General Assembly 2004 Event 4006
(Long Beach, CA, June 27, 2004) As “warm up” to Sunday's Plenary session, the Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith, Assistant Minister of First Parish in Arlington, MA, and friends offered a rousing musical presentation, “Get Free,” which Smith has recorded under his artist name, “Ramien.” Smith then announced that it was “ministry day” at GA, and recognized and thanked all those who minister in and outside of our congregations.
Moderator Gini Courter began the day's Plenary by introducing the Rev. Kenneth Sawyer, President of the UU Ministers' Association (UUMA) and the Rev. Makanah Morriss, President of the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) to bring greetings to the Assembly.
Sawyer's greetings represented the nearly one thousand UUMA members across the U.S. and Canada. These are, he said, “people who have chosen to devote their professional lives to Unitarian Universalism—to its values; to you and fellow parishioners; and, on behalf of the movement, to the needs of society and the world.” Regardless of whether they have completed their active ministry, are still in active service, or awaiting a chance to serve, the ministers carry on the tradition by strengthening our religious communities through ministering to parishioners, clients, counselees and others in their sorrow, joy, and the times in between, and by trying to foster a world more just and free.”
Morriss brought greetings from the 572 Unitarian Universalist professional religious educators, ministers, lay leaders and lay people across the US and Canada. Morriss said, “We are the people who know that the future of Unitarian Universalism is directly related to how well we can help people of all ages engage their creativity, courage and compassion in the search for truth and in service to our world. Religious educators are also the people who care for children, youth and adults, who work to create events, programs and services for all ages that celebrate diversity and community, and for whom wisdom—the joining of heart and mind together—is a passionate goal.”
Report from the UUA Board
Courter then introduced Kathryn McIntyre, Trustee from the St. Lawrence District, whom she described as “a proud politician.” McIntyre, who said that politics is her ministry, talked about how power can lead to transformation. The creation and exercise of power depends on knowledge and accessibility, said McIntyre; it is necessary to support the vision of any organization. McIntyre said, “In our Association, for the weeks that the General Assembly is not in session, the Board of Trustees is the body that has that power.
“The Board gets to welcome new congregations, and to process requests for termination of membership. Over the past couple of years, several Canadian congregations have asked for that termination, deciding to focus their resources on the development of the Canadian Unitarian Council.” McIntyre said she is asked, “How are the Canadians doing?” The answer, she said, is “Fine!”
McIntyre also reported that for this GA, the Board asked congregational presidents to attend, going so far as to work with other parts of the Association to offer free registration as a way of showing the depth of that desire. For three hours on Saturday, the more than 330 congregational presidents in attendance met with members of the UUA Board and the District Presidents Association. “We may have,” McIntyre said, “created a delightful monster. Now presidents know they are valued, needed, and will be taken seriously. They will be a force to be reckoned with.” Appreciative applause greeted McIntyre's remarks.
Ministerial Fellowship Committee
McIntyre then introduced Phyllis Daniel, the chair of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC). The MFC is a standing committee with jurisdiction over fellowship in the UUA. They admit ministers to preliminary and final fellowship, act on renewals, and address other matters concerning ministers in the Association. They meet three times a year, and this past year met with 69 candidates for our ministry. They are aided by a group of Regional Sub-Committees on Candidacy, bodies that work with ministers at the beginning of their formation to assist them in their preparation. Daniel said that congregations play a vital role in ministerial formation by being teaching churches. It is an important partnership.
Candidates who come before the MFC have to demonstrate competency in all areas of ministry, no matter where they intend to focus their future ministries. The MFC is currently looking at how to implement the recommendation in the Commission on Appraisal's report, Interdependence: Renewing Congregational Polity, to abolish the three categories of ministry (parish, community and religious education) in favor of self-designed program for achieving competency in a particular specialty. The work is ongoing, Daniel said, and there may be specifics available at General Assembly in 2005.
Daniel said that last year at GA she reported on the crisis in settlement of ministers of color, particularly African American men. Along with the Department of Ministerial and Professional Leadership, the MFC has worked hard to correct this problem. The MFC also met in a day-long session to understand the work necessary to become more anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and multicultural (ARAOMC). Daniel concluded by reminding GA attendees that the MFC welcomes observers at some of their meetings, and encourages feedback at mfc [at] uua [dot] org.
