I share a covenantal faith with a people who practice the form of religious governance known as congregational. Further, Unitarian Universalists are associational, which is to say, all these congregations are sharing this faithful journey together. We have responsibilities to one another. We share resources. We encourage one another to be better Unitarian Universalists and better Unitarian Universalist congregations than any of us find easy or comfortable. Our General Assembly is our governing body, with the Board of Trustees setting ends based on what our General Assembly decides, and the Staff having the job of helping all of us figure out how to meet those ends. In this system, the Moderator is the Chief Governance Officer, the President is the Chief Executive Officer in that he is supposed to execute, or complete, the ends (and is accountable to the Board of Trustees), and the congregational delegates meeting are not only stakeholders - for we have many more stakeholders than we have enfranchised - but the ones in charge. Every committee, working group, team, board, and associated organizations exist to help us in this work of encouraging and making it possible for us to actually fulfill our faithful promises.
At least, that’s the plan and the agreement we share.
With the efforts of a lot of people, including our Moderator, Gini Courter, and the wishes of the General Assembly, the annual decision making process is figuring out how to use digital media to bring more of the folks already technically enfranchised, but regularly unable to participate, into the process. Streaming video of plenaries, live captioning in the assembly (accomplished with a digital link to live translators offsite), digital delegations, and, among the delegates, growing social media use during the process to connect with stakeholders unable to attend in person are all ways that bring more of us together to faithfully work through our issues and answer our shared calling.
Real democracy is difficult and messy, because there are always a lot of issues, a lot of different ideas, and a lot of passion. We have processes, like mini-assemblies, where we work through issues before resolutions come to the floor, which can benefit from further engagement with stakeholders on and off premises via digital media. To be able to call out for help in a public way is, indeed, a vulnerable thing to do. Yet all it takes sometimes is one voice or one idea to help a whole lot of us find common ground. Sometimes that voice or idea is not in the room, for a whole host of reasons, especially economic. A great many of us just do not have the luxury of taking an unpaid week out of our lives, and then manage the expenses of travel and conference attendance, even if done very frugally. That so many do and can make that sacrifice is a huge gift, one that no one in our Association should take for granted.
One of the biggest changes that digital media has wrought and continues to bring about in the past ten years is the increase in organizational transparency. We can easily create and share documents about decisions and research (successes and failures). Not only does this kind of sharing create more trust, it also allows us to be more accountable to one another and to our faithful promises. We can go much further with transparency, creating good digital archives and inviting people to take research and programs and share their iterations of them. We can stream video of important meetings, and provide transcripts of them in a timely manner. We can put time for stakeholder questions, recognizing that many of our stakeholders are not enfranchised in our current system of governance. That recognition means remembering we are part of a religious movement and a religion that makes a difference, and are not here just for our own care, but to serve the whole world.
We can go much further with digital media in our day to day faith democracy, inviting conversations about possible initiatives, noticing and sourcing ideas and projects that are working well in faith communities (congregations + ), and risking faithing publicly day by day together. We need to involve all our stakeholders - that is, everyone who is faithing alongside, in and out of congregations, our multi-faith partners, and our partners in community and world well-being who have no faith whatsoever.
Digital media makes sharing the faith journey with each other so much easier, if we’re willing to practice democracy well as the spiritual discipline it is, and attending to our faithful promises that every person matters, the well-being of the planet matters, and we are here to serve. We are not going to be comfortable fulfilling these promises. But that’s the funny and amazing thing about faithfulness - it has nothing to do with comfort and everything to do with answering well how we have been called. We’ve been called to leave no one behind, to aid love in transforming the world, to care for the planet, and to make sure every one can share their gifts for goodness’ sake. How we answer every day is the real test of faith.