Sunday, July 22, 2018

Questions & Answers about Ministry Change

This post is a Q and A from Members for Ministry Change, a group of TJMC members who recently mailed a letter to the congregation outlining their concerns.  (July 19, 2018)

Q-1. Why do Members for Ministry Change (MMC) think Rev. Wikstrom should resign as Lead Minister at TJMCUU?

A:​ Members for Ministry Change believe that Rev. Wikstrom has proven incapable of leading a congregation our size with enough energy, stability and consistency to help it thrive. TJMCUU is deteriorating by many measures, and after seven years, it is time to undertake a comprehensive examination of his performance. Rev. Wikstrom has acknowledged that his first three years, beginning in fall 2011, were “disastrous,” and despite our Boards’ efforts to support him throughout, his performance has remained unreliable and has been at times reckless or alienating. Although he is popular and positive at times, we have lost faith in his leadership. We believe this painful realization is shared more widely than church leadership currently acknowledges.

Our church has failed to thrive under Rev. Wikstrom’s ministry. Average attendance at Sunday services has declined by one-third since he came. Membership has stagnated in a fast-growing metro area, the average pledge per member has declined, the church is in financial crisis and many key volunteer positions remain vacant. Some members find too many of his sermons lackluster; others have stopped attending for this reason. Others have been hurt by his broken promises and neglected commitments. Most Members for Ministry Change (MMC) supporters are concerned about his capacity for good judgement and, especially, impulse control.

Q-2​: Who are MMC, and what qualifies them to start this discussion?

A:​ Anyone who signed the recent MMC Letter to the Congregation, or who agrees but did not sign, can consider themselves a Member for Ministry Change; most also have individual reasons. The group’s Steering Committee came together in June after the Board-sponsored workshops led by Paula Cole-Jones and the congregational budget meeting. Ms. Jones’ analyses of participants’ concerns made clear that significant, long-term dissatisfaction with Rev. Wikstrom’s performance persists.
Marlene Jones, Dan Grogan and Stephanie Lowenhaupt are former Board members; Stephanie served as Treasurer and on the Finance Committee for 13 years, and on Personnel and numerous other committees. Laura Wallace co-chairs the Considering Our Name Committee, served as a Worship Associate for six years, and on the Covenant Group Ministry founding team, Environmental Concerns and 2015 Survey Committees. Sharon Baiocco has been Social Justice Chair, Chair of the Green Sanctuary Task Force and member of the Strategic Planning group and most recent Pledge Drive team. Three steering committee members served on the Facilities Task Force that sold U-House and planned the renovations of church buildings.

Q-3: What data show that Rev. Wikstrom is accountable for our congregation’s most significant problems?

A: ​The most significant sign of dissatisfaction with the Lead Minister’s (LM’s) performance is the steady decline in average attendance at Sunday services, which are his sole purview, as stated in the Letter of Agreement (LoA), our contract with the LM.  [Note:  The 2014 Letter of Agreement with the LM was made available to the MMC]:

Worship and Ceremonial Services. ​ The LM coordinates Sunday worship and ceremonial services in collaboration with staff and Worship Weavers. He prepares and delivers sermons and coordinates the various aspects of a service into an integrated whole. The LM is responsible for all worship services, except for those for which Worship Weavers and/or Director of Faith Development (DFD), Leia Durland-Jones, assume responsibility.

● DECLINING ATTENDANCE AT SUNDAY SERVICES —​ Average Sunday services attendance has declined steadily, down one-third from the first half of 2012, Rev. Wikstrom’s first year, to the first half of 2018. Average total Sunday attendance this year fell to 142, both before and after the February racist incident. [Note:  Information taken from the TJMCUU Membership record books, found at the rear of the sanctuary.]  It may be unnecessary to 2 maintain a second service at this point, because two-thirds of current members do not attend worship services on any given Sunday.

Additional data also indicate the congregation’s failure to thrive:

● STAGNANT MEMBERSHIP — ​Rev. Wikstrom became Lead Minister in Fall 2011. ​The 2012-2017 long-range plan draft originally anticipated that with a new minister, membership would increase by a third, to around 600, by 2015. The Strategic Plan, issued two years later in 2014, revised that assumption: “There were many with the expectation that we would envision a Church whose goal and future was to grow (in numbers). This vision was clearly articulated to Rev. Wikstrom when he was recruited as our minister. This is not, however, where the process led us.” During Rev. Wikstrom’s tenure, ​membership has hovered around 425, while the metro area has grown by more than 26,000. During the past five years, the Membership Committee recorded 210 3 membership drops (16 died; +/-48 left the area), while 190 joined. There are little data about those who left TJMCUU but did not move away and those who have joined.

