UUA President Peter Morales's Report, 2014
UUA President Peter Morales's Report, 2014
General Assembly, Past General Assemblies

General Assembly 2014 Event 302

Download this Video (MP4)

This report is part of a longer event. Go to General Session III for the complete video and order of business.


THE MODERATOR: Now, it's my great pleasure to welcome the president of our association, the Reverend Peter Morales, for his report to the delegates. And he will be joined by some of the senior staff.


PETER MORALES: Good morning.

AUDIENCE: Good morning.

PETER MORALES: This has been an amazing year of change for our association, and I would love to tell you all about it—but I can't. There's way too much, and too little time. But you can read all about the fabulous things your staff has been doing in the annual report that's on the web.

Instead, I want to tell you about where we are going. First, we are moving toward greater collaboration among all of our UUA staff groups. This is powerfully symbolized by our move into a modern, open headquarters, and you'll be seeing more about that later.

The literal removal of walls captures our intent to work more closely with one another in order to serve our congregations more effectively. We now have an energy efficient, accessible place to welcome you and to celebrate our heritage and our vision. We've created a headquarters that embodies our vision for the 21st century.

Second, we are moving toward greater partnership in the public arena. Standing on the Side of Love is five years old. [APPLAUSE] And from its beginning, Standing on the Side of Love sought partnerships beyond Unitarian Universalism. And just look at what has happened, for example, in the area of marriage equality.

Almost half of all Americans have the full freedom to marry. [APPLAUSE] That's just amazing. And we've been at the forefront of that.

A few months ago, UUs from all over joined in the Mass Moral March in Raleigh, North Carolina. It may have been the most UUs ever present at a demonstration. We think something like 1,500 UUs were there. Our yellow shirts continue to stand on the side of love, and we are making a difference.

Standing on the Side of Love is wonderful, but real love—true, deep, strong religious love—does more than take a stand. The love that Jesus, and the Buddha, and Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Junior talked about is founded on the awareness that we are ultimately and intimately connected. That kind of love reaches out. It is the very nature of love to reach out.

The truth is that for most of us, taking a stand is a lot easier than reaching out. We're great at standing on the side of love. We're not as good at reaching out to people who we don't know, people who might disagree with us, people who are different, people who make us uncomfortable. And yet, the future of our movement—the future of our being able to make a difference in the world and in the lives of millions of people—depends on our learning to reach out.

We're living in the midst of a religious upheaval unlike anything in the last 1,000 years. Really. The religious world is changing faster now than it did during the Reformation or the Great Awakening. We are witnessing nothing less than a mass migration away from traditional religion and traditional religious institutions. Denominations like our United Church of Christ cousins and Presbyterians lost one quarter of their membership in just eight years. America's fastest growing religion is none of the above.

But I believe—I really believe—that this cultural earthquake is a historic opportunity for us. The culture is moving our way, but it's not moving into our congregations. Millions and millions of people align with our values and beliefs. They hunger for spiritual depth and religious community. They want to connect with other people to work for a world that is just, compassionate, and sustainable. And alas, they are deeply suspicious of institutions that remind them of "church—" at least church as they have known it.

Love reaches out. And the flip side is also true. If it doesn't reach out, it isn't love. Our Universalist forebears understood this, and we have to recapture their zeal in taking our message out into the world. Everything—everything that we are doing as your association staff is aimed at helping our congregations and our entire movement seize this historic opportunity.

So let me tell you briefly about one initiative we are just unveiling at this General Assembly. The UU Ministers Association—the UUMA—together with the UUA is launching a two year program in entrepreneurial ministry. This program will take about 30 UU ministers and religious professionals, along with a few UCC ministers and reform Jew rabbis—through a program that's been designed in collaboration with leading business schools. We want to take people with a passion for reaching out in new ways and help them develop the practical skills to succeed.

But I want to step back from the level of specific programs and activities, because our real task—our true religious challenge—is to change our culture so that this movement that we love can thrive in a new world. I believe that we have to do three things—get religion, grow leaders, and cross borders. Get religion, grow leaders, cross borders. And by get religion, I mean living our faith. And that involves everything from meditation, to small groups, to spirited worshipped, to committed public witness, to generous financial support.

