2011-2016 brought growth, change and a deepening of mission to ERUUF. We saw a large expansion in the number of people taking part in activities here and the percentage of those choosing to become more actively involved by becoming members is growing. ERUUF grew to over 600 members and another 300+ non-member participants. Many of the changes have been a result of following our Strategic Plan, which focuses on five areas of strategic development - worship, diversity, outreach to the larger community, communication and infrastructure. Here are some of the highlights.
After 2 years of serving as acting lead minister, Rev. Deborah Cayer was called to be our settled Lead Minister in June 2011. Her presence has provided a continuum of leadership that has enabled planning and development to move steadily forward. Rev. Cayer currently has in her portfolio the areas of stewardship, multiculturalism, adult programs and worship.
After having 4 different part-time consultant assistant ministers in 4 years, we moved to a full-time assistant minister with the hiring of Dr. Rev. Xolani Kacela in 2013. Rev. Kacela left ERUUF at the end of 2016 and his portfolio was then taken on by our student minister at the time, Jacqueline Brett, and a part-time consultant minister for pastoral care, Rev. Stacy Grove.
Growth in Children's RE program
ERUUF hired Kathy Cronin in 2010 as a full time Director of Religious Education. Her presence and programming resulted in a steady and significant growth in the number of children who registered for religious education and youth groups, from 187 in 2011 to 247 in 2014. Kathy left ERUUF in 2015 and after a nation-wide search, was replaced by Julia Tyler. Her creativity and energy continued in Kathy's footsteps, introducing new vision, programming and organization to our RE program. We have particularly noted an increase in the number of families with young children. Finding space in the CARE Building for all groups to meet is a constant, but welcome challenge, as is having enough staff to help prepare for Sunday mornings.
Curriculum development has been an ongoing focus of the RE program. One example of curriculum modification occurred during the 2013-14 year when the entire RE curriculum was centered on Biblical education. Regular Sundays that teach or practice social justice have also been incorporated into the RE schedule.
Another outcome has been retention of youth as they enter junior and senior high school. Support for the youth program was greatly augmented with the hiring of a Youth Ministry Coordinator starting in 2008. The Coming of Age program for high school youth has been held biannually or even more frequently with an attendance of 6-10 youth each time. The Junior High and Senior High Youth Groups are active with service projects, fun trips and overnight lock-ins.
In 2015, the Our Whole Lives curriculum, a program which teaches about human relationships and sexuality and has been taught to 8th graders for a number of years, was expanded to include an age-appropriate curriculum for first graders and their parents. The course has filled and had a waiting list every year.
Changes in Adult Programming
Our growth in attendance presented both challenges and opportunities to provide meaningful programming for all adults, including the increasing number of young parents. Several groups self-organized to provide community with a particular focus - the Parents group, the Fathers' Covenant Group, 20s and 30s, Spiritual Threads and AWE (Activities with ERUUFians, for those 40 and over) are vital examples of groups carrying out ERUUF's mission. Wednesday Connections, a long-standing event with meal, worship and classes, has undergone some revision over the years under the coordination of the Adult Programming Team. Our ministers have increased the number of classes that they lead during daytime hours to provide opportunities for people who have difficulty getting out during the evening.
We experimented for several years with a Discover and Deepen series in between services on Sunday. This was made possible by moving the 9:30am service to 9:15am. Some of these programs were geared to newer attendees at ERUUF who might want to know more about Unitarian Universalism and some were thought -provoking studies that could interest all. This proved to be a difficult time to gather people and so this program was discontinued. However, a Spiritual Odyssey series that was started in 2015 has proven to be quite popular. This series meets on summer Sundays before the one summer worship service and features individual members at ERUUF talking about their spiritual journey through life.
While discussions of multiculturalism have occurred at ERUUF for a long time - consider our sponsorship of the founding of All Soul's Church in Durham in 1996 - a new more intentional direction was initiated in 2011 as part of the process of potentially recruiting a person of color as our assistant minister. The Board of Trustees chose Moving Toward Multiculturalism as one focus for their Annual Vision of Ministry for 2013-2014. The Multicultural Team (MCT)was formed and has initiated a number of subgroups. The Multicultural Team has sponsored several workshops, classes, trainings, community conversations, film series, and assessments with the goal of deepening the understanding and reality of ERUUF becoming a radically inclusive community. Over 160 people have taken the Dismantiing Racism workshops.
In 2011, after evaluating the needs and financial situation at ERUUF, the Coordinating Team and a group of lay leaders led by Mark Kuhn and Glenn Borg made the unusual decision of initiating a three-year capital campaign with the primary goals of debt reduction and facility maintenance, rather than facility expansion. Consultants were hired, a theme of From Debt to Dreams was chosen, and the campaign was off and running by November 2011. The Capital Campaign received pledges of $1.05 million and resulted in a reduction of the mortgage debt from $1.25 million to $339,000 and through refinancing, reducing the mortgage expense from $117,960 per year to $35,000. Additional reduction came from a matching gift challenge at the end of the campaign which raised approximately $170,000 and allowed the mortgage payment to drop to $17,500/year.
Kitchen Renovation and other campus improvements
The Capital Campaign also provided a total of $124,000 to make major renovations to the ERUUF campus. Perhaps the most noticeable were the renovation of the Fellowship Hall kitchen, overseen by a dedicated committee chaired by Carolyn Worthing, and a complete resurfacing of the parking lot, overseen by Peter Romeyn. Audio-visual capability was improved campus-wide with the addition of a new sound board in the sanctuary and AV systems installed in 4 rooms of the CARE building. All buildings were made more handicapped-accessible with the addition of automatic doors. Many more repairs and replacement of furniture greatly enhanced the comfort, practicality and safety of the campus in the 5 years initiated by the capital campaign. For a complete list, click here.
