UUA candidates Hallman, Morales on their top priorities and measures for success

My personal transcript of the Question One in the candidate debate of Saturday, June 28, 2008.

A link to the video file may still be available here but at present is not listed among the viewable UUA GA sessions http://s2.netro.ca/uuasscod/4059.wmv

Question One: What would be your top priorities as you begin your administration, and looking back in four or eight years, what would constitute a successful presidency?

Rev Peter Morales:

Everything that we want to do depends on our ability to grow our movement, and so that is the one great measure. And sadly, everything that we’ve tried in the last generation has not been effective. And yet I have seen in my own congregation and dozens of others who have grown very rapidly (we are one of the rapid growing congregations) that real practical stuff can transform a congregation and make it different. What we need to do as a movement is to partner with our congregations – because we will only grow when hundreds of our cong grow – what we need to do is to unleash the commitment, the idealism of the people that are already in our cong. And as I said the other enormous thing by the time four or 8 years go by we will have a plan and have implemented that plan to ensure that there are dynamic, thoughtful and diverse religious leaders for the new America that we are living into. [applause]. (182 words)



Rev Dr Laurel Hallman:

I hope you take this in the seriousness with which I say it:  My highest priority is to convince people that they need to focus in the nursercy and that they need to focus on their young people the first year out of high school. Now, let me, let me talk about that. I have one grand daughter who at the time she came to visit me along with her parents, she came to church, I wanted to introduce them in church and so I asked them to come with me into the church with her so that people would realize I hadn’t really made them up, and so they did, and I said: “And if she is fussy and you need to take her out  just take her over to the nursery. And my daughter in law looked at me like I’d said “Just throw her out on Preston Road”, she was just stunned. And of course, I introduced them, it was lovely and then in time she became fussy and her mother took her out. And she went to nursery and came back to the service at the end of the service and said: “You have a fabulous nursery”. And when she said it she held our silent beeper that we give to parents who leave their babies in the nursery. It was kind of umbilical cord to the nursery and I think it was this that meant we had that marvelous nursery. If she were not living in another city, if she were an example of a mother bringing her child perhaps for the first time, maybe the first time away from them as she went to the service – this is one way to have them come back. It means we understand the bond and we want to take care of it. The nursery is crucial and of course now it also means all kinds of things: about safe places, about clean places, about taking care of what we have and cherishing our youngest. So my highest priority – and I’m not being fascetious – is the nurseries on our congregations. And then going along with that is the first year out of high school. I know Lyle Schaller who is a consultant to religion, to congregations, says that this is one of the most important factors in the growth of the Mormon church, their young people go out into an act of service for two years that reengages or engages the young people and their parents are paying for it which reengages the parents at a time where they would leave. It brings them back into the church for a new chapter in their lives, and it’s crucial. I’ve got lots of other priorities but that will be for starters. (512 words)


[I’ll correct typos along the way]

My analysis:

Peter Morales clearly has a long track record of pushing for achievable growth that includes teaching at seminary, leading growth workshops nationwide , co-producing and participating in video manuals for growth. Having seen the two videos I assert that those ideas are cheap, imminently practical, and effective, which has also been the general feedback from congregations. I also see his second priority – to ensure we have capable ministers that are racially diverse so that they will relate to the rapidly changing demographics – as addressing a harsh reality that is not yet on everybody’s radar, but should be.

Laurel Hallman illustrates her priority – to focus congregations’ attention on providing superior nursery care to demonstrate how much we care and understand a visitor’s trust – in a great many words (512). She then cites the Mormon practice of sending young adults to do two years of missionary work as an effective glue for both the kids and the parents to the church but fails to say what the practical lesson for UUA might be. 

My take: I find Peter’s priorities on growth and developing a ministry capable of reaching changing demographics are indeed the most pressing issues, and his track record indicates he’ll be able to follow through. Laurel’s priority on the nursery: To me it is merely one valid problem that needs be addressed and has been addressed well at her large church. Adapting such superb practices to small and tiny congregations will be hard as it requires critical numbers of members, staff, rooms, and cash. The UUA has no resources to offer for this whereas a UUA field staff that fosters many cheap, tested, and adaptable ideas for growth can have a huge impact.


