2022 State of the Region

Dear Unitarian Universalists of the Pacific Western Region:

As we prepare to go into Regional Assembly in the next few days, and as I prepare to go on my sabbatical for 14 weeks starting March 4th, I thought now would be a good time to offer a State of the Region report. It’s a chance to look back at some of the highlights since Regional Assembly last year, to consider where we are now, and to look forward to what lies ahead in the year to come.

Reflecting on the Year That Was

Staffing: One of the highlights since last year’s Regional Assembly was our adding Rev. Ian Evison to our team as Project Manager for Regionalization. As the pace of transitions increased among the Districts in the Region last calendar year, there were many more details and conversations to track than when I started as Lead in 2020. Happily, Rev. Ian, who retired not long ago from being the Lead for MidAmerica Region, was willing to join us on a part-time basis to do just that. Though he had surgery that took him out of commission for a couple of months last fall, we are happy that he’s back with us as of January through at least the end of this fiscal year.

Regionalization: Since the UUA shifted from primarily being organized into 19 Districts to being primarily organized as five regions over a decade ago, the Pacific Western Region has existed as a “doing business as” or DBA under the auspices of the Mountain Desert District (MDD). Over that time, each of the Four Districts has been served by dedicated volunteer leaders who’ve served as District Board Members and in other key roles. The Four Districts worked collaboratively among themselves and with Regional and UUA staff for over seven years. Starting last winter, the Pacific Southwest District Board voted to recommend to its member congregations that PSWD be dissolved. A few weeks later, the Pacific Northwest District Board voted to recommend to its member congregations that PNWD be dissolved. Over the summer and into the fall, there were several meetings and forums hosted by District Boards across the region toward opportunities for delegates to vote on the recommendations.

By the end of October, the PNWD Board had been authorized by its member congregations to dissolve their District, and PSWD Board and MDD Board were authorized by their respective member congregations to merge, thereby creating the foundation of the Pacific Western Region as its own entity, anticipating the addition of the PNWD to the Region in coming months. The representatives of the Pacific Central District (PCD) Board have also been part of the Transitions Team's conversations to help shape future working relationships and governance for all the congregations and UU communities across the region. They intend to work with their district’s member communities to fully participate in the Region’s Community of Communities as it unfolds. Two or three members from each of the four District Boards graciously agreed to serve on the Transitions Team for the Region, which is the body of volunteer leaders working with PWR-UUA staff in the ongoing evolution of the Region. This includes redistribution and transfer of various funds previously held by the Districts that are merging and/or dissolving.

We staff of the Pacific Western Region, and the Executive Leadership of the UUA more broadly, affirm the District Boards in their dedicated service to our faith as we discern together how to expand our thinking about regionalization from an institutional consolidation to an emergence of shared identity as a community of communities. We are thankful for the generosity they have shown to their congregations, to the Region, to our UUA and to each other. On a personal note, I’m delighted to have worked with these extraordinary leaders. I love, respect, and admire each of them. To those on the Transitions Team, thank you for seeing this process through, and for those who have completed or are completing service to the District and Region, thank you for helping us all arrive where we are.

Where We Are Now

Meeting of the PNWD Board: This Sunday, January 30 at 1:30pm PT, the PNWD Board will hold a special meeting where they will vote to dissolve the historic Pacific Northwest District. You can register for this event online.

Regional Assembly, February 4-6: On January 28, 2022, we have just over 200 participants, including 46 who will be at the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina. We will have participation from Unitarian Universalists in 12 states, and the Sunday Service will be shared in at least 26 congregations across the Region. Our all-virtual Pacific Western Regional Assembly will touch more than 60 percent of our congregations and covenanting communities. In fact, given the many pieces contributed by so many of you, we’re bringing new meaning to the “Assembly” of RA!

Fiscal Well-Being: At the end of the second quarter of FY22, the region is in a strong position as we look toward FY2023. Much of this has to do with the savings incurred by program staff connecting with congregations through Zoom over the course of the pandemic to date rather than traveling to be with you all in the same way as before Covid. Like you in your congregations and all the rest of Congregational Life Staff in other regions, your PWR Team is in conversation and discernment about how to balance the need for safety and less environmental impact with needs for in-person encounters and relationship-building they promote. We can also credit our financial health to all our UUA Honor and Honor Path congregations and covenanting communities that make the work of our UUA possible. Because of your keeping covenant through the Annual Program Fund, you have the resources that being in the Association makes available, including your primary contacts and other UUA staff.

