Tag: change

Board President as Waitress or Jigsaw Puzzler

UCV President’s message December 2021

From: “Waitressing in the Sacred Kitchen” by Rev. Meg Barnhouse:

The most helpful thing I grasped while waitressing was that some tables are my responsibility and some are not. A waitress gets overwhelmed if they have too many tables and no one gets good service. …I would go nuts if I tried to take care of everyone, if I tried to make everybody do the right thing. If I went through my life without ever learning to say, “Sorry, that’s not my table, Hon,” I would burn out and be no good to anybody. 

I need to have a surly waitress inside myself that I can call on when it seems everyone in the world is waving an empty coffee cup in my direction. My Inner Waitress looks over at them, keeping her six plates balanced and her feet moving, and says, “Sorry, Hon, not my table.”

 from The Rock of Ages at the Taj Mahal: Unquiet Meditations


There is so much change in our congregation and our national organization right now, that the key thing I’ve been working since our AGM on November 21st is attempting to discern which are the tables that the board and board president are directly responsible for and, to extend the analogy, which tables are someone else’s responsibility. 

Another metaphor I’ve been using is that I have a large jigsaw puzzle, but not the cover picture. Nor am I 100% sure who has some of the pieces.  I will try to trust that all of us working together will take care of our own puzzle pieces and add them to the overall puzzle and together we will discover what the overall picture is. In my family, jigsaw puzzles started by 1. Finding the corner pieces; 2 putting the outside border together and 3. Assembling piles of pieces that look like they might fit together according to the background colour. That’s how I’m approaching this task. 

If you weren’t at the Annual General Meeting, here is a written (and expanded) version of what I said at that time.

Hello and thank you to all who have sent good wishes and congratulations my way. And to all of you who have thanked Diane Brown for her excellent leadership and service, let me add thank you but also gratitude: Diane is stepping back but not away. She will be an active past president and I look forward to working with her especially over the next couple of months as we move through the transition to the new board.  She holds such a wealth of information and experience. I am also so grateful that Gordon Gram is continuing as Treasurer. The Board Executive has three new members: President, Vice-President and Secretary which is not the usual way things work.

I had a long period of discernment before putting my hat in the ring for this role. There are many reasons why “yes” wound up as the answer. Key among the reasons is the great board that the nominating committee put together. UCV is undergoing such a high degree of change and transition, the fact that Leslie Hill, Catherine Ponsford, John Boyle and Jenny Malcolm are also continuing as members-at-large is a very welcome element of stability.  Knowing both Michael O’Neill and Carolyn Grant, I hope and suspect they will continue to find meaningful ways to contribute to our community and also ways to nourish themselves through our many offerings. Welcome to Louise Bunn and Ingrid Luters both of whom I’ve worked with in other groups: Pagan team and Communications respectively. 

I’m seeing this year as one of “living the plan”. There may well be other changes, and things will happen. However, a lot has been decided over the past months and now I see the board keeping our sights on staying the course while being experimental in finding ways to put into operation the various goals that have been set.  

When I was interviewed for the job of Executive Director of the Canadian Unitarian Council, John Slattery (whom some of you know) was asking questions about community and congregational engagement including managing conflict. He started by looking down at my resume and then at me and saying, “I see you’re no stranger to conflict.” My response was that I didn’t seek it out, but yes, I seem to have engaged with conflict, which at a very basic definition is just difference.  When I taught organizational behaviour at BCIT, one chapter talked about the “energizing possibilities of conflict.” I try to take a positive view towards differences and keep faith that if many voices are heard a new resolution can be found–one that none of us could have figured out on our own. That said, I usually introduced that lecture by saying, “If I was applying for a new job and someone said, “Oh that organization has lots of conflict,” I’m not sure I’d see it as a good thing.”

I believe I am relatively comfortable living with ambiguity and often even seek out change. William Bridges, author of Transitions, talks about the “Neutral zone” as being where we have let go of the old ways but aren’t yet ready to fully embrace the new. He urges us to not be too hasty to try to nail things down but live in what can be the “flow” while things begin to reveal themselves. That’s how I see the board’s work at this time: to move slowly but with deliberation and discernment as we learn to live the new organizational structure, follow up on the many task force reports and create ways of being together that embrace the new 8th Principle and live our commitment to anti-racism.

The board has always been the group tasked with strategy but the new organizational structure protects the board from getting immersed in administrative or ministry roles. Our Governance Implementation Task Force is working hard to create documents that will clarify what we currently are: who’s accountable to whom; what responsibilities and authority various individuals and groups have. 

I bring a fair bit of experience in being on a policy-level /strategic governance board. For six years I was Chair of Education and then Vice-Chair on the BCIT Board of Governors.

As Executive Director of the CUC from 2000 to 2008 I came on board after they had adopted the Carver Policy Governance model, but eventually kept some elements but not others.

Like UCV at this time, those years were high change including the CUC-UUA transition, major changes to the national lay chaplaincy program and developing a new staff and volunteer model for the CUC.  Once it was all decided came the implementation phase and communicating it out to our congregations and supporting them in being part of the new way. It’s well over a decade since I left the CUC, and it seems on the brink of inventing new processes again now.

In the bio circulated by the nominating committee, I noted that I intend to be a strong voice for inclusion, for IBPOC, for youth and young adults and any who don’t fit the traditional mold for Unitarians because of neurodiversity, or economic or educational background.  

This passion for welcoming people into our community comes from my personal experience. When I look back to when I first tentatively put my toe in the waters of this religious community, I realize I was perhaps hypersensitive but I’m not alone in having felt (unconsciously I believe) ignored, dismissed or even treated with suspicion as I tried to get involved.

I once shared my story of trying to find my way in, and  Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed laughed his huge laugh and said, “Oh, you must have been really hungry.”  And yes, I was. And I believe there are many hungry potential Unitarians out there ready for a welcome. 

While taking those initial tentative steps I had no idea I’d be here 30 years later and be so engaged with this community, locally and nationally and even internationally. I remain hungry for what UCV offers, which brings me to some comments I need to make about self-care for leaders in general and me in particular.

Participating in worship services, social gatherings and educational workshops as “Just Mary” – not the UCV Board President – will be the fuel that keeps me able to do what I anticipate will be challenging, time-consuming, but ultimately satisfying work on the board. I have some ideas for setting up ways you–any of you–can share your questions, ideas and concerns with me and the board, primarily continuing the highly consultative work of the recent board by having online board forums and welcoming observers to attend open board meetings. Past presidents have told me the meetings have always been open to observers, yet few have attended.

I’m already getting emails on a wide variety of topics, and I’ll be working with the recently launched “coordinating council” consisting of a board representative, our minister and congregational administrator to see how we can ensure people know who to go to for what. In the restaurant analogy, we all want you to know which server is best suited to your needs. It makes sense for us to help you know whether it’s the board, the staff or the minister who can best respond to any questions, concerns and ideas you have.  Some enquiries will be clear, and probably others will be less clear or touch on all three roles in different ways. Please be patient as we work to sort things out.  

Let’s do this. Together.