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What is MWLS?

What is MidWest Leadership School (MWLS)?

Part of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s nationwide network of leadership schools, MidWest Leadership School is a week-long intensive program in leadership and group dynamics. Through workshops, discussions, and intimate small groups led by lay and ordained staff with a deep understanding of UU congregations, MWLS:

  • develops both youth and adults into congregational leaders
  • provides leadership tools and skills
  • deepens Unitarian Universalist identity
  • provides personal theological exploration and growth
  • offers exposure to worship service preparation

In exchange for wholehearted commitment to a strenuous schedule, MWLS offers a life-changing and congregation-nourishing opportunity.


What do we mean by “intense” and “strenuous schedule”? Throughout its history, MWLS has changed and morphed its approach to leadership. In the beginning more than 30 years ago, the idea was students would do fine after learning concrete skills.  The “break you down to build you up” school of thought was followed. We no longer believe that—today we are called to be adaptive leaders who know how to approach issues, particularly those where there is no clear-cut answer. Sure, we need to teach skills, but we also want to explore with you what it means to be a leader, how do we live in ambiguity, what are we called to do about injustice, and how can we help you be grounded theologically and historically in our religious tradition.

You will attend lectures, work in small groups, and be challenged. Most of the sessions last about an hour, and so you learn, too, how to move from one topic to another.  You’ll find intersections and learnings from one that can help you with another. There are no set answers, but together we ask questions and look for connections, hear each other’s stories, and learn together. You’ll be in small groups to look at your beliefs, and how you are rooted in Unitarian Universalism. You’ll explore spiritual practices. You’ll learn our history. You’ll learn how to lead in groups, especially when the goal isn’t clear. And you’ll gain friends.

The schedule is full: we start when you arrive on Sunday afternoon, and meet every day until you depart on Saturday before lunch. Monday through Friday, we have sessions starting about 8:30 am, and ending with worship after dinner, around 7:30 pm, with a one-hour break in the middle of the day. Wednesday afternoon you are completely off—to catch up on whatever in your life is calling you. Friday night ends with mandatory fun.  Laughter and camaraderie are guaranteed. Although we encourage you to attend everything and sessions build on each other, we know that life calls us in different directions.  You may need to step out for a time, and that is okay.

We’re still developing the program for 2020, but in 2019, sessions included daily history lesson, and classes on communication, covenant, mission, dismantling systemic white supremacy culture, intercultural humility, systems theory and application, and change management. There are times for you to add your own topics, as well.

What also can contribute to the strenuous feel of the school is the weather—although all the buildings are air conditioned, the travel between the buildings at times might be through hot and humid spaces. The IWU Campus is accessible, and we provide mobility assistance with golf carts. We try our best, but we can’t promise great weather!

Adult School Photos

Youth School Photos

Who Is MWLS For?

Youth School

An opportunity for youth entering grades 9-12 to develop leadership skills, MWLS - Youth School operates at the same time as MWLS - Adult School. Some activities, such as multi-generational worship experiences, are shared between the schools. 

Adult School

Are you currently—or soon to be—in an active lay leadership role within your congregation? Do you want to know more about consensus building or conflict management, congregational growth, or social justice issues? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then MWLS - Adult School is for you!

Registration is open to applicants from member congregations in the MidAmerica Region and to seminary students not yet in candidate status. Applicants from other UUA Regions will be considered on a case-by-case basis


JULY of each year (Sunday–Saturday)

  • Both schools use the same arrival and departure times, though the daily calendars are unique.
  • Plan to arrive between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m., Sunday, for check-in and campus tours. (No early check-ins)
  • Unless advance arrangements are made and approved, late arrivals will not be admitted to school.
  • Re-convene at 5:00 Sunday for dinner, orientation, and worship.
  • Meals and activities are scheduled from 7:00 am to 7:15 pm daily, with breaks available between classes and activities, and with Wednesday afternoon off (for the adult school)
  • Depart at noon on Saturday.

Your Commitment

The week-long experience is designed as an integrated curriculum. Each person who enrolls contributes to the learning experience. 

This is an intense week with little free time, filled with intellectual and emotional rigor.

Participants are expected to make a commitment to the formation of this intentional community, to stay the entire week, and to attend all scheduled classes and gatherings. We do understand when life intervenes, but we hope you come with the intention to attending it all! We want you to make the commitment, and we know that you’re the best judge of when you may need to step out. That’s okay. And your classmates can help you catch up on anything you miss.


Beginning in 2020, MidWest Leadership School will take place on the campus of
Illinois Wesleyan University
1312 Park Street
Bloomington, IL 61701