Committee Life and Structure at Pacific Unitarian is Under Revision
Below I have listed the existing formal committees and notes about how we actually function. I am looking for guidance as to what steps we might take to practically, brick-by-brick, rebuild our infrastructure.
Here is how our committees are described on our website:
Committee on Shared Ministry, Endowment, Facilities, Finance, Hospitality-Subcommittee, Leadership Development, Membership, Social Justice, Program Council, Stewardship/Pledge, Strategic Planning, Welcome Table-Subcommittee, and the Worship Team. Not listed was Pastoral Care, or, as it historically has been called, A-OK.
The following reflects my (Rev. Steve’s) view on the present infrastructure of our church and may be subject to critique or debate. In no order of importance, here are our Committees and brief summaries of how they function.
The Board: The board is, of course, both, in a way, a committee and the parent of all church committees and structures. Nearly everything begins and ends with a Board approval or vote. This style is uniquely corporate for a church body. Boards are – as far as I know – a universal part of Unitarian Universalist governance, and an overt systematic expression of our commitment to lay-empowerment and democracy. The church Board is essentially the minister’s boss.
Religious Education: At present there is a handful of about six to ten involved parents who have and would make up what, since Covid, has been a presently defunct RE Committee. The RE Committee, or many of them, would, could, and likely should spring to life as we both return to more full capacity, and hire our MOED (Multicultural Outreach Education Director), and return the program to some normalcy. Most recently we have Claire Moss who, although one of our former recent directors, has volunteered to lead our fledgling group up to the start of September. In many churches – and possibly in ours soon – Religious Education is not a term synonymous with “the kids,” but, at present, when people at Pacific Unitarian think RE, they don’t think about Adult RE, which has become the territory of me – the minister – and the Transformation Team. It should be noted that during Covid, Adult RE became a stronger part of our offerings.
Membership: Membership presently functions in – depending on how you look at it – a rudimentary or efficient way. Presently, without the aid of a Welcome Table presence (which had been reliable up to the spring of 2020 and the start of Covid), we have lost the patterns of integrating physical visitors. Judi Carter is the reluctant but competent leader of a membership team that includes a group of regulars like Robin Arehart, Joanie Thompson, Barbara Paulsen, and Judy Shaffer. Membership has in its bones a very efficient pattern of hosting three to four “membership trainings” annually that are the required bridge to officially joining the church. Since about a month after our return to physically being at church on Sundays, we have begun fielding new visitors with a simpler sign-in sheet, and getting them processed digitally into the system. I (Rev. Steve) call every new visitor who shares their information with us. We had 13 new members join in May of 2021 – really, two years’ worth of members. Membership should be a committee and church function that returns to normal as we ramp up.
Welcome Table Subcommittee and Greeters presently do not function but could be brought back to life, likely with a reduction of volunteers and a simpler system. Perhaps we should add one greeter per week who also encourages new people to fill out our new-member form.
Likewise, Ushers, who, at present, can best be summarized by our President and former Treasurer standing nobly at the back of the church holding the collection baskets, will need to find more order as our numbers increase and we return to actually collecting the collection and handing out orders of service.
Finance: Finance functions with a strong, steady team of people that has guided us through the pandemic with the support of Greg Garcia and John Einhorn, in particular. Most of our financial mechanics are in place, but Finance has had its hands full with the departure of Tara Unverzagt a year or two ago, and will suffer more when Judy Shaffer leaves us. In general, with the support of PPE loans/grant and a strong stock market, we have weathered the storm better than many churches, but our finance team could use some new life.
Endowment: Ted Marcus, Deb Dawson, Clint Patterson, and Judy Shaffer are monitoring our endowment. Endowment has employed a mostly conservative stance as regards Pacific Unitarian’s money and has climbed, like most assets, over the last two years. There are voices that say we could be more engaged in putting our values to work, and/or limiting the amount of endowment we have. Our endowment and the committee that monitors it seems to be a source of stability.
