Morales plans comprehensive review of UU ministry

Morales plans comprehensive review of UU ministry

Trustees to focus on relationships with congregations; UUA’s investments rebound.

Jane Greer


Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales announced plans for a comprehensive review of the UU ministry at the October meeting of the UUA’s Board of Trustees. Morales said the review, which will take a year to complete, will offer recommendations about where the UU ministry needs to head in the next twenty years. The review will incorporate reports from a broad variety of groups, including the UUA Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group, the UUA Identity Based Ministries staff group, seminaries, and many others.

Morales announced the review in his report to the Board of Trustees during its October 14–18 meeting in Boston, where the board was primarily focused on implementing Policy Governance, the new governance model it adopted earlier this year. Among other actions, the board agreed to focus on strengthening its relationship to the UUA’s member congregations in the coming months, committing individual trustees to visit congregations in their districts between January and April 2010. The board also authorized a task force to examine the ways the UUA provides professional credentials to ministers, religious educators, and church musicians; appointed several trustees to help the board think about the lack of a national structure for developing youth leaders; placed a change to the rules governing UUA elections on the 2010 General Assembly agenda; and heard a budgetary update from UUA Treasurer and Vice President of Finance Tim Brennan.

Morales said the comprehensive review of the UU ministry was necessary considering the changing demographics of the United States. “America is in the midst of a historic demographic shift,” he wrote in an email to UU World. “Of Americans 70 years old and older, three-quarters are of European descent. The majority of Americans under ten years old are not ‘white.’ If we are to be a vital religious movement in this new America, we need to become a multicultural faith.”

Morales said that he was putting together a work plan for the review process, which he expects to take about a year. He wants to include as many voices as possible in the survey. “I want a review that is broader and longer-term than other studies,” he said. “I think we run a danger when we look at topics like seminary education, credentialing, religious education, continuing education, and recruitment in isolation from one another. All of these issues are linked. I want this study to focus on those connections among the issues.”

The board devoted most of the time at its October meeting to working on Policy Governance issues. The board officially adopted Policy Governance, a model developed by John and Miriam Carver, as the UUA's governance model in July 2009. Under Policy Governance, the board is charged with setting policy while the staff is charged with executing it. Policy Governance establishes clear lines of accountability. The UUA board identified five “sources of authority and accountability” after a long process of discernment: the UUA’s member congregations; “current and future generations of Unitarian Universalists”; “the heritage, traditions, and ideals of Unitarian Universalism”; “the vision of Beloved Community”; and “the Spirit of life, love, and the holy.”

Trustees agreed to focus on strengthening the board’s relationship to congregations in the coming months. “The role of the board is to ensure that we are reflecting the values of our sources of authority and accountability,” said Linda Laskowski, trustee from the Pacific Central District and head of the board’s Linkage Working Group. (“Linkage” refers to the relationship between the board and its sources of authority and accountability.) “One of our primary sources is our member congregations, in their role as long-term investors in the importance of Unitarian Universalism. To truly understand those values and ensure that they are turned into policy that governs the organization, we really need to be in a two-way dialogue with those congregations.”

Board discussion this year will focus on what right relationship between the board and congregations should look like, Laskowski said. Trustees will be assigned a random sampling of congregations that they will be expected to visit between January and April 2010. The Linkage Working Group will develop tools like questionnaires or a presentation for trustees to use in meeting with congregations.

“We want to know what the difficulties are from the congregation’s point of view,” Laskowski said, “and how we can ensure that what they think is important is reflected in the long-term direction of the Association. We want to know what we need to do to be more responsive and hold richer conversations so that they can learn from us and vice versa.”

During the board meeting, trustees worked on refining the UUA Governance Manual and establishing criteria for reports to be received from the staff.

UUA Moderator Gini Courter explained that before Policy Governance can operate smoothly, many decisions have to be made concerning the goals (or “Ends”) of the Association; the parameters of the president’s role, including the president’s responsibilities for fiscal oversight; and the process of governing, which concerns the board.

