General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Meet the Candidates for Moderator

General Assembly 2000 Event 532

Presenters: Rev. Wayne Arnason, Secretary of the Unitarian Universalist Association; Patsy Sherrill, Diane Olson
Rev. Wayne Arnason, Secretary of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), was moderator for a Candidate's Forum between the two individuals who have declared themselves candidates for the highest ranking volunteer position of the UUA, that of Moderator. Arnason said, "We are fortunate that two individuals with considerable experience in our UU World have declared themselves for candidates." He then introduced the two candidates, Patsy Sherrill Madden and Diane Olson.

Arnason indicated that there would be ten-minute opening statements from each candidate, followed by questions from audience with responses of one minute, followed by brief closing statements.

Opening Statements

Patsy Sherrill Madden

"There are those events and people that change you, and sometimes you don't know that until much later. When I was eleven, I told my parents that I couldn't buy what the southern Baptists were selling…why was not what they wanted to hear. I went to church every Sunday with my grandparents and my brothers and sisters. I discovered that my parents had both dropped out of the church in their mid-teens. My parents told me that I didn't have to go anymore, but that it was my job to figure out what you believe. I spent a lot of time in college going to little groups and that I still made people mad when I asked questions. But when I was in my early twenties, I met my husband Richard and discovered that he was on the same journey.

"Then thirty-four years ago, a Lutheran friend recommended that we go to First Unitarian Church in Houston, TX. He said, 'you'll like that minister'. We moved to Houston and we didn't to the church until we drove by it one night and saw the lights on and stopped. They asked us for $2 and it was a musical festival, which was nice…we were sipping champagne and eating cheese straws. And a woman standing next to me said, 'isn't this nice?…' and I knew I had found a different kind of place.

"Years later were at the Fairfax church in Virginia…it was one of those winters where everything that could go wrong, had. Richard was travelling a lot, I had a two-year-old, and there was a sign saying, 'do you want to be a delegate to General Assembly?' What a difference that has made in my life. When I got home my children said, 'Mom, you ought to do that more often.'

"I have lived in five districts, one of them twice, and in Germany. We have been members of nine societies and have visited many more. When we moved, we would find a Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation, when there wasn't one, we started one and we have done that three times. I have taught RE, been on committees, chaired them, been on Boards, chaired Boards, facilitated workshops for committees, Board, Young Religious Unitarian Universalist (YRUU) advisors, served on the Planning Committee, as business chair, and chair. For the past thirty-four years, my primary work has been with UUism. I have filled probably all the roles that you have filled, taking out trash, making coffee, taking notes, keeping the faith. I have served on elected and appointed committees, and done the grunt work that has to be done. But some of the best work has been as YRUU advisor. Working with teenagers, watching them grow, is really an experience. It makes you grow and stretch and it is rewarding. And I always knew what the latest Metallica and Eurythmics songs were.

"I have enjoyed interfaith work in St. Louis with two groups, have served on two committees…I have also always served in the public schools. St. Louis schools…this is a primarily African American community. (My son) Barrett was educated in such a different way, not just academically. I experienced growth, and served as president of the PTA for three years. We live in a neighborhood that is 60/40 black/white, diverse—the neighborhood is very diverse. There are professionals, blue collar, those who dropped out in middle school, those with multiple degrees. "I want to be the moderator…she presides at General Assembly (GA) and at Board meetings, and I think I bring the background for that. I want to help people enjoy this faith community and this GA as I have for the thirty-four years I have been here, and I would appreciate your vote."

Diane Olson

"I can vividly remember hearing Denny Davidoff speak as a candidate for Moderator eight years ago. A friend said, 'you've got to be crazy to run for a position like that.' So I wasn't surprised that people I didn't know would ask me, 'what makes you crazy enough to do that?' This looks like lots of stress, long hours, low pay. And it is. But for me, and from my perspective, it would allow me to continue the denominational activity work I have loved for twenty-five years. It would allow me to continue to work with my deepest and most expressed values.

"My experience as chair of the Planning Committee allows me to stand here today….to know what kind of Moderator I might be calls you to know who I am. I have not always been a UU, I grew up unchurched, but thought something was missing. My husband was Catholic, but after three years, he left the church. As we drove to Ft. Wayne, IN, we met the UU minister, and we joined the church. And we loved it. Five months after joining the church, Bob and I experienced one of those tragedies that anyone can experience: our first child, a daughter, was stillborn at full term. And that church wrapped us in a cocoon of love I will never forget.

"Since then, UUism has been an integral part of our lives. I have participated in four UU congregations and in many leadership positions. I was elected to the GA Planning Committee in 1993, and as Chair four years in a row—unprecedented in Planning Committee history.

"I am thinking of my struggle as (church) board president as a way to help people heal from an extreme conflict. I am thinking of my four years as chair of the Planning Committee when I work to create a caring, collaborative community…I am thinking of my commitment to justice work, when we struggle to create a more diverse community. "As I began to understand how much our principles really ask of us, three of our UU principles speak to me most often: that we affirm the dignity and worth of every person, that we are all part of the interconnected web of life, that we promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations…while chair of the Planning Committee, I resolved complaints…I led two strongly opposing groups as chair of the Planning Committee to a compromise. We went into that meeting not knowing how it would turn out. We spent six hours of discussion, but we did it. We were determined not to let our differences overshadow our values. Our principles can direct us when confronting thee issues.