Pledge: Pledge was run in a simpler, less dramatic way during Covid, led by myself and Gary Hart, and likewise had modest ambitions during a church year where mostly nobody was on campus. Pledge came in about 25k short of budgeted expenses during the pandemic, and in a year without any predictable PPE loans, we will need to up the energy and pitch of our pledge drive.
Social Justice: The catch-all “committee” category for so much of what we do out in the community and in the political sphere can be categorized as “social justice.” Historically, all of the following areas and activities can fall or has fallen under the banner of “Social Justice”:
Green Sanctuary/Permaculture Garden, LGBTQ issues and marches, Immigration, Women’s Marches, LA Harbor clean-ups, Laundry Love, and our connections to the Toberman Center, Harbor Interfaith, Rainbow Services, and the South Coast Interfaith Council.
At present, most of our social justice activities exist as separate entities, carried forth by individual actors. All that is fine, and will continue to be acceptable until the world opens up, and we have some competition for exactly where we, as a limited institution, choose to use our resources.
Multicultural Transformation Team: Unquestionably the newest and most engaged committee connected to Social Justice at Pacific Unitarian is the Multicultural Transformation Team. The MTT has landed us a grant that has us as we speak in the process of hiring a joint RE Director, and Multicultural Outreach leader. During the last 18 months, we have taken many bold steps to make Pacific Unitarian more self-reflective about white privilege, and more engaged in the struggle outside our doors.
However, beyond the Transformation Team, and the love and attention spent on our permaculture-garden by a combination of the Ray and Carolyn Waters and Noel Hammond, Social Justice is at best an ad-hoc situation.
Facilities: Facilities is the group that manages our property and handles the physical dramas and issues on campus. It still does. After reluctantly accepting the joint resignations of Bruce Lewis and Mike Buttita, Facilities has jumped back to life, prompted mostly by Melissa Tyrrell, who has called together quite efficient meetings. Falling loosely under the banner of “Facilities” has been the hiring of Jose to our Pacific Unitarian team. Facilities functions, but not always proactively.
Harmonious Relations/Committee on Ministry: The Committee on Ministry is a small but effective committee led by Lee Ann Hart that meets both as needed and roughly three times per year to field any conflict and challenging situations within the church.
Pastoral Care/A-Ok: Pastoral Care at the moment doesn’t exist. A couple of our chief visitors and collaborators – Teri Masters, Barbara Paulsen, and Joanie Thompson – do make contributions, and our minister and church rise up to check in on folks in need.
Worship: Worship Functions well. Tracy Blender, Lee Ann Hart, and I meet nearly monthly to build our services and to organize Worship Associates. I coordinate with Severin, who largely functions independently.
Strategic Planning, Hospitality, and Program Council do not exist, in any real form. Hospitality, in my translation, is essentially the Food Ministry. If and when the pandemic lightens, we will find out what level of volunteer interest we have in putting out our famous and impressive lunch.
Conclusion: It seems to me that a balance of both new blood and enthusiasm as well as realistic expectations will be required to make Pacific Unitarian return to function in a post- or continuing-pandemic age. At the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, we averaged about 85 people on a Sunday. In August of 2021, that number is now closer to 50. The simple truth is that, until our physical numbers return to something closer to 100, we simply cannot expect to run the same level of infrastructure as before. Nevertheless, we need to build up our church committees to be the best church we can be.
We have historically had quarterly or tri-annual meetings of church leaders and committee chairs that we called the Program Council. This pattern continued in some form into my first year and a half at Pacific Unitarian. As attendance at the Program Council fell away, I added a “Calendar Day” event in the spring that we used to establish a balanced series of events for the next year. With the arrival of Covid in 2020, this in-person meeting fell away. At present we have committees on the books, most of which don’t have a regular pattern of meeting. As we look at our Mission and Vision, we should be sure to look at the nuts and bolts of how people get engaged.