Saturday, January 24, 2009

Independent Affiliates Revisited (Again)

Third in a series of posts after the January UUA Board Meeting

I have dealt with Independent Affiliate (IA) status a number of times previously in this blog, wrestling with the need to get an out-of-control process back into something manageable and meaningful. For years the UUA Board had been approving essentially any application for IA, resulting in nearly 90 organizations that may or may not have been serving multiple congregations and filling GA slots with topics that played more to special interests than the needs of the Association and its over 1000 congregations. The tightening up of the rules meant only 7 IAs by January of 2009, with the idea that the Board would have a close collaborative relationship with each of them.

This was not exactly happening, but what did happen was the perception that the “rejected” former IAs were not valued by the Board and/or the Association itself. This meant there were many outstanding and hard working UU-identified groups that felt hurt and unappreciated.

At the January meeting the Board passed a resolution that sunsets the current Affiliate status by June of 2010, contingent upon the staff “creating a strategy to honor and harness the incredible talent, passion and experience present in this large group of dedicated UU volunteers. We encourage these important organizations to partner with the staff to create best practices for engaging with congregations, districts, and staff in carrying out our vision for Unitarian Universalism and the hope we have for healing the world.” Applications for new AI (under the current “rules”) will no longer be accepted after June of 2009.

This is a good step. The staff has also been uncomfortable with the Board’s stringent guidelines, and is committed to create positive relationships with these key organizations. Kudos to those who continued to thoughtfully reconsider this action, and initiated these steps.

Next post: Purpose, Principles, and the Commission on Appraisal


Anonymous said...

I have been one of the harshest critics of the Board’s dumfoundedly stupid and ham-handedly executed treatment of affiliates. As far as I can tell was started as a panicked reaction to perhaps having to approve an application from the Polyamory folks and was seized on by resurgent congregational polity fundamentalists as a salvo in their campaign to crush “denominationalism.”

Now in atonement we are offered a resolution that executes the survivors and promises some future consideration for possible resurrection with their previously departed kin. We shall see…

But while the wheels of study commissions and bureaucracy grind on, everyone will be in limbo. Doubt it? Witness the fate of an organized youth movement after the decapitation of YRUU without anything to replace it.

We might, sometime in the future find a way to serve the needs of both congregations and trans-congregational organizations that facilitate communication and cooperation among us.

Scott Wells said...

There seems to be an ongoing artifact of UUA culture: anything outside central programming control is a problem to be minimized, not an asset to be savored. Too little GA space must mean too many IAs. Open the airlock! The same message came through when I was a seminarian -- there are so many; what a problem! -- in the 1990s.

I predict that more people will be offended and others will stop looking to the UUA proper for help or authority. God knows it does so much less, particularly with respect to worship arts, congregational formation and small congregation support than formerly.

AJU said...

It is a good thing that the Board backed down on this. However, it is an indication of the impotence of the Board that it gave the problem to the staff. It will now fall to the next president.

I'm supporting Morales.

Linda Laskowski said...

Re the Board "giving the problem to the staff", under Policy Governance this is not Board work. Running the Association and doing the day to day work of it belongs to staff. Also, the way the resolution is worded, nothing will be sunseted until the new program is in place so there will be no limbo.

IrreverendAmy said...

Thanks for some clarification, Linda. I'm still looking for more. I hope the Board will be very proactive in explaining what the heck it was trying to do, and apologizing for a very clumsy and hurtful approach.

Here's how it looked to me: the first I heard of it was on the e-mail list of Lambda, the organization for UU BGLT seminarians and ministers. The argument that was presented (I can't remember by whom) was that groups like Lambda didn't really serve the congregations and had a more appropriate home in the UUMA. That seemed fair to me, but didn't answer the case of the many other affiliate organizations. What was the problem being solved by this change?

You say GA spots, but a former Board member I spoke to said it had nothing to do with that. Has the rationale changed?

Feeling irresponsible, since I don't read my UUA Board minutes very often, I went looking on the UUA website to find out what was said when the decision was made. Here's what I found: nothing. Not only was there no record of a discussion, there was no record of a decision. Who exactly decided this? If it was the UUA Board, why wasn't it in the minutes?

If I am wrong about this, please point me to the minutes in question.