Liz Jones, chair of the Religious Education Credentialing Committee (RECC), told delegates that the RECC was appointed just over a year ago. It is comprised of members who represent specific perspectives: a credentialed religious educators - masters level, a minister of religious education, a parish minister, a liaison to the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA), and three lay members.
This committee is charged with responsibility to:
- help set and review standards, rules and policies, and to evaluate practices in the Religious Education Credentialing Program;
- evaluate participants, their portfolios and application materials, and to approve their satisfactory achievement and maintenance of Credentialed Religious Educators and Credentialed Religious Educators Masters Level;
- ensure that those who have achieved status in the program at any level adhere to the Committee's rules and policies.
The work of establishing a new committee has included a large about of detail work, and Jones expressed appreciation for the help of the Board and Professional Standards Task Force of LREDA and the Joint Task Force that was established to develop this program. She also thanked the Rev. Beth Williams, Religious Education Credentialing Director the Rev. David Hubner, Director of the Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group and the other members of that group. There are currently 37 participants in the program, and fourteen have now been credentialed.
Jones reminded the delegates that religious educators strengthen and grow our congregations and the UUA, play significant roles in guiding the faith development of all ages, and work alongside our other religious professionals to help create environments that can nurture and empower people to live out their faith in the world.
UUA Moderator Courter then moved the delegates on to considering the amendments to the Bylaws concerning the Religious Education Credentialing Committee (in the Agenda (PDF, 56 pages)). The Board created the committee, and moved that the Bylaws be amended to reflect its existence.
UUA Trustee from the Mass Bay District Paul Rickter, expressing the support of the UUA Board for the motion, told delegates that the UUA Board has long understood the importance of religious education, and the proposed amendments will support the significance of religious education to the association. The Rev. Makannah Morris, President of LREDA, spoke in support of the amendments, saying that they “mark the next step on the journey of professionalism for religious educators.” With no delegates wishing to speak against the motion, the assembly moved to vote affirmatively on the Bylaw amendments.
Courter then told the delegates that they had before them two alternative proposals regarding certain democratic processes in matters of UUA governance, one that was placed on the agenda by petition, and the other placed on the agenda by the Board. Both cover ways in which the work of the Board and various committees and commissions will be handled. It is intended, Courter said, that only one of the proposed rule amendments be enacted. On the recommendation of the delegates at the mini-assembly, it was moved that the second of the two, the creation of Rule G-2.1, would be discussed first. The mini-assembly also considered two amendments, neither of which passed at that level.
Tamara Payne-Alex, UUA Trustee-At-Large, told delegates that the Board unanimously support the proposed rule change. It identifies their desire for openness and transparency while also allowing for candor, speed and creativity and at the same time remaining true to the intent of the rule.
An Amendment was proposed and after discussion, failed. The main motion to adopt Rule G-2.1 was then carried.
Moderator Courter then turned the attention of the delegates to the other motion, a proposed Amendment to the Rules by adding Rule 3.10.1. Since the alternative version had already been passed, Courter reminded the delegates “that we don't want two, and that the mini-assemblies recommended that this motion be defeated.” A motion to table Rule 3.10.1 was defeated, and the delegates then defeated the addition of Rule 3.10.1. After going through this process, Courter said that “You know the saying, it takes a village to raise a child, well, it also takes a village to raise a Moderator.”
Courter told delegates that the green Annual Reports (PDF, 150 pages) book contains a written report that she asked them to read—“it was written for you,” she said. She then offered her Moderator's Report. Courter, speaking in stirring style, told the story of when, ten years ago, she and her business partner spent a day with a potential client: a multi-site, faith based human services agency that provided shelter for homeless men in metropolitan Detroit. After ordering lunch, she said that first one and then another staff person told the story of their religious salvation. When the conversation circled around to her, she realized that she had nothing to offer to the conversation. But, Courter said, “I have something to say today.”
