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Plenary III

General Assembly 2001 Event 3003

Saturday Plenary Features Vote on Study/Action Issues and a Beloved Moderator's Goodbye

(Cleveland, OH—June 23, 2001) Moderator Denny Davidoff called the third plenary of the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly to order at 8:35 a.m in the Cleveland Convention Center's Public Auditorium. She immediately called for a resumption of debate for twenty minutes on the proposed Study/Action Issues being considered by the General Assembly: S-7, The Separation of Church and State; S-5, Prison Reform; S-1, The Changing Family; S-2, Economic Globalization; and S-8, U.S. Election Reform. Davidoff then called for a vote, to be taken by written ballot.

While votes were being counted, Cynthia Lehman-Budd, coordinator of the Cleveland Empty Shelves project, spoke about this year's General Assembly service project, to build the libraries of some of the city's most needy schools. She said, "None of us would tolerate outdated books in our schools... I am proud that three of our local congregations have committed their time, energy and resources to supporting schools and children. I can not convey to you how happy the schools are for the empty shelves project. Please support those three congregations and the schools they serve, to build the school library's wish list. Be as generous as you can be; leave a proud legacy in support of children and this assembly." This project continues through the remainder of the General Assembly; information about the project and ways to contribute are in the exhibit area at the Convention Center.

Kay Montgomery introduced Rev. Fred Muir, Chair of the Safe Congregations Panel, to offer a final report of the Safe Congregations Task Force. Muir said, in part, "For two years, I was the chair of the Safe Congregations Panel, whose final report is entitled 'Restorative Justice For All: Unitarian Universalists (UUs) Responding to Clergy Sexual Misconduct.'" The panel was discussing issues of clergy sexual misconduct, religious education safety policies, and building and maintaining safe congregations. Muir said, "The turmoil, strain and intensity from these three things challenges us and our congregations. Many of you have faced one of these matters. We know you can feel isolated...but you are not alone.

"Right relationships affect us all, and we are never alone as we struggle to respond to difficult decisions and lift up the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Its origin is in two sources. In 1994, the task force was formed to articulate a proposal for dealing with clergy sexual misconduct. It issued a recommendation which urged the association to promote a well-coordinated institutional response to misconduct, to ensure justice making on the part of all involved. In 1995, this General Assembly passed a resolution in support of safe congregations and right relations. Through this came our panel's mission: to recommend to the association a response and ministry to victims and survivors of clergy sexual misconduct."

He continued, "The congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) promise and commit to one another our mutual support... The challenge we face is this: for victims and survivors, the promised support never reached them... (it was) a dream unfulfilled. Let me tell you about several themes that emerged (from the Task Force's work). Response to clergy sexual misconduct must be guided by compassion for victims and survivors. Clarity of process must be evident for victims and survivors and for all involved. Fairness of response must be equitable and even-handed. Confidence in the personnel handling these matters must be expected, regardless of who is involved. Guided by these things, our response can be one of affirmation and process. Ministry shapes our work. Ministry to survivors of clergy sexual misconduct will be most successful using an advocates' model, a person who walks through the events with the victim or survivor, clarifying, suggesting, and speaking on behalf of them when they cannot speak themselves. We are a religious association. We are immersed in the business and passion of ministry.

"Our response to the victims and survivors of clergy and sexual misconduct must be one of restorative, rather than retributive justice...it honors explicit, rather than implicit, promises and commitments. In our passion for ministry, restorative justice is what we need. Speaking to this issue, the panel wrote that they were often amazed at the commitment of survivors and victims to restoring justice among themselves, in their congregations, and with the UUA. The thing people seek is restoration of the covenant, not retribution.

"Restorative Justice will be a difficult transition...but it is the form of justice that our covenant, mission and vision support. Our panel wants to thank (UUA Executive Vice President) Kay Montgomery for her commitment to this issue and support in our work. We thank with deep gratitude the victims and survivors who shared this story. It is our hope that their participation will shape a future that is very different than what they experienced."

Thanking Muir, Davidoff moved to debate on the second year study/action issue, "Responsible Consumption is Our Moral Imperative." Debate proceeded, with a series of amendments being made. There was discussion around the many amendments offered. There was discussion about recommitment of the proposed issue to another year of study, which was declined by the assembly, and a series of possible amendments were proposed. Davidoff said, "I am trying to be flexible...but you know how we say in churches that we shouldn't try to write things as a group...and here we are, the zillion of us, working on two lines..." She concluded with a grin, "I am trying to be flexible, but I have the power to rule..."

Speakers continued in favor and in opposition to amendment of the preface to the study/action issue. Many people rose to spoke, a vote was taken in favor of the amended language, which passed. The statement of conscience passed by an overwhelming vote.

