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Plenary II

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General Assembly 2003 Event 2003

General Assembly 2003 Friday Morning Plenary Features Sinkford’s Report

As delegates entered the Hynes Auditorium for the second plenary session of the 2003 Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly (GA), they joined together in singing the round Come, Come Whoever You Are. Moderator Diane Olson then called the plenary to order.

The Rev. Wayne Arnason, secretary of the UUA Board of Trustees, gave the preliminary credentials report, stating that there are 2,145 delegates registered, with an additional 4,960 registrants for the preliminary total of 7,105 in attendance at this 42nd General Assembly.

Olson invited Dr. Helen Bishop, chair of the UUA Accessibilities Committee to address the delegates. Bishop urged the attendees to pay attention to the needs of those with disabilities, providing clear space for those in scooters and wheelchairs, cautioning against the use of products with fragrances or volatile chemicals because of their impact on individuals with chemical sensitivities, and in other ways helping to ensure that those with disabilities have a good GA.

The Rev. Olivia Holmes, Director of the UUA Office of International Relations introduced international visitors to the assembly, pointing out that as religious liberals we do not walk this journey alone. Representatives from the following organizations were welcomed:

  • The Australian and New Zealand Unitarian Association, represented by Vice President Derek McCullough and the Rev. Roger Pym of the Unitarian Church in Auckland;
  • The Ministerial Fellowship of the British General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, represented by the Rev. Ernest Baker;
  • The Canadian Unitarian Council, represented by president Elizabeth Bowen and Linda Thomson;
  • The European Unitarians and Universalists, represented by president Wendy Schwartz;
  • The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Paris, France, represented by president Rachael Epstein;
  • The Unitarian Union of Northeast India, represented by church visitor Bah Nangroi Suting and Mrs. Hashen Sohtun; 
  • Project Harvest Hope, of Homorod, Transylvania, represented by president Rev. Levente and Mrs. Eva Keleman;
  • The UU Holdeen India Program, represented by Vivek Pandit, winner of the Antislavery International Award in 1999;
  • The Secretariat of the International Association for Religious Freedom, represented by Miss Ramola Sundram;
  • The Rissho Kosei-kai, represented by chairman Katsunori Yamanoi and the Rev. Koichi Saito from the RKK New York branch; and
  • The Tsubaki Grand Shrine and the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, represented by Rev. Koichi Barrish, Mrs. Donni Barrish and Naomichi Sato.

UUA President William G. Sinkford was introduced and began his and reported on his work over the past year. Sinkford highlighted the Association’s public witness efforts, his international travels, as well as new initiatives taken by the Association.

Sinkford invited the chairman of the Rissho Kosei-kai (RKK), Katsunori Yamanoi, to address the delegates, and Chairman Yamanoi expressed his heartfelt appreciation both for the invitation to be at General Assembly, and to Sinkford and Olson for their visit to the Rissho Kosei-kai in Japan earlier this year. Yamanoi told the delegates that the friendship between the RKK and the UUA began forty years ago with the outreach of the Rev. Dana McLean Greeley, the first president of the UUA. It became evident even then, he said, that the RKK and UUA shared a common value, contributing to peace in the world through interfaith work. Over the years, the RKK and the UUA have worked together for peace through interfaith dialog and cooperation, alongside others in the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF).

Both the RKK and the UUA share respect for the interdependent web of all existence, and a common belief that all things should be in harmony to achieve world peace. Yamanoi stated that hatred is not overcome by hatred, but only by compassion that includes a special emphasis on harmony. One of his hopes, he said, is that in the future the UUA and the RKK can oggrt exchange programs at the local level for ordinary members. He also stated that he hoped that this General Assembly would be fruitful and productive.

Sharon Blevins, a member of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Kansas City spoke about the impact of a test advertising campaign to market Unitarian Universalism in the Kansas City area. It has been, she said, “a gift, a challenge and a responsibility.” Blevins said those in Kansas City have loved hearing visitors say they found out about Unitarian Universalism from billboards or radio ads, and the larger congregations participating in the pilot program have had twice as many visitors since the campaign began as they saw before the campaign.

Blevins the participating congregations learned several things through this project:

  • First, that advertising works, “even for smart analytical Unitarian Universalists, even billboards. We knew intuitively,” Blevins stated, “that billboards were counterintuitive to everything we are, and we learned we were wrong.” Those who hated billboards and thought them ugly and stupid saw their first UU billboard and said, “I love them.”
  • Second, the congregations learned that welcoming requires attention. Before the campaign they said that they were ready for and did everything for visitors. The congregations learned that welcoming takes intentionality and practice, and they are working at practicing and being friendly.
  • Third, said Blevins, was the lesson that we have to act now to spread the word of Unitarian Universalism. People shouldn’t wait to be lucky enough to receive such advertising, she said, but “the next step for all UU congregations is to be a congregation that exemplifies UU practices, principles and traditions.”

