At post-GA meeting, board discusses controversial new criteria for independent affiliate organizations.
“We’re learning as we go, and gaining clarity,” said Tamara Payne-Alex of San Jose, Calif., a trustee at large who heads the board working group overseeing the process of changing the board’s approach to the relationships independent UU groups have with the UUA.
Payne-Alex spoke as the board met in Portland, Ore., after the conclusion of the UUA’s 2007 General Assembly. Six newly elected trustees joined the board to share impressions of the Assembly and deal with a short business agenda. In addition to the affiliate decisions and related discussion, the board also heard a report on the Assembly’s Open Space process, which was aimed at drawing out congregational representatives’ thoughts on the question, “In today’s complex world, what is our mission as a faith community?”
About 60 independent UU groups, whose aggregate membership totals in the thousands, have held UUA affiliate status in recent years under what Moderator Gini Courter described as a one-size-fits-all approach. The groups have a broad array of focuses, from social justice to theological perspectives to funding and service. In a four-year process, the board has examined the approach and established new criteria that narrow the possibilities for affiliation. The result has been loud complaints from groups concerned that they will lose General Assembly workshops, listings in the UUA Directory, discounts for advertising in UU World, and other benefits.
The new criteria mandate that to gain affiliation, groups must have a broad focus, a mission that relates directly to the UUA’s Purposes, and functional connections with UU congregations, and that they work in coalition or collaboration with other groups.
Courter, Payne-Alex, and other trustees held four networking sessions with groups during General Assembly, where feelings ran strong. She said that the board’s goal was to get the groups into the best possible relationship with the Association and that relationships solely through the board were problematic for most. The board has little staff capacity to deal with them, she told the leaders of the independent organizations, saying many would be better served by working directly with the UUA staff or among themselves.
“The transition has not been smooth,” Payne-Alex told the board Monday. “More could have been done, and could have been done differently.”
The groups accepted for affiliate status Monday were DRUUMM (Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries), a UU people of color organization, and Universalist Convocations, a consortium of Universalist conventions. The applications for two other groups, the Partner Church Council and UU Ministry for Earth, were tabled for consideration in October.*
The board also voted to renew associate status for the UU Women’s Federation, the UU Service Committee, and the UU United Nations Office.
In a related action, the board voted to allow independent organizations that are already enrolled in a UUA benefit program to remain enrolled through December 2008 even if the organization is no longer recognized as an affiliate organization.
Dr. Helen Bishop, who led the Open Space exercise at General Assembly, told the board the organizers believed 1,200 to 1,300 people participated in at least one meeting in the four-stage process, adding, “I don’t know how a first-time process on this scale could have gone any better.” The exercise yielded 30 mission-related statements; at the GA’s final plenary, delegates cast votes that will prioritize them. Results of the prioritizing the vote should be known in August or September.
Trustees reported a range of experiences in Open Space sessions, from rants against the UUA to enjoyable and even holy moments. Several trustees observed that youth delegates and supporters of theological schools were well organized to make sure their voices were heard.
“Several people in the process commented that it gave them a voice,” reported Eva Marx, trustee from the Ballou Channing District. “They were able to say things they couldn’t say in plenary.”
Correction 7.13.07: Based on inaccurate information in the preliminary minutes of the meeting, the original version of this story said that the board also deferred action on the UU Small Group Ministry Network's application for independent affiliate status. The group's application was in fact not approved. Click here to return to the corrected paragraph.
Christopher L. Walton contributed to this report.
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Tom Stites was the editor of UU World from 1997 to 2006 and retired as its publisher in 2007. He is a member of the First Religious Society of Newburyport, Massachusetts.
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