We’ve come to the time of year when UUMN conference registration is open and the planners are hoping that lots of people will be signing up. (Our goal is 300 attendees this year.) This has prompted me to do a bit of thinking about what inspired ME to attend my first UUMN conference in Denver in 2005. The answer is very straightforward: My boss told me to go.

When I was applying to be the music director at the UU church in Lincoln, our minster, Rev. Fritz Hudson, told me there was money in the budget which would pay for my membership in UUMN and my attendance at the annual conference. That fact — and the church's expectation that I would attend — motivated me to sign up that first time. And it’s not over-stating it to say that decision changed the course of my life. (But that’s a post for another time…)

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At last summer’s UUMN conference, I attended an outstanding workshop about self-care led by an engaging and incredibly helpful fellow member, Emily Jaworski. The room was filled with an amazing energy…probably because most of us who attended were feeling overwhelmed by the demands on our lives and eager to be given permission to occasionally step off the fast track. Emily did just that. She reminded us that taking time for ourselves should not be viewed as a weakness, but as a strong statement about what’s important.

I returned home determined to intentionally create a work life that would bring joy to my personal life. But I found that it was hard to break the patterns of a established job so I made little changes instead of big ones. It wasn’t until I was hired as the new Executive Administrator of UUMN that I was able to get serious about implementing some of ideas.

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A significant shift occurred while we were all ringing in the New Year. The national headquarters of UUMN moved from Charlotte, North Carolina (where our retired Executive Administrator lives) to Lincoln, Nebraska (where I live.) More specifically, UUMN moved into a partnership with the Unitarian Church of Lincoln. The church building, located at 6300 A St., will provide an official address for UUMN as well as storage, access to a copier and use of office supplies. In return, UUMN will make a donation to the church at the end of the year. 

When I approached my church about this possibility, I was a little nervous. Even though we had recently undergone a renovation, I knew storage space was still tight. But the response from the staff and the Board was incredibly enthusiastic. Our church had recently voted to undertake a "Big Idea" of partnering with outside organizations which share our values, so the timing was perfect. Our Administrator instantly identified a drawer which could be dedicated to our incoming mail and small packages. Our interim minister Gretchen Woods (a former Moderator for UUMN) was, of course, all in favor of this idea. And the Board President's joyful response was, "Well, this sounds like it would be fun! Let's do it!"

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This week, I've been trying to get a grip on the reins which have been passed to me by our retired Executive Administrator, Donna Fisher. I've learned that there are a whole lot of little pieces and parts to this wonderful organization. Donna and I have been videoconferencing (see screenshot at right) and working through pages and pages of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which she generously created. She's been incredibly patient in passing along her vast institutional knowledge and I've probably captured only a small fraction of it. But regardless, this week we took a big step:

Donna stopped receiving emails at the address.

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Elizabeth Alexanderoffered by Elizabeth Alexander, UU composer and UUMN blog contributor

During the process of negotiating a commissioning contract, questions abound. After an inspiring initial phone call, emails start flying back and forth between the composer (me) and the commissioning party, as we share and shape our vision for the new composition and its premiere. In addition to fairly typical questions about specific parameters – duration? difficulty? deadline? – there are occasionally more profound questions which stop me in my tracks, asking me to dig a little deeper and respond from my heart.
I received just that type of question earlier today, from the music committee of a Unitarian Universalist church that was commissioning a new piece for their upcoming building dedication:

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A recap of the February 2015 Board of Trustees meeting offered by Marjorie Herman, Member At Large

UUMN Board 2015At the opening of our weekend together in Houston, the UUMN Board realized that we are a Board in transition, with several members being new this year, and two preparing to leave in a few months. This was Deb Weiner’s first face-to-face meeting since taking over as Moderator, and to get all of us on the same page, she directed us in developing an organizational time-line to concretize the history of the UUMN, and identify the organization’s major themes which might help us plot its future focus. The time-line extended from 1980 to the present, and included major events in the organization’s history, and trends in congregational music, in the life of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and in world events. It was a truly meaningful exercise for those who were new to the Board, and also served as a contextual reminder for those who have already served.Work with LREDA and UUMA

On Saturday morning, Beth Norton and Keith Arnold joined us for a Zoom video conference to report on the interaction between implementation efforts for the Excellence in Shared Ministry Report and the work of the Good Officers. They reported that progress, albeit slow, is being made in aligning the intersections of these two groups as they connect with the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA).

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The UUMN discussion list has been a vital part of our network for many years. Our new online system offers us the opportunity to host those discussions on our own site. This means we are now able to:

  • let members choose which Forums are of interest to them.
  • include formatting and attachments with our messages.
  • see the photos and profiles of those involved in the discussions.
  • make some of the discussions open to the public.

