Live your Unitarian Universalist values out loud. Make your year-end gift today!
Speakers: Gini Courter, Bill Sinkford
Reported for UUA.org by Lisa Presley, reporter; Deb Weiner, editor.
Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Moderator Gini Courter called the fifth Plenary session to order at 8:39 a.m.
She told delegates that the song We Can't Wait 'Til the Storm is Over, used in the presentation on the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast at last night's Plenary, was co-written by the Rev. Jason Shelton and Connye Florance. This song will soon be made available through the UUA website for a $25 donation. Shelton and Florance will donate all proceeds to the Gulf Coast Relief Fund.
The Rev. Katherine Jesch representing the UU Ministry for Earth (formerly the Seventh Principle Project) announced that nineteen member congregations have become Green Sanctuaries this year, only the latest of fifty congregations that have been so recognized since 2002.
The Green Sanctuary program affirms ethical and moral imperatives and the essentially religious nature of this work. There are four elements that are considered: worship and spiritual practice, religious education for children and adults, environmental justice to create a just society, and sustainable living conscious of our day-to-day actions and their impact on the earth. The congregations recognized were:
UUWF President Nancy Van Dyke told delegates this has been a momentous year for the Women's Federation. Their mission is advancing equity and justice for women. Van Dyke announced a number of the grants that they have awarded that help fulfill the mission.
The UUWF have given their Ministry to Women award to the Rev. Shirley Ranck for her work on the Cakes curriculum. The UUWF has also presented its Margaret Fuller Awards for the year:
The UUWF has also supported the H.O.P.E Project, a Gulf Coast Relief Effort, and their UUWF Clara Barton Intern for Women's Issues, Meredith Schonfeld-Hicks. Van Dyke also thanked the Shelter Rock Veatch Program for its $20,000 grant in support of the UUWF's important work, as well as all those who continue their support in money, time, and commitment.
Moderator Courter invited Dr. Charlie Clements, President and Chief Executive Officer, of the UU Service Committee to present his report.
Clements said that the UUSC does many things, but today Clements would focus on economic justice activities. The UUSC has been working from the Gulf Coast to Kenya, engaged in the struggle for workers rights as the civil rights movement of this era. The UUSC works with local partners, such as poultry workers in the U.S. southern states who are paid an average of $250 a week for hanging live chickens by their feet at the rate of fifty birds a minute. Some of these workers have come to the U.S. from other countries, hoping for better working conditions, and some of them get injured in their jobs here. They are denied rights and safe working conditions.
Sometimes there is reason for hope, said Clements. School cafeteria workers' pay in New Mexico has risen from $255 a week to $340 a week, and is now at a minimum wage of $9.50 an hour. The Santa Fe Living Wages Campaign has made a difference, and was covered in a New York Times Magazine in January. The story, captured on a DVD, is available from the UUSC's website.
UUSC is also working to organize people in the informal sector, such as street vendors. Here, in the U.S., their voice is raised in support of increasing a minimum federal wage that has not been increased in nine years. He urged delegates to be involved in the work of UUSC.
The Rev. Charlie Ortman, UUA Trustee for the Metro New York district, is Board liaison to the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee and introduced the chairs of the JTWTC report. In 1996 the UUA General Assembly voted to transform the UUA into an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural institution. The Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee (JTWTC) has been tasked with monitoring and assessing our work toward that process. Ortman introduced committee co-chairs the Rev. Monica Cummings and Carolyn Cartland to present the report.
Cummings said that JTWTC was created and appointed by the UUA Board of Trustees with the charge to monitor and assess transformation of the UUA into an authentic antiracist, anti-oppressive, multicultural association of congregations. This past year they have worked closely with the faculty, students and staff at Meadville/Lombard Theological School to monitor their process, as well as with Starr King School for the Ministry during the implementation and assessment of their work. Last year they met with twenty-five congregation presidents at General Assembly to find out where they are in the work, and what they need.
