Thursday, June 28, 2007

Entering the new land

Greetings from one of the newest trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations Board, representing the Pacific Central District. This includes Northern Nevada, Northern California, and Hawaii. I use the full title of the UUA because I am impressed with the degree to which the Board defines itself as being about support of the congregations, as you will see below. I have no doubt my inexperience will lead to errors of interpretation and fact on this blog, so will invite all you readers to keep me honest!

Board Meeting One was just two and a half hours long for us "newbies", as the six incoming board members left at 10:30 to join a (very good) day and a half workshop on anti-racism/anti-oppression training, joining other UUA leaders from the Nominating Committee, Commission on Social Witness, and District Presidents. Even in that short time, it was clear that at least two issues would be somewhat controversial: financial support for theological education and the status of affiliates to the UUA Board. Both areas reflect what appears to be a shift in thinking.

The rationale behind the review of affiliate status is described in this open letter to the leadership of Independent Affiliates. In essence the letter affirms the UUA as an "association of congregations" and that the purpose of the affiliation should be to directly serve the congregations and/or encourage them to work together to achieve their goals, rather than be an independent voice for a particular issue or cause. Affiliates can reapply should their mission/charter change to reflect a more direct intent to serve congregations, particularly working with other organizations with common goals.

Financial support for theological education is around a recommendation to shift to "funding of ministerial formation, development, and excellence [as] the first priority...rather than the current singular focus on support for the theological schools". There are two UU theological schools: Starr King in Berkeley and Meadville Lombard in Chicago. A 10% reduction in funding for the 2008 fiscal year was approved, with those funds to "clearly articulate a vision for the ongoing use of Theological Trust Funds for Unitarian Universalist ministerial formation, development, and excellence".

Why would the UUA reduce funding to our two seminaries? There are clearly valid concerns around any loss in funding such as identified in this Letter from the Starr King School for the Ministry and I anticipate talking with many people about this over the next few months to insure I am an educated participant. I did find a conversation with Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt helpful. She is one of the other incoming Board members (and a speaker at Rev. Christopher Craethnenn's ordination) who has been part of the study panel and is a former member of the Starr King Board of Trustees. The proposed reductions in general operating funds may or may not mean pulling funds from these schools, but rather providing the funds for programming that is specific to Unitarian Universalism. Apparently 65-70% of UU ministers are actually trained in other seminaries than Meadville Lombard or Starr King, just as at least some of the Starr King and Meadville Lombard may be non-UUs. Is there a way to use our financial resources to further education that is specific to the development of UU excellence, rather than the basics of being a minister? Should some of the funds be used to support UU thinkers in higher education that will continue to develop our faith?

These questions (and more) will be debated over the next few months and years - let me know your views!