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GA 2000 Coverage - September/October 2000

Candidates Launch Campaigns for Top Posts
By Donald E. Skinner and David Reich

Six vie for president, moderator and financial advisor

The campaign to elect a new president, moderator, and other UUA leaders moved into the spotlight at General Assembly 2000 as candidates met GA participants at candidate forums and open houses. At General Assembly 2001, in Cleveland, delegates from each congregation will elect a president, a moderator, and financial advisor. Also to be elected then are two at-large members of the UUA Board of Trustees and members of various denominational committees.

The top officers can serve a maximum of two four-year terms. UUA President the Rev. John Buehrens and Moderator Denise Davidoff are in their eighth year in office. UUA financial advisor Lawrence Ladd was elected to his first term in 1997 and is running for reelection in 2001. To date all UUA presidents have been ministers, and all moderators have been laypeople, but the only requirement for either office is that the candidate belong to a UUA member society.

Though the deadline for nominating petitions is next February 1, already several candidates are vying for the top offices. Three people, all UUA staff members based in Boston, are running for president--the Rev. Diane Miller, director of the UUA's Department of Ministry; the Rev. Lawrence Peers, UUA extension education and research director; and the Rev. William Sinkford, director of the UUA's Department for Congregational, District, and Extension Services.  Candidates for moderator are Diane Olson and Patsy Sherrill Madden, lay leaders from Scottsdale, Arizona, and St. Louis, Missouri, respectively. The moderator, the association's highest-ranking volunteer, serves two main functions: chairing the UUA Board of Trustees and presiding over GA plenary sessions.

So far, Ladd is the only candidate for financial advisor. The financial advisor provides the president, board of trustees and General Assembly with an independent and expert evaluation of financial issues and the fiscal health of the UUA.

Candidates must raise their own campaign funds, says the Rev. Wayne Arnason, who, as secretary of the UUA Board of Trustees, oversees election procedures. He adds that disputes among candidates are resolved by the UUA Election Campaign Practices Committee.

The winning candidates will take office at the close of the 2001 GA. Each congregation has as many votes as it has GA delegates, based on membership. Congregations that send no delegates to GA, or fewer than entitled, may exercise their remaining votes for top officers by absentee ballot.

The candidates will make many personal appearances around the continent before GA 2001. In addition, each candidate for president and moderator has a webpage. The election site also includes video of forums with the presidential and moderator candidates at the 2000 GA, in Nashville. Go to for the presidential forum and 532.html for the moderators' forum.

At the presidential forum, held the last day of GA, Miller differentiated herself from her opponents by pointing to her long experience as a parish minister. She also called for "more public vision for the movement" and "a shift away from behaving like small, family-size organizations with limited entry points, which hinders our work toward diversity."

She compared the current system for electing UUA presidents to the recently ended Mexican tradition whereby a president designates his successor. She didn't specify which candidate in the current field, if any, had been designated to succeed the current UUA president.

Peers opened by suggesting that UUA leadership has done a poor job of listening to the voices of church members and said, "Listening and learning is a style of leadership that's natural to me." He called for a change in direction for the denomination "from spiritual anemia to spiritual deepening, from self-absorption to engagement with communities, from top-down and pseudo-participatory to utilizing many sources of expertise."

As for experience, he said his 13 years in ministry and his work before that as a nonprofit administrator were more important than his position on the UUA organizational chart.

Sinkford cited his years as a lay congregational leader, saying such experience was critical for a UUA president, and noted that in his UUA position he manages "the largest staff group and budget in the association." He said that as president he would focus energy on public witness, pointing out that the denomination's "last big growth was grounded in the public witness of our ministers in the McCarthy Era and the civil rights movement." And he promised to put religious education at the center of a Sinkford administration and find ways to retain youth and young adults.

At the moderator candidates' forum, Madden cited her 34 years of experience in nine congregations and her role as vice president of the UU Women's Federation and as a participant in two interfaith projects in St. Louis. She said, "I have filled probably all the roles that you have filled, taking out trash, making coffee, taking notes, keeping the faith."