Cartland said that there was a recent agreement with the Board to refine the mission of the JTWTC. The group was, originally, focused broadly to be all things to all people including assuming responsibility for UUA Committees and Affiliate Groups, and that the charge to plan, coordinate, monitor, assess and guide the transformation had meant that they have not been able to provide effective assessment of the Association's need. By switching and doing an in-depth analysis, they can do more useful, meaningful assessment. They have begun to survey district leaders, and they will publish a report of their findings. Cummings said they are only just beginning, and this study will shed light on best practices and what is meaningful for districts as they move forward.
A delegate made a motion from the Procedural microphone to move further debate and action on the Statement of Conscience to Plenary 7, after all other items of business. This motion carried, and would allow for additional debate on the Statement, first considered in Plenary 2.
Courter introduced representatives from the UU Fellowship of San Luis Obispo County, California, for their presentation as a Breakthrough Congregation. Their video began with the voices of their children, singing Building Bridges. The presentation outlined the history and evolution of the congregation. The congregation is located in a very expensive housing market, and so there are not many young families who are members.
The congregation focused on a two-step strategy: invite and involve. A variety of groups are available for people to join, and members work hard on developing effective communication. The congregation has a strong sense of themselves as a liberal religious community on the central coast. They are blessed with an effective professional ministry and observed that the work cannot be done without a minister, but that the minister also can't do the work alone. Ministry must be shared between quality staff and committed lay leadership working as a collaborative team who use district resources and are active in the larger UU world.
The Rev. Jory Agate, chair of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC), was introduced. The MFC is appointed by the board, and oversees all aspects of ministerial fellowship—the steps to be taken to be eligible, whether candidates meet the requirements, overseeing the first years in ministry, granting final fellowship—and they also have the authority to reprimand and/or remove ministers from fellowship. She said that congregations have the authority to ordain, and that fellowship is granted by the MFC as a way to standardize qualifications and this entitles ministers to services of the UUA including settlement and financial support.
Agate said that in order to receive fellowship, ministers must:
This process takes several years and involves a considerable expenditure of money.
The MFC meets three times a year, in Boston, Berkeley, and Chicago. Administrative matters are discussed for 1.5 days, and candidates are interviewed over at least two days. The MFC's agenda is posted on the UUA website, and part of their meeting is open to visitors.
This past year, the MFC interviewed sixty-four candidates for ministry, twenty-nine of whom were from Starr King School for the Ministry or Meadville/Lombard Theological School. Fifty-four were admitted to fellowship, five were encouraged to continue but must return before the committee, and five were advised their success in ministry was doubtful. There were forty-six women and eighteen men. The MFC also completed one hundred fifty-two ministerial evaluations, and granted forty-six people final fellowship.
This year, Agate said, the system has been changed and ministers are admitted to fellowship without a category. When they are granted final fellowship, they can claim a specialty in either religious education, community or parish ministry. MFC members read an average of 1,500 pages of reading a year, and they give up precious time and vacation in the service of the UUA. Members of the MFC are the Rev. Mark Belletini, Betty Bobo Seiden, Dr. James Brown, the Rev. Carolyn Owen-Towle, the Rev. Geoff Rimositis, Abbey Tennis, Dr. P. David Wadler, Justice Waidner, and the Rev. James Zacharias, along with Board of Trustee representatives Jacquelyn Shanti and the Rev. Linda Olson Peebles, and UU Ministers Association representatives the Rev. Emily Gage and the Rev. Patrick O'Neill. The Executive Secretary of the MFC is the Director of the Ministry and Professional Leadership Working Group, currently the Rev. David Hubner (soon to be the Rev. Beth Miller upon Hubner's upcoming retirement).
Liz Jones, chair of the Religious Education Credentialing Committee (RECC), presented the report of the Committee. The Committee has jurisdiction over credentialing of religious educators in the UUA and in helping develop the plan and rules which are then approved by the UUA Board of Trustees. The members of the committee, in addition to Jones, are: Gail Forsythe-Vail, the Rev. Colleen McDonald, Kathrn Warrior, the Rev. Kirk Loadman-Copeland, Steve Lynn, Sue McGovern, and UUA Board representative the Rev. Pam Allen Thompson. The UUA staff liaison is the Rev. Beth Marshall.