● BUDGET SHORTFALLS and DECREASES IN PLEDGES PER MEMBER ​— The drop in attendance and decrease in average per-member pledges explain, in part, our 4 current budget shortfall of nearly $50,000 for the second time in two years. [Note:  TJMCUU Finance Committee Chair’s report, June 2018 Board Meeting]

● LEADERSHIP VACANCIES​ — Another significant sign of failing ministerial leadership is that multiple volunteer positions go unfilled, including on the Board. A week or so after her election, the 2018 President of the Board resigned. The Vice President’s slot remains open. We are aware that some members who formerly worked with Rev. Wikstrom have chosen not to again, and/or that the three crises of the racist incident, the budget defeat, and distrust in the Lead Minister have made the work overwhelming.

● LOSS OF TRUST BY MEMBERS OF THE CONGREGATION ​— Congregants repeatedly describe disappointment in Rev. Wikstrom’s erratic pastoral care and lack of support for congregational programs. Although he can offer warmth and insight one on one, he often fails to show up for committees or individuals or respond to their needs. Ms. Cole-Jones’ workshop report details similar observations. The Pulse Survey will likely reveal both new praise and new concerns.

● MINISTERIAL ENGAGEMENT IN ACTIVITIES THAT BRING THE CONGREGATION INTO DISREPUTE IN THE COMMUNITY ​— Some MMC advocates believe that some of Rev. Wikstrom’s actions and aspects of his messaging following the racist incident in February were overall harmful to our community. His personal Facebook post describing how he planned to handle his response to our congregation and ending: “#FuckRacistUUs,” was very troubling.

Q-4: Why have you initiated this process now?
A: ​Ms. Cole-Jones’ report categorized comments collected during the May workshops and revealed ongoing, serious issues with Rev. Wikstrom’s performance and our church’s governance. Although originally scheduled to address the February racist incident and underlying trust issues, the workshops illuminated a host of long-rumbling concerns about our church’s ministry and worship, governance, leadership, finance, and communication. Participants’ comments were unsigned at her direction, and Ms. Cole-Jones stated, “Unsigned comments are invaluable; they show us where the work needs to be done.” The church’s financial trajectory also indicates that more positive, motivational leadership is needed.

Q-5: Why was the beginning of MMC’s effort called “secretive”?
A:​ The prevailing system for hiring and dismissing ministers maintains the status quo and favors stasis, tilting toward protection of the current minister, which sometimes can be at the cost of a congregation’s well being. Members for Ministry Change is promoting an alternative. We understand that this can be interpreted positively or negatively, and anticipate both helpful criticisms and misunderstandings. We are motivated by concern for the sustainability of the congregation and church we love

MMC came about after the budget vote, and after we each had encountered multiple congregants over an extended time who felt concerned about Rev. Wikstrom but saw no evidence that their concerns were triggering substantive action by the Board or Committee on Ministry. Once it became clear that there was significant desire for ministry change, we committed to learning how much actual support there might be. It was a complex, sensitive process and it took time to reach the point where we felt we had a broad-enough view to justify taking our concerns to the TJMCUU community. MMC has not fomented dissatisfaction, but has tried to synthesize it for the congregation to evaluate. Only the congregation, not a single group, could resolve this issue formally, and the Bylaws specify how that process would be conducted.

The Bylaws require that 10% of members sign a petition to the Board, calling for a special meeting to vote on the Lead Minister’s termination [as per the Policy Manual]. Another alternative is for the Board to request his resignation with three months’ notice or severance; Rev. Wikstrom could agree to resign or could refuse. With the help of other members MMC began collecting available documentation, while reaching out to concerned congregants involved in many aspects of church life. MMC has kept the Board and Rev. Wikstrom apprised of our effort all along, but refrained from broadcasting our concerns to the full congregation until adequate evidence was available to illustrate them.

Q-6: What are the process and criteria for evaluating a Lead Minister, and who conducts the annual performance assessment?

A:​ The Board and senior staff agree on priorities each year and perform quarterly assessments. The Board President reviews the final annual assessment with senior staff and the Personnel Committee chair; then they present a summary to the Board. The process is not specified in the current Bylaws or Policy Manual. In its 2017-18 annual report the Personnel Committee states, “This committee is also tasked with performing annual appraisals of the senior staff at TJMC-UU.” Specific Duties of the Lead Minister (LM) listed in the 2014 Letter of Agreement between Rev. Wikstrom and the Board include the following:

Worship and Ceremonial Services.​ The LM is required to preach a minimum of 34 times each year, (3 out of 4 Sundays). He is expected to develop lay leaders, including the Worship Weavers.

Faith Development.​ Offers learning opportunities.

Pastoral Care and Presence.​ Visits, sends notes and prayers, responds to crises in a timely manner; counsels congregants and others, creates healing communities. Helps people process grief, supports caregivers, makes referrals. Maintains regular and posted office hours at least three days per week and by appointment.

Community Building at TJMC, Public Ministry, and Service to the Larger UU Faith. Fosters and strengthens connections among the TJMC community and connects with local, regional and national religious leaders to promote UU principles, goals, and services to the wider community.

Collaborative Management of Church Staff and Operations.​ Works cooperatively to manage staff, share responsibilities, delegate tasks, support the Board, Committees, Councils, and congregation as a whole. Conducts annual performance reviews of the Director of Music and Ministry Associate.

Personal Renewal and Professional Development​. Self-care, continuing education, and professional associations.

