President's Report General Assembly 2023

By Susan Frederick-Gray


Unedited. Transcribed by Otter AI.

Charles DuMond 0:00
I want you to please welcome your President, the Reverend Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray. [prolonged applause]

Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray 0:42
Hello Unitarian Universalists. I'm Susan Frederick-Frey. I arrived here from the land of the Massachusett and Wampanoag people in a place, also called Cambridge. I'm a white woman in my 40s with chin length, straight, brown hair, and I wear red plastic rimmed glasses.

For the last six years, it has been my privilege to address the General Assembly through my President's Report. Today, as my term comes to a close, I do so for the last time. In this moment, I feel many emotions. Pride at what we have accomplished together [applause].

Grief at saying goodbye and grief for the loved ones and colleagues no longer here with us. And above all, above all, abiding gratitude for the ways this faith and its people, all of you have shown courage and love in the midst of profound challenges. It is, it's truly astounding to consider all that has taken place in these last six years. I remember the challenge and urgency of the moment in which I was elected president. At the 2017 General Assembly, we were all charged to deepen our commitment to dismantle white supremacy culture, to dismantle cis heteronormative ableist patriarchy, and to recommit ourselves to the practices of the Beloved Community.

Just six brief weeks later, one of my first public acts as UUA President was answering the invitation of leaders in Charlottesville, Virginia, to help resist the violence being brought to their community by the Unite the Right rally. The reality of how mainstream violent white nationalism has become was undeniable on that day. It also revealed the complicity of the police, who largely stood down allowing armed right wing militia that's not a police officer officer that is an armed right wing militia member who the police allowed to patrol and police the event. This resulted in the terrorizing of a community and the murder of Heather Heyer. Since those early moments, we have continued to experience unprecedented challenges. Yet again and again, we have shown the life affirming power of Unitarian Universalism when we pull together to respond to the needs of our communities, and the possibility of what can be when we lead from our values with integrity, and care. In the midst of turmoil, we managed some incredible accomplishments. And I want to share some of those. Renewing the UUA is hiring and supervisory practices was first on the agenda. Within a couple of years, we grew the overall racial diversity of UUA staff and more than doubled the diversity of senior executive leadership. Today the overall UUA staff is 32% people of color. Our staff group directors managers are 50% people of color, and our senior executive leadership is over 60% people of color.

By June 2019, through the generosity of donors congregations and the UUA, we completed the Promise in the Practice Campaign fulfilling the $5.3 million investment in the life saving Ministry of Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism. In 2020, through UU the Vote Unitarian, Universalist contacted over 3 million voters, supporting the largest, most transparent election in US history. And in the 2022 midterms, we contacted millions more, and we're already gearing up for UU the Vote 2024. Because we know how serious the threats to democracy, education and the basic civil and human rights of women, LGBTQIA plus people, BIPoC communities, the the disabled communities and protections for our planet are all on the ballot. Through unprecedented attacks on democracy, including an attempted coup, you use have shown ourselves to be a key partner in a much needed movement to realize the promise of a multiracial democracy. By early 2020, the Commission on Institutional Change finished its ground breaking report, Widening the Circle of Concern, providing a roadmap for our long term cultural and institutional change. And I am proud to share that the UUA staff and the board of trustees have just completed our third year of implementations of the recommendations from that report. And I want to highlight some of the, just a few of the accomplishments. I could not say everything that we have done, but I want to share a few. We launched the Hope for Us Team to help congregations address conflict, yes in a positive and transformative way, especially when that conflict involves issues of race and identity. We increased investments in children and family ministry and reorganized our youth and emerging adult ministry to expand and better serve young people. We made critical investments in renewing lay leadership training, centering support for BIPoC lay leaders, and putting practices of covenant and ongoing learning as the foundation of our offerings. We launched the MOSAIC I'm sorry, we are launching the MOSAIC platform which provides resources to deepen our capacity in our congregations and as leaders for anti-racism, anti-oppression, multicultural growth and learning. And all this work has underscored our principles of interconnectedness and interdependence. We launched the Side with Love Action Center and Uplift Action and are continuing to respond unequivocally to defend the rights and digs and dignity of trans and non binary people. The rights of LGBTQIA plus community, to advocate for reproductive justice and abortion access, to grow our climate justice activism, and to continue to combat expanding criminalization, from immigration to mass incarceration and the militarizing of police.

