Group proposes recurring ecclesiastical conferences, reassessment of UUA organization to move toward effective covenantal relationships.
The Rev. Dr. Susan J. Ritchie presents the Renewing Covenant Task Force report to the 2017 General Assembly, with fellow task force members the Rev. David A. Miller and the Rev. Tom Schade. (© Christopher L. Walton)
The Renewing Covenant Task Force called Thursday morning for the creation of regularly scheduled general conferences as a way to deeply explore the mission of Unitarian Universalism and continually recommit to covenant. In addition, it said the organization of the Unitarian Universalist Association needs to be reassessed to help it move toward effective covenantal relationships.
The Task Force’s charge came during a report to the UUA General Assembly in New Orleans and was presented by the task force’s chair, the Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie.
In 2015, Moderator Jim Key proposed a task force to consider how to move the UUA from “the notion of membership to covenant.” The resulting Renewing Covenant Task Force includes Ritchie, trustee Kathy Burek, the Rev. David Miller, and the Rev. Tom Schade, and has also included the Rev. David Ruffin and Elizabeth Mount.
Key, in his charge, asked the group to “imagine if congregations entered and were welcomed into covenant with the larger association that would be renewed periodically.”
Ritchie reported that the task force has imagined it, and she outlined the group's process of reflection and thinking before presenting a proposal the task force thinks will help move the Association and congregations toward “greater mutual cooperation and accountability, and toward greater enthusiasm and commitment to our shared work.”
“The Task Force has come to the conclusion,” she said, “that if Unitarian Universalists are to fully covenant with each other, we are going to need a different way of being together.”
Fortunately, Ritchie said, our history offers an example of a more substantive way of coming together: the General Conference. Prior to their consolidation in 1961, Ritchie said, both the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America had separate business meetings and ecclesiastical gatherings. The General Assembly was for business and administrative work, while the General Conference was an ecclesiastical meeting of delegates coming together for mutual strength, theological discernment, accountability, and mission work. The Task Force would like to see a return to that model.
“The Task Force recommends that the UUA moderator call for a General Conference of UUs as soon as possible and no later than the fall of 2018, for the purposes of exploring what the UUA is called to be in today’s world,” said Ritchie. “We further recommend that the UUA schedule general conferences on a regular basis, perhaps in biennial rotation with General Assembly business sessions.”
The proposed general conferences would be smaller than GA, should be affordable, and should actively engage youth, young adults, people of color, and other historically marginalized groups, Ritchie explained. The gatherings would focus on a few large questions over the course of several days.
The task force also discussed concerns about the structure of the UUA. The UUA is organized as a standard nonprofit enterprise, an organizational structure that grew out of a nineteenth century small business model that saw virtue in consolidating power in a limited number of patrons. While there have been many changes over the years, Ritchie said, some core patterns of distributing power remain the same.
Therefore, the Task Force believes that the organization of the UUA should be reassessed given the racist, sexist, and class biases that are reinforced by its structure, which preclude the full realization of covenantal relationships.
Ritchie invited UUs to give feedback, either in person at GA or via sritchie [at] uua [dot] org (subject: Renewing%20the%20Covenant) (email).
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Sonja L. Cohen is deputy managing editor of UU World and a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.