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President’s Column

Affirmations

An Occasional Column by Board President Donna Moriarty

September 2, 2015

What’s on Your Banner?

Welcome! Welcome back, and welcome home!

I hope your summer was rich with experiences and pleasures, sweet times with those you love, and adventures of the heart—not to mention the kind that require transportation!

As we start off the new Fellowship year, let me introduce the leadership teams that will be steering a course for the coming year—and the star we will be steering by.

I was elected for a second term as President, ably assisted by Dianne Disston as Vice President and Susan Spector as Secretary. The Board of Trustees is rounded out by Pat Krugman, who is continuing from last year, and new trustees Francoise Bennett, Jan Weiss, and Arthur Grant. We are working closely with the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee, or NLDC, chaired by Marion Halberg who was a member last year. Remaining NLDC members are Sheila Bernson, Scott Dyer, Paul Fargis and Francoise Bennett.

Oh, and great news! A new ministry called Home and Hearth has formed to assess and carry out any needed maintenance and repairs to the building and grounds.

But back to that star… At the board’s annual retreat in August, Rev. Michael led us through a series of brainstorming discussions to determine strengths, challenges, and goals for the coming year. We asked ourselves: What do we as a Fellowship want to be? Not only to our members and friends, but also to those we serve in our community? What difference do we want to make in the world? And how will we support members and friends in staying connected with whatever draws them to this spiritual home?

We knew we what was needed to get underway: a “banner word.” You know, the word you write on a banner when you are standing up to declare what you believe in, what you’re working for. All we had to do was look inside the worship room to discover our banner word, the word that will drive our decision-making and inform our priorities for the coming year.

Inspire.

We intend to inspire and be inspired this year—to discover our best selves, to do our best work, to make our best decisions that will benefit of the congregation and the communities we serve. We are asking ourselves, Does this inspire community? Participation? Innovative solutions? Generosity? If not, then more work must be done.

So Inspire is our Banner Word. We will be looking through this lens at our ministry teams, both “official” and ad hoc. We’ve made made a commitment to maintain closer lines of communication with our volunteer teams, and have assigned board member to one of the teams and individuals who devote themselves to the care of the Fellowship. Their task will be to ensure our volunteers have the support they need to thrive in their ministries.

For this vision to have any lasting effect, we will need to invoke the power and energy of inspiration. That means you. Me. All of us. I’m not going to sugar-coat it: we need more money, more people, and more sweat equity to realize our dreams of continuing to grow, thrive, and care for each other and our community. And with the start of this Fellowship year, we are poised and ready to embrace the challenges we face.

Let’s make it a truly inspired year.

February 25, 2015

 

The Fellowship Triumphant

Lately this congregation has been bursting with energy, ideas and action! As Board president, I’m blown away by the vigor and determination I see displayed among the members and friends of UUFNW. So let me share with you some of the triumphs we’ve seen in the last few weeks:
The Triumph of the Water Treatment System. Have you been a little confused by the signs in the washrooms over the past several weeks? First there appeared a sign that said, “Don’t drink this water.” Then a second, wordier sign appeared that explained that the Fellowship was in violation of water regulations, requiring all users of the building to be informed. Finally, a sign appeared that said, “This water is legally okay to drink!”
Wait, what?
Our water treatment system requires rigorous daily testing and frequent, detailed reporting to the Department of Health. In the changing of hands doing the reporting, the demise of an old computer that held the reporting software, and a problem with the chemical balance of the treatment system that evaded an accurate diagnosis, a couple of our reports fell behind. The Department of Health, though understanding, was firm: they cited the Fellowship for a reporting violation, requiring the succession of notifications (the signs in the washrooms) and a $300 fine. Ouch.
But I’m glad to say that the monitoring/reporting team now consists of two people and two backups, and the software is up to date. The water—which was never unsafe to drink, just undocumented—has stabilized with the intervention of a vendor we like to call the Water Whisperer. And all is well in Water Town.
The Triumph of the Creative $olutions Team. I’ve written here before about my fervent wish for a team of people to work with the board with regard to finances—another set of eyes to look at a balance sheet and help us find the answers to questions like, “Expense A has become urgent. Can we use the funds in budget line item B to pay for it?”
Well, that wish has come true.
Treasurer Patricia Compton, that wonder-worker, has organized just such a set of eyes that we’re calling the Creative $olutions Team. Be sure to read more about them in this week’s newsletter.
The Triumph of the Green Team. The UUFNW has officially established its first new ministry team since—oh, I don’t know when. Please put your hands together for our new Environmental Ministry team! You might have heard something about a group called the Green Team, which has been meeting informally for a few months. Their meetings are lively and robust, and the team itself have been growing in members, ideas and excitement. Chaired by Jack Kozuchowski, their purpose is to explore ways to make the UUFNW more environmentally responsible and aware. Several initiatives are on their agenda, including such possibilities as becoming a Green Sanctuary (long-term), joining an initiative that would pay the congregation for recycling old clothing and goods, and networking with other like-minded interfaith congregations. I encourage you to talk to Jack or Suzi Novak, both of whom are well-versed in the projects and ideas being considered by this new team.
That’s a lot of positive energy, considering we’re still in winter’s grip! If you’ve got the mid-winter blues or pre-spring doldrums, come on down and be a part of the spring-like vigor and momentum at the Fellowship!
 

