UUA board votes to end independent affiliate status

UUA board votes to end independent affiliate status

Hears update on UUA cost-cutting measures, places new Principles and Purposes on GA agenda.
Jane Greer


The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Board of Trustees voted in January to end its relationship with “independent affiliate organizations” as of June 2010, only two years after dramatically reducing the number of affiliates it authorized under new rules. The board will renew existing independent affiliates this spring but will not accept new applications. Instead, the board has charged the UUA staff with setting up a new system to work with independent organizations by June 2010.

In other business at its January 14–18 meeting in Boston, the board placed revisions to the UUA’s Principles and Purposes on the 2009 General Assembly agenda; heard reports about the recession’s impact on the Association’s financial status; agreed to build relationships with the boards of the two UU theological schools; asked the Ministerial Fellowship Committee to initiate discussions about ministerial culture and credentialing with other organizations; agreed to set up a subcommittee to explore the idea of paying the UUA moderator; and voted not to introduce new bylaws regarding the credentialing of church musicians.

The board’s decision to end its role in designating and renewing independent affiliate organizations comes after several years of turmoil. In 2006 the board voted to change the terms under which organizations could become independent affiliates. Under rigorous new rules designed to encourage organizations to work collaboratively, very few organizations that had been independent affiliates were able to retain that status. In 2006 there were 46 independent affiliates. Today there are six. In the past, UUA staff and the General Assembly Planning Committee have given independent affiliates several advantages, including GA workshop slots, reduced advertising rates in UU World, inclusion in the UUA Directory, and a lower rate for booth space at GA.

The board voted to review the applications of existing independent affiliates in the spring of 2009. However, starting in June 2010 the board will no longer accept or renew applications for independent affiliates. All of this “is contingent upon the UUA staff creating a strategy to honor and harness the incredible talent, passion, and experience present in this large group of dedicated UU volunteers,” the motion reads.

Tamara Payne-Alex, trustee-at-large from San Jose, Calif., who heads the board working group that introduced the motion, explained: “It’s not about stopping the [independent affiliate] organizations and what they’re doing. That’s never been the situation,” she said. “But it became clearer to us that the things these groups needed in terms of resources were not actually managed by the UUA board. At the end of the day the staff are the people to manage this. They’re there 35 hours a week. The board meets three times a year, not counting GA.”

Some trustees expressed concerns that employees of independent affiliates might lose UUA benefit coverage. Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and vice president of finance, said there is already a provision in the UUA benefits program that allows UU organizations that are not independent affiliates to participate.

New Principles and Purposes to go before General Assembly

The board voted to make one change to a proposed revision of Article II of the UUA’s bylaws, better known as the “Principles and Purposes,” and placed the new text, which was written by the UUA Commission on Appraisal, on the 2009 General Assembly agenda.

The Commission on Appraisal was asked by the board to conduct a review of Article II in April 2006, beginning a two-and-a-half-year process of hearings, congregational meetings, and interviews soliciting feedback on the current Principles and Purposes. (The bylaws mandate that Article II be reviewed every 15 years.) The Commission publicized its first draft of Article II in September 2008, asking for comments. After receiving 1,700 responses, the Commission revised its draft before submitting it to the board in December.

The board elected to change a sentence in Section C-2.2 concerning cultural and religious misappropriation. Formerly the text vowed “to avoid misappropriation of cultural and religious practices and to seek ways of appreciation that are respectful and welcomed.” The board amended it to say that “we seek to engage cultural and religious practices in ways that call us into right relationship with all.”

The proposed text cannot be amended by the General Assembly. If a majority of GA delegates approves the next text in 2009, it will then go before the 2010 General Assembly, where it must pass with a two-thirds majority.

UUA projects declining revenues, plans cuts

UUA Treasurer Tim Brennan told the board that the UUA is cutting expenses as its revenues fall.

Brennan reported that UUA income for the second quarter of fiscal year 2009 is down 7.5 percent, although he projected that reductions in expenses will lead to a break-even year. To cut costs, the UUA has imposed a hiring freeze, cut travel expenses, decreased the number of employees going to GA, reduced catering expenses, and held more meetings by phone and online. The UUA will also stop printing and mailing several publications: the annual UUA Directory, the monthly Congregational Mailing packet, and two newsletters, InterConnections for congregational leaders and The Religious Leader for religious professionals. The publications will be made available electronically.

Preliminary estimates for fiscal year 2010, which starts July 1, 2009, indicate that revenues could be down by 10 percent, or $1.8 million. The administration is planning additional cuts and will present a balanced FY10 budget at the board’s April meeting.