Installation of a new road sign and landscaping at the front entrance
In 2014, the decision was made to install a new road sign that would greatly increased the visibility of ERUUF to passers-by. After much study by a committee chaired by Peter Romeyn and with input from the congregation, this project was completed in the fall of of 2015. At that time, and because city approval of the sign depended on some landscaping around it, a major effort was undertaken to improve landscaping at the ERUUF entrance and frontage. With the help of two grants from the Eno River Fellowship Foundation, the work was completed in two stages under the direction of a task force headed by Beth Harvat. With the help of a contracted landscape architect, structure and planting of the landscaping was designed to require minimum maintenance once established with primarily native plants. Beth Harvat and Rick Searles have coordinated care of the new landscaping, including setting up watering teams for each summer.
Better use of technology and social media
The past five years have seen major changes in the technology which supports record keeping and connection at ERUUF. First came a switch to a new database system that integrated financial, membership and group participation information. Out of that came a member log-in section on the website, called MyERUUF, where members and friends could securely access their own donation records as well as see the membership list and contact information of groups in which they participate. Members also have access to the ERUUF directory, including some pictures, when logged into MyERUUF.
Better communication has been greatly enhanced by the redesign of the weekly email, the Enews, containing an expanded version of the announcements in the Sunday bulletin and colorful graphics. To keep ERUUFians informed in a more timely manner, more announcements have been shifted to the Enews, while the monthly newsletter, Currents, was reformatted to provide articles and stories of major events at ERUUF, with links to the website for additional information. Reducing the size of the newsletter enabled office staff to have more time to concentrate on both Enews and website updates.
The ERUUF website undergoes constant redesigning and updating. Major items have been added such as a volunteer page, online sign-up for classes, online donations and better coverage of all the activities and small groups that happen at ERUUF. The website continues to be the primary portal through which people come to ERUUF and efforts are ongoing to make it more interactive and current. A new calendar system was introduced in 2015 that displayed specific events on the relevant web pages and enable people to link to more indepth articles about the events.
ERUUF has entered the world of social media with its own Facebook page. All members and friends of ERUUF may post to the page, which is viewed publicly.
Expansion of social justice activities and projects
Being a part of creating a better world is integral to ERUUF's mission and was the main reason ERUUF was founded in the 60's. During this decade, there has been an effort to move from a system where one or two empassioned people lead a project to creating more ways to involve the entire congregation. In that respect, ERUUF periodically set up Service Saturdays with some of the projects designed to be family-friendly and in 2014 and 2015 celebrated the UUA's 30 Days of Love in February with a variety of ways to be of service. The total number of justice activities rose from 26 in 2011 to 72 in 2014.
During these years, the Justice Council refocused its efforts on 8 primary ministries and provided more information on all justice activities on the Justice webpages, which were significantly revised in 2014. Funding for these ministries more than doubled by moving from a line item in the budget to a bimonthly donation of the offering plate on Justice Sundays. Justice Sundays were interspersed with a more general appeal to generosity for organizations that support ERUUF's vision of social justice on Generosity Sundays, resulting in the offering plate being used for social justice one Sunday of each month.
The discussion of how our justice work can be the most effective rose to the next level in May 2014 with the appointment of a team to do a Justice Vision Quest. The Vision Quest report from the team contained many suggestions, including how to best organize the Justice Council. A Transition Team was appointed to move forward with its recommendations.
Implementation of Policy-based Governance
In 2008, the Board of Trustees made the decision to move to a policy-based form of governance, which was being widely considered at that time by a number of larger UU congregations. The basic concept of policy-based governance (PBG) is that the Board of Trustees moves from being a body that coordinates programs to a body that envisions the mission and goals of the congregation. Authority to run the operations is delegated to professional staff, particularly the Lead Minister. Part of the Board's responsibility in policy-based governance is to write the governing policies that provide general guidelines for operations and the framework for the way that the board will do its job and interact with the Lead Minister.
Most of the new board policies creating the shift to PBG were written and approved by the Board in 2008-2009. In the fall of 2009, a series of forums gathered congregational input for writing the new Bylaws required to make the governance changes legal as well as getting feedback on the new policies. The proposed Bylaws and new policies that created a Healthy Congregations Committee and spelled out how conflicts would be resolved at ERUUF were approved by the Board in January, 2010. The new Bylaws were approved by the congregation in a special meeting in February, 2010. The Board continues to review and make needed modifications to their policies as both staff and lay leaders clarify and practice their roles under PBG.
One of the major benefits and challenges of moving to policy-based governance was the creation of a Strategic Plan, which ERUUF had not had for several years. A Strategic Plan was adopted in 2012 that guided ERUUF's programming and planning for five years. The Strategic Plan will be revisited in 2015-2016 for revision and updating. The Board of Trustees selects a particular focus of the strategic plan yearly with its Annual Vision of Mission and the Coordinating Team plans for its implementation through its yearly program planning.
Towards the Future
Today, we are a thriving congregation that has weathered many changes and grown more mature. We have grown to better understand that it is our own presence and efforts that continue to build beloved community. We bring the spirit and values of our former years to our mission of transforming lives through spirit, service, justice and love in many ways and continue to stretch the possibilities of what can be accomplished through concerted, mindful action.