Our district has been grappling with a painful situation: the firing of our District Executive, Cilla Raughley. Many (all too many) Unitarian Universalists of the Pacific Central District, including the congregation I serve (the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, a.k.a. UUCPA), don’t even know that we’re part of a district, nor have any idea what services to expect from–or responsibilities to assume towards–the district. However, some of our members are paying attention, especially since Cilla was a member of UUCPA until she became DE. (A District Executive may certainly belong to a congregation, but some decide that it is best not to belong to any one district church, preferring an option such as membership in the Church of the Larger Fellowship.)

If you’ve ever been in an organization whose leadership went through a crisis, you’ll know it raises pastoral issues and issues of communication. One of the skills of community-making is knowing how to act when we have incomplete or conflicting information about matters of concern to the community. So I used my most recent newsletter column to share what I’ve learned from hard experience.

UUCPA is in a tender position because so many of us know and love Cilla. She and her husband Andrew have played important roles in our congregation, chief among them friend to many of us. Unitarian Universalism was not only Cilla’s employer, but her community, and she and Andrew must be feeling very alienated from their community. I hope you will extend them all the comforts of friendship. We need not know what happened, or what position we take, in order to express our support and affection.

Since employment decisions (with all their necessary secrecy) create strong feelings, conflict, and confusion, I want to urge us all to be mindful of what words and actions help build community in such a time. I have seen the damage done in these situations when we fill the gaps in our knowledge with gossip and speculation. We do it because we want to know what really happened; we have our theories and loyalties; we try to stitch a coherent story out of many and conflicting versions; but in rushing to replace our uncertainty with firm statements for which we have no real support, we do harm to real people. It is best if we:

* assume good intentions of everyone involved;

* remember that behind abstractions such as “the District Executive,” “the UUMA chapter,” “the PCD Board” and “the UUA” are ordinary people who, like us, love our tradition and are doing their best to make the decisions that will benefit it;

* ask ourselves, before we speak, whether what what we are about to say is true; if it is necessary; and if it is kind;

* remember that we are all Unitarian Universalists seeking to build a community together based on the principles we share.