 Meetings, Communication, etc. ​ Meets weekly with Board Presidents, Triune Leadership Team, Ministry Associate, Director of Faith Development, and twice monthly with the entire staff. Monthly meetings of the Executive Board, Board of Trustees, and Worship Weavers Guild, and Committee on Ministry. Be available to lay leaders for support, strategic thinking, etc. Writes a monthly Bulletin column, a detailed monthly report to the Board, maintains an active presence on the congregation’s Facebook page, and contributes regularly to the TJMC blog.

This year, the Board and Lead Minister announced their priorities at the February Board meeting. They can be reviewed at this link at the end of the Minutes (p. 21).

Q-7: What are the processes and legal responsibilities for terminating a Lead Minister according to our Bylaws?

A: ​Members would submit a petition to the President of the TJMCUU Board of Trustees to call a Special Meeting as mandated by Article IV.2 (Special Meetings) of our Bylaws, last revised November 12, 2017. The meeting’s purpose would be to present a motion to terminate our agreement with Rev. Wikstrom.

Article XIII.5 ‑ Tenure and Termination. Each Minister shall have indefinite tenure. The relationship between the Minister(s) and the Church may be terminated by either party. The terminating party shall provide a minimum of three month's written notice. However, the Church may, in place of notice, provide three months' severance pay. The Church shall give notice of termination to a Minister if a majority of members at a special congregational meeting called to consider termination has voted by secret ballot to so act. Written notice of such a meeting shall have been sent to all members at least 21 days prior to the meeting.

Q-8: Would meetings be held to discuss our Lead Minister’s performance and possible actions? If so, when?

A​: Yes. These would take place prior to a scheduled vote on termination of the agreement with the Lead Minister. In that event, the Board should schedule opportunities for discussions and for members to ask questions before the Special Congregational Meeting is held. These could include Cottage Meetings, congregational conversations, and more.

Q-9: When would a vote to terminate our Lead Minister occur?

A: ​If undertaken, the process should move forward with care. Rev. Wikstrom is not the sole cause of our congregation’s decline. Leadership in our congregation is collaborative and requires constant communication with constituencies, and our volunteer leadership ranks are thin and dealing with heavy responsibilities. Traditionally, summer is not a good time to make significant congregational decisions.

A Special Congregational Meeting could not be scheduled realistically until three weeks after the Board meets in September.

Q-10: What are the roles of the Committee on Ministry and Personnel Committee in regard to a Lead Minister’s removal?

A:​ The Personnel Committee provides recommendations and advice to the Board and the Senior Staff on policy, staffing needs, and operational matters pertaining to Church staff members, as requested. The Committee on the Ministry interprets, supports, and monitors the ministry of the Church. MMC believes a more thorough performance review is essential at this time. The Committee on Ministry’s Pulse Survey will close July 22. The results and report should be helpful, with the caveat that the survey’s design may not provide clear answers, as it was a general satisfaction assessment and not a staff performance review. It also did not cover satisfaction with pastoral care, a major role of both the Lead and Associate Ministers.

Q-11: What is the role of the national organization (UUA) in this process, if any?

A:​ In the UU tradition of congregational polity, each member congregation has the power to ordain, call/hire, supervise and dismiss ministers and other staff; and to do so independently of the UUA. However, the UUA process of transitioning ministers is prescribed, democratic and deliberate, and requires an extended timeline. If the congregation did vote to terminate our relationship with Rev. Wikstrom, the transition process should be initiated by early fall to meet denominational and search guidelines. Most likely there would be a period of lay and/or guest ministry. Our church has talented congregants with abilities to co-create engaging, meaningful services or to step into stewardship and administrative roles. As soon as possible after Rev. Wikstrom’s departure, TJMCUU would need to elect a Ministerial Search Committee to begin the process of defining the leadership our congregation seeks.

Q-12: Are the potential termination of our relationship with the Lead Minister and our budget deficits related?

A: ​The budget proposed by the Board was voted down at our June Congregational Meeting for a variety of reasons. This was the second year the Board asked the congregation to approve a deficit of more than $45,000. Because the total compensation package for our Lead Minister, $127,903 (Fiscal Year 18-19), is the largest single line item, in that sense they are related. But many members who want a ministry change do so for spiritual or right relationship reasons that are not related to church finance.

Q-13: If Rev. Wikstrom should leave, how would we replace him in the pulpit?

A​: The congregation would have time for a critical discussion about its expectations for governance and for ministerial leadership after Rev. Wikstrom’s departure. This period could include sermons from ministerial staff (Rev. Alex McGee and Leia Durland-Jones), Worship Weavers, guest clergy and other speakers. As Rev. Wikstrom wrote in his sabbatical proposal request (February Board Minutes, p. 11), we could “hire a part-time worship coordinator, to oversee and coordinate the work that goes into our Sunday morning sanctuary worship. (There is money already set aside for such a purpose.)” TJMCUU is blessed with a variety of creative options for the pulpit, and our community could find inspiration and renewal in sharing in this role for up to a year, if necessary. Doing so would immediately resolve our budget shortfall and provide the congregation time to reflect together on its vision moving forward.

