The Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees convened in Boston October 19–23 with a new feel. Ten trustees were elected to the 25-member board at the 2011 General Assembly, adding greater diversity to the board, which now includes a number of young adults, openly gay and lesbian members, several people of color, and members of small and large congregations.
The new board incorporated regular spiritual practice into its work, kicking off its Saturday meeting with song and a unison reading of a freshly crafted covenant that members adopted to guide their governance work.
Much of the board’s October work was focused on preparing to be a smaller board in 2013, when it will be reduced to 13 members. And it also continued to lay the groundwork for the June 2012 Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, Ariz.
The board took up new business as well, voting to nominate at least two candidates for the position of UUA moderator, who will be elected in 2013. And following the President’s Report by UUA President Peter Morales, the board discussed whether the scope of the association should be expanded to serve people who are not members of congregations.
The board also voted to admit two new congregations to the association. For the first time since the board adopted Policy Governance as the UUA’s governance model in 2009, it voted to accept all the monitoring reports submitted by UUA staff groups. “We’re trying to get really crisp and sharp about how we’re communicating between the board and the administration,” said UUA Moderator Gini Courter. “Monitoring is an important part of the work of the board. Part of what made this meeting so good is that we had a series of good monitoring reports that the administration completed about their work.”
Courter stressed that it’s important to have sound processes, such as the monitoring reports, operating smoothly before the size of the board is nearly cut in half in 2013, following a bylaw [PDF] passed by the 2011 GA in June. “We owe it to the next board to get this right,” she said.
Also in 2013, the GA will elect a new moderator, when Courter’s term ends. A Moderator Nominating Committee, chaired by Ted Fetter, a member of the UU Congregation of Princeton, N.J., and president of the District Presidents Association, had set a deadline of October 15 to receive applications for the position. The committee is reviewing the seven applications it has received, and it will present a report to the board in December. The board will review the committee’s recommendations, and announce candidates for the position by February 1, 2012. Individuals can petition to have their names placed in nomination for moderator between March 1, 2012, and February 1, 2013.
Board members debated whether the board should nominate a single candidate or multiple people. “I see many pitfalls of nominating only one candidate,” said the Rev. Sarah Stewart, trustee from the Northern New England District and minister of the Starr King UU Fellowship in Plymouth, N.H. She said that UUA presidential elections require two or more candidates, and that UUA polity holds the positions of moderator and president in equality.
In addition, Stewart speculated that some members of the current board had likely submitted applications to be moderator. “That means campaigning will happen at this table if we only put forth one name,” she said. “I have no doubts that we can find at least two people who would be great moderators. Let them campaign the delegates, not us.”
Stewart put forth a motion that the board nominate at least two candidates for moderator in the 2013 election. The motion carried, though it was not unanimous. Though no board member had argued in favor of putting forward only one candidate, some expressed interest in waiting until they knew who the candidates were and what their visions were before deciding how many candidates to put forth.
Morales emphasized the importance of ensuring a contested election for moderator. “There’s an issue of legitimacy,” he said. “Someone who gets elected to the position of moderator or president has a greater amount of legitimacy than if there had been no contest. And the very process has a way of raising issues all around the association. It isn’t just the outcome, it’s the process.”
Turning its attention to GA 2012, the board accepted a report from the GA 2012 Accountability Group. It also agreed to send communications to groups likely to be meeting at GA 2012 asking that they use Accountability Group criteria to define “minimum business” to be conducted at GA and that they report back to the board on ways they will be addressing the criteria.
The 2010 GA business resolution creating the Justice GA states that business should be limited to the minimum required by the association’s bylaws. In its report [PDF], the Accountability Group lists a series of questions groups can ask of themselves to determine what is minimum business, including: “Is a meeting at GA 2012 necessary because [it is] required by bylaws or other governing documents? If so, what is the minimum required business that can be conducted?”
The board also discussed a concern the Accountability Group raised around “messaging” for GA. Members of the group have reported that many people have approached them concerned that GA 2012 is focused on civil disobedience and getting arrested. Jackie Shanti, vice moderator and trustee from the Clara Barton District, reported that the GA Planning Committee is in the process of revising the GA 2012 brochure to include a clear statement saying: “What we will NOT be doing at Justice GA? Our local partners have not asked that we engage in civil disobedience. In addition, any planning of civil disobedience during this Justice GA puts both the larger association and individual congregations at risk. . . . Civil disobedience has a place, but not at the Justice General Assembly.”
