Covenants and 'Ends' top agenda at October board meeting

Covenants and 'Ends' top agenda at October board meeting

UUA Board of Trustees appoints four trustees to continue service and reviews update on regionalization.

October 2012 UUA Board meeting in Boston

Gathered at the October 2012 UUA Board meeting in Boston are (from left) Tom Loughrey of the Pacific Southwest District, Financial Advisor Dan Brody, and Donna Harrison of the Southwestern Conference. (Dea Brayden)

© Dea Brayden


At its October meeting in Boston, the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association devoted much of its attention to covenants. It created a business resolution to be voted on by the 2013 General Assembly aimed at developing a covenant among congregations. It added language to its own policies defining its covenantal relationship to congregations. And it took several actions related to the 2013 GA, which has the theme “From Promise to Commitment.”

In other business, the board created a Council on Cross-Cultural Engagement. It listened to updates on the process of moving away from districts and toward regionalization. It appointed four trustees to serve two-year terms on the board, beginning in June 2013 when the overall size of the board will be reduced. And trustees engaged in several days of discussions and workshops aimed at revising the “Global Ends” of the association.

The board also took several actions concerning past and future General Assemblies (see related story), including beginning a process of acting on proposals introduced by the Fifth Principle Task Force, a 2009 report that recommended, among other things, moving to a biennial General Assembly.


The board approved placing a business resolution on the agenda of the 2013 General Assembly, called “Covenant, Promises, and Article II.”

If passed, the resolution would charge the board to create a study commission to engage member congregations in “a process in which we articulate what we promise to each other.” The study commission would need to accomplish at least three things that are outlined in the resolution: 1) develop a covenant among congregations that defines what congregations promise to one another; 2) insert the promises into Article II of the UUA bylaws; and 3) recommend a process for follow-up work “to develop procedures to keep us in right relationship and allow for reconciliation when those promises are broken.”

The proposed bylaw was prompted by responsive resolutions passed by the 2009 and 2010 GAs instructing the board to examine ways to deepen congregations’ understanding of the covenant reflected in Article II of the UUA bylaws (PDF; web version), which include the association’s Principles and Purposes. At the 2009 GA in Salt Lake City, the Commission on Appraisal presented a revised draft of Article II, which delegates rejected in a very close vote.

The board examined its own covenant with congregations, and its Linkage Working Group drafted a set of “operational definitions” about the board’s Sources of Authority and Accountability, which the board adopted unanimously. The language includes a statement that “our Member Congregations are the board’s most direct source of authority and accountability,” and that the board’s relationship with congregations was “not just legal and fiduciary, but also covenantal so that our UU religious heritage underpins this relationship.” (The new statement is an addition to board Policy 3.0, Global Governance Commitment.)

The new language calls upon the board to be reminded “of our obligations to all Unitarian Universalists” and “current and future generations” of UUs, with a particular focus on children, youth, and young adults, because they are most likely to “be at the forefront of cultural movement and technological change,” among other reasons. “The board will intentionally link with youth and young adults through caucuses or other formal gatherings at GA; cons and rallies; the Youth Observer and Youth Trustee; regional or district events; and/or campus organizations and other youth and young adult groups, as well as through social media,” the policy says.

The statement also outlines the importance of several sources: “the heritage, traditions, and ideals of Unitarian Universalism,” “the vision of Beloved Community,” and “the Spirit of life, love, and the holy.”

The board voted to approve the creation of a new Council on Cross-Cultural Engagement. It will have responsibility for providing linkage to member congregations by engaging representatives of UU professional and identity-based organizations in conversation about “successes and struggles in cross-cultural engagement.”

The council’s members will include the UUA moderator, a board member, and representatives of professional and identity-based organizations, including: DRUUMM (Diverse & Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries); Allies for Racial Equity; UU Musicians Network; LREDA (Liberal Religious Educators Association); UU Ministers Association; and the General Assembly Planning Committee. These organizations will appoint members of their group to the council, which will meet in person at least twice each year.


The board heard a progress report about the regionalization of UUA services, presented by the Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, the UUA’s director of Congregational Life, and Kathy Burek, president of the District Presidents Association (DPA). Cooley and Burek also submitted a written report detailing the changes underway by UUA staff and district boards.

The UUA’s 19 districts, which are self-governing and used to co-employ staff with the UUA, are now working together in five new multi-district regions. Some staff collaborate across district lines, while several districts have formally begun sharing staff. Since 2009, when regionalization began, all but four district boards have relinquished co-employment of staff. Several district boards are discussing the possibility of giving up any governance role altogether.

