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May 29, 2007


The Times They Are A-Changing -- And So are We
Michelle Richards
“Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.”
Bob Dylan

This is even more true now than it was when Bob Dylan first crooned these words in the 1960s. And we in the Central Midwest District have decided we’d better start swimming, too – by offering the news and information you need to know in an all-new electronic format. In this new communication vehicle, you’ll find hyperlinks to important information and contacts plus special features and important information about upcoming events – all of which could be cut and pasted into your own electronic or paper newsletters. Let us know what you think of our new format and the content by contacting us. We look forward to your feedback. Also, if your congregation is engaging in an exciting new program or exploring an innovative idea, let us know so we can include it in future issues of the Central Midwesterner.


New Directions for CMwD
Dori Davenport Thexton
As Ian and I finish up our first year together, we find ourselves feeling good about working together and about the directions in which our Central Midwest District is headed.

Ian, Dori and a friend at DA2007CMwD has long been a strong, healthy district with many outstanding lay and professional leaders.  We are also a growing district—we are consistently one of the districts adding the most members and with the largest number of emerging congregations.

This past year, we have seen an increase in congregations working together in areas of board development, lifespan religious education and leadership training.  Often one or both of us has helped to support these connections and it is great to see how congregational leaders are energized by learning and sharing with each other.

So, as we look ahead, Ian and I would very much like to hear from you!  What are you learning in your work?  What are the things that you think we in the district should be paying attention to in the coming year or two?  What kind of help really helps you the most?  What gifts might your congregations contribute to the other congregations of the district?  What would make you feel good about being part of the Central Midwest District?  Any and all ideas are welcome - please email them to either Ian or me - or .

Dori Davenport and Ian Evison

From the District President


This is the time of year people think about graduating from school, preparing the annual church budget, annual reports, and thinking about what we'll do next year.

At the district executive, staff, and board level, we've got an established team in place now after some transitional years.

In the coming year, the district board will be meeting in Missouri, Illinois, and Wisconsin. We meet about 5 times per year. We usually have dinner at a local congregation with area congregational leaders, then a 2 hour meeting, and again for about 6 hours on a Saturday.

These dinners are a great time for us to meet the people we serve, to let you know how and why we operate, and to get your feedback to shape the district's strategic plan, and most importantly– to provide a transparency and accountability loop to the work we do.

Here's our current schedule:

September 14 and 15, 2007, at the DuPage UU Congregation in Naperville, IL;

November 16 and 17, 2007, at the Alton, IL, UU Congregation;

February 8 and 9, 2008, at the UU Congregation of Bloomington, IL;

Sunday, April 27, 2008, at the district annual meeting in St. Louis, MO; and

June 13 and 14, 2008, at a congregation in Wisconsin to be determined later.

If you reside near these congregations, please consider attending the dinner portion on that Friday night (5 pm), and let our district office manager (Peggy Boccard) know via Email.

In the coming year, I think we will be looking at our nomination & election process, a visionary approach to fund-raising, and our relationships with other districts and UU entities. I have set up a web log. And I believe we will have an updated district web site and blog soon.

May all our canvasses come in nicely, our budgeting processes be smooth & satisfying, and may we be reminded to thank the many volunteers who demonstrate and live out our UU values.

– Daniel.

Rev. Dr. Daniel ÓConnell
President, Central Midwest District of the UUA
Lead Minister, Eliot Unitarian Chapel
St Louis, MO
(314) 821-0911 (office)
(314) 397-2383 (after hours)

Board of Trustees Elected at District Assembly’s Annual Meeting of Delegates
Michelle Richards
In a contested race in a field of three qualified candidates all submitted by the Nominating Committee, Justine Urbikas of the Unitarian Church of Evanston was elected as the district’s new UUA Trustee.

Justine Urbikas, CMwD UUA TrusteeWith this election, she also gains the honor of being one of the youngest UUA Trustees ever elected, and we as a district have the honor of electing a Young Adult to this position.  Justine is a full-time student at DePaul University and previously served the district as Youth Trustee to the CMwD Board as well as serving on the UU Campus Ministry Advisory Committee.  Justine replaces Sue Stukey who served for eight years as UUA Trustee from the Central Midwest District.  For more information on Justine Urbikas, you can read her candidate announcement.

