Structure follows Vision
When STC was founded, the UUA had no real idea of what was required to help support a urban new start congregation, so they applied the existing standards for suburban congregations. This failed miserably, and later after much back and forth discussions, a program was set up to specifically assist STC and the other urban start-up congregations that sprung up around the country.
One of the assumptions was that for the congregation to be successful it had to grow quickly and have a minister. So STC spent a lot of its early years desperately trying to grow and scraping every dollar it could find to pay a minister. We were constantly fundraising. The UUA provided up front half of the minister's salary, but we had to raised the other half in order to get matching funds with which we could run the church. So the funds to run the congregation were dependant on us raising money to pay the minister! But if we had only needed to raise money to run the congregation, we wouldn't have needed the support from the UUA in the first place. It was a hopeless exercise, it ended in 1996 when our minister left to teach, and STC reorganized to simply fund us.
STC use to also have a standard leadership model based on a President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary. And the board consisted of the officers plus 6 to 7 at-large board members.
In 1996, after much internal reflection, we changed to a cluster model. We have four clusters; Programming, Finance, Communication and Community Building. Representatives from each cluster sits on the central council that runs the day-to-day operations. Several times a year the congregation meets to set priorities, enact policy and resolve disputes.
It was interesting that we lost some membership with the change in the leadership model. Apparently some felt that the new model was a little too loose, and reflected a lack of commitment. The new model places a lot of the responsibility for follow through on the individual clusters, and removes the council from managing details that had overwhelmed it in the past.
Part of the justification for the change in focus, and the change in leadership models was a need to re-examine our fundamental assumptions. Most members liked STC as it was, a small intimate, quirky congregation. We really were tired of trying to grow into a large urban church. There were already two other UU churches in Washington, if people really wanted that large size, they had existing choices that would suffice. So STC in a show of self-determination stepped “off the dole” and declared ourselves free to choose our own destiny.
It has been hard, without a minister or a staff, we had to rely more on each other to keep the congregation going. I stepped in as part time minister in 97, but the religious education and social action activities have been few and far between. Then in February 1999, Dark Flame Coven stepped in to take over the programming cluster which is responsible for two Sunday services and one religious education class a month. We also head up the community building cluster that handles the social action Sunday and congregational celebrations.