UUFD Cottage Meetings and Focus Groups Summary
(with references to the Congregational Survey)
The Ministerial Search Committee was supported by members of the Healthy Congregation Committee and the Transition Team in conducting 11 discussion and information gathering meetings related to our search for our next Settled Minister. Five Cottage Meetings and six Focus Groups were held in September and October with a total of 88 participants. The six Focus Groups included: 1) Board of Trustees and Finance; 2) Social Responsibility and Justice Coordinating Team; 3) Parents; 4) Staff; 5) Children and Youth; 6) Worship Arts Team.
Participants in Cottage Meetings were asked these two questions:
- Looking back after our new minister has been with us for a year, what achievements will make you say you’re glad the new minister is among us?
- How do we build our congregation for the future?
Focus Group participants answered those two questions and the additional question:
- Is there anything about selecting a minister that is particularly important to this group?
Participants shared what they believed to be most important based on their understanding and experience in our Fellowship and its activities. Individuals were direct and forthright in expressing their views and respectful in listening to the views of others. All responses were charted, collected and aggregated for analysis by the members of the Ministerial Search Committee.
Review of the small group responses revealed a variety of helpful perspectives about the priorities, values, and concerns of the congregation. While not everyone expressed the same views, there was a remarkable level of coherence among the responses. There were some themes that were particularly strong that ran throughout the meetings. These major themes, in no ranked order as all are of equal importance, are described here:
As a congregation we are deeply engaged and committed to our Fellowship and want to be an active partner with the minister in shaping our future, our priorities, and our ways of carrying out our mission. This theme was also expressed in the Congregational Survey – 86% of the respondents (97) to a question about the meaning of shared ministry chose “As leader, the minister includes others in making decisions and we all help to do the work of ministry.” 81.6% of the respondents (98) selected strongly agree [39.8%] or agree [41.8%] to the survey item “In shared ministry, it is important that lay leaders and congregants share decision-making power.” There is hope for a minister who welcomes collaboration, co-creating and co-leading.
There were many expressions of desire for fuller inclusion as partners with the minister in decisions about worship services. Within worship, there were subthemes about what mattered to people:
- Music that is varied, contemporary, appealing to younger generation
- Sermons that inspire us, bring spiritual and soulful nourishment
- Practices that honor our commitment to personal connections, e.g. Joys and Sorrows shared aloud within the service
When asked on the Congregational Survey to select the top five roles felt to be important for our future minister, 87% selected “Co-creating inspiring and challenging Sunday services.” This was the most frequently chosen item of all roles.
Many comments were made about the importance of relationships, both congregation-minister and individuals with each other. Among the most highly prized characteristics of our Fellowship are that we are warm, friendly, and close with one another. People, relationships, friendship/community and welcoming/inclusion was also consistently top ranked on the Congregational Survey as one of the favorite things about UUFD. We seek a minister who is warm and open-hearted, accepting, and who loves forming caring relationships with adults and with children, supporting us in our emphasis on multi-generational connections. We place a high value on a minister who enjoys spending time with and interacting with kids.
A prime feature of our desired relationship with the minister is that the minister-congregation connection be filled with mutual trust. We want shared trust and respect in leading and carrying out the work of our mission, whether volunteer or staff.
There were multiple responses about the desire for growth in our congregation, though not an unfocused or thoughtless emphasis on growth. We recognize we need to aim for growth that we can manage well and that supports our mission. We have a fervent desire to attract more families and children to our Fellowship, as well as greater diversity. There were many ideas expressed for expanding our visibility and connection in the community as a way to increase our opportunity to attract people, especially families and broader diversity. We hope for a minister who has experience with growth in general, and specifically with growing the diversity of both staff and members.
The congregation is deeply committed to social justice work and wants a minister who shares that commitment. We seek a minister who is willing to be out in the community with us to support justice work and help us strengthen our connections and impact. Of the 100 responses to the Congregational Survey question “What do you perceive the top three functions of our congregation to be?” almost 75 % of the responses included some statement about the importance of social justice/action.
We continue to develop norms and processes for dealing with issues and conflicts, and benefit from the work of our Healthy Congregation Committee. On the Congregational Survey, a little less than half the respondents selected either agree or strongly agree to the statement “We do a good job of having difficult conversations and staying in relationship.” Almost 40% were neutral on this statement. Growth is occurring, and we would appreciate the support and leadership of a minister in helping us continue our development of ways to work toward resolution of challenges that honors our covenant with one another.
An interesting observation could be made about another strand that seemed to weave through the comments made by meeting participants. There were hopes voiced about wanting a renewed sense of energy and vitality and joy in our congregation, even fun. The long period of time that includes the changes and isolation of multiple years of Covid and its impact, and the prolonged transition period from January 2022 until August 2024 when we anticipate our new minister beginning with us, is likely taking a toll on everyone. The positive news is how genuinely hopeful the congregation is about our future and ready to be part of creating the vibrancy we seek. We look forward to welcoming a new minister to join us in this adventure.