“Article II - What’s That?"
This past year we adopted revisions to our by-laws. It had been a long time – maybe 15 years! Needless to say, a lot can happen in that amount of time. We updated the language in general so it is more gender inclusive, replacing the all-male “he” phrases with “he/she.” This is a step in the right direction, not quite all the way there. It is still reflective of a gender binary that is not realistic, but we can work on that. We added our mission statement which is new since the initial iteration. We updated the language around membership and added a clause that allows the Board to enter into contracts with ministers, as opposed to a solely search and call process. This is a good thing because they had done so already twice with me! Now they are officially authorized to do so!
We are grateful to Sue Bauer and Robin Hubbard who carried the bulk of this work forward, receiving input along the way from committees and the Board. It is tedious and to have come up with something to put forward at our Annual Meeting in just a year’s time is impressive. The revised by-laws passed with little to no discussion and were unanimously received. This is interesting to me. It says any number of things about us: We have implicit trust in those who crafted the changes. Or – We are conflict avoidant and so we don’t discuss things like this publicly. Maybe – We aren’t that interested in the governance of the church. And perhaps – It is almost summer, and we want to get on with our Cape Cod day. It could be any of these or none of them or something else entirely, but it does raise questions.
My sermon title asks a question, too. Article II. What’s that? Do any of you know what I am referring to?
Article II refers to the section of the Unitarian Universalist Association by-laws that contains their purpose, their values and covenant, the sources of our tradition and a statement about inclusion. What does this have to do with us, you may ask! A lot is my response! As a member congregation we are bound to this larger umbrella of governance as much as we are to our own boots on the ground version. In a tradition that espouses congregational polity, we choose how to govern ourselves in individual churches, but we are also in relationship to the larger whole – to all the various UU churches around about us and all of us – ourselves and those others – are in covenantal relationship to the overarching association. We are bottom up as opposed to top down in our structure, but we are all pledged to one another in this faith tradition. The clearest example of this is our Principles and our Sources which are a big part of the Article II language. A little history here: The current Principles and Purposes were last revised in 1987 (that’s 35 years ago!). We have a 15-year rule about reviews to ensure that nothing becomes accidentally creedal, something we are adamant we are not. In 2017 there was discussion about adding an 8th Principle addressing racism, and the first principle was amended to address non-human life. The Fifth Principle was the subject of a report in 2009 which spoke to the ways we don’t fully embody an inclusive democratic process (I’ll say more on this in a bit.) There have been lots of suggestions along the way. The Commission on Appraisal has deemed it important for there to be a review and changes as necessary to ensure that we are living into a Unitarian Universalism relevant to the present and leading us into the future, one that holds us in times of great need and ethical, moral, and spiritual crises. Some would say times like now. We call ourselves a living tradition and that implies change and growth like all of life. Our by-laws need to evolve with us.
Every morning at General Assembly we heard a presentation from the Article II Study Commission. This body of folks from many walks of life and church life has been charged with conducting a review and is empowered to revise, replace, or restructure the current language in ways that will sustain us for the next fifteen years, considering the implications of the existing language and the errors or inadequacies it contains. This work has been ongoing now for a few years and congregations have engaged in study and made reports to the Commission over time.
As near as I can determine, we have not involved ourselves in that process, but the opportunity has existed all along. A quick look at the pertinent sections of the UUA website produces a plethora of information! So, maybe we are less interested in all this, but I want to suggest that this is to our detriment. There are times to be a lone wolf and times not to be. The times we are living in call for collective action if we intend to influence the world with this amazing faith we hold.
So, here is a sampling of what is proposed.
Two draft Purpose Statements were presented. The first says that, “The UU Association shall devote its resources to and exercise its organizational powers for religious, educational, and humanitarian purposes. Its primary purposes are to equip congregations for vital ministry, to support and train leaders both lay and professional, to heal historic inequities, and to advance UU values in the world. We do all this consistent with our theological pluralism.”
The second says, “The UUA’s purpose is to grow and resource faith communities that support people through their lives’ journeys and transform the world by liberating ourselves through love. We make that love real through care and justice for ourselves, for our communities, and for the larger web of existence that we are all in. We are called upon to risk ourselves for love.”
