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Message from the UUA President: Taking Shifts for the Ministry We Need Now

By Susan Frederick-Gray

Dear Leaders,

This is the most heartbreaking, difficult, and important time I have experienced in ministry. The layers of trauma, anger, grief, power, and hope—they are all present in our bodies and souls. As religious leaders, we tend to these in ourselves and we give them voice and space in story, music, reflection, ritual, action, and protest. This is vital, essential ministry and it is exhausting.

To all who work in congregations, in chaplaincy, in community ministry, in organizational and institutional leadership—you all are working so hard right now. I see you and I am with you in how much this time asks of us. It’s always been the case that much of what staff and leaders do goes unnoticed by those they serve. This is even more true as we work virtually. For Black leaders, Indigenous leaders, leaders of color, and trans and non-binary leaders—the emotional labor to lead while the impacts of the pandemic and police brutality hit your communities more directly—intensifies this reality of unseen labor.

How are we going to sustain ourselves for the long haul? None of us is functioning at full capacity. And the pastoral and prophetic demands keep rising. Take time off, dear ones!

For congregations, as faithful employers, your investment in staff (programmatic, administrative, and operations staff) is essential for the ministry needed in this time. This means making sure staff have what they need for virtual work. It also means ensuring staff aren’t compelled to overfunction and are able to take care of themselves. The resources listed below have been developed in response to the many questions before our congregations as we plan for a year of virtual operations and the growing ministry needs brought by the pandemic, the uprisings, and the economic recession.

How do we unlock greater capacity for the ministry that is needed, while also planning for and being honest about the ways our capacity is reduced? It starts with realizing we are not alone and don’t have to do it all on our own.

We have an opportunity to experiment in unlocking capacity by finding partners and sharing the work. In Southern Arizona, four congregations have been doing joint Sunday services. A couple weeks ago, all the UU congregations in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle did a joint service. More and more, I hear stories of congregations experimenting with partnership in leading services and combining youth and children’s programming across congregations. This is incredibly exciting and a way of leaning into mission, partnership, and ministry in creative ways that reflect our interdependence.

Partnership and collaboration within and across congregations can help create redundancy so we can take shifts, take turns, and take time to rest. This is a time not for business as usual, but for permission to experiment, to let go, to try new things. This is a time to let go of perfection, to share leadership, to try and fail and try again. Above all, this is a time to find a new balance that means we can care for ourselves, our leaders, our staff, our spirits and continue to offer the life-saving, justice-seeking, liberating ministry of Unitarian Universalism.



Caring For Congregational Staff and Leaders

About the Author

Susan Frederick-Gray

The Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray began her six-year term as president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in June 2017. As president of the Association, she is responsible for administering staff and programs that serve its more than 1,000 member congregations. She also acts as...

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