Friday, May 15, 2009

Endorsement for UUA President

I continue to feel a little uncomfortable with the idea that the Board endorses UUA presidential candidates - somehow it seems more dignified to remain neutral. That said, after the appearances of both candidates at the Pacific Central District Assembly two weeks ago, it became clear to me that I would endorse Peter Morales.

I first "met" Peter as many of you have through his "drive time essay" on "repelling fewer visitors". I appreciated his passion for the subject, and the very practical approach to making a difference in our congregations by simply paying attention. I met him in person two years ago at the PCD District Assembly, long before he declared his candidacy -- and for the next two years quoted his statistics on how many people had friends they could really talk to. He was smart, engaging, and thought outside the box of what had been my UU experience so far, probably because he had an unusual set of experiences prior to becoming a minister. For perhaps obvious reasons, I really appreciated someone who was passionate about applying lessons learned in an entirely different field to this faith, not to mention actually knowing who John Kotter was.

Yet I waited because I wanted to know who Laurel Hallman was. My experience over the past year is that she is an extraordinary leader: caring, intelligent, and (as she says) tough enough to be in the public spotlight. I heard story after story from people about how she ministered to others in so many ways, a role model for other ministers and lay leaders. I observed a management style somewhat like my own -- not seeking the limelight but really taking the time to understand the issues. She is solid, deep, and brings a spritual awareness to what she does.

So what happened at DA for me to endorse Peter? In a somewhat unusual format, Laurel and Peter appeared separately at our district assembly in two different formats. Many people asked the same questions, and we were able to compare answers at different points in time. It was these different answers that triggered my decision.

For example, when asked about his first 100 days, Peter continued to lay out his vision of the direction we needed to take, and the urgency to do so. Laurel said she would start with the staff, those who needed to work with and for her, and likely felt bruised and uncertain around UUA financial concerns and the change in administration.

Laurel was right -- but that is not what the audience needed to hear. They needed to hear inspiration and passion that would involve them. The same is true for the primary presentations each gave -- Peter's was his "stump speech" (a very good one), short, with a lot of time for questions from the audience. It felt interactive. Laurel gave what felt like a thoughtful sermon, albeit with questions afterwards. Though I appreciate what she brings to the concept of "going deeper", and the importance of doing so, I believe Unitarian Universalism is far too inward already. I want a faith that feels a strong urgency to get "out there" - and that is integral to Peter's candidacy.

If this faith is saved from irrelevance, it will be because most of our 1000+ congregations are able to perceive the need for change and move in the direction that keeps us relevant. Though I believe Peter will work closely with the Board, it is the President, not the Board with our 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of "ends" (which I love, by the way), who is expected by these congregations to make that kind of impact. I believe Peter has the ability, skills, and drive to be that leader - and take us with him.


Stechjo said...

Thanks for this thoughtful endorsement. I too was at the PCD assembly and only made my decision to endorse Peter after asking them both the same question about growth.

I feel energized and motivated hearing Peter and look forward to his presidency.

See you at G. A.

Stephen Schwichow
1st UU Society of S.F.

AJU said...

Thanks for the thoughtful endorsement. Although I didn't hear the speeches, I have been carefully following the UU Elections email list. The hundred or so messages there from supporters of both candidates end up making much the same point. (And I agree.)

Arthur Ungar
Former UUA Trustee from the PCD

The Eclectic Cleric said...

"Laurel said she would start with the staff, those who needed to work with and for her, and likely felt bruised and uncertain around UUA financial concerns and the change in administration.

Laurel was right -- but that is not what the audience needed to hear...."
How ironic Linda -- an experience like this would have had exactly the OPPOSITE effect on me. The last thing our movement needs is someone who tells the audience what they need to hear, rather than telling them what is right.

I've never met Peter personally (although apparently he discovered UUism in Eugene Oregon in the mid-nineties, at exactly the same time I was completing my PhD there. But for some reason our paths never crossed). He certainly has many strong supporters among my friends in the PNWD, which is to his credit I'm sure. I believe that the issues he has identified as crucial -- radical hospitality and ministerial formation -- are the right ones, and will be priorities for whoever is elected next.

But here's the thing for me. When I look at Laurel's resume I see someone with three decades of solid experience in the ministry, and who has literally given her entire adult life in service to our movement. She has successfully served two very different churches with long-tenured ministries, been a Berry Street essayist and the Living Tradition preacher, and served on more boards, committees, commissions, whatever than I can comfortably count. Perhaps most importantly (and I say this as an historian of our movement who was also there to witness with my own eyes), her work with Harry Scholefield on "Living By Heart" was one of the earliest, most influential, and perhaps even the single most important catalysts for the renewal of interest in All Things Spiritual among Unitarian Universalists.

