Presidential Search Committee Nominates Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt for UUA President

The Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) Presidential Search Committee is pleased to announce the nomination of the Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt for UUA President, for the 2023-2029 term. Rev. Dr. Betancourt is an experienced leader and theologian in Unitarian Universalism, including formerly serving as a professor at Starr King School for the Ministry and as Interim Co-President of the UUA in 2017. She currently serves as Resident Scholar and Special Advisor to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

Review the Nomination Process section of this announcement for more information on how the PSC made its determination, and for information on the process for running by petition in accordance with the UUA Bylaws.

The President is the primary public and spiritual leader of Unitarian Universalism, as well as the UUA’s Chief Executive Officer. The member congregations of the UUA, through their delegates, elect the President to represent and lead the faith on a path to Beloved Community, in which people of diverse backgrounds, identities and theological beliefs can thrive. The President must be committed to transparent, shared, and aspirational leadership, using their understanding of power and privilege to advance transformative faithful practices within the Association. At the heart of this work is the UUA’s commitment to dismantling oppressive societal systems and creating communities of equity, belonging and liberation. This requires centering the voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, members of the LGBTQIA+ communities, people living with disabilities, and those with other marginalized identities. The President leads UUA staff, volunteers and members of the denomination to create a Unitarian Universalism that welcomes the questions, gifts, and talents of all who are attracted to this faith tradition.

Nominee Biography

The Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt currently serves as Resident Scholar and Special Advisor on Justice and Equity at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). She previously served as interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Womanist Theology and Ethics at Drew University Theological School in 2021-22. From 2016-2021, she was on the core faculty of Starr King School for the Ministry, and served as its Acting President for a term. She was the UUA’s Director of Racial and Ethnic Concerns from 2005-2009. In 2017, she was appointed as one of the three-part team of UUA Interim Co-Presidents. She has been a member of the UUA Appointments Committee since 2016, and previously was a member of the UUA Nominating Committee.

Rev. Dr. Betancourt’s ministry centers on work that is empowering and counter-oppressive. Her academic work focuses on the environmental ethics of liberation through a womanist and Latina feminist frame. She previously served as the Senior Minister at the First UU Church of Stockton, CA, as Consulting Minister of the UU Fellowship of Storrs, CT, and as Interim Minister at the UU Church of Fresno, CA.

She holds a Ph.D. in religious ethics and African American Studies from Yale University, graduate degrees from Yale University in Religious Ethics and African American Studies, and an undergraduate degree from Cornell University with a concentration in ethnobotany. She is an ordained UU minister, with a Master of Divinity from Starr King School for the Ministry. Her book, Ecowomanism at the Panamá Canal: Black Women, Labor, and Environmental Ethics is available from Lexington Books (published February, 2022).

Nomination Process

Under the UUA Bylaws, the Presidential Search Committee (PSC) is responsible for nominating candidates for UUA President. The PSC is made up of seven members, five elected by the General Assembly and two appointed by the UUA Board of Trustees. The PSC was established in the UUA Bylaws in 2010 through a vote of the General Assembly, to support the democratic process of nominating candidates to serve as UUA President. Prior to the creation of the PSC, all candidates for the UUA Presidency ran by petition. The 2023 Presidential election is the second time the PSC has led the nomination process.

Two members of the PSC were appointed following General Assembly 2021 (one later resigned), and the five elected members were affirmed by the General Assembly in 2022. The PSC members are, in alphabetical order by last name: Rev. Jaimie Dingus, Denise Rimes, Cathy Seggel, James Snell, Rev. Theresa Ninán Soto and Marva Williams.

For this nomination, the PSC developed and led a fair and timely application and nomination process that was open to any leader who is a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Over its first few months, the PSC reached out to a wide variety of stakeholders to provide feedback on the Presidential job description and key qualifications, the development of the application and interviews, the recruitment of potential qualified applicants, and on the overall nomination process. Congregations and members of the public were kept informed of the nominating process throughout the spring and summer of 2022.

In addition to opportunities for input from the general public, the PSC consulted key interested parties, including religious professional groups such as the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA), the UU Ministers’ Association (UUMA) and the Association for UU Music Ministries (AUUMM); identity-based groups such as Diverse and Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM), Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU), EqUUal Access, and Transgender UU Religious Professionals Together (TRUUsT); youth and young adult communities; and UUA staff. Based on this input, the PSC sought candidates who could address the current needs of the UUA, and support the UUA’s mission and its commitment to the recommendations of the Commission on Institutional Change’s 2020 report, Widening the Circle of Concern. The PSC worked with the UUA Board of Trustees to establish a presidential job description capturing these qualifications, which was approved by the Board in February 2022.

The application and nomination timeline of the presidential search process was:

  • Applications opened on April 1, 2022
  • PSC members engaged in outreach to potential leaders, encouraging applications, including through conversations at General Assembly in June 2022
  • Applications were due on July 15, 2022
  • The PSC conducted interviews, engaged with applicants and reviewed references from August through October 2022, in preparation for selecting its nominees

The PSC received applications from Unitarian Universalists who represented a range of experiences and talents, including ordained ministers and non-ordained leaders. The candidate pool was comprised of majority women and transgender/non-binary individuals, and a majority of people who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).

At the conclusion of its process, the PSC unanimously nominated two exceptionally qualified leaders to be candidates for President. One of those nominees declined the nomination. Once the nominations were made, the committee determined that the only fair and appropriate course of action was to move forward with the nomination of Rev. Dr. Betancourt, rather than reopening the application process. The PSC members respect the decision of the nominee who withdrew, and will continue to honor their privacy, as was done throughout the interview process.

Nomination petitions from additional candidates may be submitted, according to the procedures described in the UUA Bylaws and Rules, by February 1, 2023. The election will conclude in June 2023, and the next President will be announced at General Assembly 2023. The current UUA President, Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray, will reach the end of her term and will serve until her successor takes office. As with the current President, the next UUA President will serve a single six-year term and will not be eligible for re-election.

Conclusion

The search for a President of the Unitarian Universalist Association asks us to live into our best selves and our most imaginative futures, working to fulfill our deeply held aspirations. The Presidential nomination process is a call to covenant and to making our values real in the world through our actions. As shared in the June 2021 Commission on Appraisal report, Rev. Carol Cissel notes:

We are the promises we make and the vows we break. In this faith, Unitarian Universalism, covenants bind us together and strengthen our relationships. They create a pathway toward inclusiveness and, in times of both joy and sorrow, remind us that we are tough, resilient, and thoughtful.

So may we, in faithful keeping of our promises as a movement, elect our next UUA president. The PSC was unanimous in its belief that UUs are blessed by the candidacy of Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt. Once the election process concludes and the new UUA President is announced at GA 2023, our Association will continue on its transformative journey to create the anti-oppressive, multicultural world we all imagine.

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This announcement constitutes the PSC’s report for nominations, as required by UUA Bylaw Section 9.5.

For questions and additional information, please reach out to elections@uua.org and visit this elections page.