“I am a born again Unitarian Universalist, and I know when I was saved.” It was, she said, when she was hired to type up a thesis entitled The Western Unitarian Sunday School Society: 1872-1902. She found radical heretics whose vision and passion for our faith was timeless, and who were relentless in their vision, fearless in their fundraising, and congregations that lived in close relationship with each other. She had not known that Unitarian Universalism existed, and that the building her family drove by every Sunday on their way to their Methodist Church was a church at all, let alone a church in which she would find her spiritual home.
“I am a born again Unitarian Universalist, and I know when I was saved,” Courter repeated, as she told the story of a member of her congregation who took the trouble to make sure that she knew that when the “couples” ballroom dance lessons were mentioned, that by “couples” the congregation meant all couples. Courter said that as a UU, she was saved by community. She was saved again, she said, when she heard The Rev. William F. Schulz, then a candidate for the UUA Presidency, in a plenary session of her first GA in 1985. He articulated Unitarian Universalism's message of love, compassion, and grace with passion and power—a clear sense that there was something larger than her wonderful congregation, a living faith with a message that could transform the world.
“I have been saved over and over and over again. I am blessed because our Unitarian Universalist faith allows that the boundary between saved and unsaved is not a clear line crossed only once, but an endless chain of interlinked moments of grace.”
Courter spoke of the moment in the Finance Committee meeting over a year ago when Bill Sinkford had the idea of inviting congregational presidents to come to GA. The result, she said, was the gathering on Saturday of over 300 presidents with President Sinkford, herself, the Board, the District Presidents Association, and members of district staff. She said, “The congregational presidents were grateful to be together and realized they have the same needs, even as the dimensions change.”
The elected committees, commissions and Board are all intentionally separate, said Courter. But she pointed out, “there are no mechanisms for collaboration when that is desired and helpful.” The UUA Board, UUA Committees, President Sinkford and Courter are working toward building and nurturing relationships to work on a higher plane than the barriers that keep them separate. Members of the Planning Committee met with the Board to begin a conversation on the mission of General Assembly, a conversation that continues. The Commission on Social Witness changed their process two months ago to create a less anxious, more collaborative process for amending the Statement of Consciousness. Courter thanked them for their hard work, and their risk, to do good work together with the delegates.
Today there is a new spirit of collaboration moving in the Association. This next year, she and President Sinkford will convene what is believed to be a first-ever Association-wide volunteer leadership summit.
“A healthy Association,” Courter said, “requires a strong and trusting relationship between the Moderator and President.” This relationship, or dance, is not documented anywhere, but the relationship can enhance or hinder the smooth functioning of the Association. Last October, when Courter was chosen by the Board as Acting Moderator, she vowed to learn all the steps in the dance, “even those that are performed backwards, in heels.” She said, “To put it plainly, I love working with UUA President Bill Sinkford.”
Courter let the delegates know that the members who serve on the UUA Board spend at least six weeks a month in hard, diligent work on behalf of our Association and congregations. Their focus is on vision, mission, and ministry. “They are smart and dedicated and relational and energetic and balanced and congregationally focused, and they want to work with you to grow Unitarian Universalism, keep our youth, and change our world.” She asked the delegates to express their appreciation to the Trustees.
Courter also told the delegates that both the agenda and the board packets are available for review on the UUA's website, and that a listing of the Trustees and how to reach them can also be found through the web. This is not accidental, but part of trying to work well together and be open about the work of the Association. There is a relationship, Courter said, between the issues and actions on the Board agenda and the health and growth of UUism.
Courter concluded her report by saying, “When I look at our history of action and witness, I know that our voice and values have been needed in every generation. But the need is no less now, and this present time is our time.” She encouraged delegates to grow Unitarian Universalism, in numbers and influence, today. “There are people who are lost, not even knowing that we have what they are seeking. There are more Unitarian Universalists to be saved again, and again, again. This is our time.”
The green Annual Reports book contains my written report. I won't read it to you, but I ask you to read it. I wrote it for you.
