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UUA Honors Courage and Long Service

Arlo Smith surprised the members of his Boy Scout troop who had helped him complete a wheelchair-safe evacuation ramp for his Eagle Scout service project by canceling his Eagle Scout award ceremony earlier this year.

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Smith, who attends the Unitarian Universalist Church in Shoreline, Washington, had completed all the requirements for Scouting's highest rank. But after studying the continuing controversy about the Boy Scouts' refusal to recognize the UUA's "Religion in Life" award, the 18-year-old chose not to receive his Eagle. Since then, Smith and his minister, the Rev. Thomas Anastasi, have spoken publicly about the Unitarian Universalist values — including a commitment to gay rights and religious freedom — that inspired his decision.

At the General Assembly in Cleveland, Smith was honored with the "Unsung Unitarian Universalist Youth Award" in acknowledgment of his "outstanding act of conscience."

Other recipients of major awards given at this year's General Assembly:

Ken Noble, a longtime member of the Unitarian Church of South Peal, Mississauga, Ontario, received the Unsung Unitarian Universalist Award. His decades of service included 15 years as chair of his church's property committee, which transformed a rundown building into a wheelchair-accessible, air-conditioned, well-maintained facility. The Unsung UU Award is given to someone whose service has been exceptional, but who has gone relatively unrecognized.

Robert Lavender received the President's Award for Volunteer Service. Lavender was UUA financial advisor from 1981 to 1989, chaired the UUA Committee on Ministerial and Church Staff Compensation, and twice led committees reviewing Beacon Press. Lavender is a member of the Unitarian Church of Westport, Connecticut.

The Rev. Elizabeth Boyd Stevens received the 30th annual Angus H. MacLean Award for Excellence in Religious Education. Stevens, who is minister of religious education at the First Church and Parish of Dedham, Massachusetts, has served on numerous boards and committees including the UU Ministers Association Executive Committee and the Liberal Religious Educators Association board.

The River Road Unitarian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, received the O. Eugene Pickett Award for outstanding contributions to the growth of Unitarian Universalism. The church is actively co-sponsoring a new local congregation, assisting its Transylvanian partner church, and providing financial support to its district campus ministry program. Fifty percent of the church's 700 members participate in the district Chalice Lighter funding program — and the church asks members to pledge not only to the operating budget, but to the church's social justice outreach program as well.

 Photo by Nancy Pierce: The Rev. Dr. William R. Jones
The Rev. Dr. William R. Jones thanks the Assembly for the Distinguished Service Award, the UUA's highest honor. Photo by Nancy Pierce.
The Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism, the highest honor given by the UUA, was presented to the Rev. Dr. William R. Jones during Saturday's plenary session. Jones, now professor emeritus of religion at Florida State University, was recognized for his vigorous critical assessment of the enduring structures of racism. Calling him "one of our movement's foremost religious thinkers and social critics," outgoing UUA Mid-South/Florida District trustee Margaret Sanders, who presented the award, said Jones "has helped to goad our conscience and sharpen our thinking, and taught us to endure in a Sisyphean labor" to eradicate racism.

The author of Is God a White Racist? and many other works, Jones taught at Yale Divinity School before becoming professor of religion and the first director of black studies at Florida State University in 1977. Ordained to the Unitarian ministry in 1958, Jones has served as a member of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, as a trustee of the Starr King School for the Ministry, and for five years as a UUA trustee-at-large.

Jones told the delegates that the honor held "very special meaning for me," but he added, "It comes at an agonizingly awkward juncture of my journey with this faith community." He said that he resigned from the UUA Board "because I found it impossible to do what I think is necessary to encourage your journey toward wholeness."

"I'm going to leave here dedicated even more strongly to a comprehensive attack on the residues of your racism and oppression," he said. "I thank you for this award. I hope you'll understand my future behavior as an effort not to gain love from you, but to cure you."

— Christopher L. Walton

UU World XV:4 (September/October 2001): 40.

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