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Plenary IV

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General Assembly 2001 Event 4004

Fourth Plenary Features Presentation of Distinguished Service Award to William R. Jones; Financial and Staff Reports Presented and Bylaw Amendments Voted

(Cleveland, OH—June 24, 2001) Moderator Denny Davidoff gaveled the fourth plenary of the Unitarian Universalist Association to order at 12:30 p.m. following a morning of worship at the Service of the Living Tradition.

Rev. Olivia Holmes, Director of International Relations for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), introduced the Association's distinguished international visitors: Rev. Norio Sakai from the Association's Japanese liberal religious partner, the Rhisso Kosei-kai; Rev. Ladislav Pivitz from the Prague Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation in the Czech Republic; Vice President Allan Ruston and a delegation from the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches; Angela Daniel and the Lindell Smith of Frankfurt, Germany, representing the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists; Rev. David Gyero from the Unitarian Churches of Romania; Andrew Clark, General Secretary of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF); and Rev. Mark Ahlstrom, representing the UU churches of South Australia.

Rev. Lisa Presley of Southfield, MI asked the Moderator for a moment of personal privilege to make note of the press coverage being received by the Association on the election of William Sinkford as UUA President: on CNN's Headline News, the Associated Press, the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Moderator called on Financial Advisor Larry Ladd to give his report (PDF, 16 pages). Ladd said, in part, "It is my pleasure to present my fourth annual report to the General Assembly. This morning, I am going to talk about the role of the Financial Advisor, about our growth in the last fifteen years, about our resources, our ongoing work—a code word for things that aren't going so well—and show the ledger, the list of things going well and of ongoing work. Then I'm going to present the 'Frugal Fanny' Award and risk my credibility, and then I'm going to make my annual plea for a greater commitment to growth of our movement.

"First," he said, "the role of the financial advisor. I'm going to tell you a story ...as you know, I was very involved in our movement in the late 1960s. One of my mentors was the late Dana McLean Greeley. We gave a talk at Star Island in 1968, and we came back in the car, and the car ran out in gas. There we were, he in his distinguished suit, and me a little more scraggly than you see now... trying to thumb a ride. ...At that time, we did not know that the UUA was running out of gas, financially and spiritually. And the role of Financial Advisor was created around that time as an independent expert view so that this would not happen again. So this moment when I report to you, is, symbolically the most important act of the association. I am not appointed by the president, nor can he fire me... I am elected by you to tell you the truth as I see it, independent of any influence. I am also elected to give the board, and you advice, and you may take it as you wish."

Ladd reviewed the committees he serves on, and then continued, "I have been guided over the whole time I serve by a set of standards—principles of good financial management which I consider essential for this denomination." He stated the principles, which are on the UUA website.

  • Clear religious message.
  • A continental program worthy of your support
  • Strategic planning
  • Expanding resources
  • Strong endowment performance,

...and noted that there are more principles, but that the first three are the most essential. Ladd urged delegates to visit the Financial Advisor's website, to gain information on church financial management, how to be good stewards in the congregation, and more.

"Now," Ladd said, "I want to talk about the growth of our movement. This comes from the UUA directory... Our membership went up again this year, slowly but steadily, growing since 1982. Our Religious Education enrollment has gone up, year after year. Putting these two pieces together, you see the remarkable difference between growth in adult membership and growth in religious education. The numbers of youth are growing more rapidly than the numbers of adults.

"There is a principle in business: it is easier to keep a customer than to win a new one. Our challenge is that the folks on the right hand column (the children and youth) should move to the left hand column (the adult members). Our total adult membership stands at 216,931. We have grown everywhere, in the last decade in every region."

Ladd displayed a table on Membership and RE enrollments, and discussed the 'market share' of Unitarian Universalism—.08% of the population. "The good thing is that there is a lot of market share to expand into," he said. "Some people tell me we are not growing. [But] we are...faster than since 1982, faster than the population as a whole...in the last few years it has leveled off...

"Now I will talk about money," he said. "There are two measures of overall health in a movement. The first is congregational expenditures... how much money our congregations raise, and how much money they spend, and then take inflation out of the numbers. The level of growth of congregational expenditures from 1999 to 2000 has increased by almost 3%; since 1985, by 62%...we are much better off now than we were in 1985. The other indicator is generosity to the movement...an extraordinary improvement in generosity...62% higher since 1985.

"Our budgets have been balanced for five years in a row. Our endowment performance has been adequate after three very strong years...there has been excellent fundraising achievement...to announce a fund raising campaign, and receive more than half of the proceeds already, is a remarkable achievement. We have improved church staff compensation, and communicated the need well.

