UUA End Statement raises concern

At Mid-South District’s Annual Assembly in Nashville this past weekend, our UUA Trustee Lyn Conley shared with those present at the meeting the proposed UUA end statement and it caused some concern for me and several of my ministerial colleagues who were present. 

The end statement that was originally presented to the UUA Board  meeting in April 2009 stated the following: “Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the UUA will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world.” 

By the end of the Board meeting, the proposed end statement that passed and that Lyn Conley read to the District was the following: 

“Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world.”

There is a vast difference between stating “The Unitarian Universalist Association will inspire people to”… versus “The member congregations of the UUA will inspire people to… ”    

The first wording is an appropriate end statement for the Unitarian Universalist Association, the second is not.  Perhaps it is a subtle difference.  But in my experience of doing policy governance work, I do not believe so. 

Policy Governance is a model for how a board works in achieving its ends as a board and as an entity.  It is a helpful tool in guiding CEOs in fulfilling the mission of the agency. The UUA is an agency set up to serve the member congregations.

The second statement is a directive to the member congregations and the subset ends that follow contain possible criteria for enforcing that directive. If we had a presbyterian form of polity then the directive would also be appropriate but we do not have a presbyterian polity, not yet anyway, and therefore in order for the second wording to succeed it would require that each and every congregation in the association to buy into / or covenant with this end statement as their own in order for it to be implemented and aspired to by the congregations. 

The difficulty with this as an end statement for the UUA is that it is really an end statement for congregations that are supposed to be able to determine their own destiny through congregational polity. It is instead akin to parents developing an end statement for their child’s future: ‘Grounded in our family values, Mary child of Tom and Wilbur will major in medicine to become a doctor.’  While the goal of the end statement is laudable and perhaps very desirable by many congregations, to state that “member congregations … will inspire” is not within the UUA’s decision or even within their perview to decide. That decision of whether the congregation will inspire rests in the congregation.

The original wording is the UUA’s end statement. The revised and adopted end statement is the member congregations’ end statement, which is not in the UUA’s authority to develop. 

How will the UUA inspire congregations to be places of transformation?  What will the UUA do to assist that to happen?  All appropriate questions that the UUA will need to discuss and develop policies and parameters for the next President to then follow in fully answering these questions. As currently worded, however, the UUA is saying that the congregations will do this and that is not in the UUA’s control and once it is out of the UUA’s control it can no longer be the UUA’s end statement.  Nor is it in the parent’s control on how their child will decide to unfold her life. 

I do not question the laudable vision of inspiring people to living lives of humility and purpose, etc…. But I do question who will take responsibility and accountability for it happening… Placing it on the member congregations is the UUA abdicating its role in serving the congregations.  And while the UUA ‘s membership is made up of congregations, it is still an entity separate from the member congregations.  End statements are for the board of an agency to implement through its staff and not its member constituents.

Let me see if I can put this another way… I was the executive director of an AIDS Ministry for over 10 years.  My board developed end statements for me to work towards.  It was not the responsibility of the people with AIDS  who we served to implement these end statements, it was my responsibility and the staff I supervised to implement these end statements.  Hopefully by working towards these end statements it meant that the people with AIDS were living healthier lives because of them.   

It is the same with whatever end statement that the UUA Board develops.  It is the President and the staff of the UUA who will and ought to be responsible for working towards these end statements.  Hopefully, by working towards these end statements the member congregations will indeed be places where transformations happen.   The UUA can inspire us to be these places of transformation with their resources, their services to the congregations, their advocacy work for justice in our nation’s capital and in their holding the member congregations accountable to our covenant with one another.   Blessings,

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One Comment

  1. Great post – I appreciate the thinking on this, and have responded at http://pcdtrustee.blogspot.com/. I agree with everything except your conclusion and supporting example.

    The “ends” are statements the Board gives to the UUA president, not the congregations, though these congregations do help develop them and can choose to help deliver them in their role as “owners”, what we are calling “sources of authority and accountability”. Congregations have two “hats”: one as a “customer” (analogous to the people with AIDS who received your ministry) and one as a “source”, which is their role as stewards concerned about the continuation of the organization and its mission.

    Linda, thank you for your comments, I have posted a longer response to your post at your site.


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