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This week the Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, released a letter regarding Transitions in Youth Ministry. In it he states that “it is true that YRUU as a continental organization has effectively ended.” This is, no doubt, the final word on the status of Young Religious Unitarian Universalists as an association-wide organization. This doesn’t mean that youth are no longer represented on a continental level. Sinkford states that “the mantle of continental youth leadership has been passed to those youth ably serving on the [Youth Ministry]  Working Group.” This is the group that has been charged to help “shape the future of our Association’s youth ministry.” Sinkford goes on to say that,  “of course, representative youth leadership continues at the district and congregational level throughout our Association.”

If you, or anyone–youth or adult–in your congregation, have had questions about the future of youth ministry in the UUA, this letter is essential reading. You can read it yourself here. And you can find a complete roster of those serving on the Youth MInistry Working Group here. You’ll notice that Prairie Star’s own Nick Allen is at the topic of this list. Of course, the list is alphabetical. But those of us who know Nick think he could be number one on a lot of lists!

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Last night about 15 congregational leaders from Prairie Star, Central Midwest, and Heartland districts took part in another online workshop offered by Midwest UU Leadership. The previous workshop was about getting your congregation ready for fall. This one was about effective meeting leadership. I have to say that I’ve really enjoy putting together and presenting these workshops, and it seems like the participants feel they’ve been worth the effort, too. Here’s one of the comments I received about last night’s offering:

This workshop has been extremely helpful to me. I can read the information we shared tonight, but hearing real voices, experts in the subject,  adds immeasurably to how much I will retain. As a new president this subject was very timely. I’ve sat in many, many meetings in my life, but chairing one is very different. Thanks for this help.

So, who were these experts? And what, exactly, did we cover last night? Well the workshop was presented by Ian Evison and Nancy Combs-Morgan (my district staff colleagues). They really did bring a lot of expertise to the subject. And here’s the actually slide presentation we offered, along with our Ten Good Ideas about Effective Meeting Leadership.

Ten Good Ideas about Effective Meeting Leadership

Is It Necessary?
Ask what meetings are really needed and who really needs to be there.

Prepare Well
In good meetings as in good dinner parties, success is determined largely by preparation.

Engage the Whole Person
Even narrowly task-oriented meetings benefit greatly by treating participants as whole people, attending to their creature comforts and making—structured—space for social interaction and religious deepening.

Set Good Ground Rules
It greatly benefits the work of a committee or task group to have an honest expectation about the ground rules on such subjects as arriving late, missing meetings, and follow-through on tasks.

Respect Time
One of the keys to an effective meeting is for the chair to begin and end the meeting on time and to keep the group moving through its agenda.

Focus on Decisions
What committee meetings do best is decide things and meetings tend to be most successful when they focus on what is needed in order to do this well.

Record What Has Been Decided
Review orally the decisions that have been made, write them down, keep them where they won’t get lost, and distribute them to those in the group who are not present and others who might be affected.

Recap Action Items
Highlight in the minutes action items and review them orally at the end of the meeting—including who has agreed to take action on each item.

Directly Handle Difficult Behavior
Find ways to handle directly difficult behavior such as people who dominate discussion or who violate other ground-rules the group has set.

Evaluate the Meeting
Take time as the end to discuss—briefly—how the meeting went and what could be done to make future meetings more productive.

We also suggested one good resource: a PDF called “Meetings That Work” from the Congregational Services Staff Group of the UUA.

