UUA cuts regional committees that assess seminarians

UUA cuts regional committees that assess seminarians

Board approves 2016 budget, ending funds for Regional Subcommittees on Candidacy; UUA will expand ‘In Care’ programs instead.

Elaine McArdle
The UUA Board of Trustees, shown here at the 2014 General Assembly in Providence, R.I.

The UUA Board of Trustees, shown here at the 2014 General Assembly in Providence, R.I., approved the budget for fiscal year 2016 during an April 23 teleconference.

© Nancy Pierce


The Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2016 budget will stop funding the Regional Subcommittees on Candidacy (RSCCs), which have been part of the process that examines seminarians and aspiring ministers. Instead, the UUA will expand “In Care” programs for would-be ministers. The Ministerial Fellowship Committee will continue to credential ministers.

The RSCCs will cease nearly immediately because the funding for them—$17,000 per year in recent years—was eliminated in the fiscal year 2016 budget approved by the UUA Board of Trustees at its April 23 meeting. The fiscal year starts July 1

The Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) introduced the RSCCs in 1999. Originally there were six regional subcommittees, with a total budget of $140,000, but budget cuts have reduced the number of subcommittees to two, one on each coast. While the original design of the RSCCs was “brilliant,” said the Rev. Harlan Limpert, the UUA’s chief operating officer, “it didn’t work well and the budget for it was reduced over time, making it even more difficult. We’re not replacing a successful program, we’re replacing one that hasn’t been effective with one we believe will be.”

The Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, the UUA’s program and strategy officer, said the In Care programs will be far more supportive of seminarians, giving them valuable feedback and support from the start of their theological education rather than emphasizing evaluation alone, which was the primary function of the RSCCs.

The RSCCs were designed originally to give feedback early in a seminarian’s education. One goal was to let students know if they were not likely to be found fit to be ministers, thus saving them the cost of continuing their theological education, Limpert said. However, in practice many seminarians avoided contact with the RSCCs until later in their theological education, when they felt ready to be assessed. By that point, however, it was too late to save them money or to work on the issues that might improve their candidacy.

The UUA’s Mountain Desert District began developing a pilot In Care program in 2000, and other regions and districts have adopted similar programs. In Care programs are funded by the UUA’s Panel on Theological Education through income generated from its endowment fund, said the Rev. Sarah Lammert, the UUA’s director of Ministries and Faith Development.

After some debate, the MFC chose to support the change, said UUA Moderator Jim Key. Lammert announced the end of the RSCCs after the board’s vote in a letter sent to UU leaders and seminarians.

The April 23 board meeting, held by teleconference, focused entirely on the UUA’s FY2016 budget. The UUA budget anticipates an overall increase in income of 5.7 percent, including an 11 percent increase in bequest income, and a total increase of 3.4 percent in expenses. (See also the administration’s cover letter introducing the 2016 budget.)

The decision to eliminate the RSCCs engendered the most conversation. Several trustees expressed surprise and concern that the decision to eliminate the program arose in a budget meeting rather than in a separate conversation about its merits. Limpert and Cooley apologized for not giving the board more notice. However, they also emphasized their confidence that In Care programs are a much more effective way to support seminarians.

Cooley said that In Care is designed to bring seminarians immediately into a larger relationship with Unitarian Universalism, including a broader group of ministers and laypeople, rather than with one congregation alone. Contrasted with the RSCC system, “This is much more about relationship building over time,” Cooley told the board. “We do believe this program will help create a community of people that are a discernment group to help people understand if they are suited [for ministry] or not.” As well, it is “a far more helpful tool in helping ministers understand themselves as part of the larger UU community as opposed to one congregation,” she said.

In another budget matter, Larry Ladd, UUA financial advisor, again voiced his longstanding objection to the UUA’s reliance on bequests for a part of the operating budget—$500,000 in the coming fiscal year. “It’s not a good practice and it embodies ethical and some legal risk,” Ladd said, since donors usually intend that their gifts go into the endowment.

Treasurer Tim Brennan said there is a “long history of using unrestricted bequests to fund operations,” and that the administration was in the process of weaning the operating budget off bequests when the financial crisis of 2008 hit. He said the UUA can begin moving in that direction again, but warned that “to try to do it instantly would be damaging and out of step with a practice that we and our predecessors have been using for many, many years.”

Ladd said he will make a motion at the board’s June meeting for the administration to devise a plan to stop using bequests in this way.

Brennan also told trustees that the UUA’s move from districts to regions will bring efficiencies but not necessarily cost savings. Four UUA districts in the Southern Region—representing congregations from Virginia to Texas—voted on April 18 to dissolve governance at the district level. The change will make all employees of the Florida District, the Mid-South District, the Southeast District, and the Southwestern Conference employees of the UUA instead. It will also simplify the financial arrangements between congregations and the UUA by eliminating separate payments to the districts.

The board will meet again via teleconference on May 7 to discuss items it was unable to reach at the April 23 meeting, including committee appointments.