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Plenary VIII

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General Assembly 2007 Event 5023

Prior to the start of the final Plenary of the 2007 General Assembly on June 24 in Portland, OR, a slide-show presentation was made in thanksgiving for those who have given money to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) or their congregations in memorium. The slides showed their names, images, and identified their congregations:

  • Robert Bart, in honor of Jill Bart, Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists (UUs), VA
  • Laile E. Bartlett, Ph.D., Mount Diablo UU Church, Walnut Creek, CA
  • John D. Blumgart, River Road Unitarian Church, Bethesda, MD
  • Warren Bryan, Unitarian Church of All Souls, New York, NY
  • Daniel C. Cotton, First Parish, Cohasset, MA
  • Albert J. Elias, Unitarian Church of All Souls, New York, NY
  • John M. Ely, Jr., Peoples Church UU, Cedar Rapids, IA
  • Jean H. Gillett, UU Church of Palo Alto, CA
  • Eva Gordon, First Parish in Lexington, MA
  • Rev. Dr. Donald Szantho Harrington, The Community Church of New York UU, New York, NY
  • Fred Haverland, Manatee UU Fellowship, Bradenton, FL
  • William H. Hughes, UUs of San Mateo, CA
  • Mrs. Elsie H. Irvin, UU Church, Surprise, AZ
  • Harold Lucien Jones, UU Church of Oak Cliff, Dallas, TX
  • Jean Kapuscik, Unitarian Church of Hinsdale, IL
  • Ted Kowalski, All Souls Unitarian Church, Tulsa, OK
  • Edwin Lutton, First Unitarian Church, Cincinnati, OH
  • Elizabeth Starbuck Maxwell, Cedar Lane UU Church, Bethesda, MD
  • Ida Marie Meier, Beverly Unitarian Church, Chicago, IL
  • William U. Niss, First Parish in Portland, Maine, UU
  • Alan Greenlee Perry, First UU Church, Houston, TX
  • Dr. Louis P. Pojman, Scholar in Residence, Unitarian Church of All Souls, New York, NY
  • Helen Pratt, Eno River UU Fellowship, Durham, NC
  • Joan Ritter, UU Congregation of Greater Naples, FL
  • James Ross, First Universalist Church, Denver, CO
  • Rev. Dr. J. Frank Schulman, Emerson Unitarian Church, Houston, TX
  • Henry H. and Priscilla Smith, friends of UU Church, Ellsworth, ME
  • Audrey and Raymond Sorenson, First Unitarian Church of Pittsburg, PA
  • Helen E. Wahl, First Unitarian Church, Rochester, NY
  • LeRoy B. Wilson, First Parish in Portland, Maine, UU
  • Hugh "Bud" Wylie III, UUs of Clearwater, FL

Following the conclusion of the image show, UUA Moderator Gini Courter called the eighth Plenary to order at 1:42 p.m., and called upon Dr. James Casebolt, Chair of the Commission on Appraisal to present their report.

Commission on Appraisal (COA)

Casebolt began his report by introducing members of the COA:

  • Incoming chair: Rev. Orlanda Brugnola, Brooklyn, NY
  • Rev. Barbara Child, Ann Arbor, MI
  • Dr. Mark Hamilton, Calgary, AB
  • Rev. Linda Weaver Horton, Kelowna, BC
  • Rev. Manish Mishra, St. Petersburg, FL
  • Michael Ohlrogge, Ann Arbor, MI
  • Rev. Tom Owen-Towle, San Diego, CA
  • Jacqui C. Williams, Albany, NY

Casebolt said that the COA is charged with reviewing any function or activity of the Association which would benefit from an independent review. The COA reports to the General Assembly, and its last three reports were on congregational polity, membership and theological diversity.

There is a written report in the UUA's Annual Report booklet, and Casebolt stated that the COA are currently in the process of reviewing the UUA's bylaw section on purpose and principles. This review began in 2006 and is expected to be complete by spring 2009.

This past January, the COA sent out a packet of materials to every congregation for their participation in the review of the Principles and Purposes. This material is also available at the COA website. Casebolt then showed a slide of the changes that they have predetermined should be made: a blank piece of paper. The COA's independence makes them perfect to lead this review, said Casebolt.

Barbara Child continued the presentation by saying that while the COA has decided nothing, they have heard from people that the 7th Principle, about our interdependence, ought to be first. Besides, she said, "the inherent worth and dignity of every person is in debate, so it shouldn't be first, and we also need to question our statements that seem to imply the individual is more important than the community."