We are a religious movement. We're not a club. We're not a political action group. Our story is a story of brave souls giving their lives in service to something that's far greater than themselves, and that extends far beyond their lifetimes.

And we have to grow leaders. That means identifying people with passion, commitment, and competence, and then supporting them. That means nurturing youth leaders, supporting our seminaries, developing lay leaders.

And growing leaders also means allowing leaders to lead. It means supporting innovation and taking some risks. We cannot dis-empower our leaders and allow ourselves to get caught up in endless process and discussion and debate.


And third, we have to cross borders. If we're to prosper in this new world, we have to learn to cross the borders of race, of culture, of social class. Ultimately, this is deep spiritual work.

Crossing borders—reaching across borders—takes courage. Crossing borders always changes us. We must be open to that change.

We're making progress in doing this. Just look at Justice GA a couple of years ago and the College of Social Justice trips. When love reaches out, it crosses borders. Get religion, grow leaders, cross borders—it informs everything that we do.

Now, I'm blessed to work with passionate, capable, and creative colleagues in our staff, and I want you to hear from a few of them. And I've asked them to share, in two minutes, what they are excited about as they look ahead. Let me introduce them to you. Sarah Lammert is Director of Ministries and Faith Development.


Hold your applause till the end, if you can. Taquiena Boston leads our Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group. Scott Tayler leads our field staff as Director of Congregational Life.

Terasa Cooley is our Program and Strategy Officer. She coordinates all our program areas and our strategic initiatives. And Harlan Limpert is chief operating officer, and actually the wizard behind the curtain at the UUA. We'll begin with Sarah Lammert.


SARAH LAMMERT: Bucky McKeeman used to say that ministry is the best seat in the theater of life. One of the best parts of my job leading our Ministries and Faith Development staff team is getting a front row seat in supporting two forming edges of our faith—military ministry and summer seminary for our youth. Here I am in New Mexico with our military chaplains on a retreat where we joined with our United Church of Christ colleagues to learn about moral injury and to create collegial networks. Particularly in the post Defense of Marriage Act climate, it is critical that the welcoming and affirming chaplains have the support that they need to attend to the spiritual needs of all of our service members, and particularly those who identify as GLBT. Join us tonight at the Service of the Living Tradition to learn more from Chaplain Rebecca Montgomery about your place in this important ministry.

No program at the UUA gets me more excited than our summer seminary for youth who feel called to the ministry or to leadership in religious education. Here you see our 2013 graduates at Emerson Chapel at the Harvard Divinity School. Summer seminary offers youth a chance to meet with religious professionals, seminary representatives, participate in a preach off, and to be taken seriously as leaders of today. Love made real, indeed.


TAQUIENA BOSTON: I am excited about how the UUA is growing leaders through two initiatives. First, the annual Finding Our Way Home retreat, and the Mosaic Makers conferences sponsored in partnership with congregations—UU congregations. Equipping leaders is essential to transforming Unitarian Universalism. Last March, our Finding Our Way Home gathered more than 70 religious professionals and seminarians of color worshipping, fellowshiping, and witnessing with Boston youth for Living Wage. Their ministries represent one of the leading edges of Unitarian Universalism.


Mosaic Makers Leading Vital Multicultural Congregations. This conference drew 120 UU professional and lay leaders in dynamic community to learn from each other how to start, live into, and sustain vital multicultural ministries grounded in justice and social movement building. These UU leaders are building a new way in Unitarian Universalism. They are examples of how our faith can nurture the spirit, cross borders, and heal our broken world in multiple languages of spirituality and culture.

And we've heard your request to join in this work, so in the next three years, Mosaic Makers will expand to engage more UU congregations and leaders at General Assembly, at regional gatherings, and in interfaith partnerships. So come, bring your ideas, share your learning. We will grow leaders and cross borders together. Multicultural ministries and social justice are two wings of our beloved community.


SCOTT TAYLER: Well, I definitely want to second Sarah's comment about the best seat in the house. And for me, that involves sitting—well, standing, really—alongside others as we pursue major structural changes out in the field. Two in particular come to mind.

The first is regionalization—a national effort to move from 19 districts into five stronger, more aligned regions. This is allowing us to reduce redundancies and take advantage of economies of scale. Each region is embodying this shift in their own unique way, but all—all—involve freeing our wonderful field staff to join together into larger, more creative and flexible teams. It also involves a number of district boards combining into single regional boards, thereby freeing—freeing up lay leaders to join staff in direct service to our congregations.