President's Report

What a year this has been. War in Iraq, and now its aftermath; our economy struggling, threats to our safety and our civil liberties, the progressive social agenda under attack—what a year this has been.

It is in times such as these, times of fear and uncertainty, that people most need the church.

And our congregations have risen to meet this need. In fact this has been a time of genuine congregational vitality and effective ministry. I have visited more than 40 congregations this past year, and seen sanctuaries full, energy levels high; small-group ministry deepening our spiritual life, congregations more public and visible in their communities.

Our Association, today, is truly strong and vital.

I have also been a world traveler this year: to Hungary, Transylvania (visual of B preaching at Deva), the Czech Republic, the UK—twice.

Just last month I traveled to Amman, Jordan as part of a forty-member interfaith delegation that met with Iraqi religious leaders, at a meeting convened by the World Conference on Religion and Peace. This was the first time representatives of the major Iraqi faith communities had met since Saddam Hussein took power.

Diane Olson and I also went on a fabulous trip to Japan, where I had the opportunity to address the anniversary gathering of our partners, the Rissho Kosei-kai. (Bill in front of huge Buddha in Great Hall). I would like to introduce to you Rev. Katsunori Yamanoi, Chairman , of the Rissho Kosei-kai, who will bring greetings from our partners in Japan.

(Chairman Yamanoi speaks)

Thank you, Yamanoi-sensei. The partnership between the UUA and the RKK has been important to us in the past and will be an important part of our future. I am so glad that you could be with us here in Boston.

Of course, not all of my international travel requires formal dress. At the Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Japan I experienced the Shinto cleansing ritual called Misogi. It involves standing under a mountain waterfall wearing only a loincloth and a headband and praying. This was early March. My first prayer was to survive the cold.

It is both my responsibility and my privilege to report to the General Assembly about the state of our Association. There are many things I could focus on. But let me start where we are. Here at General Assembly.

General Assembly

This Boston General Assembly is truly extraordinary. The last time we gathered in Boston for General Assembly, in 1978, there were 1211 delegates from 421 congregations; this year, more than 7000 in attendance representing almost 800 congregations. The largest GA in history.

But, what is General Assembly?

Is General Assembly a convention? A leadership training opportunity? A tribal gathering? A public witness event?

The reality is that General Assembly is all of these things, but that is not what is at the heart of this gathering.

General Assembly is the coming together of representatives from the congregations, the congregations which are the Association. Our bylaws state that “General Assemblies shall make overall policy for carrying out the purposes of the Association and shall direct and control its affairs.”

The Association is the coming together of the congregations. And General Assembly is the place where we come together to do the business of our Association.

I would like to invite the presidents of congregations, and members of congregational boards who are present to stand, and remain standing.

Now I would like to invite those who serve on congregational committees, to stand. And those who serve on District Boards and Continental Committees.

And, finally, I invite our religious professionals who minister and serve to stand.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to yourselves, the leaders of the Association of congregations. Gathered here, in Boston, we are the Association made real.

Public Witness

Our public voice has, I believe, never been more clearly heard, nor more effective. More reporters now have us in their Rolodex; more of them check our website for our views. We are indeed becoming a credible liberal religious voice in the public square.

Let me be clear. We have much more work to do, but we have raised the bar in terms of what we expect to be able to accomplish in public witness. We now expect—and get—above-the-fold coverage in the religion section of local papers when I visit.

But we are also getting coverage in major national newspapers. Just this past month, The New York Times did a story on the animated conversation going on among us about our use of religious language. Picked up by the Religion News Service, that story appeared, as a spread, in the LA Times and was also in the Washington Post. We held no press conference; sent out no press releases: this was national news coverage of what is essentially an internal discussion, Unitarian Universalists talking amongst ourselves about the kind of language that we use in describing our faith. It is a sign that we have really moved in from the margins.

Two weeks later, we did hold a press conference, at 25 Beacon St. We convened a group of non-Catholic religious leaders to offer an alternative religious voice on the subject of gay marriage. A week earlier, the Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts had asked Catholics to lobby for an amendment that would define marriage as solely between a man and a woman. We were able to reach out to leaders of other faiths and bring them together in support of the right of all persons to marry, whatever their sexual orientation.

The press conference was covered in the two major Boston papers, the Globe and the Herald; as well as the gay press and NPR. And it was picked up on the AP wire and by the Religion News Service. But we were disappointed, because the event didn’t get live coverage on the evening news. This is a new level for us. We’re actually in a position now, on matters where we have an authentic voice, to get our message out. And that needs to be celebrated.

Congregational Public Witness

Many of our congregations have also been actively engaged in public witness in their communities. Congregations have mobilized to protect our civil liberties. Many showed up to do public witness on the impending war with Iraq. First Unitarian Church of Oakland, CA sponsored educational events, collected signatures for petitions, and demonstrated against unilateral U.S. action. Their ministers, Kathy Huff and Cinnamon Daniels, joined 400 area clergy to form a clergy bridge for peace across the Golden Gate. After outreach to all members of the congregation—especially to folks concerned that security issues might justify war—the church unanimously approved a statement opposing a unilateral preemptive strike by the U.S.