“What’s most exciting to me is what a grassroots effort regionalization has been in terms of people being able to mold it and shape it in terms of the culture of the region,” Cooley told the board. “For me, that has been a faith-building experience.”

Burek and Cooley stressed that staff services were not decreasing and neither was the number of field staff. In fact, they said that staff were working in greater collaboration with one another in the new regional designations, which are the Southern, New England, MidAmerica, Central East, and Pacific Western regions.

Governance changes have varied across the districts and regions of the association. In the MidAmerica region, for example, which includes the Central Midwest, Heartland, and Prairie Star Districts, the three districts have adopted statements of collaboration and jointly developed and adopted covenants governing district board, staff, and UUA relationships. All three district boards voted to put on the agendas of their 2013 business meetings a recommendation to form a regional organization.

“My board is watching what goes on in MidAmerica,” said Lew Phinney, trustee from the Mountain Desert District. But he asked, “Are we headed for a hodgepodge of governance organizations, which is going to make our job on the [UUA] board a good deal more difficult?”

Burek acknowledged that for the next five to seven years, change would be “messy in the middle,” as district and regional governance structures evolve. She said the DPA would be reviewing a report of the DPA Role of Districts Task Force.

Donna Harrison, trustee from the Southwestern Conference, said that her board was discussing whether there was a need to have district boards at all or, instead, to transform them into advisory boards with no governance role.

Cooley said that she was “agnostic” with regard to the governance issue, preferring to leave it to the individual boards to decide. “It gets challenging around funding streams,” Cooley said. “For example, the New England region has enormous endowments,” which fund a large portion of districts’ staff costs.

The UUA will begin to experiment with a different approach to its Annual Program Fund (APF) in regions, Cooley said. “We don’t have a proposal to put in front of you at this point, but we are looking at a different way of doing congregational stewardship of our association,” she said. The APF will experiment in the Southern Region with a single “ask,” rather than asking congregations for separate contributions to the association and to the district. “We chose this region because it is the most generous region. We’re asking for 7 percent of budget from congregations. If there’s a region that can do that, it’s the Southern region,” Cooley said.

Appointment of trustees

The board appointed four of its current members to serve two-year terms as trustees beginning at the close of the 2013 General Assembly. Those four members are: Donna Harrison, who currently serves as trustee from the Southwestern Conference; Lew Phinney, trustee from the Mountain Desert District; the Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, trustee from the Ohio Meadville District and minister of the North UU Congregation in Lewis Center, Ohio; and the Rev. Sarah Stewart, trustee from the Northern New England District and minister of the Starr King UU Fellowship in Plymouth, N.H.

At the end of GA 2013, the board will shrink from 24 to 14 members. The four trustees appointed to continue to serve will be joined by eight other trustees. The Nominating Committee will present a slate for the other positions, including some trustees to serve one-year terms and some to serve three-year terms. (Candidates can also run by petition.) This will create a staggered cycle, so eventually four new trustees will be elected each year.

Board members approved a motion governing the election of the trustees. The board will assign a number to each trustee position for the election. Positions 1–4 will expire in June 2014. Positions 9–11 will expire in 2016. Positions 5–8 will be filled by the trustees just appointed by the board.

Revising the Ends

The board spent several days in workshops and discussions aimed at revising the Global Ends of the UUA. The Ends are a statement encompassing the “shared vision” of the association.

Donna Harrison, chair of the board’s Governance Working Group, explained that periodic revisions to Ends statements are a normal part of Policy Governance. This revision, she said, is informed by the board’s experience having implemented Policy Governance, which has provided a clearer understanding of what would be helpful in clarifying the Ends statement.

Harrison said that board members hope to have a draft proposal ready for discussion throughout the association by the end of January. “We’re going to look for linkage and feedback from a variety of groups,” she said. That statement could then be further revised with a goal of adopting the new Ends statement by June.

The board’s process included a full day of training about how the UUA can become a multicultural institution. Board members spent a half day reviewing findings from the Gathered Here initiative. And they had a half day of further training in Policy Governance and how to develop meaningful Ends statements.

Other business

In other business, the board:

  • Voted on several monitoring reports and schedules. It rejected one report, finding that it did “not address the requirement that running for office not impose an undue financial burden.” It asked for a revised report by November 20; and
  • Continued the process of revising policy related to creating a limited liability company to oversee the UUA Common Endowment Fund.

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