Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Independent Affiliate Revisited

Second in a series of posts about the October 2007 UUA Board Meeting

One of the more interesting things about Unitarian Universalism is that we are a covenantal faith, which to me means that I choose to be part of this organization because I support its purpose, and also promise to take the time to delve deeper into what that is and how I am part of it. In turn, our congregations covenant to “promis[e] to one another our trust and support”, though at times it feels we have forgotten that part of it as we each focus on our own congregations, their needs, and our immediate community. With the idea of “covenant” in mind, I wonder which organizations (other than our congregations) would be in the category of ones we would choose to covenant with as a UUA Board? Which ones are clearly in line with the purpose of the UUA to serve congregations, and would merit (and be willing to take) the time to delve deeper with us into what exactly serving congregations means?

I am intentionally including a list of the (former and current) independent affiliates (IAs) at the end of this posting, to the extent they have been posted to the UUA website. Rather than scan it for your favorites, I would ask you to look at how long it is. Can a Board of Trustees really have meaningful collaboration with nearly 50 independent organizations?

Why would the Board even walk into this buzz saw? The easiest thing for us would be to react to whatever came before it, continuing a system by which Affiliates were actually encouraged to remain separate (more workshop slots, more opportunities for exposure), even though they may have had few resources and would have benefited from collaborating. I suspect few UUs have even heard of half of the organizations on the list. [Heard at the Board meeting: “I am getting these calls that this person just found out that [Organization X ] exists, and now they are really mad because we are not making it an affiliate.”]

The problem appears to be that there is an accrued set of privileges that have come with the designation of “independent affiliate”: a slot at General Assembly (GA), a link to the UUA website, participation in health and retirement plans, and a perceived “stamp” of credibility. The Board has taken the position that this is not the intent of the IA designation, particularly since these “benefits” are provided by organizations other than the Board.

The problem with this view (in my “not speaking for the board” opinion) is that it ignores the reality that the perceived benefits of the designation, whether or not appropriate, were real. Fortunately, the Board has already addressed the health and retirement plan benefits issue by adding a provision by which a former affiliate can be considered for inclusion in health and retirement plans by petitioning the treasurer, who then recommends to the Board. This is a great start. The GA planning committee has added extra slots for former IAs – though they need to compete for workshop time, this was likely to happen anyway as workshop requests outstrip available facilities.

What is left is the credibility issue, and whatever benefit there might be in linking websites. How might the Board think “outside the box” to address this? To what degree do congregations want to be identified as part of a larger movement? What is the best way to do this? What exactly is the value that a linkage to the UUA brings to outside organizations? What value do these organizations bring to our congregations? I will be interested in your comments, disagreements and ideas.

Next post: White Privilege

List of UUA Affiliates Per UUA Website
(Note this does not include Associate or UU Professional Organizations)

Council of UU Camps and Conferences
• Sunset Hall, Incorporated
• Unitarian Universalist Religious Naturalists
• Unitarian Service Pension Society
• Bethany Union For Young Women
• Channing-Murray Foundation
• Collegium
• Conservative Forum for Unitarian Universalists
• Council on Church Staff Finances
• Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans
Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries
• Ferry Beach Association
• Hale Barnard Corporation
• HUUmanists Association NFP
• Interweave Continental
• Lambda Ministers Guild
• Latina/o Networking Association
• Murray Grove Association
• New York State Convention of Universalists
• New Massachusetts Universalist Convention
• Pennsylvania Universalist Convention
• Project Harvest Hope
• Promise the Children, Incorporated
• Southwest Unitarian Universalist Women
• The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center, Inc.
• The Magi Network
• The Society for Ministerial Relief
• Unitarian Universalist Affordable Housing Corporation
• Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship
• Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship
• Unitarian Universalist Historical Society
• Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry, California
• Unitarian Universalist Men’s Network
• Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth*
• Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council*
• Unitarian Universalist Process Theology Network
• Unitarian Universalist Psi Symposium
• Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry Network*
Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry
• Unitarian Universalist Women & Religion
• Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society
• Unitarian Universalists for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
• Unitarian Universalist Council on Church Staff Finances
• Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform
• Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness
• Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East
Universalist Convocations

Organizations in bold have been accepted under the revised definition of “Independent Affiliate”
*considered at UUA October Board meeting


Riley37 said...

Some cogent points here. But I disagree fervently with your reference to the purpose of the UUA being only to serve congregations. I prefer the purpose statement as written in the UUA Bylaws: "serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles."
In many cases, this involves doing things beyond the capacity of any one congregation. On one hand, publishing Our Whole Lives makes a resource available to our congregations; on another hand, publishing OWL also makes a resource available to our UCC friends, other religious groups, other nonprofits - and in my opinion, *every* time OWL results in a person making a more responsible choice in their relationships and sexual behavior, whether that's one less unwanted teen pregnancy or one more respectful, loving conversation between partners, then "implement principles" has been accomplished, *even if no UU congregation was involved*.
One of the UUA's historically notable choices was backing Beacon Press in publishing the Pentagon Papers, at no small risk. Did we do so to support a congregation? Or for other and worthy reasons?