 

January 28, 2015

Scarcity, Sufficiency and Abundance

Several members and friends of the Fellowship have expressed interest in knowing more about the daily challenges, discussions and decisions the Board of Trustees encounters. After all, what we do as a Board affects the life and health of the Fellowship, and matters to everyone who comes through our doors. Well, alright then—let’s talk!

Keeping an eye on the budget is always top-of-mind, and the fact that the Board set a year-long goal to move from scarcity through sufficiency to abundance (see my last column) doesn’t change that. But the Board has had to confront several unexpected expenses and challenges, some of which we were able to solve, and others that are still ongoing. For example, new stove had to be purchased when the old one began blowing circuits; our copier lease ran out and the new lease had to be negotiated. In both cases, board member Jon Kaplan did the research, and we were able to stay within budget with both expenditures.

Some more good news: In November, the Board approved a proposal by Rev. Michael to hire Rev. Dawn Sangrey as a part-time assistant minister through the end of July with funds taken from a temporary salary reduction for Rev. Michael. I hope you will join us at the worship service this Sunday, February 1, when we formally recognize Dawn for the strengths and joyful willingness she is bringing to her new role.

Dawn has already begun meeting with various members of the congregation and working with Michael on sharing some tasks. We are so thankful that when Rev. Michael informed us that he needed extra help meeting his responsibilities, there was a ready solution at hand: Rev. Dawn, who has been affiliated with UUFNW as a minister for several years and whose history with the congregation goes back decades, was available and eager to take on the new role.

Last Fall, we were presented by our Treasurer, Patricia Compton, with the need for professional bookkeeping services.  We worked together with Patricia to come up with a way in which we felt comfortable adding this to our budget, and moved forward with hiring Ann Majsak for the job.  Ann has been an invaluable addition to our Fellowship’s finance ministry.

More challenging has been the water treatment system, which requires a significant amount of monitoring and reporting—all of it done by a few hardy volunteers. But when the water system isn’t doing what it should, it requires professional intervention—another expense. And the Health Department requires that we keep users of our building notified of the fact that the water is not drinkable, and that we provide bottled water for the duration. With one thing and another, we found ourselves in violation of these strict and copious Health Department rules, and we are now working on three matters: fixing what’s out of whack with the water system, bringing the reporting up to date, and providing bottled water reliably and effectively—the 6-gallon dispenser bottles sitting on the counter offered a stop-gap, but far from ideal, solution!

And then there is the matter of the parking lot. Several times last winter and this winter, our unpaved lot has turned into a—what’s the right phrase? Skating rink. Finding a way to pay for a long-term paving solution before someone is injured is vital to our community’s well-being and peace of mind, and the Board has puzzled and worried over this problem for at least six months, without finding a viable solution to this costly need. We as a Board know that our immediate imperative is to fix the problem, even if it means taking bold or unconventional steps.

So, the bottom line: As a Board, charged with serving the more prosaic needs of this congregation, we are moving forward, meeting challenges, finding solutions—and yet we still have a wish list. We still need a few more volunteers to help us with our finances. The voices of experience and financial acumen who can advise us, whether or not those individuals are prepared to commit to reconstituting the Finance Ministry Team, is a vital need. We also need volunteers to step forward to keep our strong ministry teams (Worship, Membership) from burning out, and our struggling, disorganized or dormant teams (Pastoral Care, Social Action, Community Life, Building and Grounds) from fading away. And as we enter the season of the annual stewardship campaign, we need everyone to do their part.

