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Meet a trustee: Clyde Grubbs

The Rev. Clyde Grubbs brings history of activism, ministry to UUA Board of Trustees.
By Michelle Bates Deakin
8.29.11

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The Rev. Clyde Grubbs

The Rev. Clyde Grubbs, a newly elected UUA trustee at large, has a particular interest in governance issues. (Nancy Pierce)

This article is the first in a series of profiles of UUA trustees.

In 1961, Clyde Grubbs attended the first assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association as a member of Liberal Religious Youth.

Fifty years later, as the UUA marked its 50th anniversary, the General Assembly elected the Rev. Clyde Grubbs as a member of its Board of Trustees.

He brings to the position a range of perspectives. Grubbs, a lifelong UU, is a former parish minister who now serves in community ministry. He is also a Cherokee and serves as co-president of DRUUMM (Diverse and Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries), a UU organization for people of color.

Grubbs has a particular interest in governance issues. “Governance is the way we create goals together and hold ourselves responsible for those goals,” said Grubbs. “I can contribute to that because I have pretty deep ties with important sections of the UUA—the people of color community, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association and a lot of ministers, and I’ve served congregations in several parts of the country.”

He has ministered to congregations in Indiana, Texas, Florida, and California, in addition to Québec, Canada. Grubbs lives near Boston now, in Revere, Mass., but he believes his experience serving congregations around the country helps him bring to the board a sensitivity for the needs of congregations in very different places.

Grubbs was not actively seeking a seat on the Board of Trustees. Instead, he was helping to recruit board members, asking UUA volunteers if they would consider serving on the board. People repeatedly told him that he should consider taking a seat on the board himself. Grubbs heard the suggestions often enough that he did finally put his own name in for consideration.

Now that he is a community minister, Grubbs finds that he has more time than when he was in parish ministry to commit to the time-consuming work of the UUA board. His community ministry centers on working with congregations interested in immigration and anti-racism issues. He also dedicates time to coaching ministers and seminarians. “I consider it important to use part of my time, both as a UUMA leader and as a minister, to help the young people of color coming up in leadership,” he says.

The number of UU ministers of color has changed radically since he was ordained in the mid-1990s, said Grubbs, who wears his long, white hair pulled back into a thick ponytail. “Then we could all fit in a telephone booth,” he said. “Now we need a room for hundreds of people. It has changed, and it’s a good change.”

Prior to being elected to the board, Grubbs served on the General Assembly 2012 Accountability Group, which is charged with ensuring the participation of historically marginalized groups in the UUA’s 2012 Justice GA in Phoenix, Ariz. (Since joining the board, he stepped down from the committee and a new member of DRUUMM replaced him.) As a Cherokee, he has long thought about immigration issues. “I’ve talked about immigration from the point of view of Native Americans,” he said.

Until he was 10, Grubbs grew up in a Cherokee community in Texas. He notes that there are whole nations on both sides of the U.S. borders with both Canada and Mexico. “There are not many Native Americans in Canada and the U.S. that don’t understand the concept that the borders have been imposed on us,” he said. “Many of the people coming across the border from Mexico are indigenous people to America. They didn’t cross the border. The border crossed them.”

Ministry was a second career for Grubbs, though he had briefly enrolled in seminary in his early 20s after he graduated from San Francisco State University. “I was probably too young for the ministry, but I didn’t know it at the time,” Grubbs said. After a short stint at the Crane Theological School at Tufts University in the 1960s, Grubbs went to work in the antiwar movement, organizing campus protests against the Vietnam War. He recalls having difficulty communicating with adults at the time. “I wasn’t patient with the older generation. They were supporting the war and saying we had to go slow in race relations,” he recalled.

After the war, Grubbs continued his organizing work, in antiracism, the labor movement, Chilean solidarity, and with the Boston Indian movement. He also became a college history teacher, and he joined the Arlington Street Church in Boston, where a series of conversations with the then-new minister, the Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie, put him back on a path to theological school.

“There was a broad contention at Arlington Street and within the social justice movement in the ’70s toward the idea of building beloved community, and that was something I felt I was good at,” said Grubbs. “I may not have stopped any wars, and people are still divided racially, but the individuals involved have better self-esteem and have become empowered through the work.”

Grubbs enrolled in Andover Newton Theological School, and graduated in 1994. He began his parish ministry work, and he married the Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley. Bowens-Wheatley worked for both the UUA and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, and she and Grubbs were co-ministers at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, Tex. Bowens-Wheatley died in 2006. “Marjorie is an important part of my story,” said Grubbs. “Many people who know my name would associate me with her.”

Now in his late 60s, Grubbs remarried in 2011. His wife, the Rev. Michelle Walsh, is a community minister in Boston. He feels a sense of surprise that people now seem to consider him an elder. He takes seriously his role in mentoring young people and young ministers. “I have a multi-generational view,” Grubbs said, noting that he prays each morning to his ancestors from previous generations.

To his work with the board, Grubbs carries a strong interest in keeping the board in good relationship with the UUA’s member congregations. He will work on the board’s Governance Working Group and on the Investment and Socially Responsible Investing committees.

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