In January, the First Unitarian Church of Richmond, VA organized an advocacy training day for UUs from around Virginia, followed by a day of lobbying the Virginia State Legislature, in collaboration with other progressive people of faith throughout the state.

We will continue our public witness work in the coming year, focusing in a more proactive way on those issues where our voice is most grounded in our history, theology and congregational life—where we are likely to be able to make the greatest difference. We will work to take back the definition of the family from the hands of the religious right, we will work to claim a voice for liberal religion on civil liberties and separation of church and state, and we will work to find a voice for racial justice in a world which has become so pluralistic and complex that simple-minded solutions will not serve.

Growth

I want to say a few words about the growth of our faith. We talk a lot about it, but why is growth important?

For me there are two reasons.

One is that there are all those folks out there who need what we have found. We need to let our light shine down into the valley, as Barbara Pescan reminded us last year in her sermon at the Service of the Living Tradition, “where someone, surely, is trying to get home, trying to get over, trying to get out of trouble, trying to get on to the morning.” There are so many who would respond hungrily to our message, if only we would reach out to them.

And the other is that we need to grow in order to be more effective at helping the universe bend towards justice. Our voice needs to be clearer, and more robust. We simply cannot allow the religious right to have the only effective religious voice in the public square.

Our greater visibility and more prominent public voice will help encourage more folks to visit our congregations. But all of our congregations need to help, first and foremost by becoming more welcoming places. I’m probably the most recognizable UU. But I’ve walked into congregations to preach, with my robe on my arm, and not been greeted until I reached the minister’s office.

Some of you have heard the story of Stefan Jonasson, now our Coordinator of Large Church Services, who met with the head of missionary work for the Mormons when we were in Salt Lake City for General Assembly in 1999. The Mormons had done their homework, and knew a lot about us. And this man said to Stefan, “you know, Unitarian Universalists have a remarkable ability to attract visitors—proportionately many more than the Mormons do. But you’re lousy at holding onto them.” He concluded that if our churches were half as successful at integrating and retaining members as the Mormons are, Unitarian Universalism would be “the most dangerous church in America.”

I think we can all agree that we aspire to be that dangerous. Reaching out more effectively to our visitors is a crucial first step. They are guests in our religious home.

But we’re also experimenting with some new approaches. We’re organizing our first new start congregation with explicit goal is to become a large church. That’s in Dallas/Ft. Worth. Texas. They think big there. Three hundred at the first public worship in a year. This experiment is part of what we call a “metropolitan growth strategy.” The plan includes assistance for small and medium-sized congregations, as well as support for the one large congregation in the DFW metroplex. This is not a plan developed by Boston. Its their plan. We simply convened the conversation.

And we launched our first test of a media campaign to increase awareness of UUism, and stimulate congregational growth. In Kansas City, since January, there have been billboards up proclaiming UUism as the “Uncommon Denomination”. There were radio spots and some TV ads. We are trying to determine if advertising can lead to church growth…first in attendance, then in membership. Here…watch this!

[TV spot runs]

We haven’t completely analyzed the results yet, but the early returns are promising. We’ve had almost 9000 hits on the Kansas City welcome page of our website—and only 100 of those were me. Shawnee Mission, which at 185 members is the second largest congregation in the area, took in 23 new members in April. And the number of new visitors has exceeded our hopes for a 25% increase.

Numbers will be important in our analysis. But souls are saved one at a time. One man saw one of our billboards on his way to work—the one that reads: “A different Trinity: respect, freedom, justice.” This man—who hadn’t been inside any church for more than a decade—got to work, called his wife, and said, “you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I’ve seen a billboard and I think I’ve found a church.” They visited our website, showed up for worship the following Sunday with their three-year-old son—and joined in the middle of March.

I want you to hear about this campaign from someone who experienced it at the congregational level. Let me call up Sharon Blevins, a member of the All Souls Kansas City congregation to say a few words about the experience.

[Sharon Blevins’ remarks]

Being the site of the media campaign pilot project has been a gift, a challenge and a responsibility. It’s been wonderful to see and hear UU messages in the community. I’ve loved talking with visitors and new members who say they learned about us from a billboard or a radio ad. We’ve had twice as many visitors as we did a year ago.

It’s been exciting and fun—and challenging. This was a pilot project, and things didn’t always happen the way we expected. Being UU sometimes means we challenge one another. One of my jobs as congregational coordinator was to explain that yes, our opinions would be listened to and appreciated, but no, we didn’t get to select the messages and decide where the ads would go—the UUA and professionals outside our congregation would do that.

The media campaign spotlighted our responsibility as a congregation to live up to our aspirations. I believe we are also responsible for working with the UUA to share with you what we learned from this campaign.

