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Plenary III

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General Assembly 2005 Event 3004

Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Moderator Gini Courter called Saturday morning's Plenary to order, and invited Dr. Helen Bishop and Accessibility Committee members to present their report. Bishop reported that the Accessibility Committee is working with every organization within the UUA to help them become more accessible, and once again the Committee addressed accessibility issues in song.

Executive Vice President's Report

Courter called upon Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery to present her report.

Montgomery began her report with a short list of anniversaries important to Unitarian Universalism: the 200th anniversary of Hosea Ballou's Treatise on Atonement, ten years since the first email list began at the UUA, five years since the Our Whole Lives (OWL) curricula debuted. Twenty-five years ago the Minister of Religious Education designation was created, and since then there have been 103 MREs ordained. And, Montgomery noted, "on this very date, June 25, in 1863, Olympia Brown was ordained by the St. Lawrence Association of Universalists, becoming the first woman ordained with full denominational authority."

Moving to the present, Montgomery highlighted the work of the Young Adult and Campus Ministry program, headed by Michael Tino. She noted the successes of this work: "Whereas not too long ago there were only 30 UU campus ministries, now there are 141, with a monthly newsletter going out to approximately 3500 young adults."

Tino reported that the UUA Young Adult (YA) and Campus Ministry (CM) office provides services to congregations seeking to provide ministry to young adults and college students. They are, he said, "not only the future, but also the irrepressible present of our congregations. Young adults and youth are providing leadership in their own groups, as well as in congregations, districts and association wide. This past year the young adult leaders created a code of ethics for peer leaders."

Tino reported that the Church of the Younger Fellowship (CYF) was created this year by young adults working in concert with the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) to provide an on-line spiritual community and worship center for young adults, and that youth and young adults are also on the leading edge of efforts to become anti-racist, anti-oppressive and multicultural. It is, for them, he said, "a positive identity development. They have been working to bridge the connections between youth and young adulthood and the congregations. Young adults are seeking congregations that are radically inclusive, spiritually alive, and justice centered. A new film, A Living Faith, has been created by young adults as outreach tools, and it is available on DVD through the Young Adult and Campus Ministry Office."

Tino said that in order to attract and retain young people, "we must examine the way we worship, and make sure that our worship offers ways to feed spiritual, emotional and visceral needs." Tino concluded, thanking his colleagues in the Young Adult and Campus Ministry staff group: Petra Aldrich, Erik Kesting and Joseph Santos-Lyons.

Montgomery continued her report by revealing the new logo which will be used by the UUA staff for identifying work done on the Association's behalf. Design consultants Emily Mitchell and Tim Nielsen worked to knit together the chalice, two circles and the flame, and created a logo and name representation that is more modern and appealing. This new logo will be used first on the web pages of the UUA as they are being redesigned, and on print products in the fall.

Montgomery said that UUA.org is being redesigned to make it more "user friendly" for both the newcomer and the long-time UU. There will be 75% fewer links on the new home page, and easy ways for visitors and members to enter in and find what they are looking for. The redesign will allow for easier updating and additions.

UU World will also change this fall, becoming a quarterly print publication, with weekly electronic versions. Some articles will appear both in print and on the website, but some will appear only in one place. Subscribers will be sent notice of each new website edition. It is expected that this change will allow for news to be delivered on a more timely basis, and the web edition will be a good outreach tool.

Turning to the Association's work in support of equal marriage, Montgomery spoke of the hearts that were sent to the UUA from around the country for the one-year anniversary of the first same-sex weddings in Massachusetts . Her favorite message read, "Same sex marriage; nothing rong [sic], rock 'n roll." Monntgomery announced that UUA President Bill Sinkford has been named this year's recipient of the Spirit of Justice Award by GLAAD, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, honoring the Association's work to support equal marriage. Thunderous applause greeted the announcement.

Montgomery ended her report by thanking attendees "for all the good work you do in our congregations, to make the world a better place, more whole and more holy."

