The start of this new UUA presidency is an historic opportunity to reassess and realign our work. The call to live up to our most deeply-held values, to push forward on the journey towards the Beloved Community, is both clear and challenging. This mid-year update is an opportunity to share what is underway at the UUA and what Unitarian Universalists can expect to see in the coming year. We are excited to share the ways in which the UUA is advancing its core mission of equipping congregations, training leaders and advancing our values in the world.
In her first seven months as President, Susan Frederick-Gray has traveled across the country in conversation with Unitarian Universalists. Her travels have taken her to Charlottesville,VA; Chicago, IL; Denver, CO; Washington, DC; Knoxville, TN; Sarasota, FL; Dallas, TX; and St. Louis, MO as well as to India and Nepal to meet with global UU partners. She will visit Los Angeles, CA; Portland, OR; Albuquerque, NM; Charlotte, NC; and New York, NY before General Assembly in Kansas City this June. On her journeys, President Frederick-Gray has carried the message that this is no time for a casual faith and no time to go it alone. Our commitments, to our religious principles and to one another, are critical in this moment.
Collaborative Leadership and Mission Focus
After running for office with a call to organize for impact, President Frederick-Gray has continued to emphasize a focus on organizational mission at all levels. This starts with deep collaboration with the UUA Board of Trustees. Working closely with the Board’s appointed interim Co-Moderators, Elandria Williams and Mr. Barb Greve, UUA senior staff are engaging with the Board to reevaluate our shared priorities. This includes creating more impact-focused metrics for the Global Ends and simplifying the policy governance monitoring process by which the Board evaluates UUA staff and programs.
General Assembly (GA), June 20-24 in Kansas CIty, MO, will offer Unitarian Universalists from every congregation the chance to participate in high-level discussions about the mission of the Association. With the theme “All Are Called,” this year’s GA will be inviting attendees to think big-picture about our faith movement and find ways to follow their own calling to leadership in their congregations and communities. Extended workshop tracks will provide in-depth learning opportunities, networking and resource sharing will provide new ways to connect with peer leaders across the country (sign up on the GA webpage to host a networking session or participate in the poster display). GA is the premier opportunity for individual UU’s to feel their connection to the wider faith and be inspired by their fellow Unitarian Universalists. Significant scholarship funds are being made available this year, especially for people of color and those with other marginalized identities, so be sure to apply for financial aid by March 31.
Public Witness, Organizing and Prophetic Ministry
In addition to the leadership-level mission focus, we are reevaluating major program areas this year to increase their impact, effectiveness and role clarity. Acting Chief Operating Officer Carey McDonald is leading a review of the UUA’s public witness— our outward-facing justice work—as one of the most important ways the UUA helps bring UU values into the world. The need for powerful, prophetic voices for justice, liberation and compassion in the public square is great, and Unitarian Universalists are rising to this challenge.
This public witness review will establish clear goals for impact and redesign internal processes, which date from the early 2000s and do not reflect how much has changed since then in public advocacy and organizing as well as in news and social media. The reimagined processes will encompass formal statements and social media commentary from the UUA and the president, support for congregations doing organizing in their own contexts and strategies for partnership with movement organizations whose leadership comes from marginalized communities.
We are coordinating on key intersectional prophetic priorities across the UUA’s different programs and initiatives. This includes a few major initiatives:
- Side With Love - Harnessing love’s power to stop oppression, Side With Love offers spiritual sustenance for justice movement organizing through podcasts, campaigns, pastoral support, empowering activists, and more. As you may have heard, we recently changed from its original name, “Standing on the Side of Love,” to move away from ableist and exclusive language.
- Love Resists - This campaign, to expand sanctuary and to counter the criminalization of our communities, is jointly sponsored by the UUA and the UU Service Committee (UUSC). Get connected with other UU’s and movement organizing partners shining a light on abusive detention, enforcement and deportation practices across the country.
- UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) the UUCSJ offers justice education experiences to teach a deep, rooted approach to justice work through learning journeys, trainings and volunteer placements. This year we are reaffirming our commitment to the UUCSJ, started in 2012 as an experimental joint project with the UUSC, as a priority for years to come.
In addition to these major initiatives, we continue the ongoing prophetic public ministry work of providing pastoral support and coaching of congregational leaders, participation in coalitions and partnerships, offering webinars and learning opportunities, and engaging in shareholder advocacy.
Covenantal Relationships and Regions
Another major program area being reevaluated is the UUA’s system of regional support and relationship. The multi-year push towards regionalization is nearing completion, with the majority of governance transitions from districts to regions completed. UUA regional staff and volunteers are well-positioned to help develop and maintain the UUA’s relationships with congregations and to hold the wider covenant of our Association. The center of gravity for Unitarian Universalism is in the relationships between congregations and the UUA, and they are some of the most important relationships to shift as we consider how to build a truly anti-oppressive faith movement. The past year has shown our faith’s commitment to reconsidering destructive patterns that reinforce structural white supremacy, patriarchy and oppression. A covenantal, relational faith helps leaders at all levels hold one another accountable to our shared vision of Beloved Community.
At the January 2018 annual meeting of staff from all five regions, the UUA kicked off a strategic reevaluation of how to equip and empower regional lay and professional leaders to hold better, more accountable relationships throughout the UUA, including through investing in the Annual Program Fund (APF). This conversation will continue throughout 2018 and beyond, as the new APF formula is rolled out in the Southern, New England, and Central East Regions. In these three regions, we are engaging congregational leaders with mailings, webinars, emails and seminars to describe the changes and be clear about expectations. Overall, moving to a formula based on ability to pay rather than membership count is a key investment in building a vibrant, and sustainable covenant between and among our congregations and the UUA. We celebrate the generosity of our member congregations and their support of one another through the Annual Program Fund.
Challenging Systemic Oppression
We continue our deep commitment to institutional transformation in countering structural white supremacy, patriarchy and systemic oppression. We believe our impact will be demonstrated by our investment in UU leadership from the historic margins and directly-impacted communities within our faith, by the success of religious professionals from marginalized communities, and by the ability of the UUA to effectively help our congregations navigate their own cultural changes and challenges.
We are on the road to fulfilling our financial commitments to Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU)—an investment in one of Unitarian Universalism most dynamic new ministries. An independent ministry for and by Black UU’s, BLUU’s mission is to expand the power and capacity of Black UUs, provide them with support, and engage in justice-making and liberation through our shared faith. In October 2016, the UUA Board committed $5.3 million to support BLUU. The UUA has already contributed $1 million out of its own endowment, and now invites every UU to contribute to the Board’s commitment through the Promise and Practice campaign. Congregations that meet the threshold of $10 for each member (or soul served) will have their contributions doubled through a generous matching gift. Sign up your congregation to support the campaign at uua.org/bluu-campaign.
We continue to support the work of the independent Commission on Institutional Change, charged by the UUA Board of Trustees with redeeming the essential promise of our faith. In addition to funding the Commission’s full request of $500,000 over two years, considerable staff time is being spent to buttress the Commission’s work. This includes supporting staff hiring and contracting processes; assistance with budgeting, administration, logistics, communication and technology; and providing access to UUA archives, data systems and staff groups at the Commission's request. You can follow the work of the Commission, including answering their call for testimony on the ways racism has impacted the experience of individual UU’s, on their website.
Organizational Inclusion and Equity
We are prioritizing our own internal commitments to building an anti-racist organization. The UUA already has policies for non-discrimination, affirmative action and anti-harassment for its staff, and has made the following investments in equity and inclusion this year:
- Teach-Ins Following the UUA staff’s participation in the first grassroots-organized White Supremacy Teach-In last spring, we have hosted three subsequent cross-staff “teach-in” opportunities, each in a different format, to seed and support discussion of how white supremacy, patriarchy and colonialism shape our work as UUA employees.
