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Plenary III

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General Assembly 2006 Event 3004

Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Moderator Gini Courter called the third Plenary session to order at 8:35 a.m. UUA President, the Rev. William G. Sinkford, announced to the delegates that during the reading of the names of deceased ministers at the previous evening's Service of the Living Tradition, he had inadvertently omitted reading six names. He invited the delegates into the spirit of the previous evening's service, and as he began to re-read the list, all delegates rose and stood in silent remembrance.

Point of Personal Privilege

Courter then announced to the delegates that in a moment of either insanity or naiveté, she had invited her father to come to General Assembly. She explained to the delegates that her father, Guy, is a United Methodist layman, and that he will be 87 years old this year. "He raised me to love the church," Courter said, "he just didn't intend me to love this one. But it's okay with him." She said that he has two daughters-in-law that are UU ministers, and so that's okay, since this brought two ministers into the family. Courter also said that the issue is that she doesn't have a lot of "free" time at GA, and so she invited the delegates to help her father as part of our practice of radical hospitality. She said, "If you don't know what to do in your own congregation, please practice on my Dad."

Beacon Press Report

Moderator Courter then introduced Helene Atwan, Director of Beacon Press, to present her report. Atwan told delegates that people know about the Press, and that is a good thing. Beacon Press is thriving for a fourth year in a row, and is well ahead of the plan several years ago to improve Beacon's fiscal condition. Atwan then reflected on several Beacon authors and publications including:

  • Octavia Butler, who died in February 2006;
  • Victor Frankl, whose book Man's Search for Meaning , has sold more than 10 million copies. Beacon now owns all the U.S. editions available which will keep Beacon's coffers full;
  • Poems to Live by in Troubling Times, volume two of Beacon's instant books
  • Poet Mary Oliver's collected works

Getting out our message on true moral values is what Beacon is about, said Atwan. Beacon's list includes books on global policies and foreign policy. We are making voices of immigrant and hyphenated Americans heard, Atwan informed delegates. We are also addressing issues in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as well as interfaith dialogue, stewardship of the natural world, and public education.

Beacon's website provides easy links to areas of interest, and they are making free shipping available. Beacon is providing targeted ads on the internet on Google and other websites—if you're interested in moral values, you can find the answers first at Beacon, secondly at E-Bay, and then at shopping.com. There are banner ads on sites of those with similar interest, and there are many references to Beacon and their books on prominent blog sites such as Grist and Salon.com. Atwan thanked delegates for helping get the message out, and also thanked the Veatch Program at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock and the UUA for their continued support.

Starr King School for the Ministry

Courter then introduced the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker for a report from Starr King School for the Ministry. Starr King, said Parker, is our UU theological school on the west coast, and they have been educating people for the UU ministry and progressive religious leadership in our society for the past 102 years. Graduates serve throughout our movement, as President of the UUA, staff members, community ministers, parish ministers, religious educators and in other positions.

At Starr King, said Parker, we teach people to become ministers through a distinctly UU approach with individually designed courses, fostering community, sharpening the mind, and building practical skills. Our vision for the future of Unitarian Universalism is vital congregations with prophetic and humanistic preaching, satisfying worship, and growing ministries of compassion for the broken places in the world. Our ministers will be multi-cultural and celebrate all families. They will be deeply grounded in our UU heritage, and have bold engagement with multi-religious understanding. This, plus attention to religious education that promotes wholeness and liberation, congregations as sites of critical consciousness and learning, is what they strive for.

Parker also informed delegates that Starr King is launching a new degree program for lay leaders: a master of arts in religious leadership for social change. There will be twelve on-line courses next year that run from UU theology and history to liberal religious education, world religions, and deepening understanding of Islam.

Parker said the key to creating a vibrant future for Unitarian Universalism is effective, well-resourced UU theological education. Starr King has, as of today, exceeded its $7 million campaign by nearly three-quarters of a million dollars. We have come this far by faith, and with generous support, for which we thank you. Arliss Ungar then presented President Sinkford and Moderator Courter with copies of her written history of the first 100 years of Starr King School, With Vision and Courage.

