What I like at the UUA

After writing a cranky-snarky post about the survey just put forth by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Board, I got to thinking about all the good, talented, effective UUA staffers I have seen at work, and whom I admire and respect. In spite of organizational problems, what we might call systemic issues, there are so many people who do so much good work at the UUA that it’s past time I listed some of them.

So here goes, in no particular order: Continue reading “What I like at the UUA”

New UUA survey that you can take

The Unitarian Universalist Association has a new survey they are asking people to respond to. In some of the headers on the survey site, this survey is identified as “The Future of Unitarian Universalism.”

To take the survey yourself, go here.

After you have taken the survey, come back here and summarize or post your responses. I’ll put my responses to the survey after the jump. And let’s hope most of you are less cynical in your responses than I was….

Continue reading “New UUA survey that you can take”

Hurray! New UUA building

According to a post on the UU World Web site, the UUA Board has approved a lease-to-buy agreement for 24 Farnsworth St. in Boston. Ms. M. sent along the posting of the property on Bostonofficespaces.com, which gives the following information:

“The Barkan Companies and The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Children and Family already occupy this building. A private courtyard with seating, high ceilings and abundant natural lighting make 24 Farnsworth Street an attractive building. Other amenities include efficient floorplates, handicapped lift, underground parking with 25 covered spaces and card key access.”

From my point of view, this is a much better neighborhood for the UUA than Beacon Hill. You can walk from South Station, and it’s easy to get to from I-90. The Institute of Contemporary Art and Boston Children’s Museum are only a few blocks away, and you can walk to Fort Point Channel and pick up a water taxi (how cool is that?). Admittedly, the neighborhood isn’t quite as cool as it was in the mid-1990s, when it was home to some edgy galleries and artists like the Mobius Artists Group; when I worked as a carpenter, I did a job for an artist in the Mobius building, and it was a more exciting place back then; it was also a lot grungier and less safe. In recent years, rents have been going up and the neighborhood is increasingly respectable, but it’s still interesting. 24 Farnsworth Street will be a much more suitable home for the UUA than stuffy old Beacon Hill.

And what will happen to the UUA’s properties on Beacon Hill? They should sell for a pretty penny. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of the buildings was bought and converted to a single residence — a decade ago I got invited to an event in a building a few doors down from from 25 Beacon Street, and about the same size — all six floors were a single residence for one couple (and their servants, of course). Bet the UUA turns a tidy profit on this deal.

All in all, this is about as good an outcome as we could hope for.

Whining and complaining post

I need to whine and complain about one of my professional associations, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA). Not everyone likes to read whining, complaining posts; therefore I’m warning you right at the beginning so you can skip this post if you want.

Continue reading “Whining and complaining post”


After services this morning, a visiting Unitarian Universalist from St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, told me while he was in California he was going to visit Rosemary Matson. He told me that Rosemary Matson’s husband, Rev. Howard G. Matson, had been a chaplain to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, and Rosemary herself continued to be involved.

On the Farmworker Movement Documentation Web site, I found more information about Rosemary and Howard Matson. Howard Matson helped found the National Farm Worker Ministry, an interfaith group supporting farmworkers. Together, Rosemary and Howard had created the Unitarian Universalist Migrant Ministry. Both of them worked with Cesar Chavez and other major figures in the struggle to gain rights for Mexican Americans. Rosemary Matson recorded this anecdote about Chavez:

I remember my unexpectedly providing lunch for Cesar and 15 of his delegation at our home in Berkeley. They were between meetings in Oakland. A trip to the deli for pans of lasagna sufficed for all except Cesar, who I found out was a vegetarian, drank carrot juice, and needed a nap.

We have just completed a “Justice General Assembly” focused on immigrants’ rights. Although Rosemary Matson received an honorary degree from Starr King School fo the Ministry, I cannot help but think we should be paying more attention to those Unitarian Universalists who have been working on this broad issue since the 1960s.

A general review of the Justice GA

For me, the story of Justice GA begins like this:

We Unitarian Universalists have to reserve General Assembly sites several years in advance, and we incur financial penalties if we break a reservation. The central purpose of General Assembly is to carry out business required by our bylaws, and our bylaws require us to hold a General Assembly each year. All the other activities that take place at General Assembly — the workshops, the lectures, the conflicts and scuffles, the political maneuvering, and so on — are incidental to that central purpose.

