25 Beacon Street Revisited
Dr. O. Eugene Pickett
The Berry Street Essay, 1987
Delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly
Little Rock, Arkansas
June 22, 1987
"I am recording here with real candor the story of some trying and joyous and perhaps in certain ways significant years…” With these words Dana McLean Greeley began his book, 25 Beacon Street, which serves as the inspiration and model for this essay. Dana continued, "I trust that to some degree I can make the love and gratitude which I feel toward my associates shine throughout the text. For me, at least half of any job is human relationships; a high percentage of the satisfactions derived must come from personal empathy and affection, or a genuinely-shared sense of achievement.”
Dana wrote, as he claimed, "with real candor.” I, in contrast, am writing with limited candor. Dana wrote, "If these reflections err in any direction, it is in recalling incidents as I remember them more than by review of the `minute book.”‘ In the spirit of Dana’s
preface, my reflections are as I remember them from a very short-time personal perspective with little attempt at historical objectivity.
Dana and Louis Cornish were the only Presidents of the AUA and UUA to publish their recollections of their years as President. Both accounts were informal, personal, and written almost immediately on their leaving office. Neither one was a best seller.
While I had known six of the leaders of our movement (four Presidents and two General Superintendents), Dana was the standard against which I irrationally tended to measure myself. I say "irrationally” because we were so very different (almost opposite) in background, experience, psychological makeup, leadership style, and volume. Dana was what I thought a UUA President should look like, act like, and sound like. In 1958 john Haynes Holmes described Dana as being "packaged” for the Presidency of the AUA. I agree with Holmes, and when I measured myself against Dana I felt quite inadequate.
On reading his book I was interested (and somewhat comforted) to learn that Dana felt his pedigree was inadequate for the job. He wrote, "My father wasn’t president of Harvard, and my grandfather hadn’t been mayor of Boston as had been the case with Samuel A. Eliot, and I wasn’t an Eliot anyway. I hadn’t married a Foote, a daughter of Kings Chapel, a daughter of the minister, and a niece of the Eliots, as had Louis C. Cornish. I wasn’t the son of a Unitarian minister, and the grandson of one, and the nephew of one, and the grandnephew of one as Frederick May Eliot had been. These were my three predecessors. I was, to be sure, a fifth-generation Unitarian, and my father enjoyed recalling that his father, as a boy, sat in the pew in back of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. My grandmother Greeley had spoken from the Arlington Street Church pulpit forty years before I did. I started attending the Annual Meetings of the Association at age 17.”
In contrast, I was not born Unitarian or Universalist. Indeed I had never heard the words until I was in college. There had never been a minister of any variety in my family. I came from a relatively undistinguished family living in a rural village, in Maryland. However, my uncle was an undertaker and my mother was a member of the state Republican Committee. I had a perfect record of attendance at Methodist Sunday School for 10 years and was made Sunday School Superintendent at the age of 14. And I never served a church in New England.
The differences in background, education, and experience were quite considerable. The differences were indicative of a change in the locus of influence within the Association. Even during the latter years of Dana’s administration the beginning of this change was apparent. Decision-making-and financial support-were moving away from Boston and New England. A fairly tight old boy network of ministers who had been the power brokers was expanding to include more outsiders. This broadening of the base of influence and power was most clearly evident in the election of 1979 when Bob West became President and in the by-law change to elect members of the UUA Board of Trustees from districts.
Some amongst us lament that our image-to say nothing of our influence and financial support-has been diminished by the loss of so-called Boston Brahmins. While famous names may have added to our prestige, they added relatively modest amounts to our capital. Both the AUA and the UCA were, for most of their existence, hand-to-mouth operations, and their endowments were exceedingly modest. Financial support of the Association up through the time of Dana’s administration came from New England. Indeed, it was even more local, for Dana could write, "I was liberal in fiscal policy, perhaps sometimes too liberal. This position might have been attributed to my temperament or my enthusiasm for the program. Or it could be that since a large portion of the Association’s funds came from members of my own church, Arlington Street Church, I felt a kind of proprietorship for those movies, or a special freedom in handling them.”