Kay Montgomery, Executive Vice President

Every Tuesday the staff has a chapel service at 25 Beacon Street and a few weeks ago, at the end of one of those services, one of our staff people, Erika Nonken, our remarkable Information Assistant, told me a story. Erika used to work for the Appalachian Mountain Club and one of her duties was providing help to hikers who, for one reason or another, needed assistance. One day she escorted a very elderly woman on a hike on a Maine island, a beautiful day, a beautiful place. As they got ready to leave the island the woman, who was an Auschwitz survivor, clutched Erika's arm and asked her to look back, saying, “whenever you leave something important, you need to look back before you go so you will always remember it. Look back," she insisted.

Inspired by that excellent advice, I'm going to ask you first to look backward at a few events well worth remembering:

  • This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of “A Treatise on Atonement” by Hosea Ballou, the most important work in Universalist history.
  • Ten years ago, almost to this the day, our first email list was created—now there are more than 200.
  • 50 years ago Beacon Press published James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son, [slide] a landmark book in American culture, conceived and commissioned by Beacon. 250,000 copies have been sold in that time.
  • 25 years ago, the designation of Minister of Religious Education was adopted by General Assembly vote; since then 103 MREs have been ordained.
  • Five years ago, the entire Our Whole Lives, [slide] our award-winning comprehensive sexuality education curricula, was debuted; now there are OWL trainers in 560 of our congregations and almost 22,000 copies of the various components of the curricula have been purchased.
  • And, finally, the anniversary that touches me the most: on this very day, June 25, in 1863, Olympia Brown [slide] was ordained by the St. Lawrence Association of Universalists, making her the first ordained woman in America with full denominational authority.

Moving to the present, I'm going to share time this morning with a person who, along with his staff, has made a tremendous difference to the Association. I can remember, not that long ago, when I stood before a General Assembly and announced with regret that we had only three UU campus ministries; now we have 141. A monthly newsletter goes out to about 3500 young adults. The work we have done over the last decade or so with and for young adults has, arguably, been the most measurably successful initiative we have engaged in. The current Director, Michael Tino, came to the Association as Director of the Young Adult and Campus Ministry Office four years ago with a vision for what we could do to appeal to young adults, a desire to become a UU minister (which he is now fulfilling) and a newly minted doctorate in cell biology (go figure!). Will you welcome him, please? Michael...

Michael Tino

[slide 1: Main Title]

Good morning. It is my pleasure to give you a snapshot of the work of your Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministry, which I am honored to direct.

The Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministry is dedicated to supporting and developing young adult leaders across the continent, working for the health and growth of our Unitarian Universalist movement, and providing services to congregations seeking to provide ministry to young adults and college students.

[slide 2: YAs are leaders]

Many people say that young adult ministry is the future of our movement. While this is true, it is also the vibrant, irrepressible present of our movement. Youth and young adults are providing leadership in their own groups and communities, in our congregations and districts, and in numerous Association-wide efforts.

[slide 3: Code of Ethics]

Young adult leaders are often leading their peers. This leadership is different from professional leadership or the leadership of advisors and teachers. Thus, a team of young adult leaders and ethics experts were convened last year to create a Code of Ethics for peer leaders in young adult and campus ministry. This new resource is available to groups and congregations on our website, and I urge you to examine it closely.

[slide 4: Church of the Younger Fellowship]

Young adults across the UUA have taken on leadership in order to create the types of congregational experiences we need. The Church of the Younger Fellowship is one example of this. CYF is a groundbreaking project undertaken by a fantastic group of young adults in partnership with the Church of the Larger Fellowship, and is an on-line worship and spiritual center for young adults.

[slide 5: Anti-Racism]

Youth and young adults, working together, are also on the leading edge of our Association's efforts to become anti-racist, anti-oppressive and multicultural. In this work, we are seeking to support positive identity formation and development, to integrate an analysis of oppression and accountability into our movement, and to create lifelong partnerships around this important justice issue.

[slide 6: Bridge Connections]

We need to focus extra effort in retaining youth in our faith as they make the transition to adulthood. Towards that end, we've implemented the Bridge Connections program, now in its third year. Through this program, youth receive a gift of a meditation manual and a subscription to UUWorld and Quest. This year-long gift helps maintain some connection to Unitarian Universalism at a crucial transition point.