We know that change is hard and that the transition to using new Forums will be daunting to some of our members. So our current e-list will stay active for the next year as we start utilizing our new system and figuring out all of its quirks. We also have a team of members who will be archiving the past discussions so that we can make them available as searchable documents on our new site.

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CirclesRemember those break-out sessions at the conference where members with similar interests and needs meet to ask questions and solicit advice? Our new website offers us the potential to do that same thing year-round. Using the “Circles” feature on our site, members can create and/or join various affinity groups and communicate about specific issues. 

So how does a member know whether to create a Circle or to instead post a question to the general UUMN discussion group? The answer lies in how broad the question is.

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Mark Allstrom

I was born in New York City and grew up in Westchester County where I went to Sunday School at the White Plains Community Unitarian Church. I studied philosophy and music at Beloit College in Wisconsin and began writing songs there.

At 25, I decided to enter the UU ministry and I enrolled at Meadville/Lombard Theological School and the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. I was the summer assistant to the ministers at the Community Church of New York in 1982 and 1984 and I worked at the World Conference on Religion and Peace at UN Headquarters in the summer of 1982. I did a chaplaincy at the Texas Medical Center and an internship at May Memorial Unitarian Society (where I wrote my first hymn) and the University of Syracuse, NY. I graduated from the U of C in 1983 with a Masters in Religious Studies and M/L in 1985 with a Doctorate of Ministry. I also won both the John Haynes Holmes and the John Wolf preaching scholarships.

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Scott RoeweScott Roewe, Director of Publications

I grew up attending a the First Unitarian Universalist church of Wilmington, Delaware until I was about 16. I got involved with the church again in in my mid 30's singing in the choir at the UU church in Santa Monica, Ca. After hearing me perform some of my music, a visiting minister, Reverend Rick Hoyt, asked me to serve a music director in Santa Clarita, CA where I have been music director for ten years. I joined the UUMN to "up my game" and become a better music director.

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Beth Norton

Elizabeth Norton, Good Offices Co-Chair

This year marks my 20th serving as Music Director to this large New England UU congregation.I came to Concord and to Unitarian Universalism after a decade of teaching music in independent schools and performing as a singer, conductor and violinist. I was raised as a Presbyterian, but had also attended and led music in other mainline denominations. Music ministry is definitely my calling.

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Dana Decker, UUMN Trustee at Large Dana Decker

Dana Decker, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, began his professional career as an electric and acoustic bassist. In 2006 Dana began to focus on composition, specifically writing worship music for liberal faiths, and this writing eventually led to the release of Dana’s first worship album in 2008 entitled When We Sing. In September of 2008 Dana was hired as the first ever Contemporary Worship Associate at First UU Church of San Diego. In 2012 Dana became the Associate Director of Music at First Church and he has been using this experience to build a “model” for contemporary worship within the UU movement.

Muusica EventUUMN members in the DC area recently carried out our mission to "support and motivate one another in joyous and loving community." On March 29, almost 300 singers from sixteen UU churches gathered at All Souls Unitarian for a day of singing and community building.

MUUSICA, the DC area music directors group, commissioned a new choral piece from renowned composer Jim Papoulis, who joined them for the event. The day culminated with a special worship service of music and readings; the mass choir presented six anthems and led hymn singing. A free will offering was collected to benefit Jim Papoulis’ Foundation for Small Voices. The organizers were thrilled to raise over $3,000 for that worthwhile organization.

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Tim AndersonLike a lot of UUMN members, I spent the first part of my church music career working for other denominations. Upon returning to Rockford twenty years ago, I spent a year as organist at a small Episcopal church, two years as choir director/organist at a medium-sized Lutheran (ELCA) church, and seven years as Director of Music at a large Presbyterian (USA) church. During that time, I was invited occasionally to play at the Unitarian Universalist church, usually to accompany the larger musical undertakings of my predecessor, Kay Hotchkiss. I enjoyed making music with Kay and the Unicantors (the UU Rockford choir), and I especially enjoyed the liberal theology that informed the worship services in which I participated. After decades of working in churches where my beliefs didn’t match their theology, I found myself less and less engaged in the worship that I was supposed to be helping to lead. When Kay decided to give up the reins after over five decades of service, I jumped at the opportunity to be able finally to work at a church where I felt I could participate fully in worship. It’s been ten years now, and I’ve never looked back and couldn’t be happier!

