Gini Courter: where does the 50 year vision come from?

Courter urges assembly to set the UUA’s vision.

Go listen, if you were not there, to Gini Courter's final Moderator's Report.  It is a candid and powerful indictment of the UUA Governance since 1961.

That governance could be described as a weak and unwieldy Board and a strong President -- and the result in practice has been shifting and confusing priorities and a lack of accountability and evaluation of UUA programs and initiatives.  Our current flat growth is unacceptable, and we don't know what is working and why, and how we would be able to tell what is working.

The underlying problem, per Courter, is that the General Assembly is passive, and expects elected leaders to supply the vision.  But the elected leaders only work in 4 to 6 year time frames, hence the stop-start-stutter of our efforts.  We need a 50 year vision which elected leaders implement with 4 to 6 year strategy and tactics.  That vision should come from, per Courter, from a reiterative process of learning and articulation between the Congregations, the General Assembly and the Board of Trustees.

Two models then of vision development.  The old way, per Courter, is that candidates for office cast visions and get elected to implement them.  The proper way, per Courter, is that the GA, the BOT and the Congregations, through a linkage process, creates that vision.

But our congregations are stuck for the most part, with few exceptions. (Some of largest congregations are dynamic and growing, and are, therefore more frequently resented, rather than emulated, in our rivalrous Association).

But, the General Assembly is a temporary, self-selected voluntary association with very uneven relationships with the congregations they supposedly represent.

But, the Board has been much too big to be effective, although that is changing.

But, if the average span of membership for many UU's is 7 years, where does the perspective for a 50 year vision come from?  Teaching UU history and theology to UU's is often like trying to teach calculus to a parade.  Asking that parade to decide the route when it is already marching is going to be hard too.

It's clear that we lack vision (I would settle for 25 year vision) and the question is how do we as an institution generate one? I am not sure that her suggestion will work any better.

Two suggestions:

1. The Ministers.  Ministers hold the traditions and wisdom of Unitarian Universalism and Liberal Religion.   They are engaged daily in an ongoing effort to apply them to the work of today.  Those in the parish try to tell us what UUism asks of us today every week.  And they try, even though our institutional arrangements reward them more for telling us what we want to hear.  Community ministers cast our long term vision into all kinds of settings.

We need to let our ministers take the lead in casting that 50 year vision.  In fact, that is their most important job to which we should be accountable.

Can I say that ministers and lay people, even highly committed lay people, have a different view of what we should be doing?  Yet, we never quite separate out the ministerial voice in UUA discussions.  We blend the voice of ministers into a chorus of lay voices, when there should be more call and response, or contrapuntal, arrangements of voices.

I would like, for example, to hear the considered response of our most respected ministers to the Board's Ends statement.  And by "respected" I mean a group of ministers that other ministers view as wise and bold.  And by "considered" I mean that they have studied and discussed the ends statements together in depth.  And by "response", I mean that they not only approve or disapprove, but that they probe, and question, and elaborate, and engage those ends.

2. Visions come from visionaries.  And visionaries don't run for denominational office, or serve on denominational boards.  I personally think that the Rev. Ron Robinson down in Turley, OK is one of our most visionary UU leaders in the 21st century.  The first thing we should do is listen to him and take what he is saying seriously; the last thing is elect him to something, or put him on a board.

Imagining what liberal religion should be doing for the next 50 years is ambitious.  It is not a process question, nor a technical question.  If knowledge, technique and process were all that was required, we would have a vision already.  There is an individual piece of visioning, even in a group vision: the insights of people of deep and sacrificial commitment, persons who have had transformative experience, poetic souls, deep scholars, the mystics and the warriors, the grandparents.

Are we open to inspiration?


  1. Steve Cook12:48 PM

    Part of the problem is that we have institutionalized a distrust of power in any way, shape or form. We have, for years, been populated by a large majority of people who fled to UU because in other denominations or areas of society they experienced themselves as oppressed on the bases of theology, gender, race, sexual preference, etc. by power exercised through individuals or institutions. One way to avoid that in their newfound home was to diffuse power widely (huge board) and to ensure that no locus of even incipient power within the UUA could become "privileged" by, for example, being entrusted with vision-casting work. We've done this through a mechanism of relentless, institutional self-criticism and suspicion that would do credit to any process of Communist "re-education." The test has been, that if I (or my group) feel vulnerable and powerless I will make damn sure that no one else gets any either, for it might be used against me; or, alternatively, if I find myself thinking of exercising power I must be a bad person and should stop it right away.


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