Ongoing Work with Congregations: Our primary contact system has us in regular contact with both volunteer lay leaders and religious professionals. Some outreach is made to every congregation at some point in the year. Our service to primary contacts takes many forms. Every congregation president is invited to an online Congregation Presidents Meeting via Zoom each month, to connect with PWR staff as well as their local peers. These presidential gatherings have been well received by congregations. Primary contacts also connect to congregation needs, both proactively and reactively. Sometimes it is as simple and sacred as providing pastoral support to an overwhelmed minister or religious educator. And for some of our lay-led congregations, PWR staff may be the only religious professionals they have access to for understanding how our faith can be made manifest in a hurting world.

Coming Up

Programs Offered in Fall 2021/Spring 2022:The programs offered to youth in PWR have been scaled down and modified to address needs, including Zoom burnout. Youth Specialists, Shannon Harper from Central East and Eric Bliss, designed a monthly Livestream on Youtube (JUUst Breathe Live (YouTube) that explores youth ministry with guests ranging from local leaders to members of the band, Rising Appalachia. Response to JBL has been exceedingly positive.

With the youth boards merging, the new youth / adult body began to dream about what its work would be. Appropriately named, RejUUvenation, this group will be focusing on improving connection between youth and communities, while also developing leadership skills to help face the challenges of re-imagining how to minister to youth both locally and regionally. Looking ahead, PWR plans to host one or more Peer Pastoral Care Trainings, either virtually or on site depending on the trajectory of the virus.

Regarding our Emerging Adults (EA), the EA Task Force has entered phase four, engaging in reflection on three years of incredibly successful and prolific engagement with 18-24 year olds in PWR. This year’s work will focus on congregational support, a possible in-person event (COVID willing) attached to General Assembly, and the continuation of the stellar lineup of programs and resources that already exist.

General Assembly, June 22-26, 2022: Once again, the Pacific Western Region has the honor of hosting all the participating congregations from across the Association at the UUA General Assembly in Portland, Oregon. This will be both an in-person and a virtual gathering, the largest we will have ever had. Click on the link above for registration, volunteer opportunities, Covid protocols and anything else you want to know about GA 2022. It will be a wonderful time to celebrate our faith and the delights of the Pacific Northwest!

Sabbaticals: Starting the evening of March 4, 2022, I will be on sabbatical leave for 14 weeks. It’s one of the privileges of working for the UUA for over seven years – I started as a member of the Southern Region Congregational Life Team in 2013, so I was actually eligible for a sabbatical in 2020. However, I was just starting as Lead here in the Pacific Western Region then, so we timed it such that those of us who were newer to the PWR Team all had a chance to get acclimated to our work. Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh completed her sabbatical last summer, and other eligible staff members in the next year or so include Bookkeeper Melanie Buck, Youth and Emerging Adult Ministries Specialist Eric Bliss, and Event Coordinator Amanda Radak.
My sabbatical project is to become the author of a self-published book. Over the past year, I’ve been working on a collection of daily reflections based on sayings of Jesus from the Gospels. My book-team and I are almost done with the final manuscript so that copies will be available mid-Spring. If you’d like to be kept abreast of what’s happening with the book, send an email to smithcarel@aol.com and I will gladly hook you up.

I close out with gratitude and love for all the members of the PWR Staff Team, whom I am so blessed to work with every day. Thank you for bringing some much joy to my life! And I thank all of you, members and friends of our Pacific Western Region congregations and covenanting communities. Together, we are indeed building a new way. Also, my ongoing gratitude to Director of Congregation Life Jessica York, Executive Vice President Carey McDonald, and President Susan Frederick-Gray, and all the rest of our colleagues and partners

Take care, friends … Be assured that you are not alone, for love surrounds you everywhere you may go!

In faith,

January 28, 2022