Other candidates who were elected at the annual meeting of delegates at this year’s District Assembly for the Central Midwest District’s Board of Trustees are:
  • The Rev. Daniel O’Connell, minister at the Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, MO was elected as President of the Board;
  • Rev. Brian Covell, minister at Third Unitarian Church in Chicago was re-elected as Secretary;
  • Rev. Emmy Lou Belcher, minister at the DuPage UU Church in Naperville, IL was elected as Ministerial Trustee (after being nominated by the District’s UUA chapter); and
  • Meredith E. Schultz who is a member of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, WI  was elected as Trustee-at-Large.
In other business, the delegates approved a budget for the 2007-08 fiscal year, approved a resolution from the floor which supported the state of Illinois’ proposal to make civil unions a legal option for couples and approved a measure which would allow members of the Church of the Larger Fellowship to send delegates who reside in our district to District Assembly in future years.


Chalice Lighters Donate $11,000 to First UU Wausau Building Project
Youth from First Universalist Unitarian Church of Wausau receive a check for $11,000 in grant funds from the Chalice Lighters, a group of donors from throughout the Central Midwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
The Wausau church will use the funds, together with volunteer labor, to complete construction of classrooms for the children's Religious Education program.

Pictured from left to right are Ali Peterson, Emma Busig, Max Sorenson and Elly Keily.


Story of the Mt. Vernon IL Fellowship
Neil Lichtman
This month’s article follows on the heels of last month’s topic of our emerging congregations. The key point I wanted to make last month was the importance of our contributions to both our UUA and CMwD in helping emerging congregations develop into affiliating congregations.

Neil Lichtman, APF ChairParallel to that article I sent out an e-mail request for an emerging congregation which had received substantial help from the CMwD to tell me its story so I could relate it to the readers of this column.

Shannon Green, from the Board of the Mt. Vernon UU Fellowship, IL, replied, and this column reflects our conversation. What I learned was how our contributions work at an even earlier stage: helping a very small group of people come together to form a healthy, just barely, emerging congregation.

The Mt. Vernon UU Fellowship is located in far Southern Illinois roughly 50 miles East-southeast of St. Louis. It has a current membership of 17 hardly UU’s in an area that’s very…very…religiously and politically conservative. About 16,000 people live in the area with one mega evangelical church dominating the landscape.

mt vernon uu fellowshipThis congregation started, prior to its first meeting, in March 2005 when one person, the recently deceased Randy Farrar, a resident of Mt. Vernon, but a member of the Carbondale UU Fellowship about 50 miles away, single-handedly purchased a building in Mt. Vernon with the intent of starting a UU congregation there. Joining him was Glenda Eubanks, also a Mt. Vernon resident and a member at Carbondale UU Fellowship.

With the help of other members of Carbondale UU, Randy Farrar and Glenda Eubanks advertised in the Mt. Vernon area for like- minded people and gathered, in the first of three meetings, a working group of twelve or so people who comprised the initial congregation.

Shannon describes a number of times the CMwD gave direct help to Mt. Vernon to consolidate this small group of people.

Angela Merkert, our Congregational Services Director back then, came to Mt. Vernon and helped this small group of people who really did not know each other well to focus together on the work of building a small congregation. Later, a contingent from Mt. Vernon attended an “Emerging Congregation Workshop” at Eliot Chapel near St. Louis. A while later, Rev. Daniel O’Connell came to Mt. Vernon and presented “Unitarian Universalism 102” helping the members of Mt. Vernon discuss UUism with non-members. And, during the formative period, Mt. Vernon discussed issues with our Dori Davenport.

Although Mt. Vernon does not have a minister, Shannon reports they do have a robust roster of speakers. Youth RE, is run by a small committee. Shannon and her husband rotate teaching RE for their two children, and one other child. Additionally, the congregation’s strength became evident as it survived the entirely unexpected death of their founder in 2006.

This is an excellent example of our contributions at work. Sure, few of us will ever get to Mt. Vernon UU Fellowship to experience it first hand. However, we all recognize we’re in this for far more than ourselves. We are UUs for our principles and for the real-world outcomes of seeing these principles alive and well.

