President’s Report

For the UFP Annual General Meeting, May 7, 2023

Let me begin by thanking our dedicated departing 2021-22 members, Heather-Lynn Fraser, Guy Hanchet, Chris Risley and Meredith Hill. Each made major contributions to the Board and congregation during the difficult period of the pandemic. 

The Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough 2022-23 Board of Directors included:

President: Ben Wolfe
Vice President: Aukje Byker
Treasurer: Joan Higginson
Secretary: Scott Donovan
Directors: Tracy Galvin, Mundy McLaughlin, Julia Wallace, Stephanie Wildheart

2022-23 has been a year to remember — a “year like no other” for UFP. A year without a Minister, in the third year of a pandemic. I hope and feel it is a year we will be proud of, looking backward. It took all hands to see us through, and we are coming through more than a little weary but loving, committed and strong. 

As we completed and celebrated our beloved Rev. Julie Stoneberg’s 15-year ministry with us last spring, we learned we were among many North American congregations who were not successful in search for an Interim Minister. The pandemic has disrupted the availability of UU ministers in unprecedented ways.

The Board and other leadership teams set to work in spring/summer. Our first key step was securing Rev. Peter Boullata as our very-part-time Consulting Minister. Peter has been a gift to us, and indispensable to our Transition tasks and capacity. 

At an end-of-summer Board retreat we named and felt our anxieties and our future vision. We understood this would be a year of emergent as much as managerial leadership. We created the Transition Leadership Team (TLT) — a Board-interlinked hybrid of what would normally be the Committee on Ministry during an Interim year. We also interconnected the Board with the Creative Worship Team (CWT), which was suddenly faced with the challenge of leading all services for the year. 

The triangle of these three teams — Board, TLT and CWT — soon found its way to an effective division of roles, communication, and collaboration as needed. 

And… as September began, our highly skilled Administrator, core to our day to day operations and communications, resigned to take an impossible-to-refuse job leading Artspace. And hopes that the pandemic was over after two years faded as the local COVID-19 level returned to HIGH.

In co-leading a September 18th service called “Transitioning in Love Together” I said: “We’re reinventing everything. We’re rediscovering everything. And in doing that we’re going have to love each other.… This is complicated, hard work. Some of it can be lonely.… [Th]e right question is not “Why haven’t you?,” but “How can we?” We can figure that out together.”

And we did. In visible and invisible ways, imperfectly, collaboratively and creatively, we — all of us as a congregation — stepped up and day-by-day, beautiful Sunday by beautiful Sunday, we guided ourselves across a bridge to a next stage of our congregational life. 

Many practices have helped see us through the year. Pre-meetings of our Executive a week before each Board meeting improved focus, efficiency and accountability. Community Conversations and a new, regular, after-service Business Salon initiated by Scott invited congregational cohesion and a better understanding of immediate and longer-term needs. Every Board member has been personally active in at least one other major area of congregational life — and in some cases several areas — and has brought this hands-on knowledge to the Board. 

Jessica Smith, our gifted and dedicated Director of Religious Exploration, initiated a seasonal series of outdoor, all-ages community gatherings, Grounded in Love, that brought large attendance, joy, connection, and many newcomers and young families. These were a highlight of the year. The Fellowship hired a new Joint Administrator, Barbara Hawthorn, who has held vital aspects of congregational communications and admin together for us with a lot of initiative under very challenging conditions.

Our multi-year Board culture of Sociocracy has served us well. Sociocracy is a meeting process based on rounds in which all voices speak, with consent of all members to decisions. The need to achieve consent changes leadership culture. It inspires deeper listening, genuine welcoming of differing views, and thoughtful balancing of complex needs. There is no win/lose. Every decision by your Board this year had the consent of all its members. 

Our Sociocracy work is pioneering among UUs and has drawn interest from congregations across Canada and the US seeking a renewed system of governance. Aukje and Ben have led multiple workshops and spoken in a UUA webinar in December. For the first time, the Board used the Sociocratic role-selection process in choosing its Officers.

The 2022-23 year was deeply affected by COVID-19. We opened our doors and relaxed our policies to the joy of meeting together in person, and then had to painfully retreat to online services again through the worst COVID spike of the year in late fall. Our Safe Gathering advisors, especially Heather Ballarin, have gone above and beyond, again and again, in a commitment to providing the Board with advice and vision. Our Creative Worship Team rose to the challenge and pivoted to delivering outstanding online-only services. And then we steadily opened up again in winter and spring. 

I am intensely proud of how UFP has managed multiple perspectives on many issues, including COVID policy. We’ve worked hard to create a safe, caring listening space. We’ve committed and equipped ourselves to provide long-term, hybrid services. Our COVID measures were responsible and effective, being aligned with public health data and recommendations. Peterborough Public Health has called us leaders in the community in our response.

Through the year, Board members with specialized professional skills have taken the lead in policy areas needing an update at this complex time. Our staff turnover required Human Resources policies, knowledge and effort. Rather than dealing ad hoc with matters arising, we now have a functioning HR Committee, led by Mundy McLaughlin. 

The Ontario Not-For-Profit Corporations Act (ONCA) requires we update our our Fellowship Articles, Bylaws and other governing documents by Fall 2024 to be compliant. We have taken a broad view of this work, as we mark a generational shift in the life of the congregation. A Task Force of Ben Wolfe, Paul King-Fisher and Ian Attridge is beginning work to advise the Board on our charitable purposes and governing documents, to meet the ONCA deadline and in a manner consistent with the exciting possibility of formally adopting Sociocratic governance at UFP.

Our finances need special mention. The Board is profoundly thankful to our Treasurer, Joan Higginson, who is stepping into retirement from the role after serving with vision, diligence and grace for more years than she ever intended. The Board committed to Joan that this would and could be her last year. She deserves the whole community’s thanks. We somehow need to replace her. The Finance Committee, led by Joan, is very strong and has done extensive preparation for this transition, building many supports for a new Treasurer to step into. (Might that be you, reading this now?)

This year’s Treasurer’s Report includes important information about how our finances, member contributions and investments have fared through the pandemic and ministerial transition. There are impacts but they are less than might have been. There are reasons for optimism, including new ministerial leadership (see below), the launch of a new Planned Giving Program, and what seems to be (let us hope) the end of acute COVID.

Our best news over the last few months has been finding a path back to full-time ministry. Speculative conversations among TLT and Board members and Rev. Peter have led to excited dreaming, an exploratory circle, negotiations and the formal hiring of Rev. Peter Boullata as our Minister for 2023-25. His contract will be in place by the time I present this report at the AGM. Excitingly, Peter’s contract and all our conversations leave open the possibility of his becoming our Settled Minister should we all so decide in the future.

Your Board ends this year a little frayed at the edges (and desirous of shorter meetings) — and filled with gratitude for this place, this community, and every one of the other forms of leadership and service that has seen us through an intensely memorable year. 

Let’s find ways to let this rite of passage strengthen and serve us for years to come.

— Ben Wolfe