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Process for Handling Complaints of Misconduct in your Congregation

Unlike many other religious bodies, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is an association of member individual and independent congregations. The role of the UUA is to provide support to its member congregations. It does not govern them. In our tradition of congregational polity, each member congregation has the power to ordain, call/hire, supervise and dismiss ministers and other staff; and to do so independently of the UUA. It is the congregation, not the Association, that takes responsibility for regulation of its own policies and staff. Knowing the correct procedures for screening paid and volunteer staff is an essential piece of responsible staffing.

The UUA Office of Ethics and Safety, in addition to broad support for safe congregations and right relations, provides a system for response to complaints of professional misconduct that is grounded in principles of restorative justice and reconciliation. These principles are expressed by:

  • pastoral concern and response to persons victimized
  • concern for the health and well being of congregations
  • concern for the integrity of the ministry and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)
  • congruency with Unitarian Universalist (UU) principles
  • transparency

The process, managed by the Office for Ethics and Safety, will:

  • receive and investigate complaints
  • coordinate support services to affected individuals and congregations
  • present cases for adjudication by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee
  • involve investigators and liaisons as needed, the latter providing both pastoral support and process information/advice to the complainant
  • involve, when needed, a crisis response team, to provide support to congregational staff and leaders
  • include an education and training component for congregational leaders

In May of 2000 an Ad Hoc Task Force on Ethics and Congregational Life was convened by Unitarian Universalists Association (UUA) of Congregations Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery to recommend clarifying positive changes in the UUA process for responding to complaints of ministerial misconduct. In March of 2001 the Task Force concluded its work, presenting recommendations for improvements. In July 2002, as a part of the restructuring of UUA staff, those recommendations were used to guide changes in the process for handling complaints of misconduct. 

In July 2009, the Religious Institute, with support from the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock and the leadership staff of the UUA, began a systematic review of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s sexuality-related policies, programs, advocacy, and commitments. The resulting report, Toward a Sexually Healthy and Responsible Unitarian Universalist Association (PDF), 45 pages), prompted a review of the complaint process in the fall of 2010.  The revised process is described below.

The Process

(Note: the term religious professional is used to refer to (1) ministers and (2) religious educators who are members of Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA), including those who are or may be seeking credentialing with the UUA, and (3) music leaders who are members of the Unitarian Universalist Musician Network (UUMN), including those who are or may be seeking credentialing with the UUA. The UUA Consultant in this context can mean either an external consultant or the Director of Ministry and Faith Development. )

The UUA intake person is the primary point of contact for any person wishing to report an alleged instance of misconduct by a religious professional. This function reports to the Program and Strategy Officer.

At the "intake" stage the UUA intake person has the discretion to refer matters not suitable for adjudication by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC), to other resources such as District Staff, Ministry and Faith Development staff, Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA), LREDA Good Offices, etc.

At any point in the process the UUA Intake Person may consult with the Director for Ministry and Faith Development, the Director for Congregational Life, and/or the UUA Executive Vice President.

The UUA Intake Person hears the complaint, provides information on the process and responds to questions from the complainant. Once the complainant decides to make an official complaint, the complaint is then referred to the UUA Consultant. An official complaint must be made in writing. It can be submitted via U.S. Mail or email to safecongregations @ The mailing address is: Heather Bond, Office of Ethics and Safety/ UUA, 25 Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02108.

When/if a complaint is received in writing; the UUA Consultant contacts the religious professional to inform him/her of the complaint.

If the complaint warrants, the UUA Consultant will conduct interviews and other fact-finding activities. If warranted, it is the Consultant's responsibility to define the scope of the case to be presented to the MFC.

In certain instances, the religious professional may not contest the factual basis for the complaint. This is referred to as self-disclosure. In cases of self-disclosure, the religious professional may enter into negotiations for a voluntary resolution without the necessity of an investigation. The UUA Consultant will be a focal point for such negotiations and the complainant will be consulted with respect to the proposed resolution.

If it is determined that the case is to be adjudicated by the MFC, the UUA Consultant will have responsibility for presenting the case to the Committee. The Consultant may decide to exclude certain parts of a complaint that are not supported by evidence developed during an investigation.

In cases to be investigated and possibly adjudicated by the MFC, a complainant "liaison" will be a point of contact and communication between the aggrieved party and those involved in the process on behalf of the UUA.

All participants in any complaint process will be informed that confidentiality may be breached if the UUA Consultant deems it necessary to protect against harm.

Contact Information

Office of Ethics and Safety Voice Mail: (617) 948-6462
Email Contact: safecongregations @

For more information contact safecongregations @

Last updated on Friday, October 3, 2014.

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