Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

My Vote for UUA President
May 17, 2009, 7:24 pm
Filed under: UUA Presidential Campaigns

Sometimes during previous UUA presidential election campaigns I voted for a candidate who had the support of accomplished and revered colleagues who knew the person well and could articulate the candidate’s gifts and accomplishments to me.  Sometimes I put my support behind a candidate whom I had known up close over a stretch of time.  This time, I will be voting for the candidate who fits both of those descriptions, Laurel Hallman.

I think the UUA will be well served by either of the current candidates. I think we have been well served by the dialogue that Peter and Laurel have conducted with each other.  Moreover, they have  sparked important conversations among volunteer and professional leaders about our congregations and the future of our movement.  I am glad that Peter entered the race, but I am voting for Laurel.

Many months ago I heard that Laurel was being urged to run for UUA president and was considering it seriously.  I found this hard to believe, but was thrilled to hear it, so I emailed Laurel to tell her how I felt and give my own encouragement.   Since then, close colleagues and friends of mine–experienced, wise and brave ministers who have taught me so much about ministry–lined up to endorse her and join her campaign team.

Twenty-seven years ago (surely not that long ago!) in Bloomington, Indiana, a group of undergraduate friends and I walked into a church that we had just learned about.  This is how Laurel Hallman became not only the first Unitarian Universalist minister I’d ever heard but also the first female minister I’d ever heard.  We were gleeful and nearly incredulous at her choice of relevant, real-life sermon topics,  and touched by her accessible, intelligent and powerful preaching.  I recall with gratitude her friendliness and approachability.

We kept going to church there for the rest of my senior year of college.  My attraction to this faith and my discernment of a call to ministry began in those encounters with Laurel Hallman.  Of course, you can read stories from countless people inspired by Laurel in significant ways.  My story is not exceptional, but it matters to me because I found this faith at a crucial and scary time in my life.  Finding it has transformed my life.

During that same  year, a close friend was having intellectual and spiritual difficulties with his Roman Catholic faith. The rest of us raved about Laurel’s wisdom and intelligence, and we urged him to ask her for pastoral counseling.  She generously gave him some of her precious time and listening presence.  She didn’t convert him or otherwise help him leave his admittedly flawed church, because that did not turn out to be what he was seeking.  She helped him discern his longing, clarify his thinking, and reclaim his faith in ways that would sustain him and help him keep his integrity.  Last year I saw him for the first time in 23 years.  He’s a college professor with a longtime male partner and a 10 year old child.  He remains a committed Catholic and he won’t let any right-wing archbishop take his faith away from him.  He recalled for me how helpful Laurel had been to him as a young adult, and how smart and wise she was.   Laurel’s ministry to my Catholic friend exemplifies the generosity of our faith.

In 1991 as a lay person I attended a convocation of UUs for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns (now Interweave) at Laurel’s large church in Dallas.   By that year AIDS was killing off thousands of gay men among many other people on the margins of society.  We learned of Laurel’s leadership in the community and her guidance of the church’s pastoral and practical ministries to those suffering from the symptoms of AIDS and its stigma.

Laurel led the welcoming worship for us on Friday night and preached a sermon on Sunday in honor of our gathering.  She spoke of the need to live with one foot in each of two worlds:  the real world and the possible one, the world that we were yet to achieve.  Many of us were in tears.  I recall few of the sermon titles or messages I’ve heard over the years, but I remember that one.  I recall also that she began the service by introducing by name each one of her ministerial colleagues who was present for the conference.  Laurel’s gestures of welcome and her church’s leadership in its community exemplify the generosity of our faith.

All this took place long before I knew that Laurel had been a DRE at a large church in Minnesota, where she forged a new, spiritually rich children’s RE curriculum called Images for Our Lives. This was long before I saw her “Living by Heart” video, which introduced spiritual disciplines that could appeal to people for whom old religious terms or traditional practices were impediments.  It was before I learned that so many congregations are made ineffectual or even hurtful by a lack of transparency, an absence of mission, or a failure to practice covenantal relationships.  Laurel’s current and former parishioners (including key lay leaders where I serve) testify to the remarkable health, growth and effectiveness of the Dallas congregation during Laurel’s decades of collaborative and accountable stewardship there.

Laurel has long experience in policy-based governance, which the UUA Board is adopting as it strives to clarify leadership roles and empower the administration to pursue clear goals and achieve measurable outcomes.

She  has raised daunting amounts of money for expansions of her church’s physical plant and for expansions of its ministries within and beyond the congregation.  The burden and relentlessness of fundraising is a large but little acknowledged part of the UUA president’s job.  Laurel’s past challenges and successes have prepared her for this job.

Laurel has mentored seminary interns into skillful and confident ministers. She has been a leader in her city and interfaith community, especially in working for local economic justice.  She has led countless church members into discerning their own ministries as laypersons and living them out in the world.

I am happy to be voting for Laurel Hallman.  Her  leadership continues to encourage my faith in the possibilities for our congregations and the future of our movement.


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