Thank you all very, very much for this opportunity. I am truly honored to be elected to the position of Board president for Neighborhood Church for the next two years. I’m especially relieved because ever since the outcome of events on November 8th, 2016, I’ve never considered this election a sure thing. That day really rattled my confidence in the voting process in America. Thank goodness I can move on!
My two years as president will represent my eleventh and twelfth years as a Neighborhood Church board member. I have served as a board member and officer with five exceptional presidents: Gillian Symonds, Ferol Mennen, Mary Fauvre Holmes, Grady Goddard, and Nancy Steele. Each one of these presidents had at least one major challenge in her tenure. These challenges were all totally unexpected and ranged from a letter of concern from a group of church members who felt they weren’t being heard or respected, to a contentious interim period prior to Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson’s arrival, to most recently, the CUP or conditional use permit imposed by the City of Pasadena, which had 68 requirements for the church to meet at a cost of $85,000, drawn from our reserves.
Each of those presidents I mentioned had the unique temperament and personal gifts to address and manage their challenges. They also had the support of their board and the church’s ministers, staff and congregation, without whom, success would not have been possible.
Initially when the church was faced with the CUP crisis, I was very doubtful of a happy outcome. Our neighbors seemed both extremely angry and well organized, and the requirements of the CUP were complicated and daunting, to say the least. But we had terrific leadership in Reverend Lissa, Nancy Steele, Brent Huss, Kirk Dillman, and Alan Freeman, who chaired a Task Force of qualified and proactive church members, as well as YOU and your thoughtful efforts to change the way we access and use our church campus. With this collective response, the CUP situation and our relations with our neighbors have improved dramatically. The negative impact of the CUP’s weekday curfew is still being felt by members of our choirs and Pasadena Pro Musica, but Rev. Lissa, Brent Huss, the board and the Task Force will be working on this and anticipate a resolution with the City no later than October.
Of course, no one can anticipate what unexpected challenge or challenges might be coming our way in the next two years, but there are some definite concerns that I know the new board needs to contend with. It’s clear that we need to do something dramatic and transformational about our parking situation, which begs an expert review of our whole campus. This builds upon Nancy Steele’s concept this past year of a master plan for our campus. Our parking lot was designed for the early 1970s and not for 2017, 2020, or 2025. I’ve discussed with Rev. Lissa and will bring to the board the hiring of a professional or professionals to conduct an assessment of our campus and what options we might be able to create here on this campus for parking, as well as off-campus.
Fund raising continues to be a concern as it is at all UU churches and in all denominations across the country. As a professional fund raiser, I frankly don’t think we can depend upon our members to continually raise their pledges year by year. Our demographics have changed. Many of our former big donors are now retired and downsizing. Many of our families have children headed to college or in college, and are doing the best they can. We clearly need to identify or create new revenue streams that are high yield and low maintenance. Some of these could even become projects that engage our members as volunteers and grow relationships as well as dollars. I will ask the board to begin to explore next steps in this area along with our amazing stewardship committee.
I mentioned earlier that each president I have worked with, and those in between of course, had their unique gifts to bring to the table. I think mine are evidenced in the success I have had as a development officer at several nonprofits, including my current professional home, UC Riverside. In the past two years, professionally, I have rebuilt lapsed, indifferent or broken relationships at UCR with great success. My tool kit is simple. I like people – well, I like most people. I like to listen to their personal stories. I like to ask them, how could you feel more engaged? It’s just part of my fabric, my DNA. I never knew it would bring me success. Thank goodness for me that it does.
My hope is that these simple gifts of my genuine interest and concern, and my ability to dialogue, will help me with my number one goal of my presidency, which is that no one in this church ever feels disenfranchised or that they are not part of this beloved community. It truly pains me to know that we have members who feel this way at any given time. A member of this church I have great respect for told me a few years ago, My time is over here. I need to move aside and let other people lead. To which I say, in a G rated lexicon, Hogwash. No one’s time is ever over at Neighborhood Church. You are always vital, needed, and relevant, even beyond your time here on this plane with us, because we will remember you. Reverend Lissa has a wonderful idea for engaging our longtime members and former leaders in a
Deacon’s Circle and I hope the Board will agree to help her realize this wonderful concept. It is nowhere in my job description but my goal is inclusivity – including and beyond gender, ethnicity, sexual identity or economic considerations. If I can muster any part of this, I will feel like my presidency was a success and I’ve finally become the UU I was destined to be.
At last, I have to add that one of the great excitements of being your president is being able to work so closely with our Senior Minister. I’ve had the joy of close proximity to Rev. Lissa since she arrived, and I
continue to be in awe of her. She does not just preach social justice; she is in the community practicing it, literally rolling up her sleeves. She was engaged in pastoral care with our members before she even left New York – calling people in the hospital! When I have had a major or minor upset in my life, I’ve received her texts, phone calls or cards, all thoughtfully composed.
Rev. Lissa insisted on a balanced budget despite the daunting cuts required, and she also insisted on an accurate list of members that was not populated with former or lapsed members who had not paid their pledges in years. And she’s built wonderfully on the terrific work that Jim Nelson started, to make our church truly diverse.
Even more important to me, in the days that followed the presidential election in November, when I felt I was walking through a nightmare, the only place I truly felt hope and solace was in this sanctuary when, in sermon after sermon, Lissa gave us perspective, reason, and viable hope. Her service in which she folded President Trump’s unthinkable gaffe about Frederick Douglass into a sermon on Black History Month was one of the best services I’ve certainly experienced in this church in 20 years.
I’ve observed that our church, without meaning to of course, can be rather hard on new ministers. Perhaps this is the way we deal with change. I found this to be true with Greg Stewart, and Kathleen Owens, and especially with Hannah Petrie. One of the touching things about Hannah’s going away event last year was seeing several people dabbing tears from their eyes, the same people who had stopped me on the patio during Hannah’s first two years to lambaste her sermons and efforts at pastoral care. To those of you who have not yet opened your hearts to Rev. Lissa, I hope it is merely a matter of time before you recognize the gifts of this young woman that we have been so fortunate to draw to this church!
The good news for you is that I am a people pleaser. The bad news for me is that I am a people pleaser. I will need to grow in this role. Dear friends at this church have already cornered me and made me promise to delegate and to not feel guilty when I say no. I needed no warning, as I’ve seen the role of church president impact my colleagues’ personal lives, professional lives, and physical and mental health. I ask your kind indulgence and understanding if occasionally, I have to set boundaries for my own self-care. I have a long commute to get here from Riverside where I work or Claremont where I live, but honestly, it affords me the time to think about the church and the work that needs to be done. I cna’t tell you how gratified and excited I am to be working with this new Board: Mimi Hennessy, Gary Breaux, Asia Bribiesca-Hedin, Eugene Hutchins, Kevin Kroeker , Esther Martin, Janice Partyka, and Lauren Worley. These terrific people bring diverse skills and outlooks and represent widely different sectors of the church. I already know them to be thoughtful, candid, hard-working – and always thinking of the congregation at large. In advance, I want to say to this awesome group of people, thank you so much for your service. And to this awesome group of people, I say, thank you so much again for giving me this wonderful opportunity to be your President!
-Clyde Derrick, NUUC Board of Trustees President