How Many Presidents of the UUA Have There Been? The Answer to Today’s UU Trivia Question

Patrick McLaughlin is the first winner of the UU Trivia Question of the day!  He correctly answered that there have been seven presidents of the UUA so far.  Here they are, in order:

Dana Greeley

Robert West

Paul Carnes

O. Eugene Pickett

William Schulz

John Beuhrens

William Sinkford

Patrick even provided the years of their tenure, so he wins an extra gold star.  Good work, Patrick, that was terrific.

This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer.  A large number of people surfed by to look at the question, yet it took many hours before someone produced the correct response.  As he found out, googling “UUA presidents” doesn’t get you very far.  In fact, there doesn’t appear to be a single page on the Internet that lists all seven presidents and their name; in fact, it’s rather difficult to even determine that there have been seven presidents, not five or six or twelve or whatever.  Even the UUA website doesn’t provide this info.

Furthermore, no UU who stopped by was able to come up with this info out of their own memory.  Does this indicate a serious hole in UU historical awareness?  We’re talking about arguably the most influential men who have shaped our combined denomination, yet no one could call them to mind.  Can we say we really understand what the UUA is about without even a basic knowledge of who’s been in charge?  Can we understand Unitarian-Universalism without knowing the history of the UUA? These presidents all held their positions within the lifetime of the average UU.  What does it say that such info is so hard to come by, and so poorly distributed amongst the general UU populace?  Looks like we’re gonna need plenty more trivia questions in the future to address the gap.

What sort of trivia would you like to know about the UUA, or Unitarian-Universalist (i.e. post-1961) denominational history?  Where would you go to find out?  Do you think the resources out there are adequate?



Filed under Liberal Religious History, Unitarian-Universalism

7 responses to “How Many Presidents of the UUA Have There Been? The Answer to Today’s UU Trivia Question

  1. In slight defense of the UU herd, I read the trivia at lunchtime, and had no time to even guess
    – i did write down Dana – and knew that the next guy had written a book about the experience (so did the first guy). I think with much reflection I might have gotten most of them – with the exception of Paul Carnes. I dare say that most folks in most denominations would not know the names of the previous denomination leaders (you’d be surprised at the number of folks who cant name the presidents of the USA back to 1962 either).
    a good discussion question might be; what impact did each of these bring to the UUA?

  2. Patrick McLaughlin

    Today we have the seven principles (likely to be altered significantly by 2010). What other forms have they had (fewer in number, revisions, or significant recastings) from 1961 on?

    (This, as well as a list of the presidents and moderators ought to be on the UUA site)

  3. Transient and Permanent

    As a matter of fact, Patrick, that very question is already on the list for a future day. Guess we’re thinking along similar lines. There’ll also be something on moderators eventually, but didn’t want to rush into it.

    Steven, UUs may be many things, but it’s probably hard to call us a herd, don’t you think;) Don’t worry that I’m trying to be too hard on folks–history ain’t exactly Americans’ best subject, no matter what your affiliation, after all. Sorry that the question came out at lunchtime–that wasn’t intended, but the internet went down here at six minutes before 9am and took a long time to get back online.

    You’re probably right that a lot of people can’t name their denomination’s presidents. But there’s only seven in this case, and we’ve only been around since 1961, not very long. A lot of UUs pride themselves on being well educated, and since this UUism thing is kind of a new development in world religion, it’d be natural to ask ourselves every now and then “How’d we get here? Who led us to this point?” It wouldn’t take much effort to teach a little something about them (at least their names, for goodness sake) in a UU RE class. But yeah, there’s nothing exceptional about UU lack of historical knowledge when you compare it to plenty of other groups too, so I’ll try not to lay a guilt trip on anyone.

  4. A lot of “standard” UU information is not really available on the Web, but is available in print — which means that it’s available to people used to the old library-and-specialist approach to information management. Owners of Warren Ross’s history of the UUA, The Premise and the Promise (excerpts only available on Google Books), would have been able to answer the question (here’s a chronology), but it is interesting that UU wikipedians and UUA staff don’t consider this kind of info crucial to publicize on the Web.

  5. Patrick McLaughlin

    Clowder, T&P, not herd.

    Fair’s fair here. I knew Sinkford, Buehrens and Schulz. But I was a tiny kid in ’61 and my parents stopped attending about the time Greeley left office, I think. I had at least heard the name somewhere (probably the whole Black Empowerment fiasco…). Pickett’s name only looked familiar when I found it, but that was it.

    I don’t think I’d heard of Carnes, and I don’t think I’d have been likely to have picked West’s name out of a list of possible presidents were it a multiple guess quiz. FWIW, I didn’t start really actively thinking of myself as being a UU, rather than being UU (by virtue of having grown up one…) until the mid 80’s, which may explain why some names meant something to me.

    I’ll have to ask one of the fellowship’s founders if he can remember them all.

    Research skills help. Googling for a quick answer tanked. But I was done inside 10 minutes of reading the question–using Google. Picking a year when the post should have just been filled and googling for UUA President, (year) gets useful hits. But there’s no list that comes up, and only in double-checking the years of the terms did I find that last link.

    Other fun questions: first ordained women; Unitarian? — and Universalist? That’s more challenging. (Worse yet, I have heard both answers and can’t bring them to mind right now…

  6. Transient and Permanent

    Patrick, you’re anticipating yet more questions that are already on the list. One of your comments makes me wonder if this might not work a little better as a multiple choice sort of thing. I seem to recall that Trivial Pursuit has both kinds of questions: some are multiple choice while others make you dredge up the answer all by yourself.

    Of course, another motive for having these trivia questions is that now there IS at least one page on the internet that includes the names of all seven presidents. Future folks looking for that type of info might end up here–if the UUA ain’t gonna do it, it seems like we’ll have to do the historical memory thing ourselves.

    Chris: library? What’s that? 🙂 I’ll second your call for folks to look things up in Ross’ book, it’s a handy resource that ought to be in all UU congregational libraries.

    You know, I’ve taught Unitarian and Universalist history, but specifically UU history isn’t offered very often. Maybe I ought to start walking my own talk and offer some adult RE classes in this area. Too bad the only time I have off from my usual teaching job is the summertime, when UUs forsake church (and UU churches often return the favor).

  7. (Rev.) Leland Bond-Upson

    John Buehrens’ name is misspelled in your list of past Presidents.

    It would be good to include the dates of their Presidencies.

    Thanks — Lee Bond-Upson

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