There has been plenty of conversation about the impasse between the UUA Board of Trustees and the administration of the UUA about achievement of the Ends of the Association. The Ends of the association are a statement of the difference the UUA ought to make for a given group of people by virtue of its existence. They represent the “value-added” by the UUA; they name the things the UUA does for its constituencies that they cannot, or do not, do for themselves.
I am a member of the Board of Trustees, and if you read this article in the UU World, you can see that I am outspoken in my insistence that the UUA achieve the end of growth in our congregations. I support all the ends; but I focus on the goal of growth because there is nearly universal support for it as one of the proper outcomes of the UUA.
Growth in congregations is included in the current ends of the UUA: “Our congregations are...growing in membership.” Growth is included in proposed new ends. The draft language currently reads, “Net increase in the number of people served by our congregations and covenanted communities.”
President Peter Morales ran on growth. A UU World article written during his first candidacy reads, “Morales...sees growth as the top issue that the UUA faces. ‘The potential for us to be a vital participant in American religious life and really touch the lives of tens of thousand of people is a very real possibility,’ he said during a recent phone interview.”
Most importantly, growth is affirmed by the UUA’s sources of authority and accountability. In discussing the UUA’s proposed ends with these sources, the Board heard from a wide variety of groups--from congregational lay leaders, ministers, people of color, young adults--that a net increase in the number of people our congregations serve was a proper goal for the UUA.
The administration’s role is to accomplish these big goals, these ends. The Board’s role is to hold the administration accountable to them and assess their progress in achieving them.
The administration has a lot of freedom in interpreting the end of growth. In the proposed new ends, we are looking for a net increase in the number of people served.
This could mean more people worshiping on Sunday mornings and finding a home in liberal religion. It could mean more children and youth brought up within our faith and our values. It could mean more lives transformed through the power of Unitarian Universalism. It could mean more people reached through podcasts. It could mean more people in soup kitchens or meditation groups or hymn-sings in our congregations.
And there may be many ways to accomplish this kind of growth. Do congregations led by credentialed religious professionals serve more people? What about congregations with up-to-date websites, or a social media presence? Should we focus on cities? University towns? Historical seats of Unitarianism or Universalism? The web? Does growth look different in the 100-member church on the village green than it does in the 500-member church in the exurban sprawl?
In terms of current programs, what kind of growth is an effort like Leap of Faith, now being extended to some regions, supposed to accomplish? How will we know whether that program has been successful and whether or not we should continue to fund it? How do we know that that expenditure is prudent, as opposed to, say, hiring web developers to work with congregations?
These decisions--about what kind of growth to focus on and what strategies will get us there--are up to the administration. The Board’s role is to accept reasonable interpretations of the ends and assess performance, which is also reported by the administration.
Unitarian Universalists should not let any of us, the administration or the board, off the hook for accomplishing our ends, including the end of growth. Our faith can serve more people. It can thrive in the 21st century. We believe so; the administration believes so; our congregations and their leaders believe so. Demand this task of us, your leaders. It is what you elected us to do.