"For the first time in my life, I questioned how open I was to diverse perspectives. I realized I had entered this meeting with my own narrow perspective. Worse, I assumed everyone shared my perspective. I needed to learn how to listen to perspectives vastly different from my own. When I took our anti-racism training it was very helpful and it kindled my interest…I have found over and over again in the last seven years that covenanting together helps to build connected community…in promising how we will be with one another, we practice our faith.

"As your Moderator, I hope that we will work to create a more connected, vibrant community, to stay at the table in the face of difference, to live our values for all to see so that we can carry our message of the free faith to the larger world…In my vision for a future, we have much to accomplish. Let us become the communities we want to see."

Questions From the Attendees

Carol Agate, Santa Monica, CA: "Most of us live in cities and town which have rules about publicizing meetings and at which people can speak. The UUA does not do this—the board, the task forces and study groups, all of these have meetings to which people are not invited. Should that be changed? And if not, why not?"

Patsy Sherrill Madden: "It seems to me that in the interest of being an open community, meetings would be open to people, except in the case of executive committee meetings where some discussion needs to be closed…I am not sure what the procedure would need to be, although in this electronic medium, certainly there are ways…"

Diane Olson: "The Planning Committee has dealt with this question. Our meetings are open, although there is not a general way that we have publicized our meetings. But that could be addressed by publicizing a list of meetings and times and dates…I doubt that there are meetings that people can't attend…announcements should be on the web."

Eddy Carroll, Denver, CO: "The role that the Moderator plays at GA is the one that impacts us most. Can you share your personal style as moderator and what you would bring to plenary, as well as how that might impact plenary?"

Diane Olson: "I have been working for the past seven years with the Moderator very closely as a Planning Committee member and for four years as Chair. I understand very well what the issues are at the continental level, that need to be addressed. I have led board meetings in thirty organizations over the years in non-profit institutions, and am very comfortable setting up agendas, leading them and finishing on time. As to style, I like to allow relaxed conversation, many people tell me I have a good sense of humor, and I would expect to continue much in the same style as Denny."

Patsy Sherrill Madden: "One of the key words for the Moderator is flexibility. I believe that the style a Moderator brings is personal to her, and every one I have observed has brought something new to the position. I would hope that we would be a community that talks to and hears each other, and that I could facilitate that process. Make sure you hear the question, make sure you can hear it— that's why we have a parliamentarian and an attorney. We have to be kind to each other and listen to each other as we go about the business of the Association."

Molly Gregory, State College, PA: "What is there about the job of Moderator that is unattractive to men? What does the Moderator do besides the work of the GA?"

Patsy Sherrill Madden: "I can't answer what is unattractive to men, not having been one. The second question was what does the Moderator do besides GA. The Moderator is charged with moderating GA, moderating Board meetings and seeing that business moves along, and being a presence in our community and spreading the word, and I look forward to that."

Diane Olson: "I don't know why men have not run for this position…there have been men (as Moderator) in the past…as far as what the Moderator does, as Patsy very fairly told you what the bylaws require. But our current Moderator has expanded the definitions of what the Moderator does. She has shaken us up, asked us to look at ourselves and how we are doing, and if we are not doing well, how can we change? She has met actively with almost every committee of the Association…I look forward to all aspects, but most of all to the advocacy that she has promoted."

Patrick Murth, Woodstock, IL: "The Moderator is the highest ranking lay leader in the denomination, and increasingly has become a voice in the world. The last two Moderators have increased that and undertaken their own missions as voices of UUism in the world. What would you do to address that, and what causes would you embrace?"

Diane Olson: "I would relish the opportunity to do that. I enjoy meeting people, have traveled widely, am interested in connected community—between the Association and the wider world. It would require speaking, and talking about what is unique about UUism in the world. We are free to explore definitions of theology in the world. The important part for us is that we live together as unique individuals in a common unity, the unity of diversity. This is a promise we can offer to the world in a time when there are strict creeds and divisiveness."

Patsy Sherrill Madden: "I am a believer that we have an exciting story to tell as UUs, and we need to get that work out to the wider world. A woman asked me what our children do in our church. We encourage our children to learn about not just UUism, but other religions. That is what is exciting—being able to talk to people about the joy of UUism and the deep connection I have had to it."

Pam Langston Daley, Aptos, CA: "I have a question about campus ministry. How do you see it being part of where we are heading in our Association. Who should pay for it, and what should it look like—should it be led by students or ministers?"

Patsy Sherrill Madden: "It's an issue near and dear to my heart. When I was a youth advisor, I would always write to the minister of the college where children were going and asked them to be in touch with our students. I believe we need to be organized and intentional, and young people need to have a leading role in it. The UUA needs to take a step forward in funding, being intentional about how we move young adults into roles, and making young adults aware of the fact that this is available for them."

