General Assembly 2001 Event 5058
Keith Arnold directed the 170-voice General Assembly (GA) Choir in a rousing choral opening entitled "The Storm Is Passing Over."
Rev. John Buehrens
And the voice of the prophet was not in the storm, not in the rumbling of the earth or in the change below them, but it was in the listening, in the still small voice that provided the steady call. My friends, we gather to worship this night and to attend to the voice that calls us all. Mindful of the truth ever exceeding our knowledge, of the love and compassion ever exceeding our practice, reverently we covenant together as a people, beginning with ourselves as we are, to share the strength of integrity, the heritage, the beckoning spirit, and the call that is upon us all that would make for greater truth and love and justice for all.
Lighting the symbol of our faith this evening is a young man who has sat with our board of trustees as an observer, Amir Fouad.
Every person, consciously or not, can experience synchronicity of grace, and has experienced events that later were seen to be life transforming, as if the universe would say: you are not alone. Grace happens.
"Gather the Spirit"
It is my delightful task to thank all who are retiring from leadership in our association. All of these require work, plenty of work and time. If we were to ask each one of these retirees about their time in office, they would tell you that the opportunity to serve this association they love was a thrilling experience that brought new growth, compassion, fun, and joy. We thank them with all our hearts. I wish to read their names.
(There was warm and appreciative applause.)
"We Give Thanks This Day," read by Rev. O. Eugene Pickett
(This reading was written by former Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Gene Pickett over twenty-five years ago for Unitarian Universalists (UUs) participating in one of the first abortion rights rallies in Washington, DC)
Beth McGregor, First Vice Moderator, Board of Trustees
We rely on the Commission on Appraisal to give independent recommendations to the general assembly, our commission on Social Witness is midwife to study action issues, the Nominating Committee seeks out those among us who would serve for a number of elected offices and committees, the GA Planning Committee brings all of this activity at GA to an opening and a close, the Board of Review allows appeals of the ministerial fellowship.
Do you promise to fulfill your responsibilities to the best of your ability and uphold the purposes and principles of our association?
(Response: I do.)
"Love will Guide Us"
Will all the current members of the Board of Trustees join us here on the stage; I will single out the new members. This is a bit like having the Board picture taken.
Wayne Arnason, Jacob Larsen, Elka Ladd, Burton Carley, Lynn Conley, Peter Morales, Tamara Payne-Alex, Adele Smith Penniman, Katie Stein Sather, Pat Solomon, and Ned Wight. Please join me.
And now, to the entire Board. You have been elected as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I now ask you: do you accept the duties of this office, promise to fulfill your duties to the best of your abilities, and promise to uphold the purposes and principles?
My friends, you follow forty years of history. Walt Whitman said it is provided in the essence of things; welcome to the struggle and the joy of leadership in the association.
"Love and Humility" (Shaker canons), GA Choir
Robert T. Lavender
Lawrence R. Ladd, you have been elected to the office of Financial Advisor. I now ask you: do you accept the duties of this office, promise to uphold the purposes and principles of our association?
Once again, you are called to this position, the only one of the three top officers who have held this job before. The financial advisor occupies a unique place in the UUA firmament. The Financial Advisor is like a big high bird who holds to his or her lonely perch seeking a clear view of all that is taking place, and who from time to time opens its beak to cry out: "Wait a minute!" Of the many disciplines which order our world and our lives, finance cuts across them all. And so I call upon you to remember that our treasure lies not in our tangible assets, but in ourselves and what is held in our souls. I call on you to hold fast to the independence of perspective that this office provides, and I call on you to affirm and promote the search for financial truth and meaning, in the face of those who search only for political truth. I call on you to ask in a loud voice, those questions which others will be too polite to raise.
Full text of charge to the Financial Advisor
Diane Olson, you have been elected to the office of Moderator. I now ask you, do you accept the duties of this office, promise to fulfill its responsibilities, and pledge to uphold the principles and purposes of our association?
(Denny looks pointedly at the audience and at her notes: "It says, applause.")
Oh Diane, what a wonderful time you are going to have. Get ready for an ongoing, intensive graduate seminar in theological education, advanced organizational development, sociology of religion, human relations, crisis management, and spiritual practice, not to mention the techniques of diplomacy.
Diane, when I got home from Charlotte in 1993 I was just raring to go. By mid summer, I was convinced John Buehrens was intent on keeping me away from Boston while he planned and plotted in secrecy. What could they be doing without me? Let me tell you how dumb this really was. John and Gwen were moving! John was getting his head together. John was fortunately blissfully unaware of my paranoia attack, never to be repeated.