Q-14. How would we fulfill our Lead Minister’s administrative and pastoral care responsibilities?

A:​ These duties of the Lead Minister could be reassigned to existing staff and others, with compensation, since Rev. Wikstrom’s compensation is the largest line item in the budget. After balancing the budget, if income projections are correct, a surplus would remain with which to pay support staff and visiting clergy or other speakers.

Q-15: Would new Board members be elected?

A: ​If some current Board members should decide they could not continue to serve if Rev. Wikstrom’s agreement were terminated, then the Nominating Committee would be asked to prepare a roster of replacements.

Q-16: When would discussion of our expectations of paid staff and lay leadership occur?

A: ​Should this process end TJMCUU’s relationship with Rev. Wikstrom, the terms of his agreement require severance pay for three months. After organizing efforts to fill the Lead Minister roles, preparations could begin for a ministerial search to be conducted the following fall. That is the time for the deeper discussions many asked for in the Cole-Jones workshops.

Q-17: Does MMC understand how much turmoil this may cause within TJMCUU?

A:​ MMC has committed to remain in covenant and in accordance with our values as we undertake this effort, but it has taken a toll on our community, as it has on ourselves. We do not assume that we have conducted this work perfectly, nor that a particular result is certain. What we do know is that whatever happens, we will respect the outcome and move forward together. 

Terminating an agreement with a Lead Minister is not an action to consider lightly, and we understand that the prospect would be challenging for all and very painful for some. Although it is not unusual for churches to choose to change ministers, it is never easy. Yet we believe our congregation is able to face the facts about our church’s failure to thrive under Rev. Wikstrom’s leadership. We believe better times are ahead if we acknowledge our fears and move forward despite them, keeping faith in each other, in our beloved community and in our principles.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Stan Walker's Open Letter to the Board

Stan Walker has asked this his letter to the Board be shared more widely:

To the Board of TJMC-UU,

For the last year, I've been giving the best advice I can in matters relating to church finances. Some of my advice has been followed, but the most important piece has so far been rejected. I believe the time has come for the Board to come to terms with the reality of our current situation, and abandon the course that they have been on for the last two years.

In the fiscal year ending in June, 2016, we had a pledge income of over $402,000.   For FY 2017, the Board introduced the Program Budget and restricted access to the line-item budget. They also budgeted a $25,000 deficit. After quite a lot of negative feedback about both of those steps, they did reduce the budgeted deficit to $11,000.  I still wasn't happy, even though it was an improvement, and spoke against the proposed budget that year.  At that time there were 7 votes against the budget.  That year actually ended within a few hundred dollars of the budgeted deficit, but pledge donations were down $31,000 from the prior year.

For FY 2018 there were 35 votes against budget.  Five times the number that voted against the FY 17 budget.  Preliminary pledge totals from Cathey Polly indicate pledge income for FY 18 was down over $70,000 from 2016.

So, in two years we have collected over $100,000 LESS in pledges than we would have if the 2016 levels had been maintained.  While there were some areas of increased revenue this past year, they are nowhere close to making up that difference.

I acknowledge that there have been other issues that have contributed to this trend, but I maintain that what gave a focus to the dissatisfaction within the congregation was the introduction of the Program Budget in concert with much larger deficits. You've all heard my arguments before, most recently in my statement sent to the Board for the May 16 meeting, so I won't repeat them here.  I believe that it's time to recognize that the current path has drastically reduced our income along with sowing a level of discord in the congregation that is unprecedented in my experience.

It is irrelevant what the UUA recommends, or what other churches do.  At THIS church, the Program Budget is an abject failure.  At THIS church, at THIS time, the deficit is so divisive that it has cost us far more than it was intended to raise.

When I met with Erik back in February, at one point he reminded me that "only" 35 people voted against the FY 18 budget.  I pointed out that only 7 had voted against the FY 17 budget.  Then I believe my exact words were "This is not a trend you want to continue."  Obviously, it has continued, and the FY 19 proposed budget was rejected.

Whenever I have had any discussion about balancing the budget with a Board member, the response was always that we couldn't do it without cutting staff expenses.  Everything else is already cut to the bone. So, after the initial proposed budget was rejected, the Board decided to ignore that opinion. Instead, you reduced (NOT eliminated) the staff raise, reduced our payment to UUA, made a token gesture of $1000 to those concerned about the state of the building, and then cut $13,000 worth of bone.  All of this and the deficit was STILL $19,000.  I doubt that would have had any better chance of passing than the earlier budget did.

Given the most recent information from Cathey, the pledge commitment for FY 19 has dropped another $13,500 in just the last month. That raises the newest budget's deficit to over $30,000. That information also indicates that the pledges are dropping at an even faster rate than before.

The financial trends over the last couple of years are clear, and we most certainly do NOT want them to continue.  As Chairman of the Finance Committee, the best advice I can give is that you balance the budget appropriately, and include a full line-item budget by default along with a Program Budget.  This will only be a start.  There are too many people with too little trust in the Board right now for those steps to be enough.  But without them the situation will only get worse.