Mark Hamilton continued by saying that others say, "Don't change a word," because they love the seven Principles they way they are, and they have served us well for decades. Linda Weaver Horton said others cite the Sources as the part of the Bylaws that need to be changed. Some say that it is time for us to honor Islam, while others say it is time to delete references to Christianity and Judaism, and still others say that the Sources currently articulate our lineage and should continue to do so. Others say we should not articulate fads in our Bylaws.

Manish Mishra said others simply want "world religions" named, rather than a "laundry list." Yet others say we need to lift up what provides inspiration, and we need to add arts and sciences for us. Michael Ohlrogge said that others would like to see the "laundry list" in the UUA's non-discrimination clause eliminated—that the Bylaws should just say "we welcome all." Tom Owen-Towle said that others insist that a list of persons to be protected from discrimination is different than a list of religions as in the Sources, and they argue that all these groups of people need to be included. They also urge the inclusion of people allergic to scents and those with issues around weight, as well.

Jacqui Williams said that others say that the Principles as written are not inspiring—"'Why bother if they don't get us excited about changing the world,' they ask. Others say that these are bylaws, legal documents, and it doesn't matter what they include."

Orlanda Brugnola concluded their report by encouraging delegates to attend the COA's GA workshop, or stop at their listening booth in the exhibit hall. She also encouraged congregations to take advantage of their opportunity to be involved and have a workshop in their congregation.

Bylaw Amendments Sections 11.9 and 12.9

Courter then told delegates that it was time to consider the various Bylaw amendments presented on the Business Agenda. First were proposed amendments to Section 11.9 and Section 12.9 that would grant the Board of Trustees the authority to approve Board of Review Rules, similar to their authority over the rules for the Ministerial Fellowship Committee and Religious Education Credentialing Committee. The Chair of the GA Planning Committee, Dr. Linda Friedman, made the motion to approve the proposed changes.

Rev. Linda Olson Peebles presented the Board's position on these Bylaw amendments. The Board is unanimously supportive of this change, she said, citing the parallel to the Ministerial Fellowship and Religious Education Credentialing Committees. She stated that GA elects the Board of Review members, but that the Board's job is to operate on behalf of the congregations between GAs. The Board of Review itself has asked the Board for these changes, in order to have processes parallel to the credentialing committees.

No one approached the microphones for debate on the issues, so Courter called for the vote, and the Bylaw amendments carried.

Bylaw Amendments Section 8.8

Courter stated that this Amendment, if passed, would establish the Moderator as the Chief Governance Officer of the Association. Friedman made the motion to approve Bylaw Amendment Section 8.8.

Tamara Payne-Alex provided the Board's position on the proposed Amendment. She stated that the UUA Bylaws specify that the Moderator presides at GA and meetings of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee. But, Payne-Alex stated, "our Moderator does much more. The term 'moderator,' while providing an accurate gender-neutral term, does not represent the scope of this position, which includes ensuring the efficacy and focus of the Board, providing critical communication linkages between Board Committees, monitoring the governance process, and building and sustaining relationships across our governance structure. The term Chief Governance Officer (CGO) is used to define the board member responsible for assuring the integrity of the process used by the Board and GA. Stating in the Bylaws that the Moderator shall serve as the CGO will help clarify and better articulate the role and expectations of the Moderator. The Board supports the motion unanimously," she said.

A delegate asked from the procedural microphone whether the term Chief Governance Officer is defined, and if it is a generally well understood term. Payne-Alex said that it is a well-used term when used to define governance processes. In response to a question from another delegate, Payne-Alex said that the term is used by many organizations, and in fact, the way we use "Moderator" is less frequently understood.

There being no one at the microphones for debate, Courter called for the vote, and the motion carried.

Recognition of Green Sanctuaries

Rev. Katherine Jesch, the Director of Environmental Ministry for the UU Ministry for Earth, and Barbara Ford, Chair of the Board of Directors for UU Ministry for Earth, came forward to recognize new Green Sanctuary Congregations. Since 2002, the UUA has provided recognition of Green Sanctuaries and nine new ones brings the total to 59, with another 60 congregations currently enrolled in the program.

To complete the program, Jesch said, "the congregations have carried out at least a dozen challenging projects that demonstrate the congregations' commitments to being green." The congregations recognized this year are:

  • UU Society of Amherst, MA
  • UU Church of Bloomington, IN
  • UU Church of Chattanooga, TN
  • UUs of Chester River, Chestertown, MD
  • UU Church of Davis, CA
  • Hopedale UU Community, Oxford, OH
  • UU Church of Rockford, IL
  • Unitarian Universslist Church of Sarasota, FL
  • UU Fellowship of Visalia, CA

General Assembly Service Project Report

Service Project coordinator Sarah Shurr thanked those who had already contributed to this year's project, Village Gardens. The goal is to receive enough funds to allow the Gardens to expand their work into another public housing project in the city. She reported that those who stopped by the Village Gardens booth in the Exhibit Hall have contributed $3200, and with the collection today (at the Sunday worship service that closes GA), they hope they will reach their goal.

