2018 Annual Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism: Charles Gaines

Presented by the Unitarian Universalist Association to the Rev. Dr. Charles E. Gaines

Rev. Dr. Charles Gaines, your ministry has rippled out into the lives of many contemporary leaders in our religious movement. Your influence on the growth of our movement and the diversity of our professional religious leaders has largely gone without credit. Let us take a moment here to celebrate you and your dedicated work in our faith.

You were the last minister to be ordained as a Universalist minister in 1961, before the consolidation of the Unitarians and the Universalists into the Unitarian Universalist Association. Throughout your ministry, you have demonstrated the inclusive values of Universalism and upheld the broader vision of a social gospel made manifest in our daily relationships, our institutions, and our work in the world.

You have ministered with congregations in Milford, New Hampshire, as well as Massachusetts congregations in Hardwick, Framingham, Cohasset, Groton, and Acton. You faithfully served on the staff of the Unitarian Universalist Association and consulted with hundreds of congregations while at Turnabout Consultants. During your time on the UUA staff, you visited forty-four states and eight nations on behalf of our faith.

Your ministry has been a beautiful blend of human-centered relationships, truth telling, and driving institutional change. Your justice activism has included direct, street-based activism, such as answering the 1965 call for clergy to join the March from Selma to Montgomery, as well as choosing whenever possible to use your institutional power to deliberately seek out and empower those who experience barriers and marginalization. At a time when there were few women in our ministry and even fewer serving in leadership roles at the UUA, you were a consistent ally, colleague, and friend to those who were there while working to make space for those who were not yet in places of power.

Not one to mince words, your passion for honesty and candor led you to address issues head-on, which sometimes was not as appreciated as you might have hoped. Nonetheless, your analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of our movement and your willingness to name difficult truths have taught many about oppression, privilege, and what it means to be an ally.

In 1984, months before you were hired to serve at the UUA and because no one on staff was willing to attend, you represented institutional Unitarian Universalism at the first gathering of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender UU ministers and students. Not long after that, you were hired as the Ministry Settlement Director of the UUA, a position you held from 1984 to 1990 and in which you boldly promoted women, people of color, and LGBTQ ministers for settlement in our congregations. When you encountered resistance, you introduced a programmatic response requiring congregations to examine and strive to overcome their own systemic and personal biases during the settlement process. That response seeded the ground for a program we continue to use to this day, called Beyond Categorical Thinking. Your zealous advocacy was one of the key factors that paved the way for the diversity experienced in our professional ministry today.

Your Universalist passion for the growth of our religious movement was contagious, inspiring, and practical. During your time as Director of the Extension Department of the UUA (from 1990 to 1995), you implemented a broad initiative that understood the work of “extension” and church growth to include not just the support of first-time ministry in congregations and the development of new congregations—but a full spectrum of services for every congregations of every size. From workshops and conferences to specific programs, you made sure that congregations learned new approaches and found new resources among one another’s demonstrated successes.

Your sense of urgency led a vibrant period of the extension ministry program and the most robust outreach and growth efforts since the days of the celebrated fellowship movement. You were a champion of programming and resource deployment targeted at helping existing congregations realize their potential while planting new congregations wherever opportunities presented themselves.

You have been champion, friend, mentor, role model, ally, and minister to too many to count. Your love of our faith, passion for justice, and commitment to ever reforming our institutions are commendable. We owe you a deep debt of gratitude for helping Unitarian Universalism grow when other denominations were waning and for inspiring a diversity among our religious professionals that helped to change who is in the conversation. Throughout your service, you have given us some taste of a Universalism that is realizable and modeled for us a Unitarian Universalism that can be.

On this 23rd day of June in the year 2018, we honor you by awarding you with the Annual Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism as presented by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.