The Unitarian Universalist Association elected the Rev. Peter Morales as its eighth president on Saturday, June 27, during the General Assembly in Salt Lake City.
Morales, 62, senior minister of Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colo., ran an underdog campaign, but won decisively with 2,061 votes to 1,481 votes for the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, minister-at-large of First Unitarian Church of Dallas. Hallman had entered the race much earlier and secured the endorsements of many denominational leaders, including Moderator Gini Courter, former Moderator Denny Davidoff, and many past presidents of the UU Ministers Association, but Morales's message resonated with a broader spectrum of Unitarian Universalists.
More congregations voted with absentee ballots this year than in any other UUA election, but Morales won 55 percent of them (1,020 to 827). He won an even larger percentage of votes—61 percent—from delegates who waited to vote at the General Assembly (1,041 to 654).
As voters left the polling place Saturday afternoon, they told UU World that they were attracted to Morales for his business experience outside Unitarian Universalism, his experience working on the UUA staff, and his enthusiasm for multiculturalism and for improving the way we welcome visitors. (Before going to seminary in 1996 and being ordained in 1999, Morales was a newspaper editor and publisher and a regional manager in California state government. He was the UUA director of district services from 2002 to 2004.)
'I think he's the person to help us become more multicultural. He doesn't just talk multicultural, he's lived it," said Harriette Porter of Channing UU Church in Edmond, Okla. Morales grew up in a Spanish-speaking household in Texas and has lived and worked in Peru and Spain as well as in the United States. He is the UUA's first Latino president.
Morales told UU World after he was elected that the scale of his victory surprised him. "We were underdogs for sure," he said. "I started out a good year and a half after Laurel, and understood that she was very well funded, and also that four or five other people had considered it and declined to run. So it was a daunting undertaking, we had no illusions about that."
He praised Hallman and her supporters, and said, "To get to where we want to go requires all of us, and we need [her supporters'] commitment, their enthusiasm, their passion, and their vision. I also particularly want to say that I fully appreciate Laurel's consistent emphasis on spiritual depth, on the creation of profound covenant in communities, and also her deep passion for retaining our youth and young adults."
In his campaign, Morales stressed the need to grow UU congregations, to continue the visible public witness work led by outgoing UUA President William G. Sinkford, to recruit and support a more diverse ministry, and to help congregations serve and engage an increasingly multicultural society.
"The number of people," Morales told UU World, "who are already in agreement with us—not just in an intellectual sense, but in complete harmony with our core values—is enormous. The breadth of our message is very appealing, but we need to become more culturally diverse in our forms of expression in order to reach the millions of people who share our theology and values."
"We've tended," Morales continued, "because of our particular history, to have a narrow range of expression. I so want to see our faith become much more multicultural and open to other ways of expressing the same fundamental values."
A total of 3,550 ballots were cast in the presidential election, according to UUA Secretary Paul Rickter, the trustee from the Massachusetts Bay District. Morales received 2,061 and Hallman received 1,481, while seven ballots were not counted for discrepancies and one ballot was marked "No."
Hallman addressed the General Assembly Saturday night after the election. "I will be happy to put [the campaign] behind me now," she said, "to regather our liberal religious movement together from two hard-working campaigns back into one free faith, one association of free congregations, all of us united by our love for Unitarian Universalism."
On Sunday morning, Unitarian Universalists began to put the campaign behind them. The Rev. Linda Berez, consulting minister at Lake County UU Church in Hartland, Wisc., was a Hallman supporter. "I saw a lot of very disappointed people leaving the service last night after the results were announced," she said. "I walked the halls with some of them, just listening and being with them. Myself, I thought it was time for a woman to be president, so I have regrets about not having that. But I know a lot of women voted for Peter."
"This morning," she continued, "it feels like it's time to move on. As UUs we all share the same hopes and dreams. I'm sure we'll all stand with Peter and make this Association the best it can be."
George Garland, a delegate from Community Church of New York City, voted for Morales. "I think it will help if he gives some thought to incorporating some of Laurel's issues and in that way reaching out to her supporters," Garland said. "Laurel's strength is in making us feel whole and in touch with the web of life. Peter can do that, too. That might be something for him to focus on a little more."
Karen Mackey, from First Unitarian Church in Sioux City, Iowa, went into the election comfortable with both candidates, but voted for Hallman. "This reminds me of the Democratic primary. I was a Hillary supporter. Just like then, I think that in a week, a month, we'll start to put this behind us and move on. We've followed the democratic process and he's our leader. He'll do a fine job."
In his address to the General Assembly, President-Elect Morales invited UUs to look past what divided them. "I believe firmly that religion is much more about what we love than about what we think," he said. "And all of us—all of us—love the same things: We love compassion, freedom, stewardship of the earth, religious community, spiritual depth—and therefore we have one religion."
"Tonight I ask you to rededicate yourselves to this faith that we all love," Morales concluded, "and hand in hand—as I'm fond of saying, mano en mano—let us go forward together."
- Morales: "We have this amazing potential" UU World's General Assembly blog. (6.28.09)
- President-Elect Morales addresses General Assembly UU World's General Assembly blog. (6.28.09)
- Laurel Hallman's speech at election celebration UU World's General Assembly blog. (6.27.09)
- Rev. Peter Morales Elected as Eighth President of Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA.org)
Correction 7.5.09: This article originally misstated the Spanish phrase Morales used.