President's Report Without ASL
President's Report With ASL
Greetings, Unitarian Universalists! Even across distance, it is good to be together.
Who could have imagined what this past year would bring?
The ground has continued to shift beneath us all. It has been a traumatic year. It has also shown us the powerful truth of our interdependence. As we reflect on this past year, may we remember not just the grief, but also the ways we have shown up for each other, for our communities, and for our values.
COVID-19 not only created heartbreak through illness and incomparable loss of life, it also laid bare and deepened long-standing injustices and inequities.
We lived through a violent insurrection and an attempt to overthrow the largest voter turnout election in U.S. history. We witnessed the persistent reality of police violence, disproportionately taking the lives of Black Americans. There have been repeated mass shootings, devastating hate crimes, and xenophobic attacks against anyone percieved as “other”—Black and Indigenous people, Asian Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders, trans people, disabled people, Latinx people, and against Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, even our own UU communities.
So much has been made plain by this pandemic. This is an historic time of reckoning with endemic systems of white supremacy and colonialism. We have a generational opportunity—in our world and in our own faith community - to move policies and practices that foster the kind of just and anti-oppressive world we imagine. Now is the time to lean into our Unitarian Universalist theology and remember the values of human dignity, compassion, equity, and democracy that have always called us to action to make these real in our world.
To all our lay leaders and religious professionals, I want to thank you for how you have shown up, how you have led and loved and risked for your communities throughout this heartbreaking time. You have done this even as you have cared for children, run schools in your homes, cared for family and at-risk elders, and known illness, loss and tragedy in your lives.
To the leaders of DRUUMM (Diverse, Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries), BLUU (Black Lives of UU), TRUUsT (Transgender religious professional UUs Together) and EqUUal Access (a ministry by and with UUs with disabilities), I want to especially recognize your leadership and ministries this year. The impacts of the injustices and losses of these past years have fallen disproportionately on you and the communities you are a part of. Your ministries and leadership, even as you tended to your own trauma and grief, have been life-saving to countless UUs and families across our Association.
We lost dear colleagues, family members, mentors this year. We lost powerful leaders and staff of the UUA. We remember and honor former co-Moderator Elandria Williams; former UUA President Rev. Gene Pickett; and UUA staff members the Rev. David Pettee and the Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson. These visionary and pastoral leaders left an indelible mark on our faith community. Their love and power lives on – and always will – in the lives, leadership, and ministry of everyone whose life they touched.
Dear ones, we are very much in a liminal time. The vaccines are bringing so much hope! And the pandemic is not over. We pray for our siblings in India, Brazil, the Philippines and countries that are facing deadly new waves of the virus, and without sufficient vaccines.
As we think about what comes next, we must remember the values and practices that helped us survive. These are the gifts we need to bring forward.
As I consider this past year and look ahead to the next, there are three core priorities that will continue to guide our work at the UUA.
Core Priorities for the UUA
First, continued support for our congregations and leaders in navigating the pandemic and post pandemic realities.
Second, implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Institutional Change.
And third, strengthening our justice and organizing capacity, building on the success of UU the Vote.
Let me share more about each of these.
Pandemic/Post Pandemic Response
First, our Pandemic/Post Pandemic Response.
Over 15 months ago, our congregations pivoted quickly to virtual operations as COVID-19 spread across the world. We saved untold lives because of our quick efforts.
Throughout, the UUA has sought to be a strong partner with you—providing resources for online ministry, tools for congregations as employers, and up to date public health recommendations.
I especially acknowledge our Congregational Life Staff, which includes our five Regional Staff teams, under the leadership of Director Jessica York, as well as our Office of Church Staff Finances led by Rev. Richard Nugent. Together these teams did incredible work, in close coordination, to provide the latest resources and information to help leaders navigate these unprecedented times.