"I'd like to talk quite a bit more about Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)...we haven't been doing bad things in the past, but it was time to put a little more juice in the system...and we have put a lot of new energy in this area.

"We have become more proactive in the way we handle SRI," said Ladd. We have a new committee that oversees and leads the effort with respect to this effort. We have a link to the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). We have begun to be very active in proxy voting and stockholder activism. And we have begun to be active in alternative investments. We are creating a set of guidelines for local congregations, so that they can also follow these policies.

"Let me talk about one victory we've had with respect to stockholder activism. The UUA filed a shareholder resolution to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Home Depot amended its policy before the annual meeting. ExxonMobil is next...Rev. Kurt Kuhwald represented UUA at the Home Depot stockholder meeting, and you will be seeing more of us in this area in the future." These comments were greeted with warm applause.

Ladd moved on to address the ongoing work of the Association, and those areas that need further attention. He said, "Beacon Press continues to be financially unstable. It produces great books. Not enough people are buying them. Ask your board members what they are doing to ensure the ongoing stability and health of Beacon Press." He continued, noting that "We can continue to do some good work linking planning to budgeting. We have the problem of what is called incremental budgeting. Any budget cut the President proposes, or the board proposes to fund something new, will be met with real outrage by people in this room. It's a systemic, endemic problem. This is not Boston's problem or the board's problem; it's work we need to do together. And finally, (there's) growth. Those of you who are satisfied with 1 % growth achieved through great effort need to know this is not enough!"

Ladd the reviewed the "Ledger"—items positive and needing work, and then offered a tribute to good stewardship, recognizing the work of outgoing president John Buehrens who "wins—as he calls it, the 'Frugal Fanny Award' for fund raising achievement beyond anyone's dreams or expectations. ...this will take up an extraordinary amount of the time of the next president of the UUA. John Buehrens has created much more financial transparency...he has been willing to adopt sound fiscal practices."

Ladd then was moved to make "my annual plea for a renewed commitment to growth: slightly less than 1% is not good enough. Unitarian Universalism is growing...but it is growing slowly. We are stuck between the mainline protestant churches that continue to decline, and the non-denominational large churches that are growing very rapidly. Mainline Protestantism has large regional and national bureaucracies; much time spent on internal disputes; talk across denominations; congratulate themselves on their virtues; treat all congregations equally, with no special attention to the larger growing ones; no sense of urgency for spiritual transformation. They ask very little of their members. If there is one thing we share, it is the same as they: they ask very little in terms of spiritual or financial commitment; evangelism is mostly absent."

Meanwhile, said Ladd, "The growing churches' characteristics are these: they have a clear and simple religious message; they are not affiliated, or are loosely affiliated, with a denomination. They have very high expectations of their members. When you join one of these churches, you are going to work...they focus on spiritual transformation of their members, not internal disputes over governance or policy; are never satisfied with status quo. Leadership is a ministry (in these congregations); they have few or no committees; are externally focused and looking at the world; have high involvement with and expectations for their youth; they know they have found a good thing and want to share it with the world."

Ladd focused his final remarks on how we as an association can grow. He said, [the UUA needs to] "focus on growth as a strategic priority, measuring each move with respect to whether it helps us to grow. We need to stop emulating in our own behavior that of the mainline Protestant denominations, and focus more energy on the larger, growing churches in our movement. The UUA's larger churches make up four percent of our congregations, but twenty-one percent of our members. How can your congregation grow? Through embrace of an external rather than internal focus, having high expectations, meeting the needs of members, focusing on mission not governance. Be truly transformation and personal, be worthy of our youth and young adults," he said.

Ladd concluded, "The opportunity to serve you in this role has been one of the great experiences of my life and will continue to be that. Thank you for the opportunity to serve in this very enjoyable way. Thank you very much, and God bless you."

The Moderator moved next to a vote to admit proposed Actions of Immediate Witness (AIW).

Fifteen proposed AIWs (PDF) were submitted to the Commission on Social Witness; six were put on the agenda for debate by the General Assembly. Those admitted were:

  • Debt Relief for Poor Countries
  • No Tax Dollars for Religion
  • Reparations for the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot
  • Say No to the Beijing Olympics
  • Taliban Repression in Afghanistan
  • World Conference Against Racism

Rev. Barbara Child, Chair of the Commission on Social Witness, thanked the delegate body for submitting the proposed Actions of Immediate Witness. The number of submissions and the number of signatures, she said, indicate the level of interest and passion for these issues.

