How We Govern at FRS: Our Model of Governance

For those of us who are visual learners, the FRS organizational chart provides a snapshot of our governance model. In prior articles we talked about the concept of congregational polity and how the Parish Board is the governing body that represents the congregation in the application of governance, and in this article we will look at the whole picture of governance to point out how the Parish Board accomplishes this.

In the image of the organizational chart, the congregation is placed at the top of the chart. This symbolizes the foundation of congregational polity in the recognition of the congregation as the entity to whom all parties are responsible. All elected officers serve the will of the congregation. They discern the will of the congregation through the Vision and Mission, which the congregation takes part in developing. This is why it is so important for members to express themselves at the transition workshops that are currently being held. Out of these workshops, an updated mission and vision will form.

The roles of each office and officer of the organization is authorized and defined by the Constitution and Bylaws, a living document that the congregation uses to guide all of its functions. On the organizational chart the bylaws are seen on the left side of the image, as it supports the structure of governance. The Constitution and Bylaws dictate what needs to be in place, but do not necessarily tell us how, because the ‘how’ can change with time, technology, and resources. For this reason bylaws in general are usually very vague. It is left to those identified by their roles in the bylaws to create how they will perform their roles.

For FRS, the ‘how’ changed in 2012 when a policy-based governance model was adopted. Before that time most of the work of the FRS happened through a very limited staff and in almost twenty different committees, including the Parish Committee which was the forerunner of the Parish Board. This approach was a function of the times, and also a common model in small churches. As FRS grew and people’s lives became busier, fewer and fewer people volunteered to do committee work, and the staff became more burdened. At the same time, the UUA adopted a policy governance model and this was a catalyst for the FRS to consider doing the same.

The Parish Board spent a year in 2011 studying Dan Hotchkiss’ book, Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, to become familiar with a type of policy-based governance that works well in churches. This model sets clear boundaries between management and oversight, leaving the management of the church to the staff, and primarily to the Minister who is recognized as the Executive. This term is meant to distinguish the role of the Minister separate from his or her role as Spiritual Leader. You can see how these roles are distinguished on the organizational chart. The Minister as Spiritual Leader has no accountability, except to the congregation. The Minister as Executive is accountable to the Parish Board as the manager of staff in overseeing the operations of the church.

The Parish Board’s role in the policy-based governance model is to oversee the operations of the church. This is accomplished through policy. The Parish Board has created policies, and continues to create them as needed, that guide the operation of the church. The Parish Board creates policy; the staff implements the policy and then reports back to the board about that implementation. This is how the board conducts its oversight.

The benefits of a policy-based governance model are many. For the FRS it has given the Parish Board the opportunity to look beyond the day-to-day challenges of running the church, allowing the Board to pay more attention to strategic planning and the future needs of an organization that continues to grow. For the first time in anyone’s knowledge, the board created a five-year strategic plan that it has followed since its inception. It is now in year four and will take us through the second year of the Interim Ministry, just in time to create a new plan with a new settled Minister.

In the next article we will talk more about the strategic plan and how the Parish Board has attended to it over the last few years.

--Marie Murphy, Governance Committee Chair