  • First, advertising works. Sure, we all know that, but we learned it even works for Unitarian Universalists—and furthermore, that billboards work. A couple of weeks ago our board president said, “Before the campaign, we knew that billboards are counter-intuitive to what we’re about. We learned our intuition was wrong.” Our vice-president said she thought billboards were stupid and ugly—she hated them. When she saw the UU billboards, she loved them. These elegant billboards generated more comments than any of the other types of advertising—especially the one that said: “A different trinity: Respect. Freedom. Justice.” We liked being a little edgy with our UU message, and we learned that advertising really isn’t sinful when it’s used to let people know that liberal religion is a choice they have.
  • Second, we learned welcoming requires attention. Before the campaign, we were asked about our welcoming and new member integration processes. We confidently said “yes” to everything on the checklist—we had greeters at the doors, a welcome table for visitors, nametags, packets we mailed to people and lots of activities for adults and children. Extroverts can pretty easily find their way into our community. But when we heard from two different visitors that no one talked to them when they came, we realized we weren’t as friendly as we thought. It’s no comfort to know, from visiting other UU churches, that we’re not alone in finding this a challenge. We’ve learned that welcoming takes intentionality and practice.
  • Third, we were reminded that we have to act now. We can’t wait for our ship to come in—or for the UUA to come advertise Unitarian Universalism for us—to do what needs to be done. Kansas City was lucky to be selected for the media campaign pilot project, and we had done the groundwork that made us ready (or almost ready) to act on this opportunity. We had several active, growing congregations in a metropolitan area, we had excellent staff and board support from our Prairie Star District, we paid our fair share dues—and, probably the clincher for the deal, we had a reasonably priced media market. The UUA doesn’t have the resources to offer a professional advertising campaign in all our communities, but our next steps will be doing what all of us can do—sending news releases and making phone calls to the media, hanging posters on community bulletin boards, sending out public service announcements. We can continue the most effective of all public relations efforts, which is personal invitations to come to our church.

We thank the UUA—and you—for the gift of shining the UU light brightly in Kansas City. We’ve come to understand more deeply that living our UU faith includes a responsibility to let others know about our movement, to find allies in our work and partners in our celebration—and to welcome strangers into our midst.

There will be more to say about these experiments in growth as we gather experience. We need to do cost/benefit analyses, determine what help will be needed to support local fundraising and what consultation is needed to help our congregations prepare for a significant increase in visitors. But one thing has become clear: we can grow, if we choose to. The choice is ours.

And for those of you who want to go public in a modest way, we have bumper stickers available. (Hold up bumper sticker) We’re asking for a contribution of at least $2, and more is always welcome, to help provide money for our growth work. They are available at the Bookstore.

Reshaping Our Antiracism Work

The Association’s commitment to anti-racism work, or rather our recommitment after a long hiatus, began in 1992. It has been a complicated journey toward wholeness. Much has been accomplished. At one level, the transformation has been miraculous.

We have engaged in an extensive and successful process to transform the consciousness of our Association leadership, to ensure that our staff and Board understand the issues of power and privilege that block genuine movement toward antiracism. Some congregations and districts, and especially our youth and young adult communities, have engaged the issue.

But the approach, the only approach which the Association supported, was controversial. “Not our theology.” “Its not just a black and white world.” “Doesn’t work for youth” “I’m not a racist.” “What can we do in our all white suburb?”

And many of our ministers and lay leaders simply shut down around this issue. It seemed that too much of our movement was stuck.

A new approach, a more open-hearted vision, was overdue. Because racism still is a reality, because our adult congregations are still overwhelmingly white, because our church schools are increasingly multi-cultural, because we are called to live out our values…for all these reasons, we needed a new approach.

We have imagined a new anti-oppression consultancy in response. The effective Jubilee I and II trainings will continue to be offered. But there will be more tools in our toolkit. And the consultancy approach will begin by honoring the work congregations are already doing. It will honor the reality that there are many approaches that can help us move toward the Beloved Community, and will be flexible and responsive to the needs of individual congregations.

Many people have already been consulted about this new direction. More will be. We plan to pilot the new approach in the fall and be ready to roll it out in the next church year.

New times require new thinking, and work on oppression is a constant learning process. The world in which we live, the reality of multi-culturalism, the complexity of identities where love has blurred the once rigid boundaries of “red and yellow, black and white” requires both a commitment to deconstructing racist structures and a loving openness to the possibilities which pluralism presents. Please open your hearts and your congregational doors to relationship with the Association as, together, we attempt to address this most complicated and most American of issues.

Religious Language

And then there’s the question of our religious language.

God, am I having fun.

The debate among Unitarian Universalists about religious language that got us into The New York Times last month has been the hot-button topic this year, generating more mail, and email than any other subject—ever—in the history of the Association. I won’t repeat the story here—you can read all about it on our website. But I will tell you that despite the controversy, I am glad that we have begun a rich discussion of who we are and how we describe ourselves.

