Board prepares bylaw changes for 2018 General Assembly

Board prepares bylaw changes for 2018 General Assembly

Changes will simplify social witness resolutions process, remove gendered language, and allow for co-moderators.

Elaine McArdle
The UUA Board of Trustees, administration, and members of the UUA staff meet at the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee in January 2018.

The UUA Board of Trustees, administration, and members of the UUA staff meet at the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee in January 2018. (© Mary Katherine Morn)

© Mary Katherine Morn


The Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees is preparing to bring several bylaw changes to the 2018 General Assembly in Kansas City, Missouri, June 20–24. Delegates to GA will also vote on business resolutions that groups of congregations are preparing, including one that would grant delegate status to many religious educators.

At its January meeting, held in East Tennessee so the board and administration could connect with local UUs, the Board of Trustees discussed a variety of bylaw changes proposed by UUA committees. The board acknowledged but did not discuss bylaw changes proposed by congregations and professional organizations.

Trustees will vote on the language of each proposal in upcoming meetings before distributing the final agenda in May, but they agreed in January to draft changes that would:

  • make all language in the bylaws gender neutral;
  • allow staggered terms for those serving on the Ministerial Fellowship Committee;
  • change the board’s two youth observer positions to youth trustees with voting rights and two-year terms; and
  • simplify and shorten Commission on Social Witness processes for Statements of Conscience and Actions of Immediate Witness.

The board also agreed to develop a proposed bylaw change that would formally allow more than one person to serve in the position of UUA Moderator. Currently, the position is held jointly by Mr. Barb Greve and Elandria Williams through board appointment; the board hopes to have delegates vote on a formal change to the definition of the position before the next election of a moderator to a full term in 2019. (The board also reported at its January meeting that it had found no suitable candidates willing to be nominated for the 2019 moderator election.)

Trustees discussed but did not come to agreement about another proposal to allow more than one person to serve in the position of UUA president.

The deadline for placing items on the tentative agenda for GA is March 1. Carey McDonald, acting chief operating officer of the UUA, said he expects some of the proposals to be completed by that point, while others may need more time to be finalized and will be added to the GA agenda later. The board is also planning a process for reviewing all UUA bylaws over the next year and a half.

Other business resolutions are also on their way to the General Assembly, but without board action.

The Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) is proposing a bylaw change that would grant delegate status to active LREDA members who are employed by congregations. The UUA currently grants at least two delegates to each member congregation, with additional delegates for every fifty members of a congregation. The UUA also gives delegate status to ministers in fellowship with the UUA who are currently employed at least half-time by congregations, to emeritus/emerita ministers, and to community ministers actively affiliated with congregations. Religious educators who have received the UUA’s Master Level credential and are employed by a congregation also qualify for delegate status—but very few religious educators hold this credential.

The Joseph Priestley District is proposing an amendment that would require the Board of Trustees to “establish and maintain a means by which congregations may communicate directly with the Board concerning governance of the Association, and receive from the Board timely responses to such communications.”

Delegates will also have a chance to finalize a change to the UUA’s Principles, Sources, and Purposes—the most recognizable language in the UUA bylaws. The 2018 GA will take a second vote on a change introduced last year to honor “words and actions of prophetic people” instead of “prophetic women and men.”

Although advocates continue to cultivate support for proposals to add an explicitly antiracist Eighth Principle and an anti-anthropocentric version of the First Principle, the board has not received business resolutions to bring those changes to the GA agenda this year. The board has formed an Article II Working Group to plan a process for reconsidering the central values statement of the UUA, rather than encouraging amendments to tweak existing language.

The board met in January at the historic Highlander Research and Education Center outside of Knoxville, which is home to a long history of grassroots organizing and activism in Appalachia and the South. UUA Co-Moderator Elandria Williams has been a member of Highlander’s education team for ten years.

Dozens of UUs from at least five area congregations joined trustees for events at the meeting, including a Sunday worship at Tennessee Valley UU Church in Knoxville, at which UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray preached.

Trustees and administration officials described this “linkage” effort to reach out and listen to congregations as very positive. Frederick-Gray said that it was “uplifting and fun to be in community here” and to “be with UUs here who are so committed to justice.”

The Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti, a trustee, said that he had been to many UU-related meetings, “but I have never encountered the energy and joy and enthusiasm” of the January meeting. “I could feel how important it was for folks in this region to have us here, to have the leaders of their faith movement” present.

In other business, the administration presented a simplified version of the Global Ends, which the board accepted. The administration will present a monitoring report about the revised Ends in April.

UUA Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Tim Brennan reported that the UUA’s financial position is very good, including a modest surplus in the operations budget. “This is a very solid organization financially,” he said.

Frederick-Gray reported that the Annual Program Fund, by which congregations contribute to the UUA, is up more than $200,000 over this time last year, a 7 percent increase. The APF has received many more pledges this year, she said, extending a thanks to the Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, director of Stewardship and Development, and her staff.

The Promise and the Practice of Our Faith campaign to raise $5.3 million pledged by the board to Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) has raised over $616,000 from congregations and individuals, with 58 congregations pledging to the fund and 11 congregations reaching the match amount offered by the UUA.

The Commission on Institutional Change, appointed by the board in 2017 to analyze structural racism and white supremacy within the UUA, reported at the board’s January meeting that it has hired the Rev. Danielle DiBona to look into the experience of religious professionals of color within Unitarian Universalism. The commission is also hiring a part-time project administrator to support its work and will be hiring a consulting group to conduct a racism audit of the UUA.