O. Eugene Pickett Award

The Rev. Tracey Robinson-Harris, Director of Congregational Services Staff Group, presented the O. Eugene Pickett Award to the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, PA (UCH). This congregation, Robinson-Harris said, has grown numerically, organically, maturationally, and incarnationally over the past seven years. In the past two years alone their religious education program has grown by 25%. They have two Sunday services every week, and successful small group and young adult ministries. They are both a Welcoming Congregation and a Green Sanctuary Congregation. UCH is a teaching congregation for both interns and field education students, and they have an outward focus. Some of their programs help women released from prison re-enter the community and they provide scholarships for high school students.

Breakthrough Congregation: UU Church of Annapolis

Breakthrough Congregations are those congregations that have demonstrated visible growth and vitality in all areas of congregational life. Four will be presented this year, and their video presentations will be made available to congregations later this summer.

Prior to showing their video, Scott Eden, president of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, Maryland, (UUCA) said that they were thrilled to be chosen as one of this year's Breakthrough Congregations. The video began with UUCA members, filmed from above, greeting delegates at St. Louis, and then went on to outline the history of the congregation and its ministries to members and the community. It told how they used to choose worship times in order to work well for midshipman at the Naval Academy, but now they meet twice a Sunday to accommodate their growth. They are a year-round church, and they are about people. There are a variety of ways for lay people to be involved in ministries—in worship, leadership, and in the community. Their words of welcome include words that make all people feel invited into the life of the congregation. They see their job as teaching and learning, and they have reached out to Transylvania and Romania since 1990, while recently they have developed relationships with the UU Church of the Philippines through visits and funding cooperative village programs.

Rather than RE standing for "religious education," their lifespan program is entitled "religious exploration" to ensure children, youth, and adults know it is learning in a new way. There are 170 children and youth involved, and there is no more space in the church building. The program is focused on community rather than content.

UUCA is also involved in the community, with projects such as Habitat for Humanity, an HIV/AIDS hospice, prison ministry, and musical coffee house. They are rooted in the community at large.

Openness Implementation Committee

After singing "We're Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table" with song leaders Quadratic Equation, Courter introduced Art Ungar, chair of the UUA's Openness Implementation Committee (OIC).

Unger reminded delegates that the OIC was created by General Assembly in 2004 to ensure openness in the operation of the UUA's Board, committees, task forces, and other bodies be open through the publication of agendas and minutes, and by allowing people not on the bodies an opportunity to express issues and concerns. The UUA Board of Trustees is responsible for implementation of the policy, and they created the OIC to assist.

The Committee has been working for the past year and a half, first creating standards and advice for openness, and then monitoring the application of same. The results, Unger said, have been varied. The guidelines are available on the Web, but four or five clicks in from the UUA's main page. It is hard for committees to know what they have to do if they cannot find the guidelines. The Board is working very hard on openness, generally publishing its agenda and background materials, but a month after their April meeting notes on the proceedings were not yet posted. Committees are better and worse—the Ministerial Fellowship Committee posts news and newsletters; others do not do as well. Unger stated that in the time allowed he could not review all their findings, but encouraged delegates to check the Web and email them at openness @ uua.org with any questions.

Actions of Immediate Witness Informative Vote

Courter said that in order to help the Commission on Social Witness (CSW) with their job of deciding which Actions of Immediate Witness (AIW) to propose for admission to the agenda, they want to get a sense of the delegate body. Ten potential AIWs had been prepared, but under procedures, only six of these can be admitted. Rather than making the decision without delegate input, a straw poll was taken on all ten AIWs.

There were problems with the availability of paper copies of the documentation: the CSW finished their work on these issues at 4:30 a.m., and the printer was not able to provide sufficient copies by the 7:00 a.m. delivery time. Courter invited the delegates to share copies, and after a reading of the names of the AIWs the votes were taken.

Statement of Conscience

Moderator Courter invited the Rev. Meg Riley, Director of Advocacy and Witness Staff Group, to explain to delegates how Statements of Conscience (SOC) are implemented.

