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Plenary IV

General Assembly 1999 Event 403

The fourth plenary of the 1999 General Assembly in Salt Lake City, UT, opened at 1:20 p.m. in the Ballroom of the Salt Palace on a sunny afternoon as Moderator Denny Davidoff gaveled the delegates to order.

The Rev. Tom Goldsmith, senior minister of the first Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, UT, lit the chalice, noting how grateful UUs of Utah were to have the General Assembly in this sometimes-religiously conservative part of North America. Reid Swanson of the GA Planning Committee led the plenary in singing Carolyn McDade's stirring song, "We'll Build a Land."

Moderator Davidoff then returned to the business of the previous plenary, debating a change in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Bylaws (sect. 4.8—General Assembly Delegates 6:10) to adjust the number of delegates to the /General Assembly upward.

An amendment to the motion, to adjust the number of delegates allocated to the Church of the Larger Fellowship from the present 11 to 22, passed overwhelmingly and was incorporated into the main motion. Debate then continued, with delegates speaking (pro) of the need to encourage more people to attend General Assembly, and (con) around the need to further study the impact of such changes on the Assembly and the Association's ability to conduct its business. When time for debate was exhausted, Davidoff called for the vote on the main motion, and it carried.

Report of the  Executive Vice President of the UUA

Kathleen Montgomery, Executive Vice President of the UUA, presented her report. Montgomery reflected on some of the milestones reached in the life of the Association this year. She noted that the Association is now 3 past the 50/50 mark for women in our ministry, and asked all women ministers to stand. She talked about the importance of right relations and safety in our congregations, and then paused to recognize religious educators in the hall while noting the significance of the 50th anniversary of the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA).

This year marked the 4th continental conference for large churches, with 250+ in attendance, she said. There are now 225 official Welcoming Congregations—"this, too, is something you've done really well," she said. "25 congregations sponsored Jubilee World workshops this year, bringing the total who have engaged in this program to over 200." "The Names I Call Myself," a gathering of multiracial families, will be held on Tuesday following GA, and "it is important for us to remember," said Mongomery, that "we are all part of a multiracial family."

The UUA, through its office of church staff finances, distributed $300K to those needing emergency aid. The Association also distributed more than $60K in continuing education grants for religious professionals. Thanks to the Veatch program, the UUA's capital campaign, and chalice lighter funds, $1.6 million will be distributed for UUA extension and growth efforts. An introduction of a new online ministerial search and settlement process will come this year.

This year, 23 Renaissance Religious Education modules were offered to 328 religious educators. Skinner House books published many wonderful new books, including meditation manuals by Barbara Pescan and Meg Barnhouse, a book on Norbert Capek, a book on religious education and families by Jeanne Nieuwjaar, and more. Beacon Press, the "voice of our values to the broader culture, is the most highly-recognized and distinguished independently owned publishing house in the US and probably in the world. Publishing, never an easy industry," said Montgomery, "is on hard times….so buy Beacon books. Give them as gifts. And one more thing," she said. "This year, Beacon will publish a new book by Marian Wright Edelman on mentoring. It will be excerpted in Child Magazine and Parade Magazine. Buy it, early and often."

Montgomery reported that the UUA's field staff has grown to over thirty, reflecting our commitment to enhanced service delivery. She recognized those leaving the employ of the Association and those new to the staff. "Two I want to particularly honor, retiring after years of devoted service," she said. She called on Conny LaFerriere from Pacific Southwest District, and Roger Comstock, from the Thomas Jefferson District, both of whom have served the Association well for years.

"And finally," she ended, "there is one other piece of good news I have saved till last: for those of you who have been trapped in the UUA voice mail hell, we will be purchasing and installing a new piece of phone equipment which will, we hope, keep you out of that particular hell forever." The news was greeted by rousing applause from the audience.

She concluded by thanking the plenary for their generosity, and noted the $77,800 raised during the morning's Service of the Living Tradition as embodiment of that generosity. That record amount will aid ministerial students, those ministers and their families in need of aid, and those who wish to engage in continuing education in tangible ways. Warm and enthusiastic applause followed Montgomery as she left the stage, as well as a standing ovation from the UUA Board and Staff for her work.