The numbers are undeniable. You need to decide now which road to take.  Continue as you have been, insisting that "it's the right thing to do" and watch the church crumble around you.  Or admit that this experiment has failed, and begin the work of rebuilding what has been lost.  The saddest part of all of this for me is that I truly have no idea which choice you will make.

For those of you who think I'm just being too much of a pessimist, I want to leave you with this thought.  I honestly believed that the proposed budget was going to pass.  I thought it might be close enough to require a recount, but I thought it would pass.  I never expected a 2 to 1 "No" vote.  The level of disaffection in the church is obviously even worse than I had thought.  If anything, I'm being optimistic.

Most Sincerely,

Stan Walker

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Worship in July 2018

The spiritual themes and questions we dance with during the summer months have to do with how we are to live.  When asked whether or not there was a God, the Buddha is remembered as saying that that was a question, “which does not tend toward edification.”  Either way, he said, a person ought to try to live a good life.  If so, the real question isn’t whether or not there’s a God, or heaven and hell, but, rather, how do I live a good life?  (And for that matter, what makes a life “good”?)

July 1:  A Place of Peace
Every religious tradition encourages some form “retreat” as a central spiritual practice.  In a world in which we are so often pulled in so many directions, and barraged with “noise,” finding (or making) some space for silence and stillness is essential.  Our time of “Going Deeper” each Sunday is intended to create at least a taste of this, yet it is certainly not enough.  Where can we find (or create) that sacred space which is so necessary for the renewal of our spirits?  Rev. Wik will offer some reflections.

July 8:  The Serious Work of Play
The noted play therapist, Dr. Gary Landreth, has said, “A child’s play is [their] ‘work’ and the 'toys' are [their] words.”  Oliver Wendel Homes said, “[We] do not quit playing because [we] grow old; [we] grow old because [we] quit playing.”  Charlie Chaplin said, “In the end, everything is a gag.”  And a Yiddish proverb says, “Humanity thinks; G_d laughs.”   Perhaps especially during times of stress, a spirit of playfulness is essential.   This will be a multigenerational, interactive, and playful service!  Rev. Wik will facilitate the festivities.

July 15:  Cheers!
From 1982-1993, people gathered around their televisions to watch the antics of Sam, Diane, Carla, Cliff, Norm, Woody, Frasier, Rebecca, and the rest of the motley crew who gathered in the fictional Boston bar, Cheers!  The show’s theme ended with the declaration, “You want to be where everybody knows your name.  It is human nature to long for such a place, a place where we belong; to find the people who “are always glad you came.”  Rev. Wik hopes that you’ll be glad you came this Sunday.

July 22:  Curiouser and Curiouser
In many UU congregation’s there’s at least one Sunday that usually designated as “The Question Box Sunday.”  On this Sunday, the folks in the sanctuary are given index cards on which they’re invited to write a question that’s on their minds or in their hearts; the preacher is invited to respond with the best of their understanding.  (“Respond,” rather than “answer,” because the most profound questions often don’t have a definitive answer.)  If an affirmation of “the search for truth and meaning” is one of Unitarian Universalism’s core values, maintaining an open and curious attitude is important for living a good life.  Bring your questions; Rev. Wik will offer his responses.  [If you’re not able to be in the sanctuary this Sunday, yet have a question that you’re grappling with, you can email it to  All of the questions, including those that there’s not time to respond to, will later be posted to our blog, The Talk of TJMC.]

July 29:  Here We Have Gathered
2,800 people, representing 522 congregations, met in Kansas City for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s annual General Assembly.  The theme was “All Are Called,” and centered around four questions:  Who and how are we called to be at this time, individually and collectively?  How are we called to act and to live?  How does our Unitarian Universalist legacy strengthen us in living out our mission?  In what ways does our legacy present challenges and impediments to answering our call?  Perhaps not coincidentally, these are questions we’re dancing with as a congregation, as well.  Rev. Wik will offer reflections on what went on at GA, and how it might inform us and our future.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Listen to One Another

This open letter to the congregation comes from Betty Warner, an active member who, with her husband Bob, moved to Pennsylvania.  They both have been missed by those who knew them, and as this letter makes clear, they miss and still care deeply about the TJMC community.

Forgive us for speaking from far away and long ago, but the tragedy occurring in our (speaking for both myself and husband Bob) beloved community at TJMC is breaking our hearts.  TJMC brought us to the UU church more than 10 years ago; we served the church in a variety of formats until we left four years ago for a Quaker retirement community in Pennsylvania.  Thus, our observations are from the six years of our activity at TJMC, from the perspective of our new congregation in Wilmington, DE, and from the impact upon us of our Quaker community.