[slide 7: YAs are seeking]

Young adults in our communities are seeking a faith that is radically inclusive, spiritually alive and justice-centered. They are seeking Unitarian Universalism, and outreach to them should be a cornerstone of our growth efforts.

[slide 8: A Living Faith]

A Living Faith is a new film created by young adults that premieres tonight at the Bridging Ceremony. An outreach tool, this film is about Unitarian Universalism from the perspective of young adults ages 18-25. You can get your very own copy—for use at coffee hour, campus tabling, or before public events—at the UUA bookstore.

[slide 9: Campus Ministry]

Campus ministry is an important part of our retention and outreach efforts. A new UCLA study has given us hard data that many entering college students are not only seeking spiritual community, but one that is justice-centered, compassionate and pluralistic in its theology. Sound familiar? We are working hard to increase our presence on college campuses so that these students can find us.

[slide 10: Congregations-Future]

The main work our office does is in supporting and serving our congregations. This work is geared towards health, growth and transformation.

[slide 11: Consulting]

Our new consulting program can help your congregation in this work. Our team of trained, professional consultants is ready to work with your congregation to develop, grow, support, institutionalize and transform your young adult and campus ministries. This new program will match your needs with our consultants' strengths, and will give you someone to work with you over the course of several months.

[slide 12: CM Trainings]

We are also dedicated to providing basic and advanced campus ministry trainings around the Continent. Five to ten are held each Fall, led by trained facilitators, and registration is now on-line. We're also proud to have developed an advanced seminar for young adult and campus ministry professionals, which will be offered for the first time this Fall.

[slide 13: Contemporary Worship]

In order to attract and retain young people, we must examine the way we worship. Young adults are hungry for worship that meets spiritual, emotional and visceral needs as much as intellectual ones. New models and metaphors—like this one of an Ethiopian dinner platter—are helping us rethink UU worship in contemporary ways.

[slide 14: Anchor Congregations]

In our work with congregations, we seek to honor and recognize those who are doing outstanding work—those who are creating best practices for others to use as models. Our Anchor Congregation program recognizes congregations that have created young adult and/or campus ministries that have regular programming, institutional support and outreach plans. The congregations in this program range in size from 33 to over 1000 members, proving that all of our congregations can and should be engaging in this ministry.

[slide 15: YACM Staff]

Finally, I would like to recognize the other three staff members in our office. Petra Aldrich, Erik Kesting and Joseph Santos-Lyons are the people I have the honor and privilege of working with. We are all proud to be here serving you.

Thank you for your time, your passion and your energy. Together, we will create a Unitarian Universalist movement that is radically inclusive, spiritually alive, and justice-centered.

Kay Montgomery

Thank you, Michael. And now I want to tell you about the work that has happened over the last year and will happen over the next several months on creating unified, far more vigorous and sophisticated communications for Unitarian Universalism, work that you'll see come to fruition over the next year..

Part of this strategy is visual. Working with a design consultant, we began with the creation of an image that draws on the past visual we have used but is, we think, more modern and more appealing.

Let me show it to you in creation.

[Slide]

We began with some wishes: that it be spiritual, dynamic, energizing, embracing, welcoming and affirming, and contemporary.

[Slide]

We knew it needed four important elements: a chalice, two circles representing our historic religious roots, a flame, and that it clearly represent the Unitarian Universalist Association of congregations.

So here's how it was born:

[8 Identity Evolution Slides: one second each]

Here's the palette of colors that will be used:

[Color concept slide]

And here are some prototypes:

[6 prototype slides: one second each, ending with the postcard and holding]

One of the first places this new logo will appear is on our web pages, now in the process of being redesigned, and a critical element in our evolving communications strategy. Let me show you, first, uua.org as it currently exists:

[Slide: Today's uua.org]

On our current site there are over 60 links on the home page; the focus is on the organization of the UUA; what you first see is current news, you have to scroll down to see the whole page. And most of the material gets on the site by first passing through the three-member Office of Electronic Communications.

This site has grown organically over the years, and it's broad and deep, rich with helpful information and essential resources. But without a clearly defined organizing principle, it can be perplexing, especially for the newcomer seeking inspiration, information, or community.

