Three core priorities will continue to guide our work.
A screen shot of UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray presenting her annual report, June 24, during the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Virtual General Assembly 2021. (UUA)
Who could have imagined what this past year would bring?
The ground has continued to shift beneath us all. It has been a traumatic year. It has also shown us the powerful truth of our interdependence. As we reflect on this past year, may we remember not just the grief, but the ways we have shown up for each other, for our communities, and for our values.
As we think about what comes next, we must remember the values and practices that helped us survive. These are the gifts we need to bring forward.
As I consider this past year and look ahead to the next, there are three core priorities that will continue to guide our work at the UUA.
First, continued support for our congregations and leaders in navigating the pandemic and post pandemic realities.
Second, implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Institutional Change.
And third, strengthening our justice and organizing capacity, building on the success of UU the Vote.
Over 15 months ago, our congregations pivoted quickly to virtual operations as COVID-19 spread across the world. We saved untold lives because of our quick efforts.
As we move forward, the UUA recommends that congregations plan for multi-platform ministry—a combination of in-person and online opportunities—for sustained accessibility. We know this will take experimentation, flexibility, and above all patience! Remember—perfection is not the goal. Care, inclusion, and leaning into mission—these are the practices to carry forward.
The second most critical priority for our work—and one that will drive our efforts for the next several years—is implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Institutional Change.
Across the UUA ecosystem, people are engaging with the recommendations presented in the Commission’s report Widening the Circle of Concern. This engagement involves new initiatives, retooling core work, and weaving the foundational call of the report—living into our liberating, antiracist, antioppressive, multicultural aspirations—into the systemic and cultural practices of our Association, congregations, and UU organizations.
This includes the UUA Board of Trustees embarking on a wholescale review of the UUA bylaws to make governance more agile and effective. It also includes the Article II Study Commission’s charge to engage our congregations in theological discernment around our principles, purpose, and core values.
We are engaged in new initiatives to support lay leaders by retooling leadership training and creating networks of lay leaders, including circles for BIPOC lay leaders. One of the most exciting events this year was the New Day Rising Conference. Over 1,200 UUs participated in this conference dedicated to congregations doing active antioppression, antiracism, and dismantling white supremacy culture work.
We’re launching a dedicated Conflict Engagement Team, called Hope for Us, named in memory of the Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson, who was instrumental in the vision and formation of the team. This team will help congregations and their leaders engage conflict productively with opportunities for positive transformation. This group will bring skills for understanding how race, gender, identity, and power impact conflict and will create tools to help leaders intervene sooner in conflicts before they escalate.
The UUA is making new investments in youth ministry, recognizing the commitment from the GA2020 Responsive Resolution to support youth and young adults. This Spring, our Lifespan Faith Engagement office organized a Youth Ministry Visioning week with youth, youth advisors, and UUA staff to align our theology, approach, and communication of our offerings both nationally and regionally. We’re also sponsoring a new national youth ministry network called YUUP—the Young Unitarian Universalist Project. YUUP is a youth-led ministry, supported by adults from multiple regions.
We are bringing a stronger lens of equity, accountability, and strategy to publications and communications. This includes the new Equity and Accountability Panel at Skinner House books and the new strategic redesign and practice of editorial advisors for UU World magazine. At Beacon Press, their historic list of Black, Indigenous, and people of color authors are shaping vital national conversations on race and equity. Together the UUA and Beacon are discovering the ways our work and mission support and benefit each other.
Sustaining culture change within the UUA as a workplace is essential to being an organization where people of all identities can thrive. This means continued hiring and personnel practices to recruit and sustain a diverse and exceptionally talented staff. We continue to invest in the ongoing learning and skill development of staff. We are launching the second phase of our cross-staff JEDI team (which stands for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion); and we have just completed our second cultural assessment with UUA staff.
Strengthen justice leadership and organizing capacity
In a year when our democracy was under unprecedented attack, let’s celebrate how powerful UU the Vote was!
Over 5,000 volunteers and over 450 congregations participated. We registered over 10,000 new voters, sent over one million texts, over one million postcards, and made over 600,000 phone calls. All told, we contacted over three million voters. And the high-level investments we made in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia not only helped voter participation, they helped make sure every vote counted.
The impact of UU the Vote went far beyond the numbers. It includes the capacity we built, both locally and nationally, for justice organizing deeply rooted in partnership with directly impacted communities. It includes the leadership development that was built in our congregations, through organizing school, and in our State Actions Networks. It was the national attention it garnered, including when UU the Vote was recognized as a finalist by Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Award for Enduring Impact.
Finally, UU the Vote had a powerful spiritual impact. In a brutal year, beset with loss, UU the Vote was a lifeline to many. It nurtured the kind of joy and hope that grows from struggle and solidarity—and that in itself was life-saving.
This is no time for a casual faith. This is a time for audacious love that is inextricably linked to courageous action.
And this is no time to go it alone. We belong to each other, and we need one another to survive. Covenant—honoring our interconnectedness, creating more intentional and ever-widening practices of belonging—this is how we survive.
In this unimaginably difficult year, we have come to more deeply understand the gift of being a covenantal faith. I remain incredibly grateful for this faith and for the honor of serving as your president. Thank you—to all of you—for the ways you continue to say yes to this life-affirming, life-saving, compassionate, and prophetic faith. I love you all!
This article was adapted from President Susan Frederick-Gray’s annual report, presented to the UUA General Assembly on Thursday, June 24, 2021. Watch her full report:
Video on YouTube
Please note: newsletter on hiatus
The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray is the ninth president of the Unitarian Universalist Association. She was elected in June 2017 to a six-year term after serving congregations in Phoenix, Arizona; Youngstown, Ohio; and Nashville, Tennessee. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Brian Frederick-Gray, and their son.
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