UUA board reaffirms Florida General Assembly

UUA board reaffirms Florida General Assembly

Ministers Association pulls out of GA convention center.
Jane Greer


The Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations reaffirmed its decision to hold this year’s General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., despite complaints about security measures in place at the convention center.

In other business at its quarterly meeting in Boston on January 19 and 20, the board approved rule changes for the Ministerial Fellowship Committee and the Religious Education Credentialing Committee, continued a conversation about the Association’s governance by discussing its elections processes, agreed on a new financial arrangement with Beacon Press that will include charges for occupancy, and put the consolidation of the Northeast and New Hampshire-Vermont districts on the General Assembly agenda.

Security at the Fort Lauderdale convention center was a major concern at the October 2007 board meeting. Because the convention center is located in the Port of Fort Lauderdale, which is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, all persons over 18 entering the center will have to show government-issued photo identification. Those under 18 can show a convention badge or a student ID. Trustees expressed fear in October that the checkpoints would provide opportunities for racial and other kinds of profiling, especially of young people. Some ministers have also argued that the security checkpoints would discourage anyone without government documentation from attending the convention or worship services. (For more information on ID checkpoints at GA, see the Frequently Asked Questions About Security in Fort Lauderdale" prepared by the General Assembly staff.)

After discussing the ID checkpoints and the concerns raised about them, the board voted January 20 to proceed with GA in Fort Lauderdale as planned: “After careful consideration of the report of the General Assembly Planning Committee (GAPC) and concerns expressed about security arrangements at General Assembly, the Board of Trustees reaffirms its 2004 decision to select Fort Lauderdale as the site of the 2008 General Assembly.”

A memo from General Assembly Planning Committee Chair Beth McGregor, UUA Moderator Gini Courter, and UUA President William G. Sinkford explained the board’s decision: “The reasons Fort Lauderdale was selected in 2004 remain in effect: extremely favorable financial concessions; physical accessibility; affordable lodgings; a diverse convention center and hospitality staff; and a gay-friendly city.” The memo emphasized the UUA’s commitment to offer “significant programming” on the erosion of civil liberties since 9/11 and what it means to live in a society where many lack government-issued identification.

In a letter dated January 17, just days before the board meeting, the UU Ministers Association Executive Committee announced that Ministry Days, a pre-GA program for ministers, would find another venue. “We are deeply disappointed that those attending the General Assembly will have to pass through security checkpoints in order to attend,” wrote the Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, UUMA president. “We believe such requirements violate the high value our religion places upon inclusion and full accessibility.”

The board approved new rules for the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) and put proposed bylaw changes regarding the MFC on the GA agenda.

The MFC credentials UU ministers and adjudicates cases of ministerial misconduct. The rule changes were crafted by a small task force over an 18-month period, and were designed to make them congruent with current practice. This is the first time in more than five years that such extensive rule changes have been made.

Some of the changes included eliminating the classifications of full and associate fellowship for ministers in final fellowship, changing the term “associate fellowship” to “inactive fellowship status” for ministers in preliminary fellowship, making renewal requirements more explicit, dropping the requirement for endorsement in final fellowship for community ministers, and lengthening the internship time requirement from 6 months to 9 months full-time or 18 months half-time.

Significant rule changes regarding disciplinary procedures were also made. “Conduct unbecoming” has been grounds to remove a minister from fellowship, but “incompetence” has now been added. A disciplinary action called “probation” has been introduced, and the legalistic language and procedures of the hearing process have been mitigated. “The hearing process is being redesigned to bring it more in line with a professional credentialing body and less like a legal court hearing,” the task force wrote in a summary document.

“Fellowship is a privilege and not a right,” said the Rev. Jory Agate, former MFC chair and current ministerial development director in the UUA’s Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group, who spoke at the board meeting. “In order to receive that privilege you have to meet the standards of a board committee. People can’t simply say, ‘I’ve met all the requirements; you owe me fellowship.’”

Amendments were also made to rules of the Religious Education Credentialing Committee. These rules now require criminal record checks for all candidates and full disclosure of criminal offenses both past and present for all credentialed religious educators. The same rules had been adopted earlier by the MFC.

UUA Financial Advisor Dan Brody reported that a new system would be implemented at the start of the fiscal year in July in which all UUA offices would be assessed occupancy. This would include Beacon Press, which occupies three floors at the UUA’s 41 Mt. Vernon St. building. “This is an accounting procedure so that budgets for each office reflect the actual cost of the office,” Brody said. The rents would be paid through an internal transfer of funds, he said, and the budget for each office would be increased in order to pay the rent by taking this amount from the facilities budget.

Applying the rent charge to Beacon could make it more difficult for the press to meet the financial goals established for it by the board. To prevent this problem, the board voted to transfer funds to Beacon to pay its occupancy costs in each of the next five years. After that, Brody said, it would be up to the board to decide whether to continue this arrangement.

The board began discussing possible changes to the way the Association elects its officers, part of an ongoing board conversation about UUA governance. The board focused on the question of whether the moderator should receive a stipend. (Moderator Gini Courter excused herself from the discussion.) According to the UUA bylaws, the moderator is charged with presiding over General Assemblies and board and executive committee meetings. A bylaw change in 2007 added the role of chief governance officer to the moderator’s portfolio.

Many of the UUA’s moderators have traveled extensively on behalf of the organization and have put in far more hours than required in the job description. Since the job is unpaid, some trustees expressed concerns that few people would have the time and resources to run for the position, thereby eliminating a pool of qualified applicants. “You have to be independently wealthy or retired to be moderator,” said Lynn Conley, trustee from the Mid-South District.

The conversation is part of a larger plan to reexamine the UUA’s governance. Any proposed changes to the elections process would not be voted on until the 2010 GA, said board secretary Paul Rickter. They would not affect the 2009 election of a new UUA president.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved UU Ministry for Earth as a sixth Independent Affiliate organization. Under carefully enforced new rules, only 6 out of 40 organizations that applied this year received this status.

  • Approved the consolidation of the New Hampshire-Vermont District and the Northeast District into the Northern New England District. The final vote on the consolidation will be taken at GA. Roger Comstock, trustee from the Northeast District, will serve out his term until June 2009. After that the Rev. Will Saunders of the New Hampshire-Vermont District will serve as the trustee from the new district until his term expires in June 2011.

  • Approved Phoenix, Ariz., as the site of the 2012 GA. The General Assembly met in Phoenix in 1997.

  • Welcomed two new congregations into the UUA: the Prairie Circle Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Grayslake, Ill., and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Rocky Mount in Rocky Mount, N.C.

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