So now let's move to uua.org as it will be in the near future:

[Slide: Tomorrow's uua.org]

The home page will be less confusing, with 75% fewer links; the focus is not on the structure of the UUA but on the user: visitors, members, leaders. It will be particularly accessible to folks who want to know more about Unitarian Universalism and way more welcoming. It will be spirit-driven and simple. With the new Content Management System we are using, material can easily be added by our staff and, eventually, others.

More than just a massive file cabinet of articles, announcements, and resources, uua.org intends to attract the hearts and minds of folks yearning for “right relationship” with one another and the world that our liberal religion and spirituality offer. Over half the home page is dedicated to taking the first intentional step in that direction, through the display of an inspirational quote, a large graphic element that appeals to “seekers,” and large, clearly marked buttons inviting folks to identify themselves as part of a group and venture inside.

But the first aspect of the our web presence to be revitalized is the new uuworld.org web magazine, which will be introduced in conjunction with the magazine's Fall print issue.

The UU World Web magazine, UUWorld.org, will be a vast change from the current UU World Web site. The current site is little more than an archive to which new material has been added when each issue is published on paper.

[Screen shot of current site]

UUWorld.org will be much more. The new electronic magazine will be published every week, and urgent news may sometimes be added even more often. Each week¹s issue will offer fresh inspirational material, engaging ideas and people, and timely news of UUs and their congregations and institutions, while featuring either an exclusive Web-only article or an article from the print magazine.

[Simulated screen shot of new magazine]

There will, among other things, be a frequently updated feature for UU activists, helping them keep up on what they can do to make a difference. And, if you'd prefer, you won't have to go the Web magazine. The magazine will come to you. The front page of the Web magazine will offer you an easy way to sign up for weekly e-mails of fresh UU news and other material.

The big advantage of UUWorld.org is its potential for outreach. We expect our new Web journalism to attract UU young adults on campus or not yet affiliated with congregations, those who are active in our congregations but have yet to join, and, especially, seekers looking for a religion like ours. These are tasks the print magazine cannot undertake  and services our Association needs to offer.

UUWorld.org tips our magazine presence toward the future, toward a Unitarian Universalism growing in numbers, vitality, and effectiveness in the world.

[Image: Site logo]

Watch for the new uuworld.org in mid-August. And let us know what you think.

And, finally, a word about the work that so many of you have engaged in: that of supporting marriage equality. Bill told you Thursday night about the thousands of hearts that poured into 25 Beacon Street when we celebrated the first anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts (my favorite one said “same sex marriage; nothing rong [sic]; rock ‘n roll!)[slide] . It is an issue that has been central to the lives of many of you in many of our congregations. So it is my very real pleasure to tell you that each year GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) awards a Spirit of Justice Award to one person who has made a significant and lasting on the progress of gay civil rights in the United States. In the past it has gone to such luminaries as playwright Tony Kushner, Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Tribe, and the lead attorney in the Massachusetts Goodridge case, Mary Bonauto. This year it goes to Bill Sinkford.

[cameras to Bill]

I know that Bill knows that the award, really, is for all of you who have been so stalwart in this important work for justice. So thank you, as always, for that and for all of the good work you and your congregations do to make our planet a better place, more welcoming, more holy, and help Unitarian Universalist values shine in the world. To those of you who, as we sang in the hymn last night, “work for a planet transformed by ur care,” thank you, thank you.

Moderator Courter then introduced members of the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee (JTWTC). Chair the Rev. Sofia Betancourt Craethenen stated that "strong relationships with, between and among various stakeholders has been of utmost importance [in doing this work]. This takes time and effort, to search out common ground, and sometimes repair relationships with those people committed to this work."

Craethenen reported that this year, at the request of the ministerial credentialing office and the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, the JTWTC had employed an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural lens to review the forms that potential ministers and religious educators must file. She reported that the committee have also had fruitful conversations with the UUA staff, and they are excited about future visions for this work.

