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Congregations prepare to elect new UUA president

Delegates may vote at General Assembly in June or by absentee ballot.
By Donald E. Skinner

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The 53-member First Unitarian Congregational Society of Wilton Center, tucked into the hills of south-central New Hampshire, sometimes feels a little isolated from the larger world of Unitarian Universalism. But for several hours this winter it was the center of the universe for representatives of the two candidates for the presidency of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

The Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, minister at large of First Unitarian Church of Dallas, and the Rev. Peter Morales, senior minister of Jefferson Unitarian Church of Golden, Colo., are running to succeed the Rev. William G. Sinkford. The presidential election will take place on June 27 at the UUA’s annual General Assembly, in Salt Lake City June 24–28.

A Hallman representative visited Wilton Center in January and a Morales representative went in March. Meeting with members of the congregation, including its two lay delegates, they laid out the candidates’ platforms and answered questions.

“People asked good questions and we were able to develop a stronger sense of the larger world of Unitarian Universalism and how we were connected to that,” said the Rev. Jeanne Nieuwejaar, consulting minister to the congregation. “Our sense of connection to the larger movement can be pretty slim. This reminded people that we do have an important voice in the larger movement.”

Delegates from 998 of the UUA’s member congregations are eligible to vote in the election. (Although 1,046 congregations are members of the UUA, not all of them completed the annual certification process.) Many delegates will decide how to vote at the General Assembly in June, but others will be casting absentee ballots between May 8 and June 17.

The Rev. Lisa Schwartz, minister of the 155-member Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka, Kans., sees the presidential election as an opportunity to boost smaller congregations. In November the fellowship organized a worship service that incorporated readings from both of the candidates' platforms. The following month the congregation voted to nominate Morales, although its delegates are free to vote for either candidate. Including its professional leadership, the congregation has five votes.

Schwartz wants whoever is elected to know that smaller congregations need more resources. “We have seen that the UUA has been willing to support UU development in large metropolitan areas, such as the attempt to start a new large congregation in the Dallas area,” she said, “but we haven't seen as many resources for those of us in more remote areas where there is limited UU presence.”

The Shawnee Mission UU Church in Overland Park, Kans., a suburb of Kansas City, held an informational forum on the election in March. In April the church’s 330 members were asked to vote by email on the candidates to help guide the congregation’s seven delegates. Thirty-five people voted, said former president Jim Crist. No decision had been made whether delegates will be bound by how the congregation votes. The congregation and its leaders have eight votes. (Disclosure: The writer is a member of the church.)

The Rev. Cecilia Kingman Miller said that the candidates are competing with the economy and other issues for attention this year. Miller, the interim minister of the 335-member Edmonds, Wash., UU Church, said, “I know that those from our congregation who attended the Pacific Northwest District meeting went to the candidates’ forum there, but I haven’t heard a lot of talk about it.”

“Our folks have been very concerned with the economy, including taking care of our own people who have lost jobs or are hurting in other ways,” Miller said. “And we have very few who are expecting to travel to GA, for financial reasons, so I think this has resulted in less interest than we might otherwise have.” The Edmonds church has nine votes.

The Rev. Drew Kennedy, senior minister at the 736-member First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, which, with its leadership, is entitled to seventeen votes, concurred. “We’ve been involved in a search for an associate minister and with the economy. It’s been all-consuming and we’ve hardly done a thing about the election, except for newsletter notices and announcing that both candidates will be at our district assembly meeting this weekend [April 24–26].”

Traditionally delegates from the Milwaukee congregation have been permitted to vote their conscience, he noted. “A lot of the electioneering always happens at GA, and it can be useful to give delegates the freedom to make their own decisions at the last minute. And of course we’ll absolutely make time to have the necessary conversations here before GA about the issues and the process.” Kennedy has personally endorsed Hallman.

Hallman and Morales will participate in a candidates’ forum at the General Assembly on Thursday, June 25, from 8:30 to 9:45 p.m. (Read UU World’s candidate profiles of the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman and the Rev. Peter Morales.

Voting will take place on the next-to-last day of GA, Saturday, June 27, between noon and 5:30 p.m. at a booth in the Exhibit Hall. Don Plante, meeting planner in the UUA’s General Assembly and Conference Services office, estimates that about 5,000 people will be eligible to vote, including approximately 1,000 ministers and religious educators.

Election results will be announced at a worship service at GA on Saturday evening, June 27, immediately before the Ware Lecture. A simple majority of votes is required to win the presidential contest. In the last contested UUA presidential election, in 2001, about 68 percent of eligible voters participated, Plante said.

Voting is by written ballot. Only accredited delegates from certified member congregations may vote. Ministers who are settled by a congregation and are in full fellowship with the UUA may also vote. Credentialed religious educators who have achieved Masters Level status and are employed by a congregation may also vote, as may ministers and religious educators emeritus and emerita. Three organizations that the UUA has designated “Associate Member Organizations” have two votes each: the UU Service Committee, UU United Nations Office, and the UU Women’s Federation.

Delegates may vote by absentee ballot before GA. Those ballots must be received by Paul Rickter, the Secretary of the UUA, by June 17. Absentee ballots should be mailed to Secretary, UUA, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108. Delegates who plan to attend GA can choose to vote absentee, before they come, if they wish. Absentee ballots must be accompanied by the signed ballot stub of the delegate’s credential card.

The UUA will mail delegate credentials to congregations by May 8.

Delegates will also vote for other officers and denominational committee members in the June election, but all other candidates are running unopposed.

Moderator Gini Courter is running for election to a second full term. She had been elected to her first four-year term in 2005 after serving a year and eight months of the uncompleted term of the previous moderator. (Read UU World’s candidate profile of Gini Courter.)

Financial Advisor Dan Brody is also running for reelection. (Read UU World’s candidate profile of Dan Brody.)

Delegates will also approve nominees to the UUA Board of Trustees, Commission on Appraisal, Commission on Social Witness, Nominating Committee, Board of Review, and the General Assembly Planning Committee.

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