Everyone on UUA staff went above and beyond this year. I witnessed staff come together in powerful ways. They shifted their work as the pandemic demanded. They kept our mission of equipping congregations, supporting leaders and advancing UU values at the forefront. They offered support across teams, volunteering to fill in gaps. They brought creativity and excitement to implementing the Commission on Institutional Change’s recommendations. And we all held care for each other as human beings as a central ethos.
If you have someone at the UUA who was especially helpful to you this year, I invite you to acknowledge them in the chat.
I am also so proud of our movement as a whole, for I witnessed leaders in congregations, covenanting communities and organizations across Unitarian Universalism doing the same thing—bringing creativity to ever changing realities, leaning to mission, centering compassion and collective care, and being human and humane with each other.
As we move forward, the UUA recommends that congregations plan for multi-platform ministry – a combination of in-person and online opportunities—for sustained accessibility. We know this will take experimentation, flexibility and above all patience! Remember—perfection is not the goal. Care, inclusion, and leaning into mission—these are the practices to carry forward.
The second most critical priority for our work – and one that will drive our efforts for the next several years is implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Institutional Change.
Across the UUA ecosystem, people are engaging with the recommendations presented in the Commission’s report Widening the Circle of Concern. This engagement involves new initiatives, retooling core work and weaving the foundational call of the report – living into our liberating, anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural aspirations—into the systemic and cultural practices of our Association, congregations and UU organizations.
This includes the UUA Board of Trustees embarking on a wholescale review of the UUA bylaws to make governance more agile and effective. It also includes the Article II Study Commission’s charge to engage our congregations in theological discernment around our principles, purpose and core values.
We are also engaged in new initiatives to support lay leaders by retooling leadership training and creating networks of lay leaders, including circles for BIPOC lay leaders. One of the most exciting events this year was the New Day Rising Conference. Over 1,200 UUs participated in this conference dedicated to congregations doing active anti-oppression, anti-racism, and dismantling white supremacy culture work.
We’re also launching a dedicated Conflict Engagement Team, called Hope for Us, named for the Rev. Hope Johnson who was instrumental in the vision and formation of the team. This team will help congregations and their leaders engage conflict productively with opportunities for positive transformation. This group will bring skills for understanding how race, gender, identity and power impact conflict, and create tools to help leaders intervene sooner in conflicts before they escalate.
The UUA is also making new investments in youth ministry, recognizing the commitment from the GA2020 Responsive Resolution to support youth and young adults. This Spring, our Lifespan Faith Engagement office organized a Youth Ministry Visioning week with youth, youth advisors, and UUA staff to align our theology, approach, and communication of our offerings both nationally and regionally. We’re also sponsoring a new national youth ministry network called YUUP—the Young Unitarian Universalist Project. YUUP is a youth-led ministry, supported by adults from multiple regions.
We are bringing a stronger lens of equity, accountability and strategy to publications and communications. This includes the new Equity and Accountability Panel at Skinner House books and the new strategic redesign and practice of editorial advisors for UU World magazine.
At Beacon Press, their historic list of Black, Indigenous and people of color authors are shaping vital national conversations on race and equity. Together the UUA and Beacon are discovering the ways our work and mission support and benefit each other.
Sustaining culture change within the UUA as a workplace is essential to being an organization where people of all identities can thrive. This means continued hiring and personnel practices to recruit and sustain a diverse and exceptionally talented staff. Two years ago, I reported the senior leadership of the UUA had increased in diversity from 12% to 42%, with the overall UUA staff growing in diversity from 19% to 28% people of color.
This year, our senior Executive Advisory team is 66% people of color and our overall staff has grown to 32% people of color. We have also created a Staff Group Directors Council of senior managers which is 40% people of color.
We continue to invest in the ongoing learning and skill development of staff. We are launching the second phase of our cross-staff JEDI team (which stands for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion); and we have just completed our second cultural assessment with UUA staff.
Strengthen Justice Leadership and Organizing Capacity
There is so much more to share, but I also want to get to our third core priority—strengthening our prophetic organizing capacity.
In a year when our democracy was under unprecedented attack, let’s take a moment and celebrate how powerful UU the Vote was!!