Olson noted that she has been chair of the GA Planning Committee for four years, where she has helped opposing groups arrive at agreements. "As your moderator," she said, "I hope that we will work to create a more connected, vibrant community, to stay at the table in the face of differences, to live our values for all to see."

In another development at GA, the delegates approved a resolution calling on the UUA Board to appoint a task force that would recommend changes to improve the nomination and election process and in particular to make it less expensive and time-consuming.

Diane Miller
In 1993, after 17 years of parish ministry, the Rev. Diane Miller became director of the UUA ministry department, which provides services (from theological education through retirement) to ministers and ministerial candidates in the area of scholarships, internships, fellowship credentials, interim and settlement services, continuing education, finances, pension plans, insurance, and ministerial-congregational relations. The department also conducts the annual Service of the Living Tradition at General Assembly.

Miller began her career as interim minister of the Follen Church Society in Lexington, Massachusetts (1975-76), followed by five years at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco (1976-81) and 12 years as senior minister at the First Church in Belmont, Massachusetts (1981-93). The Belmont congregation doubled in size during her tenure.

"I will bring to the presidency the insights of 25 years in ministry," Miller says, "with an understanding of the joys and sorrows, the struggles, the accomplishments, and all that characterizes life in religious organizations. I know how congregations work and the challenges clergy and lay leaders face. Those churches I served have flourished. I have no doubt the UUA will flourish under my leadership, as well." Miller gives part of the credit for her success as a minister to colleagues and lay leaders, saying, "Collaboration is key to religious community."

Miller, who was active in Liberal Religious Youth during high school, grew up in a Methodist family of eight that switched to the Universalist church in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1961. Her call to ministry (it was unmistakable, she says) came during her undergraduate days at Macalester College. Her master of divinity degree is from Harvard. In 1996 Starr King School for the Ministry awarded her an honorary doctorate of sacred theology.

Envisioning the future, Miller says: "We must fulfill the imperatives for worship, justice, service, and community inherent in our liberal religious tradition. My leadership will focus on increasing our size, visibility, diversity, and resources, the better to change ourselves and this world.

"In the last few years," she observes, "we have increased the size of our professional ministry to the greatest numbers ever--with 1,493 ministers in fellowship. This makes it possible for us to realize our greater potential. The next step is for more ministers to take public roles as visible leaders, putting forth the UU perspective."

Miller serves as a member of the UUA's Executive Staff Council and as executive secretary of the UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee. She has also served on the Affirmative Action for Women in Ministry Task Force in the 1970s, as a volunteer staff member at the Common Ground Conference that launched Young Religious UUs, and on the committee that drafted our purposes and principles in the 1980s.

She lives in Belmont, Massachusetts, with her husband, Michael Durall, and their two teenage sons. Both sons have been active in religious education, music, and youth programs. Durall, a fund-raising consultant to nonprofit organizations, wrote the recently published Creating Congregations of Generous People (Alban Institute).

Miller's supporters include the Rev. Barry Andrews, the Rev. Dianne Arakawa, the Rev. Mark Belletini, Millie Mullarky, Natalie Gulbrandsen, the Rev. Adele Smith-Penniman, and the Rev. Rhys Williams. Miller's campaign website is at

Lawrence Palmieri Peers
The Rev. Lawrence Peers has been the extension education and research director at the UUA for the past nine years. In this capacity he has led trainings, consultations, and conferences for hundreds of congregations across the continent on topics like congregational growth and development. The primary writer and editor of the UUA's Congregational Handbook (1994 edition), he serves on the adjunct faculty of Starr King School for the Ministry and is a founding member of the Latino/a Unitarian Universalist Networking Association (LUUNA).

"It is not enough to ask, 'How can we do what we are already doing just a little bit better?'" says Peers. "As your president, I will lead by asking us to think more imaginatively and to act more powerfully than we usually do. Within the UUA I have pioneered a model of working in a cross-departmental and spiritually grounded way." As a consultant to a Lilly Foundation-funded project, Peers will share this approach to denominational work with executives from 12 Protestant denominations.