Times changed, the generations changed, our constituencies and leadership changed, but Dana’s commitment, energy, and enthusiasm never did. I shall always be grateful for his gracious and generous support of me during my time at 25 Beacon Street. In helping with our Visions for Growth campaign, even during the difficult days of his illness, he would come in to Boston and take me to meet potential large donors-Boston business persons from prominent UU families. Dana would make the introduction and then relate some family connection with Unitarian Universalism. In meeting after meeting the person would listen politely but disinterestedly and then hand us a check for a token amount. We would move on to our next appointment with undiminished enthusiasm. Indeed, times and generations had changed. And so had the leadership of our Association.
Dana writes that in 1959 he did not seek the Presidency but that someone had to do the job and he was willing to be the victim. In contrast, I did seek the job. I wanted it, and I would have been very disappointed if the Board of Trustees had not appointed me to fill the vacancy created by Paul Carnes’s untimely death.
Why did I think I was qualified to do the job? Why did I seek it, especially since I had left Atlanta and parish ministry because I wanted to be in a less pressured and demanding situation? In order to deal with these questions, let me say a bit about before 25 Beacon Street.
My ministry following theological school was a fairly typical climb up the career ladder. First I was intern and then assistant to Joe Barth in Miami, Florida. After two arid a half years I was called to a solid, stable, small church in Richmond, Virginia. This was a good, rich learning experience, and after seven years I was called to Atlanta, Georgia, which was a bit larger and had a much greater potential for growth-as well as for a larger salary.
When we arrived in Atlanta in 1962, church membership was 300. Over the next twelve years we built a new building, the church grew to 1150 members, and the average attendance on a Sunday morning was 850. This was in addition to the 200 who left and, with our aid and blessing, organized Atlanta’s Northwest Congregation. Our church school had 800 students, and we enrolled annually 1800 persons in our adult education program. We had over 40 committees and groups and, being both compulsive and controlling, I felt guilty if I didn’t attend all of their meetings.
During those years my attention and energy were focused primarily on my church and community. I was reasonably active in District affairs and half-heartedly ran for District Trustee for the UUA Board but was defeated. I had not been involved in nor did I participate in continental denominational affairs except for supporting the Annual Program Fund and attending most General Assemblies. When I was still very new in Richmond, I preached a sermon threatening to resign if the church didn’t make its Annual Fund goal. I never did that again. But not until I came to "25” and saw the larger picture did I fully appreciate that, while Atlanta was becoming a large church, a number of the large churches in the Association were becoming small churches.
I still think of Atlanta as the high point of my ministerial career It was there that I proved myself. Those were exciting, growing, and difficult years. I was never able to change my leadership style from that which was appropriate to a small congregation to that which was appropriate to a large one. However, over time I changed personally, becoming less compulsive and controlling in my behavior. I decided I wanted a change. I needed a situation that had less pressure and fewer demands on me personally.
In the spring of 1974 I had a call from headquarters. It was Bob West asking if I would be interested in a new position being created in the Department of Ministry. As Director of Ministerial Education I would work with theological students, the theological schools, and the new Council on Education for Professional Religious Leadership. The timing was right. The job description was intriguing. The idea of working at "25” was appealing. And I would enjoy working with Bob West. The Wests had been members of our Richmond congregation, and we became close colleagues and friends while he was minister in Knoxville, Tennessee. It would also be an opportunity to work with David Pohl, whom I respected greatly. Bob had three years remaining in his second term as President, so I looked on this as a four to five year interlude between churches. Well, a lot happened during that interlude.
I arrived at "25” in a state of relative innocence-concerning both what it would be like to work at headquarters and the state of the Association.
For me, personally, it was a very pleasant change. I enjoyed working from nine to five, no telephone calls during the dinner hour, and reading for pleasure instead of for sermon ideas. I even enjoyed the daily commute by train from Needham into Boston.
The mood of the Association was something else. Throughout much of the Association the mood was pessimistic, distrustful, and discouraged. There had been a great deal of divisiveness over various issues: black empowerment, gay and lesbian concerns, feminism, district structure, etc. Our membership had been declining for a number of years. Relations between the Administration and the Board of Trustees had deteriorated and were increasingly more adversarial. Traveling staff members would return from field trips exhausted and demoralized. At headquarters, budgets were being cut, staff reduced, and programs and services curtailed.
