At its October meeting, the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association discussed the heated and complicated debate at this summer’s General Assembly leading up to passage of a Black Lives Matter Action of Immediate Witness.
“Ultimately it passed with near unanimity,” said trustee Julian Sharp, who heads the board’s Empowerment and Inclusion Working Group, “but the process was so painful for so many people I walked away thinking we can do a whole lot better and have to do a whole lot better.”
After the October meeting, the board posted a statement to its Facebook page: “The Board regrets that the process in place, the limited time, and the racism we’re still working to root out enflamed debate and brought out the worst in many of us. People were hurt. Lines were drawn in the sand. Old wounds were opened. We know this work is full of heartbreak. And we must find the will and the way to do a better job.”
Trustees also returned to a perennial topic: the Action of Immediate Witness process itself. “I wonder if AIWs are a setup for this kind of thing,” said the Rev. Andy Burnette about the resolutions delegates bring to GA by petition. “People come in with issues most closely held to their heart, and without a whole lot of prep sometimes bring them in front of a few thousand of their closest friends.”
President Peter Morales said, “If I wanted to design a process to foment division and to allow a problem that involves a relatively small number of intense people to derail something, something like the AIW process is what I would design.” Only a fraction of delegates participate in the mini-assemblies where amendments are introduced, and even fewer come to the microphones during General Session debates. Much of the debate this summer took place at the procedural microphone, as delegates tried to find ways to introduce unincorporated amendments.
“AIWs are prone to enlist undue urgency to give the impression that this is an apocalyptical moment,” observed the Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs. “When people get into that mode they abuse each other. The format itself is not the right format for any kind of educational moment.”
Nevertheless, Eller-Isaacs said, the Black Lives Matter AIW has proven valuable to many congregations that are using it to support and guide their racial justice work.
On November 5, President Morales issued a pastoral message thanking UUs and UU congregations for their support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Racial justice was a key theme of the board’s public meeting October 16 and 17 and at its closed retreat October 15. (The board completed its work October 17 and thus did not meet the next morning as scheduled.)
During the board’s daylong retreat, the Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Lewis and the Rev. John Janka from the Middle Project in New York City led trustees and key UUA staff in a deep conversation about their commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement. On the 17th, a group of thirty high school youth and their advisers from two Minnesota congregations sat in on part of the board meeting, then broke into small groups to continue the Black Lives Matter discussion with trustees and staff.
The trustees ate their meals outside their conference room near a neon art installation that reads “#BlackLivesMatter.” The UUA installed the neon sign on the second floor of its Boston headquarters earlier in October, in solidarity with congregations across the country that have displayed banners and signs supporting the movement.
The board agenda focused mostly on discussion of several UUA priorities. It was the first full board meeting for three trustees elected in June and for two new youth observers; another trustee elected in June, Dorothy Evans Holmes, was unable to attend.
During their discussion of the UUA’s finances, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Tim Brennan told trustees, “Right now we’re on budget.” He recalled last year, when the budget was short $1.3 million due to major gifts that were expected but did not come in. This year, he said, “it’s all good news.”
The board discussed the Annual Program Fund at length. The APF—congregational contributions to the UUA—provides 40 percent of unrestricted funds that come into the UUA, but APF contributions are declining as a percentage of total congregational budgets, reported Financial Advisor Larry Ladd. UUs are among the wealthiest religiously affiliated Americans, yet they give far less than members of other denominations, said trustee James Snell. “In general we have a generosity problem that goes to the core of our ability to sustain ourselves,” Snell said.
UUA staff are developing a model that would calculate a congregation’s APF contribution as a percentage of its expenditures, not as a per-member fee. The board will continue discussing the APF at its January meeting.
The board also discussed a new General Assembly scholarship fund, for which $18,000 was raised at GA 2015 in Portland to support more diversity among delegates at future GAs. The board will continue to raise money for the scholarships, and set a target of $5,000 from trustees that will be matched by the Davidoff Fund. The board wants to increase by at least 10 percent the number of GA delegates who are people of color or members of other groups that now are underrepresented.
On October 15, trustees attended a ceremony dedicating the “Carpenter Room” at UUA headquarters to honor Ken and Lois Carpenter, whose gifts to the UUA have generated more than $2 million.
In executive session, the board discussed the performance of UUA President Peter Morales based on a newly created set of attributes and reported satisfactory performance. Morales, who recently underwent knee surgery, thanked the UUA’s Leadership Council and the staff for their “heroic work” during his absence.
UUA Moderator Jim Key said he is convening a team to reimagine the covenanting process among Unitarian Universalists.
The board appointed Kimberly Johnson to the Appointments Committee and Virginia (Ginger) Abraham to the Commission on Appraisal.