Many of the decisions West made, said Sinkford, caused him deep pain. "He
always had the best interests of the Association in mind, and we handled the
differences of opinion badly." Sinkford noted that time has headled many of
these wounds and that "these days, Bob West returns frequently to 25 Beacon
Street, and his contributions to our work on civil liberties are welcome."
Sinkford told delegates that "what we do now would not be possible without Bob
West's preservation of our Association." Sinkford said, "Let us learn from him
to trust leaders at every level," and added that her personally thanked West,
and apologized to him for the treatment he had received in the past. "May we
name his return to us a blessing," Sinkford said, adding that the award would be
presented to West this fall in Boston.
By the Rev. William G. Sinkford, UUA President, delivered at the UUA General Assembly, June 27, 2004, Long
This year's recipient of the DSA is the Rev. Dr.
Robert Nelson West.
Bob cannot be with us here in Long Beach. He is officiating at a long
scheduled family wedding on the east coast. We understand, because these days we
know how important weddings can be.
The UUA Board will present him with this award in person during their October
meeting in Boston.
Let me read to you, from the award citation, the reason for his
After Bob's distinguished career in parish ministry, serving the Tennessee
Valley Unitarian Church in Knoxville, TN (1956-63) and the First Unitarian
Church of Rochester, NY (1963-1969), influential Unitarian Universalists urged
him to run for the UUA Presidency. He was elected in 1969, from a field of seven
candidates, and served until 1977.
Bob led our Association through what were, without a doubt, its most
difficult years. Our finances were in chaos. He had to drastically reduce UUA
staff, attempt to preserve and rebuild our endowment and revitalize the Annual
Program Fund. What has been called the "Black Empowerment Controversy" was
tearing our eight-year-old blended family of faith apart. The Vietnam War was
contentious in our congregations. And Association membership was in sharp
Despite the draconian financial decisions he had to make, Bob always kept his
eyes on the larger social goals and purposes of liberal religion. While it
appeared to many that Unitarian Universalist retreated from engagement with the
difficult issue of race, he kept faith with the quest for racial justice. He had
the great courage to publish the Pentagon Papers. He left the finances of the
Association sound and the spirit of our faith renewed enough so that his
successors could begin the process of rebuilding.
Many of the decisions he made caused him genuine pain. Though with hindsight,
we can imagine other possible decisions, we know that Bob always had the best
interests of the Association in mind. But also with hindsight, Unitarian
Universalism handled our disagreements badly. Bob suffered abuse that was
shameful, especially in a religious community. It took its toll. After the
Presidency, Bob moved away from active relationship with our faith and worked in
the private sector, as an administrator in two prominent Boston law firms.
Thankfully, he now frequently returns as a visitor to 25 Beacon St. and is a
welcomed contributor to our work on civil liberties and our history.
This award honors Robert West for the faithful stewardship he exercised in
his leadership. Our success now would not be possible had he not preserved this
institution through those difficult days. Let us learn from his years as our
President to trust the good will of those we select for leadership, at every
level. We thank him, and apologize to him and name his renewed presence among us
as a blessing.
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.
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