- Special Advisor Taquiena Boston was appointed Special Advisor to the President for Inclusion, Equity and Change (concurrent with her role as Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness) in November 2017, and works closely with the President and COO to develop and oversee internal organizational changes to ensure the UUA embodies multicultural inclusion, equity, and justice-centered relationships at all levels.
- New hiring procedures New procedures for filling open positions have been finalized, which include explicit instructions around job descriptions, hiring teams, interviews, background checks, documentation, hiring approvals, and more. Now included in the Employee Manual, these guidelines contain a new statement of mission that will be shared with job candidates. In our hiring, we are prioritizing the need for a diverse staff with lived experience in communities of color, essential for serving the diverse needs of our congregations. Hiring goals for diversity will continue to be refined this spring.
- Support for staff of color This year the regular zoom meetings and an annual Gratitude Dinner were augmented with a full-day retreat for staff of color. This space allows staff members who identify as people of color to build mutual support and identify areas where the organization can improve their/our experience.
- Anti-harassment training An updated anti-harassment online training module is required for all staff this spring, and is a condition of continued employment.
In addition to implementing new internal hiring procedures, we will be making changes in other human resources and professional development areas, including: recruiting and leadership pipelines; promotions and staff evaluations; pay equity across staff groups and grades; and organization-wide learning goals and metrics for progress towards becoming a measurably more anti-racist organization.
Support for Congregations and Leaders
As the UUA addresses its own institutional and internal needs for transformation, we are examining our current services and expertise for supporting congregations wrestling with similar questions. Our current intake processes for these challenges include:
- Congregational Complaint System—We have a system to receive congregational complaints around unsafe or oppressive dynamics through our Office of Safety and Ethics. The Safer Congregations team advises congregations how to address children and youth safety policies, identity-based conflict, limited access agreements, building and physical safety, and more.
- Ministerial Complaint System—We receive complaints against fellowshipped ministers regarding professional misconduct or other violations of their code of ethics, and support the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in its investigation and due process for accused ministers up to, and including, termination of fellowship.
- Regional staff advising—Congregations experiencing staff or leadership conflict often turn to UUA regional staff for help. We advise and facilitate congregational leaders in how to best address the concerns at hand and help the congregation find the path forward.
The UUA has seen an increase in these conflicts and complaints, especially among multicultural staff teams. We believe this in part represents long-standing oppressive dynamics which are exacerbated by the broad cultural violence of this current moment. Our Association-wide conversations about structural white supremacy and patriarchy can also create differential impacts for our leaders from marginalized backgrounds, making their ministries more difficult in many different ways. We are reviewing the ways the UUA currently works to strengthen the ministries of religious professionals of color in light of the urgency of many of the situations arising in our congregations. We continue to invest in direct support of religious leaders who hold marginalized identities, including the Finding Our Way Home retreat for religious professionals of color, the TRUUST retreat for religious leaders who are transgender or genderqueer, and the Thrive schools for youth and for young adults of color. This year we have also updated online Safer Congregation resources for congregations based on recent questions we have received (e.g. policies for responding to active shooters), and convened a cross-staff team to develop national youth safety standards for all UUA region and district sponsored youth events (conferences).
The UUA’s historic opportunity to realign is an urgent and powerful calling of our time. It can feel like an impossible task at times to hold true to that calling to create a more just and equitable religious tradition and we are clear that there are no single answers or approaches that will suffice. This is no time for a casual faith. We also affirm that this calling is one that extends to every Unitarian Universalist to find their place in the transformation of our faith movement. We welcome your engagement and your feedback, even when it is difficult to receive, because we know this is no time to go it alone. Together, we can help Unitarian Universalism focus on its highest calling to become an ever-stronger force for justice and compassion in the world.