A pastoral message from the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray

Dear Colleagues, Religious Professionals and Lay Leaders,
I am thinking of all of you. It is now three months into my term as UUA President, and it has been a time of repeated tragedies and traumas. These have included political traumas including the Transgender Military Ban and the rescinding of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. They have also included the devastating natural disasters of fires out West and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria that devastated parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. And there have been the violent human tragedies of Charlottesville and now Las Vegas.
I hold you all in my heart as you are called to speak to these events in your communities. You nurture communities where people can bring their heartbreak, their pain, their anger, their confusion, their despair. Through your leadership you are asked to create a container for all of our human reactions, a place where families might get support talking to their children, a place where our children can come bringing their sadness, confusion and worry.
As your colleague, your President, your fellow leader in faith, I want you to know that I am grateful for your ministry. I am grateful that you keep showing up with words of comfort and hope, of courage and challenge, This past Sunday, I spoke to a congregation about how this is no time for a casual faith – how the very real challenges and heartbreak of this time in this country and the world require a deep practice of our faith. These realities require a practice that makes room for us to bring our pain and our anger and our vulnerabilities, but one that also continually calls us back to love and to our human capacity for compassion and hope.
You all are on the front lines – providing ministry and leadership to people of all ages, helping us all not to lose our humanity in this very inhumane time, helping us all not to lose hope. Today, as I awoke, the words of Adrienne Rich were on my heart:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power
reconstitute the world.

My fellow leaders, I cast my lot with you. We will not give up hope.

Yours in love and faith,
Susan Frederick-Gray

Commission on Social Witness

The Commission on Social Witness will hold its October video conference call Tuesday, October 17 at 11:00 a.m. EST. Join online or call 1-646-558-8656, meeting ID: 559 774 6972. The agenda will include reviewing the current Congregational Study and Action Issue (CSAI) submissions. The Commission is also hosting a meeting Wednesday, November 8 at 7:30 p.m. EST to gather ideas for ways to do more effective social witness work at General Assembly. This will be a repeat of the meeting held in September. Join online, and for background, check out the slides from GA 2016. GA 2017 slides will be shared in the November meeting. Share your ideas! Questions and written comments may be sent to socialwitness@uua.org.

Torda450 – Celebrating the Anniversary of Religious Tolerance

New torda logo

On January 13, 2018, one of the world’s first statements of religious tolerance will have its 450th anniversary. In 1568, in the city of Torda, in what is now Romania, a religious gathering presided over by Unitarian King John Sigismund proclaimed:

“In every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, well. If not, no one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve…no one shall be reviled for his religion by anyone… and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment… For faith is the gift of God…”

Unitarianism was officially recognized for the first time in the history of the world in the Edict of Torda. And, that proclamation is the beginning of our legacy to be a spiritual tradition that resists hatred, oppression, and the narrow view that there is only one way to be faithful, to be religious, to be free.

Join the Torda450 Celebration through Worship, Theological Reflection, and Pilgrimage.

See More at this Link  Torda450

Support the Promise and the Practice of Our Faith Campaign

Imagine what our faith would look like if we upheld and centered the history, the perspectives, the voices, and the leadership of Black Lives of Unitarian Universalists…

The Promise and the Practice of Our Faith Campaign is our opportunity to take the lead as a faith denomination in addressing our history of upholding white supremacy.  Together, we can collectively work to dismantle it and amend a long broken promise to the Black Lives within our Association.

Join our Association of Congregations as we do something different in this extraordinary moment to connect our finances with our theological values as we enter a new chapter within our faith!

Congregations are asked to join in the Promise and the Practice of Our Faith by engaging in the following opportunities:

  • Schedule at least one Sunday on November 12, 2017 or February 4, 2018 (or any Sunday that is convenient for your congregation) to engage around the theme  The Promise and the Practice of Our Faith.
  • Make a financial commitment in our support to BLUU that is transformational and inspirational which helps fulfill our $1 million match opportunity (double the impact of your contribution by meeting the threshold of $10 per certified member, or however you count the souls you serve).
  • Make a long-term commitment to dismantling white supremacy, racism and oppression from within our denomination and beyond, and uplifting the Black Lives, Voices, and Leadership of Unitarian Universalism.

