Q&A: New UUA President Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt

Q&A: New UUA President Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt

On July 10, Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt became the tenth president of the Unitarian Universalist Association. She took time to talk a bit about her background and share with UU World some thoughts about the opportunities and challenges facing the UU community.

Charles Coe
Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt in red and yellow stole

At her GA installation ceremony June 25, newly elected UUA President Sofía Betancourt shows appreciation to the cheering audience.

© 2023 Nancy Pierce/UUA


How did your experience as the child of Chilean and Panamanian immigrants help set you on your path?

I came from a mixed multicultural, multiracial background in Greenwich Village in the early seventies, surrounded by artists and musicians and NYU professors and folks committed to social and political justice. I grew up thinking it was natural to feel connected to and engaged with your community.

Growing up in Panama and Chile, my parents experienced life under U.S.-trained dictators and were both aware of the dangers of fascism. My Chilean grandmother told me I would never know what freedom meant because I had never lost mine. Those lessons still echo for me.

You’re a vocalist and a fabric artist. How do those pursuits enrich your life?

I see music as an expression of things we can’t really put into words that carry us in protest spaces and worship spaces. And into family spaces, like when we’re singing to a baby.

I sing more in church than anywhere else, and I most enjoy singing harmony. There's something very sacred to me about weaving human voices together.

"There’s something very sacred to me about weaving human voices together."

My Chilean grandmother benefitted from the strong fiber arts traditions of the Andes, and I learned from her. I’m a knitter, I spin my own yarn, and I’m learning how to weave. Fabric is meditative, soft, and beautiful.

How do you inspire older members of the UU community who see social justice gains they’ve worked so hard to help achieve being rolled back?

I have great empathy and appreciation for our elders who have given so much to the work of justice. In my teaching, I try to remind students, and myself, that hope is a spiritual discipline, not a mood. It’s about what we are investing into the possibilities of the world. Every generation is challenged to leave the world better than they found it.

The UU community is experiencing some pushback on welcoming and supporting LGBTQIA+ members. How do you respond to that resistance?

I was at the Supreme Court as Roe v. Wade was being overturned. I showed up early in the morning when there were only two visible clergy present, me and an African American minister wearing a T-shirt that equated my humanity to an animal in a zoo. I was wearing a T-shirt that said, “This Queer Pastor Loves You.” He kept yelling at me, and I said, “I wish a broader understanding of God’s love for you.” I asked if I could pray for him, which he did not appreciate. But I pray for him and others like him to understand that in Beloved Community we acknowledge the wholeness and the beauty of all kinds of people.

What are your thoughts on the work of Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray as you become president?

Susan held us pastorally and prophetically and helped us work through the day-to-day details of keeping us connected, and literally alive, during the COVID crisis. There aren’t words enough to describe my respect and appreciation for the work done by Susan, [Executive Vice President] Carey McDonald, and the staff.

In addition to her response to the pandemic, under Susan’s leadership we’ve created a woven, complex, effective national voice on a wide range of social, political, and economic justice issues. UU the Vote was her vision and has had, and will continue to have, a profound impact. We’re going to be seeing the significance of her work for a long time, because it was so grounded in consistency and faithfulness.

If you could go six years into the future, how do you think you’d like to look back on your presidency?

Recently in a sermon I asked people what they were willing to risk as envoys for love in the world. I would like to look back six years from now and find UUs with a deepened commitment to living our values and being able to express those values in language that’s expansive, specific, and non-exclusionary, and leaves room for their Beloveds in community.

I hope we still have vibrant brick-and-mortar congregations that promote grassroots efforts in the street, and support entrepreneurial ministries that don’t necessarily look like what we’ve had for the last hundred years. I hope we interpret our faith in ways that are freer, broader, and more confident in expression. Ways that support our commitment to bearing witness in the world. Looking back at the end of my presidency, I’d like to be able to say that I helped empower UUs to live faithfully.

“Looking back at the end of my presidency, I’d like to be able to say that I helped empower UUs to live faithfully.”