Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults

Handout 1: Twelve Moments That Shaped Today's UUA

1. Greeley Forges a Strong Presidency

In 1961 the first General Assembly elects the Rev. Dr. Dana McLean Greeley, last president of the American Unitarian Association, to be the first president of the new UUA. Charismatic and deeply engaged in public issues, Greeley raised visibility, membership, and morale, essentially defining the office. He also ran out of funds, leading to a financial crisis at the end of his second term.

2. Reeb's Death Galvanizes a Movement

Greeley leads the UUA in joining the civil rights movement, a natural fit for a movement affirming the "supreme worth of every human personality." The Rev. James Reeb, killed while participating in the Selma voting rights campaign in 1965, galvanizes UU participation. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers the UUA's Ware Lecture in 1966.

3. Black Empowerment Bitterly Divides

"Black power" radicalizes the civil rights movement after Stokely Carmichael (who coined the phrase) challenges Martin Luther King's goal of racial integration in 1966. The debate about the future of the civil rights movement divides the UUA when the Black UU Caucus presents "non-negotiable demands" to the 1968 General Assembly. The Assembly commits 1 million dollars over four years to black empowerment programs, but backs off in 1969 when the board realizes that the UUA is broke. After cutting all funding in 1970, the UUA loses approximately 1,000 African-American members and retreats from active involvement with the civil rights movement.

4. Beacon Press Infuriates Nixon

Beacon Press, the UUA's independent book publisher, found a spot on Richard Nixon's enemies list for publishing the complete text of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The FBI tried to obtain the UUA's bank records, but a legal battle—and Nixon's resignation—finally took the UUA off the hook.

5. Natural Gas to the Rescue

Thank one congregation—and one generous member—for most of the money used to spread Unitarian Universalism in the last 40 years. Caroline Veatch bequeaths the royalties to her late husband's pre-World War II oil discoveries to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, New York, in 1953. The congregation and its Veatch Fund provide millions over the years, funding the UUA's extension programs, establishing the UUA's endowment (with 20 million dollars in 1985), providing grants to UU and social justice-related programs, and—twice in the early '70s— saving the UUA from bankruptcy. Veatch's legacy inspires thousands of others to invest in the UUA's future.

6. Religious Education Is Revitalized

The UUA publishes its groundbreaking "About Your Sexuality" curriculum for teenagers in 1971, but religious education enrollment drops throughout the '70s. The baby boom, new curricula, and professional development programs for religious educators revive "RE": enrollment is now 57.6 percent higher than in 1985. (The UUA begins offering credentials to religious educators in 1967, and in 1979 accepts ministers of religious education into ministerial fellowship.) Liberal Religious Youth is replaced by the more denominationally-minded Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU) in 1982, and youth and young adult involvement surges in the late '90s.

7. New Symbols Define a Movement

The flaming chalice, first used as a denominational logo in the 1976-77 UUA Directory, becomes a ritual part of many UU services in the '80s. A revised statement of UUA principles, adopted by the General Assembly in 1985, proves especially popular in defining what Unitarian Universalism is.

8. Women Transform the Ministry

Only four women are ordained to the UU ministry in the UUA's first decade. The first gathering of women clergy—at Grailville, Ohio, in 1978—brought 29 ministers together. How times have changed! Since then, the number of women in parish ministry has jumped to 44.8 percent. Counting community ministers (62 percent of whom are women) and ministers of religious education (85 percent), our ordained leadership is now half female.

9. Humanism Meets the New Spirituality

In the '60s, UUs overwhelmingly identified as religious humanists; almost 30 percent believed the concept of God was either irrelevant or harmful in 1967. Fifteen years later, that number had dropped to 20 percent. Today, newcomers are often trying to fill a religious void in their lives. Many UUs are rediscovering spirituality and ritual; Buddhist and Pagan UU groups are common. The General Assembly in 1995 added a "sixth Source" to the UUA's statement of principles, affirming "spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions." Humanism hasn't gone away, though. Nine out of ten UU congregations still identify humanism as a primary perspective—and human reason (37 percent), UU principles (33 percent), and personal experience (24 percent) are considered the foundational source of authority in UU congregations, according to a 1999 study of more than 500 UU congregations.

10. The Welcoming Denomination

The General Assembly begins calling the UUA to fight discrimination against homosexuals in 1970, establishing a UUA Office of Gay Concerns in 1974 (now the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns). The General Assembly affirms services of union for gay and lesbian couples in 1984, and establishes the Welcoming Congregation program in 1989 to help congregations extend a genuine welcome to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. More than 300 congregations have now completed the program.

11. On a Journey Toward Wholeness

The UUA begins tackling racism again in 1981 with a board resolution to become a "racially equitable institution." Momentum builds slowly until the General Assembly calls for racial and cultural diversity within the UUA in 1992, and in 1997 adopts "The Journey Toward Wholeness"—committing the UUA to becoming an "anti-racist, multicultural association." In 1999, the U.S. Presidential Commission on Race identifies the UUA's program as one of the nation's 100 best racial justice efforts.

12. First Black President of a White Denomination

The Rev. William G. Sinkford is elected president of the UUA in 2001, becoming the first African American elected to lead a historically white denomination in the United States.