The UU Common Endowment Fund, which includes the UUA’s endowment along with funds invested by congregations and other UU organizations, declined in value from $135 million in January 2008 to $94 million at the end of December. The UUA retirement plan declined about 23 percent, from $175 million to $135 million. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and take steps as necessary,” Brennan said.

Brennan said that the “Now Is the Time” five-year comprehensive fundraising campaign is expected to achieve its target goal of $50 million before the end of UUA President William G. Sinkford’s term. The UUA has cancelled three $300,000 regional marketing campaigns, however, that did not reach their fundraising goals.

“Donors are being diligent about paying on their pledges and we continue to see a flow of legacy gifts,” Brennan wrote in a later email. “We are merely experiencing a lull due to the fall in the value of the assets that people tap for major gifts.”

To help congregations weather the recession, the board voted to roll back a $2-per-member increase it had authorized for the Annual Program Fund in 2010. The APF dues will remain at $56 per member.

Next steps in ‘excellence in ministry’ initiative

In two actions related to the UUA’s “excellence in ministry” initiative, the board decided to form relationships with the boards of both UU theological schools and asked the Ministerial Fellowship Committee to initiate a dialogue about ministerial culture.

The UUA has been examining excellence in ministry since April 2007, when the board asked the Panel on Theological Education to reconsider its funding priorities for grants supporting theological education. Before then, both Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif., and Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago had been awarded an increasing proportion of the panel’s funds. Realizing that 65 percent of UU ministerial students were studying at non-UU schools, the board asked the panel to focus on the larger issue of achieving excellence in ministry instead of simply funding the two UU seminaries.

The panel sponsored a Summit on Excellence in Ministry in December 2008. Sixty-five people attended, including members of the UUA board, representatives of four theological schools, and members of the UU Ministers Association, the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC), DRUUMM (“Diverse and Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries”), and the Liberal Religious Educators Association. The summit identified eight topics that it wanted to examine; one of these was “Ministerial Culture, UU Growth, and the Impact of the Credentialing Process.” The MFC, which is a board-appointed committee, has been authorized to begin discussions on this topic with other stakeholders.

The board also voted to establish formal relationships with the two UU theological schools. By setting up formal relationships with the boards of both schools, the UUA board hopes to work with them in supporting excellence in ministry, said Payne-Alex, whose working group proposed both votes at the panel’s recommendation. “The relationships between the UUA and the theological schools have been embodied for the most part in relationships between the [school’s] presidents and funding goups,” she said. “That means that it’s either on a personal level or it’s about money. If we want a deeper relationship that has to do with our history, identity, and future, it should really be board to board.”

Board steps back from credentialing process for musicians

The UUA Board decided not to ask the General Assembly to vote on proposed new bylaws that would formally establish a credentialing program for church musicians.

The UUA’s Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group has already developed a credentialing program for musicians and that program will continue as a staff initiative, said UUA Secretary Paul Rickter, trustee of the Massachusetts Bay District. Passing new bylaws would have officially established a program that already exists. The General Assembly did approve similar bylaw changes in 2004 establishing a credentialing process for religious educators.

In a letter to Keith Arnold, president of the Unitarian Univeralist Musicians Network, Rickter cited two reasons for not including the proposed bylaws on the 2009 GA agenda. The entire ministerial credentialing process is being reexamined as part of the larger excellence in ministry initiative, Rickter said. He also said that the Religious Education Credentialing Committee is conducting its own self-examination. “Since we know that both structures are being reexamined,” Rickter wrote, “we are reluctant to establish in firm bylaw language another similar credentialing structure.”

Rickter assured Arnold of the board’s support. “We want to continue to explore with you the concept of credentialing music leaders and how to structure it in our bylaws,” he wrote in the letter. “As the conversations concerning the credentialing of religious educators and the fellowshipping of ministers move forward, we anticipate that new ideas will develop for how best to structure the credentialing of music leaders as well.”

Changing the election process

The board voted to spend time at its April meeting drafting specific changes to the way the UUA elects its president and moderator. Any resulting bylaw changes would be presented for a vote at the 2010 GA and would not affect the 2009 elections.

As part of that conversation, the board voted to create a subcommittee to discuss whether or how the moderator should be paid. Since the moderator’s position is voluntary but requires many hours, trustees expressed concerns that many potential candidates would be automatically excluded from consideration for the job based on their economic circumstances. The sub-committee will also discuss the moderator’s role in policy governance, a governance model that will be adopted by the board this summer. The group’s findings will be presented at the April meeting.

In other business, the board:

  • Accepted the Foothills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Maryville, Tenn., as a new member congregation.

  • Recommended that the GA Planning Committee authorize a collection in plenary at General Assembly to support the UUA’s work for marriage equality.

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