Recently, I had the honor and privilege to meet Rev. Don Southworth, the current Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA), at the Spring Minister’s Retreat for the Heartland Chapter of the UUMA. This is my first year as a “regular member” and not a student member of the UUMA, and through the hectic pace of ministerial formation I had not attended many UUMA events in other chapters… not a lack of interest, just a lack of time. Seminary is time consuming enough even before you add military chaplain candidacy, hospice and hospital residency, and founding and administering an outreach ministry with Navy basic trainees.
Don gave us an excellent presentation on the future plans and vision of the UUMA, including an enticing description of the plans for the next Center Institute event, as well as other continuing education programs. He shared some of the UUMA’s long-ranged planning, and some of the transitions that have occurred since he became the Acting Executive Director. We discussed the resources that are being developed for ministers serving as Good Offices, as well as guidance for chapters. I agreed with the sentiment expressed by more than one of my ministerial colleagues at the event… that for the first time in awhile I have been excited by the activities of the UUMA.
Yet, there was something missing… something I have come to realize that we need our UUMA to be, and which was not part of the presentation. Now, I could have just sent this in an email to Don, but I wanted to make this a broader discussion among us UU Ministers (or at least those who read the Celestial Lands from time to time…)
I want the UUMA to be a Union as much as a Professional Association.
One of the benefits of my years as a traveling preacher on issues of war and peace (among others) is that I have contacts in a lot of UU Congregations. At last count I have preached in over 45 churches, and though that number has not grown significantly this year (between my congregation and the military, I’m already preaching every weekend), such travel preaching has long been a part of who I am. Also, many congregations know me through this blog, and have contacted me to ask permission to present one of my sermons in their Sunday morning worship.
Recently, I’ve become aware of several congregations considering making offers to ministers who are not Fellowshipped by the UUA, and are not members (regular or associate) of the UUMA. In some cases these ministers were not even in the transfer process with the MFC. Often, they are individuals who are connected to the congregation when a ministerial transition occurs, and the congregation makes the choice, for a variety of reasons, to call or contract with them instead of enter into the search process.
In one case, the person who was telling me about this over the phone was very excited by how their congregation was considering “bucking the system” and “standing up to the UUA” by considering calling a non-UU minister. Knowing this person to be something of an activist, I asked them if they supported unions.
“Of course, I’ve marched with them for years” they replied.
“Well, then why are you so excited that your church might become a non-union shop?”
In another case where I did not make the point so blatantly, I asked a former member of the congregation I am now serving why their congregation was considering doing the same… “well, there are some financial reasons…” I bit my tongue, but what I wanted to say was that this was the same excuse the Governor of Wisconsin was using.
I’m not going to get into all the reasons why ministers need a union. They are wide and varied, and they are complicated by the reality that most congregations and congregants have very little understanding what a life of ministry entails. Rev. Dr. Lisa Presley, the Heartland District Executive of the UUA, has an excellent program on “The Care and Feeding of Ministers” that names this reality for congregations in ways that I think address the disconnect in understanding. I hope to get a group of Michigan congregations together to see the presentation sometime this summer (if you are interested, email me).
I also want to say that the UUMA already does some of the work of being a Union. We hold our members accountable and to a standard. We work with the UUA (the association of congregations) on guidelines for benefits and salary. We advocate within the institutional structures for our ministers.
What I would like to see is us making the case to congregations as to why they need to call UUMA members as their ministers. Why fair compensation and equitable benefits for our ministers is not just a good idea, but a necessity for healthy, balanced ministries… and to live the values we so often express. I would love to see the UUMA not just engage in continuing education for or ministers, but continuing education and advocacy with our congregations for, as Lisa put it, “The Care and Feeding of Ministers”.
And, I would like to see the UUMA actively advocate for congregations to call ministers who are members of the UUMA… and engage in focused conversations with congregations who are considering doing otherwise.
In short, I want to know that a Union has my back.
Yours in Faith,