When Bob West became President, he found that the UUA had incurred a sizable debt, Beacon Press was requiring ever-increasing subsidies, and financial support from the churches was not keeping up with inflation. Bob West was President during one of the most difficult periods in the life of the Association. He had to overcome tremendous obstacles to keep the Association solvent while keeping it operating-and it operated at a surprising degree of effectiveness. He stabilized the finances of the Association and instituted personnel policies and procedures which brought order and fairness to the headquarters operation. He established a good working relationship with the Veatch Program and the North Shore Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Plandome. This helped the Association to come through its financial crises. He initiated court action to break the Holdeen Trust, which did not bear fruit until my administration. He laid the groundwork for making the IARF a viable international religious organization. I was interested to note, at last year’s General Assembly when we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the founding of the UUA, that three of the five highlights of the last 25 years occurred during Bob’s presidency.
Bob was a strong, competent administrator and exceedingly conscientious about being "on top of’ every detail of the operation. By the time I arrived at "25” he seemed to me to be worn down experiencing minimal enjoyment or satisfaction from the job. It was my impression that he was feeling very much alone-unsupported and unappreciated. I was personally fond of him and tried to be supportive and encouraging, both on the job and off. Our relationship was strong enough that I could differ with him and offer what I thought was constructive criticism. It seemed to me he was much more defensive than he needed to be. And he was not very good at building consensus or working with coalitions. He did not seek advice readily and took few into his confidence. I know he was deeply hurt by his experience at "25.” His office door was usually closed a telling symbol of his aloneness. Being President had taken a heavy personal toll.
The creation of my position and CEPRL was the last major initiative of his administration. This was an implementation of the report of the Scovel Commission, the sixth commission since merger to deal with the quality of theological education and the relationship of the Association to the theological schools. The recommendations of previous commissions had met with only limited success.
The Scovel Commission recommended, among other things, that the schools put more emphasis on the practical aspects of ministry and stressed the need for a well-structured internship program. They also stressed the importance of continuing education opportunities for ministers. With a special grant from the Veatch Program, the Council contracted with Harvard’s School of Education to develop a comprehensive internship program which would serve as a model for well-structured internships. The Council, working with the Alban Institute in Washington, D.C., and the Career Development Institute in Wellesley, Massachusetts, also instituted career development and continuing education programs, of which the new ministry start-up seminars have been the most successful.
Both Meadville/Lombard and Starr King were critical ‘of the report and both were skeptical, if not antagonistic, toward the work of the new Council. A major area of contention was the fact that the Association provided little financial support for the schools. The Council was not funded adequately and so was limited in its ability to develop new programs and was unable to provide significant financial support for the schools.
I realize that this broad stroke treatment does not do justice to the depth and seriousness of the differences and discussions that took place at the time, but the important lesson for me, which was to play a part in my presidency, was that until the Association could provide significant financial support for the schools, the relationship with the schools would continue to be strained and the Association’s influence minimal.
My greatest satisfaction came from my work with the theological students. This was the first time in many years that there had been a staff person devoting full time to working with students and theological education. Working at headquarters makes abundantly clear how crucially important it is to have the support and commitment of professional leaders if we are to have an effective and vital Association. And it became obvious that the time to begin to establish a good relationship is while the students are in theological school. Nurturing the relationship between students and Association at this stage of their development offers the best assurance that the relationship will continue to deepen and grow over the years. I chink this is proving to be the case.
After a little over a year in this position, I was followed by Leon Hopper, who made a major effort to make the Council a constructive influence, but after four years the Council was disbanded.
In 1975, because of further budget cuts, Bob West instituted a staff reorganization. The Departments of Ministry, Extension, Inter-District Program, Education, and Social Responsibility were combined into one Department of Ministerial and Congregational Services, and I was asked to become the Director. The reorganization ‘caused a major disruption at "25” and created a great deal of controversy among the professional leaders, in the Districts, and in the churches. I was dispatched to ministers’ meetings and District meetings to explain and justify the reorganization. This was the first time I had come face to face with an angry and hostile constituency. I thought there must be a better way of bringing about change and it crossed my mind that there must be a better way of making a living. I had more success with District and lay leaders than I did with our professional leaders (I was almost thrown out of a ministers’ meeting in Maine). This proved to be the beginning of a good and positive relationship with District and lay leaders that became influential several years later in my becoming President.
