This summer, I switched regions beginning as the New England Region Developmental Lead. This has meant saying good bye to the Central East Region. Not really goodbye, I’m still UUA staff and I’ll still surely see you at various online programs. But, still, it is a goodbye of sorts.
My first stint as Ohio Meadville District staff was while I was in seminary. I was the new Young Adult and Campus Ministry Consultant. A title longer than the hours or stipend! Later I worked half time in both Saint Lawrence and Ohio Meadville Districts with youth, young adult, and social justice ministries. And then in 2014 began work in our first “primary contact” experiment.
My ministry to and with you has been deeply formational. I have learned from you and with you. And one of those lessons keeps being how relationship matters. Both the trust built through the experience of shared leadership and the shared relationship as human beings, as the particular humans we are.
Both our babies were born while I was district and regional staff and they’ve been to many of your congregations’ nurseries and popped into many zoom meetings. They’ve eaten cake after installations and hung out during clean up of all day workshops. Thank you for your patience and understanding when I returned phone calls from playgrounds or juggled zoom school around our meetings. You’ve let me be human. And thank you for sharing yourselves in return; your stories, your lives, sometimes your cats on zoom.
I experienced how these relationships of trust especially helped us when we needed to do hard things together. Like, when your congregation was going through something hard and you reached out for support. Regional staff don’t have easy pat answers. Guesses maybe, guidance for sure, but not answers. But we hold the questions together and ask new ones. Think about who might have good answers, or at least stories that might lead to new perspectives. We listen together to what is happening under the surface and find what really needs untangling. We can do that together because of the trust built in relationship.
But it’s not just the relationship between regional staff and congregation that matters! I’ve seen over and over again how much relationship between congregations strengthens and sustains congregational leaders.
Relationship between congregations has always been a part of our movement. The historically Universalist congregation I served in North Olmsted has records of how that congregation used to not only gather at the annual Ohio Universalist convention but also at smaller regional associations that gathered annually. I’ve seen the power of the relationships between volunteer leaders built over time at workshops, hanging out at youth events, annual cluster worship services, and CERSI. The fabric of relationship between and among congregations matters.
I don’t know exactly how those relationships will be formed in the future. The world is different now than it was in 2019. There’s not only the before the covid-19 pandemic, but also the before online meetings, the before email, the before Unitarian and Universalist merger. How and where those relationships form have changed over and over again. But, the need for relationship is no different than when Universalists camped on the grounds of the North Olmsted church for the “Western Reserve” association gathering.
The forms of connection will keep changing, but the power of the relationships will endure. I am taking with me the blessings I’ve received from my connections with you. And I hope you will keep building relationships with each other and those growing into leadership. I hope you will seek and nurture connections which will nurture and support you. And that you will feel as blessed by those relationships as I feel by mine with all of you.