Board shifts funding priorities for theological education

Board shifts funding priorities for theological education

Board of Trustees gives new goals to Panel on Theological Education, applies new rules to independent affiliates, proposes change in moderator's role.

Jane Greer


The Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has initiated a major change in the way funds supporting theological education will be distributed.

At its April 20–22 meeting in Boston, the board also accepted only two organizations seeking “independent affiliate” status under new rules it adopted last year, asked the UUA staff to provide more help to candidates running for at-large offices (including moderator and president), approved a bylaw change to be ratified by the General Assembly naming the moderator “chief governance officer” of the Association, and approved a $2 per member increase in the Annual Program Fund contribution from congregations beginning July 2008.

The board directed the Panel on Theological Education to “make the funding of ministerial formation, development, and excellence the first priority for the use of the Panel’s resources, rather than the current singular focus on support for theological schools.” The board also asked the panel to prepare a timeline for reallocating its funds toward those goals.

The panel, a board-appointed committee that makes recommendations about the use of endowment funds for theological education, has in recent years recommended that the majority of the money go to the two UU theological schools, Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif., and Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. Under the terms of the motion, the panel will look at additional ways of allocating funds.

The Rev. Barbara Merritt, the panel’s chair, said that 60 to 70 percent of UU seminarians are attending non-UU theological schools. Last year, the panel recommended that the board give $500,000 out of a total of $649,000 to Starr King and Meadville Lombard. “The board wants us to look at our resources and to use the money in the best possible way,” she said. “Right now theological education is underfunded—for both schools and individuals. We need to be smarter with the resources we have.”

The goal is excellence in ministry, Merritt said. “One of the most important resources a denomination has is its ministers.” The panel will present its recommendations to the board at its June meeting.

In other business, the board endorsed the enforcement of more rigorous rules for organizations applying to become independent affiliate organizations of the UUA. The updated rules, adopted last year, mandate that organizations show a clear mission related to the UUA’s Purposes (and not just the Principles), a functional connection with UU congregations, a broad focus, and proof of working in collaboration or coalition with other groups or organizations. Organizations applying to become or stay independent affiliates were evaluated using these and other criteria.

Two out of seventeen applicants were granted independent affiliate status at the April meeeting: the Council of Unitarian Universalist Camps and Conferences and the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry, a social service agency supported by a coalition of Boston-area congregations. More applications will be considered at the board’s June meeting.

The new rules reflect a desire to clarify the purpose and mission of the UUA, said Tamara Payne-Alex, an at-large trustee and head of the working group that worked on the new rules. “We are an association of congregations, not an association of independent affiliate organizations and non-profits,” she explained by email. “The board’s work to clarify the appropriate role for the organizations that are not congregations in our Association is part of a much broader and very intentional movement to ground our ministries in congregational life.”

The board approved a bylaw amendment that would make the moderator, who presides at General Assemblies and meetings of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee, the “chief governance officer” of the Association. This change must be approved by a vote at General Assembly. The Rev. Linda Olson Peebles, trustee from the Joseph Priestley District, said the move comes because the moderator’s role has changed in the last 25 years; the new language would more accurately reflect the moderator’s actual duties.

“The moderator has been asked to keep track of all parts of governance,” Olson Peebles said. “The moderator has become the point person who coordinates with a number of groups not appointed by the board, including the Commission on Appraisal, the Nominating Committee, the Commission on Social Witness, and the GA Planning Committee. The moderator is accountable to the General Assembly, which has elected her.”

The board asked the UUA’s executive team to look for new ways to help candidates running for at-large offices—including president and moderator—to distribute information about themselves to congregations prior to UUA elections. The working group that presented the request said that such assistance would lessen the cost of running for office and could widen the field of potential candidates.

The delegation of this work from the board to the UUA’s executive team (comprised of its top four staff members), is part of the board’s movement towards a policy-based governance model. Under the policy-based governance model, the board will concern itself primarily with larger leadership issues and goals while leaving the execution of plans to the UUA staff.

Policy governance is a theoretical model developed by John Carver, setting out the role of the board in businesses, nonprofit organizations, and governments. Many UU congregations and districts have adopted modified forms of policy governance. The board has set itself an October 2008 deadline when it will vote to implement policy governance.

The board reapproved holding the 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis, as had been originally planned. At its January 2007 meeting, the board moved not to hold GA in Minneapolis because of possible union action, which could have included picket lines at the majority of UUA hotels. However, union representatives and members of the city’s convention and visitors bureau assured GA planners that they would do their utmost to avert union action during the time of GA and would provide alternative lodging should an action occur involving UUA hotels. The GA Planning Committee then recommended that the board rescind the earlier motion and recommit to having GA in Minneapolis.

The board received two reports, one reviewing the work of the UUA-UU Service Committee Gulf Coast Relief Fund, and the other reviewing antiracism and antioppression efforts in five UUA districts.

In other business, the board:

  • Increased the per-member amount requested by the Annual Program Fund from $54 to $56 beginning in July 2008.
  • Voted to give the 2007 Distinguished Service Award to Dr. Leon Spencer.
  • Empowered the chair of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee to determine whether representatives of the UU Ministers Association can serve on the MFC’s Executive Committee.
  • Made changes to the Religious Education Credentialing Committee rules.
  • Approved the FY08 capital expenditures budget and received the FY09 operating budget.
  • Appointed Dr. Leon Spencer to fill a vacancy on the Nominating Committee.
  • Charged the UUA Audit Committee with recommending an auditing firm for the health care trust.
  • Welcomed the UU Church of Hot Springs, Ark., into the Association.

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Clarification: As originally published, this story did not identify the fiscal year in which the Annual Program Fund contribution is to go up $2. The $56 rate applies to the 2009 fiscal year, which begins July 2008.