2013 Annual Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism: Mel Hoover

Presented by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations to Rev. Mel Hoover

Mel, through your passion for justice you have called Unitarian Universalists to live to our deepest principles. When the biblical writer advised those setting out to do holy work should be as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove, he must have anticipated Mel Hoover's appearance on the scene in the 20th century. Mel is a truth seeker, a truth speaker, a collaborator, a networker, a community builder. His ministry is filled with the gifts of spirit, grace, hope, and courage. Where others see injustices and fall into despair, Mel looks for ways to make new paths.

Mel received the Urban League's Future Leaders of America Award. As part of that award, he met his social justice role model, Whitney Young. At the time, Whitney Young was the director of the National Urban League. Whitney Young was also a Unitarian Universalist.

In 1968, Mel graduated from Ohio State University with a bachelor's degree in social welfare and a commitment to civil rights through the civil rights movement and to nonviolent change. He was inspired by the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., to create a beloved community as his ministry.

Mel attended Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School. He was a ringleader of the black student lock out which led to the establishment of the black church studies program and a much more inclusive student body and faculty. The Episcopal Church of Southern Ohio ordained him as a deacon in 1971. It's important to note that Mel refused ordination to the priesthood because that path was not open to women.

Is there any question why Rose fell in love with this guy and married him in 1970? The Association of Community Churches of Rochester awarded him the doctor of divinity degree in 1975. In 1984, Mel transferred his ordination to the Unitarian Universalists. Following that transfer, Mel filled a variety of justice making ministries dealing with race, class, gender, power dynamics, and ecology on local, regional, national, and yes, international levels.

He returned to parish ministry in 2002 to serve the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Charleston, West Virginia, with his co—minister and wife, Rose Eddington. In both of those positions, Mel built on his experience in 1968 to '78 ministering as a community organizer and educator in Rochester, leading to efforts to integrate the Rochester School System, and becoming the first African American person in the country to head a white working class community organization. He founded the Neighborhood Street Academy for Students at Risk. From '78 to '87, he was Executive Director of the Council of Churches and Synagogues of Lower Fairfield County, Connecticut, and a leader of the National Association of Ecumenical Staffs. Through that organization, he spearheaded efforts to increase persons of color and women in the National Council of Churches.

In 1985, through the National Association of Ecumenical Staffs, he received their Outstanding Service Award. His service to Unitarian Universalism began with the Urban Church Coalition and the Black Concerns Working Group. In '87, he joined the UUA staff as Urban and International Programs Director, then became Assistant to the President to advocate for racial inclusiveness. He coordinated the UUA's justice work as Director of Faith in Action and as a member of the UUA Executive Council. The institutional changes he helped initiate led to inclusive nominating process for committees and officers.

Anti—racist, anti—oppressive practices are now part of the minister's education and placement effort. I read that sentence as it appears. It's backwards.

Mel continues to invite Unitarian Universalists to adopt anti—racist, anti—oppressive multicultural identity, and to fulfill the promise of the 1997 Journey Toward Wholeness Resolution. Mel chaired the boards of the Institute on Church In Urban Industrial Society and Crossroads Anti—racism Organizing in Training. The latter awarded him the Crossroads Ministry Anti—racist Award in 1996.

The questions he frames, the community he creates, and the resources he develops help shape the path of faithful justice making in the Unitarian Universalist Association. Mel challenges Europeans, European Americans, to move beyond denial of racial disparities and become allies to engage in justice making by taking steps to shape authentic accountable and accountability and see linkages with oppressions.

He has worked to build communities of empowerment and support for UU people of color through the African American Unitarian Universalist ministry group, the Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries that we know as DRUUMM, and the Diversity Diversity and Ministry Committee. He was the first recipient of the DRUUMM Beloved Community Award in 2002. A generation of religious professionals of color see Mel as a mentor, model, and a minister.

A bit of a personal sideline. I met Mel about 15 minutes ago. But yet I realized as I was thinking about this presentation that his work has definitely affected my view of the world. Thank you.

Mel is a friend and beloved colleague to countless Unitarian Universalists who have joined him in the journey toward wholeness. It is with great pride and pleasure that we present Mel Hoover with the Distinguished Service Award to the cause of Unitarian Universalism.