UUA cuts; covenant language

Sad news — not an April Fool’s joke — that the Unitarian Universalist Association has laid off ten staff members due to budget shortfalls. As an organization budget hacker, I know that making difficult decisions is, by definition, difficult. Not having the facts, I won’t opine about the cuts except to express my sympathy for those who have lost their jobs, and to those who will have to work harder by their absence.

On the other hand, the news came within a finger-wagging press release from UUA president Peter Morales, which includes,

We rely on the covenant between our member congregations and the Association to enable us to provide the services and support your congregation needs.

When our congregations, for a variety of reasons, do not fully contribute to the Association, we must work to decrease our expenditures while sustaining a high level of support for congregations and individuals.

And so once again, covenant is trotted out as a tool to scold. (When do you ever hear covenant described as a tool for happiness?)

And scold whom? The very congregations who create the UUA. And so if I’m going to give the UUA’s leadership council the benefit of the doubt, so much more will I give it to the hundreds of congregational decision-makers who have their own tough choices.

Theological language will only go so far. The institution of the UUA provides services for its members, though I’m often left wondering if the services provided are worth the money or trouble. There are other avenues for almost eveything the UUA provides, if you’re willing to look. (Ministerial fellowship might be an exception, but the ministerial “oversupply” blunts the power of the guild.) Emotional appeals will only got you so far, and with tight money and a culture that’s more connected, secular and tolerant, they won’t go very far.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. The thing about covenant, is that it should be more than a one way street for scolding the faithfull. Covenant requires a “me”, a “you”, and transcendant “point of reference” (pick your point of reference: God, the humanistic Ethical Ideal, Goddess, big-T Truth, etc.). If the covenant seems shakey, then we need to ask some questions…

    (A) Am I living up to my end of the covenant?

    (b) What does this picture look like when I try to examine “me” and “you” from the transcendant reference point (the God’s eye view, or the lens of the Ethical Ideal).

    So before scolding, perhaps the UUA headquarters might do some soul searching. Are we at 25 Beacon Street living up to the covenant? What does the system of headquarters and congregations look like, when we step back and examine the covenant from the “bigger” view? Covenant should not be a tool for scolding, but for discernment.

  2. Does anybody know where the covenant Morales refers to is published.

    I know of two kinds of covenant:

    A) Covenants between equals. For example the P&P talk of UU congregations being in covenant with each other.

    B) Covenants between unequals, like the Jews with their God. This is obviously Morales’ meaning, since he refers to congregations being in covenant with the UUA.

    So where is this unequal covenant, which requires us to serve the UUA, written down?

  3. Tom wrote:

    So where is this unequal covenant, which requires us to serve the UUA, written down?

    Tom — one could point to the plenary business meetings at General Assembly (GA) where delegates from member congregations direct the UUA staff to take action on their behalf.

    This includes the creation of budgets approved by congregational delegate.

    Since congregations are coming together to decide these matters through their delegates at GA, one could make a case that this is actually a covenant between equals.

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