Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Wisdom from Harvard Business Review

I thought of our UU congregational culture and the plateau of growth so familiar to our denomination (and not only ours) when I saw this in the Life’s Work feature in the Jan/Feb Harvard Business Review: Condoleeza Rice was asked “What piece of knowledge from your research was most useful at the State Department?”

She said:  “The fact that I’d been concerned all my academic career with how institutions develop was very helpful when I found myself leading a Dept of State that was having to adapt to a post 9/11 world. My research affirmed that most organizations change only when they’re failing. They take cues too late from the environment. The question is, how do you get a relatively successful institution to respond to really new changes?”

New UUA President elected

This is a press release that the UUA’s communications director just released.  I was surprised at the margin and sad at my candidate’s loss, as were all the others at the thank-you party Satuday night after the Ware Lecture.  Peter Morales is a dynamic and experienced leader, and both candidates have raised important issues in this energetic but respectful campaign between two accomplished ministers.
Note how significant is the number of absentee votes as a fraction of all votes cast. In some past UUA elections the winner has “won” even before showing up at GA because his campaign has locked up so many absentee votes in advance. Note also the “transition” period–less than 24 hours from election results to installation!  All other nominees were running in uncontested elections

Press release:(June 27, 2009 – Salt Lake City, Utah) – Rev. Peter Morales, senior
minister of Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado, today was
elected to be the eighth president of the Unitarian Universalist
Association of Congregations (UUA) at the Association’s General Assembly
in Salt Lake City.
Morales received a total of 2061 votes, 1020 of which were cast as
absentee ballots. His opponent, Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, formerly senior
minister of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, Texas, received a
total of 1481 votes, 827 of which were absentee ballots. Morales’
margin of victory was 580 votes.
Speaking of his aspirations for Unitarian Universalism, Rev. Morales
said, “I want to grow our faith, to reach all those people who are
looking for non-dogmatic, liberal religious community. I look forward to
working with partners in many other progressive and justice-seeking
religious groups. There are tremendous issues that we’ll be facing in
the coming years and we’re going to need one another.”
Rev. Morales, the first Latino leader of the UUA, will be installed in a
ceremony which concludes the General Assembly, at 6:30 PM (MDT) on
Sunday, June 28. Rev. Morales will succeed Rev. William G. Sinkford who
has served two four-year terms as President of the UUA.
See for the
complete story on Morales’ election. For’s coverage of the
Morales election, see

Mission to Utah—UUA General Assembly

I am staying in a big old lovely house 2 miles from the downtown hotels and convention center.  My  former intern has always been resourceful, and she and her husband found this house to rent online and recruited several other ministers to stay here and share the cost.  An added temptation is that she is a chef and maybe some day she will want to cook while we are here.  There are two straight clergy couples and four other people.  One couple is a mixed marriage:  he went to Starr King School for the Ministry  and she went to Meadville Lombard Theological School; he supports Peter Morales for UUA president and she supports Laurel Hallman.

Yesterday I went for a ride around Salt Lake City with collegial friends Barb and Bill, who served the South Valley UU Church till 2006.  They showed me Salt Lake City’s century-old, New England-style First Unitarian Church (closer to where we are) as well as the neighborhood they used to live in.  The church is in a capital campaign to raise a few million for an expansion.  Sort of makes the small goal of $17,000 for the Entry Way Project back home seem very small, and quite doable.

Today, Tuesday, is the day for the continuing education programs of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.  Gotta catch the bus!

Barb was invited once by a female state senator from SLC to give the opening  blessing at the Utah legislature, thus being the first woman clergy person to do so.  On top of that, the senator told her afterwards that it was the first time the words “gay and lesbian” had been spoken publicly in that chamber!  Now there are at least two openly glbt legislators.

Day 2 — UU Heritage Trip to Boston

Lights out at 1 AM–no exceptions!  That was last night, after an all-day flight.  Even though it was only 10 PM in our bodies, all 5 of us guys slept quite well in 2 sets of bunk beds plus one twin bed in a 12 x 12 room.  I assume it was roomier for the ladies, since there were only 3 of them.  Everybody got up by 7:30, cleaned up and headed down to the youth hostel’s kitchen to make ourselves bagels and fruit loops.  None of the kids drank any coffee, which makes it more amazing that they followed me all over and listened to me drone on about the history of the place.  We strolled Boston Common (the oldest public park in the US, originally where Puritans grazed their cattle and hanged Quakers and other heretics), the Public Garden (adjacent to the Common but established 2 centuries later with gorgeous landscaping:  trees, blooming flowers, a lagoon with swan paddle boat rides and real swans too, and monuments to famous Unitarians like Edward Everett Hale and other notable Americans, to the protestors who died in the 1770 Boston Massacre (all five of them), to those with family or other Massachusetts connections who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, on one of the planes that took off from here or from their crashes in NYC and DC).