Installation of Volunteers

Courter called on UUA Secretary Paul Rickter to lead the installation of volunteers who had been elected earlier this week. He used a litany composed by Rev. Wayne Arnason, former Secretary of the Association. The elected volunteers joined with the delegates in the process, and Rickter offered a prayer for their work.

Moderator's Report

Moderator Gini Courter began her report by "taking a few minutes to live in gratitude, which is a good thing to do." She thanked the sound and screen tech crew, as well as the closed captioners. She also reminded delegates that she has a written report in the published Annual Report booklet, and that in it she discusses major initiatives. "This afternoon," she said, "I want to speak about three things: who we are, where we are, and how we are."

As to who we are, Courter began by saying, "We're an assembly of faith communities, by whatever name, where we are not bound together by common beliefs or prayer. We're not supposed to be bound by the Principles, since we are a non-creedal faith. Rather, members of our churches are bound together by covenant. Members of our congregations are bound by the promises they are willing to make together about how they will be together. Similarly, we are supposed to have the same relationship between congregations and the Association—not because we choose to send money to a lock box or sing the same hymns, but because we make promises to each other, and promise to walk together to do together what we can't do alone. This is congregational polity, our method of governance and politics."

But the "more" of congregational polity, Courter said, has nearly gotten lost along the way. "The UUA is governed by the congregations. UUA President William G. Sinkford has noted that resolutions are sometimes described as top-down, but this is a misunderstanding of both polity and who we are. Often what the phrase 'top-down' means is 'You didn't ask me, or 'I wasn't there.'"

Courter asked where the ministers, board members and congregational presidents were in the house, and she stated, "it's critical to send our lay and ordained leaders to GA. Congregational polity means that congregations will be in each other's lives and work together to create something grander than we could do alone. Congregational polity doesn't mean that we're accountable to no one, but rather that we are accountable to each other, and accountable to all the congregations. We are being better neighbors all the time. After decades of increased disconnection, we are rediscovering that we are better together." This, she said, she treats "as a near miracle," and she thanked the delegates.

Turning to where we are, Courter said, "We are at the end of a new opportunity that I will call 'tomorrow. The work we are doing now, we should be doing now. Soon there will be a national advertising campaign that will bring increased visitors to our congregations, and we need to be ready. Most congregations get as many visitors each year as they have members. You will get more members." And she challenged the delegates, asking, "How are we caring today for the many people who dare to get out of bed on a Sunday morning and risk meeting us in hopes we'll provide the religious community they want? How are we doing today, poised on the edge of this opportunity?"

Courter said that she's afraid that in some cases, we'll end up with more people disappointed. She begged the delegates to work in the next year, this fall, winter and spring, to figure out how in each of our unique ways we will offer a genuine welcome to the many visitors seeing us now, who need our spiritual message. She implored us to be less than stingy with our religious homes, and to treat every visitor as the precious gift they are, just as when we first visited. "You have seen the reports from the four breakthrough congregations," Courter said, "and know that this is not rocket science. Rather, it is human love." She encouraged delegates to be better and better and better at practicing welcoming, as some of our congregations already are.

"How are we?" asked Courter. "There are so many of us here that it's a great joy." She reported that she asked Robert Fulghum if he would be the first speaker in what she envisions as an annual series of speeches for leaders, and he flew back from Crete this week to speak. The room was overfull, with people sitting on the floor in violation of the fire code. She knew that several hundred people would need to leave. When she explained the problem, "I watched people get up and offer seats." Noting that others were there first, people left in an orderly fashion with great love and care, even though they knew that they would not be able to hear the presentation themselves. "It was a minor miracle," Courter said, and "how we are is maybe sometimes no more complex than how we're called to be."

Courter thanked the GA Planning Committee for their willingness to provide CDs of Fulghum's speech and others to people who were shut out of programs and workshops, and thanked the attendees for finding a new way to be together. Another noteworthy happening at the Fulghum workshop came at the end, she said, when those who needed better access for scooters and the like, were let out of the room first.

Courter said that she was taking a risk, and "I want to be clear that this is a risk. There are UUs who have endured years and decades of work to finally begin dealing with racism in Unitarian Universalism in a meaningful way, and they don't need one more white person to declare personal victory." Courter said there might be a milestone nearby if we are willing to work for it.

