I am one of those rare Unitarian Universalists who grew up in a UU church. One of the most vivid memories I have is going through the Our Whole Lives program. The first gathering was a day of trust building so we would be comfortable talking with each other about uncomfortable subjects. While one person climbed up to a platform about six feet off the ground, the rest of us all stood across from each other with arms bent at the elbow and palms up to make a zipper pattern. Collectively, we would catch the person as they fell backwards from the platform. A perfect way to show how we can support each other and trust that everyone will keep you safe….until you drop the first person….Luckily, she was uninjured, and we got the hang of it as we each went in turn. Like many things in life, earning, giving, and receiving trust is a learning process.
Our relationships to and within UUCM are often described in terms of covenant where promises are made between individuals, between the board and congregation, and between various groups within the community. Trust underlies promises. We make a promise, and the person or group we make it to trust that we will keep it. Inevitably, a promise will be broken, and that will damage or break the bond of trust. Often, it is possible to rebuild trust. Life is a process and we all make mistakes, break promises, and learn from that experience. Sometimes, the harm is too great, and the covenant is broken.
I’m writing this coming out of a day-long leadership retreat in which we discussed the strengths and weaknesses of our UUCM community. It was heartening to see the trust that existed and that people were open and honest with their words and assessments. It was also obvious that we have work to do to rebuild trust where we did not live out our values to their fullest extent. One of the things that struck me most during this meeting was a statement by Rev. Terri, which I will poorly paraphrase as – Trust is not built with words on a page but with interpersonal communication.
The board and the congregation have the challenge over the next 12-18 months to decide the direction of this congregation in terms of ministerial leadership (interim, contract, developmental, or settled) which in turn will drive the path we take in living out our mission and striving to meet our ends. As the board, we will not be seeking quick solutions to these challenges, and we will need your input. This will only happen with two way communication – from the board to the congregation and from the members of the congregation to the board. In a covenantal relationship such as that we have at UUCM, we need to communicate if we are going to trust each other and the decisions made. This is hard when many of us only see each other once a week. Email and newsletters are important and offer additional forms of communication, but are in some ways one sided and open to misinterpretation. The upcoming survey is another means for us to gather information. None of that can replace, however, the trust that comes from direct conversation. I encourage you all to talk to board members about where we should go and how you think things are going. Please also ask questions when you have them.
Even with the best communication and intention, decisions will be made with which some will disagree, and that is OK. If the process is fair and open, trust can survive disagreement. Trust gets broken, trust gets rebuilt through transparency, honesty, and communication, and trust is what it will take to be a community, move forward, and figure out who and what we want to be.
Member, UUCM Board of Trustees