Setting up these policies requires a significant amount of time in the beginning, Courter told UU World after the meeting. “You’ve got to invest the time to provide the clarity of policy. It’s not a matter of, We passed this policy because bad thing ‘A’ happened, or, if I think another bad thing is going to happen, I create another policy. That’s how policies were created in the past. These policies were reactive.” The board’s function, Courter said, is to be “absolutely future-focused.”

Under Policy Governance, the administration will submit regular “monitoring reports” to the board to keep trustees apprised of the staff’s progress toward meeting policy goals. At the October meeting, two monitoring reports were submitted on church staff compensation and on UUA staff compensation. The trustees accepted the reports but said that they wanted the data to be presented in brief, quantifiable form in future iterations.

Several trustees expressed dismay over the fact that no new structure dedicated to developing youth leadership at the national level has been introduced to replace YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists), which the UUA administration stopped funding in 2008. “We’re losing an entire generation of youth with this gap in opportunity for youth national leadership,” Laskowski said during the meeting. The window for offering youth leadership is fairly narrow because youth are considered young adults at age 18.

“We’re a year and a half behind schedule,” said youth trustee Nick Allen from New Haven, Conn. “The Association has stated its support for such a structure, but it hasn’t happened. We’re at a point where we don’t have youth leaders because they’re all young adults now.”

The board appointed several trustees to structure a conversation around youth leadership at the January 2010 meeting. The group will be gathering information about what happened with youth leadership development and where the UUA now stands on this issue. It will also examine models used by other denominations. The purpose of the January discussion will be to determine if the board needs to create or revise a policy to reflect its values around youth leadership.

UUA Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Tim Brennan reported that the UUA had broken even for fiscal year 2009 operations. “From an operating perspective, we did well,” he said. “Our income was down but we reduced expenses by an equivalent amount.” Brennan said that the UUA was on track with its operating budget at the conclusion of the first quarter of fiscal year 2010.

The UUA’s assets, however, declined in value from $178,726,000 in June 2008 to $143,578,000 in June 2009. The good news, however, is that the UUA’s invested funds are regaining value: They had dropped from a high of $131 million in May 2008 to a low of $85 million in March 2009, and back to $111 million in September 2009.

“We’re stable,” Brennan said. “Even with all those losses, the investment strategies we had were good compared to other groups. You want to be positioned so that you can benefit from the upturn, which we’ve done.”

The board passed a motion creating a task force to examine all of the UUA’s credentialing processes, which offer professional credentials to ministers, religious educators, and church musicians. The board task force was formed in response to one of eight initiatives coming from the December 2008 Summit on Excellence in Ministry held in Seattle. The task force will be addressing the initiative “Ministerial Culture, Credentialing Process, and Growth.” The task force will present its report to the board in April 2011.

In other business, the board:

  • Agreed to hold its January 2010 meeting in San Antonio, Tex., instead of in Boston;

  • Proposed changing Rule G-9.12.6 (“Campaigns for Elective Office”) in the UUA bylaws to allow the UUA to distribute statements from candidates for at-large positions electronically rather than on paper, a change that will require the approval of the 2010 General Assembly;
  • Welcomed the San Gabriel UU Fellowship of Georgetown, Tex., as a new member congregation;
  • Approved the movement of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tullahoma, Tenn., from the Thomas Jefferson District to the Mid-South District; and
  • Made numerous committee appointments.

The board welcomed six new trustees: Donna Harrison from the Southwestern Conference; the Rev. Susan Ritchie from the Ohio Meadville District; Nancy Bartlett from the Mid-South District; the Rev. Jake Morrill from the Thomas Jefferson District; Lew Phinney from the Mountain Desert District; and the Rev. Jeanne Pupke, a trustee-at-large.

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As originally published, this story incorrectly stated that the UU Church of Tullahoma, Tenn., was located in Murfreesboro, Tenn., based on information provided by the Thomas Jefferson District. The story also misidentified the Rev. Jeanne Pupke as a district trustee. She was elected a trustee-at-large by the General Assembly.