This is our time to be Bold, Radical, and Transformational as we commit to nurture a radically inclusive, justice centered, multiracial and multigenerational religious faith!

Worshipweb materials will be made available online by October 15.

For more information about the Promise and the Practice of Our Faith Campaign for BLUU, please contact development@uua.org

UUA Disaster Relief Fund

Our UU friends and neighbors in Florida and the Caribbean—including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—have experienced extraordinary devastation following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. We invite you to contribute to the UUA Disaster Relief Fund (formerly the Hurricane Irma Recovery Fund) so the UUA can provide financial assistance to UU congregations impacted by these and other natural disasters. In addition to facilitating their own disaster recovery, congregations receiving disaster relief funds will have discretion to provide financial assistance to their members, as well as to support local partner organizations serving the community at large. The Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) may apply on behalf of CLF members living in disaster areas. For more information, including suggestions for how to contribute beyond the UU sphere, visit our website.

Propose a Program for the 2018 UUA General Assembly

Purple fountain and trees on pink cityscape background

2018 General Assembly: All Are Called
June 20-24, Kansas City, Missouri

Grounded in a deep belief that we are all prophets, Unitarian Universalists ask, “How can we faithfully meet the demands of our time?” The call to witness and act for justice in our society and in the world is clear. So, too, is the call to examine our structures and practices, dismantling and transforming those which fail to recognize the full humanity of all people and to honor the interdependent web of life.  Join us in Kansas City as we dive deeply into questions of mission for our Unitarian Universalist Association, for our congregations and communities, and for each of us as individuals. Together, we’ll ask:

  • Who and how are we called to be at this time, individually and collectively?
  • How are we called to act and to live?
  • How does our Unitarian Universalist  legacy strengthen us in living out our mission or challenge the fulfillment of our call?

The call of our faith has a place for each of us. Join us in Kansas City to build courageous, collective leadership with tools, skills and connections.

Proposing Programs for General Assembly

The proposal deadline is Wednesday, Nov 1, 2017 at 3 PM EDT. Find detailed information about proposing a program for General Assembly. Complete and submit the program proposal form by Wednesday, November 1 at 3:00 p.m. EDT.

Program selection will be guided by these questions:

  1. Who and how are we called to be in this time? How can we grow healthy, vibrant leader-full congregations, grounded in mission and willing to take faithful risks to more fully live into our calling? How can leadership in the areas of religious education, stewardship, governance, membership and others nurture and support mission focus in congregations? Programs which emphasize concrete skills for congregational and community leadership are especially needed.
  2. How are we called to act in response to the challenges of our time? What capacities do we need to strengthen and hone? What skills and approaches will help us better partner with others, accepting direction from those most directly impacted by systems of oppression and injustice? How do we nurture spiritual resilience for the long haul?
  3. What can we mine from our Unitarian Universalist legacy, theology, history, and tradition that will strengthen and sustain us in living out our mission? What guidance can we lift up from contemporary Unitarian Universalists whose identities and perspectives have not historically been at the center of our faith? In what ways does our legacy present challenges and impediments to answering our call- and what shall we do to address them?

Special Message from the Chair of the Board of Starr King School

June 3, 2014

An Open Letter to the Unitarian Universalist Community

From: Helio Fred Garcia, Chair, Board of Trustees, Starr King School for the Ministry

Friends,

It is with both gratitude to those of you who have expressed kind interest and concern, and with a heavy heart and deep sadness, that I write in response to the public discussion about Starr King that has taken place within Unitarian Universalism in the past few weeks.

 

Sadly, a private matter between the School and several of its students has escalated into a public battle fueled by mischaracterizations and innuendo.
I am further saddened that prominent UUs have taken up the discussions, including casting aspersions on me, the Board, and the School without the courtesy of contacting us about it. Some of these are my friends, former clients, and even former students. It pains me to name this particular disappointment.

 

I do not intend to respond point-by-point to individual items, but rather to lay out as clearly as I can the issues that are in play and the situation that has taken place in the aftermath of the presidential search process as I and the Board of Trustees understand it.

 

I appreciate your taking the time to seek understanding about the issues the School is facing. Here are the critical issues:

  • Integrity of the search process.
  • Breach of ethics, integrity, and covenantal relationship by members of the Starr King community.
  • Starr King’s fiduciary responsibility as an educational institution.
  • Legal issues at play.
  • Continuing inquiry.

