Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Election of the UUA President: Appreciating Alison Miller

An Appreciation of Alison Miller 

Alison Miller is the Senior Minister of the UU Fellowship in Morristown, New Jersey. She is the only candidate chosen by the Presidential Search Committee who is still in the race. (For those of you who weren't paying attention many months ago, the other chosen candidate, Sue Phillips, withdrew her candidacy. Susan Frederick Gray was then urged to run, as she had been the third choice of the Search Committee. Jeanne Pupke is running through a nominating petition process.)

Alison Miller (like Susan Frederick Gray) is a child of Unitarian Universalism, having grown up in All Souls’ Church in New York City. 

She started working for Unitarian Universalism as a part-time sexton in her church as a youth, and she has worked for nearly three decades in a wide variety of projects and ministries as a lay and ordained leader.

She brings an astonishing breadth of experience to the campaign, having been involved with almost every sort of ministry that UU’s have been practicing and forming in the past 3 decades. She points out that many of them were new ministries. She was involved in the creation of an AIDS ministry while at All Souls. She created a youth ministry in New York that was very successful; she worked at the UUA in creating a campus ministry network. She currently serves as the Board President for the Church of the Larger Fellowship, during a period when the CLF has been leading the way into online ministry and worship. 

I appreciate Alison’s “worldliness” in talking about the realities of congregational life and budgeting, the ways of the UUA as an organization; the budget decisions we have made. She can get really concrete, questioning whether we resource what we say is important. Her call to increase the amount of UUA staffed with supporting worship (currently one half time position) is an example of this. She mentions the decision to not fund the Washington Office as another concrete example of not matching the funding with our goals.
In some ways, I think that Alison the most “insider-ish” candidate of the three, attuned to the nuts and bolts of the way the UUA is managed. Her long experience is one reason. Related is her experience, which she shares with several other ministers, in the UUA politics about youth and young adult ministry. I have never been able to figure out the whole story, but for many it seems to have been a formative experience. My impression is that for them, their lasting learning was that the UUA staff, structure, and budgeting process can choke off potentially powerful ministries. 

Alison’s parents came to UUism as an interfaith couple seeking somebody to perform their marriage ceremony. Their need was met at All Souls New York, and that is where they stayed and Alison grew up. Her mother is Jewish and her father Protestant. They came from different economic and social classes. Her interfaith family is an important part of her understanding of Unitarian Universalism. 

When asked about what motivates her social justice ministry, she invokes her mother’s Jewish tradition, taking from it that there is no option to quit: survival and persistence is necessary. 

I knew Alison the least when I started this process, but she is a very forthcoming and generous presence. I appreciate her natural ease as a communicator; she listens well, really engages, and always seems to have a well-formed response. She always has something to say. 

The catchphrase of the Miller campaign seems to be “make visible the bonds of love”. And the three aspirations below that are “ignite faith”, “empower change” and “advance justice.” 

There is an interesting section on her website, entitled “Together We Can”. It lists several goals that “we” (unitarian Universalists) can do. I appreciate that the list is a list of ways we can be different. It is mostly about how we are together. Together we can “free our communities to be spiritually alive”; Together we can “practice gratitude for the heritage”, etc. It is a set of practical goals for UU’s as we work together. I appreciate that she seems to recognize that we will move forward as we increase the level of our cooperation with each other. 


I appreciate Alison Miller’s deep experience in the workings of our denomination, in her confidence in what UUism could be that is based in her own life experience, and in her sense that we need to get out of our own way and get to the work ahead. 

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