An Interview with New Moderator Gini Courter
On October 19, 2003, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Board of Trustees voted to elect Gini Courter of Traverse City, Michigan as Interim UUA Moderator. Courter, a longtime lay leader for the Association, completed eight years on the UUA Board of Trustees in June 2003 and was elected to the General Assembly (GA) Planning Committee, serving as Secretary of that body. We recently sat down with her to talk about her vision for the Association, her priorities, and her passion for Unitarian Universalism (UUism).
Q: When did you become a UU—or have you been one all your life?
I was raised a Methodist. I left the Methodist church at age 14 and spent the next 13 years wandering around in a variety of traditions, including the Society of Friends (Quakers) and an independent evangelical congregation.
In the mid-1970s, a local took me on a tour of the three things you “have to see” in Memphis, Tennessee: the Soo-ey Pig Barbeque, Graceland, and the Unitarian Church. The church, now served by UU Board member the Reverend Burton Carley, has a beautiful sanctuary that ramps down to a stunning view of the Mississippi River, a space that made me feel comforted and somehow connected. I realized later that the barbeque visit had been included for shock value, but I didn't realize that there were Unitarian Churches in Michigan, too.
Like many of us, I went to my first Unitarian Universalist service because a friend said, “I think you're a UU.” The church was two miles from my parents' home. My family had driven by the UU church every week on the way to the Methodist church. The church had poor signage, so I'd always assumed it was a storage building for the neighboring community theater group. I attended the church for over a year before I joined in 1985.
Q: What was it that attracted you to UUism?
Initially, I fell in love with our history. Before I joined the church, I spent a summer typing the Reverend Charlotte Cowtan's M.Div. thesis on the history of the Western Unitarian Conference and Sunday School Society, and I fell in love with our radical and expansive history in the Midwest.
Q: What about denominational activities?
At GA in 1985, an RE Director suggested that I should get involved with my district, so I volunteered to serve on the Michigan District board [now part of the Heartland District] and was elected as finance chair.
I also became involved in district growth programs. The Michigan District decided that we had an opportunity to grow and add congregations when we hadn't added one in over twenty years. The chair of our Extension committee approached me to help encourage congregational support for a new congregation start. As a result of that initial effort, congregations formed the Southeast Michigan Growth Project cluster, which helped member congregations create a culture around growth and hospitality as well as launching a new congregation in an underserved area.
While serving on the Michigan district board, I was trained by the UUA to conduct Beyond Categorical Thinking workshops (BCT). BCT workshops are held when a congregation is searching for a minister. As a BCT trainer, I get to help the members of a congregation reflect on the importance of ministry and the value of diversity at a critical point in their congregation's life.
Following my work on the district board, I was elected to the UUA Board of Trustees. I loved being a member of the UUA Board. Serving on the board for eight years has been one of the most pivotal experiences in my life. I came on the board as one of nine new board members. I was not clear how I would ever fit on the board: there were times when I disagreed with the board's direction, and I did not know how I would find my own voice on those issues. But the board was exceptionally committed and well-led, so there was a place for me to raise concerns in a way that made me feel both valued and heard. And the fact that other people felt free to push back on me, sometimes quite hard, made it clear that they heard me. My service on the board was life-changing, and valuable, and authentic.
Q: What most excites you about this work?
A number of things: the opportunity to engage congregations and members of congregations in the life of the Association. Our church in Fenton, Michigan uses the phrase “All are worthy, all are welcome” to describe themselves. In too many communities, Unitarian Universalist congregations may be the only places where this is true: where every individual who walks through the door can expect to be treated with dignity and hospitality. I want to help create a GA experience that is as spiritually rewarding as possible so that all who attend are well equipped to return home, roll up their sleeves, and do the work of the congregation.
Another exciting thing is being working with UUA President the Reverend Bill Sinkford. He is focused on the things that make a difference: our congregations' growth and public witness. Bill understands that being focused on growing our faith means there are some things the Association must choose not to do. We don't operate with unlimited resources, so choices must be made. This is a critical time. Our voice must be present in the public conversation. Our congregations must be visible and vocal so that others who need our religious message can find us.
And I am excited to work with the UUA board. This is an energizing time to be the Moderator of the UUA.
Q: Two years ago at GA, you were part of a presentation that talked about
what the UUA Board does . Are there things you want to change about
what gets done at board meetings and around ‘the edges of
There isn't a lot I want to change. There are things I want to help the Board change if they want to change them. At every meeting, the Board is transforming itself in some interesting and evolutionary ways.
The board is engaged in a high level of self-organization. You don't get to be a Trustee or elected officer without having exhibited a lot of leadership. Leaders innovate, which is what the UUA Board is doing. As Moderator, my challenge is to determine where I can add value to an already rich conversation. What I bring to the table is experience on the UUA Board, district boards, and experience—albeit brief—on the GA Planning Committee. Serving as Moderator gives me a chance to weave all that experience together.
Q: And speaking of what people do in meetings, what do you do when
you're not working for the UUA?
I am an information technology consultant, a nationally recognized speaker on office collaboration and productivity tools, and the author or co-author of 28 books on technology . And so people don't think I'm just a geek, I'll also confess that I collect teddy bears. I know I don't have enough because there are horizontal surfaces in my home that aren't yet fur covered.
I'm a member of the UU Congregation of Grand Traverse in Traverse City, Michigan. My family lives on a small farm thirty miles southwest of town, and if the term “school bus road” means something where you live, we're on one of those. We have two cats named Data and Sherman, and an unintentional pet—the skunk living in the woodshed. Part of my life focus is keeping the intentional and the unintentional pets separate. When I'm unsuccessful, I shop for large cans of tomato juice.
Q: Are you planning to run for Moderator in the election that will be
held at Long Beach? And what about after that?
I am already running for Moderator for the election that will be held at Long Beach. I chose to declare my intention to run prior to the board's appointment so that if I had not been appointed, my decision to run would not in any way reflect on the actions of the UUA board. It was important that my candidacy not be construed as a statement about choices that the board made. So I am running in 2004, and if elected, intend to seek a full four-year term in 2005.
I am very proud to be the Moderator of the UUA. This is a wonderful job to have, and I am not just excited… I am in awe of the enormous trust that people have placed in me. I think that awe is appropriate—it motivates me to work very hard to do a good job.
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Last updated on Friday, July 22, 2011.