4 Responses to UUA candidates Hallman, Morales on their top priorities and measures for success

  1. Tracey says:

    Good transcript. I finally saw a bit of the video on some site, but the sound was awful – it is nice to read what was actually said. As a point of inquiry about your blog – are trying to remain neutral or are you completely supportive of Morales (especially since he is your minister)? I did feel Peter was much more succinct. I understood what Laurel was trying to convey, but she was not particularly clear. I did not care for her elevator speech. I think if you need to make ministerial commentary, then it isn’t too effective. Peter’s was good, but I am still not sure people would leave with an understanding of UU.

  2. juuggernaut says:

    I started this blog for general reasons but the debate over the candidacy took over. As a consequence I’ve decided to create another blog dedicated to the election where I attempt neutrality. It will soon appear at http://UUAPresidentialDebate2009.wordpress.com
    For instance, I won’t, as I’ve done here, include my own commentary in the blog post but simply juxtapose the two sides. Instead, my comment will appear as the first blog comment. That way people can come to their own conclusions and can opt to not even see my input.
    I’m confident that the facts clearly favor one candidate and disqualify another. The presidency’s second task is being the primary spokesperson and the movement’s most visible voice. Communication skills that do not rise above the level of an excellent preacher and are mediocre outside the sanctuary are not acceptable. It’s not an opinion but a fact, it’s in the job description.

  3. Larry Ladd says:

    During my tenure as the UUA’s financial advisor (1997-2005)I created the metrics that document our movement’s modest growth since 1982. I also served as a strong advocate for growth. Unfortunately, each UUA president has tried many strategies for growth and each strategy has not achieved our high expectations. It isn’t a question of should we or should we not grow, it’s a question of what new strategy might work. Laurel Hallman actually lays out a strategy that breaks with our unsuccessful past. It isn’t more tinkering with tactics, which has failed in the past. The strategy is to build spiritually strong and organizationally healthy congregations. That’s the most radical approach ever suggested! It certainly isn’t complacent or self-satisfied. As one of our ministers has commented: we need an excellence plan, not a growth plan. We will not grow until we have a “product” that is more attractive. Hallman is the radical candidate who merits your support. Larry Ladd

  4. juuggernaut says:

    To “build spiritually strong and organizationally healthy congregations” sounds more like a desire, not a strategy. There is no mechanism for a UUA president to turn a mediocre minister into a Theodore Parker or a humanist into a transcendentalist. To do that, one might have a better shot applying to be president of Starr King or Meadville Lombard.

    But most especially, there is no mechanism to turn that substantial percentage of UU congregations that do not have a strong spiritual flavor into something more attractive to ‘deep seekers’. As Peter Morales observes, at the core of the attraction of church is the need for connection. Yes, this may include the search for a deep connection to mystery, wonder, or God, but many UUs I meet (myself included) are just fine with “Einsteinian wonder” about the grandiose mystery of life, and leave it at that, thank you very much. They’re in if for the social activism, the thoughtful exploration of ethical and political issues, the community. (And no, this doesn’t make such a parish a club). This large segment of UUs may not be all that comfortable about a president who steers toward spirituality.

    That said, I applaud a focus on excellence, as I see exactly that represented in Peter Morales’ growth strategies. As he said during a recent Q&A, paraphrasing a friend in business: We don’t have a marketing problem, we have a sales problem. In that our product, as you, Larry, point out, is really not that appealing in many cases.
    Ask congregations who delved into Peter’s growth workshops and made them their own. They are all about excellence, but excellence starts with paying attention and becoming aware of the (bad) habits that have established themselves, and to care enough to change. From that starting point, real and lasting institutional change can develop, using the concrete but flexible methods developed and publicized by Peter and others. There are a lot of eminently practical things a congregation can do, if it wants to. But the beauty is that excellence is not a prerequisite for doing it. It’s all within our means to, as Peter puts it, repel fewer visitors.

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