At this GA, both theists and humanists are working on their “elevator speeches.” And in numerous congregations, the conversation about religious language has already begun.

Now, by “religious language” I do not mean “God talk.” That is problematic for many of us. But I do believe that we need some language that will allow us to capture the possibility of reverence, to name what calls us, and to talk about our ability to shape our world, guided by what we find ourselves called to do.

My energy here is not primarily for a revision of our Purposes and Principles, though that may well emerge.

My priority is for us to engage with one another about this faith, what it means to us and how we live it out. It is out of that conversation, that engagement, that any formal language should come.

I believe we are ready for that discussion, that it can deepen our religious lives, and that it will make us better able to share our good news with a world that needs it so badly.

Stewardship

Our movement is so strong, and so vibrant, and there is so much good ministry going on. Yet, as you all know, we are operating in an ailing economy, and our Association’s finances have not been immune.

I know that many congregations have struggled this year with their own budgets. Anxiety about the stock market, about the war, about the threat of terrorism has made pledge payments slow; and in some cases the reality of layoffs has reduced congregational income. Yet despite all this, most congregations have made their budgets this year and Annual Program Fund giving to the Association continues strong, growing in the face of the slumping economy. It is a sign, I believe, that the relationship between our congregations and the Association has never been healthier.

But we rely on our endowment for 40% of our income, and because of the stock market, that income is down almost $1 million compared to 2 years ago. That’s obviously a big hit, and it has challenged our ability to increase our support for the work that you do. I thank all of you who as individuals and as members of congregations have done your part to support the work of this liberal religious faith. Clearly, we need you now more than ever.

Conclusion

Yes, it’s been a tough year. As I have traveled it has often felt that I have been on a search for hope. Perhaps some of you have been on the same search.

While I was in Japan, I took a day to visit the Hiroshima Peace Park, the memorial to the 250,000 Japanese who were killed when we dropped a weapon of mass destruction on that city.

And at a wonderful dinner at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine after our ritual Misogi cleansing, I finally found the question I needed to ask our Japanese hosts.

“How could you possibly have forgiven us for our use of the atomic bomb?”

A member of the Grand Shrine Board, a retired nuclear physicist named Mr. Feruda, responded.

“First, thank you for asking the question. No one has ever asked us that before.”

After thinking for a moment, he said: “Despite the horrific death toll and the devastation, we actually have come to see our loss as a blessing.

“You see, if we had not lost that war, the military government would probably still be in power and we would still be out colonizing and appropriating resources to fuel our industrial machine.

“If we had not lost, the attitude of arrogance that was a part of Japanese life during those times would still be with us, the belief that because we had the might, we had the right to do as we willed.

“You see, if we had not lost… we would have become you. We would have become you and it would have crippled the soul of our nation.”

There is a war for the soul of OUR nation being fought now. Not in the mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of Iraq, but on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures, in local school boards and zoning hearings.

The issues are a woman’s right to choose, the very definition of the family, affirmative action, not whether but only how large the tax cuts for the most affluent Americans should be, the doctrine of pre-emptive war.

The war is being fought, quite simply, to determine whose America it is. Is it for only the few, or is the American promise for all of us?

Unitarian Universalism has an answer. An answer grounded in the principles we affirm. The inherent worth and dignity of all persons; justice, equity and compassion in human relations.

And so, not only for the sake of our own souls, but for the soul of our society, we need to raise our voice. A voice that speaks out of our lived experience that differences need not divide and that holds fast to our vision of the Beloved Community.

Unitarian Universalism has always been a faith with a spiritual center and a civic circumference. And there is a ground of hope for us. It is there in the increasing public presence of our congregations, in the deepening engagement of Unitarian Universalists with their faith and in our willingness for our faith to engage with our world.

As Vaclav Havel wrote,

“Hope is … an…orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is … an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed….”

There is that ground of hope for us, hope anchored in that deeper place, hope that grows out of our theology and our values. We nurture it when we remember that there are no hands on earth but ours: that we are the only ones who can create the world of which we dream.

Ours is a strong and vital movement. May you find in it the strength to turn your hands to the tasks that await our doing.

Thank you for the privilege of serving as your president. I am filled with hope, because the possibilities are so real and the energy so promising. I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve this faith that I love.

Following the conclusion of Sinkford’s report, Financial Advisor Larry Ladd presented his report, noting that this year is the 50th anniversary of the founding of Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), the youth group formed from the then-existing Unitarian and Universalist youth groups. Many of our current leaders were nurtured in part by their involvement in LRY.

The text of Ladd’s written report, as well as other materials he has prepared, are available on the Financial Advisor's website, and other financial documents can be found on the UUA Finance website.

