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!


Jane Middleton said...

Okay, I'll go first.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Linda! As a relatively newbie to UU myself, I'm only tangentially aware of the UUA's impact on me. Maybe this blog will remedy that.

One thing that would be helpful would be a brief explanation of what an independent affiliate is and how they came to be.

Linda Laskowski said...

Great question, Jane. My understanding is that affiliates developed throughout the history of Unitarian Universalism and its predecessors, so may or may not have had clear guidelines for what constituted an "affiliate". The results ranged from Bethany Union, founded in 1890 by a group of Universalists in Boston who wanted a safe place for young women working in the city to live, to the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship. After discussion with Independent Affiliate leaders at the 2005 and 2006 General Assemblies, this criteria was established that focuses on "modeling interdependence ...coordination or collaboration of effort and resources":

[Each affiliate application will include] a statement outlining how its purpose, mission and structure models interdependence through engagement with our member congregations, coordination or collaboration of effort and resources; and a statement outlining how the organization supports the transformation of institutions and our world to be aligned with those values expressed in our Principles;

Linda Laskowski said...

A full listing of affiliates can be found here:

Jodi said...

Hi Linda,
How wonderful to come home from UUCB this morning, read the PCD currents and find your blog! As I am about to enter Starr King School for the Ministry this fall I am concerned and confused about the funding of theological education from the UUA. One thing that comes to mind, for me, is how we go about deciding what makes someone UU or not as a ministerial student. One of the things I like about Unitarian Universalism is the awareness that we are each on a path that progresses, changes, takes us to new places as seekers. Would someone consider me UU or not? Who decides? From my vantage point we all need to contribute more funding to theological education. If the funds don't go to the UU schools where will they go? Who will decide? How do we decide who or what someone else is? One of the main things I hope to work on as a theological student is intra/interfaith dialogue. I think funding for this work is worthwhile and really supports the growth and development of Unitarian Universalism. One of the things that scares me about shifting the funding to individuals rather than school is a return to "identity politics." What about issues of class? So often this one is last in the list and left untended. I hope that any changes in funding will focus on developing excellent leaders and will not devolve into gate keeping that keeps some people out of UU leadership. Thanks for this place to share these musings. I obviously have many more questions than answers. I feel like a 1st year @ Hogwarts (Harry Potter has been on our minds around here lately!)
Thank you for the work you are doing to change the world for the better!

Anonymous said...

Not taking away from whatever Linda's answer might be as to Jodi's question:
>> deciding what makes someone UU or not as a ministerial student. <<

I do know that in the past some of Starr King's students were clearly identified as being of another faith tradition, and went on to be reconized as leaders in that faith. For example, the son of the senior minister at Allen Baptist Temple in Oakland went to Starr King a number of years ago and is a Baptist minister today. He took classes required by his faith at the Baptist Seminary in the GTU, but he wanted an "interfaith" education he felt he could better get at Starr King.

Markate said...

Jane asked my question, but now that I have your answer, Linda, so many further questions come up.

I assume that the UUA has only congregations in its membership. Could you give an example of an affiliate that collaborates with and shares resources with a congregation?

Since the denomination seeks to raise its profile and grow, wouldn't it be best to have as many affiliates as possible? If quality control is an issue, why would any group that doesn't identify with UU goals and principles want to affiliate?

Linda Laskowski said...

Quoting from the letter to those who applied for Independent Affiliate status:

"[O]ut of almost fifty applications, the Board decided to renew the Independent Affiliate status of just four organizations:

Council of Unitarian Universalist Camps and Conferences
Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries
Universalist Convocations
Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry

These four organizations were given Independent Affiliate status because, in the first three cases, they function as councils of related groups and, in the last case, the organization serves as a model of how a UU organization can forge strong ties among congregations to pursue a wide number of social justice programs."

This means applications from organizations such as UUFETA (UUS for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and UULMC (UU Legislative Ministry California) and UUWE (UU Women in Religion) have been denied. The goal of the IA review has been to encourage groups to work together to strengthen congregational (not UUA) efforts. The letter goes on to say:

"If UUs are to make a difference in a world that desperately needs to hear our message, it will be because our congregations are empowered to make that message manifest in the world. And we believe that the most effective way to empower those congregations is to encourage them to work together."

In other words, individual congregations, working separately, are unlikely to have the kind of impact that these congregations could have working together. This is culture change! Few of us think beyond our local congregations when we think UU. So I may have a local chapter of UUs for X that helps connect that congregation to X. The Board's intent is to encourage that group to work with other like-minded groups and work across congregations to make a larger impact with their efforts. My personal observation, not having been part of conversations that have been going on for 4 years, is that this is an attempt to decentralize, and focus energy on congregations rather than the UUA, which is much more difficult to do.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that the UU Legislative Ministry California, which has done extensive work with congregations, would be excluded. I suppose it is because it is a California based ministry, not continental in scope. Thinking back a few years ago when board members from the UULMC meet with our PCD-UUA Board Trustees, we (I served 2 terms on the PCD Board) granted them special money at their start-up with the idea that they would share the creation process to those wanting to pursue this mission in the two smaller States in the PCD. Nevada's legislature meets only every 2 years, and would also require a two district approach. There are many UU Legislative Ministries blooming in other states, all of which work closely with congregations in their respective States.

So Linda, if the UULMC were to join with other UU Legislative Ministries and create an umbrula organization, would that improve the odds of successful affiliation?

Linda Laskowski said...

I think you have identified the key issue here, Karin - the Board is encouraging organizations like UULMCA to share their expertise and knowledge with other like organizations. If UULMCA serves only California congregations, it should affiliate with those congregations and/or Districts. Quoting from the letter sent to the UULMCA, advising them that their IA status had not been approved:

In the case of your specific organization, we might suggest that you work with other similar organizations to form a council that could seek Independent Affiliate status. We are aware that you have been working with UUSC, an Associate Organization, and hope that you continue that important work and collaboration.