Here is a detailed account of each:

  1. The presidential search process was conducted with integrity and in fulfillment of all the requirements with which the Board charged the search committee.

    On March 31 the Board voted to call Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt to become president as of July 1. Many have responded with joy, excitement and appreciation that Rev. McNatt will be leading Starr King into the future.

    This vote followed nine months of diligent work by a nine-member search committee. That committee included representatives of students, faculty, the Board, and alumni and also included prominent UU ministers and an academic leader not affiliated with the School.

    The search committee members worked for hundreds of hours, reviewed thousands of documents, met with a range of candidates, sought and received voluminous feedback from many sources, including students, faculty, staff, and many other stakeholders. They met with the candidates. They checked references. They participated in campus visits. They discussed the position, the School, and the candidates exhaustively among themselves. They were assisted in their work by a highly regarded independent search firm.

    They were charged with giving their best recommendation to the Board, which they did. The Board, in turn, voted on their recommendation, and chose to accept it.

  2. The events in question constitute a major breach of confidentiality, integrity, and covenantal relationship.

    On the day before the Board vote, several students came into possession of confidential search committee documents. These documents included confidential survey responses from students, faculty, staff, and others, giving individualized feedback (both as numerical ratings and extensive and detailed comments) on the three finalists for president who had made campus visits, for the search committee’s consideration.

    The Board learned about the documents in students’ possession the day following the vote on the new president, and met with a student who said that documents had been received from another student who characterized them as coming from within the search committee. That student was informed that the documents were highly sensitive and confidential and that there was the risk of considerable harm if the documents continued to circulate. The search committee then began its own inquiry about whether the documents may have been leaked by one or more members of the committee. To date, there is no evidence of such a leak.

    Three days later, the documents had been circulated more widely. Student leaders called a special meeting of the student body to discuss concerns about the presidential search raised by some who had read or been told about the confidential documents.

    Concerns focused on the confidential feedback given to the search committee by the current president and the dean of the faculty. The e-mail to the student body calling for a special meeting also contained information about the March 31 Board meeting that suggested the confidentiality of the discussions from the March 31 meeting had been breached.

    That e-mail also contained significant mischaracterizations of the search process and of the Board’s discernment. Those mischaracterizations were addressed and clarified at the meeting by a student trustee who is also a member of the search committee. That student trustee also told the assembled students that continued distribution of the documents was a major breach of confidentiality and had the potential to cause significant harm.

    That meeting of students was attended by a large number of students who voiced a diversity of feelings and opinions in reaction to the presidential search process, and the concerns that had been raised.  Two days later, on Sunday, April 6, an anonymous e-mail, signed by “Strapped Student”, expressed concern that the presidential search process had been corrupted. Attached to the email was a partially redacted version of the confidential search committee documents. The e-mail was sent to a very wide audience, including most members of the Starr King community, the leadership of our accrediting body, the Graduate Theological Union, our larger denominational leadership and structures, the news media, and others. (But I note that it was not sent to me, to most other Board members, to most members of the search committee, or to the School administration.)

    That afternoon I, as Chair of the Board, responded to the anonymous letter, addressing the concerns raised point by point, with special attention to refuting inaccurate claims and affirming that the search committee had met its responsibilities with integrity and due diligence in accordance with its charge.  It was clear that the author of the email took issue with some of the input that the committee received. And there is significant reference to issues that had nothing to do with the search committee. Rather, there seemed to be intense – and somewhat perplexing – animosity toward the current president. That was unfortunate, but unrelated to the search process.

    The distribution of confidential search committee documents has caused significant harm – to the School, to the individual candidates for president, to the search committee, to the new president, to the current administration, to the School’s finances, and especially to all other Starr King students – many of whom have behaved with complete integrity but over whom an undeserved cloud of suspicion hangs as long as those responsible for the breach of confidentiality decline to come forward and accept responsibility.

    One of the mischaracterizations in the current discussion is that the Board acted because we were offended by the content of the Strapped Student email. That is not the case. The most serious harm to the School was not caused exclusively, or even primarily, by the actual content of that email, however inaccurate, hurtful, and damaging it may have been.