Almost ten years ago my business partner and I spent a day with a potential client, a multi-site, faith based human services agency that provides shelter for homeless men in metropolitan Detroit. After ordering lunch, one of the staff members began speaking about the importance of the Lord in her life. She spoke in great detail of the moment when she was saved—the day, the date, the location, the friends she was with and the concert she'd believed she was on her way to attend when Jesus entered her life and made the concert and the other appointments of that day seem trivial. While I was caught up in thinking about how this lunch conversation differed from the conversations I'd had with other clients, the director of the agency began telling us about when he was saved. I began to detect a pattern. I noticed that they had not brought enough of their own staff to cover our one hour lunch. I knew that I had nothing to offer to the conversation, nothing to add that would not seem like an intentional attempt to belittle the personally important stories that had just been shared. When it was my turn, I quickly turned the conversation to hard disk drives. But today I have something to say.
I am a born again Unitarian Universalist, and I know when I was saved. I was saved in Flint, Michigan during the summer of 1983. It began as a simple word processing job to pay for my fall tuition, but in the very first chapter of a thesis entitled The Western Unitarian Sunday School Society: 1872-1902, I got religion. I found radical and heretics whose vision, whose passion for our faith was timeless, men and women who founded congregation after congregation in the Midwest and west without cars or email or even telephones; circuit riding ministers, saddling their horses to supply the western mission; lay people who were relentless in their vision and fearless in their fundraising, and congregations that lived in close relationship with each other. I am a Unitarian Universalist, and I was saved by our tradition.
I am a born again Unitarian Universalist, and I know when I was saved. In the fall of 1984, Gene Ann took me aside during coffee hour. "I know you were in the service when David and I announced the couples' ballroom dance lessons that are starting on Thursday night.", she said. "But I want to make sure you know that when we said "couples", we meant all couples." I am a Unitarian Universalist, and I was saved by community.
I am a born again Unitarian Universalist, and I know when I was saved. In June 1985, in a plenary session at our General Assembly in Atlanta, Georgia, I heard a younger Bill Schulz, candidate for the UUA Presidency, articulate Unitarian Universalism's message of love, compassion, and grace with passion and power. There, at my first GA, I understood that there was something larger than my own fabulous congregation, that I was part of a living faith with a message that could transform the world. I am a Unitarian Universalist, and I was saved by vision.
I have been saved over and over and over again. I am blessed because our Unitarian Universalist faith allows that the boundary between saved and unsaved is not a clear line crossed only once, but an endless chain of interlinked moments of grace. I have experienced more than a few of those moments while serving the congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Over a year ago the Finance Committee was discussing what finance committees discuss: money. In the middle of a conversation on the Annual Program Fund, Burton Carley challenged us to start talking about the real questions—the relational questions—and in that moment of grace the conversation changed. Bill Sinkford wondered "What would it look like if we could gather hundreds of congregational presidents at a General Assembly?" We were all caught in Bill's moment of wonder, and hands and hearts and budgets were applied to make this happen. The UUA Board, the Administration, and the General Assembly Planning Committee committed funds to reimburse congregational presidents' registration to make the invitation more real.
Yesterday, the UUA Board of Trustees, President Sinkford, the district presidents association, members of the district staff and over three hundred congregational presidents spent the afternoon together. Together. Leaders. Together. Nearly two hundred of the presidents were attending their first General Assembly. The presidents raised questions and talked of their dreams for the congregations that have entrusted them with leadership. They spoke far, far more about commonality than about difference. One president noted, "We have different dimensions, but we have the same needs." The congregational presidents were grateful to be together, to be less alone, to know their colleagues in leadership. We had an afternoon to experience the power of our polity. Congregational presidents will meet again, online and in person, and our Association will never be the same.
Bill Sinkford has spoken about the silos in the UUA staff. The same silos exist in UUA volunteer leadership. The elected committees, commissions, and board of the UUA are all intentionally separate. Past General Assemblies created them to be independent. But we failed to provide any mechanism that would enable them to work collaboratively even if they wanted to…even if our congregations needed them to. Elected leaders assume we're all singing out of the same hymnal—it's the grey one with the chalice on the front cover—but it has been hard to know if we're on the same page.