If elected UUA president, Peers says he is committed to the following:

  • The spiritual vitality, growth, and ministry of our congregations
  • The development of innovative and coordinated worship, lifespan religious education, outreach, and social ministry resources, in print and online
  • The training and support of our professional religious leaders
  • A focus on living out rather than talking out our social justice commitments through social ministries that congregations do in communities and on college campuses
  • New congregations and ministries that can increase our theological, cultural, generational, economic, and ethnic diversity
  • A "networked" rather than a "top-down" organization, using regional and continental conferences, electronic communication, and teleconferencing to help congregations learn from each other and share best practices
  • Support for congregations in their efforts to train and develop lay leadership
  • Regularly and systematically evaluated UUA programs that serve actual congregational needs.
Peers says, "The work of the next UUA administration must emerge out of a deliberate process of directly connecting with our congregations and learning from them."

With dual fellowship as a parish minister and a minister of religious education, Peers was a minister at First and Second Church in Boston, religious educator at First Unitarian Society in Newton, Massachusetts, and youth programs director at Cedar Lane Unitarian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, before he joined the UUA staff. He has also been a coordinator of a nonprofit agency. His doctor of ministry degree in congregational studies is from Hartford Seminary. He has master's degrees in theology and in clinical psychology and is a doctoral candidate in organizational change at Pepperdine University.

Peers is a member of Arlington Street Church, Boston, and lives with his partner, Joe Byers, a playwright and editor, in the Boston area.

His campaign comanagers are the Rev. Roy Phillips, former minister of Unity Church-Unitarian, St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Rev. Alma Faith Crawford, cominister of Church of the Open Door in Chicago. For more information about the Peers campaign, see the website.

William Sinkford
The Rev. William Sinkford, candidate for UUA president, found Unitarian Universalism at age 14. Welcomed into the youth program of a Cincinnati church, Sinkford says the church saved his life. "I found, as a young black man, a place where I could bring my whole self," he says. "That congregation, and our youth movement, nurtured me."

Sinkford, in turn, nurtured the dream of becoming a UU minister. But he says that as the denomination retreated from racial justice issues in the early 1970s, he left the movement, which he felt had betrayed him, and gave up thoughts of becoming a minister. Instead, he entered the corporate world, becoming a marketer for a large consumer packaged goods company. Later, Sinkford built and directed a real estate development business in both Cincinnati and Brooklyn, New York, and worked as a building contractor.

In his mid-30s, he returned to Unitarian Universalism, thanks to an act of kindness by a member of his former church."My mother had just died," he explains, "and an old friend showed up on my porch with a really bad casserole and stories of my mother that allowed me to start grieving." That simple act, he says, helped him reclaim his faith.

With his family, he joined the First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati, serving as a trustee, as head of the religious education committee, and chair of building and grounds. At an NAACP dinner that he attended with the Rev. Marilyn Sewell--then interim minister at his church--Sinkford's old dream revived. Sewell asked him if he'd ever considered a career in ministry. "At that moment," he recalls, "I knew what I'd be doing the rest of my life."

Sinkford enrolled at Starr King School for the Ministry in 1992. He joined the UUA staff in 1994 and earned his M.Div. in 1995, the same year he became director for congregational, district and extension services.

As Sinkford pursues the UUA presidency, he has focused on several goals. Among them:

  • Helping make the denomination more visible. "Public witness can be a significant growth strategy," he says. "The hurting world in which we live desperately needs our liberal voice. Key to that strategy is equipping congregations to live out such public witness in their own communities."
  • Providing more support to congregations. Sinkford cites the UUA newsletter InterConnections as an example of the practical help that congregations need. He recommends more weekend and day-long leadership trainings for lay leaders.
  • Keeping young adults in the faith. "Ours is the only faith community I know that expects its young people to leave," Sinkford says. He calls for an expanded UU campus presence through recruitment of coordinators, who would receive small stipends; expanded service opportunities for youth and young adults; and support of YRUU and C*UUYAN.
Sinkford lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has two children, Billy, 18, and Danielle, 15, and is separated from his wife. His supporters include Denise Davidoff, UUA moderator; the Rev. Bill Hamilton-Holway, cominister of the UU Church of Berkeley, California; and the Rev. Galen Guengerich, minister of the Unitarian Church of All Souls, New York, New York. His campaign website is at

