March 2009: How Will Your Experience in Ministry Help the UUA Serve Congregations?
How will your experience of ministry in a large congregation help you to lead the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to better serve small and mid-sized congregations?
Response from Peter Morales
My experience in a large church is important, but other aspects of my experience are more important to the presidency of the UUA.
Experience in a church is vitally important. My experience serving one of our fastest growing congregations has given me a sense of what truly matters in congregational life and what support from the Association makes a difference. Large church experience also teaches lessons of the special challenges of a multi staff congregation. In addition, growing a church from mid-sized to large makes me acutely aware of the challenges of that size transition.
However, experience in a large church can be a trap as well as an asset. Large church ministers too often lose contact of the reality of life in small congregations, which are the vast majority of our congregations.
More important than my large church experience is my experience as the UUA’s director of district services and my experiences in California State government and in a large media company as a newspaper publisher. As director of district services, I hired the UUA’s first small church consultant. I did so because I realized that small churches are vital to our movement and that the needs of small churches are quite different.
We also must realize that the UUA is not like any of our churches. We are a religious association with a staff of 200 and a budget of $26 million. An association of this size demands the tools of complex organizations: strategic planning, rigorous program evaluation, casting a large vision, metrics, and a budget that is focused on mission critical activities. I bring a depth and breadth of experience in large and complex organizations that is essential to leading the UUA.
In summary, leading a large church is good experience. However, alone it is not nearly enough. I bring critical experience at the national level in our movement and in managing large organizations.
Response from Laurel Hallman
What is the purpose of a church? Is it to meet the needs of its members and the community where it is located, or is it to meet the needs of the UUA? The answer makes all the difference in how I will lead. Our congregations do not exist for the UUA, the UUA exists to serve all of our congregations as well as possible regardless of size, and it can always do that better, and should.
Size is secondary to mission. Small churches can be incredibly vital within the communities they serve because they are faithful to the principles of Unitarian Universalism and by their very existence are invaluable witnesses to our faith. Any church, regardless of size, can be insular, unresponsive to the deeper needs of its members, and disconnected from the community. It is also true that size makes a difference, not in the quality of what can be achieved, but in the unique challenges that come as a result of being one size of church or another. My first ministry was in a mid-size church, and I have always been in collaboration with other churches of varying size. While I take enormous pride in the growth that First Unitarian Dallas has achieved during my time there, my goal was not growth. I have always been primarily concerned with the quality of the experience people have and the way this impacts their life for good, both personally and on behalf of the wider community. As President of the UUA, I want for all of our congregations what I wanted for First Unitarian, a congregation that makes a profound difference in people’s lives so that they can make a profound difference in the lives of others.
My experience in ministry has taught me that what matters is not the size of a congregation, but the transforming passion and commitment if its members. With this in mind, I will make sure that small and mid-sized churches are served well.
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Last updated on Friday, July 22, 2011.