Both are approaches to serving the member congregations. The first proposal doesn’t differ much from the current where the primary purpose is stated as serving congregations, equipping leadership and organizing new congregations and implementing its Principles. We had time for discussion amongst ourselves, with folks known and not seated near us. This was the case on each morning. And there was a link for people to submit their thoughts each day also, so that the Commission received feedback. That link was open beyond the GA timeframe so that congregations working on this could respond also. The overall draft changes will be presented in the coming year and ultimately submitted for vote at GA 2023.
The bigger changes were in the Principles section. Go ahead and open a hymnal in your pew to the first pages following the Preface. There they are! Our Principles and the Sources we draw on. Jaiden will put them up on a slide for those of us at home. These principles speak to our values. The Commission is proposing something more along the lines of value statements followed by associated action statements. Through the process they have engaged they came up with seven values common among UU’s - Pluralism/Diversity, Interdependence, Equity, Generosity, Justice, Evolution and Love. And they sent us off to discuss how we might complete this sentence: "We value (fill in the blank with one of them). Therefore, we covenant to..." (say what you would do because of that particular value). The idea stresses the Commissions goal of less verbiage – we love our words as UU’s – but our heady language is not always as inclusive as we think – so less verbiage and more verbs – actions that express what we are all about. I was seated near a young couple from Pennsylvania. Together we worked on one of these, bouncing language off of one another, thinking about implications and complexity. It was fun, honestly. They were intent on submitting what we came up with and bringing this back to their congregation for further work. Engaged UU’s!
As for the Sources, next two slides - the general proposal was to get rid of the list because lists always leave something out and there will always be more to know and lea
rn from. Instead, they proposed, “As Unitarian Universalists, we draw upon and are inspired by the full depth and breadth of sacred understandings, as experienced by humanity. Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches our faith, we are inspired to ever deepen and expand our wisdom.” This is an expansion of the statement below the Sources in your hymnal – next slide - and was met with lots of discussion because it is a pretty drastic reduction in language, even if it is more inclusive in nature.
One thing that was talked about was that as Unitarian Universalists, we have an understanding of ourselves as a faith for all, that all are welcome. But our congregations and communities sometimes treat inclusion like "we" are inviting someone else to "our" party. We often resist understanding welcoming to be an invitation to evolve together. We have talked about this before here. The difference between welcome and inclusion and radical hospitality. They asked us to think about a time when we felt like we belonged. What were the components of that? All with a mind toward making our Inclusion statement truly inclusive.
As you can see, there is a lot going on! All of this is important because our by-laws are representative of who we are as people, as a faith community and a faith tradition. They speak to what matters, to what sets us apart as a unique expression of being and moving through our world. Governance is sacred work. I have believed this for a long time now.
Having come up in life through traditions that were extremely hierarchical to those somewhat less so, I very much value the opportunity that Unitarian Universalism gives me to be part of the bigger picture, to express my beliefs freely and to effect change. Since becoming a UU I have been sent off to GA as a voting delegate while a congregant, a person in a leadership role and as a minister. I have done so reluctantly in most cases because the congregations I am representing have not done any pre-work or given me a charge with regard to important votes about the face of our Association. The folks on the Fifth Principle Task Force who submitted that 2009 report were right to some extent. GA is costly and for years only those with means could actually attend. These folks became the delegates and so it wasn’t truly representative. We have come some way, especially with the advent of the pandemic and really upping our game when it comes to virtual participation, but it is still not perfect. There is more work to do for this to be an equitable and truly democratic process. Some of that is on the larger organization to make happen, but we have a role also. I want to be a part of and a minister to congregations that are engaged in our future, and I know I am not alone in this. It is a part of the shared ministry we talk about.
Today is an invitation to dive into the work at hand – here at UUMH and in the UUA as a whole. We are part of something so valuable to our times. To take for granted what we have in this tradition, to become complacent, to choose to go it alone, is to throw away the opportunity to make a real difference utilizing the values we espouse. I leave you with another question: What will we say about ourselves here on the hill in Chatham as we consider our future and that of Unitarian Universalism? Our hope rests on the answers you discern.
So may it be. Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
UUMH Chatham, August 7, 2022