During this time Bob Senghas was Executive Vice President. He had recently come from successful ministries in Davis, California, and Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts. He was a very competent administrator and the principal and most trusted advisor to Bob West. It was a very difficult job with few rewards. He usually was the bearer of bad news and new regulations to the staff and the receiver of staff dissatisfactions and criticisms of the administration. The job seemed to calf forth more of his legal background than his pastoral one. He had to cope with endless details, almost never had a chance to travel, and received few strokes and tittle appreciation. This was truly a case of virtue being its own reward.
I am not certain how or from whom this "bad guy” model for the Executive Vice President came to be, but it seemed to me that it needed to be changed.
My respect for Bob Senghas grew the longer we worked together. During the transition from Bob West to Paul Carnes and then during Paul’s illness, Bob shouldered more and more responsibility. He surely deserves an unsung hero award for his devoted service to our movement.
With the election of a new President in 1977, my future at "25” was uncertain, especially since I was a member of the Executive Staff. It is not unreasonable to think that a new President would want his/her own "cabinet.” I did not know any of the three candidates well, Paul least of all. So I was preparing myself psychologically to move on.
When Paul arrived at "25” in the summer of 1977, he asked all of the Executive Staff to stay on. He had in mind no immediate or major changes in programs or structure. He undertook a fairly heavy travel schedule to raise and enhance the visibility of the Association. He made one appointment which was to have a major influence on the direction of my career and possibly on the direction of our movement. He appointed a young and relatively unknown minister from Bedford, Massachusetts, as Director of Social Responsibility. Bill Schulz had been the campaign manager for Jack Mendelsohn in the recent campaign. Bill came to "25” with fresh ideas, enthusiasm, and an impatience with bureaucratic procedures, and he and I became close friends.
Paul’s health began deteriorating, and more and more of the decision-making and program-planning fell to Bob Senghas and to me. As Paul began to talk about not running for a second term, I began to think seriously about running myself-with a great deal of encouragement from Bill Schulz. I discussed the idea with the Inter-District Representatives to get a reading on potential support from District leaders. Their response was positive. I had also received encouragement from Ken MacLean and Mary Hart, who were serving on the UUA Board of Trustees. But there was no "Draft Pickett” movement building, and many of my colleagues were hoping for a charismatic leader to emerge.
If I was going to run, it was important to be assured of Paul’s support. In one of my conversations with him, I told him I was thinking of running for President if he was not going to run for a second term. He said he would do anything he could to help me and that we should coordinate the timing of our announcements to my best advantage. Then he added that not only was he not running for a second term, he wasn’t certain he would even make it through the first term. This was in January, 1979, and he died that March. His term had been brief, but he had made a beginning at revitalizing our movement.
Since the time-frame required by the By-laws for holding an election at General Assembly could not be met, the Board of Trustees, at its April meeting, would appoint a new President to complete Paul’s term. I decided quickly that, if I wanted to be President, I could not wait until the next election. I would have to get the Board appointment, since the incumbent would have a decided advantage. I wrote a letter to the Board stating why I wished to be considered for the Presidency.
The other principle contender was Gordon McKeeman, a highlyrespected minister, a former member of the Board of Trustees, and a candidate for President in the recent election.
With the Board meeting only a month away, the time was short for organizing a campaign. I solicited letters of support from colleagues and lay leaders. Jack Mendelsohn, who had come close to winning the recent election, used his influence in my behalf and continued to be a strong supporter of my administration. But must importantly, I used every evening and week-end to phone all the Trustees and argue my case with them. By the time of the Board meeting on April 27, I had the commitment of 11 Board members, but I would need 14 votes—a majority—to be appointed. After voting procedures were adopted, nominations for President were made. Two Trustees and Gordon McKeeman and I were nominated. On the first ballot the two Trustees received one vote each, Gordon received 11, and I received 13. A second ballot was required, and I received the 14 votes necessary for appointment. Because the outcome had been so uncertain, I had prepared two sets of remarks-one in case I didn’t win and one in case I did. By the time the vote was taken, I was so nervous and my anxiety level so high that, when I began what was to be my acceptance speech, it turned out to be just the opposite-the wrong speech.