At the 2010 General Assembly, a sentiment arose that Arizona’s newly-enacted draconian law targeting Latino and other immigrants was unjust, and that we Unitarian Universalists should observe a boycott against Arizona called by immigrants’ rights groups within the state. However, the financial penalties that we would incur if we backed out of our contracts in Arizona would mean that we could not afford to hold another General Assembly elsewhere; and we are required by our bylaws to hold an annual General Assembly. We needed a compromise. Out of this need of compromise, Justice GA emerged.

That’s the beginning of the story. Here’s how the story continues: Continue reading “A general review of the Justice GA”

GA coverage

For the sake of reference, below are links to posts I wrote this year for UU World’s General Assembly blog. Coming later this week here on my own blog: a more extensive report on the Fahs lecture, a short post on prophetic poetry, a review of the year’s GA, and perhaps a post on the Berry Street lecture.

Fahs lecture: Race, immigration, and religious education

Building the world we dream about

Tse: “Do the one thing you can do”

Talking about immigration with children and youth

Worship: Dreaming a better future

Service of the Living Tradition

I attended the annual Service of the Living Tradition yesterday, and was struck by both the sermon, and the new way that religious professionals were recognized during the service. You can find a video recording and a script of the service are online here, and my post on the uuworld.org blog here.

Here on my own blog, I’m going to take the time to reflect at greater length on this service:

The Rev. Sarah Lammert, Director of Ministries for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) welcomed the congregation to the large hall at the Phoenix Convention Center in which the service was held. “Ministers are called forth from the lay people they serve,” said Lammert, and the purpose of the Service of the Living Tradition is to honor professional ministry. She added that as those being honored went up onto the stage, the congregation was invited to “raise a glad noise.”

This represented a change from recent Services of the Living Tradition, when the ministers and other religious professionals being honored did not go up onto the stage, but merely stood up where they were sitting. Also in recent years, worship leaders discouraged the congregation from cheering those being honored.

Another change was that the ministers and other religious professionals did not process in to the service together while the congregation sang the familiar hymn “Rank by Rank Again We Stand.” Instead, they were seated throughout the congregation, with their family and supporters. Each group — ministers achieving preliminary fellowship, ministers in final fellowship, credentialed religious educators, credentialed musicians, etc. — was introduced with the words, “I call forth from among you these persons….” The symbolism was clear: religious professionals gain their power and authority from the people they serve. Continue reading “Service of the Living Tradition”

Top ten best things about liberal religion in 2011, pt. 2

9. Rethinking districts

This past year, I have been encouraged that quite a few people smart people have continued working on how to refashion the inefficient and inequitable district system.

As it stands now, the Unitarian Universalist Association (the UUA) is the national association of congregations; it is an incorporated non-profit. At a regional level, we have what are known as the districts, which are all separately incorporated non-profits. The UUA provides field services by partnering with the districts to jointly hire field staff (primarily district executives and district program consultants). Thus, field staff are jointly supervised by, and paid by, two separate non-profit corporations: field staff report both to a supervisor at the UUA, and to the board of the local district. This is not only a grossly inefficient system, it is a system that is inherently a breeding ground for conflict.

Equally bad, a congregation will get a different level of services based on which district it happens to be in. Some districts have a full-time district executive, and that’s about it. Other districts have a district executive, a program consultant, both of whose salaries are partly paid by the UUA, plus an administrator, and other part-time staff such as a youth programs coordinator, etc. The fact that the UUA provides more money to field staff in some districts than in other districts is problematic. But then too, the number of congregations in a district varies widely, meaning that congregations in the smaller districts have more access to field staff than congregations in larger districts. All this represents an inequitable use of the UUA budget.

Over the centuries, Unitarians, Universalists, and now Unitarian Universalists have used a variety of organizational structures to link the national organization with the individual congregations: Universalist state conventions, the Western Unitarian Conference, etc. We have a long history of having to change these organizational structures in response to changing times. It’s pretty clear that we can no longer afford the inefficiencies built into the current district system; nor should we have to put up with the inequities. I don’t know what the new structure should look like, but I’m glad that there are smart people experimenting with ways to share field staff resources, communicate better, and provide a more efficient and cost-effective delivery of field staff services.

Click on the tag “Top Ten in 2011” to see other posts in this series.