    Rather, the most significant harm came from the transmission of the attachment: confidential information that was submitted in trust by dozens of individuals to the search committee. And by the scope of the distribution of confidential information. I imagine that much of that harm was unintended. But it is tangible, and was foreseeable, nonetheless.

    One unintended consequence of that distribution was that the intended recipients of the email included many who place a significant emphasis on the preservation of confidential information – such as the UUA, UUMA, and Ministerial Fellowship Committee. Their focus was not so much on the content of the letter but on the fact of the violation of standards of confidentiality and breach of professional responsibility.

    These institutions have reached out to me and made it very clear that they are watching events at Starr King closely. As a leader of one of those credentialing bodies said to me before the Board voted on degrees, they will need “some significant assurance that no SKSM degree is going to someone who broke trust with their community and with professional guidelines.”

    In other words, the Strapped Student email put the entire graduating class and future graduates under a cloud of ethical suspicion by people outside the SKSM community. It is this harm that the Board has been trying to prevent.

  3. Starr King is a school, not a congregation.

    Much of the recent discussion, before and after the dispute became public, seems to apply to the School a number of criteria that are more relevant to a minister’s relationship with a congregation. But the Trustees have a fiduciary obligation – and a legal obligation – to attend to the needs of the School.

    One of the functions of a school is to certify, through both objective and subjective criteria, that a student has fulfilled requirements for graduation. The Degree Requirements section of Starr King’s website (http://sksm.edu/academics/master_of_divinity.php) clearly state:

    Requirements for graduation include not only “completion of explicit requirements but of your personal readiness – intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, professionally, and practically – for the form of ministry, chaplaincy, or religious leadership for which you are preparing.”

    Religious leadership includes a duty to respect privileged confidential information.

    The Requirements site also states “The M.Div. degree is awarded by vote of the Board of Trustees.” The faculty vote is a first step, but not the final step, in the Board’s discernment. The faculty vote took place in February, before the events in question took place. But the Board needed to respond to the situation as it existed on the date the Board voted on degrees.

    The Board on May 2 delayed its scheduled vote on degree candidates because we were concerned that we did not yet know enough to exercise our fiduciary responsibility effectively in conferring degrees. We wanted more clarity about student involvement in the significant breaches of confidentiality that occurred at the conclusion of the presidential search process. By May 19 we were able to unconditionally grant degrees to most of the students recommended by the faculty for graduation. But we still had concerns or incomplete understanding about the involvement of several, so those degrees were granted conditionally pending the results of a more formal, arms-length independent inquiry.

    It is this decision to grant conditional degrees that is the cause of current controversy. Three faculty members-operating by their own best lights, disagree with the decision of the Board and have communicated their perspective in an Open Letter to the community. Also, some who were awarded conditional degrees are advocating that the conditions be removed immediately.

    Note that as a graduate School we are bound by federal law, including the requirement that we cannot publicly discuss matters involving specific students. At no time have we identified the names of the students to whom degrees were conditionally granted; we have not even specified how many there were.

  4. The School is not suing students. This is a mischaracterization that has confused many people. The identification of a fund as a “legal defense fund” may be contributing to this confusion. The facts are these:

    One week before commencement a student was asked to speak with an investigator working on behalf of the Board. That student declined the request, and further threatened to take the School to court if the student’s degree was withheld.

    On May 26 I received a letter from an attorney purporting to represent certain students, demanding that the Board reverse course, and threatening to sue if we did not. It is the Board that is being threatened with litigation, not the students.

  5. The Board has needed to escalate its inquiry.

    When the Board first became aware of the confidentiality breach, we immediately began taking action to reduce the harm to relationships, reputations, and community trust that we know would come if there was a wider distribution of so many individuals’ sensitive and confidential comments.

    We initially asked the search committee chair to speak with each committee member about whether they were the source of the documents. To date, after many discussions and other investigative techniques, we have no evidence that the documents came from an intentional leak by the search committee.

    We also began conducting an informal inquiry by speaking with other involved people. One challenge has been that at each step the situation has itself escalated. On the day we were hoping to speak with the students we believed were in possession of the documents the students called for the special student body meeting, which resulted in many more students being in possession of those documents.

    We were in the process of determining the most appropriate way to widen our inquiry when the Strapped Student email was distributed, and the dramatic harm we feared became real.