Report from the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Team 

A report followed from the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Team was next on the agenda. Members of the committee included the Rev. Susan Suchoki, chair, and the Revs. Kurt Kuhwald, Frank Rivas, Mel Hoover, and Robette Dias, Ivan Cotman, Leon Spencer, Ruth Allatorre, Susan Leslie, and Ken Carpenter. The Team offered their report on the history, achievements, and goals for the future of anti-racism efforts of the Association. The Team's goals are to strategically plan, guide, and coordinate the transformation of the UUA into an anti-racist, multi-cultural community. The Team meets several times per year; it strives to hold the threads of the Association's anti-racism work together to create institutional transformation. Transformation teams have been created in congregations, districts, and other UU organizations. The anti racist core team develops resources to help groups create change.

Kuhwald urged attendees to visit the Journey Toward Wholeness booth, and to consider holding a Journey Toward Wholeness Sunday in the year 2000 to raise funds to combat racism in their local community. The advantage of this project, Kuhwald said, is that 2/3 of the money stays local for the congregation to use in its anti-oppression work.

The Team reported that two gatherings were held in the last year, one including Dr. Janet Helms, author of A Race is A Nice Thing to Have. "We have been very active," said Suchoki, (but) "it has not been easy to bring together all the gifts and all the people. We must all learn how to be in genuine relationship and accountable to each other," she said.

"We are proud to announce that we now have five trainers for this work," said Suchoki. She reported they are: Leon Spencer, Tracey Robinson-Harris, Robette Dias, Mel Hoover, and Bill Gardiner, and there are more trainings of trainers scheduled for the next year. There is more than one path to achieving anti-racism, the team said, and other organizations are also working on programs that will also help dismantle racism. "We are a changing Association, said Suchoki, and as we expand relationships, our justice work changes.

Proposed Actions of Immediate Witness

Davidoff, before beginning debate on proposed Actions of Immediate Witness, noted that this day marked the 30th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in Greenwich Village, NY. "On that night thirty years ago, the gay and lesbian people who had endured so much abuse from the police and government officials, fought back and began the revolution for gay/lesbian/bisexual liberation. Thank you, all those courageous souls," said Davidoff. "May we follow your example in each of our own journeys."

Davidoff called for the introduction of proposed Actions of Immediate Witness, noting that no more than 6 may be admitted to the final agenda. She said that a two-minute presentation on each would be given, and that following the presentation, a vote would be taken on whether to admit each proposed Action of Immediate Witness to the agenda.

AIW-1: Genetically Modified Foods Emergency

Charles Behrens of First Parish, Chelmsford, MA, presented this proposal. The: proposed action calls for a moratorium on such food, and for testing, analysis and improved labeling. "Such foods have not been subject to basic tests...instead, we are being used as guinea pigs," said Behrens.... Genetic research is a great gift to human kind. "This proposal does not seek to ban this work, it asks us to move forward responsibly," he said.

Vote: Admitted to the final agenda

AIW-2: A Moral Response to Youth Violence at Columbine

James Walker, Jefferson Unitarian Church, Golden, Co, presented this proposal. Walker was a student who heard of the tragedies occurring at nearby Columbine and believes that a response from caring parents is needed. "In recent years, there has been a serious lack in the responsibility that parents take for their children," he said.... "Parenting is more of an afterthought ....parents need to become more active in their children's lives, to eradicate the motives to kill."

Vote: Admitted to the final agenda

AIW-3: Condemation of Sacramento Synagogue Arson

Presented by the Rev. Judith Morriss, and Rich Howard, President, Sacramento Unitarian Church, Sacramento, CA. The proposal calls UUs to come to together to condemn arson and acts borne out of racial hatred. "We will find a way to bring garlands, not ashes, to our communities," the speakers said.

Vote: Admitted to the final agenda

AIW-4: Work to Change Discriminatory Policies of the Boy Scouts of America

Presented by Jimmy Sheldon, Unitarian Fellowship of Los Gatos, CA, an Eagle Scout who expressed dismay over the dispute between the UUA and the Boy Scouts.

