Ballou Channing District Merges with UUA

The Ballou Channing District of the Unitarian Universalist Association has dissolved. Effective August 1, 2019, the district merged with the UUA. It transferred all its assets to the UUA, and ended its operations.

The district was formed in 1964, three years after the merger of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. It maintained a staff and a district office at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brockton.

The district consisted of 45 congregations in the South Shore, Cape Cod and the Islands, and Rhode Island.

Rev. William P. Zelazny was chief executive of the district for 15 years until resigning on June 30, 2014. He is now minister of Channing Memorial Church, Newport, Rhode Island.

At the time, the district provided member congregations with services including religious education support, professional staff consulting, training and support seminars for lay people, and support for district governance.

Zelazny’s departure came in conjunction with the UUA’s creation of the New England Region in 2015. In doing so, the UUA moved most district operations, and staff, into the region. The region’s offices are now in the UUA headquarters at 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston. Woullard Lett of Manchester, NH, is Regional Lead.

At the time, four separate, independent districts represented the congregations in New England: Ballou Channing, Clara Barton, Massachusetts Bay and Northern New England. The single New England Region now represents the same congregations, and offers services comparable to what the districts used to provide.

A year after the region came into being, two districts – Clara Barton and Massachusetts Bay – decided to dissolve. The two remaining districts decided they would continue to operate.

In March 2018, however, the Northern New England District board decided to dissolve. After examining its activities for the past two and a half years, it concluded that it was no longer “relevant”.

This decision by Northern New England prompted the Ballou Channing district to ask if it should continue to operate. It wondered: Is what we are doing so different from our three neighboring districts that we should continue, even though they have decided not to?

The answer was “no”. The BCD board at its April 2018 meeting voted to begin “taking the necessary steps to dissolve the district as soon as possible.” Delegates at the 2018 annual meeting voted to support the move.

Two months later, the board established a dissolution task force and charged it to study what was needed to dissolve the district, and recommend to the board what should be done to make this happen.

Five members of the district constituted the task force:

  • Rev. Dr. Catherine Cullen, minister of First Parish Church in Duxbury and a member of the BCD board
  • Rev. Dr. Kristen Harper, minister of the Unitarian Church of Barnstable
  • Larry Ladd, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth and Financial Advisor to the Unitarian Universalist Association
  • Eva Marx, a member of Old Ship, a former president of the Ballou Channing District and a former director of the Unitarian Universalist Association
  • Janet Richardi, a member of the Murray Unitarian Universalist Church and a former president of the Ballou Channing District.

Among other things, the group identified and secured the services of Hemenway & Barnes LLP, a Boston law firm that has extensive experience with non-profit organizations.

Brad Bedingfield, a partner in the law firm, advised the group that ending district operations could take place quickly and economically by merging with the UUA, rather than following the lengthy and expensive steps that the Clara Barton and Massachusetts Bay districts had undertaken.

The process required approval of delegates to the UUA General Assembly, which took place in June in Spokane, Washington. It also needed approval of the Attorney General of Massachusetts. The attorney general’s approval came near the end of July, and the merger took effect on Aug. 1.

Ralph Brown, a member of Old Ship, was president of the BCD board. Other officers were Mary Lu Love of Unity Church in North Easton, vice president; Charlie Donnelly, UU Congregation of South County, RI, secretary; and Rev. Paul Sprecher, First Parish UU Church of Bridgewater, treasurer.

Board members were William Clark, Old Ship and First Parish UU Church of Scituate; Rev. Dr. Catherine Cullen, First Parish Church of Duxbury; Rev Sarah Person, First UU Society of Middleborough; Elisabeth McGregor, Unitarian Church of Sharon, and Kate Sullivan, First Parish Church, UU, of Kingston.

– For additional information, please contact Ralph Brown

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