Riley told delegates that once these statements have been discussed and passed, they become part of our living faith, and are concrete descriptions of how we live in the world. Riley introduced Jerry Davidoff to share a few words about one statement. Davidoff mentioned that in the 1960s, General Assembly voted in support of the Voting Rights Act. But this past Wednesday, Davidoff stated, the House of Representatives delayed a vote to renew that particular act. This must be renewed, and by having the resolutions on the record, the UUA and members can use the power of those resolutions to bolster their actions to have the House reconsider and vote in favor of this act. Riley then suggested that delegates call their Representatives (866-808-0065) and urge support of the legislation. Riley said "My faith as a UU compels me to stand on the side of justice, equity, and compassion," and said that she can't stand silently by.

It was then time to begin debate on the proposed Statement of Conscience (SOC), "Threat of Global Warming." The history of this SOC was reviewed:

  • Presented first at General Assembly in Long Beach, 2004
  • Studied by congregations from 2004 to 2006
  • Reports sent out in March 2005
  • GA workshop in June 2005
  • Draft sent to congregations in the fall of 2005
  • Draft SOC sent out in 2006
  • Over 200 people attended the mini-assembly at this GA
  • Over 70 amendments were considered, with some being incorporated by the CSW, and others that are available to be moved in the discussion

Smith, as chair of the CSW, moved the SOC and that it be debated without consideration of amendments for ten minutes if there are both pro and con speakers.

Courter told delegates that they would discuss the SOC as presented for ten minutes before considering amendments.

With this, the debate began. Those in favor of the SOC stated that it was time for us to act since global warming is a true problem caused by humans, and therefore needed to be addressed by us; concern about the disproportionate impact of global warming on developing nations and the poor in this nation. Speakers at the con microphone spoke of the need for stronger wording than that contained in the SOC.

Procedural Questions

At what was the beginning of a long chain of procedural questions, one delegate pointed out that it was hard to understand the difference between the pro and con speakers, to which Courter replied "I just introduce them, I don't explain them." Denny Davidoff, former moderator of the UUA, moved that the SOC be referred back to the CSW which would mean that it would be sent back to congregations and be re-presented at GA 2007. The motion was defeated. Another delegate asked whether this SOC could be referred to another time during this GA. Courter replied that we are always able to do whatever makes the business work well. She asked the CSW chair whether this would be helpful, and the answer was no.

Reflecting on the number of amendments and the concerns that were being expressed, Courter stated that moving the discussion to another time would presume that a shortage of time and input was the problem, but after consultation with the CSW chair, they were not clear what the process would be. This is, she said, the best effort out of the mini-assembly that was held. Conversation back and forth with delegates at the procedural microphone indicated that at least some people who attended the mini-assembly did not think that their concerns were dealt with well by the CSW. She explained that the CSW considered not only the feedback that was made at the mini-assembly, but also all the comments that came from congregations over the past two years. Courter said that she was not sure that moving the time of debate would reduce the tension. The delegate replied that the concern was the amount of time allowed for debate and the long list of unincorporated amendments yet to consider. He stated that the amendments discussed with the most energy and compassion were very far down the list of unincorporated amendments and several not discussed at all were at the top of the list. Courter replied that delegates had choice in this—if things are not important, they could either not be moved at all, or debate on them could be limited. The delegate asked whether there would be time to get through the fifty unincorporated amendments, to which Courter replied that there are always unincorporated amendments.

Courter also informed delegates that the SOC on the floor is the culmination of a long process. She stated that she was not clear that considering all these amendments on the floor was the best process—rather, she believed that it might be more appropriate to send the matter back to congregations. She stated that what people were trying to do was to solve in two days through parliamentary procedure something that the congregations should have spent two years doing. Only ten percent of UUA congregations submitted information to the CSW on this SOC. She also pointed out that all the procedural motions and conversations were not "free" time, but was part of the overall time allowed for consideration of the SOC. She suggested it was time to allow the first amendment to be presented.

Amendment Proposed

A delegate then moved the adoption of amendment number 19 from the list of unincorporated amendments. Before debate could resume, another delegate appeared at the procedural microphone suggesting that the delegate body wanted the strongest possible language in the SOC and suggested that the body move into Committee of the Whole in order to have a straw vote to determine if this was the case. Courter said that she would take up his motion once the amendment on the floor was considered. The delegate replied, "With all due respect, does the motion to refer to the committee of the whole take precedence?" "No, it does not," replied Courter, and "I hear you with all due respect." The vote was then taken on Amendment number 19, and it was passed.

