Commission on Institutional Change’s final report is a critical waypoint, not the end of the journey

Commission on Institutional Change’s final report is a critical waypoint, not the end of the journey

Letter from the UUA administration.

The Commission on Institutional Chang members at GA 2019, from left: Cir L’Bert Jr., Mary Byron, the Rev. Dr. Natalie Fenimore, the Rev. Leslie Takahashi, and Elias Ortega-Aponte.

Members of the Commission on Institutional Change, at the 2019 General Assembly in Spokane (from left): Cir L’Bert Jr., Mary Byron, the Rev. Dr. Natalie Fenimore, the Rev. Leslie Takahashi, and Elías Ortega. (© 2019 Christopher L. Walton/UUA)

© 2019 Christopher L. Walton/UUA


Friends, we are at an exciting moment in our faith. In publishing its final report and recommendations, the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change has created a pathway for our faith to collectively move to a new level of embodying the principles of justice, equity, compassion, and liberation. It is an opportunity that takes all of us to realize.

In 2017, the UUA Board of Trustees charged the newly created Commission on Institutional Change with supporting long-term cultural and institutional change that redeems the essential promise and ideals of Unitarian Universalism. The Commission’s journey, echoing others who have come before, was to analyze structural racism, the workings of power, and white supremacy culture within the UUA.

Commissioners the Rev. Leslie Takahashi (chair), Mary Byron, Cir L’Bert Jr., the Rev. Dr. Natalie Fenimore, Dr. Elías Ortega, Caitlin Breedlove, DeReau K. Farrar, and Project Manager the Rev. Marcus Fogliano convened focus groups, conducted individual interviews, analyzed surveys, coordinated an audit by an outside agency, and accepted personal testimonies from Unitarian Universalists for three years. Aside from regular reports to the UUA Board, the Commission has provided consistent communication through posts on its blog, as guests on the Church of the Larger Fellowship’s YouTube talk show “The VUU,” and by leading discussions and workshops at General Assembly and regional gatherings. Now, we have access to their accumulated findings in Widening the Circle of Concern: Report of the UUA Commission on Institutional Change.

Within its pages are chapters on Theology, Governance, Congregations and Communities, Hospitality and Inclusion, Living Our Values in the World, Religious Professionals, Educating for Liberation, Innovations and Risk-Taking, Restoration and Reparations, and Accountability and Resources. The Commission offers recommendations and actions to help us live into the change we want to see in the world and in ourselves. It is not the end of the journey. This is a critical waypoint.

The report points the way to a greater acknowledgment of our interconnectedness, centering relationship and keeping the dream of a faith grounded in justice, equity, and inclusion alive not only in our words, but in our actions, in how we are together. Its deep theological grounding claims antiracism and anti-oppression as the heart of our faith, an essential framework for how we live out our values as UUs within and beyond our congregations.

Here at the UUA, it will be a guiding star for the work ahead as we embark on creating a five-year implementation plan. Some of the items in the report are ones which UUA staff have already begun working on, such as revised hiring practices, because they arise from updates and recommendations the Commission already published in the last three years. Some we will be able to implement quickly. And others are big-picture ideas, which will require commitment, imagination, resources, and collaboration across our Association. A responsive resolution, “Widening the Circle: Establishing Ongoing Intersectional Accountability Commission and Sunsetting the JTWTC [Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee],” passed by the General Assembly in June, clearly indicates broad support for the Association to stay accountable for continuing the work of institutional change.

However, the Commission’s recommendations extend well beyond the UUA as an organization and touch every part of the UU ecosystem. We urge every UU to read the full report. Every congregation will receive a free copy. You can obtain your personal copy free online or by purchase from the inSpirit UU Book and Gift Shop.

Our president, the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, says, “This is no time to go it alone.” Widening the Circle of Concern provides a precious opportunity for everyone to find their place along the journey: our staff at the UUA, the UUA Board and other elected leaders, affiliated organizations, clusters, congregations—and you.

It begs reminding ourselves: this is long-haul work. And we cannot do it alone. In future months, you will receive invitations to engage in this work: resources with questions to use in processing the findings, and spaces held to share your thoughts with other Unitarian Universalists. Your congregation might have creative ideas for how to take these recommendations and actions off the page and into practice. We welcome those suggestions, and we will provide opportunities for us all to forge new paths along this journey.

The Commission spent three years delving deeply into UU culture, specifically aspects that reflect white supremacy culture. Our culture’s tendency is to rush to the answer, to the fixes. We encourage you not to rush to the action items outlined in the report, but to engage the narrative, the stories, and experiences both past and present that continue to limit all of our ability to fully practice and embody the liberating spirit at the heart of our theology.

We are indeed at an exciting moment in Unitarian Universalism. We at the UUA are thankful for the Commissioners’ service to our faith. We have deep appreciation for everyone who provided a testimony, took a survey, or participated in a workshop. The journey may yet still be “muddy and rough,” but we are going despite that, moving forward in faith, held together in a covenant of love.