Patsy Madden
In the late 1970s Patsy Sherrill Madden and her husband were raising two small boys, she was working full-time outside the home, and he was traveling frequently. She was approaching burnout, she says, when she discovered a flyer at her church announcing General Assembly.

"I took one look, put my name in the delegate pot, and have never looked back," says Madden. "What a wonderful thing I did for myself that year. I came home refreshed, renewed--with my batteries charged. My children told me I should do that again--because it made me happy. Good advice from six- and ten-year-olds. So the next year and the next and the next, my name went into the pot. I changed churches--again and again and again--and still went to GA to recharge those internal batteries."

Madden and her husband, Richard, of St. Louis, Missouri, have been UUs for 35 years and members of congregations from California to Germany, including three congregations they helped start. Their two sons, Brad and Barrett, now grown, remain UU. Madden--who says she has spent her professional career consulting with others on effective speaking, listening, meeting-planning, team-building, goal-setting, long-range planning, process improvement, presentation, and executive and management coaching--works as director for organizational development of an electric utility, leading process improvement teams, management training, and strategic planning. She previously did consulting work in communications, team building, management, process improvement, facilitation, and negotiations. She spent five years as a consumer arbitrator and has umpired Little League baseball.

Madden has chaired the UUA General Assembly Planning Committee, the Commission on General Assembly Resolutions, the Central Midwest District Executive Search Committee, and the federal court-appointed monitoring and advisory committee for the St. Louis schools' desegregation plan. She has also led the St. Louis Area Council of the Central Midwest District and the Leadership School for Parents and Volunteers, St. Louis Public Schools, and is currently serving as vice president of the UU Women's Federation.

Madden, who has a master's of business administration from California State University, San Bernardino, says, "I have spent a lifetime in training and learning and then passing along the skills necessary for the moderator position. I think it is important that I offer this skill set to the association. I have taken this religion to heart, and my family and I have always tried to live the tenets of UUism. Because it has given me so much, I want to give back just a bit of what I have received over the years.

"It is my hope that as moderator, I can help others achieve the depth of dedication and calling that I have for this, our UU world. I believe deeply in the necessity of a UU voice in our greater community that calls people to thoughtful action on issues of social justice, human dignity, and spiritual understanding."

Madden's supporters include Carolyn H. Lavender, who has served on and chaired the UUA Nominating Committee; Philip J. Rutledge, a member of the President's Council; and the Rev. John Marsh, cominister at the First UU Society of San Francisco.

For more information, see Madden's website at

Diane Olson
Diane Olson's work on Fulfilling the Promise and the  Journey toward Wholeness, the UUA initiatives on recovenanting and antiracism, inspired her to run for UUA moderator.

Olson, from Scottsdale, Arizona, has served on the General Assembly Planning Committee since 1993, including four years as chair. This makes her the only person to be elected to more than two terms as chair. She says, "When I was elected to the General Assembly Planning Committee in 1993, I had not even thought of standing as a candidate for a future elected position. But the work I have done over the last seven years in helping to plan our annual General Assemblies and in working collaboratively with the leaders of our association has compelled me to be a candidate for moderator.

"My vision for our religious community in the next decade is a simple one. As moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association, I would be committed to continue the compelling work being done throughout our association in exploring how we might fulfill our promise.  "I am equally committed to continue our Journey toward Wholeness efforts to create a religious community that is antiracist and multicultural. I see our Journey toward Wholeness as an integral part of fulfilling the promise of our free religious faith. I believe we must work harder to nurture the sustained presence of our youth and young adults, and we must nurture collaborative relationships at every level of our denomination.

