Citing ‘significant health concerns,’ UUA Moderator Jim Key resigns

Citing ‘significant health concerns,’ UUA Moderator Jim Key resigns

Key has presided over UUA Board of Trustees during racial equity conversation of past two months.

Elaine McArdle
Jim Key

UUA Moderator Jim Key. © 2017 Christopher L. Walton/UUA

© 2017 Christopher L. Walton/UUA


Citing “significant health concerns,” Jim Key, the moderator and chief governance officer of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), resigned his position on Saturday, May 13 (PDF).

Key, a cancer survivor, has served as moderator for nearly four years. In a brief letter to the UUA Board of Trustees, he wrote, “Due to significant health concerns, I feel that it is best—for both myself and the Association—that I leave my position effective May 13, 2017. I deeply regret any inconvenience my departure may cause.”

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve our Association, and I sincerely wish the very best for my colleagues on the Board and Staff, and to the Association moving forward,” he added. He gave no further details.

Key was elected as moderator at General Assembly 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky, for a six-year term to end in 2019. The moderator, a volunteer position, chairs the UUA’s Board of Trustees, which meets monthly including four times a year in person. The moderator also presides over General Assembly, the annual gathering of Unitarian Universalists including voting delegates. Key succeeded Gini Courter, who was the UUA’s longest-serving moderator, with ten years of service. Key assumed leadership of the board at the same time that it shrank in size from 25 to 13 members after a vote by delegates at GA 2011.

Over the past two months, Key has led the UUA through a difficult period in the wake of controversy over UUA hiring practices, which critics say systematically favor white people especially white UU ministers. After UUA President Peter Morales resigned April 1 in response to the controversy, Key and the UUA board took the unprecedented step of creating a shared UUA presidency, with three people serving as interim co-presidents until a new president is elected June 24 by General Assembly. Two of the interim co-presidents, the Rev. Sofia Betancourt and the Rev. William G. Sinkford, are UU ministers, but for the first time in UU history, a layperson, Leon Spencer, is also serving as president.

Key was among those who strongly supported the White Supremacy Teach-In created by three UU religious educators in response to the crisis, in which 680 UU congregations have or are participating. During the UUA board’s meeting April 21-22 in Boston, Key said he was “looking for white people to live with the discomfort” of the phrase “white supremacy” as applied to Unitarian Universalists and UU institutions.

Key also led the board in its historic decision to commit $5.3 million to Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism to support black UUs and expand the role and visibility of black UUs within the faith. Key was proud of the board’s financial commitment to Black Lives UU, stating, “To me, doing nothing—or doing something more timid—was a greater risk to our movement and the values we say we have and the way we live in the world. It would put our overall mission at risk not to deal with society’s most pressing issues now.”

As moderator, Key has focused on a number of other issues including supporting survivors of clergy sexual misconduct and working to improve the process for handling complaints of misconduct, and appointing a task force on covenanting to reimagine the relationship among UU congregations as one based on covenant.

Key was raised in Virginia and North Carolina in the Methodist church. He attended Virginia Tech and graduated from Syracuse University. An expert in risk management and organizational leadership, he spent thirty-five years in a management position with IBM, overseeing diverse staff and living in Tokyo for a time. In 1997, Key founded his own consulting business, Shenandoah Group, which consults on governance, risk, management, and compliance for a group of international clients. For nearly twenty years, he has also served as a director of the Coastal Banking Company.

Key became a Unitarian Universalist in 1999. In Beaufort, South Carolina, he helped found the UU Fellowship of Beaufort, including serving as congregational president for five years. In 2011, the congregation was named a UUA “Breakthrough Congregation” in recognition of its significant and sustained growth; Key proudly noted the designation whenever he spoke of his home congregation. Key is also a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship. After many years in Beaufort, Key and his wife Liz Key recently moved to Darien, Georgia, but they remain members of the Beaufort fellowship.

Key also served as president of the Southeast District of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which changed its name from the Thomas Jefferson District during his tenure. He also served as chair of the UUA’s Audit Committee and member of the board task force that proposed a smaller UUA Board of Trustees and of the board’s Linkage Working Group.

Update, May 15

Jim Key's family has established a CaringBridge page with updates about his health.

Update, May 15 evening

The UUA Board of Trustees “sends blessings to the Key family” and outline interim leadership plans.

Our by-laws require the Board to fill this vacancy for the period until a special election can be held (GA 2018). Vice Moderator Denise Rimes has assumed the duties of Moderator until the Board makes the appointment. She will lead the Board in its preparations for the General Assembly and the review of the process required in this new leadership transition. The next scheduled meeting of the Board is on Thursday, May 25.