Rev. Kurt A. Kuhwald said...

As a Board member of two "former" Affiliates (UUs for a Just Economic Community & Faithful Fools Street Ministry), and as a UU minister for 12 + years, I am very disturbed by both the process and the results of the UUA's affiliation status changes.

(1) Members of neither group I serve were really aware of the full impact of the changes to be made by the UUA, and along with many folks from other affiliate groups, weren't convinced that the changes would apply to them.

(2) The focus on congregations as the center of UU life is misleading and misguided. Affiliates are made up largely of members of congregations, members of congregations who expand and extend their experience of UUism through the life and work of their affiliate organizations. Affiliates carry the vision and the work of UUism into the world, and to a larger pool of UUs at GA, in ways that congregations cannot.

(3) This change comes at an especially inopportune time in the history of UU outreach into the wider world. Community Ministry (CM), which has for too long been below radar of most UUs, is now coming into its own with strong affirmation by the Ministerial and Professional Leadership Task Group of the UUA administration, by the UU Minister's Association, and by many congregations and UU Districts that are grappling with ways to support CM in their communities.
Community Ministers serve in sites beyond the wall of congregations (hospitals, shelters, Non-profits, counseling centers, universities, social justice ministries/agencies, and more). Their work is one of the leading edges/cutting edges of UUism in the world. Their work parallels many of the Affiliates that have now been cut adrift who also carry the work of justice and healing, teaching and transformation into the communities beyond the walls of UU congregations right at the historical moment when CMs are increasing their participation in the wider world.

(4) Which segues to the fact that cutting away the privileges of some of the Affiliates by the Association is like shooting itself in the foot (with a large caliber revolver) as far as Social justice work in the world is concerned. I believe the argument that there were some Affiliates that consisted of only a few people, and were really marginal in terms of their influence, relevance and support of UUism. But the two groups I belong to are doing significant social justice work that congregations CANNOT DO. Limiting their access to people at GA (by limiting workshops and booth space opportunities) is a terrible way to honor the work of these organizations.

(5) There seems to be some process whereby some former Affiliates are being considered for full status again. I understand that UU Ministry for Earth received this imprimatur. Why? Why wasn't UUJEC considered, it's been around longer and has a deeper track record of bringing in major speakers and authoring Resolutions passed by GA? Why weren't the Fools considered, a ministry still vitally working the streets of the Tenderloin in San Francisco and providing an wonderfully alternative ministry to those most marginalized by society, and, by the way has over the last couple of years been referenced by Rev. Sinkford as one of the premier social justice ministries in the Association? What is going on here?

Lastly, I served on the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee as a liaison from the Jubilee Working Group for over five years (and have been a trainer for JWG going on 14 years) and got to know the inner workings of 25 quite well. The Journey work was deeply impaired by the accusation that it was "Top Down." Some of that accusation was accurate, some was not. This Affiliation thing, however, truly smacks of that. I hope some remedy can be found before too many organizations fold their tents, find their ties with the UUA cut too severely, or lose too many members.

Rev. Kurt A. Kuhwald
Community Minister serving:
1/2 Time Consultancies to the Palo Alto Church and the Berkeley Fellowship.

ogre said...


Just on the narrow point of why UUME got rereview status... I think it can argue that it is actively engaged with the congregations. Congregational participation and buy-in are a fundamental part of the Green Sanctuary program.

It's not a question of what either group are doing at or for GA. It's a question of whether a group meets the criteria (it's another argument as to whether those are good criteria and all of the right criteria).

I'd guess that the people in my congregation who recognize UUJEC are a handful. Those who recognize the Green Sanctuary program? Probably half, at least.

I happen to agree that the restrictions on IAs are too great. But within the context of what the Board set forth, I can see consistency. I think.

I don't see any reason for a group that's seeking to implement UU principles to not seek to engage congregations. Not doing so seems to undercut the potential effectiveness of those efforts.

And since the congregations are -- in the end -- footing the bill for the UUA and subsidies for IAs, I'd think that there's a legitimate claim that congregations have--which the board feels it's wielding--on the IAs being accountable to the congregations.

Linda Laskowski said...

Also a clarification: affiliates have come up for review at different times. UU Ministry for the Earth was not given a special review status - it was considered the first time at the October meeting and was tabled until January. That said, any (former affiliate) can reapply.