UUA President Peter Morales delivered his annual report to the 2012 General Assembly. (© 2012 Nancy Pierce)
In his annual report to the 2012 General Assembly, UUA President Peter Morales stressed the importance of collaboration, especially in working for justice and in helping UU congregations adapt to a rapidly changing society.
He began his Saturday, June 23, report by celebrating the work Unitarian Universalists have done to support immigrants and promote immigrant justice. He and other UUs came to protest the passage of Arizona SB 1070 two years ago “because affirming the inherent worth and dignity of everyone means exactly that,” he said. “And we made a difference. Our voice was heard. Our presence was felt. Of all the faith groups, we were the most visible”—thanks in part, he said, to the bright yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” shirts UUs wore.
UU visibility proved effective, Morales said, because congregations in Arizona had built strong relationships with grassroots community organizations like Tonatierra, Puente, Somos and No More Deaths. “They formed these relationships as a religious people living out their faith, living out their commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of all in the context of their local communities.” But UU effectiveness was not simply a matter of local relationships. The UUA’s national staff partnered with national immigration rights organizations.
“Working together,” Morales said. “Collaborating. Working with partners who share our values. Learning from one another. Sharing. Multiplying our power. Nurturing bonds of love and respect. Hand in hand, mano en mano. This is how we will thrive.”
“We are not just an association of a thousand independent congregations,” he continued. “We are a religious movement of people and of congregations that are interdependent.”
Morales then described challenges facing Unitarian Universalism. Despite rapid changes in American society, including growing numbers of people who share the religious and social attitudes of most Unitarian Universalists, the membership of UU congregations has not changed significantly in a generation, and the number of congregations is only 17 more than it was 20 years ago.
Among young adults especially, he said, religious affiliation is dropping quickly. “Fifty years ago about five out of every 100 American young adults said they identified with no religion. Ten years ago 12 out of 100 had no religion. Today the number has jumped to 25 out of every 100.”
“Church has become a bad brand,” Morales said. Yet, “the number of people who are in sympathy with the core values of Unitarian Universalism is shooting through the roof.”
“Here is our twofold challenge: We have to strengthen our congregations and help them adapt to this tectonic cultural shift, and we have to create new ways to engage the millions of spiritually hungry ‘nones.’”
“People will no longer come to church out of habit or a sense of duty,” he told the delegates. “People are starving for religious communities that feed their souls. But if their souls are not fed they will go elsewhere. There is no place in tomorrow’s America for mediocre church.”
Morales then imagined the final report he will give as president in 2017, looking back on the changes UUs embraced to help Unitarian Universalism thrive. He praised the UUA’s “Leap of Faith” initiative, which partners congregations eager to grow with mentor congregations that have achieved significant growth. He hailed the local partnerships congregations forged with immigrants after the 2012 GA. He celebrated “more than a thousand UUs” who participated in UU College of Social Justice service learning trips. He acknowledged efforts by the UU Ministers Association and the UUA to support the training and diversity of the ministry.
And Morales imagined looking back on the move of the UUA staff from its Beacon Hill properties in Boston.
“Four years ago we moved into our new headquarters. Wow,” he said. “What a difference that has made. We have a modern facility with up to date technology that allows our staff in Boston and across the country to work together in flexible teams. We have accessible and comfortable meeting spaces for staff and lay leaders. We are hosting continuing education conferences and interfaith gatherings. We have a fabulous display area that tells the story of our past and our present.”
“What I am most proud of,” he said, still looking back from 2017, “is how we have reached out and engaged so many religious seekers and UUs who are not currently members.”
“Small groups are popping up everywhere, using online resources we helped develop, or they developed and we shared,” Morales said. “We are helping people to connect to our faith as never before—people who would not have found one of our congregations. Lots of these groups are attaching to our congregations. Thousands have joined our public witness efforts, making us a powerful force.”
“In 2017, Unitarian Universalism has gone viral!”
After concluding his remarks, Morales introduced the Rev. Geoffrey Black, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, who spoke to delegates about the UUA’s new partnership with the UCC on social witness work. Black and two of his colleagues from the UCC’s national staff attended GA and participated in public witness events.
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Christopher L. Walton is editor of UU World. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah and is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.