The Rev. Michelle Bentley of the UUA Ministerial and Professional Leadership Staff Group came to the stage to present the 2005 Borden Sermon Awards. $10,000 awards for sermonic excellence were presented to: Me adville/Lombard Theological School student Bret Lortie; the Rev. Krista Taves, interim minister in New Orleans ; and the Rev. Cynthia Frado from Westborough , Massachusetts . The runner-up, the Rev. Randy Becker of Park Forest , Illinois , received a $2,500 award.

The Rev. Tracey Robinson-Harris, UUA Director of Congregational Services, presented the Unsung UU Award to Todd Jones of the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, Bellingham , Washington . Robinson-Harris presented the Young Adult Unsung UU award to Nick Mirkin of Allen Avenue UU Church, Portland Maine . Michael Tino returned to the stage to present the Donna DiSciullo Young Adult and Campus Ministry award to Erik David Carlson and Jonathan Craig, co-founders of fuuse.com, an on-line community of over 1400 UU youth and young adults.

Denny Davidoff, former UUA moderator and current board chair of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, spoke about the founding of the Church of the Younger Fellowship (CYF). When approached by young adults to create CYF, the members of the board, along with CLF minister the Rev. Jane Rzepka and administrator Lorraine Dennis, talked back and forth and then "sucked in their collective breath" and opened their collective wallet to help in the creation, reported Davidoff. She said, "CYF bridges the gap for young adults as their spiritual home on line, anywhere, twenty-four hours a day. Once a young adult signs in to the web page, the flame on the chalice is lit, thereby reminding them that this is a spiritual community. They can access audio and text sermons, receive pastoral consultation, post joys and concerns, borrow materials form the religious library, and join in chats and other on-line discussion forums." Davidoff reported that there is even a button that allows them to make a donation. Davidoff called on Frank Wells, a member of the Board of the Church of the Larer Fellowship, to provide further information on CYF and to show the organization's new website.

The Youth Advisor of the Year Award was presented by UUA Youth Office staff members Beth Dana and Lily Sparks to Joy Cobb of the UU Church of Arlington, Virginia. Cobb has been a Youth advisor, OWL teacher and trainer, sponsor of youth at GA, and has sparked new life in their youth group.

Me mbers of the YRUU Steering Committee were introduced. The Steering Committee works all year round to provide guidance to youth aged 14 to 20. They provide leadership, plan youth council, learn and training on anti-racism and anti-oppression issues, and advocate for all youth.

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Dallas was highlighted as another "breakthrough congregation." The congregation's leaders said they believe that their can-do attitude and strong ministerial leadership help them grow in strength and depth. They have strong religious education leaders, and the congregation members have deep roots in social justice. Me mbers were active in desegregating the city's kindergartens and various members worked to get the Roe v. Wade decision to the Supreme Court. They have strong lay leadership, and engage people of all ages.

Currently the congregation has more than 1000 active members, and its leaders believe they have broken through "unseen and powerful barriers by taking care of the church building, planning for the future, and welcoming visitors." They have a five year plan to be more generous, more creative and more committed to the future of the church and the legacy of the generations to come. They believe that by deepening their spiritual quests and asking hard questions they will grow more.

Moderator Gini Courter said, "some people may remember that the preliminary agenda for GA showed a language change to Bylaw Section C-2.3. This change would have added the category of gender identity to the list of non-discrimination categories." Courter explained that a closer review of the procedures showed that there should, in fact, be a committee to study changes to this bylaw. This will be done, she said, "and a bylaw amendment will be brought back to the assembly in a future GA."

Next on the agenda was action on the draft Statement of Conscience, "Criminal Justice and Prison Reform." Committee on Social Witness Chair the Rev. Richard Nugent reminded the delegates that this process began over four and a half years ago when a youth delegate from the Me quon, WI church proposed criminal justice and prison reform as a study/action issue. In 2001, GA delegates chose economics over prison reform. The same youth delegate relocated, and got his new congregation in Newark , DE , to propose the issue again. But in Quebec in 2002, the delegates chose civil liberties over prison issues. In 2003, the Newark , DE congregation proposed the Criminal Justice and Prison Reform item again, and it was selected as the 2003 Study/Action issue with the active support of Youth Caucus. At the 2004 GA there were workshops on the issue and an initial draft was mailed to congregations last fall. Comments from local congregations were considered and a revised draft was prepared in March by the Commission on Social Witness. This year mini-assemblies were held at GA and other amendments made, and that revised draft is the version being presented today.

