We are compiling short reports of news items from General Sessions into single posts, which we’ll update periodically.
President Morales’s report
UUA President Peter Morales noted that GA 2015 is the largest GA in a number of years, with close to 5,000 people registered. In his President’s Report, Morales noted that the faith faces the challenge of a growing number of ministers retiring: 66 this year, 57 the year before. However, the UUA is working on innovative efforts for reimagining ministry, including “Beyond the Call: Entrepreneurial Ministry,” through which the UUA and UU Ministers’ Association are in partnership with professors and leaders at leading business schools, including at Stanford, to teach UU ministers and other religious leaders the skills of innovations and design.
The Rev. Scott Tayler, the UUA’s director of Congregational Life, discussed the UUA’s ongoing efforts to streamline and consolidate resources by restructuring from 19 separate districts to five “stronger, more aligned regions.” This not only reduces governance redundancies but embodies “our theology of interdependence,” he said.
Morales gave a special welcome to the military chaplains attending GA, who received a standing ovation. He announced that the Rev. Sarah Lammert, the UUA’s director of Ministries and Faith Development, has been named chair-elect of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces. She will become chair in 2017, and is the first UU and only the second woman to serve in this position. (E.M.)
Moderator Jim Key’s report
In his annual report, UUA Moderator Jim Key noted that he’s visited 16 congregations this year and attended 14 conferences, where he’s emphasized the need to be “bold, brave, and bodacious.” He said the new Policy Governance model for the UUA is not an attempt to concentrate power, as he sometimes hears from concerned constituents, but rather is intended to unburden people from internal governance tasks so they can concentrate on the work of justice in the wider world. Recent changes to the governance structure, such as moving to a much smaller board, improve accountability and accessibility to congregations, he said, adding that the board is committed to finding new ways to communicate and demonstrate its transparency. He asked delegates and other UUs to continue to offer feedback on that.
Another issue Key hears from UUs is the need to make GA more inclusive and financially accessible. To that end, Key and the board have created a pilot scholarship program to attract people less likely to attend GA—particularly youth, young adults, people of color, and other historically marginalized people—as delegates at GA 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. The scholarship will be funded by a special collection at GA on Saturday, with a goal to increase the number of delegates by 10 percent. (E.M.)
Board of Trustees report
In its annual report, the Board of Trustees noted a number of successes. “We believe we’ve made significant progress in a number of areas,” said UUA Vice Moderator Donna Harrison. While the board has significantly streamlined policies to free staff time, its most important accomplishment of the last two years, said the Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, was to foster “a far more respectful, cooperative, and mutually accountable way of working together.”
At last year’s GA, Key offered a formal apology to survivors of clergy sexual misconduct and committed the UUA to more transparency and accountability in this area. Trustee Susan Weaver, chair of the Congregational Boundaries Working Group, said the UUA and Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) have taken significant steps to improve the complaint process to ensure that all parties are treated fairly and with respect. As the MFC continues to work on best practices in this area, Weaver asked for survivors of clergy misconduct to reach out to the UUA board or to Moderator Key. Weaver thanked UU Safety Net at First UU Church in Nashville for its leadership in promoting transparency and best practices in this area, and also thanked survivors who have served as advisors to the UUA for their “determination and compassion, despite your pain.”
Starting this year, the Board of Trustees will include two rather than one youth observer, said Julian Sharp, chair of the Empowerment and Inclusion Working Group.
Harrison said that over the next year, the board will be working to transform GA: “Done right, this can make our governance much more inclusive and much more engaging,” so that GA can be focused “on issues that really do matter to the future of our faith and our association,” she said. The board will be sharing its ideas—including making GA more inclusive economically and culturally—in a variety of forums this week, including in the general session tomorrow and a workshop tomorrow afternoon. (E.M.)
GA Talk: Miguel De La Torre
The Rev. Miguel De La Torre, a professor of Social Ethics and Latino/a Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, spoke to UUs about the need to work toward real racial justice by dealing honestly with white supremacy and class privilege. De La Torre, who received a standing ovation, noted that many UUs expect people of color to join their congregations simply because they are welcome. “After centuries of exclusion, why should I come running to help you prove your congregations aren’t racist?” he asked. “The church discovers its own salvation through its solidarity with the marginalized.” (E.M.)
UUA welcomes five new congregations
UUA Board of Trustees Vice Moderator Donna Harrison welcomed five new UUA member congregations during Thursday morning’s General Session—“as many as have been welcomed over the past three years combined”—saying that she hopes this is the beginning of an upward trajectory. The congregations are: All Souls in Miami, Florida; Iowa Lakes UU Fellowship in Okoboji, Iowa; Open Door UU Fellowship in Owensboro, Kentucky; Saint Croix UU Fellowship in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin; and the UU Bay de Noc Fellowship in Escanaba, Michigan.
Harrison also announced that Paint Branch UU of Rochester, Michigan, and Emerson UU of Troy, Michigan, have merged to become the Beacon UU Congregation of Troy.
Trustee James Snell reported that, in addition to the five new member congregations, another dozen groups are moving into an “intentional relationship” with the UUA as covenanting communities, among them the Covenant of UU Pagans; the Lucy Stone Cooperative; Methow Valley UU Fellowship in Twisp, Washington; and the Welcome Table in Turley, Oklahoma. Covenanting communities are UU-affinity groups that want to affiliate with the UUA without necessarily becoming formally recognized as congregations. (S.C.)
UUA ‘in stronger financial position than ever’
The Rev. Sarah Stewart, chair of the board's Finance Committee, told delegates that "the UUA is in a stronger financial position than ever." The sale of the UUA's Beacon Hill properties last year and its investment in a new headquarters have generated $21.1 million in new assets, she reported, including $7.7 million in unrestricted funds in the UUA endowment.
By selling and investing the proceeds of the Beacon Hill buildings, she said, "we are keeping faith with our ancestors. . . We are investing in the future of our faith."
But the operating budget continues to feel the constraints of the Great Recession. Stewart said "programs are feeling the squeeze," and staff positions that were cut have not been restored. "If endowment and bequest income represent our ancestor's commitment, APF represents our commitment to each other and to the present and future of Unitarian Universalism."
She asked delegates what would entice their congregations to commit to be Honor Congregations, recognized for contributing generously to the Annual Program Fund. (C.W.)