Green building guidelines, revised GA schedule also approved at October meeting.
During the October 19-22 meetings, the Board voted unanimously to approve a new self-funded health plan, the first UUA-sponsored health insurance plan in eight years. The new insurance plan was designed to make health insurance available to UU ministers and congregational employees who work at least 1,000 hours a year, many of whom currently have no insurance or are underinsured.
UUA Treasurer Tim Brennan was appointed the acting trustee of the new Trust that governs the plan, with the understanding that new trustees will be appointed in January.
Open enrollment for the health insurance plan will end on November 27. The Rev. Ralph Mero, the UUA’s Church Staff Finances director, said he hopes to enroll 600 people by December 1, when they will forward the enrollee information to Blue Cross Blue Shield so they can mail out the membership cards before the end of the year. As of the end of October, 580 people were enrolled.
The Board also endorsed a resolution from the Congregational Properties and Loan Commission that promotes environmentally friendly building practices. Congregations seeking financial assistance from the CPLC will be strongly encouraged to follow the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green practice program administered by the United States Green Building Council during planning, design, construction, and final commissioning of their project.
The CPLC will establish a $60,000 pilot program to encourage LEED certification. Cash grants of between $5,000 and $10,000 will go to as many as six congregations that complete a renovation or building project costing $300,000 or more, depending on the level of LEED certification they are pursuing. The program will expire at the end of the four years or when $60,000 has been awarded, whichever comes first, unless the CPLC votes to continue it.
In an effort to model this green behavior, the UUA’s Boston buildings are being assessed for changes that would make them eligible for LEED certification.
The 2007 General Assembly will invite Unitarian Universalists to focus on the purposes of the Association. The Board approved changes in the GA schedule that limit plenary sessions and expand workshop time to accommodate Open Space Sessions. Moderator Gini Courter explained that the Open Space Sessions will not follow a preset agenda but will use Open Space Technology to help people create and manage their own agenda in parallel working sessions. The sessions will address a central theme or question, such as: What difference should Unitarian Universalism make in the world? The specific wording for the sessions at GA has not yet been finalized, Courter said, but she presented a test question that was warmly received by the Board and observers:
“How shall we associate together and embody our promise to move from comfort to covenant, from corporation to association, from consumption to service, from criticism to appreciation, from privilege to solidarity?”
“It’s a trial question, it’s not the question,” Courter said, in an interview. “It’s too long to be the question, but we liked the things it made us think about.” Part of the process right now, she explained, is finding the right question, the one central question that would be most effective to ask GA attendees.
In his report to the Board, UUA President William G. Sinkford said that congregational lay leaders have expressed a desire for greater theological depth and education. The issue surfaced during conversations about the future of the two UU theological schools, Starr King and Meadville Lombard, and was confirmed during a September needs assessment gathering of lay and professional leaders. “The yearning for spiritual deepening is great, it is widespread, and we need to find a way to address it,” Sinkford said. He announced plans to meet in November with people who may have a role in providing such education to begin mapping a possible response.
Another of Sinkford’s theological education goals is to make Unitarian Universalism a truly multicultural religion. He reported that while there are only 14 ministers of color currently serving UU congregations, 55 are currently in the ministerial training process. “That’s enough to significantly transform our ministry, if they can find successful settlements,” he said.
The Board also approved a new checklist for reviewing independent affiliate applications, which will go out with renewal applications in February. It is encouraging independent organizations to form clusters that will be recognized as single independent affiliates, such as the Council of UU Camps and Conferences (CU2C2), which encompasses most UU camps, conference centers, and conferences. Organizations are not required to be in a cluster; a single group can still be an independent affiliate. Independent affiliate status is left to the discretion of the Board, which voted in June to postpone accepting any new applications until April 2007.
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Sonja L. Cohen is deputy managing editor of UU World and a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.