Courter said, "Henry Hampton, the producer of the PBS award-winning Eyes on the Prize mini-series, didn't declare himself as a Unitarian Universalist although he worked for the UUA for a time, but he says in a reading in the UUA meditation manual Been In the Storm So Long that 'Unitarian Universalists have a habit of wishing for something, rather than dreaming it and dreaming it into being.' I think that we're actually beginning to learn to dream. We've always had individuals who could dream, but this is different. We as a faith community are beginning to move past wishing that people of color, Latino/a, Hispanic, transgender, youth, gay, lesbian, bisexual would 'fix' us and let us do something else. We're beginning to move past wishing that we could rest on our history and record of the UUs martyred in Selma. We're past wishing we didn't have to talk about race, racism, class, and classism and are beginning to learn how to dream. In the past few years, we've moved past wishing in some way that is almost tangible. Eleanor Roosevelt once said that 'the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,' and what we need to do now is make our dreams real in our lives, congregations and the world."

Courter said that this year she asked the Right Relationship Team to "do an impossible task," and gave them "complete authority to recruit whomever they wanted and to use any reasonable method to do their task." She said that members worked all day at GA, every day, into the night, to "help reweave the fabric of community where we tore it or neglected it. This team is a model of how to do the hard work that needs to be taken home. We need," she said, "to talk directly more often, offer suggestions, say 'I'm sorry,' correct each other in respectful ways, call each other to accountability, speak for those who have been silenced, and empower each other to simple, kind, loving, and prayerful behaviors." Courter said, "I have no words to express my gratitude to the Right Relationship Team. We often talk about empowering our young adults, and I want to make it clear that this team was not successful in spite of young adults, but because of the young adults involved and the ones that led the team. We need to quit describing our youth and young adults as our future, because they are here right now."

Courter said that she has two jobs, that of chairing plenary sessions, and the other as the chair of the Board of Trustees. She said that she spends more time with the Board than with delegates. The Trustees are not top-down, either, "because you elect them." She expressed her gratitude for the incredible hard-working, on-the-ball, future driven, and congregationally oriented Board of Trustees." Warm applause rang in the plenary hall in appreciation.

"Friends," said Courter, "how we are together is beginning to amaze even me. I love us as a learning community, when we are learning to collaborate in ways we were not meant to collaborate because of our rules." She said that people keep putting gifts in her pocket. One, she said, was a packet of Post-It notes that said, "Who are all these people and why are they asking me questions?" Another was a minister's gift of a five-point outline to help her with public prayer—"not a laughing matter, but a true gift." Another, she said, is a poem that she wanted to share with the delegates. She read the poem, without attribution since the author had not been consulted about identification, in which the author said that they had "only cried once today at GA, rather than the two times yesterday, but it was different this time as he was embraced by someone so utterly physically unlike him. In this crazy mess called America where the walls are so steep and we stare past each other, that we could see each other and embrace past slavery is amazing…" The poem concluded by saying that "we have 10,000 neighbors to meet, and we can meet one another as neighbors."

The poem ended the Moderator's report, and delegates responded with prolonged applause and cheering.

Recognition of GA Volunteers

Courter moved on to the recognition and appreciation for the volunteers and staff who create and run General Assembly: the members of the Planning Committee, the GA Administrator, Commission on Social Witness members, and the GA staff.

Responsive Resolutions

Courter introduced consideration of these actions noting that this year there were several Responsive Resolutions to a report of an Officer of the Association to be considered.

1. Responsive Resolution to President Sinkford's Annual Report

The following Resolution was moved:

In response to the statements in President Sinkford's Annual Report which call for an end to the U.S. Occupation of Iraq, the delegates of this Assembly recommit to taking action to end the Occupation. We reaffirm the 2004 and 2006 Actions of Immediate Witness regarding Iraq.

The 2006 AIW "Urges all Unitarian-Universalist leaders at the international, national, district, and congregational levels to support individual and congregational participation in interfaith campaigns to end military involvement in Iraq."

Resolved, the delegates of this Assembly reaffirm the goals of the 2004 and 2006 AIWs regarding Iraq and will take all necessary action to end the U.S. Occupation of Iraq.

There being no delegates at the microphones to debate this Responsive Resolution, Courter called for the vote, and the motion carried.

2. Responsive Resolution on Truth, Repair, and Reconciliation

The following Resolution was moved:

Genocide, slavery, oppression—President Sinkford asked, 'what are our truths?' To whom must we be reconciled? We have many stories to uncover. Only by knowing our truths can we act boldly on our spiritual journey of healing.