Ladd stated that for measures of growth and generosity, he looks not at money, but at the customers instead. We have a steady, though low, increase in membership, yet our “share of the market,” the percentage of population, has stayed steady at .08% for the last six or seven years. Contributions to the Annual Program Fund (APF) by congregations is increasing, even after taking inflation into account. The only bad news, Ladd said, was that giving by individuals to the Friends of the UUA program has decreased in recent years. Budgets of congregations are growing, and the UUA staff and Board have taken steps to be financially prudent. Endowment income has been down, and the Investment Committee has taken action to improve the endowment’s performance. Beacon Press exists in a highly volatile publishing industry, yet Beacon Press is ahead of the plan set for them last year. In 1999 when contracts were signed with the hotels where GA is occurring this year, the rates negotiated were a good deal. Yet after the events of September 11th, 2001, and with the increase use of the Internet in making travel arrangements, what was then a good deal is not in this market. The UUA stands to lose money on unfilled hotel rooms, something that could not have been predicted when the hotel contracts were made.

Ladd reported that good financial news includes the availability of district compensation consultants, work on church staff finances, socially responsible investing, and an increasing commitment to growth visible in our movement.

UUA Trustee from the Heartland District, Gini Courter, chair of the UUA’s Finance Committee, presented the report of the Finance Committee.

The Rev. Ned Wight, Trustee from the Pacific Southwest District, reported on the current state of Beacon Press’ finances. As set out last year at General Assembly in Quebec, the Press has suffered in these volatile times for publishing. Last year the UUA Board announced a three-year financial plan to assist in promoting the health of Beacon Press. Wight reported that Beacon Press is ahead of plan, losing only $150,000 this past year, rather than the $200,000 that was initially predicted. During fiscal year 2002, the staff cut overhead, reduced sales costs, and although there were no runaway best sellers, the Press’ line sold well. Beacon was also able to sell every book they brought to last year’s General Assembly, thanks to the delegates.

This year, Beacon Press celebrates its 150th birthday, and Wight suggested that every congregation should celebrate this by buying at least 150 books from the Press. The continued financial health of Beacon Press depends not only on UUs buying books, he pointed out, but also on others buying books, and the status of the national economy. There are still significant decisions to make, said Wight, including tough decisions about priorities in the common years. Wight concluded with this prayer: “Spirit of Life, grant me the serenity to find ample time for reading this year, the courage to look for intriguing mind-expanding titles, and the wisdom to buy from Beacon. Amen.”

Courter continued her financial report by remembering those Unitarian Universalists who had died in the past year and who had made a bequest to the UUA. Delegates were able to see the names and faces of those who, through their forethought and generosity, contributed 3% of the UUA’s income.

Courter summarized other sources of general income to the UUA: 8% comes from Friends of the UUA donations; 6% from administrative fees charged for services to congregations; 21% from charges for other services; 16% from investment income (down from 20% recently); and 46%, nearly half, from Annual Program Fund donations from congregations. Courter called onJudy Pickett, chair of the Annual Program Fund (APF), to report on the results of this year’s APF campaign.

Pickett noted that over $5,600,000 has been contributed to the APF to date, leaving this year’s contributions only $172,000 short of the goal.

Courter continued her report by outlining the sources of income for specifically designated purposes: 6% for the Handing On The Future campaign; 10% is for the Campaign for Unitarian Universalism; 30% (over $2 million) was received from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Shelter Rock for social justice work; 12% comes for scholarships; 7% is received for ministerial aid funds; 20% is received for the Holdeen India Trust fund; and 15% is received for a variety of other purposes.

Budget expenditures for the next year are in four major categories:

  • Board and volunteer leadership comprises 8% of the budget, reduced significantly over previous years due to the cost-cutting efforts of volunteers and staff
  • Infrastructure, including finances, facilities and information technology, comprise 24% of the budget.
  • Administrative expenses are six percent of the budget.
  • Program is the largest portion of the expenses, $12,000,000, and 62% of expenditures. Identity Based Ministries is 4%; Advocacy and Witness, 17%; Lifespan Faith Development, 6%; Publications, 18%; Ministry and Professional Leadership, 20%; Congregational Services, 19%; and District Services, 16%.

Courter called the budget ‘prudent,’ noting thatit “ reflects the needs of our congregations and Association. What is important to note,” she continued, “is that this budget includes no raises for UUA Staff, but the Finance Committee feels that this budget is properly focused and develops the resources to sustain and grow Unitarian Universalism in the next year.”

Trustees Ed Wilde (Thomas Jefferson District), Matt Moore (Youth Observer) and Kath McIntyre (St. Lawrence District) report for the Board of Trustees on their experiences as members of the Board, and were joined by Norma Poinsett, who also offered reflections.

Additional board members were joined by Paula Cole Jones, President of DRUUM (Diverse and Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries), and the Rev. Laurie Auffant, a member of the same organization, who shared an exercise that the Board experienced last fall to identify experiences of mattering and marginalization which we all encounter in our lives.