The UUA Board, the UUA Committees, President Sinkford and I are building and nurturing relationships, to work on a higher plane than the barriers that keep us separate. At President Sinkford's invitation, members of your General Assembly Planning Committee met with the UUA Board and Administration in January for an initial discussion about the mission of General Assembly. This conversation will continue this fall, and, I hope it will be expanded to include a discussion in plenary session at GA 2005 in Fort Worth.
Just two months ago, the Commission on Social Witness changed their process to create a less anxious, more collaborative process for amending the Statement of Conscience. The Commission tried the new process at this General Assembly—no focus groups, no five-year study period, just rapid improvement. Yesterday, the Statement of Conscience that came to this plenary had broad based support and passed without amendment. Could those of you who participated in this process let the Commissioners know what you thought of the new mini-assembly process?
Today, there's a new spirit of collaboration moving in volunteer leadership. This year, Bill Sinkford and I will invite members of the elected commissions, committees, and Board of Trustees to attend what we believe is the first-ever Association-wide volunteer leadership summit. We hope that these committees will be able to send representatives to meet, explore mission, and search for synergies.
A healthy Association requires a strong and trusting relationship between the Moderator and President. This relationship isn't celebrated with songs or readings in our hymnal; it isn't even documented in the Bylaws. But this relationship, which Denny Davidoff often called "the dance," can enhance or inhibit the smooth functioning of the Association. My commitment to the UUA Board last October was that I would be responsible for learning all the steps: even those that are performed backwards, in heels. I have not had to learn in a vacuum. I have received excellent counsel from other leaders, particularly (and appropriately) from my dance partner. At the March for Women's Lives, just as I was about to ask "Are we there yet?" Bill pointed up the street and said "That's the starting point for the March." Excellent counsel. I'm very pleased to report that that respect and admiration and that President Sinkford and I have for each other continues to inform our partnership as elected leaders. To put it plain, I love working with UUA President Bill Sinkford.
The hard working women and men who serve on the UUA Board spend six weeks a year or more in volunteer service to the Association. The current Board includes ministers, teachers, social workers, retirees, business people, college students, consultants. The board wore new shirts in plenary and with the congregational presidents yesterday. The logo is a chalice surrounded by three words: Vision, Mission, Ministry. Your board is smart and dedicated and relational and energetic and balanced and congregationally focused and they want to work with you to grow Unitarian Universalism, keep our youth, and change our world. They make me run hard just to keep up. Their love for this faith and our congregations is both deep and broad. Please join me in honoring your UUA Board of Trustees.
General Assembly lasts less than a week. Our Bylaws empower the Board to act for the Association the other fifty-one weeks of the year. I've been working with the Board and staff to improve communication between the Association (that would be congregations) and the Board during those fifty-one weeks. For the past two years, agendas for the UUA Board and working group meetings have been posted on the UUA web site prior to the meeting. Beginning with our January meeting, this was expanded to include the entire Board packet. Every item that is distributed to the Board—every report, every written response to a report, every tasty little tidbit consumed by the Board—is posted on uua.org at least ten days prior to the Board meeting. When you visit the web site, you'll also find a list of all the board members and the moderator along with our email addresses. This is not accidental. Our governance assumes that there's a relationship between the issues and actions on the Board agenda and the health and growth of Unitarian Universalist congregations. I fervently hope that you will begin to look at the Board packet and agenda and tell us whether that's true. We need to strengthen communication at every level so we can move this faith in new directions.
This is a critical time to for Unitarian Universalism. When I look at our history of action and witness, I know that our voice and values have been needed in every generation. But the need is no less now and this present time is our time. If we do not want to be citizens of a world superpower that has its ethics and values dictated by fundamentalists, we must grow Unitarian Universalism—in numbers and in influence—today. There are people who are lost, not even knowing that we have what they are seeking. There are more Unitarian Universalists to be saved again, and again, and again. This is our time.
Enthusiastic applause greeted the Moderator's report, and then the Rev. Calvin Dame, Trustee from the Northeast District, and the Chair of the Committee on Committees introduced the Rev. Rebecca Parker, President of Starr King School for the Ministry. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Starr King, Dame presented her with a resolution of greetings, congratulations, and thanks, extended to the faculty, staff, administration, board, students and supporters of the school “for the work they have done grounding our ministers, and in anticipation of the next 100 years of service and beyond.”
