Process: n. : a series of actions or operations conducing to an end
Process: v. to subject to or handle through an established set of procedures ; to subject to examination or analysis
We Unitarian Universalists love process (the noun) and processing (the verb). Perhaps it’s because promoting the democratic process is one of our seven principles. Perhaps it’s because we like to see all sides of every issue before making a decision.
In practice this means that we talk everything to death. Because we value individual authority as well as community, this also means that when the process doesn’t go “MY way,” we sometimes take it personally – leading irascible members to collect their marbles and go home. (Pissed off forever).
Our congregation was formed in 1953 during a UU period of expansion known as the “fellowship movement.” The idea was to seed small lay-led UU congregations across the country, which would eventually grow larger. Our local founders named the organization “The Michael Servetus Unitarian Universalist Fellowship” after the brilliant bad boy of the Protestant Reformation, Miguel Servet, to honor his death 400 years earlier in 1593.
(Servetus was burned at the stake in Geneva by John Calvin for proclaiming that the trinity was a load of codswallop and not to be found in the bible. God was a unity, as any idiot could see, he said. His story is actually extremely interesting, but that’s not the point of this post…)
Anyway, we’ve lived with this horrendous mouthful of a name for 55 years. First, Unitarian Universalism is obscure enough. There are only about 200,000 of us in the US because we are not evangelical (nor are we Christian any more). Michael Servetus is known only to the cognescenti; everyone else who sees our name thinks he must be our conceited minister – people actually call and ask for “Michael”. And we outgrew the “fellowship” size years ago.
I’ve thought the name sucked since I joined in 1992. A year ago, three of us, including me, were commissioned by the Board of Trustees to form the “Name Change Exploration Team.”
In the ensuing months we conducted surveys of members, friends and newcomers (a wide net because we wanted to know how the name played out in the greater community) Was our name a barrier to people visiting? Did it communicate who we were to outsiders as well as insiders? Should we change our name? If so, what names would you suggest?
The response was very positive and 90 new names were suggested. After reducing the list by half lumping together similar names, everyone ranked their top three names, which got us down to six names –five new names plus “no change.”
The “no change” contingent was relatively small, but they were obstreperous. Too often good ideas get killed by the small obstreperous minority so we came up with an ingenious process which neatly bypassed our argumentative natures:
1. We posted one sheet for each of the six names on a display in the church lobby. Every Sunday for a month folks could write advocacy remarks FOR one or more names on post-its. NO dissing a name! Negative post-its were removed.
2. Then we held a town hall meeting with only ONE microphone – the PRO microphone (no CON). Everyone had one minute to advocate FOR their preferred name or names; no dissing of the other “candidates.”
3. After everyone had been heard, we passed out colored sticky dots – you could put ONE dot on each name: a green dot = I really like this name; blue = I could live with this name; and red = I strongly dislike this name. The remarkable thing was how graphically clear the preferences became. Masses of green dots on one name, masses of red dots on a couple of others. When we went further and tallied the dots into weighted totals (Green=3 points, blue=1, and red = -3) one name shot way into the lead because it had by far the most favorables and fewest unfavorables. Good ol’ Michael Servetus plummeted to the bottom due to high unfavorables.
4. Today was the congregational meeting to put the matter to a formal vote (a bylaw change). A yes vote was for the new name; a no vote was for no change. The board president smartly ruled that there would be no discussion because we’d been discussing it for a full year. The meeting lasted TEN minutes and to my astonishment 88% of the members present voted for the change.
Our new name is not sexy or evocative. None of those suggestions garnered enough support along the way. But our new name is clear, uncontroversial and inoffensive: the Unitarian Universalist Church of Vancouver.
Perhaps you have to be a UU to understand how big a deal this simple change is. I am thrilled.