I had to put off going to UUMN conferences for a couple of years because I was finishing up my degree at Middlebury College during the summers. My first conference was in St. Paul, where I will never forget the feeling of standing to be recognized with all the other first-timers as we all sang “Come and Go with Me” together. I guess I took that message to heart. When asked to serve on the newly-reconfigured Conference Planning Committee in 2008 along with several of my area colleagues, I gladly said yes. Work on that committee led to a request to serve on the Board of Trustees as Treasurer, which led to serving as your current President. I feel like I have learned a lot from all of you over the past several years. I look forward to learning even more over the next three years. Most of all, I look forward to greeting you all in San Diego in July – especially the first-timers, to whom I will extend the same invitation you all extended to me in song in St. Paul.

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Anne Watson BornI am a classically-trained musician, primarily a choral conductor. I have worked as a conductor for (gulp) some 35 years and during that time I have worked for several different religious denominations. In 2007, I became the Director of Music Ministry at the First Unitarian Society in Newton and I have found my spiritual home in Unitarian Universalism.

I joined UUMN right away in 2007 because a) my congregation encouraged me to do so and b) I needed help in planning worship services and choosing repertoire. UUMN has been a fantastic resource for me.

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Elizabeth AlexanderI was raised in the Carolinas and Appalachian Ohio by a piano teacher mother who taught me to love music, and a minister father who taught me to love language. Webelieved in a tolerant God, social justice, hard work, speaking our minds, harmonizing loudly, and eating waffles on Sunday nights. I wrote many songs when I was a teenager, some of which were not too bad. All in all, it was a pretty good way to grow up.

In college I learned that the canon of music was bigger and more amazing than I’d ever dreamed, and that music theory held more expressive possibilities than I could ever fully explore. After nine years in the academic world, with a fresh doctoral degree in hand, I set out to become a “freelance composer.” The only problem was that I had absolutely no idea what that meant.

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In our recent survey, seventy UUMN members described themselves as composers. They were invited to submit a composer profile as part of a new series, "The YOU in UUMN." Today we begin sharing those profiles:

Michael LouiI like to tell people that I direct the Children's Choir at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign, and in my spare time, I teach electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois. I have composed and arranged music for piano since I was in high school. Except for one course in music theory in high school and one in college, I have had no formal training in music, and none at all in choral conducting. When I became director of the Children's Choir in 2002, I found that some of the music that I wanted to program was in the wrong key for the children's vocal range. So I had to transpose the music. At that point, I decided to change the harmony, and then I added an instrumental part.

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UUMN Board

Every winter, our Board of Trustees gathers for a face-to-face meeting. This year, eight of our members (pictured at right) braved some fairly inhospitable weather inCharlotte, NC in order to vision about the future of our organization. So what were they discussing this year? Along with reviewing reports from our wonderful program directors, the Board considered exciting new opportunities for collaboration with our colleagues at the UUA, as well as discussing UUMN’s presence at the upcoming General Assembly in Providence. Collaboration with our fellow religious leaders in LREDA and UUMA also figured in the agenda for the meetings as we take the first steps in implementing the recommendations set forth in the report shared last year from the Task Force for Excellence in Shared Ministry (

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Vincent Silliman's work in the middle half of the 20th Century helped shape the hymnody of Unitarian Universalism. UUMN members are invited continue his musical mission by submitting compositions to the 2014 Vincent Silliman Hymn Competition. The deadline is March 1, 2014 and details about the competition can be found here.

Director of Publications, Scott Roewe, recently spoke with the Reverend Dr. Richard Speck, one of the judges for the 2014 Vincent Silliman Hymn Competition. Reverend Speck recently finished writing a book about the competition's namesake.

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by Keith Arnold, Minister of Music 
Jefferson Unitarian Church • Golden, CO

Keith Arnold

In 2002, I was asked by a congregation member who was on the Board of The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado (TIA-CO) if I would consider organizing a concert performance that would bring together the sounds of different faiths, on behalf of TIA-CO. The idea was to present a “Sacred Celebration,” an honoring of many musical and religious traditions. After our Senior Minister endorsed my spending church time on this outreach project, I began a six-year involvement in this endeavor, directing annual Interfaith Music Festivals at large religious centers throughout our metro area.

Each year, in a letter inviting potential participants, I shared that “The concert is designed as a metro-wide event to bring together people of many beliefs and backgrounds, each expressing faith through music, dance, and storytelling.” Through the six years that I was involved, the festival featured such presenters and sounds as Hindu chanting, handbell ringing, Protestant and Catholic choirs, Jewish cantors, Unitarian Universalist choirs, Hindu dancers, a Jewish-Sufi fusion band, chanting of the Koran, a Spirituals Choir, and a Buddhist youth rock band.

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