Parker, addressing the delegates, said that Starr King opened its doors in 1904 at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, and thanked the delegates for “coming to California for our birthday party.” She then named a number of famous UUs who have gone before and influenced the shape of Starr King School for the Ministry. They include Thomas Starr King, Earl Morse Wilbur, Aurelia Henry Reinhardt, Josiah Bartlett, Roz Reynolds, Peter Raible, Mark Mosher DeWolfe, Jody Shipley, and the Japanese American who was a member of the first graduating class. These people, said Parker, “through their ministry, history, theology, commitment to social justice, work as educators, and work for those who are marginalized, have set a stage for the future, and provide inspiration and a path that we have followed. For the history that has shaped us and given us leadership, we give thanks, and for the future before us, we say ‘yes.' “
Moderator Courter asked Rob Keithan, Director of Advocacy and Witness, to explain how Actions of Immediate Witness (AIW) resolutions are implemented. Keithan explained that AIWs differ in that the process is different, and therefore don't carry the same weight. They are urgent, and are time sensitive, thereby not appropriate for the multi-year Study/Action Issue process. At each GA, up to six AIWs can be admitted to the ballot, and there are limited staff resources for implementation. The staff releases them to the media, and signs on to relevant letters, but beyond that, the implementation is dependent upon the work of members of our congregations.
Keithan said that congregations can participate in the AIW process in different ways. They can engage through the media, through writing letters to the editor, by adopting a spiritual discipline. They can organize, educating the congregation about the issues, simple ways to get involved, and why it is important to them. It is important, Keithan said, to make sure that we do not go it alone. “Think quality, not quantity,” Keithan continued. There are countless resources including advocacy handbook and guidelines for involvement on the Washington Office website.
Chair of the Commission on Social Witness, the Rev. Richard Nugent, explained that there had been twelve petitions for AIWs submitted. Of these, five did not have the appropriate number of signatures, one was not timely, and two addressing Iraq were blended into one (thanks to the good work of their sponsors). A total of five were recommended to the delegate body. Each was presented by the sponsor who gave a two-minute advocacy statement, and because the motion to admit is not debatable, the delegates moved immediately following each presentation on a vote on whether to admit each AIW to the final agenda.
The first AIW, “Alien Tort Claims Act,” was moved for acceptance. The sponsor said that for many people in other countries, this act was the only way that they could receive compensation for injury suffered by American companies. The motion to admit was carried.
AIW2, Electronic Voting, was then moved. The sponsor said that without the kind of “paper trail” requested in this resolution, there will be times when it is impossible to mount a recount, or know when abuse has occurred. The delegates voted to admit this AIW to the agenda.
AIW3, Iraq: Sovereignty, The United Nations, and Human Rights was presented. This AIW asks the UUA to support the UN process and international law, and will hold people responsible for what is going on in Iraq. The delegates voted to admit this AIW to the agenda.
AIW4, Oppose Federal Marriage Act, was presented with the sponsor reminding the delegates of the long promotion for civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The support that began over 35 years ago has only grown and gained momentum, and that it is important to work against this legislation that will be used to deny equality to a minority. The delegates voted to admit AIW 4 to the agenda.
AIW 5, Renew the Assault Weapons Ban, was presented with the sponsor speaking about the violence that is done by weapons, and the disruption of society caused by this increased weaponry. The delegates voted to admit AIW 5 to the agenda.
Moderator Courter told the delegate body the focus of the Plenary would shift to thinking about the work of Unitarian Universalism in the world, and introduced. Zed Kesner, Chair of the Veatch Board of Governors, to present information on faith based community organizations (FBCO).
Kesner presented the report of Margie Fine, executive director of the Shelter Rock Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program. Veatch “funds organizations of people, not just experts, because we believe that it is only by rebuilding democracy in this country from the bottom up that truly new policies will be envisioned, demanded and implemented,” said Kesner. Faith based community organizations (FBCO) make manifest these principles. They are involved in giving the voiceless a voice to help secure living wages, affordable housing, effective public education and other improvements for their families and communities. FBCO's brings people together primarily through their religious congregations, but also through unions, community organizations and schools both to build their own power to bring about positive change and the renewal of democracy.