Delegates were asked to recall a specific time when they had experienced themselves as mattering, asking them to share what that had felt like, what their behavior had been. Then, they were asked to reflect on a time when they had experienced themselves as marginal, or when they felt not appreciated or valued. They shared feelings around how they had responded, and known that they weren’t valued. The presenters pointed out, ”Oppression comes in many forms, and as we all realize this, we can create empathy at home and improve our ways of working together that can lead to a more anti-racist, anti-oppressive organization and world.”

Trustee at Large Tamara Payne-Alex, chairs the Board’s anti-racism assessment and monitoring team. She said, “One must be careful not to take any refuge in any delusion,” she said. “The impossible is the least one can demand.” She quoted Samuel Adams, who, when faced with ongoing criticism by those who had not stepped forward to help in the struggle to shape America, asked “why you did you not step forward if you knew that you could have done it better.”

Gini Courter spoke of her introduction to the Board eight years ago, which began with anti-racism training. Over the years, she said, the Board worked hard to clear the air and get clear with each other. Today, Courter said, the road to anti-racism is not just a two-lane road, but instead includes a variety of other paths. What is important is to challenge and affirm the others on this journey, she said, “even if they are using a lane we would never use. We are,” said Courter, “stewards of the same road.”

Trustees Burton Carley from the Southwest District and Linda Olson Peebles, Trustee from the Joseph Priestley District, shared their reflections on the Association’s anti-racism work. The journey toward wholeness has different names and eras, and will have new names, said Olson Peebles. “We must be not afraid, and let our voices be heard, because all matter in this flow toward the ocean of the beloved community,” she said.

Payne-Alex shared the Board’s six questions for judging anti-racism, anti-oppression work, and invited the delegates to reflect on questions and ask them in their local congregations, as the presentation concluded.

Process Observation Questions

UUA Board Anti-racism Assessment and Monitoring Team

  1. Does the agenda include items which address issues of racism both internally to our Association and in the larger society?
  2. Did the reports from the officers and the staff reflect a commitment to Anti-racism and Antioppression?
  3. Was there evidence of outreach to accountability groups (People of Color or oppressed groups) who might be stakeholders in decisions made during this meeting?
  4. Were probing questions asked about the impact of decisions on underrepresented and oppressed persons in our Association and in the larger society?
  5. Did discussions of issues indicate that speakers are conscious of the systemic power of oppression?
  6. Were policy decisions and/or recommendations made in today’s meeting which moved the UUA closer to being anti-racist/anti-oppressive institution?

Helene Atwan, director of Beacon Press, highlighted Beacon’s newest offerings. Beacon strives to publish books on important topics such as economics, class, media monopoly, sustainable planet, mental health for women, discrimination and the legacy of racism, public schools, and spiritual growth, said Atwan. Beacon set records in the past year—the largest sales to Unitarian Universalists ($100,000), and the most sales at a General Assembly (Quebec, $40,000). Delegates were encouraged to “Buy Beacon” and take other steps to support the UUA’s denominational press.

The Rev. Richard Nugent, chair of the Commission on Social Witness, outlined the process of justice making in our Association. He pointed to several issues that had been supported by UUs in years past that have finally come to fruition: the Supreme Court’s vote to overturn their decision in Bowers v. Hardwick which supports a 1970 GA resolution; and the Association’s support for affirmative action in 1979 which was also affirmed by the Supreme Court this year. This year delegates will get the chance to vote the statement on Economic Globalization, select among five Study/Action possibilities for this next year, and vote on up to five Actions of Immediate Witness. Nugent explained the deadlines for the various steps in the process.

Unofficial Final Copy: Economic Globalization

2003 UUA Statement of Conscience

Summary of the Statement of Conscience

While economic globalization has helped some people attain higher standards of living, it has marginalized and impoverished many others and has resulted in environmental degradation and the depletion of natural resources. The benefits of economic globalization have been inequitably distributed and have not reached many people around the world. Seeing the world as an interconnected web challenges us to turn from self-serving individualism toward a relational sense of ourselves in a global community, and toward practices that help create economic structures designed to serve the common good. We are called to bring our Unitarian Universalist principles to our understanding of economic globalization and to help mitigate its adverse effects.

Economic Globalization and Its Consequences

Economic globalization, broadly understood, is the growing global integration not only of markets but also of systems of finance, commerce, communication, technology, and law that bypass traditional national, cultural, ethnic, and social boundaries. 
Proponents of economic globalization argue that it leads to more efficient division of labor, greater specialization, increased output, generation of wealth, higher standards of living, and ultimately to the end of poverty.

Proponents also argue that recent economic growth has greatly contributed to the high standard of living enjoyed by many within the developed world and has raised living standards of many people formerly living in abject poverty. Many others have not made such gains.

Opponents argue that economic globalization detaches markets from essential regulations meant to protect national sovereignty, the democratic process, human rights, labor rights, and the environment. Opponents also argue that the policies and practices of industrialized countries and transnational corporations drive market forces of economic globalization. There is no effective global political regulatory or policing system that controls critical aspects of economic globalization.