In their first three years of existence, the RECC put together the recommendations, procedures and rules for credentialing, but now they hare more settled into the ongoing credentialing work of this committee. In order to evaluate equivalency proposals in a more efficient manner, there is an Equivalency Sub-Committee that meets every two months, rather than waiting for one of the two full meetings of the RECC. The RECC also recognizes its own lack of diversity, and is working to bring other perspectives and understanding into their work.
Jones reported that in the three years this body has existed, eighteen individuals have been credentialed at the masters level, fifteen at the credentialed religious educator level, and three at the associate religious educators level. There are currently forty-three people active in the program.
Courter introduced the Rev. Sydney Morris, Chair of the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (SRI). Morris said that she was told to keep her report "short and spunky," and she continued by saying, "capitalism needs to grow up, and we can help it do so." Every financial exchange can help bend economic situations toward justice, she said, and this involves maturation and behaving ethically.
During their meetings, the SRI focuses on three points: shareholder activism, community investment, and stock selection. Ownership confers responsibility, Morris said, and it is important to use that ownership to make the world better. Partnerships have been made between finance and social justice, and congregations can have their money serve this partnership in the UUA's General Investment Fund (GIF).
Courter introduced Dan Brody, the UUA's Financial Advisor elected in 2006. Brody said that his position is responsible for ensuring that the UUA is behaving in a fiscally responsible manner. He provides the President, Board, and General Assembly with an independent expert evaluation of the financial issues and fiscal health of the UUA.
This year, Brody said, the UUA has a surplus of $8700, excluding Beacon Press, the loan programs, and the general investment fund. All told, the UUA has $3.2 million in net assets, and is in sound financial condition. Fiscal Year 05 was the first year that the UUA's books were audited by KPMG, and it resulted in a "clean" audit report, showing no material weaknesses in practices or reports. There are always, however, improvements that can be made in procedures, and KPMG's management letter provided details that the UUA is implementing. All of this can be found on the Financial Advisor's website.
Brody reported that Beacon Press had an operating surplus of $270,000 in fiscal year 2005 (FY05), and a surplus is anticipated for FY06 for the fourth consecutive year. Beacon's net assets have reached $2 million. As there are always ups and downs in publishing, this money will help keep Beacon viable the next time these occur. Beacon is following the plan that was set out following their difficult fiscal operation years in the late 1990s, and these targets (no more than $300,000 loss in one year, and no more than $600,000 over three years) will be continued into the future.
The General Investment Fund (GIF) currently totals $117 million. Congregations, districts, and affiliate organizations own $23 million. For FY05, the net return after expenses was 7.9%, whose return exceeded the return of two-thirds of comparable funds. The Board has also decided to cut the GIF administrative fee in half beginning July 2006. This administration fee covers both outside consultants and UUA staff expenses. The GIF is invested according to policies, with investment professionals volunteering to help steer the GIF. Holdings are highly diversified, safe, high return, and screened for the UUA's specific social screening policies. Brody told delegates that no congregation can outperform GIF on all three goals, and should consider the GIF as their investment possibility.
Brody said that there is improved cooperation between the Investment Committee and the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, and there has been good action by way of shareholder activism and proxy voting. They have refined the policy on community investments as well.
Brody also embraces former Financial Advisor Larry Ladd's philosophy that the Financial Advisor should look at topics outside of the specific job description for this position, and he has, therefore, continued Ladd's look at growth in the UUA. Brody said that UUs, as a share of population, declined from the 1960s to the 1980s, but that we've had a stable market share since then. This is a good result, he said, compared to other religious movements. Details of this can be found in his printed report, and he urges congregations to work hard to increase growth and share of population.
