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Plenary II

General Assembly 2001 Event 2003

Friday Plenary Features Debate on Study/Action Issues and a Farewell from President Buehrens

(Cleveland, OH—June 22, 2001) Making their way into the Cleveland Public Auditorium under gray skies, delegates and observers of the fortieth Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly (GA) were called to order by Moderator Denny Davidoff. Davidoff called on Dr. John Thomas, President, United Church of Christ (based in Cleveland) to bring greetings to the delegates. Following Dr. Thomas' presentation, where he expressed his appreciation for the support of Unitarian Universalists in their vigil against racist treatment of native Americans by the Cleveland Indians baseball team, Davidoff called on members of the UUA Board of Trustees to present a picture of the work of the board over the last year. Dr. Elisabeth McGregor, first vice moderator, and Sue Stukey, second vice moderator, offered their learnings and perspectives to the delegates.

Davidoff called on Rev. Barbara Child, chair of the Commission on Social Witness (CSW), to orient delegates to the CSW process and then called for a discussion of study/action issues. An amendment brought by the young adult caucus, to delay discussion on study/action issues pending workshops on these issues was brought to the floor, suggesting that several items from the Saturday plenary be moved to Friday. Davidoff suggested a compromise, affirmed by informal consensus of the plenary, to hold discussion of Study/Action Issue's (SAI's) in today's agenda, but delay a vote until Saturday, with Saturday's other items remaining in place on the Saturday agenda.

Five Study/Action Issues have been proposed out of a preference vote taken by certified UUA congregations, determining the top five items for the final agenda. They are:

  • S-7, Separation of Church and State. The issue is: what can Unitarian Universalists (UUs) do to help achieve appropriate balance between preserving individual religious freedoms and promoting religious and moral values in public life?
  • S-5, Prison Reform. The issue is: How can UUs formulate and advocate humane and ethical ways of dealing with the ever-growing challenge of our prison population, the prison industry, and methods of detention and rehabilitation?
  • S-1, The Changing Family. The issue: How can UUs best encourage loving, responsible, and nurturing domestic relationships while responding to the challenges of contemporary family life?
  • S-2, Economic Globalization. The issue: How can UUs respond to the unprecedented opportunities and potentially dangerous environmental, political, and quality-of-life challenges accompanying economic globalization?
  • S-5, US Election Reform. The issue: How can UUs work to transform the election process in the United States to ensure everyone's right to vote is honored, all votes are counted, and so-called 'third parties' can compete effectively?

Presentation of the issues was impassioned and centered around advocating for each of the issues under consideration. Among those speaking was Rev. Nurya Love Parish, minister of the Epiphany UU Church in Fenton, MI, who spoke in support of S-1, The Changing Family. Parish urged delegates to support the resolution, which embraces all kinds of families and is designed to lift up all models of family structures.

John Jayes, who operates a website for families of those in prison, spoke in favor of the prison reform resolution. "The public has allowed the criminal justice system to become places of retribution and punishment," he said. "How many of you know that there is no parole in the federal prison system any more? How many of you know that although blacks use drugs at the same rate as whites, blacks have three times more chance of being sent to prison?..."

On the Economic Globalization issue, Strider Benston of the UU Church of Boulder, CO, spoke with passion about how the different governments and cultures of the world have been destroyed by those who want to impose economic greed on existing systems.

Speaking for the proposed action on election reform in the U.S., Roger Barth of California talked about how democracy depends on politicians, and how we need to study ways to improve our electoral system in the U.S. "We need to bring in more people to make decisions, he said, "more minority votes, and we need to make certain there are fair ways of voting..."

Rev. David Johnson of First Parish, Brookline, MA, spoke on the separation of church and state. He said, in part: "We (Unitarian Universalists) led on this issue in the 40's, 50's, 60's—we fool ourselves into thinking it has vanished, it has not. Aggressive religion is appearing in our schools, it is affecting our schools, our libraries, sex education, and many other subjects. Think also of the effect on the network of social services that are impacted so much today...They struggle to survive..."

Debate finished after thirty minutes, and Davidoff asked the delegates to arrive at the plenary on Saturday prepared for a final round of discussion and a vote.

Helene Atwan, Director of Beacon Press, presented information on Beacon. She quoted Albert Schweitzer and former UUA president (now Executive Director of Amnesty International USA) William Schulz in affirming the value of the press. Atwan reviewed its history, including early days publishing hymnbooks and religious texts, and later, books on Albert Schweitzer and other world leaders, making the press a widely recognized voice for liberal religious values. Among the titles produced by Beacon: Paul Blanchard's "American Freedom and Catholic Power," twenty-six printings, 300,000 copies sold. James Baldwin's "Notes of a Native Son" was published by Beacon—and is still read and taught all over the U.S. Other notable titles include Paul Robeson's "Here I Stand," and Gandhi's autobiography. Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," named one of ten most influential books in America in 1991 by the Library of Congress was another notable title of the past, as was "The Pentagon Papers," the only complete edition of these documents crucial to this understanding of the Vietnam war. More recently, the press has published "Next Time, She'll be Dead" by Ann Jones, focusing on battering and how to stop it; "Transgender Warriors" by Leslie Feinberg; "The Measure of Our Success" by Marian Wright Edelman, with over 250,000 copies sold; and "Race Matters" by Cornel West.