GA 2012 will include an expansion of the offsite delegate program that was piloted at GA 2011. Trustee Linda Laskowski, of the Pacific Central District, said that the projected number of offsite delegates in 2012 is 150, up from the 49 who participated this year.
In his President’s Report, Morales began a discussion about the scope of the UUA. He told the trustees that the UUA has an impact on many more people than those who are counted as members of congregations. “We need to find ways of engaging people who are outside our current congregations in ways that are other than getting them into our congregations,” he said. “There are people who at times in their lives are going to be passionate UUs and not be a signed member of a congregation.”
“Our real potential in the future is moving beyond our traditional congregations and expanding what it means to gather Unitarian Universalists,” he said. “I believe that our ability to redefine ourselves in a broader way can unlock the potential of Unitarian Universalism in the world.”
Laskowski agreed that it was an “intriguing topic,” and that it reflected discussions the board was having in its retreat prior to the business meeting. “I have a strong desire to stay in right relations with this,” she said. “How do we make sure the board and the president are walking the journey together?” Morales responded by stressing the importance of ongoing communication between the board and staff.
The Rev. Harlan Limpert, the UUA’s vice president for Ministries and Congregational Support, said that it’s important to look at all the bylaws and rules within the UUA that prevent people from joining. “I heard a minister of a megachurch once say that the most important thing a church can do to grow is to eliminate the barriers for those who want to join.”
Courter stressed the importance of having congregations be part of the conversation, as well. Morales agreed: “My own sense is that congregations and the leaders of them are on this train, and in some senses are ahead on this.”
Following up on the discussion a few hours later, the board’s Linkage Working Group presented a motion that the board work with the District Presidents Association to link with member congregations about the scope of the association. The motion passed unanimously.
The board voted to accept two new congregations into the UUA: the UU Community of Cambria, Calif., and the Brockport, N.Y., UU Fellowship.
It also received financial reports [PDF] from Dan Brody, the UUA’s financial advisor, and Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and vice president of finance. Brody noted that the UUA’s annual fund and general investment income are recovering steadily from severe dips during the worst of the recession. The brightest spot in the financial picture, Brody said, was the UUA Health Plan, which has achieved a surplus every year. He projects the 2011 surplus to be $1.3 million, on revenues of $8.3 million.
The board had hoped to vote on a communications policy guiding whether to provide audio recordings of its meetings on the Internet. The board discussed a draft plan provided by the Communications Working Group. However, board members asked the working group several clarifying questions on its proposed motion. The group will draft a new motion, with the aim of having a policy in place before the board meets again in person, which will be January 21–22, 2012, in New Orleans, La.
On Saturday, the board welcomed a Japanese delegation from the International Association for Religious Freedom. The Rev. Norio Sakai, former chairman of the Buddhist organization Rissho Kosei-kai, greeted Morales and Courter and presented them with two gifts, both handmade by their members—a scroll with a painting of a fan, and an ornate doll. Sakai extended his gratitude for the more than $500,000 the UUA-UUSC Japan Fund collected to aid with Japan’s recovery after the tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis. “We felt a heartwarming feeling from your contribution to us,” he said.
The board also took a break from its business on Saturday afternoon to visit the site of the Occupy Boston protest. (See accompanying story.)
At regular intervals, the board paused during its work to engage in “spiritual practice,” newly implemented periods of meditation and reflection. On Sunday morning, it gathered for worship led by five members of the Continental UU Young Adult Network.
Each morning, when the board began its work, it read in unison its new covenant. The board also adopted a policy that “board members must act in accordance with our covenant with each other.”
The covenant reads:
We promise to:
Listen deeply, speak boldly and keep an open mind, balancing views of self and others authentically;
Be humble, prepared and present and focus on governance as the board's essential role, while taking the long view, and maintaining accountability for Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression, and Multi-Culturalism;
Have respect and affection for each other, assuming the best of intentions and honest needs and building new bridges and mending bridges that are broken;
Remember our sources and whose we are, giving space for faith;
Learn and grow, practice self-care, laugh, and sing!
- UUA Board of Trustees.(UUA.org)
- General Assembly 2012 in Phoenix.Official information about the Justice GA. (UUA.org)
- Vote on Changing the Size of the UUA Board, the Process for Election of Trustees, and Providing Clarity about the Responsibility of the Nominating Committee.Approved by the 2011 General Assembly. (UUA.org)
Correction 11.1.11: An earlier version of this story misstated the deadline for candidates seeking to run for the position of UUA moderator in 2013, and erroneously implied that individuals seeking to run by petition must apply by March 1, 2012. In fact, they may apply between March 1, 2012, and February 1, 2013.