Brody also spoke about the need for a health plan to cover ministry professionals and congregational employees. He encouraged delegates and congregations to learn more about this program. There will be risks and opportunities as we move toward implementation, he said. What could go wrong includes:
The UUA has taken steps to mitigate against these risks by:
The UUA has also created a Health Plan Trust as an independent legal entity, and the premiums for health insurance will be isolated in this trust for paying claims. What can go right, Brody asked? One thousand or more people might have excellent health care coverage; congregations might find it easier to attract new ministers and staff; ministers can move to a new job without fearing loss of health insurance; and we can have success in sharing the burden of providing health care which will strengthen the UUA and the UU movement.
Brody said that after reviewing all that has been done to put this plan in place, and knowing that there are risks, he enthusiastically encouraged the Board to go ahead with the plan in April, which they did. He said that the potential benefits are huge, and it is the right thing to do.
Brody told delegates that there are many people who volunteer their work in support of the financial matters of the UUA, including the Investment Committee, Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, Congregational Properties and Loan Committee, and the Compensation, Benefits and Pension Committee. This year is also the tenth anniversary of the District Compensation Consultants program, which deploys a group of individuals who are trained and available at no cost to congregations seeking information around staff compensation issues. This, Brody said, is a social justice issue as well as good management practice. The Audit Committee was created in 2003 by a vote of the Board, and they provide expert volunteer oversight of the annual audit as well as advice on risk management issues.
Brody concluded his report by expressing appreciation for the work of UUA Treasurer Jerry Gabert, who retires at the end of June, and welcomed incoming Treasurer Tim Brennan, who begins his work in August. Brody also thanked delegates for the confidence shown in him, and expressed his thanks for the opportunity to serve.
Delegates were informed that local congregations would be participating in the St. Louis Pride Day parade, and instructions were given on how to join the festivities.
Moderator Courter introduced UUA President William Sinkford to give his report.
Sinkford told delegates that the past five years have been filled with growth and challenges, and this past year has had its share of both. Many days he worked far from home, with trips to:
Sinkford has also preached in thirty congregations, led President's Round Table conversations, attended district and cluster meetings, and "attended too many meetings." He led another march, a postcard march, to try to help the people of Darfur and led a virtual march on global warming as well.
Sinkford said that the Association now has the capacity to advance multiple public issues at the same time, including the "Standing on the Side of Love 2006" campaign for marriage equality and no discrimination in the Constitution, as well as providing leadership for the Let Justice Roll campaign to raise the minimum wage. After outlining these, and other actions, Sinkford said, "In other words, it's been a typical year."
Sinkford said that twenty-five years ago, the UUA passed a resolution rejecting the tactics of the new religious right, and objecting to the assumption that human beings can know with certainty the will of God on public policy issues. Those tactics are no longer new, but the resolution rings true now, and it is even more urgent to raise our voice now. Ten years ago (1996) the General Assembly passed a resolution supporting full legal marriage for same-sex couples—which seemed at the time like a distant dream. Yet today in this room there are couples who have been fully and legally married in Massachusetts for two years, and many more whose ceremonies were blessed in congregations.
After inviting those who have worked on to extend civil right of marriage to all couples to stand, Sinkford said "Unitarian Universalists stand on the side of love and proclaimed that "we will not end our advocacy until same-sex couples can marry in all fifty states" and said that "We will oppose mean-spirited amendments" against equal marriage every time they are raised.
Sinkford discussed the work of the UUA/UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund which "transformed our institutional priorities and resulted in an historic outpouring of funds—more than $3.5 million in donations. On behalf of our Gulf Coast congregations, our justice-making partners and myself, I want to acknowledge that generosity and thank all of you who contributed," said Sinkford. The work of this fund is two-pronged: supporting a vibrant UU presence in the region and supporting the most marginalized communities so they will be closer to creating the beloved community in that region. We are, he said, "trying to become the change we want to see."
Sinkford also discussed the steps the UUA has taken to create a self-funded health insurance plan, calling this "a justice issue," and went on to acknowledge outgoing UUA Treasurer incoming Treasurer Tim Brennan, and UUA Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery, the Association's chief operating officer.