On Beacon Hill we visited the main building of UUA Headquarters at 25 Beacon Street, right next to  the gold-domed State House (where I pointed out bronzes of Daniel Webster, President Kennedy, Unitarian Horace Mann).  In the UUA we saw the William Ellery Channing landing and his portrait, among those of other 19th century notables) and the Dana McLean Greely library, commemorating the 1st president of the newly merged UUA (1961 to 1968, spanning the most violent and triumphant years of the Civil Rights Movement), and the Eliot Chapel, where a bronze relief commemorated Jimmy Lee Jackson, a young black civil rights worker killed by police in Selma during a march while trying to protect his grandmother; Viola Liuzzo, a white Unitarian from Detroit who transported black men in her car between Selma and Montgomery and was murdered by the KKK, and the Rev. James Reeb, a young Boston minister who went down to Selma for the Voting Rights March to Montgomery with other UU clergy–the night before the march they were attacked by whites after dining in a black restaurant, and Reeb died from the blows.

We met  some young staffers–one from the UUA Office of Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Concerns, who spoke to us about the Welcoming Congregation program, which our congregation had entered several years ago, and two college-age interns from the UUA Youth Programs Office.  The highlight of the day (at least for the 3 adults) was to attend the UUA staff chapel, which happens every Tuesday at 11:30 AM.  Today’s preacher with the Rev. William Sinkford, giving his farewell homily to the staff as he looks forward to leaving office next week when we elect a new president at General Assembly.  Bill completes two 4-year terms.  It was an emotional time for him and many colleagues in the room and those field staff who were watching and participating by phone and internet through Persony (they even sent Joys and Sorrows for the Boston colleagues to hear and light a candle).

We had lunch at a deli and wandered by the old City Hall which originally was the site of the Boston Latin School (which Ben Franklin dropped out of at age 11).  Now it holds several eateries, stores and offices.  After lunch I took them down to the plaza which faces the Old South Meeting House, where Sam Adams and 5,000 other colonists began protesting the British Crown’s tax on tea imports to America and effectively began the Revolution in 1773.  But the striking thing was a memorial to the victims of The Great Hunger, which is what Irish called the potato famine of 1845-50.  Of 8.5 million in Ireland, 1 million starved to death and 2 million fled across the sea to America, but many of them died at sea in crowded and unworthy ships.  Why the famine?  A fungal infestation of crops, English colonial control and absentee landlords in England, who demanded and received rental payment in grain while the peasants died of hunger.  In Boston the early immigrants lived in damp, dirty, crowded conditions near the waterfront and where many infant and other lives were lost.  Help Wanted signs in store windows said Irish Need Not Apply.  The memorial bronze sculptures depict three haggard and agonizing peasants on one side and a group of proud, upstanding Irish Americans, having finally attained inclusion and power.  President Kennedy was descended from refugees from the Great Hunger.

After a gift-shop and Starbucks stop, we went back to the Garden and rested till our 90 minute tour at Arlington Street Church, across from which stands a bronze statue of its founding minister, William Ellery Channing, the “father of American Unitarianism.”  The church is based on an Anglican church design and features family pew boxes with doors throughout the sanctuary main floor (paid pew boxes were originally passed down the generations of a family but eventually democratized by church leaders (not without controversy), becoming first-come, first-served pew boxes).  Louis Comfort Tiffany’s factory made about 13 gorgeous, green-blue-and-white stained glass windows (featuring New Testament scenes but none of the miracles of Christ.  This was in the late 1800s  but the glassmakers went out of business before finishing the job, according to our guide.  (But he also said that Channing’s famous Baltimore Sermon was 2 decades later than it was, so I’m not sure.)  This politically conservative but spiritually radical church did also become a politically radical one in the 1900s:  Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Reproductive Rights, El Salvadoran political-refugee sanctuary programs, GLBT Rights.  Notable was the Vietnam-era ceremony inviting young men to burn their draft cards together in protest, after which the church gave them extended sanctuary so they could avoid arrest, our guide told us.  Openly lesbian minister KIm Crawford Harvie, known for her charismatic preaching, has been serving ASC 20 years.

This is all build-up to the highlights of the day, and I don’t mean dinner at the bar made famous by the Cheers TV series in the 1980s-90s, which the youth liked even though they had never heard of it and didn’t know the names of any of the stars.

No…our ASC guide took us to the organ and choir loft, where Nate tried his hand at the powerful pipe organ’s keyboard, improvising nicely, after which Jessica played Fur Elise.  They were only briefly perplexed by the many pedals beneath their feet, since organ pedals play notes, unlike the two piano pedals (or so I think).   The youth also got to stand in the enormous high pulpit of Dr. Channing (moved from the original church building when the congregation moved to this one).

