UUA President Peter Morales's Report, 2015
This report from Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Peter Morales, is an excerpt from General Session II, General Assembly 2015.
The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.
Moderator: It is my pleasure to welcome the President of our Association, Rev. Peter Morales, for his report to the delegates. He will be joined by some of the senior staff.
Peter Morales: Good morning!
Wow. Just look at this hall. It is wonderful to see so many people here. I love the GA’s that have a high attendance.
Returning to Oregon is always special. Twenty years ago I began my UU journey in Eugene, a couple of hours south of here.
This is my sixth president’s report at General Assembly. So much has happened. I have been thinking about the things we have done together that I feel most proud of. That scene of a sea of yellow shirts and candles outside Tent City at Justice GA in Phoenix is a precious memory. I recall how thousands of UUs showed up at the Moral March in North Carolina and the Climate March in New York City.
I remember launching the College of Social Justice with the UUSC. I think of how our staff, your staff, worked thousands of extra hours to imagine and design a headquarters for the 21st century.
Do you see a pattern? We are at our best when we work together—together with other UU’s, with other congregations, with other faiths, with organizations that are working for compassion and justice. Together we are not only more powerful; together we create new possibilities.
In this morning’s report I want to tell you about a small sample of what our Association is doing to shape the future. I want you to feel proud of what your Association is doing. Your generosity fuels our work, and together we amplify the love and the power of Unitarian Universalism. I will ask a couple of my colleagues on our Leadership Council to tell you about some of the work they are heading up.
Let be briefly introduce the members of the Leadership Council.
- Harlan Limpert is our chief operating officer. He runs our day to day operations “the man behind the curtain” at the UUA.
- Terasa Cooley is our Program and Strategy Officer. She oversees and coordinates our program areas.
- Sarah Lammert is director of Ministries and Faith Development.
- Taquiena Boston leads our Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group.
- Scott Tayler is director of Congregational Life. He oversees our field staff across the country.
- John Hurley is head of communications. He oversees our public witness team, UU World, Skinner House Books and the Bookstore.
- Tim Brennan is our Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer. He also leads our shareholder advocacy work.
- Mark Steinwinter leads our Information Technology team.
- Rob Molla is head of Human Resources and led the design team for our new headquarters.
- Mary Katherine Morn leads our Stewardship and Development staff group.
- Helene Atwan, director of Beacon Press, is not able to be here this morning.
They are an amazing team.
In addition to getting a flavor of important work, I want you to see how we are doing our best work, because how our best work is being done is critically important.
Third, I want to share with you what I see as our great challenges and opportunities in the coming years.
Let me begin with our program in entrepreneurial ministry. We all know that we live in times of historic change in our religious institutions. Leaders today need to lead change, to innovate, to take risks.
Together with the UU Ministers Association, we are partnering with leading business school faculty across the country. Let me show you a short clip from the first session: [video clip of Asilomar session—transcription sent with video]
As I travel around the country I meet UU’s [Slide #1] of all ages who are eager to make a difference, hungry for an opportunity [Slide #2] to bear witness to another way. Public witness isn’t just political action, [Slide #3] it is spiritual practice.
During the last year images of police killing unarmed black men has shocked us all. In Ferguson and Baltimore and Cleveland and elsewhere we continue to raise our voices. I want to ask Taquiena Boston, director of our Multicultural Growth and Witness staff team, to talk about our commitment going forward.
Taquiena Boston: At a recent gathering, multifaith leaders grappled with the question” What must we, the Multifaith Movement do, to advance racial justice?”
The UUA surveyed Unitarian Universalists asking a similar question about our faith’s role in advancing racial justice. The consistent response? We must follow the lead of communities of color—those who suffer most from the evils of racism economically, politically, socially, culturally, bodily, and spiritually.
All over the country [Slide #4] Unitarian Universalists are engaging #BlackLivesMatter, #Not1More, and understanding how racial justice is at the heart of the climate justice, economic justice, the New Jim Crow, immigration, LGBTQ equity, and reproductive justice movements. In partnership with you, the UUA provides financial and spiritual resources, and support with witness, advocacy and social media.