Remember our despair as a community in 2009 when the Search Committee was forced to inform our congregation that their ministerial choice had turned us down?  We had suffered together through the departure of David and Leslie (still united in those days), the lackluster 2-year interim ministry that followed, the hope and optimism that, with the right leadership, we could be great again…and then the rejection of that dream by the candidate our Search Committee had identified as best for us.  I remember clearly that the congregation was desolate; we had been communally punched in the gut; we were speechless and adrift.  Remember?  For a brief moment, there was anger…what had the Search Committee done incorrectly?  We could have readily turned on one another.  Rather, we united.  We chose to focus on healing ourselves, on moving forward, on remaining optimistic—without a minister to guide us.  We did more than survive; we achieved the status of beloved community.  That time is my favorite memory of TJMC.

Quaker meetings typically do not have ministers; they believe their work and extensive social justice activism are divinely inspired within each individual.  Healing, social justice, a sense of community are NOT the purview of the minister’s leadership.  Erik was very open with us when we interviewed him…he told us clearly that he would not create our Long Range Plan, but follow the one we created.  And yet, I am reading that some at TJMC are angry at him for fulfilling his promise to minister, to guide but not lead.

In our brief time at TJMC, it was clear that the congregation was hard on its ministers.  Although both Leslie and David were officially part-time, both worked full-time.  Before departing, both indicated that they felt the congregation had been reticent to keep them.  My impression as a congregant, though I cannot point to specific evidence, was that Leslie felt her gender and her ethnicity were barriers to acceptance at TJMC.  Our second interim, like Erik, was clear that she would not be at most meetings nor would she lead us, but would rather guide us to a point where we might be ready to define our strengths and weaknesses more clearly in order to more effectively match with a minister in our search process.  Under her leadership, we developed our Covenant. Most of TJMC was glad to see her go although she was considered a great interim elsewhere, and had been selected by our congregation’s committee.  (My least favorite memory of TJMC was witnessing her being verbally attacked by TJMC members and arguing with members who threatened—and did—leave because she did not take their requested action against an employee.)

For those of you who are irritated with Erik, direct those issues to the Committee on Ministry or Board, and understand that this is a process which represents the community and may not always represent your concerns as an individual.  If you are unable to accept the community’s processes and priorities, and the irritations become battle cries, then work to change the community’s priorities (ie run for Board).  Most of all, please, please do not allow the many riches of TJMC to vaporize in the passion of a position that is temporal.   As any congregation which has engaged in a divisive battle regarding its minister will tell you (which includes our current congregation), the bad feelings will last for many years.   Please use the energy being spent on “taking sides” to be used to listen to one another and heal this beloved community.   

Thursday, June 21, 2018

If we are being our best selves ...

The following is an email sent to the Committee on the Ministry by Dawn Dirks, as a follow-up to her comments on the pulse survey.  She agreed to make it an open letter to the congregation as well.

Hello, current members of the Committee on Ministry. In light of Reverend Wik’s June 2018 ministerial report and the online conversations that have followed this week, I feel the need to expand upon my replies to the Pulse survey sent out last week. 

We all know that our congregation is experiencing a very challenging time right now, and some people are feeling deeply dissatisfied for various reasons.  I want to share my own feelings regarding these issues, and in particular, how they relate to Wik.  First, let me share a bit about my own history with the UU faith and with TJMC-UU in particular.  I have been involved with TJMC-UU for more than 17 years, but beyond that, I am a lifelong UU.  My children are 3rd generation UUs on my side and 4th generation on their dad’s side.  The UU faith is in my blood, and in that of my children.  In addition, I was a staff member here at TJMC-UU and I recently served as the Chair of the Personnel Committee.  I have been aware of the concerns some members have had over the last several years in regard to Wik’s performance, and because of the nature of my involvement, I hope that my perspective may be helpful. 

For as long as I have been involved at TJMC-UU, I have felt a certain level of tension over a wide array of issues.  As an adult, I have attended 4 different UU churches, and each church has had its own climate, with different strengths and challenges.  I say this because I think it is important to know that from my perspective, the tensions that are specific to TJMC have a long history here.  Some are standard issues that many churches share, such as budget concerns, staffing needs, growing pains as a congregation moves from pastoral size to something different, and struggles over how to determine priorities and long-term vision.  From my perspective, however, TJMC has suffered from a long-standing underlying sense of unease and lack of communication and trust that I have not experienced at the same level in other congregations.  I think that many who have come to TJMC-UU looking for a spiritual home, and many who have left dissatisfied, would share my sense of this underlying energy. 

I believe that our church community needs a paradigm shift.  My hope is that we can find our way to truly be the beloved community built on mutual trust, deep respect, and a shared sense of unified purpose that we all want.  In order to get there, we need to do the hard work together to rebuild, or in some cases, create, our trust in and commitment to each other.  None of us is perfect, including our staff, and we should not expect/demand perfection from each other.  During my time on the Personnel Committee, I was deeply troubled by the consistent lack of respect and basic kindness some congregants, and in fact, some Personnel Committee members, expressed in regard to two of the members of our senior staff.  I sincerely believe that the hateful, racist note left for Christina grew out of this lack of respectful dialogue that we as a congregation have allowed to happen.  I also believe that everything Wik said immediately following the receipt of that note is true and needed to be said.  We need to hear those words again, and take them to heart.  Here is my truth:  we as a congregation have absolutely unrealistic expectations of what our staff can do, and what we should expect them to do.  We often treat them with deep disrespect.  We do not trust them to be the professionals that they are.  Wik told us when we called him that he believes in and practices radical shared ministry.  I believe that those who are troubled by it did not truly hear, or perhaps did not understand what this would look like.  The shared leadership model has worked exceptionally well for our 3 senior staff members.  Why are we as a congregation not willing to trust them and allow them to use this model that has, quite literally, been life-changing for our senior staff?   

