The ‘UU everyperson’ of her generation

The Rev. Daniel Aldridge, UUA Moderator Denise Davidoff, and the Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, c.1995

Highlights from an interview with the outgoing moderator of the UUA, Denise Davidoff.

Image: UUA Moderator Denise Davidoff (center) is shown with the Rev. Daniel Aldridge Jr. and the Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley at Aldridge’s installation as senior minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., in 1994. (© Nancy Pierce)

© Nancy Pierce


This article appeared in the July/August 2001 issue of UU World.

When given a wish for Unitarian Universalism, outgoing Moderator Denise Davidoff didn’t hesitate. She wishes for a year in which the First Principle, affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person, switches places with the last, affirming the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.

“I would love to spend one year where we could just get away from ‘I’ll do it my way,’” she said, “and agree as congregations and then as member congregations of the Association that we’re going to do what’s best for most of us. And that maybe people could wait on line—’We’re going to take care of this problem and then we’ll get to your problem.’ And they’ll say, ‘Okay, I’ll be patient, because this is what’s good for the group.’

“I don’t know how to make that happen, but I’d do anything in my power to make that happen.”

Here are other questions and answers from the wide-ranging interview:

UU World: How has your time in office changed you?

Davidoff: I’m pretty much the UU everyperson of my generation. I grew up in the ’30s and ’40s. I was raised in a conservative Jewish home. Basically, I was raised in orthodoxy; I rejected that orthodoxy as a young adult and eventually I found Unitarian Universalism. I considered myself a humanist. It wasn’t a question for me whether there was a god. I just didn’t want to talk about it.

Then in the last eight years I’ve come full circle. I’ve become sufficiently comfortable with my Unitarian Universalism, and have had the benefit of this enormous education that is being an active moderator, so I have been able to reclaim the theism that was there the whole time. And I’ve always loved my Jewish heritage. This is my story. This is the mainstream story, certainly, of my generation.

UU World: What’s next for you?

Davidoff: I’m hoping to remain active in Unitarian Universalism. I have no need to figure out how that will be; I just have the sense that I’m not done. I’m planning to stay cool. There will be committees to serve on, tasks to do, and thoughts to have. I have an abiding interest in increasing the resources of the Association, so I’m assuming that I’ll continue to be a member of the President’s Council. And I don’t think that any time soon I’ll be losing my interest in the Journey toward Wholeness [anti-racism and anti-oppression initiative].

I fully intend to remain very committed to my job of the presidency of the Interfaith Alliance Foundation. We are working on a number of issues and I’m just waiting to have more time: What is the proper role of faith communities and clergy in the life of the nation? Is campaign finance reform a faith-based issue? Is public witness a part of being a clergy person?

And I’m planning to see a lot more of my grandchildren.