Thank you to all our CMwD congregations for supporting efforts like this.

And thank you to Shannon Green for sharing her experiences with our CMwD Staff.

Neil Lichtman
Your CMwD APF Chair

District Assembly 2007
District Assembly 2007District Assembly 2007 was at the Oak Brook Marriott April 13-15.
Our Keynote Speaker was Alice Mann of the Alban Institute. You may listen to the Sunday morning service HERE.

Photos taken by Peggy Boccard, Gretchen Ohmann and Nancy Irons. Click a picture to see larger version.



Spreading the Good News of Unitarian Universalism Theme of District Assembly
Michelle Richards
Over 200 Unitarian Universalists gathered as part of our annual District Assembly this past April in Oak Brook, Illinois to experience moving worship services, thought-provoking workshops and the chance to gather together in the spirit of loving community.

David Owen O'Quill preachingThe weekend was kicked off with a rousing worship service which had the crowd clapping and swaying as they sang a multitude of lively hymns. To the tune of “Enter Rejoice and Come In,” a parade of banners presented a colorful display representing the many congregations and organizations of our district. The sermon for the opening worship was offered in two parts by the husband and wife team of Rev. Jennifer Owen-O’Quill from Second Unitarian in Chicago and Rev. David Owen-O’Quill pastor of the urban start-up congregation of Micah’s Porch. The central idea of their two sermons was how we are all engaged in ministry – and that there are many people who are eager to hear the important message of Unitarian Universalism – if only we are willing to minister to them.

Alice MannOn Saturday, Alice Mann from the Alban Institute presented the Keynote Speech. (See related article.) Then the workshops began, with topics in the areas of music, lifespan faith development, leadership development, ecology and the environment and international issues. There was literally something for everyone and many District Assembly attendees found it hard to choose from among such great offerings as How to Deal with Difficult Persons in a Congregation, Living our UU Principles, Leadership for Multiracial, Multicultural Religious Communities and Thinking Inside the Box: Protecting Human Rights at Home and Around the World.

Student Minister Beth LefeverBeth Lefever, winner of the district sermon contest and student of Meadville Lombard Theological School presented the sermon of the Sunday morning worship service entitled: “What? Prosetylize? Me?” Her thought-provoking sermon challenged us to be open about our beliefs and speak out when we are confronted with views which run counter to our Unitarian Universalist beliefs. It was a great way to end the weekend as well as an inspirational send off to those who attended and felt rejuvenated by this gathering of like-minded souls.

REALL Weekend a Real Success
Michelle Richards
Over 40 people gathered in Milwaukee this past March for our district’s annual Religious Education and Lifelong Learning (REALL) weekend to hear ideas for ministering to the needs of families and welcoming all children into our congregations.

On Friday evening, Dori Davenport and Michelle Richards led the group in discussions on empowering parents to use rituals and bring their UU faith into the home, creating true multigenerational communities in our congregations and supporting parents in their role as parents. Some of the ideas which were generated through Open Space discussions were:

• offer personal invitations to get people involved (particularly singles or young adults)
• preach a sermon on the benefits/characteristics of a multigenerational community
• create programs to involve non-parents beyond teaching RE
• create Family Nights at church with programs geared to families of all configurations
• offer covenant-style groups for parents in areas of need (divorce, step-parenting, parents of adolescents, etc)

Then on Saturday, Sally Patton, Ed. M. Developmental Psychology and who has advocated and worked for children with disabilities for over 35 years presented a workshop on Welcoming All Children into our Faith Communities. We explored the effects of labeling on children and how to reframe negative descriptions, developing a positive behavior supports policy and creating a welcoming and inclusive religious education ministry.

Next year’s REALL weekend will explore the topic of family ministry again when we present a workshop with Phil Lund, Lifespan Program Director for the Prarie Star District.

A UU Religious Education for Everyone?
Michelle Richards
America prides itself on being a religious nation, but according to author Stephen Prothero, head of Boston University’s religion department, we are as a whole woefully ignorant about religion.

Stephen ProtheroIn his new book, “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – And Doesn’t,” Prothero presents the shocking information that only half of America’s adults can name any of the four gospels and that most Americans can’t name the first book of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles.  He also discovered through his research (see video here) that the United States government pays little attention to religion when forming foreign policy or appointing ambassadors to countries which are predominately Muslim or Hindu.