The second structural change involves a growing number of our churches reorganizing themselves into networks of congregations—a trend many are calling the multi-site movement. This, too, is taking many different forms—satellite, staff sharing, mergers. The slogan of these innovative congregational networks is "One church in many locations."

And friends, it would be easy, I think, to see both of these organizational changes as simply about increased efficiency. But from where I sit, I see something deeper. Our structures are finally and more boldly embodying our theology.

We are moving from structures of independence to structures of greater interdependence. We've always known that we are stronger together. More and more, we are living that powerful truth.


TERASA COOLEY: I'm excited that there are great new opportunities to build a Unitarian Universalist community literally at our fingertips. You see how it works? Advances in internet technology are allowing us to construct a brand new website that will be far more interactive than we've ever been able to have before. Not only will our new site be cleaner, easier to navigate, and easier to adapt quickly, it'll be a tool that you can use—that everyone can use—to connect with Unitarian Universalists or seekers anywhere and everywhere. You will be able to create a profile, register your interests, join or start a discussion group, upload your videos of your proudest moments as UUs.

And online, also at your fingertips, with our new Faithify program, the first ever denominationally affiliated crowd-funding platform. You can present or fund bold experiments that will help us cross geographies and generations, galvanizing the power of the crowd to fuel our faith. In its first 36 hours, Faithify has already raised $12,300.


Imagine being able to immediately put out a call to action on an important justice issue to all UUs in your community. Imagine being able to organize a new congregation beginning with the people that you already know to be UUs in your area. Imagine being able to join an online small group ministry with people around the world. Imagine being able to find funding and support for your innovative project on Faithify. Imagine going through a rough personal time and immediately being able to access inspirational messages that can speak directly to your heart.

All of our program staff will be busy over the next few months reorganizing and reorienting our content toward these purposes, giving you the resources and connections that you need to do your ministry in the world. And we've created a new outreach office and hired a fabulous new director of outreach, Carey McDonald, to help us develop a comprehensive strategic plan for communicating to UUs and beyond, to all those who share our values but may not be sitting in our pews. All of this will be coming soon to a computer, a smartphone, or a tablet near you.


HARLAN LIMPERT: In my almost 40 years of ministry, coordinating the move to our new headquarters in Boston's Innovation District is by far the most exciting project I've ever led. A major role of any chief operating officer is to shape the culture of an organization and to set the tone for how staff work to serve its mission. Your committed UUA staff have always done their best to work collaboratively, even in buildings better suited for the 19th century, not the 21st century. Now, after 100 years, we have a space that enables us to support you and the congregations you lead even better.

Our new headquarters has an open layout, encouraging the sharing of information and collaboration among staff. With the newest technology, we easily communicate with leaders all over the continent and all over the world. The building will be LEED certified by the United States Green Building Council, showing our commitment to the environment.


And with the new entrance completed this summer, our building will be accessible and welcoming to all.


We are modeling a faith that lives and breathes community, relevance, engagement and spirit. In just two months, the change has been remarkable. Our new space will help us serve all of Unitarian Universalism. I want to share a video with you just released minutes ago—moments ago—on the UUA's Facebook page about our move to 24 Farnsworth Street.


-John Hurley, our head of communications, did some research. And he found an article about the move from the previous building to this one, and the reasons are almost exactly the same. It was about wanting to move into more modern space, that the old space didn't fit the needs of the organization at the time, it was limiting the way they could work. I mean, it was something that he or I could have written about this move.


Amazing things have happened in these buildings, and they're rich with tradition and history. The Pentagon Papers publishing decision was made here. We've been leaders in civil rights and women's rights and LGBT rights. One of the first same sex marriages in the country happened right here, on the second floor.

So much has happened here, but we get to take that history with us. The history is alive, and it's with us. It's not part of the building. It's part of who we are, as our identity.

-Real fragile stuff.

-Oh, thank Jesus.

-We've always been a faith movement that looks to the future—that sees new possibilities in the future. This is who we are. We're people who look ahead, who innovative, and who seize opportunity.

