Saturday, February 19, 2011

Why I am Called to Write on the PCD Firing

"They have taken my church from me." These are the words of my wife, a lifelong UU and a member of the PCD Board, in response to the events of the last five months.

I write because it is a moral issue.

I write because I am angry at the harm caused by the UUA and the ministers to a set of dedicated, long-serving laity.

I write because, for the members of the PCD Board and those close to them, these events have been a crisis of faith.

The PCD Board members are not some random cranks. They are twelve people who have been chosen as leaders in their own churches - seven have been a congregational president, nine have been members of search committees. More than half have been members of committees on stewardship, ministerial relations, and membership. On average they have been a UU for 30 years - an aggregate of over 360 years of UU experience across the twelve board members. This is a deep, committed pool of leaders. They understand how church works, and people like them are the ones that make church work. If you are a lay person reading this, they are you.

But now, many are uncomfortable attending worship and other church activities. Many also felt the need for pastoral support, yet most felt uncomfortable asking their own minister for such support. I myself cannot do so. Another measure of this crisis is that several of the members of the board do not expect to continue in their own congregations and do not see how they can remain UUs. One board member has already quit the board and resigned from his church.

How did this happen? Why would this group take a public position opposing the UUA's decision to fire the District Executive? It's simple and sad. Some at the UUA wanted to fire Cilla, and a few ministers had long-standing grievances. The rest of the ministers gave them the tool they needed.

Cilla is no saint. She is a perfectionist, and not afraid to express her opinion. That may not make for a warm and fuzzy working relationship, but those are qualities I want on my team at work. And that this what the District Executive is - a co-worker and a colleague. She is not their minister, and she is not there to support the ministers. She is there to support the congregations.

UUA staff told the PCD Board that they wanted to get rid of Cilla. When the PCD Board resisted, the UUA staff person, herself a minister, went to the PCD ministers. The ministers became an instrument of the UUA's will. Some among them led, the rest followed in solidarity.

Clerical solidarity has a long and sometimes inglorious history. It's a Unitarian tradition - when I read about Theodore Parker being shunned by the other ministers in Boston I wrote All the Other Ministers. (And don't even ask about our Puritan forebears - the culture runs deep.)

Under the UUMA's rules, they will not disclose what they call the compelling stories of their peers. But after the letter, some ministers described their complaints to the PCD Personnel Committee. Their testimony was weighed and found wanting. There were some problems in working relations, but nothing that rose to the level of firing. The deeds and attitudes of the ministers are profoundly disillusioning. This caused me to think about ministers and their role, and I wrote On Clergy.

I am not greatly disillusioned by the UUA hierarchy in Boston. They are a bureaucracy, doing what bureaucracies do. My only desire for them is that we should stop funding them - I cannot tell what useful things happen with their $20 million per year. I am, however, disappointed in Peter Morales, who did not slow or stop the process after a direct appeal by PCD Board members.

But the degree to which the ministers view their action as something they had to do, and now as just something to paper over, is disillusioning. They say that they didn't fire her - it was the UUA. But what did they think would happen with a letter requesting a new district exec? Their request for Cilla's removal is the reason for her firing. But now they suggest that we cannot talk about it because it is a "personnel issue" that must remain confidential, and we must all move on. I suggest that it is a conflict of values, and the crisis was caused by them.

I used to see ministers as a source of moral authority, and as partners in building our churches. I was not anti-clerical. I look at UU ministers differently now. They have an explicit covenant with other ministers that keeps the rest of us out. Their Code of Conduct has many words about accountability and process between ministers. If Cilla had been a minister, all these would have applied; but she is not. So the ministers have one standard for dealing with themselves, but nothing for the rest of us.

The ministers talk a lot about covenant. The traditional Covenant was with God. I do not believe in God (and don't ask me to describe the God I don't believe in, it's unbelief all the way down.) So I cannot be in covenant with God. But I have fealty to certain ideals, including Truth, Justice, and Mercy. The action by the UUMA was none of these.

Both Unitarians and Universalists started in Christianity. Theodore Parker's wish was to separate out the permanent Truths of Christianity from its mystical trappings. We have moved beyond our Christian roots; we must not leave behind Jesus's ideals. We must not accept anything lower than the standards set by Jesus: love your neighbor as yourself; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Ministers, as doctors to the soul, should also be guided by the medical maxim, First do no harm.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble." (Luke 17:1-2)

Kyrie, eleison.


  1. Bill: The UUA's formal announcement consisted of a email to the District Presidents. I posted that announcement in my reply to your response on "The PCD Board's Statement. (

    Beyond that annoucement, I'm guessing that UUA's lawyers have told to stay silent.

    The ministers continue to tell everyone that it was justified and necessary for the good of the district.

  2. If it will make you feel better Tom, UUA President Peter Morales is on record as describing 25 Beacon Street as a place that "reeks of privilege and hierarchy". . . You are right on the money in some of your observations about U*U ministers and the UUMA AFA*I*AC and I speak from direct personal experience, and plenty of ongoing observation, of "less than perfect" U*U clergy.

  3. these are the reasons that the UU group is not growing. you need to be a role model for your values to gain growth and support.

    I relate to your comments about a crisis of faith. we have had similar situations in our district, and in our church.

    End result, is my husband and I are strongly considering resigning from membership after 20 very committed years of service at all levels in the church and district.

    I'm sorry for your loss and pain, and for those of the other folks involved with this mess.

  4. @Anonymous: I have heard several times about people becoming disillusioned after years of being UUs. I'm sort of collecting these, trying to figure out the pattern of what we're doing wrong. If you wish, e-mail me directly on the address shown on the blog page; anything you send will be confidential.