Before calling on Kay Montgomery to deliver her report, Davidoff called for an energy break from the youth caucus, who led the plenary in a raucus song and dance on peeling and eating bananas.

Davidoff then called for the Report of the Executive Vice President, beginning with a loving introduction of the UUA's chief of staff. "We don't praise Kay Montgomery enough," Davidoff said. 'From her office on the third floor of 25 Beacon Street, Kay ministers to the UUA, committees and staff. Her capacity for affirming individuals and making people feel appreciated."

Montgomery proceeded with her report. Montgomery talked about the UUA's suit against individuals using the name "American Unitarian Association," and about the remarkable work done to unearth the eulogy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. honoring the Rev. James Reeb. Montgomery mentioned Warren Ross' just published book, "The Premise and the Promise: the History of the Unitarian Universalist Association," saying, "Warren has managed to make this complex history...highly readable, even-handed and fascinating. It reads like a good novel."

Fifty percent of all UU congregations, she said, participated in a survey called "Understanding Ourselves," part of a much larger survey of faith practices in the United States called "Faith Communities Today." The survey involved fourty-one faith traditions, and is the largest survey of its kind, providing comprehensive current information about our own congregations. The survey allows us, said Montgomery, to know more about ourselves based on data, rather than anecdotes.

Continuing her report, Montgomery set out to honor the staff of the Association with words and pictures. She mentioned those leaving the staff of the association, beginning with Rev. Diane Miller, who now goes to be the interim minister in Carlisle, MA. "She has run the most complex and arguably the most important department in the UUA," Montgomery said. John Buehrens departs, and "we will miss his wisdom and his humor and indeed his humility," she said. Many members of the field staff are also leaving—nine different members; as well as Rev. Donna DiSciullo, retiring as Young Adult and Campus Ministry Director; Lena Breen, departing as Director of Religious Education; Abbey Tennis, returning to Oberlin College following her exceptional year in the Youth Office; Emily Mace and Malia Crawford, both departing to attend Harvard Divinity School to enter our ministry.

Honoring the 210 members of the UUA Staff, Montgomery concluded her report by introducing two members of the staff charged with being the voice of Unitarian Universalism in the US capitol—Rev. Meg Riley and Rob Cavanaugh of the UUA Washington Office for Faith in Action.

Riley said, "We are a U.S.-centered office. When statements of immediate witness are passed, they come to our canon, and it allows us to speak for the Association on major issues. Somebody here told me that they knew someone who came to Boston and visited and when they came home said, 'Did you meet them?' 'Who,' they said. 'The Seven principles, they said!' Anyway," said Riley, "I sometimes fear that you think there are seven principles out there, implementing our resolutions. There are three of us in the office...if you add interns and volunteers, it might add to seven. Everything that has ever been accomplished for social justice is about breaking down barriers...otherwise it's paper on shelves, writing for the mythical seven principles to help them. I ask you then to think not about what your association can do for you, but about what you can do for our vision and values.

"So I invite you to raise your hand if you know what statement of conscience we passed last year. Last year we passed a statement about linking economic injustice, racism and poverty. The small show of hands tells me that we may need to do a better job of this." Riley invited Rob Cavenaugh to join her, and he spoke about some of the other initiatives of the Washington office.

Cavenaugh said, "Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts once said, 'Politics is from the root words 'poly' which means many and 'tic' which means blood-sucking creatures.' March 16-19, a successful Young Religious Unitarian Unitarians (YRUU) Social Justice workshop was held in Washington D.C. The Washington Office," he said, "gets a lot of help from its interns. They help with the web site organized by Background, Action and For More information; there are additional pages with resources and social justice sermons."

Davidoff expressed dismay that so few people knew the Statement of Consience from last year. "There must be something flawed," she said, "if all the work that we did last year gets paid attention to only by the Washington office. This is an expensive process."

Judy Lloyd, President of the UU Service Committee and Dr. Valora Washington, Director, made a report on behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). The Service Committee noted that they try to change communities by empowering women and helping children. "Welfare rolls are declining, said Washington, "but poverty is not."

Additionally, Washington talked about the work of the Service Committee in other parts of the world: helping women in India gain more independence, providing earthquake relief, working in central Africa helping to empower women; gathering support for ethnic minorities in Mexico; fostering a new generation of social justice advocates, and this year, working with YRUU. Washington urged the delegates to get involved in the work of the service committee by becoming a member, contributing to one of the aid programs involved, volunteering.

Davidoff called on Linda McAffrey from the Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation for a report.

Davidoff called for discussion on proposed amendments to the Association's bylaws, as stated on pp. 22-23.