Peter, by contrast, was only first discovering Unitarian Universalism at the moment Laurel was helping to profoundly change its face. After a year or two in the pews he headed off for seminary, and since then has successfully served the same church -- twice -- with a brief (and somewhat mysterious, at least to me) interlude at 25 in between. He's clearly an attractive and compelling speaker, who is capable of inspiring great loyalty in the people who hear him. And he has carefully positioned himself as the "outsider" candidate, who is going to bring to our movement new ideas from outside the box that are going to transform it into whatever it needs to be in order to thrive in the next century.

Or so he says.

But I guess I'm just old school enough to think that the last thing we need right now is more new ideas from outside the box. Rather I feel we need a leader who truly understands the heart and soul of our movement, not only at this moment in history, but throughout its history.

Once again, Peter is certainly capable of saying all the right things: that we are not a social club, or a political party for instance. But Laurel "gets it" in a way that is difficult to put into words...although in my opinion she has certain done so very effectively, over and over and over again.

I hadn't really planned to say anything about this election (and I CERTAINLY hadn't planned on saying it here as a comment on YOUR blog!); as someone who is "retiring" from the ministry this year, with a terminal cancer diagnosis, I have a difficult time getting TOO excited over a future I will probably not be around to see. I'm confident that either candidate can and will do a perfectly fine job in the role, and that neither of them is really the "savior" who will rescue us from the "crisis" we now face. Nor am I convinced we really need one. But honestly, given the choice between someone who can write a compelling and catchy headline, and someone respected enough by her peers and colleagues to be selected as the 25 year Ministry Days speaker, I know which way I'll be casting my ballot.

Tim Jensen
Portland Maine

Steve Burns said...

When I saw Cilla's link to your blog and the topic of this endorsement I followed the link immediately. Peter was our intern minister at Davis (not so long ago) and I have been impressed with him since first hearing a sermon. In numerous conversations with him I have observed his extremely pragmatic approach to growing our denomination, and abandoning that which does not work. Change is what we need, and I agree that Peter is a great choice to provide the leadership to achieve it.

Though the marketing approach to growing our congregations is perhaps novel, the results of said advertising appear to have been minimal. Digging deeply for the root cause of problems before trying to solve them appears to be a strong trait of Peter's. Thanks for your thoughtful endorsement.

Steve Burns
UU Church of Davis

Jane Middleton said...

I was at District Assembly and thought my experience of the two candidates might be of some value in this discussion.

I can't speak for Linda, but I interpreted her to be referring to the fact that when Laurel was asked what she was going to do in her first 100 days, she didn't use the opportunity to state clear priorities and set a concrete agenda (which was my own reaction at the time).

In fact, of the two candidates I thought Peter took the initiative in saying things that he knew might not go down well, both in general terms and specific hot-button areas. Peter talked repeatedly about the need for change, for us to get out of our comfort zone.

He specifically mentioned looking at the current district configuration. And the folks who asked pointed questions about additional youth programs or what the UUA intended to do to promote gender equality or probably didn't get what they wanted to hear. As I recall Peter's answers, he agreed that these were important issues but the money isn't there right now.

I AM worried about the future of this faith, and I'm afraid that we can't afford "perfectly fine" anymore.

My impression is that most of us would like to see Unitarian Universalism grow, but we don't know how to do that. It seemed to me that Peter has thought long and hard about what it is about our faith and our organization that gets in our way.

I thought Peter had a much clearer sense of the urgency of the need to change, and better ideas about how to make that happen.

Carol Cole-Lewis said...

As the person who asked the "100 days" question, I was left with the same impression as you had, Linda.

I only wish Laurel had the same fire in her belly as Peter does for the urgency and necessity of prompt and "outside of the box" action to publicize (or dare I say "evangelize"?) the well-kept secret of Unitarian Universalism.

Our world is moving so fast, the only source of stability we can find is in learning how to be comfortable with change. Peter not only "gets" this, he "is" this.

If you haven't seen this video yet, it speaks more as to why I also support Peter Morales for president as Linda does: "Important Decision" on You Tube

Caryl Hughan said...