On becoming President I knew fairly well what I was getting into. Unlike previous Presidents, I knew in considerable detail and depth the financial situation, the operation of headquarters, and the tenor of the Board of Trustees. Also, I had a good reading on the dissatisfactions and expectations of our churches and fellowships.
In addition, I knew my strengths and limitations. I had always enjoyed the pastoral and organizational aspects of the ministry. I was experienced and successful in these areas. I related well to people and enjoyed working with them.
I was a strong institutionalist and knew well that the values and ideals of liberal religion could be effective and influential only if they had a vital and solid institutional base. But I also knew that we as a religious movement have traditionally been suspicious of a strong centralized Association. We have been fearful. that strength would mean power, rigidity, and control. But I am convinced that our Association can be both strong and flexible-an institution of which one can be critical while still being committed to it.
The Association has become the whipping boy for many of our discontents and dissatisfactions. We are fearful that it will attempt to put us into boxes. I think we professional leaders have a strong propensity to puttingourselves into boxes-seeing situations in terms of either/or rather than both/and. Power in our Association does not lie in being able to force people into boxes. Rather, it lies in balancing our varying needs, in honoring our diverse feelings, in reconciling our differences. I believe this honoring of diversity was on of my major strengths as parish minister and as President.
When I became President, the Association had gone through almost a decade of budget cuts and staff reductions. Many of our programs and services were in danger of becoming little more than holding actions. Religious education needed evaluation and a new direction. LRY had become almost non-existent. There was a great deal of dissatisfaction with the resolutions process. The Department of Ministry was understaffed, and the relationship with the theological schools needed attention. The District program was inadequately staffed to deliver programs and services effectively. Beacon Press was floundering. There were limited funds for extension, and we had no well-defined strategy for growth. Our fund-raising efforts had to be reconstituted. There were indeed a great many institutional repairs to be made and much building to be done.
While I knew my areas of competency, I was also aware of my . limitations. I am much more a private person than a public one. This was always a source of anxiety, both in the parish and the Presidency. I couldn’t offer a prayer in public without my notecards. Public confrontation, be it picket lines or protest marches, always :j caused sleepless nights and an unsettled stomach. A lack of self-:? confidence made me uncomfortable with the rich and famous-! not that this problem arose very often (either in the parish or in the Presidency), but it did make fund-raising more difficult. I always; thought of myself as a populist President, yet I held the office of: President in high regard, and was always sensitive to slights and:: disrespect for the office. I had a strong sense of "oughtness” and a real appreciation for the importance of the public aspect of their Presidency, and so I tried. It was not easy and not always effective, and the constant pressure took its toll.
On assuming the duties of the Presidency, one of the first orders of business was to attend to our financial situation in order to avoid further budget cuts. I immediately initiated the Friends of the UUA campaign. This was the first time we used the UU World mailing list to appeal to individuals for financial support. The Friends campaign has come to be a significant part of the Annual Program Fund. Indeed, this year the Friends campaign has raised more than half a million dollars.
During my years as Director of Ministerial Education and then Director of Ministerial and Congregational Services, I had developed a very good working relationship with the North Shore Unitarian Universalist Society of Plandome, its ministers, members, and the Board of Governors of the Veatch Program, and this relationship continued. During my first year as President, the North Shore Unitarian Universalist Society voted to establish a $20 million endowment fund for the Association. The income from the endowment would eventually replace their matching grant, which had reached almost a million dollars a year. While this did not increase our annual income, it gave the Association a degree of financial stability it had never known in its history. This was the first of two major endowment funds established by the North Shore congregation. The second, which came four years later, was a $9 million fund for theological education. I devoted a great deal of effort to seeking this funding so that the Association would be able to provide significant financial support for the theological schools and for theological education.
In 1977 our case challenging the Holdeen Trust was decided in our favor, and by 1979 we began to receive substantial funds from this source. We were able to use some of the funds for special Association programs. The largest proportion, however, was designated for use in India.
In 1983 we decided to launch a limited capital fund drive for $4 million-called Visions for Growth. In addition to the fundraising, an equally important goal was to identify and cultivate potential donors-something that had not been done for 25 years.
In six years we increased our endowment from $9 million to over $40 million, and the Annual Program Fund nearly doubled. We more than stemmed the deteriorating financial situation of the Association. Our financial health had never been better. But this, by itself, could not assure the growth and forward movement of our Association. This was only a beginning.