Results of the written ballot on proposed Study/Action Issues was shared with the Assembly. The results were:

  • S2, Economic Globalization—325*
  • S7, Separation of church and state—334*
  • S5, Prison Reform—165
  • S8, United States Election Reform—163

*According to the rules, a runoff vote between these two issues was called for. The vote was taken by show of hands, and Davidoff declared that S2, economic globalization, had carried as the top vote-getter.

A group of delegates requested a recount of the votes, asking for a hand count by the tellers. Davidoff, reminding delegates that plenary would run late, called for the vote to be taken. While the votes were being counted, she asked for a hymn break, and Reid Swanson of the Planning Committee invited delegates to sing "In The Sweet June Days," which was accompanied by Gladys Rudolph of the UU Congregation in Toledo, OH.

While votes were being counted, Secretary Wayne Arnason made announcements. The final vote count was announced:

  • S2—economic globalization—875 votes
  • S7—church and state—688

Davidoff declared that S2, economic globalization, was the winner.

Davidoff then moved to the bylaw amendment to establish a position on the Board of Trustees for a youth delegate. Bob Martin, Chair of the GA Planning Committee, made the motion, and Larry Ladd, Financial Advisor of the UUA Board, offered the board's position on the amendment. He said:

Youth have more to offer us than energy breaks. They question our assumptions, offer alternatives we had not imagined ourselves, and remind us, by their mere presence, of the ongoing purpose of our work. In recognition of that value, the board has invited youth as observers, sitting at the table with us, for the past two years. Now we recommend taking another step toward taking our youth more seriously.

The most important function of the UUA Board of Trustees is to envision the future. Yet the board, for all of its experience and leadership, is a product of our past. Only three trustees are under 45 years of age. This outcome is a result of an election system that rewards long service and a governance system that requires of board members extraordinary amounts of time.

To compensate for the lack of youth, one of our predecessor organizations, the American Unitarian Association, had youth trustees. The first president of the UUA, Dana Greeley, served as a youth trustee. Leon Hopper, a recent recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, served as a youth trustee. Several other of our distinguished ministers, such as Charles Eddis and David Parke, served also. Indeed, youth participation in leadership roles will motivate them to provide future leadership for our movement.

We offer much rhetoric about how important it is to keep our youth. But they will not stay merely because we want them to. They will stay only if we create a movement worthy of their ongoing loyalty and commitment. We cannot create such a movement without welcoming them at the table, helping us to shape the future.

Unofficial Amendments Passed Saturday June 23, 2001

383 Section 6.3. Membership

384 The Board of Trustees shall consist of:
385 (a) the President, without vote, the Moderator and the Financial Advisor;
386 (b) [four] five trustees elected at large, including a trustee at large from Canada and a youth
387 trustee at large;
388 (c) one trustee representing each district, except that a single trustee shall represent each of the
389 following combinations:
390 (1) The Mid-South and Florida Districts;
391 (2) The Prairie Star and Western Canada Districts;
392 (d) notwithstanding the provisions of clause (c) above and the provisions of Section 6.6 of these
393 Bylaws, two trustees representing the Clara Barton District. This subsection (d) shall remain
394 in effect only until the end of the 2001 General Assembly, at which time it shall expire and
395 be automatically deleted from these Bylaws.

396 *Section 6.4. Election of Trustees

397 The youth trustee at large and one-half of the other number of trustees at large shall be
398 elected at the regular General Assembly held in each odd-numbered year. One-half, as nearly as
399 possible, of the trustees representing districts shall be elected prior to each such General
400 Assembly. The Board of Trustees shall divide the districts into two groups for purposes of
401 electing trustees.

402 Section 6.5. Term

403 Trustees shall take office immediately after the close of the General Assembly at or prior to
404 which they are elected and, with the exception of the youth trustee at large, shall serve for
405 terms of four years or until their successors are elected and qualified. The youth trustee at
406 large shall serve for a term of two years or until his or her successor is elected and
407 qualified. No trustee may serve more than two successive full terms [of four years each],
408 regardless of the length of those terms.

409 *Section 6.6. Qualifications of Trustees

410 Each elected trustee shall be a member of a member congregation. An elected trustee
411 representing a district shall reside in that district and shall be a member of a member
412 congregation located in the district. The trustee at large from Canada shall reside in Canada and
413 shall be a member of a member congregation located in Canada. A trustee who ceases to meet
414 these qualifications shall be disqualified and the office declared vacant. The youth trustee at
415 large shall be an individual aged 14 to 20 inclusive years at the time of election. Not more
416 than one trustee shall be a member of the same member congregation. If a trustee becomes a
417 member of a member congregation in which another trustee is already a member, such trustee
418 shall be disqualified and the office declared vacant. The Board of Trustees shall adopt rules for
419 the application of this section to persons holding membership in more than one member
420 congregation.