Committee of the Whole

The delegate then returned to the procedural microphone to move that the body move into Committee of the Whole. Courter explained that moving to Committee of the Whole allows the delegates to talk without a motion on the floor, and that straw polls can then be considered. The Committee of the Whole can make a recommendation to the delegate body, but that does not need to be accepted once returned from Committee of the Whole. The motion to move into Committee of the Whole was then put, and it was carried.

Another delegate went to the procedural microphone and asked whether the moving of and acceptance of Amendment 19, which happened moments before, meant that it precluded moving amendments one through eighteen. She was told that ordinarily this was the case, but that "we'll figure out how to make this right," and referred the delegate to the CSW for further conversation.

Once again a delegate appeared at the procedural microphone, and thanked the CSW for their extraordinary effect. He stated that he believed the sense of the body was that the motion was wonderful, but not enough. He believed that the delegates would say that it needed to be brought back strengthened to the body on Sunday. Courter said that what she heard from the CSW was that the word "strengthened" did not provide enough direction to the CSW. Could delegates give examples, she asked.

One delegate pointed out that linking this to human rights and justice issues would be one way, and that amendments 25 and 26 would do this. Another delegate suggested amendment 16 would strengthen the motion. Courter asked for other amendment numbers that would be important to add, and delegates suggested also amendments 36, 41, 32, 33 and 34.

Eventually, Courter suggested that straw votes to indicate which of the amendments, if any, should be referred back to the body out of the Committee on the Whole. She asked delegates to indicate their preferences for including amendments 16, 25, 26, 32, 33, 34, 36 and 41. Delegates indicated preference for inclusion of all these amendments.

These proceedings were interspersed with several other questions at the procedural microphone:

  • The placement of Amendment 2
  • Questioning whether another mini-assembly on Saturday following more sleep would help
  • Discussion about the lack of printed copies of the amendments and a request for them to be on the screen (which then happened)
  • The proper type of comments to be made from the procedural microphone (issues of delegate accessibility)
  • Desire to reduce the definition of the problem and move to calls to action

Courter asked how many congregations had discussed this, and fewer than one-half had had discussions in their home congregations. She pointed out that there had been no fewer than eight mailings to congregations around this SOC, that it is on-line, and that Earth Ministry has worked hard to get people involved. She said, the question is "how much stomach do we have for continuing to pretend that we can solve a polity problem in this hall today?" She was elected, she said, to be a leader of congregations, and that she has not been doing service for that leadership in the last hour or so. This is not a parliamentary problem, and she suggested that all take a deep breath and let go of a bit of the anxiety we're carrying. "We'll be all right," she said.

Courter then suggested that it would be appropriate for there to be a motion to move out of committee of the whole, with the report that straw votes on amendments 16, 25, 26, 32, 33, 34, 36 and 41 all passed, and that it is recommended to incorporate these into the SOC. She also expressed concern for those people who had played by the rules and were still waiting to present other amendments. She indicated that it might only be fair to allow them time at a subsequent Plenary to present their amendments, too.

Davidoff approached the procedural microphone and moved that the body go out of Committee of the Whole to report recommendation of the incorporation of amendments 16, 25, 26, 32, 33, 34, and 41 into the SOC. The motion carried, and the delegate body returned from Committee of the Whole.

Back to the Debate

Courter indicated that we were in the middle of the SOC process, and that we were not done, but that additional time would be needed. A delegate approached the procedural microphone and asked that the question be called. This motion was defeated. A motion was made to accept the motion of the Committee of the Whole, and this motion carried without discussion.

Courter indicated that additional time would be necessary to be fair to those who stood in the amendment line while the body was in Committee of the Whole. She stated that she would return with a recommendation to the Friday evening plenary.

Courter then jokingly hit herself on the head with the gavel several times, stating that it always feels good when we stop. She called the body into recess, following announcements. Yet before the gavel fell, still another delegate approached the procedural microphone. This delegate thanked the Moderator for her outstanding job, to which the delegates responded with a standing ovation. Immediately after this, Courter moved the body into recess until 6:45 p.m.

Reported by Lisa Presley; edited by Deb Weiner.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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