In the first year of my Presidency, we were faced with an additional crisis. Over the previous ten years our adult membership had declined by 35,000, and our religious education enrollment was down by 65,000. To turn our membership decline around became a top priority. There were, of course, many reasons for the decline. Some of the difficulties had been due to upheavals in the larger society. This was during the turbulent ‘70s. Most mainline denominations were also declining-even more than we. And we had been fractured by many conflicting interests and causes. We had not dealt very constructively with some of the elements of our diversity. All of this led, I think, to a malaise of the spirit. We were not feeling very good about ourselves as a movement.
When we first seriously began to raise the issue of growth, we invariably got into the argument about quality versus quantity. Even among the staff this became an issue. Some felt that getting involved in the "numbers game” would mean neglecting the quality of our faith. I had learned from my experience in Atlanta that this need not be an either/or situation. During the time of most rapid growth in Atlanta, the congregation had experienced an excitement and vitality it had never known. The quality and richness of our worship and programming were greatly enhanced. Growth gave us increased resources to draw on and work with. Since this was true for our congregation, I felt it would be true for the Association. We needed both quantity and quality.
It was also argued that if we had a "quality faith,” and if we could articulate our message clearly, then the numbers concern would take care of itself. But it was my contention that even if we expressed our message compellingly, and even if we proclaimed the best news around, we would just end up talking to ourselves unless we had a sense of mission. By mission I did not mean a message, or mission statement, but rather a compelling concern for propagating our faith (which is the definition of "mission”), a desire to share, to let other people know why our UU faith is important in our lives and what it has to offer to others.
Unquestionably, our message is important. I think we demonstrated this concern by the seriousness with which we went about restating our Principles and Purposes-another major accomplishment of those years.
While we did not achieve the amount of increase in membership that I had hoped for, we did turn our decline around and, most importantly, made growth and extension intentional.
We began to staff for growth and to provide the funds needed to expand our extension programs. Towards the end of my administration we were even able to give special attention to the plight of our urban congregations and to initiate moves towards creating congregations which would be more racially and ethnically inclusive and diverse.
Another of my first orders of business was to improve the relationship between the Administration. and the Board of Trustees.
This relationship had become increasingly adversarial. For example, the budgeting process would consume days in argumentation and, frequently, hostility. We in the Administration began by being more open in sharing information and outlining our plans. We developed closer working relationships with individual Trustees. While some disagreements remained, we moved quickly to a greater degree of cooperation and trust.
For several years the Board, at its retreats, had worked at defining the role of the Board in relation to the Moderator, the President, and the Administration. The issue was never fully resolved, and so there remained differences in expectations and ambiguity about Board responsibilities. I saw the Board’s duties as being primarily to make policy, to review program plans and budget, to evaluate the effectiveness of the organization and the administration, to represent the needs and interests of their constituencies, and to represent the Association to their constituencies. In my view, the Administration and staff should have primary responsibility for the development and implementation of programs and services. But there were differences of opinion on this matter-some members feeling that the Board should be more involved in program-planning and development. This was an area where I felt the Moderator and I differed in significant measure. While my differences with her did not affect my over-all relationship with the Board, they were a source of tension and stress for me. Though Sandy had supported my being appointed President and did support most of my initiatives, our personal relationship deteriorated over the six years, and this, for me, was one of the most difficult and unfortunate aspects of my Presidency.
Helping to move the relationship with the Board of Trustees from adversarial to one of respect and trust was one of my most satisfying accomplishments.
There is an old quip that says, "When all is said and done, there is more said than done.” But as I look back over the six years of my Presidency, which is a very short time in the life of an institution, I take great pride in what was done.
In addition to the accomplishments I have just mentioned and I want to reemphasize the importance of the restating of our
Principles and Purposes-we established a new direction for our religious education program; reorganized our youth program (YRUU succeeded LRY); revitalized Beacon Press; developed a new resolutions process; established a UU India Fund (making us one of the significant religious foundations working in India); established, in cooperation with other UU organizations, a Peace Office in Philadelphia; developed new strategies for growth; began placing additional field staff in the Districts; pressed forward with implementing the Women and Religion resolutions; conducted an Institutional Racism Audit as a way to confront racism within the Association; strengthened our professional leadership through new career development programs and better support services; reestablished in substantial ways our international ties with Unitarian Universalist groups in Eastern Europe, India, and the Philippines; and began the process of developing a new hymnbook.