This General Assembly offers substantive opportunities to network and strategize with frontline racial justice leaders to build a new way to Beloved Community.
This fall the UUA will unite Unitarian Universalists, and non-UU organizers and leaders—including #BlackLivesMatter—to identify our faith’s particular role in advancing racial justice.
Fifty years ago, [Slide #5] Unitarian Universalists answered the call to Selma, Alabama, in support of voting rights for African Americans living in the South. We marched, witnessed, organized, and worked in solidarity with communities of color. [Slide #6] Today’s call of faith, love, and justice is no less urgent. And Unitarian Universalists again are saying “yes.”
Peter Morales: And say yes to the Moral March [Slide #7] on July 13 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Voting rights must be defended and we must show up.
Thank you Taquiena.
Because we are at our best when we work together, we need to remove barriers that separate us and that make collaboration difficult. It no longer makes sense to have our staff in the field divided into 19 separate districts. In the last few years we have made tremendous progress in creating one unified national staff.
This effort has gone by the name of “regionalization.” Scott Tayler, our director of Congregational Life, has been doing heroic work to move this along. Scott, tell us where we are and why you are so passionate about this work.
Scott Tayler: Regionalization is one of our UUA’s most creative, extensive and inspiring undertakings.
Practically speaking, it involves restructuring ourselves [Slide #8] from 19 largely independent districts into five stronger,[Slide #9] more aligned regions. Each region is pursuing this structural streamlining in their own unique way, but all are seeing tremendous gifts. We’ve reduced administrative and governance redundancies, freed up capacity for more congregational support and created larger, more flexible and better integrated field staff teams.
But the larger gift is spiritual. From its beginning, regionalization has been about modeling and embodying our theology of interdependence. This is ultimately why our UUA has made it a priority. The larger hope is to inspire and support a similar deepening of relationship between our congregations and covenanted communities. As we move together into the ever-increasing challenges of 21st century church life, there is less and less room for the imagined autonomy of the past. Regionalization’s great gift to us all is its invitation to shift from an association of independent congregations to an association of radically interdependent congregations!
This is the wider journey of which regionalization is a part. It is an exciting journey. Even a holy one. Thanks to the many district and associational leaders that have helped us see that so clearly.
Peter Morales: Thank you, Scott.
Something struck me 10 years ago while serving as a parish minister in Colorado. As I stood out front greeting people Sunday morning, I realized that most first time visitors already recognized me and knew my name. While this was their first physical visit, they had already been visiting electronically. Our web site was our true front door.
Not only is your congregation’s web site your front door, UUA.org is the front door to our movement. Our website is often the gateway to your website. Last year UUA.org [Slide #10] received over one million first time visitors, an increase of almost 10 percent over the previous year.
Our movement’s front door needed some sprucing up. This [Slide #11] was a huge effort, for our site has something like 20,000 pages. We had to rebuild from the foundation. I think our staff did a terrific job.
You’ve told us that your congregation’s website needed sprucing up, too. We have created a [Slide #12] template that congregations can use. We are unveiling the template at this GA.
In addition, we have completely redone [Slide 13] uuworld.org. The site is also mobile friendly.
One of the important ways we promote our values is our book publishing. Beacon Press continues to be a thought leader in social justice. Beacon has been on a roll. Beacon is increasing the number of books they publish. This year’s [Slide #14] Ware Lecturer, the Rev. Dr. Cornel West, is a Beacon author.
Last year Beacon authors spoke at over 500 events.
Skinner House continues to publish wonderful titles on an ever broaden number of subjects. [Slide #15] Here is a sample of new titles
Be sure to get to the bookstore in the exhibit hall.
Because of our respect for all religious traditions, Unitarian Universalist ministers are particularly suited to chaplaincy duties where there are people of many faiths. For many years we have done this work in hospitals and hospice settings. In recent years the number of UU ministers serving [Slide #16] in the military has grown. Those who serve [Slide #17] in our armed forces are mostly young people from a wide variety of religious backgrounds who find themselves thrown into immensely stressful situations.
We have a few of our military chaplains here. Thank you for your service.
Our work in this ministry continues to expand. Sarah Lammert, our Director of Ministries and Faith Development, has been voted the chair elect of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces. Sarah is the second woman and the first Unitarian Universalist to hold this important position. This is a great honor.