Debate (20 minutes) ensued, both for and against. The Rev. David Parke, speaking in favor, said: "The age range proposed (for this position) is 14 to 20...in the American Unitarian Association in the 30's, 40's, and early 50's, youth delegates sat at the table and the roof did not fall in...This act might be played back to local congregations...ask the question, 'what is the minimum membership in this church?' If it's over 14, you have work to do at home." Chris Trace, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Tuscaloosa, AL, made an impassioned plea to the delegates: "I have a vision of an intergenerational UU faith...of a board of trustees that is inclusive of (all the people who) compose our churches...I know that this vision is shared with others...I know that one person on the board will not create instant change. I am twenty and due to a fortunate set of circumstances, I have been honored to serve our denomination on the Fulfilling the Promise Task Force and the Commission on Social Witness. Let your faith be one where people can grow...where youth learn the meaning of accountability...let us live up to our highest ideals, our highest calling, and stand with steadfast conviction to our faith. Please vote for this amendment ."

Rev. Alice Blair Wesley of the UU church of Lehigh Valley, Bethlehem, PA, speaking in opposition to the amendment, said, "Ours is supposed to be an association of congregations. Congregations need to govern our association. Every time we change the focus of our governance from congregations to an extra-congregational organizational focus, we weaken them, rather than strengthen them, by shifting the focus. I want to make it clear. I believe our youth are important. The most important thing we can do for our future is strengthen our youth groups in our churches...but what does this motion have to do with strengthening youth groups in our local churches? I think it has nothing (to do with it). I think that youth in general are not set up so that one person can speak for all of them, or communicate to them, or carry them along on discussion on policy in the association. This is a diversion and not helpful. I urge you to vote against this motion, or any motion that moves us away from our major focus, which is strengthening congregations."

After further debate, the vote was called for and passed overwhelmingly.

Rev. Wayne Arnason returned to the podium to make additional announcements. He called on Rev. Lisa Presley, chair of the Commission on Appraisal, who made a motion to direct the Moderator to extend to Jerry Davidoff the Assembly's best wishes and prayers for healing and a return to health, which passed by acclamation.

Davidoff issued her Moderator's report and as part of it, called on the Journey Toward Wholeness Committee to make a final report (PDF, 23 pages). The Rev. Susan Suchoki Brown and members of the committee took the stage. Brown recalled that at the 1993 General Assembly, the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed had related these words from his book, "Black Pioneers in a White Denomination": "Our history in regard to racial justice is brave enough to make you proud, tragic enough to make you cry, and inept enough to make you laugh, once the anger passes." In 1996, said Brown, Rev. Jose Ballester said to the assembly, "we cry out for all of you, our brothers and sisters, to work for justice, and if we are a people, if we do not hear the cry, and do not respond to our sisters and brothers, if we lose our way, then may what we inherit be what we deserve. If we forget that living is about being a caring community, we have no right to call ourselves a faith."

During the 1993 General Assembly (GA), said Brown, "we began a process of education, reflection, and dialogue. A major report was published and presented to the 1996 GA and adopted in 1997—stating that we need to find a way to make the UUA an anti-oppressive, anti-racial organization. The Journey Toward Wholeness (JTW) committee was formed, to monitor and assist the progress of the association to an anti-racist multi-cultural community."

Robette Dias said, "We began to work with the Planning Committee to include greetings from native Americans. Across the continent and in districts, with youth and young adults, the journey has been traveled by UUs who want to catch a glimmer of the future. Today we come to say that the journey is both hard and joyful, simple and complicated, leading us onward. We have learned much about this work, and our report includes ways to carry this to our congregations... " Some personal reflections followed.

Rev. Adele Smith Penneman said, "Many images arise as I minister to a progressive rural parish. In the deep joys, there are also moments of disconnect... My visit to Mrs. Adams' house, who talked about how her jaw dropped when she saw my candidating photo. She said, "I knew they were having difficulty finding someone, but I just couldn't believe it." The too-frequent boasts from parishioners that they are colorblind in this country in 2001, and that they are blind to my culture and experience; the sense from some who attended a recent Jubilee World weekend, that it did more harm than good, because white America holds up a 'do not disturb' sign."

Rev. Gary Smith, outgoing president of the UU Ministers Association said, "my own personal growth in this difficult work...has come in my own evolving understanding of the world journey, as in journey toward wholeness. If you have ever been on a hike where you are straggling, and they wait for you, then take off again, you know what I mean. That's what this felt like. But somewhere on this hike, I and the JTW leaders realized that the leaders were no longer ahead of us...they were walking with us. We have begun the long walk with our colleagues, ministers of many cultures, and we have begun to listen to each others' stories. It is a journey that is changing my ministry and my life.