In response to President Bill Sinkford's report, I move that delegates begin this work by encouraging their congregations and the UUA to research their own and the Association's history: to uncover our links and complicity with the genocide of native people, with slavery and the slave-based economy, and with all types of racial, ethnic, and cultural oppression past and present, toward the goal of accountability through acknowledgment, apology, repair, and reconciliation, and that they report on their progress at GA 2008 and 2009.

A delegate at the procedural microphone asked how congregations would report. Courter said that the Secretary of the Association (Paul Rickter) will set up a methodology for response if the Resolution passes. With no one appearing at the microphones to debate the motion, Courter called for a vote, and the motion carried.

3. Responsive Resolution on Racism

The following Resolution was moved:

Be it resolved, that the Delegates to the 2007 General Assembly are charged to work with their congregations on the following:

  • Where possible, to partner in at least one program on issues of race and voting (such as intimidation, felon disenfranchisement and voter ID requirements) with an engaged non-partisan organization such as the Urban League, ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), League of Women Voters or local community group;
  • To seek opportunities for education and insight through personal interactions with people in communities of color regarding their experiences with voting;
  • To report key insights to their congregations and to next year's General Assembly.

There being no one at the microphones for discussion, Courter called for the vote on the Resolution and the motion carried.

4. Responsive Resolution on Confronting Gender Identity Discrimination

The following Resolution was moved:

Whereas, the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations noted in his June 21 st report to the General Assembly the work of our west Florida congregations on the issue of employment discrimination against transgender individuals; and,

Whereas, there has been no prior statement by the General Assembly specifically addressing our Association's views on transgender identity;

Be it resolved, that the 2007 General Assembly affirms its commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, including transgender individuals.

We further resolve to express this spiritual value through our employment practices, educational efforts, congregational life, and public witness; and,

Encourage member congregations and societies to explore with their communities the important differences between sexual orientation and transgender identity.

Rev. Manish Mishra, who moved the Resolution, stated that the demonstrations concerning the fired transgender city manager in Florida were nothing short of a public lynching, and that those who were in support of the firing shouted in joy at the ruining of this person's career. "It is important how we are and how we are together," he said.

Another speaker spoke of the many sources of discrimination against transgender people that include not only sexual orientation. "In reality," the speaker said, "transgender individuals are people who act differently than is expected on general expectations. This is different than a sexual orientation issue, and it is more than that."

Rev. Jan Carlsson-Bull, Chair of the Commission on Social Witness and minister of the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Cohasset, Massachusetts, spoke as a delegate in favor of the resolution, and urged delegates to support the proposed resolution. There being no one else at the microphones, Courter called for the vote on the Resolution and the motion carried.

5. Responsive Resolution on Health Insurance, Financial Advisor's Report

The following Resolution was moved:

Whereas, about 200 ministers and staff employed by UU congregations do not have health insurance, and

Whereas, economic justice is a core UU value and a failure to provide health insurance is a threat to their health and well being,

Be it resolved that:

The delegates urge the congregations to initiate fund raising drives to raise the money necessary to provide these approximately 200 uninsured ministers, staff, and their families with health insurance.

There being no one at the microphones to debate the issue, Courter called for the vote on the Resolution and the motion carried.

In response to questions at the procedural microphone, Courter indicated that the Parliamentarian and Legal Officer are not sure if this Responsive Resolution process is working the way it is intended, and that they will be looking at this process for the next year.

6. Responsive Resolution on Right Relationships

The following Resolution was moved:

In response to both the Secretary's report and those of the Committee on Right Relationships, I move that this body request the Planning Committee to discuss enabling the delegates and attendees to spend at least 30 minutes during the opening of General Assembly of 2008 to work together to gain insight, skills, and experience with:

  • Our own individual assumptions when encountering new people and
  • Engaging in compassionate response and witness when we fall short of our aspirations to expand our capacity to be allies to our fellow Association members and our larger community.

There being no one at the microphones for discussion, Courter called for the vote on the Resolution, and the motion carried.

Invitation to Fort Lauderdale

Courter then introduced David Fisher, local chair of the 2008 General Assembly, to present the invitation to GA in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, June 25 to 29, 2008.

Final Credentials Report and Announcements

UUA Secretary Paul Rickter gave the final credentials report, stating that there were 2,428 delegates present at the Assembly, representing 643 congregations (60%), and that overall attendance at General Assembly was 5,697.

Motion to Adjourn

Courter called upon the newly-elected chair of the GA Planning Committee, Dr. Beth McGregor, to move the final adjournment. Courter declared closed the 46th annual General Assembly.

Reported by Lisa Presley; edited by Deborah Weiner.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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