  • Delete Sect. 12.6 (other regional organizations) in its entirety passed.
  • Sect. 4.12.a. (UUA Statements of Conscience)—change deadline for receipt of Study/Action Items from Feb. 1 to December 15. passed.
  • Sect. 4.12.g. (UUA Statements of Conscience)—delete entire section. The board has already adopted this text as a rule; the Board considers the text to be more appropriate as a rule than a bylaw. Sect. 4.12(h) will be renumbered Sect. 4.12(g). passed.

C-Bylaw changes, passed by the 2000 General Assembly and eligible for final adoption; must have final adoption in 2001. The Moderator called for motions on the following, which were debated and voted:

  • Delete Bylaw Section C-3.10 and renumber Section C-3.11 as Section C-3.10. passed.
  • Bylaw Section C-10.7 has been amended as follows for grammar and accuracy: Sect. C-10.7. Responsibility for Investments.
  • Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees shall have ultimate responsibility for investing the funds belonging to or held by the Association. passed.
  • Rule Section C-14.1 (Amendment of Bylaws) as obsolete passed.

Dr. William R. JonesPresentation of the Distinguished Service to Unitarian Universalism Award to Dr. William R. Jones

Davidoff introduced the 2001 Distinguished Service Award committee: Margaret Sanders, Chair, Larry Ladd, John Buehrens, and herself. Buehrens introduced Dr. William R. Jones, saying, "Those over the years who have received this award for distinguished service are those to whom we are more deeply indebted than we can possibly acknowledge. 'Distinguished service' means that...having served our institutions in such a way, having represented us in the world in such a way, that we are inspired by the example given.

Margaret Sanders read the text of the award.

Dr. Jones, in accepting this award, said, "This award has very special meaning for me. Particularly because it comes from my colleagues on the Board of Trustees, as represented by some of our nature and the quality of my work with you. But it comes at an agonizing, awkward juncture in my faith journey with this faith community. And to explain that is, I need to go back some years to my youth.

"As you know, I was born into a fundamentalist black Baptist church in Lousiville, KY. My grandfather was the minister. As a teenager, I went around teaching Biblical prophecy...I subsequently moved from and abandoned that position, and you know where I am theologically. What moved me from there to here was the growing understanding of the relation between religion and oppression. And I thought that to eliminate oppression, you had to eradicate religion. I subsequently recognized the inaccuracy of that analysis...

"I operate on binary logic...there are two kinds of religion, education, politics. One is going to conserve and preserve the existing structures. The other is going to corrupt the existing structure. So I left a 'copping' [which Jones calls 'cop'] religion and came into a correcting religion, [which Jones calls 'cor'] this faith. But it has been my experience that there are still pervasive, and some yet undetected, 'copping' features of our religion, our faith and our practices, that perpetuate the oppression we claim to challenge. And that's where the agonizing awkwardness comes.

"I left the board some time ago because I found it impossible because of a conflict in interest in serving you: to do what I think is necessary to assist you in fulfilling your journey towards wholeness, which to me means the substantial reduction in oppression, and not simply 'handling' your racism, I want to continue a 'cuss and discuss' debate with you on the merit and demerit of your confronting an anti-racist imperative. And by giving me this award at this time, it appears that I am biting the hand that feeds me and honors me.

"I had not read the acclamation that is on this award, and because you have indicated that part of my reason for receiving this award is 'my long cuss and discuss debate with you—indicating that this is actually evidence of the fact that I love you—I am going to leave here, dedicated even more strongly, more comprehensively, to a greater, stronger attack on the residues of your oppression and racism that still linger.

"Within the next couple of months, I will be setting up a web page, I am going to have a tab for UUs which will attempt to carry on this 'cuss and discuss' debate...I thank you for this award. I hope that you will understand my future behavior as an effort not to gain love from you, but to cure you. Thank you.

Report of the Annual Program Fund

Judy Picket gave a report on the Annual Program Fund, which is celebrating 25 years. The Fund has raised slightly over five million dollars this year—exceeding its goal. Mary Miles, APF Director, spoke of recognizing a greater sense of stewardship among UUA members. Judy Pickett, Chair of the APF Continental Committee, recognized the extraordinary work of the current volunteer committee

The plenary concluded with announcements from Rev. Wayne Arnason, Secretary. Among the announcements was a total of the offertory from the Service of the Living Tradition, which raised was $117, 546 for the Living Tradition Fund—nearly the same as last year's total of $117,913 in cash and pledges.

Rev. Linda Olson Peebles gave process observations, and the plenary was adjourned several minutes early at 3:56 p.m.

Reported by Deborah Weiner and Jessie Washington.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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