This year, this year, we added staff for accessibility, resourcing and disability justice to grow our work and skills around anti ableism. And specific to the Commission's recommendations focused on restoration and reparations. We have raised over $5 million in new contributions and pledges to support theological education, scholarships and debt relief for religious professionals directed to or prioritize to those with marginalized identities. We've strengthened, this is still part of those reparations and restoration commitments, we strengthen investments in identity based ministries with stable support for DRUUMM which is Diverse and Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries and an memorandum of understanding and stable support for Equual Access. We also invested 1 million, $1 million in a fund to support the UUA's ongoing financial support for you, you identity based ministries.

And your UUA board has worked tirelessly and imaginatively to recreate structures of inclusive governance, to deepen practices of covenant and relationships, including with the President and administration and to practice greater transparency and accountability, as well as to initiate and support the article to process. All of this and we have weathered the height of a devastating global pandemic. By centering care, and nurturing our spiritual community, and supporting the most vulnerable within and beyond our communities with creativity and commitment. And I know that we, so many of us, are still weary, are still weary from the enormity of what we have experienced, and the acute injustices of our times. We have, and I especially just want to name our religious professionals, caring professionals, who are so weary from all the care that they provided and continued to provide, and from the ways they had to support and help their own family, children, elders survive.

Family we have experienced a collective trauma. And we are still navigating its impacts and are far from understanding its full toll. But throughout these six years, one thing has been a constant, a rudder to guide the you UUA and its work in these choppy and changing seas. It's the UUA's mission in service to our spiritual aspiration. In every organization I have served a clear and compelling sense of mission that lives in the body of a people has been a recipe for growth and vitality. I've seen it bring new energy to small congregations and help pull congregations long caught in conflict into greater impact. Mission reminds us that our congregations are not here to serve our individual needs and preferences. They are not. Mission draws us out of personality conflicts and power struggles by reminding us that together we have a larger purpose beyond ourselves, and we have work to do together to make a difference in the lives of the children and families and elders in and beyond our communities. Through so many unexpected challenges the UUA 's mission to equip congregations for vital ministry, to train and support leaders and to advance UU values has kept us rooted and focused. And our aspiration to live into the liberatory, anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural practices of Beloved Community where all people of all identities can thrive. That has helped us stay true to our theological and spiritual imaginations as UUs. It has helped us centered those most impacted by the pandemic and those most impacted by injustice. Reflecting on these last six years, I could not be more proud of all that we have accomplished. I could not be more proud to work with the members of the UUA staff. Working with you all has been the biggest gift of my presidency. I could not be more proud of how we've navigated these times and supported our congregations and leaders. Thank you. If the UUA staff would just rise for a minute and receive the love? [applaouse]

A UUA president does nothing alone. We went far together. I could not be more grateful for my colleagues on the UUA Board of Trustees. For the ways we have reimagined governance and relationship, centered care among us, led through these challenging times. I've been blessed to witness and be a part of your leadership. To our UUA board. [applause]

I want to make special mention of the Executive Advisory Team, the senior leadership team at the UUA who have been my closest colleagues. In this work, I'm honored to serve alongside them and learn from them. Carey McDonald, Executive Vice President Lisa Gregory, Director of Communications, Dr. Janice Marie Johnson, and Reverend Sarah Lambert, Co-Directors of Ministry and Faith Development, Shige Sakurai, Director of Equity, Change and Belonging, the Reverend Lauren Smith, Director of sStewardship and Development, and Jessica York, the Director of Congregational Life. I will miss seeing you every week. And working with you so closely. And I could not be more proud. For all of you, leaders and religious professionals of our congregations in our tradition for how you have shown up and offered life saving ministry and witness again and again, how you have taken risks, for love and for justice, how you have lived our values and made them real in this world and in our communities, I could not be more proud.

