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Letter to UUMA Membership from Rev. Don Southworth

Friday, June 9, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Michelle Pederson
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June 9, 2017
Dear UUMA Members,
In my last letter to you on April 5 I wrote: "I am planning to write letters to the UUA Board of Trustees and our larger faith in the coming weeks to reflect on what I have observed up close for the last almost eight years....I will be speaking out because I believe I have a unique leadership role in Unitarian Universalism that has given me the opportunity to have both one foot in the UUA and one foot outside the UUA...I tell you this because I realize that my perspectives and reflections will not always be well-received. My commitment and promise to you is that I will be thoughtful, prayerful and keenly aware of the sacred covenant we share and do all I can to honor the role you have given me. And I'm counting on you to hold me accountable - that is tell me (I hope directly) when I fall short and when I do not."
This letter is to both share some overdue apologies with you and to let you know a decision I have made in collaboration with the UUMA Board of Trustees.
On Easter Sunday I wrote a letter to the UUA Board of Trustees, as promised. For many of you (and many of our partners across the faith) from what you have told me and/or the UUMA Board of Trustees directly and/or shared on social media, I fell short of my aspiration of honoring the role you have given me and harmed you with my words. Some of you have said that your sense of pride and appreciation for your UUMA have suffered. For this I am deeply sorry.
I have been doing work on developing multi-cultural competence and understanding anti-racism and anti-oppression realities for a long time. I continue to learn. Two important concepts have stuck with me as much, if not more so, than others:
  • Am I trying to be right or trying to be effective?
  • There is often a huge difference between intent and impact.
I see now that for many of you the impact of my letter could not have been further from my intent. In trying to be right, I was not effective. Many who read my letter felt hurt, harmed, and disempowered. For this I offer my sincere apology.
I have learned that my role and position of power in our faith - as well as my gender and race - and the timing of my letter has led to the impact of harm to those who have suffered most for our association's slow pace toward racial justice and healing. My intention was to hold the UUA Board of Trustees more accountable to their responsibilities and policies in order to make our racial justice work more lasting and effective. I want the UUA (as well as the UUMA) to be more effective in our anti-racism work than we have been in the past; and I hoped to encourage a conversation among us in which we could acknowledge our different perspectives toward the same goal and listen more deeply to each other.
The following words of apology are overdue and the reason they have taken so long to send them to you is because the UUMA Board and I have been working as hard as we can to come to some common place of understanding and agreement on the best way to respond to the concerns that have been raised. These words of apology are specifically to those who I have learned have been hurt the most by my letter.
  • My colleagues on the UUMA staff and especially my partner in ministry, Rev. Melissa Carvill Ziemer. I did not share my letter with her prior to sending it and that was a breach of our covenant for which I am doing my best to make amends.
  • My employers, the UUMA Board of Trustees. Although I thought I had been transparent with them by letting them know of my plans to send a letter, I could have - and should have - done more by sharing the letter with them and by getting more clarity on the difference (if any) in my roles as UUMA Executive Director and "private" person.
  • The volunteer leaders of the UUMA and the members of the UUMA who serve in leadership at the UUA and on the Board of trustees. For many of you my letter made your jobs more difficult and for that I apologize.
  • Our partner groups throughout Unitarian Universalism and especially DRUUMM and BLUU to whom I referred in my letter. The rich conversations I have had with leaders since my letter went out have helped me to realize that not only should I have given them the courtesy of knowing my plans in the letter in advance and given them the opportunity to ask me not to include them by name in the letter, but that I could have better understood the impact of my approach had I pursued those conversations earlier.
For the last several weeks I have done everything I can to listen to all the feedback I have received with open ears and an open heart so that I can learn and grow. I have also been working with the UUMA Board, former UUMA board member and UUMA Committee on ARAOM chair Parisa Parsa and Melissa Carvill Ziemer to better understand and implement the process named in the Board's letter from April 21. I have attempted to be available for any conversation and listen to anyone who wishes to share their feelings, both positive and negative, about my letter.
It is clear that we are in an extremely tender time in our faith and in our world. My continued hope is that my letter may bring about one of its desired effects: that we can find the space among us to enter into deeper conversations where we can listen to each other's hopes, pains, confusions and different perspectives with the grace and humility we must exhibit as religious leaders.
After listening to many of you, and through prayer, meditation and conversation with those closest to me, I have come to the conclusion that it is best for the UUMA, and for me, to end my time as your Executive Director. It has become clear that there is much healing work to be done and that my vision for the future of the UUMA and our larger faith, especially when it comes to living into our evolving multi-cultural, multi-racial realities, is different than the UUMA Board's. We have worked hard together for the last eight years, and there is still much critical work left to do to nurture excellence in ministry and adapt to the challenges of the future. It is time for new leadership to build the relationships and collaborations needed to be successful in this evolving landscape. We have had an amazing run and I will always cherish my time with the UUMA as my most meaningful ministry.
The Board and I feel it is best for the UUMA's future that I not be with you in New Orleans. I hope that those of you who will be attending Ministry Days do all you can to support the Board and especially the amazing UUMA staff. These last few months have been difficult for all of us and I'm counting on you to give them all the assistance you can as they develop plans for the future. The Board will soon be sharing details of what comes next regarding the leadership and the structure of the UUMA. My last day functioning as Executive Director will be June 30, 2017. I have offered, and the Board has accepted my offer, to provide coaching and consulting to the Board and any UUMA leaders to assist with the transition as they wish. Any transition following a founding executive director is difficult and I wish to do anything I can to help that transition succeed.
Thank you for your words of encouragement, criticism and suggestion over the years and especially in the last few months. It has been a joy leading, serving and loving you and I wish the best for you and your ministries and the UUMA.
Blessings and love,
Addendum: Some people have advised me that it could be inferred in my letter that I have had conversations with some of BLUU’s organizing leaders. I am sorry for that perception and it wasn’t my intent as the conversations to which I referred to were with with leaders and members of color within our UUMA and larger Association broadly and not specifically BLUU.



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Don Southworth, Executive Director
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