But our ministry to people who serve in the military is not just the work of military chaplains. We have created resources to help all our congregations participate in this important ministry.
What makes all this good work possible? You do! Your support makes it happen. All our work happens because our member congregations support their association through the [Slide #18] Annual Program Fund. Together we amplify our power and our voices.
A fun way to learn more about your Association, meet leaders and connect with other UU’s is to join the APF scavenger hunt [Slide #19] throughout the day tomorrow. Get the Scavify app on your phone.
I said earlier that the best work we have done has been when we create partnerships.
Partnerships are not organizational tactics. Partnerships are how we live out our theology. We are a religious movement who has always believed that when people come together and freely commit themselves to one another and to their highest aspirations, blessings will abound.
We are building relationships on so many levels—your board of trustees and the administration have formed a true partnership; clusters of congregations are working together; we are collaborating with advocates for justice, partnering with the UUSC, the UUMA, and building relationships with other faith traditions not because it is organizationally smart (though it is), but because when we connect with common purpose we unleash power and create new opportunities. Love is a relationship. When love guides us, we seek ways to act together.
Looking at the years ahead, we face awesome challenges and breathtaking opportunities.
Seven years ago, when I was a candidate for president, I talked about the fact that half our parish ministers were 58 and older and that we would face a huge turnover. Then the economic crisis hit and the high number of retirements did not materialize. All that has changed. At this GA’s Service of the Living Tradition we will honor a record number of retirees.
We [Slide #20] suddenly do not have enough interim ministers to fill all the open positions.
But there is another side. The number of people expressing an interest in UU ministry is rising and the quality of new ministers is outstanding.
The Quakers have a wonderful saying: “When way closes, way will open.” Traditional congregational life faces challenges ranging from a changing culture that is skeptical of traditional religious organizations to a generational changing of the guard in ministry.
At the same time we have a wonderful outpouring of creativity and passion in a variety of emerging groups. Our staff is working closely with them to support and nurture their efforts, and the board of trustees is changing the very definition of congregation. Your will hear more about that in the board report.
Beyond the challenges we face as a religious movement, we face challenges as human beings living on earth. The greatest of these is climate change caused by the fuels we burn to support the way we live. Environmental justice is the focus of our public witness at this GA. More importantly, it will shape the very future of humanity.
We are all part of the problem; we must all be part of creating a solution. [Slide #21] The Commit 2 Respond effort is part of an effort to build a new way.
Last year we passed a business resolution on fossil fuel divestment. Tim Brennan, our treasurer, has worked closely with our investment committees. Our work goes beyond divestment to include climate solution investments and shareholder advocacy. I urge you to learn the details at the workshop #237 at 1:15 today.
Every time I attend a public witness event, whether it is about immigration, voting rights, anti-racism, environmental justice or marriage equality, other faith leaders are there, too. There are Protestants, Jews, Catholics, Muslims and others. We work together easily. We have moved beyond tolerance to acceptance and even appreciation. We form strong relationships.
What we never do is reach out together to serve the spiritual needs of millions of religiously homeless people. I am convinced that the future of liberal religion is interfaith and multi-faith.
We have a historic opportunity to work together to create a multifaith future. I recently hosted a meeting of leaders from the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Islamic Circle of North America, Religions for Peace and the United Religions Initiative to explore how we might collaborate. We are at the very early stages, but I can tell you that we all are committed to further work.
General Assembly next year, in Columbus Ohio, will have a multi-faith focus. The theme is “Heart Land: Where Faiths Connect.” We UU’s have an essential leadership role to play helping faiths to connect. We are multi-faith at our very core.
There is so much more I would love to tell you about. [Slide #22] Check out our annual report (PDF, 38 pages).
Your Association staff is doing important work. Maybe I am a little biased, but I believe our Association has the finest staff it has ever had. Would the UUA staff here this morning please rise as you are able?
You, all of you, make the work of our Association possible. Together we are so much stronger, so much more creative. Together we can face our challenges and seize the historic opportunities before us.
Finally, on a personal note, thank you for this great privilege of serving as your president.