A New Beginning
Building on many years of challenging and effective work by previous boards, the newly constituted Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) board gathered in Boston for its first formal meeting. The anticipated agility and other benefits of a smaller board were evident from the start. The meeting began with an extended check-in allowing both trustees and staff to get to know each other better and continue to develop the common commitment and mutual respect begun at the September retreat. With able facilitation by Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) President, the Rev. Linda Olson Peebles, the board engaged the history and theology of covenant and then considered and approved a set of promises we are making to each other and to the Association.
We promise to:
Show up with our best selves, intent on listening with openness and willingness to the voices in the room and those that are not.
Speak with an authentic voice, grounded in our lived experience, mindful of differing cultural interpretations and realities that are present.
Honor our duty to do the work of the board and to place anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multicultural accountability at the center of that work.
Recognize that each of us is fully human, with hurts and vulnerability, and the need to laugh and sing!
The opening hours of the meeting and the depth of conversation about the meaning of the promises we made moved us into the business agenda with clarity and good humor.
Over the course of three and a half days we considered and took action on a number of initiatives that are key to the future of Unitarian Universalism.
President Morales offered an overview of demographic data and a trends analysis in support of the approach Association staff is pursuing to grow Unitarian Universalism. He then made time in his report for an exciting presentation by the Rev. Terasa Cooley, who directs program and strategy. She made a compelling case for the UUA’s collaborative approach to congregational growth, and in reaching out to those claiming no religious affiliation commonly known as “the nones.” She helped us to understand the creative and innovative ways in which people are coming together as Unitarian Universalists as “Congregations and Beyond” begins to take hold.
There was also rich discussion of how the President’s report might be organized to help the board to do its work.
New Unitarian Universalist Communities
The Board welcomed Original Blessing, a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Brooklyn, New York. We also learned that there are 55 emerging Unitarian Universalist communities across the country, which are finding new ways to express and live out our faith. Three of these innovative efforts were briefly presented to give us a sense of the range of possibilities.
In response to the report of then UUA Moderator, Gini Courter, the 2013 General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution asking the Board and the Administration to take a long, hard look at our progress or lack thereof in becoming a conscious, effective anti-racist, anti-oppression and multi-cultural movement. Of particular concern to the supporters of the resolution, is knowing with greater clarity the demonstrable results of the considerable and earnest efforts of the Administration toward this transformation. We discussed the ways in which the work has evolved and asked for a detailed presentation on the full range of the Association’s effort at our January meeting. The discussion also included questions relating to a 2008 responsive resolution on youth programming. The Board
Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression, Multiculturalism (ARAOMC) working group suggested we take up the concerns expressed in the 2008 responsive resolution. We asked President Morales to spotlight youth programming in his January report to the Board. The Board discussed the question of how best to respond to responsive resolutions. It was pointed out that when people have felt hurt, silence in response to their complaint furthers the pain and alienation. We committed ourselves to do a better job of communicating the steps we take in responding to such resolutions.
Ministry after Sexual Misconduct
Moderator Jim Key led a conversation in response to concerns raised by a number of individuals and by an organized effort by members and friends of the First Unitarian Church of Nashville asking the Board to explore how we can strengthen our response in support of individuals and congregations who are working to recover from the impact of sexual misconduct. We heard of an innovative effort to support clergy working in the wake of abusive ministries and we discussed the need for a like effort in support of the congregations themselves. The Moderator has appointed trustee Natalia Averett to join him in establishing a task force to study the situation in order to help guide the Board’s efforts.
After a thorough search the Board and the Administration has selected Eric Craymer of Growth Management Consulting to help us to develop effective ways to be sure the resources of the Association are being allocated in pursuit of the stated UUA Ends. After visiting with Mr. Craymer we are convinced he’s the right person for the job. It was also good news that the cost will be approximately half of what was set aside for the purpose. A leadership team including Trustees Donna Harrison and Rob Eller-Isaacs, and UUA Chief Operating Officer Harlan Limpert was appointed to work with Mr. Craymer.
The Governance Working Group has been directed to conduct a thorough review of the governance policies with the intention of making the policy manual more clear and concise. The Board wants to enable both the Executive Staff and the Board itself to spend as much time as possible focused on achieving the Ends of the Association while assuring that our resources are used prudently and in accordance with our values. We will be considering a variety of approaches to reduce the burden on both the Administration and the Board.
Transforming General Assembly
The Board discussed some key questions and concerns related to the future of the General Assembly. How can it become more accountable to the member congregations? To whom else might we be accountable? What would be the best balance of business and programming? What role should volunteers (such as Planning Committee) have in overseeing and planning General Assembly? We revisited the 2010 report of the Fifth Principle Task Force and scheduled further discussion and possible action for January.
The Board had a rich and intriguing discussion of how we might use radically different and inclusive processes to fulfill the governance purpose of the General Assembly and also open up avenues for engagement by all delegates.
We are planning to have substantive discussions with the delegates at GA2014 about the full range of ideas for strengthening GA and are targeting GA2015 to propose a specific plan that the delegates can consider and vote on.
Meeting with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC)
The Board attended a reception at the newly remodeled offices of the Service Committee. We met with members and staff of the UUSC. We joined them in celebrating the successful launch of the College of Social Justice and learned about some of UUSC’s exemplary human rights work.
The meeting ended as it had begun as we asked ourselves how well we had kept our promises. The tone was direct, responsible, and respectful. Your new Board is off to a fine start.
Jim Key, Moderator
on behalf of the UUA Board of Trustees