It was during the administration of Rev. Bill Sinkford as UUA President and Gini Courter as UUA Moderator in the 2000s that regionalization as an alternative to the existing structure of 19 districts became a priority. Three key factors came into play: (1) changing congregations — need for more specialized services, i.e., on growth, social shifts, etc. (2) changing economy — reduced resources that need to be stewarded better (3) changing technology — makes geography less important. Regionalization allows us to adapt to change more quickly, to deploy staff more quickly, to support staff teams in supporting each other, and to offer different skill-sets to congregations based on the specialization of particular staff members cross-regionally.
Under regionalization, each region has been composed of three or four Districts, with the Director of Congregational Life in direct communication with the five Regional Leads, for Pacific Western Region, Southern Region, MidAmerica Region, Central East Region, and New England Region. The Pacific Western Region is largest of all the Regions and the one with the most remote congregations, including those in Alaska and Hawaii. In some ways, the Pacific Western Region has been ahead of others in the regionalization process. Its staff members — some of whom were once employed by Districts — were all regional Congregational Life employees of our UUA by 2017. Should the districts vote to dissolve, we anticipate that there will be minimal impact on congregation’s experience of regional staff, as each congregation will still have a primary contact Regional staff member.
Some specific results of regionalization include the following (not an exhaustive list):
- Reduce Redundancy/Make Room for Specialization: There was a great deal of duplication of services and resources needed to keep 19 districts functioning. Previously, some districts struggled while others prospered. This did not align with our covenant or our values. Pooling resources – incl. staff – is more fiscally responsible and more sustainable. It allows us to share talents and skills of the staff and volunteers, without heeding random boundaries. For example, congregational leaders with marginalized identities seeking advice can receive support from a much larger availability of staff in any region and our CL staff is more diverse than previous district staff teams. Congregational Life was able to be more responsive during the pandemic because they now work as one staff group. Being more easily able to work nationally has help create a national Transition Team and a national Conflict Engagement Team.
- Stronger Missional Alignment: Instead of district boards focused on governance, the regions recognize the UUA Board of Trustees as the governing body of the Association. This allows for greater alignment to the mission of the UUA (To equip congregations for vital ministry; support and train leaders, both lay and professional; and, advance UU values in the world), which, in turn, increases the number of UUs all working towards the same goal, and hopefully, greater success. Volunteers are more free to pursue their ministries to support the mission instead of focusing on governance.
- More Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Among Leaders: By covering a larger area, regional gatherings are able to bring together more UUs with marginalized identities. It can be hard to be the “one and only” BIPOC or transgender person, or person living with a disability, in the room. Having a “critical mass” of diverse identities means not only greater diversity but increases the likelihood that UUs with marginalized identities can serve in positions of leadership and be supported by mentors and other leaders who have experienced life on the margins.
Regionalization – as a process – has unfolded differently in every region. It is not happened perfectly anywhere, but the UUA believes it is a better structure and is always looking to improve upon it.
An enormous “thank you!” to Jessica York, Director of Congregational Life Staff, and Rev. Carlton Smith, PWR Regional Lead, who wrote this summary for us.
Learn more about current, discernment in the other three Districts through the Love Right Through Hub.