Vote: Admitted to the final agenda

Action will be taken during Monday's plenary on these items.

Presentation of the Distinguished Service Award to Til Evans

Text of Citation

Socrates compared the role of teacher to that of midwife, aiding people in giving birth not only to their best ideas but also to their best selves. Born in England and trained in nursing, Til Evans has for more than forty years helped Unitarian Universalists in North America to give birth to a more authentic way of being human together religiously. Her presence is at once gentle and utterly fearless. What she evokes in individuals are authenticity and boldness, a serious yet joyous commitment to lifelong religious learning and growing—in community. For Til Evans believes in, and exemplifies, the embodied religious life.

She began her service among us as a Director of Religious Education at the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles. More than thirty years ago, she helped to start "Venture," a forerunner of the Independent Study Program for religious educators. Given the honorary degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology in 1992 by the Starr King School for the Ministry, she was recognized and ordained as a minister by the Mt. Diablo Unitarian Church in Walnut Creek, California, in 1979. In 1980 Til Evans received the UUA's Angus MacLean Award for excellence in religious education. Over the years she has served on the board of the UU Women's Federation, on the UUA's Commission on Common Worship, and as a Sharing in Growth consultant.

Above all she has been a teacher of ministers and of educators, serving on the faculty of Starr King and showing an entire generation deeper meaning in religious education, in which education promotes authenticity and religion signifies meaningful connection and compassion. As acting president of Starr King from 1988 to 1990, as an interim associate minister in Durham, North Carolina, and more recently as the interim religious educator in Redwood City and Palo Alto, California, she has vividly shown how to live the brief interim that is every moment, that is life, both ethically and with enduring spirit.

Because she has helped to prepare our liberal religious movement for a new era, with a new birth of spiritual growth, institutional vitality, and social commitment, and because she has done so with both integrity and joy, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations is pleased to present its 1999 Award for Distinguished Service to the Reverend Dr. Til Evans.

Following the reading of the citation, Evans came to the podium to thuderous applause and a standing ovation which lasted for several minutes. Evans made a warm, heartfelt response to the Assembly.

Unitarian Universalist Family Values

Keith Kron

The Rev. Keith Kron, Director of the UUA's Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns, spoke of the need for a UU sense of family values, and highlighted ensuing programs and workshops at GA which will illuminate that concept. He introduced four stories about families, which illustrate the need for our embrace of the family in all its different forms.

Gary Watts was introduced. He is a 5th generation member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and father of 6 children, including a gay son and a lesbian duaghter. He chairs the Family Fellowship, a group primarily comprised of former Mormons who are parents of gay children. Additionally, he serves on the PFLAG National Board of Directors. In 1996, he was deeply moved by the story of the suppression of the Gay/Straight Alliance at a Salt Lake-area high school. "Our whole society should be a hate free zone," he said.

Jeanne Blake spoke next. Blake is a television reporter in Boston, and is principle in Family Health Productions, which produces videos about health-related issues. Blake also hosts "About Health" on television. She showed a montage of video clips from the first video produced by FHP to air nationally on PBS. A subsequent project, "In Our Own Words: Teens and Aids," has also been produced. Blake, following the playing of the film clip for the plenary, said, "I listened to these teens, and what I heard was extraordinary. They talked about sexuality, death and dying, about condoms and abstinence, the fears they felt, living with HIV. Even the way they told each other that they loved one another, was different. They said, 'the AIDS diagnosis broke down all the barriers.' They also said that they wished they'd gotten to that point a lot earlier…" Blake asked, "What lessons can these families bring to others?: We talked to others, and the result was these two videos. I am proud that they are being recommended as a resource for the Our Whole Lives curriculum."

Blake's company has, she said, "a personal commitment to produce the best stories we can to save the lives of other young people." She promised her subjects, many of whom have since died of AIDS, that "we would work hard to share their message and their wisdom. I know they would be proud to know that their lives have inspired all of our videos. We are committed in their memory to help families talk about the tough issues that put kids at risk for the behaviors that threaten their lives. Remind young people," said Blake, "that they deserve to be listened to , tell the truth about life, to make healthy choices."

