New rules approved for ministers’ relationships

Members of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association Guidelines Committee drafted new language that forbids all sexual relationships between ministers and congregants.
(Christopher L. Walton)

At its annual business meeting prior to the opening of the 2013 General Assembly, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) voted to pass a new rule prohibiting sexual contact between ministers and congregants.

The rule says: “I will not engage in sexual contact, sexualized behavior, or a sexual relationship with any person I serve as a minister.” It amends the UUMA code of conduct, which means that if a minister is believed to have violated it, another minister can file a complaint against them with the UUMA.

The UUMA also voted to pass new language in its standards of professional practice to guide ministers in healthy ministerial conduct as it relates to sexual relationships.

“I’m thrilled,” said the Rev. Helen Carroll, interim minister of the UU Church of Hinsdale, Ill., and outgoing co-chair of the UUMA’s guidelines committee. Carroll said the association had been working on the changes for several years. The guidelines committee had recommended changes to the UUMA board, which in turn recommended them to the 1,700 members of the UUMA. For the past year, the membership has been engaged in studying the changes.

The vote passed overwhelmingly during the Wednesday morning meeting. The voice vote was “about 98 percent” in favor, according to the Rev. Donald Southworth, UUMA executive director.

The yearlong study process was important, said Southworth. “The study was more important than the vote,” he said.

“The UUMA’s mission is to nurture excellence in ministry. Having high standards of conduct to nurture excellence in ministry is what we’re about,” Southworth said. “Ministers are very aware of the consequences and pain of sexual misbehavior.”

The Rev. Fred Muir, senior minister of the UU Church of Annapolis, Md., who also served as co-chair of the guidelines committee, said the rules provided needed clarity for ministers.

The language the UUMA adopted may also serve as guidelines for the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee and for many congregations, which look to the UUMA in forming their own rules.

“Given all the turmoil we have seen—especially in the Catholic Church—this shows that UU ministers take relationships in their congregation seriously,” Muir said.

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