UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray has appointed two members of the Southern Region staff to serve as co-leads of the region through June 2019, filling a vacancy in the senior staff that was at the heart of last spring’s UUA hiring practices controversy.
In an email to the congregations of the Southern Region, Frederick-Gray announced on December 13 that Natalie Briscoe and Connie Goodbread will serve together from January 1, 2018, through June 2019. Briscoe has been serving as the Southern Region’s Faith Development and Emerging Congregations consultant; Goodbread has been its Conflict and Leadership Development consultant.
“Connie and Natalie will be acting co-leads through June 2019, in order to give staff and regional leaders the space and opportunity to set a new path forward,” Frederick-Gray wrote.
Last March, controversy erupted over UUA President Peter Morales’s response to a question at a gathering of religious professionals of color about why the top positions in the UUA’s five regions were held by white ministers. When the UUA announced almost simultaneously that it had hired another white male minister as Southern Region lead, critics said the UUA had passed over another candidate—a Chicana Latina religious educator. By April, Morales had resigned, followed shortly by the UUA’s chief operating officer and the director of Congregational Life, both of whom are white, male, and ordained ministers. The minister who had been named regional lead chose not to take the position.
The Board of Trustees and the three interim co-presidents the board appointed to replace Morales endorsed the assessment of critics that UUA hiring practices reflected white supremacy culture. In June the co-presidents announced new hiring policies, and set goals of increasing the percentage of people of color and indigenous people in professional, management, and executive roles to 40 percent.
In appointing Briscoe and Goodbread to share a role, the UUA continues a practice that began with the appointment of three interim co-presidents in April. The board also appointed co-moderators to serve after Moderator Jim Key resigned in May for health reasons. Frederick-Gray appointed Jessica York to join the Rev. Sarah Lammert as a co-director of Ministries and Faith Development.
Briscoe, who is Filipina American, and Goodbread, who is white, are the first non-ordained religious professionals to serve in the top position in a UUA region. Each has a background as a religious educator.