Jim Smith, Jr, who is co pastor (with his father) of Allen Temple Baptist Church, a 6,400 member congegation in Oakland, CA, spoke next. Smith is a graduate of Starr King School for the Ministry, and his work, said Keith Kron, "is a model for us all." Allen Temple has grappled with how to understand and effectively minister to the needs of families in its congregation and the larger community, Smith said. "This struggle has been intensified by several factors, which include our nation's cultural confusion about how to define family, and the tremendous socio economic trauma experienced by poor inner-city Latino and African American families to whom Allen Temple is called to minister. Our congregation has looked to the black church tradition to better understand how to define family," he said.

Allen Temple holds no individual can be denied access nor individual denied from the ministry of the congregation. The black church tradition includes an emphasis on ministry to the family, and Allen Temple lives this out through programs which include a community outreach center which provides domestic treatment facilities, an AIDS case management service done in partnership w/ARC of Refuge in San Francisco, a Healthy Start program to stem infant mortality, a drug and alcohol recovery program administered in part. with the Haight Ashbury clinic in San Francisco, and much more

The final presenter was Jill Bates, a Unitarian Universalist from Birmingham, AL, who is the parent of 9 year old daughter. Slowly and painfully, Bates told her story of how she lost custody of her daughter three years ago; when the courts decided that her loving relationship with another woman could not provide as stable an environment as that of her former husband, who had remarried and was in a heterosexual relationship. Bates' case went to the Alabama State Supreme Court last summer, where she lost again. The Court, she said, ruled that she was unable to present a positive image for her daughter. Bates acknowledged the support of the UU Funding Program, which had provided funds for her to continue her legal battle, and the support of so many others from her own UU congregation who have helped to continue this battle as well.

Kron concluded the presentation, noting that we as Unitarian Universalists have much to learn, much to share, and much work to do as we focus on our UU family values.

Presentation of the Bennett Award

Presentation of the Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action: Keith Kron returned to the stage with the Rev. Mel Hoover, Director of the UUA Office of Faith in Action, to present this special award, given for the first time this year. The award, which carries a cash prize of $500, is to be given annually to the Unitarian Universalist congregation who has done the most to support human rights and social justice activism. Kron called on Jeffrey Lockwood, President of the UU Fellowship of Laramie, WY, to accept the award on behalf of the Laramie Fellowship.

Lockwood, his family, other members of the fellowship, and minister Stephen Mead Johnson joined Kron on stage to thunderous applause as the citation was read.

Text of Citation

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Laramie, Wyoming responded to the brutal lynching of Matthew Shepard with compassion and action.

The fellowship has functioned as continuing meeting space for organizing and planning around issues of homophobia and heterosexism and has provided space for the bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender community of Laramie to meet.

Following the death of Matthew Shepard, the congregation began the Matthew Shepard Fund as a way to combat homophobia in the area. To date this fund has raised more than 30,000 dollars and is working in conjunction with the local bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender community to decide the most effective use for this funds.

The congregation gathered at the fence where the lynching occurred a week after Matthew Shepard's murder an d answered many requests for information. The congregation also helped many of the national leaders who came after the murder in their work. The congregation has since begun its own education process, having started the Welcoming Congregation curriculum.

The fellowship's presence in the face of injustice and evil was an act of compassion and grace-- providing a liberal, human voice in a community that was not ready to accept that safety was a privilege and that this could happen here. The continual question, "Why would something like this happen in Laramie?" has been repeatedly answered by the Fellowship with the response, "Let's educate and organize so that we not only know why this could here or anywhere, but also make it a place where it is less likely to happen again."

—the Rev. Keith Kron, for the UUA Department of Faith in Action

Action on Statement of Conscience

Action on the UUA's first-ever Statement of Conscience was taken, and with no debate, the Statement was adopted overwhelmingly.

Following announcements by Assistant Secretary Margaret Sanders, Davidoff adjourned the Plenary at 4:15 p.m. The next Plenary will convene on Monday at 3:00 p.m.

Reported for the web by Debbie Weiner.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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