Diane Olson: "It is essential to keep our young adults and our youth, and we have not done a good job of it. We have a long way to go if we want young adults to stay with us rather than leave. Campus ministry….can offer comfort to those already familiar with UUism and who are active in it, (and) we can also encourage others to join us. The funding has to come from the UUA."

Ted Lightfoot, Williamsville, NY: "Could you share with us your vision on the role of Moderator working with the Board of Trustees?"

Diane Olson: "My vision of how I would work with the Board of Trustees as Moderator is similar to the role I have played as chair of the Planing Committee. I instituted annual covenanting and goal-setting processes, changed the committee structure…I think setting four-year and eight-year cycles of goals is important…and sharing with the board the way these things are prioritized, as well as sharing with the board how the agenda is developed."

Patsy Sherrill Madden: "It is essential to have an open and collaborative style with the board. If we work in an open way, building agendas together, solving our problems together, we will be a stronger unit. We need to have the structure of organizations in providing accountability...I have enjoyed the way that board is structured into working groups, which the (UU) Women's Federation is also doing. We need to work with each other, grow and stretch, and make it open and collaborative."

Gretchen Dorn, St. Paul, MN: "A growing number of UU congregations' boards are using the Carver Model of Policy G overnance, as well as the Florida District. Can you discuss your knowledge of that system, and how you would use it with the UUA board?

Patsy Sherrill Madden: "I don't have a good answer for you. I would like to get an answer and respond to you. Please make sure I get your name and address so that I can do that."

Diane Olson: "I have only a limited knowledge of the Carver method of management. It is designed to allow the leadership to make leadership decisions rather than getting entangled with management decisions, and it forces a leadership group to set priorities, and forces the agenda to be written so that it complies with these guidelines. Many times, the agenda is set by competing requests…I think it allows for a lot of possibilities, and I have begun gathering information on it."

Kathryn McIntyre, Hamilton, ON: "I understand that the relationship between the President and the Moderator of the denomination has not always been a happy one, although it is now. What would you bring to the relationship to make sure that things run smoothly and so that the power of the lay leadership is balanced by the staff?"

Diane Olson: "The question is how will the Moderator work with the President, in good times and bad? I want to be confident that I could work smoothly with any of the three candidates. But that may not happen all the time. There may be a difference in what is important and what should be prioritized. If that happened, I would have to stay faithful to my sense of what important issues were...even if the President disagreed."

Patsy Sherrill Madden: "I think the healthiest thing for the organization is that there be a team of President and Moderator, once I know who that person is. We need to work together to see where each of us is, and work to come to a place where we can talk and argue and disagree and go forward, in a positive role for this faith community. We probably won't always agree on what the issue is, but you have to be able to talk, together, to allow you to find solutions that will allow you to go forward in the best possible manner."

Fred Springsteel, Columbia, MO: "This GA has advanced a 1999 study/action issue on responsible consumption. This includes voluntary simplicity circles and the 7th Principle Project is starting a green sanctuary movement for congregations. Do you think this is important enough to get GA votes for this subject? Is it as important as Fulfilling the Promise?"

Patsy Sherrill Madden: "Responsible consumption is important. If the GA passes this statement, the UUA must go forward in a responsible manner and must look at where the funding comes from, where the programs come from, and where we will invest our resources in going forward with this program."

Diane Olson: "I believe the Moderator is obligated to support the system of governance we have in place, which means strong support for this issue, and an active role of leadership in implementing this. I would be very active, and this issue is dear to my heart, but we have an obligation to carry out after something has been considered for that many years."

Edie Schwede, Cleveland, OH: "What are the current roles you play in denominational work?"

Patsy Sherrill Madden: "I am Vice President of the UU Women's Federation, candidate for Moderator, active in my church in denominational affairs, a community endowment fund, and an interfaith partnership in St. Louis."

Diane Olson: "I am Co-Vice Chair of the Planning Committee, (and at) this GA involved in usher supervision, a program monitoring process, liaison to the Volunteer Committee. I am active in my congregation…we have had a severe conflict and I am a member of the conflict management team working for the past two years to bring us to a healthier place."

Eric Chetwynd, Arlington, VA: "I have been impressed with the way the democratic process has been handled within the rules of the Association. Could each candidate speak to that process?"

Diane Olson: "I can't imagine that either of us would ignore the responsibility of respecting our governance guidelines. We are a covenantal community, and our first principle asks us to recognize the worth and dignity of every person, our seventh principle asks us to respect the interconnected web. I would certainly follow them."

Patsy Sherrill Madden: "I don't see how we could possibly not respect this process. You are there reminding us of our covenant of the Association, to be mindful of our governance. I am very aware that one blip, and the line is ten deep. But the truth is, it is an integral part of both of us and the job we will be doing."

Closing Statements

Patsy Sherrill Madden

"I read a quote that said, 'I don't know wht your destiny will be, but I know that the only ones among you who will be happy are those who know how to serve. Come join us, (because) I would love your support and your vote."

Diane Olson

"I've already shared with you my passion for this work. I would not be here if the work had not compelled me to continue. This is work I want to do, and I would love your energy and your support."

Arnason thanked all for attending, and the forum was adjourned.

Reported by Debbie Weiner.