While I cannot take credit for all of the things that were done, they did happen on my watch. They could not have happened without a competent and committed staff, and they could not have happened without a cooperative and supportive Board of Trustees.
My two closest advisors during this time were my wife, Helen, and Bill Schulz. Helen shared in my highs and lows, my joys and frustrations. She was my constant counselor and critic. She served as my eyes and ears, both figuratively and literally. After my cataract surgery, I could never get my contact lenses in place without her. She traveled extensively with me and was an excellent representative for the Association. In many respects it was a shared presidency and a rich experience for both of us.
Bill was a close friend and became an excellent Executive Vice President. He not only attended to the essential details of day-today operation but also was intimately involved in the development and implementation of the many initiatives we took. The period of the presidential campaign, with Bill and Sandy running hard races, was a difficult time. It was hard to maintain even the appearance of public neutrality. I felt strongly that Bill’s experience with and his ownership of much that had been undertaken would assure the continuation and expansion of the programs, under his leadership. In addition, he knew the areas in need of attention-raising our visibility, strengthening our public relations, articulating a vision of what we might become. Understandably, I was pleased with the results of the election.
The role of President of our Association is complex and ambiguous. The President serves as religious leader (which includes an important ceremonial role), as the public and at times prophetic spokesperson for the movement, as pastor-at-large, and as the chief executive officer of a small bureaucracy. There frequently is confusion in role expectations. It is all but impossible to fulfill the mixed expectations and respond to the varied demands. To complicate the picture, I found that many colleagues have difficulty in relating to those in leadership positions. Many of us like to keep our leaders in their place and can be quick with a put-down. This can be quite effective in making a person feel inadequate-especially if one already has self-doubts. To be accepted and respected by my colleagues was very important to me, and so perhaps I was over-sensitive to your expressions of disapproval. While President, I was seldom invited to ministerial gatherings. If I was invited, it usually was to be put on the hot-seat. As ministers and leaders we need, I think, to look seriously at how to develop greater trust, mutuality, and understanding among all levels of leadership.
While much of my effort was directed toward institution-building, I was well aware that the concern for programs and services, growth and financial stability would be for naught unless we did better at speaking to the quality of our religious experience and to the depth dimension of our faith. We needed to be about the task of reconstituting a Unitarian Universalism of substance and inspiration. It was with this concern in mind that we initiated at General Assemblies the President’s Colloquium on Theology. The time seemed to be right, for many of our members were expressing genuine interest in the theological dimensions of our faith.
I was not well suited to provide leadership for this task. I had always found it difficult to articulate clearly and compellingly the faith that had motivated and sustained me. But I identified with and was somewhat comforted by Whitehead’s description of depth as "the power to take into account all those factors in a situation which cannot be adequately articulated.”
What theological insights I have articulated have generally been gained in the context of very personal experiences. Those experiences---which have been nurturing and renewing, revealing and affirming-have been most intense at times of loneliness, pain, and uncertainty. I described my "wintry spirituality” in one of my General Assembly reports. This description elicited more reaction, both of concern and appreciation, than perhaps any other remarks I made while I was President. My search for a sustaining faith-or a means to salvation, if you will-as a teenager, during theological school, and in the ministry took many directions. But it was in grappling with uncertainty and ambiguity, with pain and loneliness and the mystery of death that I was to discover meaning and hope.
On thinking back on my motivation for entering the Unitarian.: Universalist ministry, I realize now that it, too, was part of my search,. for a means to salvation. By that time, I was convinced that if I-` was to be saved, it would be by way of good works anal not be grace. I find it ironical that I may yet be saved-by grace. For I have been: reflecting on Tillich’s description of grace. He says, "Sometimes a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice: were saying, `You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater: than you, and the name of which you do not know.’ If that hap.’’ pens to us, we experience grace.” Now it occurs to me that, if salvation comes, it probably will be as a small wave of light borne into.’ my darkness on a wintry wind.
Well, that’s the news from 25 Beacon Street, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the staff are above average.