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Crisis and Change

Crisis and Change

My Years as President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, 1969-1977

A compelling account of West's historic tenure as the second president of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Author: Robert Nelson West

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A compelling account of West's historic tenure as the second president of the Unitarian Universalist Association. In 1969, his presidency opened with an inherited financial crisis that was quickly followed by the divisive black empowerment controversy, the Pentagon Papers, the pioneering sex-education curriculum, About Your Sexuality and much more. Looking back 30 years later, West addresses the cataclysmic denominational events that occurred at the same time as the Vietnam War, the struggle for racial equality, abortion rights and civil liberties, and explores how these historical events shaped not only his presidency but our liberal religious institutions as well.

"If I were to choose only one word to characterize everything that happened during my presidency, it would be change, institutional change from the way things had been for the first eight years of the UUA's existence. I believe the years covered by the book put our denomination on track for what it would be over the next several decades."

From the Preface

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Foreword by Warren Ross
Preface
The Campaign
Financial Crisis and Organizational Changes
Black UU Caucus and Black Affairs Council
Black UU Caucus Court Proceedings
Publishing
Pentagon Papers
Identity and "Sharing In Growth" Programs
The Veatch Program and Holdeen Trusts
Civil Rights and Liberties
International Activities
Professional Religious Leadership
Associate Organizations
UUA Offices
Celebration and Contemplation
Public Relations and Social Action
Leaving
Acronyms
Acknowledgments
Index

The time of my tenure as president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations was like no other in our Unitarian and Universalist history. The years from 1969 to 1977 were a contentious time in American life as well, the momentous reverberations of which continue to echo through critical national and international events today. The UUA is a voluntary association that was formed by the 1961 consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. These two denominations dated back to the early nineteenth and late eighteenth centuries, respectively. I was elected by delegates from member congregations who meet annually in a General Assembly to conduct the Association's business. I served for two four-year terms, succeeding the denomination's first president, Dana McLean Greeley, who was in office from 1961 to 1969.

Although it has elements of both, this account is intended neither as an institutional history nor as a personal memoir. Its genesis was an invitation from the late Peter Raible, the then president of the Unitarian Universalist Retired Ministers and Partners Association, to give an address during the 2003 General Assembly reflecting on the "often turbulent and stressful years" of my two terms. To ensure the accuracy of events and dates, I reviewed all the back issues of UUA Now magazine and the UU World newspaper from 1968 to 1977, as well as many archived documents from that era. A compelling motivation for me to tell this story was the present-day lack of knowledge in our denomination about that period. If I were to choose only one word to characterize everything that occurred during my presidency, it would be change, institutional change from the way things had been done for the first eight years of the UUA's existence. I believe the years covered by this book put our denomination on track for what it would be over the next several decades. I hope the unique perspective of the president during those years can help today's members of our religious movement gain a better understanding of why some things are as they are as we progress into the future.

Praise for Crisis and Change:

"Robert Nelson West served as UUA president during, arguably, the most tumultuous times in the young life of the association. I am so happy that he has given us the story of his leadership in his own words. I hope that, some years from now, I will be as willing to tell the story of my own service. All of my living predecessors, including Robert, have told me that serving as UUA president marks you. I now know that to be true. The gift of this book is to appreciate how Robert's leadership marked this faith that we love. It is a blessing.

—William Sinkford, UUA President, 2001-2009

In the eight years he led the UUA, Robert Nelson West faced many challenges: financial crisis, institutional immaturity, unproductive polarization, anti-institutionalism among members and even governmental harassment in time of war. His conduct under fire was often heroic, but largely thankless. Now he has given us a narrative of those troubled times aimed at helping us to learn from the past, that we might yet fulfill the true promise of our faith. Unitarian Universalists owe him a great debt-one we can start to repay just by reading.

—John A. Buehrens, UUA President, 1993-2001

Crisis and Change is filled with drama and suspense and is a must-read for every professional religious leader; indeed, for anyone seeking to understand who Unitarian Universalists are and what we stand for. It will certainly make for exciting adult education classes and new member programs.

Christine M. Wetzel, minister emeritus, Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, Long Island, New York

?The UUA may not have survived without the presidency of Robert Nelson West. Here is the story of how disaster was averted. We owe it to him and to ourselves to understand and to remember this pivotal point in our history.

—Alan G. Deale, minister emeritus, First Unitarian Church, Portland, Oregon

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