"Although (this process is) really generations old, that journey is still just begun. We know there are miles and miles to go. We also know we are people of faith who must be held accountable by people of faith...we can no longer stand still when there is so much to be done and so much still ahead...part of what we know...is that those who join the journey have so much to offer us...the journey goes on and on, so we invite everyone here to join. Our report calls for more congregational involvement, more dialogue among the participants, no matter the path, as we move toward a place of justice, love, and compassion for all.

Davidoff continued with her remarks, and then introduced the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, President of the Canadian Unitarian Society (CUC), to address the delegates regarding the new agreement between the UUA and the CUC to be in a different form of relationship with one another. She said, "I am very proud of our long, tough, honest negotiations with our colleagues on the Canadian Unitarian Council...I believe the agreement negotiated and affirmed (PDF) in May by the CUC and signed yesterday is good, but hard to do.

Read Morrison-Reed's text (PDF).

Morrison-Reed began by showing a Molson's ale television ad, which talked about the differences between being from the U.S. and Canada. This was, Morrison-Reed said, "An oversimplification of the truth... (but) it got your attention, something Canadians have learned they can't take for granted. As UUs we too often define ourselves as against Christianity. When you make up only three-fourths of the entire North American movement, but you still keep hoping that your experience will be reflected in the cultural and the mores of the association, it is not frustration mounts...consider two of this year's study action issues, USA election reform, and separation of church and state. They have nothing to do with Canada. Consider our prerogative to speak prophetically to American issues, never considering whether we are speaking as a national body, an international community.

"A Canadian articulation of your religious values would have more emphasis on our communal values, and less on religious liberty. It is not surprising, then, that in Canada we provide universal health care, and in the US we do not. And in Canada we do not practice capital punishment, nor do we create Tim McVeigh's.

"The UUA and the CUC have renegotiated their agreements eight times in thirty years. Intents have been good, but given the imbalance of power and currency fluctuations that are beyond our control, the problems have proved intractable. Last month, the CUC annual meeting was held in Montreal. Their delegates ratified the agreement reached by the CUC board, by a margin of 83%, moving many services to the CUC...it does not change the status of CUC congregations as members of the UUA, regardless of what you have heard. These changes are bewildering, given our understanding of being a continental movement, or having cross border districts. But for many who dream of a pan-Canadian movement, it is a dream come true, a partnership of faith, made in faith, made possible by the generosity of the UUA. For that I give thanks to Denny Davidoff, our Board of Trustees, and our movement.

"Now," said Morrison-Reed, "we have come to a new place,(and) we are beginning a new relationship, and we have a good relationship, but we think we can make it better... Canada will be a peer, not a dependent. This is another journey toward wholeness. The time has come to get on with the next phase of our relationship... it is limited only by the extent of our commitment to a global religion..."

At the conclusion of Morrison-Reed's remarks, greeted with warm applause and a long embrace with Denny Davidoff, the Moderator concluded her remarks. She discussed the recommendations of the Structure and Services Task Force and then said, "I thank my colleagues on the Board of Trustees for being smart and innovative activists who knew how to make the most of a leader who is an orthodox delegator. I thank my governance partner, John Buehrens, who had the ego strength and the sheer audacity to challenge our long tradition of Presidential domination, thus creating the space for a new era of cooperation among President, Moderator and Board of Trustees that has raised our standards and fostered solid accomplishments that seemed the stuff of fantasy eight years ago. I thank Kay Montgomery for her devoted care of me, her open ears and wise judgments, her rowdy sense of humor and well-aimed kicks in directions I might not have taken without her impetus. I thank the staff. And I thank my children and grandchildren who have not had all the attention they deserve.

"To those who ask what I will do next the answer is: get Jerry healthy and walking again, be open to new ways to continue to serve the Association, appreciate having time to be more active with The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, look forward to being down there on the floor of General Assembly again hopefully pushing us to greater appreciation of the potential in this body and the power of our faith to be part of healing and sustaining a broken world."

She said, "Marion Visel, a community minister sponsored by my wonderful Westport congregation, recently participated in the blessing of the new Connecticut Hospice inpatient building in Branford. They literally blessed every room. Marion wrote me an e-mail about it and said she particularly liked the blessing offered in the Administration/Board Room, apt words I pass on to you of the UUA General Assembly:

"'May you have the hindsight to know where you've been, the foresight to know where you're going, and the insight to know when you're going too far or not far enough.' This is your special power. Use it well."

Reported by Deborah Weiner.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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