Being the president of the UUA is no picnic. Your working relationship with Bill can be an unparalleled joy or the source of endless carping to your husband. Seek joy! Diane, go home and rest. Take at the very least a month off. Go forth and be grateful. Have fun in your kitchen. Buy clothes. Go to the gym. See lots of Bob, and Chris, and Jeff. The marathon starts in September.
Here's my key to Pickett Eliot house, Boston home to volunteers in service to the UUA. I don't have a key to 25 Beacon Street. I never asked for one, I never was offered one, and I urge you to do the same. The key to 25 is the key to understanding the boundary between the moderator as volunteer in chief and the entire staff, including the president. If you have a key to 25, you might be mistaken as a member of the staff, neither a risk you want to take nor a perception you want to cultivate. And speaking of the staff, you will hear them sometimes speaking of themselves as the UUA. Please remind them that the member congregations are the UUA, the people of this general assembly are the UUA, and they, lovable, devoted, wizard smart, and almost always overworked and underpaid as they are, they are the staff that serves the UUA.
Remember that the staff reports to the president, not to you, but they have much to teach you, and they are generous with their pedagogy. Here's a gavel that Nat Gulbrandsen passed on to me. Rap it with pleasure and pride. I have found that the absolute best part of GA is calling the delegates to order at that very first plenary session. If you listen to eight year of tapes, you will discover that I have not once gotten through it without crying. I cry thinking about it. Let's be clear. Wielding an instrument that can get several thousand self-defined leaders to order in a hall like this can give one a misdefined sense of power. Be careful that you do not mistake courtesy for obeisance. Be vulnerable to criticism. You will learn from it.
The Board of Trustees meetings are a thrill nonetheless. Let me tell you about the UUA Board of Trustees. They think they have been elected to work hard. They are self-critical, and hold their body to high standards of excellence. They are brave. They are adventurous, and always fiscally responsible. Given the chance, they will make you look good, better than you can imagine. Love these people, Diane. listen to these people. Lean on these people, and trust them, and their processes. Welcome, welcome Diane, to what is likely to be one of your life's greatest adventures. I wish you well.
There followed an extended standing ovation.
Meanwhile, the outgoing president, Rev. John Buehrens, had quietly left the stage and was ready to accompany the incoming president, Rev. William Sinkford, to the podium. There was another standing ovation.
Denny and I noted that our tenure is bracketed, at the beginning and end of this service, with the song "The Storm is Passing Over." Bill, you have been elected to the office of the President of the UUA of Cats. I ask you now do you accept the duties of this office, promise to accept its responsibilities and uphold the principles and purposes.
Bill, I have been reading in the last few weeks David McCullough's brilliant biography of the third president of the US, John Adams. He said that when John Quincy Adams acceded to the White House, John Adams said: No man who has held the office would congratulate one on attaining it. And yet I sense that somehow you will thrive. You do bring an inner centeredness and a calm that you will need to call on through your tenure. I charge you to use that center to be a good steward. I caution you: some will try to put words in your mouth. But the words you utter, both to them and for them, must be a kind that have a larger, and more eternal word behind the words. You must remember, even when you are asked to be prophetic, that the ratio of false to true prophets probably remains as it was in Elijah's time. You must remember that we are inclined to sit smugly on our righteousness, and that you are charged to help us by your stewardship of the word and our public representations, that we might stand in some humility, speaking truth to power when it is necessary, but out of a sense of the common humanity and vulnerability with the earth, and not of a sense that we have all the answers. I charge you to be a good steward of all the heritage and resources of this association.
Remember that the chalice that holds the flame requires a careful keeping; for your charge to be responsible for the policies of administration will determine whether we aim for the long view and are truly strategic, or squander what we have inherited in the passions of the moment. I charge you that you are not only to be a steward of resources but also of our morale. Stewardship of the spirit means matching what we wish to do with what an honest assessment shows you we might do, always putting before the people the next achievable step.
My friend, I charge you to be careful with your own spirit. I know that underneath that calm exterior there is a vulnerable human being who will be tugged in many different directions. Make use of your pastor. Tend the precious family relations and intimacies of your life, maintain a strong spiritual discipline, and I guarantee you – you who in religious leadership manages to do the non-anxious presence thing – you will allow the spirit to guide this people into a greatness of us all. God bless you.
Here is the red ribbon I took from my badge. Here is the sacred vessel, the tin cup, inscribed, UUA President. Wield it well, it's more than half full. And should the herding of cats get to you, here is the presidential scepter. (John hands William a cat-hair brush.)
