2023 Recipient: Commission on Institutional Change

Award Citation

The President's Annual Award for Volunteer Service to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is given to the person or organization designated by the President as having given extraordinary and vital service to the UUA as a volunteer. The President is proud to recognize as the recipient of the 2023 Volunteer Service Award: The Commission on Institutional Change

At the 2017 General Assembly, the Commission on Institutional Change (COIC) was established and charged by the UUA Board of Trustees to conduct an audit of white privilege and the structure of power within Unitarian Universalism and to analyze structural racism and white supremacy culture within the UUA. The COIC completed their work with the groundbreaking report, Widening the Circle of Concern, published in advance of the 2020 General Assembly.

The report made sweeping recommendations for our faith to meet their charge of “supporting long-term cultural and institutional change that redeems the essential promise and ideals of Unitarian Universalism.” Those recommendations covered ten areas of work: theology, governance, congregations and communities, hospitality and inclusion, justice organizing and living our values in the world, religious professionals, educating for liberation, innovations and risk taking, restoration and reparations, and accountability and resources. Together, they created a comprehensive understanding of where we have come and where we must go to become a truly welcoming and liberatory faith for people of all backgrounds and identities.

The COIC was created and operated during a difficult period in our history, both as a religious community wrestling with our own participation and complicity with white supremacy culture and as a country witnessing the increased public mobilization and demonstration against the systems actively harming and destroying Black lives. Their work was sensitive, time consuming and intense.

Through it all, the COIC’s approach to this work was deeply collaborative and involved every level of our Association. Over 1,100 UUs participated in focus groups or submitted testimony. They were also in constant communication with thought-leaders across our Association, the UUA Board of Trustees and Administration. This level of coordination and participation not only ensured that their report reflected the lived experience of UUs but ensured that our Association was prepared to receive and act on the COIC’s report and recommendations. Each member congregation of the UUA received a copy of the Widening the Circle of Concern report, with many forming study/action groups based on its recommendations.

This award recognizes not only the immense effort and spiritual dedication that the Commissioners brought to their work, but the profound impact that Widening the Circle of Concern continues to have on Unitarian Universalism. The recommendations of the report charted a path forward that has become a guidebook for the UUA staff and the UUA Board of Trustees and has been a cornerstone of the priorities of the Presidency of the Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray. Across our Association, the Commission’s work has created a structure for how the UUA and congregations are engaging in culture change and nurturing practices of equity, belonging, welcoming, justice, and Beloved Community.

This award is given with immense gratitude to the Chair of the COIC, the Reverend Leslie Takahashi, and Commissioners Mary Byron, Cir L’Bert, Jr., the Reverend Dr. Natalie Fenimore, and Dr. Elías Ortega, for their service to our faith. Wehonor Caitlin Breedlove and DeReau K. Ferrar, who served on the COIC for its first year, and acknowledge the support given by UUA staff project manager, the Reverend Gianni Fogliano. We also recognize the multitude of UUs who contributed to this report by offering their stories, wisdom, and guidance throughout the process. Unitarian Universalism has been given an incredibly powerful tool in Widening the Circle of Concern, thanks to the dedication and labors of the COIC. May our gratitude deepen our commitment to our UU values, to continue enacting the recommendations of Widening the Circle of Concern and to dismantle systems of oppression within our faith community and beyond.