Let’s look at the numbers: Over 5,000 volunteers and over 450 congregations participated! We registered over 10,000 new voters, sent over one million texts, over one million postcards and made over 600,000 phone calls. All toll, we contacted over 3 million voters!! And the high-level investments we made in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia not only helped voter participation, it helped make sure every vote counted!
Please give a shout out in the chat to anyone you want to appreciate for their work on UU the Vote, including yourself or your congregation!
I want to give a big shout out to Rev. Ashley Horan, the UUA’s Organizing and Strategy Director, and Nicole Pressley, the National UU the Vote Organizer. Nicole took this nascent vision and built it—together with the Organizing Strategy Team, UU the Vote staff and volunteers—into this spiritually grounded, leaderful effort, organized for impact.
The impact of UU the Vote went far beyond the numbers.
It includes the capacity we built, both locally and nationally, for justice organizing deeply rooted in partnership with directly impacted communities.
It includes the leadership development that was built in our congregations, through organizing school, and in our State Actions Networks.
It was the national attention it garnered, including when UU the Vote was recognized as a finalist by Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Award for Enduring Impact!
And we are taking all we learned, all the ways we grew – to build our power for the democracy we deserve and the policies we need for all people to live and thrive.
Learn more at Saturday’s General Session with the Organizing Strategy Team Presentation and Side with Love offering.
Finally, UU the Vote had a powerful spiritual impact. In a brutal year, beset with loss, UU the Vote was a lifeline to many. It nurtured the kind of joy and hope that grows from struggle and solidarity - and that in itself was life-saving.
One of the most profound lessons of this pandemic is that we hold each other’s lives in our hands.
The coronavirus thrived where individual freedom took precedence over the well-being of others. It thrived along the deep-seated racism and poverty that have long defiled our social bonds. It made the reality of our interdependence undeniable.
As Unitarian Universalists, we believe in our fundamental interdependence. It is this interconnectedness that has led us throughout our history to engage in the work of justice. We know we belong to each other and to a vision of a world where all can thrive. Our Universalist ancestors called it the Kingdom of God. Today, we call it the Beloved Community.
Covenant is central to Beloved Community. It is how we articulate the highest aspirations we have for ourselves, humanity and our world. And no, we don’t live our aspirations perfectly. We never will. That is why our best covenants address how we repair relationships after we have hurt one another and broken our promises.
Covenant is not a burden, but an incomparable gift. A gift reflected in our capacity to love and to create enduring friendships. It is why we find hope and strength through solidarity. It is how we can feel so deeply held by religious community and changed by its presence in our lives.
None of us can fully imagine the future, but this we know. What we knew as normal – the status quo – was already deadly. We cannot go back. The life-saving practices that helped us survive are what we need to bring forward.
We’ve long known that models of religious life steeped in individualism, exceptionalism, scarcity and competition do not meet the spiritual needs of this time.
This year, we pulled together, leaning into our relationships as a covenantal faith. Congregations partner in unprecedented ways. Sharing resources, worship, learning together, sharing staff, even merging communities to better live their mission.
We centered compassion, collective care, and mutuality. We offered tools for resilience—ritual and embodied practice, liberating theology and religious community rooted in belonging and prophetic power.
And learned even more about living our faith bravely and publicly—lessons of organizing in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives, mobilizing to go all in to defend democracy, and opening our sacred buildings to save lives.
This is no time for a casual faith. This is a time for audacious love that is inextricably linked to courageous action.
And this is no time to go it alone. We belong to each other and we need one another to survive. Covenant – honoring our interconnectedness, creating more intentional and ever-widening practices of belonging - this is how we survive.
In this unimaginably difficult year—we have come to more deeply understand the gift of being a covenantal faith. I remain incredibly grateful for this faith and for the honor of serving as your President. Thank you -- to all of you—for the ways you continue to say yes to this life-affirming, life-saving, compassionate and prophetic faith. I love you all!