I acknowledge that there have been some very real challenges with Wik’s perceived performance, and I understand that he has not always changed his practices in the way that some would like.  It has been my observation, however, that he has in fact listened and responded well to these opportunities for growth.  I have full confidence in his ability to be the leader we need to help us become the church we want to be.  To do so, however, requires a commitment from all of us to truly work towards becoming that beacon of inclusion, racial and social justice, and love that we say we want to be.  In fact, I believe that Wik’s presence here to help guide this transformation is a profound gift to our congregation, if we allow it.  I believe that his radical shared ministry approach may be exactly what we need to achieve this paradigm shift.  If and when Wik leaves, I hope that it will be for the right reasons and at the right time for him, and not because he has been forced out.  I cannot say strongly enough that to me, the way that some members are attempting to remove him is yet another example of the brokenness of our community.  Senior staff members do not make or break a congregation; the overall climate amongst the members does.  Attempting to blame Wik and/or Christina for our current and truly long-standing issues is unfair, inaccurate, and hurtful to all. 

From my observation, TJMC has been very fortunate to have outstanding staff members who are highly professional and who are deeply dedicated to both our congregation and our denomination.  We would do well to trust them to do the jobs that we hired them to do, and that they are, in fact, called to do as their life’s work.  If we are being our best selves and our best incarnation of a beloved community, we will support them and lift them, and each other, up with gratitude, even in times of disagreement and strife. 

With love for our church,

Dawn Dirks

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Call to Work Together

Today's Talk is written by long-time member, Elizabeth Breeden:

I think Rev. Erik needs to decide if he wants to be our minister and meet with any small group of people he chooses, to define his strengths and his ministry.  Define where he will show up.  Define what he loves to do and can commit to it, so that he’s not being asked to do what he doesn’t do.  We need to define what WE want in a minister. I want a minister who not only has an idea, but engages his congregation to implement that idea.  I want to be led to be diverse, to tear down the barriers which feel unwelcoming to anyone seeking an open minded, thoughtful, compassionate congregation.

It has been apparent to me, since Rev. Erik began his ministry, that he is a dichotomy of ministerial strengths and struggles. I believe that if Erik could define those parts of his job that he loves and those parts that stress him, he would be able to define his part of a co-ministry. The areas of ministry he would give up would be done by volunteers or other staff. I think he would also have to give up the commensurate salary and I admit that’s a tough one.

The intense conversation our church had several years ago to define and hire a DAF came from the realization there might not ever be a minister who can be pastoral and a spiritual leader AND administrate the business of the church. At that time, the minister was responsible for both financial management and for day to day operations.  Because of those discussions, we changed our Church Administrator position and increased it to the job and skills of a Director of Administration and Finance.

It is my belief that Rev. Erik created the Triune model of ministry to expand who holds the responsibilities of ministry and also to increase engagement with our community.  Instead of increasing engagement, I think it created an ivory tower of decision-making without input from the congregation.  Instead of engaging more with the Committees tasked to help with the work of the church the Committees were stripped of their input and decision-making and thus their full-on support of the members of the Triune.  In the same way, I think the Board decision to lower the number of board members, though a good decision about efficiency and finding volunteers to fill the positions, has decreased engagement with Committees and the Congregation.

Here is my take on Rev. Erik’s strengths and weaknesses. He is insightful and wise if you do not expect a second meeting or any follow up. If the problem is in the present and in his presence, he responds better than anyone.  But he has no follow-up nor any organizational leadership.  I have been on the Racial Justice Council since before it started, and he supports it from afar, but we have never been able to engage him in sustained support, organizational structure or congregational involvement from the pulpit.  The exception to this is IMPACT, I believe, due to the tenacious leader of that group. His sermons are good though he has had some spectacular disasters. He NEEDS to engage feedback from his Worship Associate Committee.  He needs a sounding-board.  Some of his sermons have had unbelievable unintended consequences.  He shows up and delivers a good Adult Faith Development class.  I have yet to hear that he has even attended the Racial Justice Committee nor asked their help in initiatives he was leading.  I believe his racial justice work should be based on relationships and on building those relationships in the larger community and I find him really bad at that. (sorry, I do…maybe he’s out there somewhere I don’t go.) 

