answers, but having a pretty good idea of where to find the answers. It means staying in tune with not only the activities of our congregation, but what is going on in the Southern Region and at UUA headquarters in Boston. Most importantly, being on the Board of Trustees means that you receive a reward beyond measure as you watch the community you love grow, struggle, hurt, rejoice, and thrive.  I thank you for your trust in me, for your support, for your love, and for the opportunity to be a part of the board of trustees.

An Outgoing President’s Vision of the Future

Before I move on to my next adventure at UUFA I would like to share some of my vision for our future. Ideas, dreams, needs, and ways I have observed and thought on during my time as a member of the board.

First, we need to get re-engaged in our fellowship. Our congregation operates through the hard work of volunteers and our volunteer base is shrinking. The Sanctuary Enhancement Team who resets the decoration of our sanctuary each month, RE teachers for our children and youth, the Hospitality Team who provides refreshment after services, our A/V Team who allows us to hear what is being said, the non-existent building and grounds team that would work to keep our spaces lit, weeded, trimmed, and pleasant to use, and so many, many more groups of volunteers. We can not be lured into thinking that just because something is getting done that means there is not a need of your time and talent. Often it just means that someone pulled a little harder to get another hat to fit on the stack.

Second, we need to look to our staff.  We need to develop a plan to get (and keep) our staff within the UUA fair compensation range for our congregational size and location. We will need to grow our staff, this includes giving our current staff the hours they need to not only complete the basic duties, but to support our growing and expanding activities. It also means adding additional staff to pick up some of the work going undone or being underdone. As we complete our renovation and settle back into a “normal state” we are going to need more support services to coordinate activities, clean and protect our spaces (new and old), and take care of the day-to-day needs of a busy community.

Finally, we need to nurture our Lay Leaders. These volunteers give of their time and talent to manage the operations and activities of our fellowship. We need to continue building our leadership development program so people may step in a leadership position from a small team or committee leader to serving as a Trustee or Lay Minister with confidence and not trepidation. We need to support those lay leaders willing to represent us as a delegate at General Assembly each year with a portion of our treasure. The costs of attending one General Assembly can easily run over a couple of thousand dollars. By not offering financial support we not only limit the pool of volunteers, but we exclude many for whom that level of donation beyond the annual pledge is unobtainable.

Life after the Board

So what is my next adventure at UUFA? I will continue to support the Communications Team with my IT skills by managing our Realm Connect service and our website, but I could use some help. I have a project of passion to build a stronger and wider reaching A/V Team to not only manage our Sunday Services, but to support our Forum, RE, and other groups with their A/V needs. You don’t need to be a technical person or audio wiz to work A/V. All that is needed is attention to detail and the ability to follow instructions. My biggest adventure though is that of Lay Ministry.  I plan on submitting an application to the next Lay Minister class Alison offers. I invite you to join me on my adventures.