Just Say No?

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‘Tis the season… for recruiting volunteers. In congregational life particularly, things slow down a bit in the summer, so we end up with the Official Start of the Church Year when we go back to 2 services the second Sunday in September. And so in August, staff and lay leaders are looking at programs for the year, wrestling the calendar, and looking to fill vacancies in existing volunteer positions as well as launching new programs.

Wait, what? Launching new programs? It’s true. Part of reorganizing and managing the changes in staff hours & encouraging broader lay investment in leadership involves learning to become more efficient and effective with the time we do have. I’ve begun regularly asking myself the question, “What are the things that only you can do in this system? They hired a minister for your position, so what are the specific professional skills that you bring to this organization?”

As volunteers in this organization, your questions to yourself will be different, perhaps something like, “Is this something about which I feel passionate?” and “Do I have skills that would be useful to this initiative?” Whatever your questions are, it’s essential that you consider your commitments carefully. We are living in challenging times, and with the world around us changing rapidly, our stress levels are high. We all have commitments that aren’t negotiable. My hope is always that you will find this community to be a non-negotiable commitment. I want this place to be a sanctuary for all of us, I want it to feed us and inspire us as we continue the daily work of our lives, as well as our work creating just and sustainable community around us.

Even as your participation in this community is non-negotiable, the ways you participate are negotiable. We want you to volunteer, yes. Plain and simple, this place wouldn’t run without volunteers. But we want you to volunteer in ways that are life-giving, inspiring, and fruitful for your own journey. When I ask you to participate in a program or committee, I want you to take some time to consider my request, to think about whether it is something that interests you, whether you have time, and whether it stretches you or challenges you in a positive way. Part of my job is to help you see where your gifts can be put to best use — to pay attention to who you are, where you are in your journey, and notice when I see a place you might be able to serve and grow at the same time.

When I ask you to help me with a program or committee or task, I’ve considered all of these things. I’ve thought about what I know about your journey, and about the balance of skills and energy I am seeking in a group. So I’m asking you to do the same. I’d rather get a well-considered “No” than a guilt-ridden “Yes.” If the only reason you have to say yes to a task is that nobody else is going to do it, well, that’s just not a good enough reason! It’s OK for traditions to pass into history, and programs to end or get reconfigured when they aren’t working anymore. If you’re not sure, let’s talk it through.

Here’s an example: Last year, I was asked to participate in two different UU Ministers’ Association (UUMA) initiatives. The first was the pilot of the Ministerial Formation Network (MFN), which is a mentoring program for seminarians. The second was a Task Force for inclusion of families with children in UUMA retreats and programming. I thought about them both. I had just completed three years of service on the Right Relationship Team, so it was time to think about my next choice for denominational service. I definitely couldn’t do both, though.

The task force, well, it’s something I think is very important, and it certainly affects me. Seemed like a no-brainer. But when I thought more deeply about it, it did not sound interesting to me. I knew I would get bored and resent the time commitment. I didn’t want to give it my energy. The MFN, on the other hand, got me totally jazzed. Mentoring? Organizing an annual retreat? Helping seminarians have easy access to the kind of support that I had to work hard to find and seek out when I was coming up in the profession? This sounded like fun, and interesting, and right where I wanted to put my energy. That was a Sacred Yes.

In the midst of all the necessary conversations about what gets cut as we reconfigure staff and programs, UUCA’s staff has become much more intentional about how we DO spend our time. Turns out, it is much more generative and inspiring to think this way than it is to focus on what we can’t do. And so I invite you into the same work — it is the personal work that runs parallel to the values and visioning work that the board has been working on for the past year, which continues this Fall. Who are we together? What is the fundamental purpose of this community? How will we use our resources, both individual and collective, to embody Compassion, Inspiration, Connection, and Justice: the values that guide who we are and what we do?

Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper, Associate Minister

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