Surely the highlight was the trip up the creaky steps (ladders nailed down, really) up into the steeple, stopping in the bell tower.  About 14 ropes came through pulleys and were fastened to a board with numbers.  Each rope, when pulled hard, would ring a bell with a particular note, in a room up higher in the tower.  He took us up to see the bells themselves but a bout of vertigo caused me to stop half way and descend tremblingly back to the room with the ropes.  The others came down after enjoying the priceless views and the youth randomly rang different bell ropes, causing a cacophony that must have had the upscale neighbors scratching or shaking their heads.  Then each of us was told to grab a numbered rope.  The guide called out a series of numbers and we pulled as we heard ours.  The tune was Morning Has Broken, but the numbers came too slowly for it to sound familiar.  Then Tina took over and read us our numbers fast enough so that Cat Stevens or any self-respecting Welsh person walking down Boylston Street would have recognized it.

After the Cheers pub food, this crowd of pilgrims with weary limbs and aching feet made its way back to this bunk-bed United Nations of youth.  It’s 12:30 AM and I am the oldest of all the reading, typing, surfing and chattering lodgers in this kitchen (except for Larry King on the TV set), and I am going to turn in.

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.

Candidates Speak to the Pacific Central District–Part 2
May 17, 2009, 3:55 pm
Filed under: UUA Presidential Campaigns

(To recap from Part 1: Linda Laskowski, our brilliant PCD trustee to the UUA Board, and I saw the same UUA presidential candidate presentations at our recent District Assembly but we came away with different conclusions.) 

I enjoy Peter Morales’s energy and way with words, and I agree he
knows how to fire up a crowd of UUs, but as a district board member
here I had been expecting that both leaders would be giving a major
address, not a stump speech.

Peter made a lively campaign appearance in the morning. Though Laurel
Hallman did take audience questions in her post-dinner address, she
first gave a strong, thoughtful, research-based and visionary address
to us about a window of opportunity for the liberal church: the
Millenial Generation of young adults, born UUs and unchurched alike.

Demographically, they are the most multi-ethnic generation of adults
ever; they are more numerous than the Baby Boomers were. Spiritually,
Millenials are now in an open yet risky phase of life; they yearn for
depth, meaning and purpose; they want to make a difference in the
world. Furthermore, Laurel said, the Millenials (unlike the earlier
Generation Y) are NOT anti-institution. Thank God!

If we are to be relevant to the worlds around us, if we are to be true
to our spiritual legacy, if we are to walk the walk, it is more than a
calling that our congregations learn how to minister to Millenials–it
is a necessity, a demand. That’s what I took away from her heartfelt

Laurel did something better than stir us up: she challenged us to
start with ourselves. Laurel called on us to encourage young adults
to find their depth by seeking our own depth, to promote their growth
by attending to our own growth, to help them gain spiritual maturity
by becoming spiritually mature ourselves. In other words, we can’t
feed the spiritually hungry until we can be present to our own hunger
and until we can know what it means to be fed.

Who are the “ourselves” to whom Laurel makes these challenges? I
think she is addressing the current keepers of the flame and the
sitters on the franchise.

Yet I trust that she will not just exhort us to change, she will bring her gifts of wisdom, experience, tenacity and courage to guide and help congregations and congregation members
transform themselves and the communities beyond our church walls.

Candidates Speak to the Pacific Central District-Part 1
May 17, 2009, 2:51 pm
Filed under: UUA Presidential Campaigns

Our excellent and beloved PCD trustee to the UUA Board and I saw the same candidate presentations at District Assembly but came away with different conclusions.  

Trustee Linda Laskowski recalled that in “their first 100 days in office” Peter Morales said he would pursue his vision with urgency and Laurel Hallman said she would start with the staff.  Linda said Laurel’s intention is appropriate but it’s not what the crowds want to hear in a campaign.  Sure, and I would add that it may not be what we want to hear in a president’s address at General Assembly.  

Well, we’ve been fired up and urged on by excellent presidential orators for decades, but those convention-hall altar calls have not correlated with any growth in the UUA ‘s membership numbers.  

Remembering that the growth of our movement relies on the growth of local congregations, my urgent concern is for wisdom and leadership to help congregations achieve health, strength, depth, relevance and effectiveness in  our local communities.

With most organizations, your best assets are your people, the relationships among them, and the health of the system. I am heartened that as a leader Laurel wants to attend to the health and strength of her first and best resource.  

The UUA President heads a team of people who work for an organization with a religious purpose:  to serve congregations and extend the reach of our faith.  

There is deep dedication and talent among UUA staff at all levels.  We put incredible expectations on them; many of them work too much.  Soon, due to lost revenues, we’ll have fewer of them to do all that work.  Maybe it will fortify those who remain if they pause to ask:  Just what are we doing here?  Given how hard this work is, what’s in in for me?  

Whether in time of financial crisis or not, in individual church leaders might pause to ask ourselves and one another the same questions.