UUA board will press congregations to make cultural change a priority

UUA board will press congregations to make cultural change a priority

“Lives are being destroyed” by white supremacy culture in Unitarian Universalist communities, trustees say; board will address congregations this month.

Elaine McArdle
UUA trustees, members of the administration, and observers from other UU organizations gather outside the UUA headquarters on April 20 for a moment of silence in solidarity with students who walked out of schools to protest gun violence.

UUA trustees, members of the administration, and observers from other UU organizations gather outside the UUA headquarters on April 20 for a moment of silence in solidarity with students who walked out of schools to protest gun violence. (© Kenneth Sutton)

© Kenneth Sutton


At its April meeting in Boston, the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees continued discussing white supremacy culture within the UUA and UU congregations and committed to keeping focus on that issue a priority at upcoming meetings.

Among other topics at its April 19–21 meeting, trustees discussed the increased incidence of conflicts within congregations involving religious professionals of color since last summer. In her president’s report, UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray told the board that the UUA staff is committed to dismantling white supremacy in the UUA’s culture and has already been working to increase support for religious professionals of color and other UUs of color.

Due to a scheduling mix-up, the board had on its agenda but did not discuss the recent report by the Commission on Institutional Change regarding last year’s controversy over the hiring process for a new senior staff person to lead the Southern Region. The board will try to have that discussion in May with commission members.

Related resources

Agendas, reports, and other material prepared for the April meeting of the Board of Trustees.

April 2018 Board Packet

After trustee the Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti said that despite decades of promises, little has changed within Unitarian Universalism for people of color, the board agreed that more action is needed and asked for specific suggestions. During a break on Friday, April 20, Lena K. Gardner, executive director of Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU), synthesized suggestions from various UU-affiliated organizations of people of color and drafted a two-page memo with specific suggestions for the board. Those included a request for immediate funding of a severance package for a black minister, the Rev. Dr. Susan Newman Moore, who recently departed from her position at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., in a congregational dispute that has been featured in the Washington Post. (All Souls and Newman Moore released a statement May 10 that they have successfully resolved their dispute over the terms of her separation.)

Trustee Christina Rivera, UUA secretary, was hospitalized the evening of April 20 with heart-related issues and was unable to attend the meeting on April 21. Gardner read a statement from Rivera during Saturday’s meeting that said, “I’m sitting in my room with a heart muscle damaged by the white supremacy in the U.S. and from Unitarian Universalism. That is the damage that we are asking you to consider.” Rivera, who was able to return to her Virginia home the following Tuesday, is under a doctor’s care and improving, she said.

After caucusing in racial identity groups on Saturday, trustees discussed and then “affirmed the direction” of an amended version of Gardner’s recommendations developed by the caucus of people of color. With Gardner, Mishra-Marzetti, and others emphasizing that the burden of delay is borne by people of color “whose lives are being destroyed,” in Gardner’s words, the board agreed to move quickly on the recommendations, including determining how to influence congregations to deal with white supremacy in their cultures.

By its May 13 teleconference, the board will formulate specific calls to action for congregations, which it will share with congregations as part of a broader effort to be in closer communication with them. Long-term recommendations will be integrated into existing processes, it decided, and will be further discussed at its June meeting.

Neither of the Board’s two co-moderators, Elandria Williams or Mr. Barb Greve, was able to attend the April meeting in person. Greve attended via teleconference. Vice Moderator Denise Rimes facilitated the meeting, with trustees sharing the responsibility of facilitating different conversations.

The UUA has again received a “very clean audit opinion” from outside auditors regarding its financial and other risks, said trustee Lucia Santini Field, the board’s financial advisor.

The UUA is still predicting to break even this fiscal year, said Tim Brennan, chief financial officer and treasurer.

More than $33 million has been raised so far toward the $50 million goal for the Wake Now Our Vision fundraising campaign, said the Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, director of Stewardship and Development. More than $2.4 million has been raised toward the board’s commitment of $5.3 million to fund the work of BLUU, and 213 congregations have participated in the Promise and Practice of Our Faith for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism campaign.

The board will bring several bylaw changes to the 2018 General Assembly in Kansas City, Missouri, June 20–24, including to:

  • make all language in the bylaws gender neutral;
  • allow staggered terms for those serving on the Ministerial Fellowship Committee;
  • change the board’s two youth observer positions to youth trustees with voting rights and two-year terms; and
  • simplify and shorten Commission on Social Witness processes for Statements of Conscience and Actions of Immediate Witness.

Other business resolutions are also on their way to the General Assembly but without board action, including a proposed bylaw change that would grant delegate status to religious educators who are employed by congregations and a proposal that would require the board to establish a means by which congregations may communicate directly with trustees concerning governance of the Association.

The 2018 GA will also take a second vote on a change introduced last year to honor “words and actions of prophetic people” instead of “prophetic women and men” in the UUA’s Second Source. The proposal to add an Eighth Principle, affirming UU commitment to antiracism, to the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism will not be presented at GA but will be part of a comprehensive examination of the UUA’s bylaws. The details of how that study will take place are still in development.

Debra Gray Boyd of the GA Planning Committee told the board that attendance for GA 2018 in Kansas City is predicted to be around 3,000, which she said “isn’t financially feasible.” The board is considering designating GA 2019, in Spokane, Washington, as a general conference focused on theological questions rather than on business. The board did not act on the recommendation by GA planners to approve Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the site of the 2021 General Assembly, but moved that agenda item to its May meeting.

The Ministerial Fellowship Committee had asked the board for input on how to improve their processes in the context of opposing white supremacy culture, and the board approved its own recommendations to the MFC. The MFC will present a plan and timeline that the board will discuss at its October 2018 meeting.

The Elections Campaign Practices Committee delivered a report to the board on the 2017 UUA presidential campaign, and the Presidential Search Committee also gave a report on the nomination process it conducted for the first time. Both recommended significant changes to the process, including a shorter campaign season. Discussion will continue at future board meetings.


Updated 5/17/18: An earlier version of this story misspelled Debra Gray Boyd’s first name.