The rules governing economic globalization have been created through trade agreements, international law, and institutions dominated by industrialized countries. These rules favor those with access to capital, legitimizing measures such as dropping tariffs, eliminating capital controls, enforcing intellectual property rights, privatizing public services, and weakening regulations that protect labor, health and safety, and the environment. Economic globalization is increasingly perceived by the rest of the world as American economic imperialism. Many Americans, accustomed to an individualistic and competitive culture, are insensitive to the realities of abject poverty, cultural erosion, and environmental degradation. Systematic exploitation of labor and the environment thus goes unnoticed as do coercive monopolistic pricing of goods and services, criminal evasion of local legal controls, growing debt among developing countries, widening economic gaps between people, and devastation of traditional cultures. Unitarian Universalists are concerned about the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a corporate elite who are dictating the terms of major economic and social parameters throughout the world. Together these factors generate profound anger and despair that fuel ideological and religious fundamentalism, increasing violence, and international terror.

A Unitarian Universalist Response to Economic Globalization

As people of faith, we are challenged to find ways to promote global economic fairness while maintaining the dynamism of the marketplace. As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm and promote:

  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; and justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Wealthy countries need to open their markets to agricultural goods, textiles, and other products from developing countries. We must become more effective advocates for increased funding of international economic, environmental, and humanitarian assistance as well as the expansion of educational opportunity. Existing debt of the poorest nations should be forgiven as part of a strategy under which such countries become self-sustaining. Certain public goods like water and education should remain under the protection of the state for the benefit of all citizens. We need to work to ensure that intellectual property provisions in international trade agreements take into account the rights of all people to medications, seed, fertilizer, and pest control.
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within society at large. We must commit to participate in local, state, and national affairs regarding economic globalization, and to partner with other progressive community organizations to advocate for just economic policies and laws. We need to hold our political and corporate leaders accountable for their policies and actions. We advocate the increased use of socially screened investment policies and participation in shareholder accountability initiatives. Trade agreements, such as NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement) and the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), should safeguard democratically decided public policies, statutes, and regulations that protect children, labor, and the environment of all parties. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and other international financial and trade institutions must become transparent and democratic and support self-determination for communities and countries.
  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person. We are called to participate in the work of organizations that advocate for human rights, fair employment standards, and environmental justice. Countries have the responsibility to require foreign and domestic companies to pay fair taxes, ensure their workers a locally defined living wage, provide a healthy and safe work environment, and respect the right of their workers to bargain collectively in independent labor unions and to engage in strikes and other job actions when necessary. The standards of the International Labour Organization of the United Nations should be incorporated in all trade agreements. We advocate measuring the success of an economy not only by fiscal performance but also by quality-of-life indicators such as child mortality rates and literacy and education levels. We recognize that developed nations, such as ours, need to reduce consumption of resources.
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. We open our minds and hearts to the ideas, ideals, and dreams of others pursuing a more equitable, sustainable, and environmentally sound global community. We advocate for trade agreements and other international accords that safeguard the environment, and we must monitor their enforcement. We need to hold corporations, as well as governments, accountable for the damage they do to the environment by their policies and practices. We need to guide our investments and consumption toward companies that produce, provide, and purchase goods and services that are in accord with environmental, health and safety, and fair wage standards. We acknowledge our own responsibility to refrain from disproportionately consuming natural resources or transforming resources into waste and pollution.

Conclusion

We are challenged by the reality that many of us work for the very institutions driving economic globalization. We acknowledge our fears and resistance to change as we benefit from the global economic processes that foster inequity. The transformation we experience as we move from ignorance to knowledge and from speech to action is not easy. Nonetheless, we are called to become competent advocates. Seeing the world as an interconnected web challenges us to turn from self-serving individualism toward a relational sense of ourselves in a global community, and toward practices that help create economic structures designed to serve the common good. 

Background: This Statement of Conscience of the Unitarian Universalist Association builds upon five social witness statements on economic, environmental, and labor issues adopted by the Unitarian Universalist Association between 1972 and 2001. In June 2001, the General Assembly of the UUA selected “Economic Globalization” as the issue suggested to congregations for two years of study, action, and reflection. The Commission on Social Witness (CSW) received initial reports from congregations and districts in March 2002. In June 2002, the CSW held a workshop on this issue at General Assembly. A draft Statement of Conscience was distributed to all congregations and districts for their reflection and feedback. Comments were reviewed by the CSW at its March 2003 meeting. A revised draft was on the final agenda of the 2003 General Assembly. A Mini-Assembly was held on Friday afternoon, June 27 to receive proposed amendments. Delegates of the 2003 General Assembly passed this statement with a clear required two-thirds majority. This text is available for immediate media release but remains unofficial until confirmed by the Board of Trustees. The text of other UUA Statements of Conscience can be found at the CSW website.

Olson recessed the plenary until 1:00 p.m. Friday as the delegates rushed from the hall to move to a lunch break.

Reported by Lisa Presley; edited by Deborah Weiner.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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