Last week I received an e-mail from Shelby Meyerhoff, public witness specialist at the UUA, asking me to respond to a survey. It’s part of the Unitarian Universalist Blogging Resource Project, which is designed to support bloggers who promote Unitarian Universalism. Shelby’s asking UU bloggers to answer 18 questions about blogging. Here are my responses:
Why do you blog? What goals do you have for your blog?
I started blogging because I missed doing the weekly column I wrote during my internship at the Rockford, Illinois UU Church. My main goal is to keep religious educators in my district informed about issues around lifespan faith development.
Who is your intended audience?
Religious educators and whoever else is interested in lifespan faith development.
Who owns your blog? Does it belong to you as individual or to your congregation or other organization?
I started the blog myself, first using Trellix (Earthlink’s meager attempt to offer blogging software), then later WordPress. We talked about having the district host my blog, but we decided that it should be mine.
How frequently do you post?
I try to post at least once a week.
What is the tone of your blog?
Informal, like something you would find in a church newsletter.
What steps do you take to make sure that your blog is a safe space, both for you and for other participants? Do you have a code of conduct?
WordPress lets you moderate comments, which is the best way I’ve found to keep the blog a safe space. Most comments are approved, as long as they are directly related to a particular post. If it’s someone who’s just out to complain about Unitarian Universalism in general, I probably won’t approve their comment.
What kinds of boundaries do you observe around confidentiality?
The church newsletter comparison works here, too. I wouldn’t write anything here that I wouldn’t publish in a church newsletter.
How do you respond to comments and email from readers?
In his book The Blogging Church, Brian Bailey says something about the saddest thing to see next to a blog post is “1 Comment.” So I try to always respond to comment’s I’ve approved. Of course the same is true of e-mail comments.
What are the most challenging aspects of blogging in your experience?
Trying to stay true to the original intent of my blog (weekly newsletter-type posts). At times there’s been some pressure from the UU blogosphere to post things that will draw a lot of readers and a lot of responses. But I’m really doing this for the religious educators in my district, so I’m trying more to make sure my posts are aimed at them.
What are the most rewarding aspects of blogging in your experience?
Well, having said that I’m not trying to draw too much attention to my blog, it’s always rewarding to get comments from folks beyond my intended audience. And it’s nice to have an informal outlet for my thoughts on lifespan faith development.
What advice would you give to Unitarian Universalists who are new to blogging and want to get started?
Get a blog and start writing. Subscribe to some blogs to see what other folks are doing. Write about things you care about. Have fun.
How do you evaluate the success of your blog? What have been your most successful blog posts or series?
I do look at the number of readers from time to time (WordPress, like other blogging services, has great tools for keeping track of how many people are reading your blog). But the real measure of success, I think, is finding out who’s linked to one of my posts. I always count it as a success if another blogger has found something that I’ve written about worth referring to.
What do you wish you had done differently in your blogging?
For awhile I was trying to post more often than once a week and was really keeping track of my numbers. But that started to interfere with the original purpose of my blog (weekly posts about lifespan faith development). So I backed off a bit. In hindsight, I think it would have been best if I had stuck to my original plan.
What other online tools do you use to promote your blog? (i.e. social networking sites, Twitter, social bookmarking tools, etc.)
My blog is linked to the Prairie Star District website. That’s about all the promotion I feel I need. I may start putting a notice of my updates on Plaxo since there seems to be quite a network of UUs there.
Do you use an Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed? How many subscribers do you have?
WordPress offers RSS automatically. I really don’t keep track of subscribers.
Do you track site traffic? How many unique visitors do you have per day (on average)?
I just checked my stats, and it looks like I get around five to ten visitors a day. A really good day will have 35 to 40 visitors.
Do you find Unitarian Universalist Association resources helpful to you as a blogger? What additional resources could we provide to Unitarian Universalist bloggers?
I link to a lot of resources on the UUA webpage (especially resources about lifespan faith development) so content is the number one resource for me. I appreciate, too, that the UU World keeps up with the UU blogosphere and calls attention to notable posts. I think it would be great if the UUA’s website had bloggers more visible.
Please write any additional comments or suggestions.
I think blogging is an especially helpful tool for religious professionals: ministers, religious educators, musicians, etc. It may seem like “one more thing” to do, but it’s worth the (minimal) time and effort. And it’s worth taking a look at Brian Bailey’s book.

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