For the first time in their new roles, the three interim co-presidents of the Unitarian Universalist Association spoke on Thursday, April 13, at an All Staff meeting in Boston, describing their hopes for beginning important racial justice work at the UUA over the next ten weeks.
Two of the co-presidents, the Rev. Sofía Betancourt and the Rev. William G. Sinkford, attended the meeting in person in Boston, while co-president Leon Spencer attended online. The UUA Board of Trustees named the three as interim co-presidents on Monday, April 10, to serve until a president is elected June 24 by the General Assembly. On April 6, the board unanimously approved a UUA Presidential Transition Plan to “frame the brief tenure of the transition team and help to shape Unitarian Universalism into the future”; the plan will guide the co-presidents in their work.
“These are hard times for the association,” said Sinkford, who served as UUA president from 2001 to 2009. “I hope you can take away from my presence that we can not only survive this period but thrive in it and through it, if we are willing.”
UUA President Peter Morales resigned on April 1, three months before the end of his tenure, in the face of a controversy over UUA hiring practices, which critics say systematically favor white UU ministers. The Rev. Harlan Limpert, chief operating officer, and the Rev. Scott Tayler, director of Congregational Life, also resigned.
Sinkford announced two new members of the Leadership Council: Jessica York, interim director of Ministries and Faith Development while the Rev. Sarah Lammert serves as the UUA’s acting chief operating officer, and Carey McDonald, the UUA’s Outreach Director. Both are people of color, and Sinkford said that their appointments are “a recognition that we need to change the way Unitarian Universalism looks.” He added, “We are so blessed that two people actually positioned to do exactly that are positioned and experienced and prepared to bring leadership skills” to the council.
Sinkford also announced that the co-presidents have already instituted a “modified hiring freeze” at the UUA “so that we can take a breath and make sure we have the right understanding and policies in place so that we can move forward confidently and toward the right goal” in staffing the UUA. For “very important reasons,” he continued, Beacon Press is exempt from the freeze. “Beacon Press has taken issues of racial and cultural diversity seriously for so long and done such a fine job,” he said, with nine people of color among its 30 staff members. The co-presidents may allow other exceptions if there are critical hires to be made, he said.
Lammert said that she and UUA Moderator Jim Key met with Betancourt, Sinkford, and Spencer as a five-person leadership team via teleconference for the first time this week. They hope to meet again in person next week, prior to the Board of Trustees meeting.
Betancourt, an assistant professor at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California, said she will remain in Boston through the April board meeting. Sinkford, who is flying back to Portland, Oregon, to lead the Easter Sunday service at First Unitarian Church, will return to Boston next week for the board meeting. Sinkford said that Spencer is trying to adjust his schedule so he can attend the board meeting as well.