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brianDear friends:

I offer warm greetings to all participants at our District Assembly! As UU’s actively involved in your home congregation, you might be in the process of concluding a spring pledge drive, or making plans to support Religious Education programs next fall. In short, you’re likely looking ahead--and the elected leadership and staff of the Central Midwest District is no different. Yet the CMwD board’s vision for service delivery and governance points more toward a change in direction rather than a continuation of what we’ve experienced in recent memory. Let me offer a description for developments in this topic, and for two other areas as well:


Regionalism is your board’s major concern of the moment. For much of the past eighteen months, we’ve researched and discussed a move to a “middle judicatory” stretching across much of the American Midwest. This potential merger with our co-religionists in the Heartland and Prairie Star districts has already been presaged by the creation of a MidAmerica staff group, comprised of the three district executives and their subsidiary colleagues. The Reverend Dr. Ian Evison, our district’s Congregational Services Director, is the UUA’s regional staff lead for the group. As such, he’s provided guidance for his subsidiary colleagues and lay leaders alike across the three districts--and staff members from our partner districts have also crossed district boundaries to consult with local congregations in their respective areas of expertise.

Discussions on potential regional governance structure have not yielded the same decisive results, and this has been by design. Indeed, the “how we will govern” and the “what we will govern” questions will require more time, and input from stakeholders like you, prior to any final decision.

Yet after the executive committees of all three district boards met in Chicago last October to identify our preferences on this topic, with the lead regional staff in attendance, the assembled decided unanimously to urge movement toward an elected regional board. July 1, 2013, is the date the assemblage agreed upon by which the MidAmerica Region would start operations as the legitimate successor organization of all three districts.
Meanwhile, a “transition team,” comprised of the executive committees of the districts has been managing this process. A “treasurer’s team,” consisting of the three district treasurers and one of the regional staff team, also meets on a similar schedule to review and merge the finances of all three districts to form a regional budget. Moreover, plans are shaping up at the moment for a meeting of all three boards in the Quad Cities area on the weekend of August 24-25, 2012, to secure agreement on the steps needed to formally establish and to publicize the transition to regional governance.

Currently the transition team has been identifying the values and visions we believe should define the new region. I must say it’s becoming increasingly clear that if UU’s wish to respond successfully to present demographic trends in our country, liberal religion in the Midwest (and elsewhere) will need a governance and service delivery structure with the agility, and the technological capacities, to meet the needs of newcomers and existing congregations alike as quickly as we can.

District Services and Board Processes

The interest in regionalism notwithstanding, activities in the CMwD have kept pace since our last District Assembly. Youth Cons and meetings of groups connected to our district continue much as they have in the past. Nevertheless, staff consultancies across district boundaries have meant that congregations in our district have benefitted from both staff and lay leaders hailing from our adjacent sister districts. Inter-district Webinars and phone conferences, coupled with “in-house” visits to local congregations now occur on a daily basis. The same holds for Ian and Dori Davenport Thexton (our RE and Growth Consultant) as they confer with UU’s outside the CMwD when asked.

And your board continues to meet on a quarterly basis. We’ve discussed and approved an operating budget for fiscal year 2013, worked with our very able Nominating Committee, chaired by Mary Gerlach of the Fox Valley (Appleton, WI) UU Fellowship, to develop a slate of candidates for elective district offices, and refined the board’s policies and procedures manual.

In the last case, our exceptionally dedicated Treasurer Warren Thom (UU Congregation of Joliet, IL), drafted a district financial reserves policy that was reviewed and approved shortly after our February meeting. The board agreed with Warren that we needed to adjust the preexisting ad hoc procedure so as to cohere with those adopted by Prairie Star and Heartland, and in order to give our staff reasonable flexibility and reporting responsibilities to meet emergency funding needs as they arise.

Board Transitions and Leadership Events

District assembly will mark the closure of two noteworthy terms of board service, with another term voluntarily ended midway through 2011. I know I join the rest of my colleagues in offering heartfelt thanks to Trustee-at-Large Rosemary Johnston-Lawton (First Unitarian Church of St. Louis, MO), and to Warren Thom, as they conclude their service to the district in their capacities. Rosemary attended to her responsibilities with the high degree of probity and professionalism we came to expect from her, and has been instrumental in updating and administering our annual DA Sermon Award process. As Warren winds down his second term, he has consulted closely with Nancy Armstrong (UU Church of Bloomington-Normal, IL) our current Vice President. He’s done this to ensure a seamless transition at Treasurer, since Nancy has agreed to complete her service as Warren’s successor through June, 2013.

And while unexpected family demands warranted the resignation of Dave Weiman (UU Church of Peoria, IL), as Trustee-at-Large late last summer, we exercised the responsibility noted in our by-laws to appoint a nominated “in term” successor in the fall. The board thus unanimously elected Vera Dowell (Unity Temple UU Congregation, Oak Park, IL) to fill Mr. Weiman’s position. All of this means that your district board will be at full complement for the purposes of democratic decision-making in the crucial year ahead.

Demographic trends in varied cultures have demonstrably affected religious institutions across the globe, and certainly in the Western Hemisphere. As significant portions of our membership retire and age, liberal churches and fellowships in the geographical center of our country are being forced to re-think how they “do church.” This is a conclusion noted by our denominational President in his recent and widely circulated document entitled, “Congregations and Beyond.”

If you’re wondering how you can help your home congregation meet the challenge our faith faces at the moment, you might consider attending the week-long Midwest Leadership School this summer, held on the campus of Beloit College in Beloit, WI, from July 15th to the 21st.

MWLS and its companion program Youth Leadership School offers much in the way of instruction on “best practice” leadership performance. Daily worship and spiritual deepening programs are integrated with classroom work in an immersive experience well worth the reasonable investment of time and money.

I know whereof I speak, because I saw it first hand last summer. I join previous attendees who can testify to the transformative effect MWLS has on its participants. You can find more information about both programs on our district Web site, or by consulting with me or a member of our district staff.

As I close, let me offer my thanks for the countless hours of work given willingly by our clergy and our committed volunteers. The result of these efforts shows--the CMwD is the second-largest district by membership count in our denomination, and we have established an enviable ten-year record of institutional growth. While our staff and board are ready to develop strategies and plans intended to help Unitarian Universalism not just retain but expand its relevance across our region, we will need your help--all of your concerns and your constructive insights--as we move toward regionalism.

For indeed we will need to do so in the name of transparency and the democratic process in our movement across the Midwest. We will need to do so to better fulfill the historic call of our faith: to embrace those who rightly question, to empower those in the throes of injustice, and to embody a radical acceptance of religious and cultural diversity in a divided and broken world.I look forward to walking with you in this holy and necessary endeavor.

- Warmly, in the Spirit,

The Reverend Brian H. Covell