UUA responds to reduced funding, hopes to model more effective ministry.
The Unitarian Universalist Association’s staff is being restructured this spring in response to reduced funding and as a way to serve congregations more efficiently.
Two staff groups, Identity-Based Ministries and Advocacy and Witness, will become a group called Multicultural Growth and Witness. Identity-Based Ministries encompasses the areas of accessibility, bisexual/gay/lesbian/transgender issues, and multiculturalism. Advocacy and Witness is responsible for much of the UUA’s public witness work. Taquiena Boston, who is currently director of the Identity-Based Ministries staff group, will lead Multicultural Growth and Witness.
The Ministry and Professional Leadership and the Lifespan Faith Development (religious education) staff groups will become a new group—Ministries and Faith Development (MFD). Ministry and Professional Leadership provides credentialing, support, and resources to ministers, religious educators, and other church staff. Lifespan Faith Development provides religious education resources and supports educators. The Rev. Sarah Lammert, minister of the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood, N.J., will lead this new staff group beginning August 1.
The Rev. Harlan Limpert, the UUA’s vice president for Ministries and Congregational Support, said the new staff groups are meant to model effective ministry. “Rather than separating people serving in different areas of ministry,” he said, “these changes bring them together. It also follows what some of our most effective congregations are doing in creating teams of parish and community ministers, musicians, and educators.”
In all, 13 staff positions, equivalent to eight fulltime positions, have been eliminated this spring. The cuts are in response to a decrease in the UUA’s budget, from $26.6 million to $22.6 million over the past three years. The recession has affected contributions from congregations and reduced the UUA’s income from investments and donors.
UUA President Peter Morales noted in an email to staff in March, “Like our congregations and other religious movements, the UUA has not escaped the effects of this economic recession. . . . We simply have to do our work with fewer people.”
The economy led to the staff cuts, but it also created an opportunity to improve the ways the UUA serves congregations. In an interview, Morales noted that while the reductions in staff were “absolutely driven by lack of revenue,” the economy also led staff groups to come up with many of the changes that have now been adopted, including the merger of IDBM with Advocacy and Witness. With that change, the UUA will still maintain an office in Washington, D.C., but will also engage and involve congregations and their leaders in advocacy work.*
“One thing we’ve learned from the Standing on the Side of Love campaign and with the increasing number of UU state advocacy networks, is that we can have a significant impact at the local level,” Morales said.
The new staff groups will also support Morales’s goals of improving ministerial quality and diversity, better supporting religious professionals, helping congregations become more engaged in social justice work in their own communities, and helping them become more multicultural and multigenerational.
The merger of Ministry and Professional Leadership and Lifespan Faith Development in particular was driven by a desire to help congregations become more multigenerational, he said. “That’s where we want to go as a movement.”
Lammert, who will lead this group, said, “This structural change, in bringing two staff groups together, allows us to take a more holistic approach to ministry. This puts religious education at the heart of our mission. I am excited to come onto the staff to help create ministry that is spiritually alive, culturally relevant, justice-centered, inclusive, and welcoming.”
Limpert said congregations may not notice many of the staff changes, since lay leaders primarily work with district staff and that structure is relatively unchanged.
Some specific services provided by the UUA have been eliminated, including support for accessibilities issues. “We’re still committed to that, but there are many places now in addition to the UUA where congregations can find resources about accessibility,” Morales said. “We couldn’t take four million out of the budget and still do everything we had been doing.”
Limpert added, “We expect some accessibility resources for congregations will continue to be provided, such as UU World on tape and by district staff members who are always the ‘first call for help’ by congregational leaders.”
The new staff groups take effect July 1. Most of the staff changes should be completed, and positions filled, by September 1, Morales said.
The first of the staff changes occurred last September when Morales named Limpert, formerly director for Congregational Life, the Vice President for Ministries and Congregational Support. UUA Executive Vice President Kathleen Montgomery became Executive Vice President for Administration.
In other staff changes, the Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley has been named director of Congregational Life, the staff group that includes many district staff members, as well as Congregational Stewardship Services, Services to Large Congregations, and Growth Services. Currently the district executive for the Massachusetts Bay District, Cooley will assume her new role September 1.
The Rev. Keith Kron, director of the UUA Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns, has been chosen as the new Transitions director, effective June 1. The current Transitions director, the Rev. John Weston, is retiring. Judith Frediani, current director of Lifespan Faith Development, will become head of the Curriculum and Resource Development staff group within Ministries and Faith Development.
The Rev. Meg Riley, who has been director of the Advocacy and Witness staff group, has been called as senior minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship. She will begin August 15.
Taquiena Boston, who will lead the Multicultural Growth and Advocacy group, said it will be lifting up “the best and most promising practices that congregations are engaged in to diversify our leadership and membership and to bring UU values to the public square.” It will also partner with leading congregations to develop strategies, share best practices, develop leadership, and support “promising new directions in multicultural growth, public witness, and congregationally based organizing and coalition work in social justice.”
Boston said she and four to five other staff will work out of Washington. “There are certain issues for which we are going to be looked to as the religious voice—LGBT rights, marriage equality, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ We’ll be working in coalition with interfaith groups as well.” A Witness Ministries director will be named to guide the UUA’s national advocacy and interfaith work. A manager will be selected to direct the Standing on the Side of Love campaign.
The antiracism, antioppression, and multicultural work of this new group will focus on congregations “that have energy, life, and commitment for this work. That’s what excites me,” Boston said.
Correction 05/17/10: This sentence has been modified. Click here to return to the corrected paragraph.
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.