(There followed a standing ovation, during which Bill Sinkford's daughter, Danielle, mounted the stage, embraced her father, and accompanied him to his seat.)
"No One is Alone," Stephen Sondheim
Susan Suchoki Brown
Would the newly installed officers rise. We are on this journey together. No one is alone. We began this journey in 1996, and no one is alone. We invite your acknowledgement of two fundamental realities, that we all participate, unconsciously and against our own best interests, in the structures of institutional racism, and by coming into accountable relationship with communities of color, we are called to dismantle those structures. Mindful of paths and journeys of our faith community, let us affirm our commitment to walk in solidarity with those who suffer oppression, and with intent and purpose to honor our common cause, to dismantle oppressions within our own institution and to build a more just world. We commit ourselves anew to this vision of wholeness for our faith for our selves and for our world. So be it.
General Assembly Choir
A poem by Mario Benedetto, with rich music and harmony:
If I adore you it is because you are my love, my intimate friend, my all. And in the street, we are shoulder to shoulder, so much more than two. Your hands are my caress, my daily affirmations. I love you because your hands work for justice. Your mouth is yours and mine, your mouth is never mistaken. I love you because your mouth knows how to cry out for rebellion. I want you in my paradise, which is to say that in my country, I want the people to live happily even though they are not allowed to.
Kay Aler Maida
We are grateful for a 400-year-old living tradition which enriches our faith. Value this past, learning from its triumphs and shortcomings. We unite to deepen our undertaking of a good life, as people and as congregations in the UUA. We have inherited a tradition of religious freedom. Our forbears challenged a life of dogma and ignorance with this faith the lies rooted in freedom of religious expression, and the fullest exercise of freedom in religious life. Our vision has inspired people and shaped social customs more than we may know. But at this time in our history, we must go further. We must work to deepen our religious practice.
Please rise and join me in reading our common call:
We affirm the value of religious community.
We affirm the inherent value of persons within community.
We link our hearts and minds for mutual edification and the continuing discernment of life's truths
We pledge to support each other in humility and with forgiveness to deepen our religious practice.
We come together so that we may strive to heal broken-ness in ourselves.
We will offer love to the loveless, hope to the forlorn, and speak truth to power.
We will move beyond tolerance into constructive engagement
We will seek justice for all, work to transform institutions that oppress and dehumanize, committing ourselves to be makers of peace.
With others we will seek a spiritual foundation.
As UUs we join hands and hearts to answer this call, that we may fulfill our promise.
"Forward Through the Ages"
In most of our services of installation, the religious leader moving in that line of faithful spirits, says rather little during the service itself. He is spoken to, charged, spoken about, merely says a humble word of acceptance of the action of the religious body that has then charged the religious leader to bless the people. And at the end of the service, that is what the new leader does: to go forward and be a blessing to the world. The choice to bless, writes Rebecca Parker, is more than an act of will, a moving forward, but it is an act of recognition, confession, and surprise that in the midst of a broken world, there is unspeakable beauty, grace, and mystery abiding. There is a grace that is alive, a holy disturbance, a rage, a protesting insisting that what is sacred will not be stilled. Those who bless the world live their lives as a gesture of thanks for this beauty and this rage.
Our choral benediction is in the words of my onetime pastor, the late Dr. Charles Forman.
(The Forman Benediction was written by Daniel Pinkham to honor John Buehrens' eight years of service as President of the UUA.)
May you feel the welcome of the stars. Amen.
Rev. William G. Sinkford
We have gathered here in Cleveland once again. We have gathered here in mystery, with the spirit of life moving within us and through us and among us. We have gathered here to listen for the still small voice, to listen for our calling, waiting to be heard, gathered here in struggle and in the transformative power of religious community, gathered here to hear our history once again, and to know again the great hope that this liberal faith we love offers us and our hurting world. As we leave here and return once again to our congregational life, we leave as one strong body, united by our love of this liberal faith and the covenants that both bind and empower us. Let us leave committed to respond to your calling, to heal and not to harm, to help, and not to hinder, to bless, and not to curse. Let us leave here committed to respond to our calling, and answer as the prophet did, here we are Lord. Send us. So may it be. Amen.
"The Storm is Passing Over"
The text of "The Forman Benediction" is from the late Dr. Charles Forman, the former minister of King's Chapel in Boston. Daniel Pinkam, the composer, served as Director of Music at King's Chapel from 1960-2000. He is considered by many to be the foremost contemporary American composer of sacred music.
Reported by Debbie Weiner and Mike McNaughton.
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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.
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