Laurel Hallman is one of my heroes precisely because she won’t give the answer that the “audience needed to hear.” She’ll speak the truth because she has faith in our faith and the thoughtfulness of UUs throughout the country. What Laurel said was that she would start with building relationships. Of course she’ll start her Presidency with relationship building; her accomplishments in growth and social action speak for themselves and her deep spiritual commitment keeps us all grounded in what we can do to make this is better world. The sky isn’t falling; we aren’t desperate; we can do what needs to be done to elevate the visibility of UUs in our communities. I’m working for Laurel Hallman for UUA President for another reason, however, and that is because I helped lay the groundwork for superbly qualified women to get the Top Job. She’s earned it.
Caryl Hughan
Millbrae, CA

D. Aspinall said...

Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman; A Results-Oriented Leader

UUs broke ground by electing Bill Sinkford eight years ago; UUs now have the ability to elect the first woman to the presidency of the UUA. What a watershed moment it will be, 145 years after Universalist Olympia Brown became the first female minister of a denomination.

As a 17-year member of the First Church of Dallas (1stUDallas) and a former member of the church council, RE teacher, leader of Intereweave group, and numerous committee groups, I have had a first-hand look at how the Rev. Laurel Hallman has managed to grow a mid-sized church into one of the top five UU churches in the country.

If growth in our churches is the deciding factor for delegates, then one only need look at 1stUDallas for answers. Laurel Hallman is consistently effective, working collaboratively to adjust priorities and channel the resources of a tight but growing budget into a more flexible operational, planning and control model. Membership at 1stUDallas has doubled, from 550 to more than 1100 active members and friends. And Laurel has done this in the middle of the Bible belt, an impressive feat.

If long-range visionary planning is the key, under Laurel’s leadership we have consistently set strategic goals as a congregation, for five years, ten years and longer, and have changed the focus of the church to accomplish them. Our most recent strategic plan, Chart & Compass 2010, transforms our church in five areas: Caring for one another, making a distinctive Contribution to the character of public life, Curriculum—educating ourselves and others; Communication—spreading the word; and Capacity—embracing change. Close to 500 families and individuals have pledged more than $6 million toward the Chart & Compass Capital Campaign, to support this vision.

If knowledge about policy governance and knowing how to shepherd an institution to a new operational model is it, one need only look at the dramatically positive changes in our church governance. Our simplified process has allowed 1stUDallas to focus on larger issues, so that leaders can evaluate what steps are needed to help us realize our long-range vision. This all occurred when we moved to the Carver policy governance model. We no longer have overlap of functions, and there is a more accountability and clarity in the management of the organization. The board provided clarity as Laurel challenged the church to go beyond multiculturalism and diversity to counter racism. Cohesive messages from the pulpit, along with active groups and effective programs have positioned the church to create lasting formative effects on the mind and character of our membership. Most important of all, our lay ministries are empowered and ever growing. The next President will be empowered to start working with a new strategic form of policy governance. Laurel is the only candidate with over 12 years of policy governance who can, on the first day of office, hit the ground running in redefining the governance structure of the UUA and its implementation. She is also the only candidate that has committed to move to Boston once in office.

If social action is where the decision point is, Laurel has provided the same leadership and guidance: whether it was publicly speaking at g/l/b/t events, challenging the Dallas City council to provide more police and working with the school board for improvements in our public schools, as a founding member with Ernesto Cortes of Dallas Area Interfaith (almost two decades ago), or as a strong member of the North Dallas Shared Ministries, which focuses on providing effective, appropriate, and efficient assistance to a large segment of Dallas’ poorest population. Her commitment to social causes has provided community change through Hearts and Hammers, Habitat for Humanity, For the Love of the Lake, voter registration, school books and supplies, mentoring, tutoring and a host of others in the four social action areas this church is fantastically active in: Peace, Democracy, Environment and Social Justice. To help bring awareness to the many lay-led programs in 1stUDallas, she established the dedication of 1st Sunday collection to benefit these causes, raising more than $175,000 so far.

If wisdom built on years of experience leading organizations and institutions is key, one only need look at her resume to see that Laurel has a consistent and well-documented history of executive leadership in large and growing organizations. Her tenacity and her tenure of 30 years in ministry give her special insight.

If religious education is the fulcrum, it’s important to know that Laurel came out of the teaching profession; her teaching experience helped her create Images for our Lives, a religious education program which is among the best in the UUA. 1stUDallas was instrumental in the dialogue and curriculum building process of “Our Whole Lives”; 1stUDallas also committed $150,000 to the creation of the forthcoming “Tapestry of Faith” curriculum. And Laurel created “Living By Heart” a program for spiritual deepening used at 1stUDallas and throughout the denomination. The proof of how well 1stUDallas handles RE is in our quadrupled retention and growth of youth within the RE programs, and our consistently popular and growing adult RE program in the last several years.