He noted that this year "we are in a period of discernment about the international work of the UUA. This work deepens and enriches the spiritual life of congregations, and congregations will be asked for information about their international involvement so the UUA will know how to more effectively support this important spiritual work."
Sinkford also said it's clear that the majority of UUs all want to see their Association achieve numerical and maturational growth, and that this is needed because there are people in need of our movement." He noted the development of a hoped-for large church which is starting in the greater Philadelphia area, and advertising campaigns which have taken place in Kansas City, Houston, Dallas, New York, and St. Louis. We need, he said, to do a better job of retention—"reasonable" hospitality—and we need to engage in new congregation formation. "There are people out there looking for us," he said, "and we must be willing to stay experimental so we can help them find us."
Our "growth wings" need roots to anchor them, and one of these roots is a deepening of our lifespan faith development. Sinkford announced that the UUA's most ambitious curriculum, Tapestry of Faith, which includes our first coming of age component, will be available starting this summer, free online, ready for use, with many more curricula to follow this initial offering, rolled out over the next five years.
Sinkford also discussed the ongoing Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth, noting that three hundred of our congregations have had conversations focused on youth ministry, yet the youth survey taken as part of our Consultation on Youth Ministry shows that half of our youth don't consider their congregations to be their spiritual homes. "We will have stakeholder conversations this year," he said, "and even the process of conversation is already beginning to change our ministry to youth."
Sinkford also discussed the future of UU theological education, announcing that the Harvard Divinity School and the UUA have created a newly endowed professorship, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Professor of Divinity. "The creation of this chair will cement the historic relationship between our institutions and add resources to ministerial preparation," he said. He thanked the Lowell and Jan Steinbrenner and the gift of the late Frank and Alice Schulman, along with the Shelter Rock UU congregation, for making the Emerson Professorship a reality.
Sinkford announced that in the fall of 2007, the public phase of a new capital campaign will take place. This campaign will be designed so that all UUs can contribute to continued theological education of our ministers and lay people. Congregations will be asked to take up a special collection that fall, something that virtually every other denomination does every year, and he hopes this becomes our habit.
Sinkford told delegates that Meadville/Lombard Theological School and Starr King School for the Ministry are exploring merger and consolidation. Those conversations are ongoing, and it is too early to tell if they will bear fruit, yet the imagination that has emerged is compelling.
Sinkford said, "Our opponents on the radical religious right are using fear-based tactics to distract America. We need to ask ourselves, what is it that they don't want us to be talking about?" The answer, Sinkford said, is "war and peace, economic justice, and environmental sustainability." He concluded by relating a Masai story in which warriors ask, "How are the children?" All over the world, he said, children are being killed, raped, and are in the midst of genocide in Darfur and Sudan. In Iraq there is violence and chaos, and in New Orleans where the public educations system is effectively closed down, there is the largest Diaspora this nation has ever seen. There are children who go to bed hungry in this, the richest nation the world has ever known. There is poor access to daycare, and Head Start is always under attack. The minimum wage needs to be increased by 40% just to keep pace with where it was when last passed.
Sinkford said that he has traveled much of the world this year, and knows that "we cannot retreat into our comfortable corners and not recognize the things that affect the world. We are a religion of hope and promise with the capacity to confront evil. This is our sacred calling, to take our faith to a new level of witness and engagement and effectiveness. We have come a long way together, and together we have a lot of work to do."
Courter explained that on Friday at Plenary, the delegates gave the Commission on Social Witness (CSW) an indication of their interest in the potential Actions of Immediate Witness (AIW) that were being presented. With that feedback, and looking at the guidelines, the CSW now has the opportunity to present a maximum of six AIWs for admission to the agenda.
Each AIW needs a two-thirds vote to be admitted for consideration. Each AIW is presented with a two minute sponsoring statement, and then delegates will be asked to vote on the proposal.
There being no other business to bring before the Assembly at this time, Courter moved the Plenary into recess.
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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.
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