"Through these commitments we can develop even more courage to speak our own truths, to listen sacredly to one another, to see our diversity as enhancing and not as divisive, and to stay at the table in the face of difference. We can develop more vibrant relationships in our congregations and more vibrant and values-oriented connections throughout our larger faith community. In doing so we live our religious values for all humankind to see, we strengthen our connections with one another, and we grow as a denomination."

Olson's supporters include the Rev. Susan Suchocki, chair of the Journey toward Wholeness Committee; Leon Spencer, past UUA board member from the Thomas Jefferson District; and June Gillespie, past UUA board member from the Metro New York District.

In 30 years as a UU, Olson has belonged to four congregations, two of which she served as president. She has also served as chair or in other leadership positions for five major fund-raising events for the Phoenix Art Museum, raising more than $50,000 each time, and coordinator of volunteers for a 1992 congressional race and for the 1988 General Assembly in Palm Springs, California. As development council coordinator for the Junior League of Cleveland, Ohio, she directed a funding process that granted $250,000 to establish an inner-city extended day care program and a job-training program. She is a member of the President's Council, which advises the UUA president.

Olson has been married for 33 years to Bob Olson, a Phoenix law firm partner. They have two young adult sons, Jeff and Chris. She earned a B.A. in political science from Indiana University in 1965 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1964. You can visit her campaign website at

Larry Ladd
Larry Ladd, elected UUA financial advisor in 1997, is running for reelection to a second four-year term. As financial advisor, he serves as a member of the UUA Board of Trustees and its executive, finance, and administrative organization and personnel committees. He is also a member of the investment committee, the congregational properties and loan commission, the committee on compensation, benefits, and pensions, the Fulfilling the Promise committee, the ministerial scholarship committee, and the UUA President's Council. In 1998, he chaired the UUA Board's ad hoc task force on church staff compensation.

Ladd has previously served on the UUA Commission on Appraisal, on the board of the Connecticut Valley District, and in 1968 and 1969 as continental president of Liberal Religious Youth, the predecessor of YRUU.

Ladd is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which he served as treasurer and investment committee chair, and a friend of the Universalist Meeting House of Provincetown, Massachusetts. He belongs to Interweave, the UU Historical Society, and the UU Christian Fellowship. His wife, the Rev. Susan Cartmell, is senior minister of the Congregational Church of Needham, Massachusetts, a 950-member church affiliated with the United Church of Christ. They have three children, Jonathan, 21, Elizabeth, 17, and Sarah, 14.

Professionally, Ladd is the practice leader for consulting services to not-for-profit organizations for Grant Thornton LLP, the sixth-largest accounting and consulting firm in the US. He formerly was director of budget and financial planning at Harvard University, chief financial officer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and dean of administration at Tufts University.

Ladd says, "The financial advisor is elected by the General Assembly to serve as your best assurance that the UUA is behaving in a fiscally responsible manner. The advisor provides the president, board of trustees, and General Assembly with an independent and expert evaluation of financial issues and the fiscal health of the UUA. The advisor also recommends changes that will improve the quality of fiscal planning and management of the UUA.

"Since 1997, I have labored to provide responsible and knowledgeable financial advice and information. I've created the UUA Financial Monitor [web page], a variety of other statistical information, and a statement of standards for good financial performance." This material is accessible to all Unitarian Universalists at the website

"I have pushed to get the annual audit completed in a timely fashion," Ladd continues, "to restructure our debt, to improve our information technology infrastructure, to budget our revenue conservatively, and to have the proposed budget accompanied by a clear written explanation of its priorities. I am proud to have participated in the substantial growth of the UUA's assets, including exceptional endowment performance; in the establishment of a single retirement plan for church staff using Fidelity; and in establishing recommended standards and a recommended vendor for church property and liability insurance. I'm now participating in a review of our socially responsible investing policies.

Candidates for UUA president and moderator will appear at forums across the continent. Click here for a list.

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