Or perhaps it’s thinking outside the box, figuring out how to further our UU call to service in the community. As a result of the demands upon programs and facilities, we are in the midst of a $7 million dollar capital campaign to strengthen programming, outreach, and infrastructure. 1stUDallas is also creating the first Center for Policy Dialogue in the Southwest, focused on supporting open public dialogue on a variety of issues affecting our society, bringing differing groups together to work for positive solutions.

Laurel Hallman is the leader who has the ability to both create this kind of vision and to communicate it in an inspiring way. People see her excellence; they connect with her and her vision emotionally, and are inspired to commit themselves to the shared goals she lifts up. Laurel sees and communicates the big picture and inspires others to work together to make it happen.

Given the impressive results under her leadership at 1stUDallas, we should all look forward to the election of the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman.

David Aspinall
First Church or Dallas
17 year member

Jane Middleton said...

"Laurel sees and communicates the big picture and inspires others to work together to make it happen."

Unfortunately, that was not my experience at District Assembly. It was precisely Laurel's inability to do this that clinched the decision for me.

Stephen Schwichow said...

I had decided from the beginning of this presidential race that I would withhold my decision until I had a chance to personally see and hear both candidates at the PCD assembly.

In the meantime, I immediately signed up for the Election-l discussion list, have repeatedly visited both websites, read the Question of the Month on the UUA website, and I have watched whatever videos that have been available.

I started off leaning against Rev. Morales, having heard his Keynote Address at PCD assembly two years ago, because of his use of statistics to make points. I was a statistician at one time ;-)

On the Election-l list I was disappointed to find the tenor of the remarks coming from several of Rev. Hallman's supporters to be rather accusatory, laced with innuendo toward Rev. Morales, and at time rather uncivil. This really turned me off.

Even after both candidates released a joint statement asking for polite and civil dialogue directed to the differences in the candidates' visions, the uncivil behavior continued.

At district assembly I asked each candidate the same question, which was, "Both of your campaigns have pointed with pride at your success in coming into a congregation and after a number of years doubling its size. To my mind, growing a congregation is quite different from leading and overseeing growth in an association of congregations. How will you go about leading our association into the future as we take our message out into society?"

Rev. morales answered it by way of his vision of what the next leader of the UUA needs to do to energize our movement. Rev. Hallman simply said that she didn't go into the Dallas congregation with the intention of doubling its size. Then went on to talk about nurturing what we have.

I walked away from Rev. Morales' speech with a sense of urgency for the future and an energy to take our chosen faith outside our doors.

I got a sense of "circling the wagons" from Rev. Hallman.

I really tried to give them both a fair hearing and have to say that their messages are very different. The tipping of the balance definitely, for me, came through the behavior of some of Rev. Hallman's supporters.

Steve Burns said...

It has been interesting to read the additional comments. And I somehow feel compelled to add some more.

My observation is that many of the vocal supporters (on both sides) appear to be partisan--and I admit to being so. But I am especially hopeful about those who had no particular leanings or were careful to give both candidates an equal hearing--and ended up supporting Peter.

After seeing numbers and hearing some other speakers at the PCD DA a couple of years ago, I am convinced that there had better be significant urgency in our movement. As a percentage of the US population, or religious faith is fairly rapidly becoming an almost insignificant blip. Though we have a great deal to offer a very fragmented and divisive world, we won't get the message to travel very far if our numbers continue to dwindle or remain stagnant.

I will give great credit to Laurel for the solid growth she helped to achieve in Dallas, and their models and plans were a source of help for our congregation as we began taking our steps into policy-based governance.

But another impressive quality about Peter is his flexibility in thinking, and true analysis of results. While admitting that he dislikes being wrong (don't we all?), he throws out his own ideas when the results show no improvement. And continually refines ideas that are working, to make the most of the available energy and resources.

If he is to be disparaged for his short tenure as a UU minister, then I guess you'd have to also question Linda's rapid ascension to the UUA Board. Though I don't know Linda (this blog's author) extremely well, she impresses me as one of the most competent and dynamic leaders I have seen in the PCD. Longevity does not equate to effectiveness--at least in my book.

And an argument that we should elect Laurel because it would be historic to have a woman President stikes me as silly as that we should have elected Hillary over Barack, for the same reason. I choose to elect the most capable person for the job, whether it is historic or not.

Finally, though I maintain that we need change urgently, I hasten to add that Bill Sinkford has also impressed me a great deal. His conviction, clear voice and courage are striking. I am proud to say that he has been my President, but I think the direction we need to travel now will best be illuminated by Peter's insights and talents.