The sad result of our recent communications among ourselves is that accusations and single- issue solutions and defensive postures are overwhelming.  They may define our problems, but now they are not helpful.  I think we have an enumerated list of perceived difficulties with Rev. Erik’s leadership thanks to the listening circle and Paula Cole Jones’ two meetings.  We have seen the breakdown of communication when the Triune and the Board does not engage the committees who are supposed to be working tightly with them to get work done. (Budget input) We should be receiving both positive and negative information with the Survey.  The organizational, communicative, action-oriented tactics that respond to this information WILL create a community that has learned to listen and imagine a solution.  Just as I ask Erik to decide what he wants about this job, I ask the congregation to decide if they want to be here, what work they will do and if they will join open-minded solutions towards a community they can love and own and welcome everyone else.  I want to do the hard work. I believe in the good intentions of our leaders.  I hope you will stay and join me.

Elizabeth Breeden

Friday, June 15, 2018

Holding Myself Accountable For Harming My Colleague, Rev. Leslie Takahashi

While this is a message to the TJMC community, it is also an open apology to the Rev. Leslie Takahashi.  I have already sent a copy to Leslie, and we will continue to be in dialogue.

As a congregation we are dealing with a number of overlapping and interwoven issues, and for many of us it is overwhelming. There is so much talk — and so much of it is emotionally charged — that I am loathe to add something else into the mix. And yet, I have recently been made aware of ways in which I inadvertently injured my colleague, the Rev. Leslie Takahashi. None of us — especially those of us who identify as white, and those of us who identify as male — is so “woke” that we are immune from behaving in ways which perpetuate the systems and structures of white supremacy and sexism, even when we’re not intending to. It has been pointed out to me that this is what I did in the way I communicated with you regarding the Ministerial Fellowship Committee’s actions concerning David Morris. In order to be accountable to my colleague, Rev. Takahashi, to this community, and to my own integrity, I feel that I have to add more words to those already swirling around.

I first communicated with the congregation about the action the Ministerial Fellowship Committee took, putting David on probation, using an adaptation of the letter the UUA sent to every congregation in our Association. In tailoring their letter for our congregation, I committed several microagressions against Rev. Takahashi. I privileged David by using the honorific “Rev.” more consistently with him than I did with Leslie, at one point even referring to my colleague simply as “his wife,” further reinforcing the dominant culture’s assertion that the professionalism of a white male is of greater importance than that of a woman of color. That this was not my intent is not as important as the impact my lack of awareness had on my colleague Rev. Takahashi. I regret that my words caused Leslie harm.

That initial letter left a great many questions unanswered, and as I learned more, I shared more. I had reached out to Leslie as soon as I first heard from the UUA, yet was not able to connect with her at that time. Alex subsequently reached out to David, and when I saw his response to her it seemed to me that what he said aligned with what the UUA & MFC had communicated. Wanting to help ease concerns among congregants, I made the decision to share the gist of David’s version of events. In hindsight it is all too clear that I should have said nothing without first making sure to have talked with Rev. Takahashi. Once again I centered the voice of another white male, rather than lifting up the voice of a woman of color. There are explanations for why I did not try harder to make sure I connected with Leslie, yet there are no excuses. Let me reiterate — I should not have told his story without also telling hers.

I have been led to understand that in not doing so, I left what I said open to serious misinterpretation. When I stressed that this was “an internal, family matter,” and “a matter of personal, family dynamics,” I was seeking to address concerns about whether other children in the congregations David served were ever at risk. I did not realize that people would infer that this was just a simple disagreement over parenting styles. I did not imagine that some people would think that Rev. Takahashi was using the MFC’s public accountability processes as a way of addressing a family dispute. To have done so would have been a serious ethical lapse on her part, and would call her professionalism into question. It was not my intention to impugn my colleague’s reputation. To the extent anyone read or heard my words to suggest anything else, I misspoke, and I need to take responsibility for that. Leslie is not the person the MFC placed on probation. 

To be clear, Rev. Takahashi did not initiate this complaint, and she has said she’s bent over backwards to avoid being involved in the process.   If this were “just” an issue of differences in parenting styles, the Fellowship Committee would not have seen fit to be involved, nor would it have decided to place David on probation for three years. While it is still my understanding that no children beyond their own were involved, the MFC would only have acted if they considered this to be an issue of ministerial misconduct, and one serious enough to warrant being placed on probation for three years. The MFC was, in fact, responding to charges of child abuse from both of David’s children.  And I have come to recognize that in saying no children from this congregation were harmed, I denied their connection to the congregation, of which they were also an active part for many years, and invalidated the trauma of their experiences.  Erasing their experience in this way created further harm.

Despite my intent to clearly, accurately, and helpfully communicate news that would certainly be distressing to some in our congregation, I demonstrated, instead, just how easy it is — especially for those of us who identify as white and male — to participate in and perpetuate the systems and structures of white supremacy and sexism. My lack of awareness, my inability in this situation to see beyond the conditioning of my culture, was more than a simple mistake. It led to real consequences which were no less harmful for being unintended. In publicly acknowledging the impact of my actions on my colleague, I recommit myself to continuing working to un-learn what I have internalized from the culture of white supremacy and sexism, and I offer a deep apology to Rev. Takahashi. I hope that this will be a step toward repairing the damage I have inadvertently done. 

Pax tecum,