So, the quest continued to find out why this change was being made. A few people said it had to do with the laudable aim, identified as a priority of the current UUA administration and staff, of empowering congregations. But what is the connection? Right now, to get a spot at GA, you have to get one of the handful of district spots or impress a central authority, the GA Planning Committee. This does not help congregations do their work or connect with each other. Right now, we are on a pendulum swing towards centralization of authority. It will swing back, I'm sure. One of my questions for Laurel and Peter will be where would they like it to rest, ideally. In the meantime, I'm impatiently waiting for 25 to let go a little control, embrace a little chaos, and trust that when we give congregations some freedom, a million flowers bloom.

With so little information out there, my own hypothesis was that the real aim was to get that pesky Polyamory group off our rolls, in which case the whole thing seems like using a cannon to shoot a fly. I don't see the need to get rid of UUs for Polyamory Awareness, personally, but if they are doing something immoral or disingenuous, take action. If they are only embarrassing people who would rather not answer questions about polyamory, it tells me that we all need to brush up on our media skills.

The Board, in the meantime, needs to clean those windows and re-introduce some transparency. There is a real "party line" feel to most communication that does no good to the relationships among staff, Board, and congregations--a desire to please everyone that only leads to concealing what is really happening. You (the Board) can't please us all; you will get cranky letters from many of the 200,000 cranky UUs no matter what; so please take a stand and say clearly what it is.

Aisling the Bard said...

I am the current President of CUUPS, the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, an organization which had delightedly celebrated its 20-year anniversary of serving the Pagan population of the UUA a very short time before we were disaffiliated, in, as others have stated, a clumsy, inept and injurious manner. The result of this disaffiliation has been largely negative to the work of my organization. Over the last 2 years, I cannot begin to tell you how many places over the country have decided, congregation by congregation, that if the UUA does not "sanction" (a common misperception) the work of an organization by constituting it an Independent Affiliate, then the organization must be "unsanctioned" by the UUA, and therefore does not belong in said congregation. Many of the erroneous and prejudicial beliefs commonly held about Pagans in 1987, when CUUPS first saw the light of day, have returned to haunt well-disposed earth-centered UUs of a new generation who had never before been subject to such dismissive and hurtful beliefs. Some congregations have been disenfranchising their long-standing CUUPS Chapters because their perception has been that the UUA has told them to do this by disaffiliation of the organization. And now to see that the very status of IA, towards which some theologically-based groups have been working for 2 years, has been cancelled, again summarily and without body-wide discussion, can do nothing but further muddy the waters, with a definite effect ensuing downstream.

I cannot see any benefit in this tardy throwing out of a newly-submerged baby (reaffiliated groups) with the rancid bathwater. What is going to be the result of this, in my opinion speaking as a UU and not for my organization, is a huge step backwards, a further reinforcement of the growing idea that one must be "all one thing" to be UU, and a creeping extension of the tendrils of creedal religion towards the vibrant and sturdy plant of our covenental free faith. In stating that the status of Independent Affiliate no longer exists, the UUA is telling us that there is only one body of interest to Unitarian Universalism as a religion, and that is its own self. Combined with the coincidental revisions in Principles and Purposes, many people cannot be blamed for thinking that diversity and dissent are being stifled for political reasons. Can a
UU creedal statement be far behind?

I can only assure those reading that CUUPS, along with the UUJA, UU Christians, and other theologically-based former IA organizations, are still serving their members and the larger body of the UU by promoting diversity of belief and the free and independent search for truth and meaning. One of the great assets of Unitarian Universalism has always been its willingness to invite diverse and dissenting voices to the table. One cannot be blamed for thinking that the summary dismissal of ALL the IAs, following so closely upon the heels of the disaffiliation of only seven of them, is somehow cutting off noses to spite already-injured faces. I am in agreement with the irreverendAmy in requesting something in the nature of an apology and a clarification from the board. In less formal terms...WTF are you all doing, anyway, and why are you doing it, and why are you doing it the WAY you are doing it? Inquiring minds, not all by any means in my organization, certainly do want and deserve to know.

Maureen Duffy-Boose
Aisling the Bard
President, CUUPS-Continental

Anonymous said...

Did I miss something?

Applications will no longer be accepted after June 2009 but here's no plan in place and probably won't be until 2010. That leaves the disaffiliated in limbo. In 2010 the board will either hope people forget or they'll say, "you had all this time to give us input and now you have to do it our way."

Thank you for the links. It looks like the board likes organizations in Massachusettes with a few token groups from other places. Many of these groups do nothing for my congregation or congregational polity.