    In the week after the Strapped Student e-mail we engaged the services of Fierce Allies, a restorative justice (RJ) consultancy. Its Founding Director, J. Miakoda Taylor, began an assessment process to determine if restorative justice was appropriate and the best strategy for its application.

    When the Board met on May 1 and 2, Miakoda advised the Board that in the absence of anyone taking accountability for causing harm, restorative justice would not be appropriate, and we put the RJ process on pause pending more formal means, while continuing to engage Miakoda’s services to assist in fostering open conversations at the School.

    Given that the restorative justice approach we have hoped to employ has been stymied by no one coming forward to accept responsibility for having obtained and distributed the privileged, confidential documents, the Board began a more formal investigation using professional investigators. That process has not concluded.

    At the May 19 Board meeting, the Board adopted the following resolution:

    “It is resolved that the Board will continue its efforts to attempt to identify the cause(s) of the breach of confidential information that occurred during the final stages of the search for the new president. The Board has begun this process and has made progress. Attached to this resolution is the Board’s letter to the community on this subject. It is resolved that the Board will continue to utilize the confidential services of its legal counsel and such professionals as may assist counsel.

    It is further resolved that an ad hoc committee of the Board be appointed to complete the efforts of the Board to identify the cause(s) of the breach of confidential information and to prepare a report to the full Board containing proposed conclusions and factual bases for the conclusions. This ad hoc committee shall transmit the report within 60 days of its formation. The Board of Trustees will hold a special meeting within thirty days of receipt of the report. The Board will thereafter within 30 days, issue a letter of results to the community and constituents of the School.

    It is further resolved that the ad hoc committee of the Board shall consist of a minimum of three and not more than five individuals to be recommended by the Board chair and ratified by the Board.”

    We are presently working on the composition of the ad hoc committee. We expect that it will include members from outside the Starr King community.

    It is our hope that this committee, as an arms-length body without entanglements in recent events, can take a clear-eyed look at all parties – the Board, the search committee, students, faculty, staff, and others – and make a determination of facts and recommendations for Board consideration.

    We commit to sharing the ad hoc committee’s findings and recommendations, both with the community and with the credentialing institutions to which we relate.

Let me take this opportunity to offer my deep gratitude to my colleague Board members, to members of the presidential search committee, and to the administration of the School, who have withstood such withering criticism of their integrity with grace and restraint. And I offer a further expression of gratitude to the credentialing institutions to which we relate.
And let me also offer an apology to the students, faculty, staff, and School community that it has gotten to this point. And to the wider Unitarian Universalist community that it has now involved you.

 

The School does extraordinarily important work, preparing religious leaders who themselves also do extraordinarily important work. It is deeply regrettable that an internal dispute over individual misconduct has escalated into a public controversy, to the disadvantage of all involved.

My various letters of to the community since April 6 are available on the Starr King site. Please feel free to be in touch with me if you have any questions or concerns.

 

Helio Fred Garcia Chair, Board of Trustees Starr King School for the Ministry

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Helio Fred Garcia

Garcia.heliofred@gmail.com

c/o Starr King School for the Ministry

2441 Le Conte Ave.,

Berkeley CA 94709

Not for Ourselves Alone

Through thoughtful reflections and personal stories, UU leaders share how we might strengthen our spirit through our connections with one another and with the Holy. Not for Ourselves Alone: Theological Essays on Relationship edited by Laurel Hallman and Burton D. Carley, invites us to move beyond the age-old theological question “Who am I?” and instead asks, “Whose are we?” This new emphasis suggests that we are all part of something larger that both includes us and transcends us. Purchase your copy at your UUA Bookstore.

Immigrants, Families, and Illegality at GA

On Thursday, June 26 at 2:15 p.m. ET, catch Aviva Chomsky’s GA event, “Immigrants, Families, and Illegality” in the Providence Ballroom of the Omni Hotel. Chomsky, an immigration activist and the author of  Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal, will discuss how our immigration policies have divided and destroyed families, and the need for social action to bring about humane and compassionate immigration reform.

Swing by the UUA Bookstore during GA to purchase your copy of Undocumented, and get a free copy of Witnessing for the Truth: Martin Luther King, Jr., Unitarian Universalism, and Beacon Press by using the coupon found in your registration packet.