Atwan quoted Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt who said, "The question for me is not whether Beacon Press should exist. I believe it must exist; the witness of Beacon Press is too important."

Most recently, Beacon has debuted its People of Color internship program; has produced Discussion Guides for UU communities; and last year, received more than $400,000 in grants. Beacon was one of first publishers to be associated with amazon.com and booksense.com, and has published 107 electronic books thus far.

Atwan encouraged the plenary to also do its part for Beacon—by buying and promoting Beacon books; adding Beacon books to congregational book tables; requesting traveling bookstores at district meetings; displaying Beacon posters; using Beacon discussion guides in UU communities; and entering Beacon's new sermon contest. Additionally, Atwan suggested people can make a gift to support the press through the UUA's new capital campaign. "These are hard times in the book business," Atwan concluded. "The UUA has committed to raising at least $2 million for the press, and the continuing support of the denomination is essential for the health of Beacon Press."

A hymn break followed, as the plenary sang "Here We Have Gathered" by Alicia Carpenter. Following the hymn, the Commission on Appraisal presented its report on its latest study, "The Meaning of Membership." The Commission used dramatization to pose some of the questions raised by the study. The participants said, "There is no question that each person, and even our thousand-some congregations, believe themselves to be committed to our purposes... Do we really offer a safe place where people can discover themselves in religious community? How do we serve the old time members whose needs are changing as they age? Here we can live a deep life, find that which gives shape and meaning to our existence. We can do that because we have an institution that supports those efforts. The communal life, where we can come, in spite of our imperfections...that is the tension with which we all live...who is a member, how do we support the church?...the community needs the structure to maintain the life. Look around...who are you, what is important, who is welcome at your table??," they said.

The report of the Finance Committee was delivered by its chair, Gini Courter. Courter acknowledged the work of the members of this committee, who are: Rev. Wayne Arnason, Gini Courter, Ed Landreth, Patti Lawrence, Robert Senghas, Financial Advisor Larry Ladd, and Treasurer/Financial Vice President Jerry Gabert. Serving without vote are Moderator Denny Davidoff, Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery, and President John Buehrens. Courter explained that the committee deals with three years of budgets: current, upcoming, and the year after (also known as the 'out year'). The UUA Fiscal Year begins on July 1; the budget is an impressive fifty pages long.

Courter's report (PDF) explained the sources of income and expenditures of the association, and included a report from Judy Pickett, Chair of the Annual Program Fund (APF) Continental Committee, on Annual Fund contributions which are approaching goal and this year exceed, for the first time, $5 million. Courter ended with a discussion of election finances, reminding delegates that all candidates have put themselves forward to serve the association and as such, deserve financial support as they wage very costly campaigns for the benefit of the association.

Robert Senghas offered process observations through an anti-racist lens and then, general process observations. Rev. Wayne Arnason offered a report from the Secretary of the Association, including a preliminary credentials report. He reported that 4,051 people were pre-registered; there were 2,073 delegates in attendance, including 1,618 members of societies, and also ministers and ministers emeriti, and 23 board members. Arnason discussed the march on Thursday night which had drawn wide participation to witness against the racist portrayal of native American images, and informed delegates that it will be written about in the Saturday edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Arnason then introduced the Rev. John Buehrens, outgoing President of the UUA, to deliver his President's Report (PDF, 6 pages). Arnason noted that "for the past seven GA's you have heard a succession of reports as (Buehrens') many duties and commitments continued...many fall somewhat between the lines of the formal job description of this job as president. John has so ably demonstrated that shared leadership does not diminish authority, but enhances it. Nowhere does it say that the person holding this office will be a teacher, mentor, a model for how public ministry and advocacy can be conducted effectively...[but] in the way he has represented us in the public square, John has done justice. Everyone hopes the president of the UUA will be able to raise money...but I think nobody could imagine how good, how thorough, how pastoral, how imaginative John Buehrens has been in he field of development and in providing a model we can take back to our congregations...

John Buehrens has shown us," said Arnason, "The mission and vision of what Unitarian Universalism is and can become. Every day, every step of the way, John Buehrens has not only done that himself, but inspired the staff, the board , his colleagues in ministry, and every Unitarian Universalist he has come in contact with to keep that big picture close to our hearts. Our movement is a stronger one than ever as his administration comes to an end..."

Thundrous applause greeted Buehrens as he took the stage to deliver an inspiring speech the reflected on his presidency and laid out the goals of the UUA's next capital campaign, which has already garnered more than $20 million in pledges and gifts toward a $32 million goal. Read the entire speech (PDF, 6 pages). The speech concluded with a performance of the rousing gospel/folk song, "Next One By" (PDF) by UU performers Kelly Armor and David Sturtevant, which for Buehrens, exemplified his charge as he prepares to leave office.

Reported by Deborah Weiner.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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