First Unitarian Society in Newton

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Board's Open-Questions Sessions Focus on Growth

Update from the Board, February 2013

The FUSN Board of Trustees has spent considerable time in the last year and a half working toward a coherent vision and set of goals as we enter this new phase of congregational life. A primary focus of our work has centered on aspects of growth. We have considered growth from a multi-dimensional perspective: growth that is numerical, spiritual, relational, financial, as well as with the larger community.

As part of this visioning, the board hosted three community “Open Question” sessions within the past year. The board became interested in this format for community involvement in visioning during our 2011 fall retreat. Doug Zelinski of the UUA presented an O/Q overview. The Open Question format provides platform for open communication between members of the community as well as the board on important issues that can help shape congregation’s future. It is primarily a process of discernment and for community-building and visioning (rather than action planning or decision-making).

Two sessions were held in the spring of 2012. The first presented questions around our desired role in the larger community: What is our “brand”? What is our stand with spreading the UU word? The second directly asked questions around growth: On balance, is growth desirable or not? How would growth impact our relationships in the larger community and our relationships with each other? The topic of our third OQ session in November came out of comments from the two previous sessions: As FUSN grows, how can we keep our spiritual center? Do we have avenues for nurturing our spiritual journey? How can we share our stories and our lives together in love?

What we heard: The board appreciates that so many people came and shared their thoughts on these important questions. We listened carefully, and have both distilled the comments into recurrent themes as well as considered specific unique contributions to help guide our work. We want to share just some of the words and themes that we have heard:

There were many descriptions of “brand,” with emphasis on our welcoming to all and embracing of diversity

• A place for many people

• Religiously and culturally diverse

• A model of how the world could be

• A home for everyone no matter what the stage of your life

• A supportive, welcoming, democratic community

• A liberal religious community who support each other

• We are welcoming to different views

• Live the seven principles!!


We heard many ideas about letting the larger community know who we are—with many comments suggesting we spread the word!

• We need to know who we are first!

• REACH OUT: Invite people to be part of the community.

• Get the message out! We need to tell the community that we are here.

• Get info into the TA, Op Ed, market FUSN.

• Take a public stand on issues.

• Have FUSN associated with its good works, like the environment, the Newton Food Bank.

• Look at ourselves and see how we talk to others about being UU.

• Don’t shy away from tooting your own horn!


We heard much support around the mission for growth. We heard many comments that suggested we should be mindful and bold as we move forward: that we need to maintain and grow our personal connections and deepen our spiritual center. For example, we need to

• Think about how to grow successfully

• Target quality not just quantity

• Appreciate the need for small groups, person-person contact, and “points of entry”

• Create opportunities for looking at ourselves/credos: “who we are. “ We need a spiritual conversation.

• Advertise and proselytize: let people know who we are

• Reach out: go to people in the community and bring them to us

• Work on retention: youth and others

• Address tasks and practicalities: what areas do we need to scale up? (i.e. parking; seating in sanctuary)


Our third session focused on spiritual and relational issues. First, there was discussion about what is our spiritual center, particularly in light of our commitment to diversity. Ideas:

• The need for authenticity in the face of conflict

• How to be welcoming and inclusive to everyone given our differences

• What are the common points of agreement and how to work together

There were many ideas around avenues for nurturing our spiritual journeys and sharing our stories.

• Beginning each gathering with one-two minutes of a spiritual message

• Reiteration that small group opportunities are the most powerful vehicles for connections

• Opportunity for more personal sharing (as in the day’s sermon)

• Have a suggestion box where people can put their ideas and thoughts for the board

• Augment themes with literature

• Use of spiritual coaching

• Have a “Be Controversial” day; set up forums, venues for people to share views

• Many people looking for “ministry”; needs to be OK to believe in God and to have these conversations at FUSN

• Opportunities to spearhead your ideas through Adult Ed

Third, questions were raised as to how information is documented and disseminated, such as information from conversational meetings and board meetings. Finally, there was discussion of level of “busi-ness” at FUSN—how do we keep in connection and communication with each other as we grow and expand.

How have these conversations informed our work? These themes have echoed throughout our board meetings as we continue our work toward being a visioning board. On the broadest level, the board’s recommendation to move to full time staffing of the membership coordinator came out of our conviction that many of these issues around growth—numerical, relational, and within the larger community—would be best supported by the efforts of dedicated staff. We have worked to improve signage and advertising of FUSN and to further our documentation and tracing of memberships/attendance. We have worked closely with Erin to consider how to keep our beloved community both a nurturing space for all and a dynamic place for our many voices. We will continue to work on behalf of FUSN’s future.

Ann Woodbury/Gordon Moriarty/the FUSN Board of Trustees





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