And I recognize that we are in a reimagining phase in our communities as we emerge from the crisis space phase of the pandemic. And it is in many ways more complicated and more difficult than it was six years ago. I'm sorry to say. There are growing challenges. We know this from increasing climate disasters, political instability, war and violence in our country, across the globe. The rise of Christian nationalism and anti-democratic fascist movements in the US and across the globe are serious, they are real and they are dangerous. We have seen these movements before including the scapegoating and dehumanization of marginalized groups to sow fear and division, to target opposition, to undermine democracy, and to consolidate power. And we see them now. But every day in states all across the country, Unitarian Universalists are showing up courageously for our values, for our neighbors, and to protect each other, and unequivocally show that love is our future, not fear, and not hate. Love is our future.

We are at an important moment in our history, as Unitarian Universalists and as a country and the stakes are very high. And unfortunately, in times of change and uncertainty, there is always a risk that fear and anxiety will dominate and lead us to cling more tightly to what has been, to a status quo that has never served the cause of human need, nor the values of justice and equity. Even more dangerous during times of significant change, some people begin to cling to some fabricated imagination of a mythical past. We see this among white nationalists in our country. We also sometimes see it within ourselves. Now I recognize that this has, that this is a time of change and tumult and that for some Unitarian Universalists the focus on anti-racism and dismantling white supremacy, culture and patriarchy has been challenging. Change is difficult. Yet the vast majority of UUs have affirmed without fail for decades. The importance of this work through decisions made by congregational delegates at General Assembly. And what breaks my heart is that despite this overwhelming support, there remain small, uncompromising groups that seek to undercut the democratic process by obstructing their congregations and the UUA from living into our values and commitments. We as Unitarian Universalists, we will never all think alike, amen. And you can be in Beloved Community and have different opinions. And we are practicing that this week, right. But it is damaging to a congregation and its mission when individuals, especially people of privilege, break covenant, attack the motives of leaders and insist on their own way against the will and vision of a community. This culture change work happening across Unitarian Universalism is absolutely essential for our growth and the relevance of our tradition today and for the generations to come. It is essential for nurturing the just and equitable, life giving, liberating, multicultural world that we imagine where everyone truly belongs, and all can thrive. And it is exciting and life giving. And I will tell you that I have never felt so much hope for our tradition than I do right now. For this, I know Unitarian Universalists are a people of faith, not fear. We are a people of hope and imagination. And we have always sought to lean into the creative possibility of what is not yet but what can be. And right now, this is the spirit we need to move us through these days with more love, more joy, more compassion, and with more courage, and a greater willingness to grow in new ways, to learn more things, to get uncomfortable and in the mess of change and be both humble yet steadfast in the call of love and justice. Humble and steadfast. The UUA has done amazing things in this last year. And none of it happens alone. So I want to take a moment and especially thank all of our generous congregations and the leaders of those congregations, who make an ongoing faithful commitment to support the UUA. Those who prioritize giving to the UUA knowing that our mission is to strengthen our faith across all of our congregations, that we are a covenanted community and when you support the UUA you're supporting your sibling congregations across the association. I want to thank all of our generous donors for your consistent generosity, thank you to our congregations and donors for believing in this work, for supporting it, for saying yes again and again and helping the UUA be the strongest partner that we can be alongside all of you. And I couldn't be excited more excited about what comes next. The pastoral and theological depth of our nominee for president, the Reverend Sofía Betancourt is the leadership we need. And I know that the amazing transformative work of the UUA and all of us in partnership will continue with Reverend Sofía's leadership. I also know that the road ahead is not smooth. And our leaders, our next president, will need your support, your prayers, your love and your generosity. And so my final ask, ask to all of you is that you support our next president, as fully as you have supported me, only more so. Got it? That's my final ask of all of you.

For this is no time to go it alone. We belong to each other. We need each other, and we make each other strong and brave. May we continue to nurture resiliency and joy in our spirits and in our communities. May give us courage and clarity to be more effective in protecting our loved ones, our communities, our neighbors, this planet and our democracy. Maybe we continue to grow our souls and ourselves faithfully becoming Beloved Community.

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