Links to Key Governance Documents as pdf files:
- Revised Bylaws as approved by the congregation on April 9, 2017. These took effect on July 1, 2017.
- Board Policy Book: Board Policy Book working draft as of March 20, 2017, a work in progress
- Procedural Handbooks: Several handbooks on different topics are envisioned and are in various stages of development. To date only the UUSS Employee Handbook is finished.
Note: New Bylaws took effect on July 1. Work on policies continues. Anyone with questions or comments about policies, procedures or any other aspect of governance change is urged to contact a member of the Governance Advisory Committee (Christy Multer, Dan Leonard & John Reschovsky).
Background & History of Governance Change at UUSS
The UU Society of Schenectady used the interim ministry of Rev. Margret O’Neall as an intentional period to update and improve its system of governance. The process began in September 2014, when the congregational leadership identified governance change as a priority, and committed to work on it during a planned three-year period of transitional ministry.
During 2014-15, a Governance Study Group that was open to anyone began meeting weekly to read various materials, talk about ideas and structures that have been found to work well in congregations, and consider how different structures might strengthen UUSS.
Members of the Governance Study Group presented their findings to the Board of Trustees in April 2015. At that time the Board voted to go forward with a governance change based on the policy-based governance model articulated in Dan Hotchkiss’s book, Governance and Ministry.
In a nutshell, Hotchkiss divides everything a church does into two categories: Governance (headed by the Board) and Ministry (headed by the Minister.) Governance includes top-level tasks of articulating mission, selecting strategies for getting there, making sure the strategies are followed, and ensuring that people and property are protected against harm. The Board does this through policy development and oversight, and it is assisted by several Advisory Committees.
Ministry is everything else: managing the congregation’s daily, practical activities, including decisions about what to do and how. Examples of ministry include worship, music, social action, religious education, stewardship, welcoming visitors, and maintaining our buildings. Each area of activity is carried out by one or more Ministry Teams.
To move UUSS toward this model of governance, in August 2015, the Board selected five members of the congregation to serve as a Governance Task Force (GTF). The GTF’s job has been to research and prepare draft policies for the Board’s consideration, make presentations at each of the Board’s monthly business meetings, help the Board communicate with the congregation, and generally facilitate the change process.
An informal Ministry Teams Study Group also met during the 2015-16 church year, so that interested people could learn about implementing the “ministry side” of the new congregational system while the Board and GTF worked on the “governance side.” New ministry teams began to emerge to lead new initiatives, and some Councils and Committees began to consider transitioning into a Team model of functioning.
During 2016-17, the Board and GTF worked intensely on a Board Policy Book and on revisions to the congregation’s Bylaws so that governance change could officially take effect during the summer of 2017. Also the three Councils and various longstanding Committees worked to transition to Teams.
The product of the Board’s governance work is a set of written and numbered policies called the Board Policy Book. (See link above.) These policies define the Board’s own role and the roles of others, delegate authority, give guidance, and create accountability. Policies provide a framework for decisions to be made by individuals and by the various groups within the congregation away from the Board table.
By policy, the Board fixes responsibility for making decisions, protects the congregation’s human and material resources, and sets standards for the conduct of the congregation’s work. As policies continue to be created and refined, the Board Policy Book will be updated. Implementation details for the Policies will be set forth in a series of Handbooks, the development of which is also ongoing. The first of these to be completed (in January 2017) is the Employee Handbook, which is posted above.
The process of revising the congregational Bylaws to align with the new governance system began in November 2016. An informal meeting on the proposed revisions was held on February 5, 2017, and two formal Congregational Meetings were held to consider (March 12) and then to vote on (April 9) a new version of the Bylaws (also linked above).
On April 9, members of the congregation approved the Revised Bylaws by a vote of 97 to 3. This means that the new governance system and the new Bylaws took effect on July 1, 2017.
The UUSS Vision Statement
Fundamental to effective governance is commitment to a common vision for the future, and the creation of that vision began with an Appreciative Inquiry Visioning Process during the worship service on Sunday, November 8, 2015. On that day, 133 interviews were conducted between folks across the generations, ranging from long-time members to newcomers. Over 90 people also stayed for lunch and conversation to work out more elements of a vision for the future. The notes from those interviews were typed and analyzed. The results were posted in a display and became the themes for a number of sermons.
The process culminated with an open workshop on February 13, 2016, at which those attending shaped all the input into a Vision Statement that was then adopted by the Board of Trustees:
The vision of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady:
- We will boldly live our Unitarian Universalist Principles, within our church and in service to the larger community.
- We will nurture mind and spirit through lifelong learning, engagement and growth.
- We will create a community that welcomes, embraces and supports all.
- We will worship in ways that comfort, inspire and challenge.