Over 4000 congregations belonging to more than 135 local FBCO networks, including almost 100 UU congregations, and participate with the support of the Urban Disciples, touching the lives of some two million people. Networks operate in 33 states and the District of Columbia. The Industrial Areas Foundation, the Pacific Institute for Community Organization, Direct Action Research and Training Center, the Gamaliel Foundation and the InterValley Project are the primary organizing and training networks for those interested in FBCO's.
Fine's report said that it takes “fire in the belly, gut churning anger” to do FBCO. And the benefits to congregations are many:
- It builds more and deeper relationships both among UU congregants and with members of other faith traditions.
- It develops leadership.
- It increases lay leader involvement in congregational life and public action.
- It heightens public profile for the congregation within the community.
- It deepens the understanding of Unitarian Universalism's call for social justice.
- It has the potential to increase congregational membership as engagement with the community leads to community interest in our liberal faith message.
Susan Leslie, Director of Congregational Advocacy and Witness, added that her office supports congregation-based community organizing (CBCO) by providing information and consultation for congregations considering getting involved, and by creating forums for those already engaged to share what they are learning. They have a website with material to help congregations, and they track UU participation—currently 93 congregations are members. Dr. Fred Seidel, who serves as a volunteer consultant to the UUA, has been making site visits to UU congregations in CBCOs across the country.
Seidl told the delegates about what he's found in his travels around the country. The four UU congregations in Pittsburgh are involved in the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network where they were able to remove cultural bias from the Code of Conduct of the schools; First UU Church of San Diego is involved in getting a city ordinance passed which required the Mayor to appoint affordable housing task force; Davies Memorial UU Church in Camp Springs, MD, has been involved in the establishment of a new school board which has lead to expanded Head Start programs, 26 new public schools and all day kindergarten among other victories; First UU of San Antonio helped COPS-Metro (IAF) pass a $500 million school bond package; UU Churches of Manchester, Milford and Nashua, NH, helped win approval for affordable housing projects, and pushed the government to assist a dental clinic for low-income families. All of these projects were done through their local CBCO, building cross-race, cross-faith relationships.
CBCO work arises naturally out of our work for anti-racism, anti-oppression, and involves political empowerment. Voter registration is another natural activity for CBCOs. Seidl then showed a video that highlighted the work of ARISE, a Regional Initiative Supporting Empowerment, in the Albany, New York, area.
Ms. Leslie then introduced Mary Gonzales, California director of the Gamaliel Foundation. Gonzales told the delegates that it takes courage to do this work, and that in order to do it well one must connect the head, heart, guts and soul. The need now is great, she said, as the US has been ranked 38th out of 39 democracies for the level of participation of its citizens. “The issues are more complex,” said Gonzales, “and this challenges us to use our collective power to put in tangible, measurable and concrete ways to use our power as UUs to change the world.”
Leslie then presented the James Bennett Award to the Berrien UU Fellowship in St. Joseph, MI, for their community work following the death of an African American man in a police pursuit. The congregation created a dialogue of the involved and interested parties and formed a place for honest dialogue and accountability. In accepting the award for the congregation, Emily Gage, President of the Central Midwest District, informed the delegates that the congregation has decided to use their award money to promote voter registration in their community.
Joan Cudhea, chair of the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, told the delegates that socially responsible investing is about leveraging your social witness power. She suggested that delegates ask if their congregation's money is aligned with our UU values. If not, Cudhea suggested they should take a second look and consider becoming involved in a community investing campaign where their money helps others in the community through loans for socially progressive causes. If your congregation is interested in this, she told delegates, “your local contributions to a community development financial institution can be matched up to a total of $10,000.” More information can be found on the website of the socially responsible investing committee.
Courter gaveled the plenary to a close, until the final session on Monday, June 28.
Reported by Lisa Presley; edited by Deborah Weiner.