uua_logoBy Board Co-Presidents, Ben Jones and Megan Reynolds

The People’s Church Board of Trustees is moving to a Policy Governance model of working. In a nutshell, Policy Governance is a model in which a church governing board’s primary function is not to make decisions, but rather to define policies to guide decisions throughout the organization.

We came to this decision with Rev. Rachel and with the help of Lisa Presley, the UUA MidAmerica Region Congregational Life Consultant.

On Friday, October 23, 2015 and Saturday, October 24, 2015, Lisa led a two-day facilitated retreat here at People’s Church. The facilitated retreat is one of the most important parts of the ministerial start-up process involved in settling a newly called minister in a congregation. The UUA recommends that it happen six to ten weeks after a new minister arrives, enough time for the congregation to get to know the minister a bit,   and vice versa.

On Friday night, over 60 members and friends of People’s Church, along with Rev. Rachel, participated in exercises to describe our congregational history and visualize our goals for the future. Rev. Rachel will keep the materials that came out of those exercises and use them to inform her work for the future.

On Saturday, Lisa met with Rev. Rachel and the Board of Trustees to set priorities for our time and focus in the first year of Rev. Rachel’s ministry with People’s Church. One important part of that exercise was defining roles and making sure that there is a shared understanding of our governance structure.

While our written church policies, by-laws, and personnel policies provide the nuts and bolts of who does what and how we operate, the words on the page cannot answer all the questions a new minister may have upon arrival at a new congregation. Through this facilitated process we arrived at a common understanding of what our history, practice, and written policies add up to in terms of real-life, concrete division of labor between the minister, staff, and elected or board-appointed lay leaders.

We agreed that “Policy Governance” is the model of church governance that is both consistent with our past practice and one that will help us sharpen our practice and role definition going forward. If you are interested in reading more about Policy Governance please see the UUA resource page at: http://www.uua.org/governance/policybased.

“So what?” you may ask. The main thing to know is that your Board of Trustees, with Rev. Rachel’s leadership, is going to focus our time on four defined areas of church life: Vision setting, financial oversight, coordinating big decisions (many of which go to a membership vote), and writing and revising church policy.

Over the past two years of transition, the Board took on tasks that fell outside of these four defined areas simply because we didn’t have a single church leader to take care of many of the responsibilities of maintaining our community. Two people, Rev. Pam and Rev. Dave, helped keep things running day-to-day, but that left an awful lot of tasks up in the air that had previously been the responsibility of our settled minister. Many things that needed to be done ultimately fell to the Board of Trustees.

Now that we are back to having a strong, talented settled minister, we are recommitting to avoiding taking on jobs the board cannot do well. As one article put it:

“A Board’s position atop the organizational hierarchy tempts both Board members and those they serve to make the Board the resting place for controversial, costly or complicated decisions. This is bad because:

Since there are more things to decide on than trustees have time or energy for, a Board can lose focus on the overall mission of the institution. Unless the cycle of ad hoc decision-making is broken, a Board cannot attend to an organizational vision that has continuity and scope.

 Board meddling can disempower those who know best and care most about an issue or program. Often better decisions and spiritual growth result when those who are closest to an issue make the difficult choices.

 Boards are not close enough to the action nor do they meet frequently enough to be responsive to pressing matters.

 Membership turnover makes Boards unsuitable to directly manage projects with long time horizons.

By contrast, a policy-oriented Board delegates as much decision-making as possible and focuses on the vision and the identity of the institution. It also captures, in policy, lessons learned, both through the organization’s experience and the experience of other institutions like it.” [http://www.uua.org/governance/policybased/articles/63173.shtml]

What does that mean for you? It means that if you have something you that needs to be done or a question that needs addressing your first stop is probably going to be Rev. Rachel. Rev. Rachel isn’t just our preacher, she’s also the lead administrator of the church, she’s responsible for the pastoral care of our community, and she’s the public face of the church in Kalamazoo and the larger worldwide community. Rachel will be monitoring the work of all the various committees and arranging for the board to receive regular written reports from each standing committee.

If you encounter an issue that can only be resolved if written church policy is clarified, modified, or adopted then you should come to the board. If you have a proposal that would require budgetary approval of the board, then you should approach the board. Everything else—from staffing events and planning services to raising funds and buying equipment—are issues that should start with a committee, staff, or Rev. Rachel.

Please feel free to approach your Board Co-Presidents with any questions or concerns.

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