Courter called for debate on the issue. Proponents for the statement of conscience included:

  • The Rev. Kathy Reis, director of Prison Ministry for Church of the Larger Fellowship, stated that for many inmates, Unitarian Universalism is the first time they have experienced simple human respect, and passage of this statement will make a difference in the future.
  • A former public defender, now a criminal defense lawyer, stated that the war on drugs and guns has not changed things, and that the death penalty is not a deterrent.
  • The Youth Caucus believed that this action should be passed because it is in deep agreement with our UU principles; prisons do not use justice, equity or compassion and are racist and classist institutions that must be changed.
  • The mother of a young man imprisoned for drug offenses said that many in prison are there because they do not have access to good counsel and are not places that respect human beings.

Opponents argued:

  • The statement does not take into account victims of crime outside of our congregations.
  • Utopian ideas have historically proven to be ineffective, and that in earlier times, there was both low prison occupancy and low crime rates, due in part to the frequent use of the death penalty.
  • One delegate said that if people were not going to act on the statement of conscience personally, they should not vote as we need no empty priorities.
  • An amendment was proposed to replace the words "allows for discretionary sentencing" with "disallows mandatory minimum sentencing, provides for fair, equitable, non-racist sentencing, and..." within the document.

A delegate appeared at the procedural microphone to ask the difference between the words "non-racist" and "anti-racist." UUA Board Trustee at Large and chair of the UUA Board's Anti-Racist, Anti-Oppression Multicultural Assessment Team, Tamara Payne-Alex explained that the word "non-racist" would raise questions, since we live in a society that is racist, and thereby it is not possible (yet) to be non-racist. It is possible, though, to be anti-racist, someone within the racist system that fights against that system. The mover of the motion then, with permission from the Moderator and Parliamentarian, asked that the word "non-racist" be changed to "anti-racist." This was agreed to, and there being no further debate, the question was called, with the Amendment being carried.

A further amendment was made to delete words that specified the post-prison restrictions by adding that voting rights would only be restored to those who had paid their debt to society. Since this was wording added in plenary, it was in order, and with no debate, the delegates voted to delete the added language.

A further proposed amendment failed. There being no other debate, the Moderator called for a vote on the Statement of Conscience as amended, and it was adopted.

The Commission on Social Witness members were introduced: the Rev. Richard Nugent (Chair), the Rev. Jan Carlsson-Bull, Robert Sarley, the Rev. Susan Smith, and Christopher Trace. Me gan Joyner is the outgoing administrator for the Commission. Moderator Courter said that while the Commission on Social Witness (CSW) is empowered to say which Actions of Immediate Witness can appear on the final agenda, this year the CSW asked to have a straw vote from the delegates to get a sense of their preferences. Delegates were asked to vote for no more than three. The advisory vote was taken. 

Rob Keithan , Director of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy, came to the stage to present the Holmes Wetherley Award, presented annually to someone whose social justice work is reflected in society. This year the award was presented to Ken and Lois Robison. Their son was executed in Texas in January, 2000 for murder, 17 years after he was convicted for murder. He was a paranoid schizophrenic who did not have consistent treatment for his illness because he did not have good access to health care. The Robisons said that it was easier for the state to get the death penalty determination for their son than treatment for his mental health. Since their son's conviction and execution, the Robisons have turned to advocacy to try to repair the flaws in the justice system and mental health care system.

As part of the day's announcements, a representative from the Florida congregations thanked the delegates and all UUs for their tremendous support following the four hurricanes that hit Florida last year. Notes of care and concern and financial contributions helped them repair their homes, congregations, and spirits.

With that, Moderator Gini Courter called for the plenary to stand in recess until Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. CDT.

Reported by Lisa Presley; edited by Deborah Weiner.

For more information contact generalassembly @ uua.org.

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

Last updated on Monday, March 19, 2012.

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