Assessing Our Ministry Part II, Results (Fellowship Matters)

(These remarks were delivered by Past President Mary Kay Fruga at the UUFR Town Hall on Feb 17, 2021)

Background

Like many Unitarian Universalist congregations, UUFR has never had an established process to regularly assess the effectiveness of its ministry and the performance of its leadership.  One of our goals last year was to lay the foundation for such a process, which we see as essential to the well-being of UUFR — essential not only to effective governance, but to ensuring the health of our ministry and the integrity of our mission.

The process we are building, like ministry itself, must account for multiple dimensions of experience, as well as for ongoing adjustments based on what we learn.

What we addressed in 2020 was the first of several layers — to gather and review input from the congregation regarding minister and staff performance.  Comments on staff performance went to Rev. James, and were shared as part of the performance review he did with each of our staff members.  Comments on the Lead Minister went to the Board, leading to what we want to share today.  These findings are based on an in-depth discussion between the Board and the Minister about the feedback you provided.  They also incorporate input from the self-evaluation we requested from Rev. James, and from your Board’s personal experience in working with him.

This is a good start, a solid foundation for the practice of regularly assessing how we’re doing and making appropriate adjustments before small concerns turn into big problems. We are grateful that in the midst of this difficult and challenging year, we as a community have had the capacity, the determination and the depth of spirit to move forward, to continue building a Unitarian Universalist community that transforms lives and empowers people to serve the world.

FINDINGS FROM THE ASSESSMENT PROCESS

After gathering all completed questionnaires at the end of our last church year (there were just under 100), we looked carefully at each response to every question.  As we compiled this information we identified key topics,  the number, and extent of comments on each topic revealed its importance, suggesting how much weight it would bear as we tried to determine what worked well and what changes we might need to make going forward.

Here’s an overview of what we learned from you:

Sunday Worship:  Our UUFR community is delighted with the work Rev. James is doing in his role as Lead Minister,  and notes his particular strength in the area of Sunday Worship.  The relevance and timeliness of the topics he chooses; the clarity, warmth and humor that comes through as he delivers his sermons; and general improvements to the structure and focus of our worship experience were highlights of many comments shared in the online survey.

    • Targeted Action: Continue this work.

Managing Relationships:  Rev. James has made exceptional progress in repairing congregational and staff relationships seriously impacted by previous ministers.  He has been very effective in facilitating and creating new relationships both among members and between members and himself.

    • Targeted Action: Continue this work.

Leadership, Guidance and Character:  Rev. James’ strength in these areas is clearly demonstrated by the leadership he provided in introducing UUFR to the ONE Wake initiative, and in managing the enormous transition of ministry to our congregation through the challenges of Covid19.  His welcoming nature and calm sense of presence in the midst of all this have been a source of grounding and reassurance to long-time members and to our many newcomers.

    • Targeted Action: Continue this work.

AvailabilityMembers noted some frustration in trying to connect with Rev. James, and in wishing he would attend Fellowship activities more frequently.  While it is reasonable for a Lead Minister in a small congregation to become involved in congregational initiatives and social events, this is not reasonable in a larger congregation. Many of our members still think of UUFR as the smaller congregation they once were part of.  We need to reset expectations in this area.  We also need to get clear about our lines of communication — about who does what, and who to contact when.  And we need to make that information easy to find.

Also regarding availability, the Board expressed some anxiety over the length of James’ absence during the summer months, even though we were all aware of this plan and had approved it in advance.  Perhaps our Covid19 experience had something to do with the sense of loss we felt.  We expressed a desire for more deliberate planning that would both support our Minister’s need for time away, and ensure a sense of ongoing presence for the congregation.

    • Targeted Action #1: James and the Board will work together to help reset expectations about the role of the Lead Minister in a congregation of our size.
    • Targeted Action #2: James will work with staff to clarify lines of communication (who does what and who to contact when) and will make this information available and easy for our members to locate and access.
    • Targeted Action #3: James will plan for expected absences in a way that balances his need for time away with the congregation’s need for a strong sense of his continued presence.

In summary, James is doing an outstanding job — even though much of what he’s needed to do this past year wasn’t at all on our radar 12 months ago.  We’re amazed at his resilience, and grateful for the grounding and perspective he provides through his ministry.

NEXT STEPS

While minister and staff performance are critical, ultimately this process will look at the whole of our ministry through a variety of lenses.   Here’s what we intend to address next:

  1. The Board is developing a process for an annual assessment of its own performance and effectiveness, which will also include gathering feedback from our members. Our plan is to complete this in time to report results by the end of June — stay tuned for more!
  2. There are many sources of input that were not included in this initial assessment of ministry that we intend to incorporate. Some of these are just now getting started.  For example, input from focus group or ‘Loop Group’ discussions the Committee on Ministry is piloting, from Board discussions with different constituencies across our congregation, and from Relational Conversations both within and beyond our congregation.  Covid has slowed us down, but while we’re waiting to be back in person, we are still moving forward as best we can.
  3. We are including assessment-related activities in our annual calendar of regular Board work, and will incorporate this process in an update of our governance policies. We want to make sure that future Boards will continue this practice.  They may need to realign the spokes from time to time, but they will not have to reinvent the wheel.

 

Mary Kay Fruga , UUFR Board Past President. January 2021

 

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