Religious Litercy coverThe problem he says is not hypocrisy, but ignorance. He believes we should be teaching about religion in schools – not indoctrinating a particular idea of religion – but teaching about religion as a concept and instructing the next generation about the precepts of religious thought so that as foreign policy is shaped and discussions are made about cultural and religious differences, these conversations and decisions can be made thoughtfully.

Sounds like he’s advocating for a religious education such as we in our Unitarian Universalist congregations have been offering for years!

Wonder how knowledgeble you are? You can test your own religious literacy IQ, just click here.

New UUA Compensation Consultant for our District

Michelle Richards
We are very pleased to welcome Joan Suchomel as the new Compensation Consultant for the CMwD.

joan_1.jpgJoan has attended the training offered by the UUA for district compensation consultants, and she will be pleased to offer her insights and knowledge to your congregations when you are exploring compensation issues for your professional staff. 

She is a member of Unity Temple (UTUUC) in Oak Park, Illinois. Following a period on the Music and Worship Committee and a brief stint on the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation Board, Joan was elected to the Board of Trustees. During her time on the Board she chaired the task force that developed the congregation’s long range strategic plan for 2001-2006. Joan also served for two years as president of the congregation.

What’s Your Congregation’s Story?
Michelle Richards
Many of us know the stories of how our congregations got started, and we’ve all heard stories about the “glory days” (whatever those may be).  But most of us do not know just how important the stories are that we tell about our congregations – both within our own walls and within the larger community.

First Unitarian Church South Bend Indiana In her keynote speech at this year’s District Assembly, Alice Mann from the Alban Institute revealed that “lively congregations embody a story that matters.”  She believes that the stories we tell about ourselves as a congregation set the culture and determine priorities for leadership within the church.  She offered several examples of how the story of a church has translated into a lived reality and created a tacit purpose for visioning and social action.  Specific and powerful stories which are identity-laden can create opportunities for growth and a vision for the future, according to Mann.

Mann also challenged the participants at the keynote address to consider the stories their congregations tell about the founding of the church and the glory days of the past – and then to think about what these stories reveal about their congregation’s present.

So the next time you overhear the familiar story told at coffee hour or presented as a skit at your membership dinner, consider: what are the stories we’re telling about our past revealing about who we are today?

Retiring UUA Trustee
Sue Stukey

To the Members of the Central Midwest District
From Sue Stukey, UUA Trustee (retiring)
May 16, 2007

Dear Friends,
My term as your UUA Trustee comes to an end following General Assembly in Portland this June. I want to take this opportunity to thank you all, once again, for allowing me the privilege of serving our wider Unitarian Universalist movement in this way for the past eight years.

sue.jpgI have totally enjoyed visiting your congregations and getting to know so many of you. Thank you for your warm welcome and generous hospitality. I've come to recognize that there are many ways to be a Unitarian Universalist, but all of us have a common dedication to making our congregations, and our world, places that truly support our values and the inherent worth and dignity of every person. You are great!

My last official business as your Trustee will be to participate with the Board of Trustees at General Assembly, June 20-24, in Portland, Oregon. This will be an exciting few days, as we are expecting this will be the second largest GA in recent history, with over 5,000 attendees. We will all spend lots of time in small discussion groups considering the future of the UUA, asking ourselves: "What difference should Unitarian Universalism make in the world? And, of course, there will be workshops, worship and dynamic plenary sessions led by our esteemed Moderator, Gini Courter. I hope to see many of you there at our District Ingathering at 4:45 PM on Wednesday, June 20.

Following General Assembly, your new UUA Trustee, Justine Urbikas will take office. I know you will welcome her with the same warmth you have shown me. She is an able and experienced UU and I know she will serve you well.

These are exciting times within our movement. I'm looking forward to participating in a variety of ways in the future. We will be moving to a new home in Vermont this summer, but will continue to "commute" to the Midwest for many years to come as we visit family and friends.

Again, it has been a privilege to serve you and our Association.

Yours in community,


Sue Stukey, UUA Trustee
Central Midwest District
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