-Environmental sustainability is absolutely a part of what we do, and it's a part of what UUA does. If we're only worried about pollution or carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases, reusing an existing building is one of the greenest things you can do.

-One of the parts of the new headquarters I'm really excited about is our Heritage and Vision Center that we're going to have right as you come in. It's really going to be a showcase where we can show not only our history that we're proud of, but things that are going on now and our aspirations for the future, and to make this interactive the way it is in a modern museum.

-You'll enter into a gathering space—an area that starts to tell the story of UUA. And the stairs that lead up to the chapel are immediately adjacent to that, and part of the experience. We feel like the chapel is the heart of the building.

-We're going to have a chapel that allows us to have all kinds of meetings, to be a real center for Unitarian Universalism, to use technology to broadcast what we're doing to all our people in the country.


-Our new offices are going to be in what has been called Boston's Innovation District, and I love that name because it's all about innovation for us. We have an opportunity, as Unitarian Universalists, to play a far larger role in the life of this country. Our values of openness and acceptance are really where the culture is going, but we need to adapt and to change in order to take advantage of this opportunity. And to do that, we have to be agile.

And that's what this building is going to let us do. It's going to let us collaborate in ways we've never been able to do before. It's going to have modern technology. It's going to allow us to have a much more interactive and dynamic organization. It's going to be a wonderful and engaging place for people of all ages to visit, and I'm hoping thousands and thousands of UUs come and visit their new home once it's ready.




PETER MORALES: So I invite you to go to UUA's Facebook page and like and share that video, and share the news about our new headquarters. Your UUA staff has done heroic work this year. Your Boston based staff has had to do all of their regular work and pack and move just before General Assembly. You have a terrific staff, and I would like our staff to rise as you're able, and receive the acknowledgement of everyone here. They're right over there.


We have a historic opportunity. We have the capacity to reach out in love and touch millions of lives, and to help transform our world. But we can only do this by working together. We at headquarters can't do it. Our field staff can't do it.

You can't do it alone, or even in your congregation. But together—together, we can do wonderful things. We've proved that over and over. I want to challenge every person here, and every congregation, and every group.

What can you do to help to seize this historic opportunity? Who do you need to partner with to make it happen? What are you going to do to get religion, grow leaders, and cross borders? What are we going to do together to let our love reach out? Let's do amazing things together. Thank you very much.


But now, like Steve Jobs, I have one more thing. I want to take a moment to thank and to introduce a man who, for the past 20 years, has been on your UUA staff, and for more than a decade, has led the efforts to fund all of our good work. All of what we do—our national and international public witness work, train and certify religious professionals, work with congregation, develop resources like OWL and Tapestry of Faith can't happen without funding.

It takes a special person to be able to listen to you and support your passion and our shared vision by raising the funds that we need. As head of stewardship and development, the Reverend Terry Sweetser has helped us to raise more than $200 million from our congregations and from almost 100,000 individual donors. He's traveled more than a million miles—that's around the earth about 42 times. I shudder to think of how many times Terry has gone through airport security.


For your many contributions, for your UUA career filled with commitment and dedication to our faith, I thank you. Terry, we're all in your debt. Please accept our thanks and share a few words with us. Terry Sweetser, who just repelled off also the Convention Center.


TERRY SWEETSER: Thank you. Sometimes we don't know how generous we really are, but our congregations—our Unitarian Universalist congregations—are incredibly generous, and they share with us to make wonderful things happen—the things you've heard about today. We have individuals who give large gifts and who give small gifts, and they make a huge difference. We have foundations and special congregations who partner with us and with all of Unitarian Universalism to make a difference. It is just so moving to have been able to be a part of that for these many years.

You've welcomed me into your congregations—into your homes. We've had a few meals out together, which I'll be trying to lose over the next few years. I am succeeded by the Reverend Mary Katherine Morn, who will bring wonderful leadership to this work. I hope she will go over the edge in hope and land, as I have, in love. Thank you.


THE MODERATOR: And let me add my thanks for Terry's service, as well. I'll always remember when I was—my first—his first comments to me when my first trip to Boston as the new moderator. He took my hand and he clasped them in his.

He looked into my eyes, and he said, "Have you become a member of the legacy society? Have you included the UUA in your will?" How sweet is that? How sweet is that?


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