And we need each member and friend of the Fellowship to support us in moving from scarcity, through sufficiency, to abundance. Needing expert help with our books; a system that brings pure and abundant water to our faucets; proper paving for our large parking; sufficient storage for our growing needs… these take time, money, people, ideas… and faith. Our faith as a community, our ability to brainstorm, ask questions, put out feelers, spend some of our precious volunteer time, to apportion more of our svelte budget to solving these problems—these are some of the ways we show our faith in each other, and when problems are solved together, they bring this warm, generous community even closer.

I will share more of our journey with you in future columns. Meanwhile, you should know that the minutes of every monthly Board meeting are filed in the Fellowship office, and are open to examination by anyone who wishes to see them. Just speak to me or another member of the Board of Trustees if you’d like to have a look at our progress.

 

October 8, 2014

A new Board of Trustees gathered on September 7 to begin creating a vision of what we hope to accomplish in the coming year. The challenges have a common theme—there just doesn’t seem to be enough money, time, energy and “warm bodies” to take care of everything that needs attention. We need additional storage, a better solution for paving our parking lot, and our finances need the attention of a team, not one or two harried volunteers.

 

The conundrum: without adequate storage, we risk frustrating RE families, volunteers and renters. Without an approved budget line for storage, we are forced to wait until next year’s budget. And even with sufficient funding, what board makes decisions about money without the guidance of a finance committee?

 

We began to see that our first priority was having some principles to guide our decision-making and set a course for the future. And we found one—right there in the worship room.

 

Welcome. Inspire. Share. Love. These words are depicted on posters illustrating the four principles of our mission. We knew immediately that these four concepts would serve as guiding principles as we do the work of administering to the congregation’s needs and aspirations during the coming year.

 

We need only ask ourselves: does this decision, event, purchase, action—whatever we are considering—contribute in a meaningful way to one or more of these four principles? Is it welcoming to those looking for a spiritual home or sustenance? Does it help us share with each other or the communities around us? Does it inspire involvement, energy, ideas? Does it reflect the warmth of this beloved community where we have come to feel we belong?

 

 

We have tried out our new “measuring tool” to guide us in making a few key decisions: we have hired a part time bookkeeper, conducted outreach in the community during Mount Kisco Sidewalk Days, and are making plans to collaborate in new ways with the NLDC, our leadership development committee, to assist those ministries that are in need of “warm bodies” and inspiration.

 

Yet we felt something was still missing. Using the principles as a touchstone would help us decide where to invest our limited resources, but it didn’t clarify the goal. What were we aiming for? How would we address the problem of “not enough?” Then someone said, “Wouldn’t it be great if, by the time this year was over, we could move the Fellowship from scarcity to abundance?”

 

For those who find this concept a little, well … “woo-woo,” I’m moved to quote a wise and ancient source… Wiki-How. “During those times when all your resources seem to be evaporating, do you find it difficult to focus on abundance? Is it your natural tendency to notice your blessings or do you think more about what you don’t have? When it comes to money, do you find yourself worrying about how the bills will be paid or feeling grateful for the roof over your head? And why should you focus on abundance that doesn‘t exist yet? Because the actions you take, the way you interact with others and your confidence in your own ability to produce your intended result are affected by your focus.”

 

Sweet. Even better, Rev. Michael directed me to a wonderful resource from the UUA called FORTH, a social networking program to help congregations grow a year-round culture of spiritual generosity. In a post called “The Art of Thriving,” I found a simple, effective practice called Appreciative Inquiry.

 

“Appreciative Inquiry (AI) grew out of positive psychology and was initially intended for use in corporations. The term was coined by David Cooperrider and his co-authors, who created a complex, articulated process for the purposes of congregation stewardship work. The main points of the AI concept can be summarized as:

  • “Looking for the positives and potentials, instead of identifying problems and trying to solve them
  • Being future oriented and open to possibility, rather than feeling stuck and focusing on patterns from the past
  • Asking questions and seeking new ways of moving forward, instead of following old patterns
  • Looking with fresh eyes so new possibilities for action may emerge.”

 

Well clearly we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Other UUs before us have grappled with limits on time, energy, money and volunteers—and they have used their collective intention to turn that situation around to their benefit. What a great way to practice positive psychology—or even “woo-woo!”

 

And so I hereby invite you to engage with us—your fellow members and friends of the UUFNW—in a spirit of appreciative inquiry. If you heard Rev. Michael’s sermon on “Counting Our Blessings,” you’ll know he invited us all to begin practicing gratitude together. He said, “Consider yourself tagged in the UUFNW gratitude challenge. Together, between now and Thanksgiving, we will spend a little time each week thinking of one thing or person that we’re grateful for.”

 

The cues are all around you. You are invited to the party. Don’t miss out. Abundance awaits.