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Plenary VI

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General Assembly 2007 Event 4065

Moderator Gini Courter called the sixth plenary of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly (GA) to order at 4:30 p.m. on June 24, 2007, at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation Report

Nancy Van Dyke, President of the Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation (UUWF), came to the podium to deliver her report, delayed from the morning plenary. She said, "We mourn the loss of our sister and friend Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley and in her spirit announce the beginning of an annual scholarship to support a woman of color preparing for the Unitarian Universalist ministry. This scholarship honors the spirit of Marjorie's mentoring—as a UUWF board member, newsletter, grants panel member. Her greatest gift was her vision and imagination.

Van Dyke asked the delegates to "use your own vision to imagine yourself as a partner in UUWF's work: advancing justice for women; empowering women and girls here and around world. She reported on the UUWF's Margaret Fuller Grants Program and the UUWF Clara Barton Intern for Women's Issues (currently, Meredith Schonfeld-Hicks) who works out of the UUA Washington office for Advocacy.

Van Dyke outlined some of the grants that have been given in the past year, to support work in Guatemala, "helping others imagine what is unimaginable, taking responsibility for lives which they never could have imagined before." She said, "Choice matters, and the UUWF is honored to be engaged in this work." She encouraged the delegates to consider support of the UUWF as a gift that keeps on giving.

Breakthrough Congregation

Davies Memorial Church, Camp Springs, Maryland

Rev. John Crestwell and members of the ministry staff and leadership team of Davies Memorial Church came to the stage to introduce their video segment. Leaders of the congregation's earth-based ministry program, the Beacon house program, the congregation's board chair, stewardship committee chair, endowment committee chair, and ministry staff, were present on the stage.

The video, which offered a tour of Davies and its life, shared the story of how Crestwell came to the church more than five years ago as a seminarian. He met then-minister Rev. Don Cameron, and they shared a common vision to attract more African Americans to Unitarian Universalism. Crestwell moved from member to co-minister and then to senior minister and, with the help of the Joseph Priestley District, saw "a dream come true." Currently four out of ten friends and members in the congregation are people of color. These people "accepted the challenge of A. Powell Davies to make sure that Sunday worship time is not the most segregated hour of the week," Crestwell said.

The video indicated that changes have not been without stress, but that many positive results have been achieved. The church, said one member, "is like a family." Another member said that she "came back after long absence since I heard about exciting things going on." A general sense of welcome and excitement exists at Davies, said the members, and they were pleased that an African American minister was serving the congregation.

Members reflected on the "bulldogs who made it successful, those willing to take risks, not willing to let risk avoidance get in the way. Those lay leaders acted as bulldogs to take the initial heat so that John [Crestwell] didn't need to." The congregation's new marketing and growth program was also highlighted, along with the congregation's outreach to potential new members.

The congregation has engaged in A Dialogue on Race and Ethnicity (ADORE), facilitated by Paula Cole Jones, a member of All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, D.C., and a UUA JUUST Change consultant.

The picture of this congregation was of a committed multi-racial church, growing and extending its influence in the wider community.

Report of the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee

Courter introduced Rev. Charles Bluestein Ortman, Trustee for the Metro New York District and Board Liaison on the Committee, who introduced members of the committee currently serving. Ortman introduced Carolyn Cartland, co-chair of the committee, who addressed the delegates in a pre-recorded message.

Cartland spoke about why she was not physically present at the General Assembly, citing the accessibility difficulties that made a trip from the East coast difficult. She noted the charge of the committee and its important role in monitoring and assessing the work of the Association to create an authentic anti-racist anti-oppressive multi-cultural UUA.

Cartland introduced Rev. Monica Cummings, co-chair of the committee, who acknowledged the work of UUA staff members Taquiena Boston and Simona Munson (who were not on stage). Cummings said that the committee was studying information on congregational engagement in anti-racism anti-oppression multi-culturalism. They began in May 2006 by asking districts what they had done in this regard, and then examined five districts in depth, looking at diversity of size, type of work, etc. They also interviewed district leadership and staff, and presented a report on their findings in April 2007. Cummings said, "We believe that these observations about structure, methodologies and leadership will be helpful at all levels of the UUA." Cummings referenced the JTWTC report (PDF, 26 pages).

This past year, Cummings said, Rev. Sean Parker Dennison left the committee, and they are pleased to welcome Janice Marie Johnson as a new member. The committee will continue to be engaged in the work of ministerial development as it relates to their charge, and reminded the delegates that "in ten years the United States will look different racially and ethnically." That will encourage a shift in many congregations as well. "If we are to be truly inclusive we need to equip ministers and other religious professionals with the skills they need to work in a multi-cultural multi-faith world." In conclusion they reminded the delegates that this is an anniversary year for the accessibilities and journey toward wholeness resolutions. There has been progress, they said, "but we must continue. If we do not, who will?"

Presentation of the Distinguished Service to Unitarian Universalism Award

Rev. Douglas Gallager, Trustee for the Heartland District and Chair of the Distinguished Service Award Committee, came to the podium along with committee members Roger Comstock (Trustee, Northeast District), Moderator Gini Courter, and President William Sinkford. Gallager said that he was honored to present this year's award to Dr. Leon Spencer.

The citation honoring Spencer noted that he was born and raised in a segregated community and saw one of the famous newspaper advertisements in the early 1960's that asked, "Are you a Unitarian Universalist without knowing it? In Unitarian Universalism he found a place for himself and for his wife, Inge.

In 1970 Spencer became involved in the Dayton, Ohio, UU congregation, and his faith flourished. He served on the board, taught in the religious education program, was involved in social justice, and all that involvement solidified his commitment to Unitarian Universalism.

Read the citation presented to Spencer.

Thunderous applause and a standing ovation greeted Spencer as he came to the podium to accept the award.

Spencer said, "I am both a teacher and activist. And I believe that service is the rent we pay to live on this earth. Service and anti-oppression work are real important acts of faith within Unitarian Universalism, and I accept this award and I challenge us [to understand] that the work is not done, and that we must continue to trust our faith community so that we can live out the provision of respect and inherent worth and dignity for all people."

Unitarian Universalist Beth Norton and GA Music Coordinator Sarah Dan Jones introduced the song, "When Our Heart is in a Holy Place" by Joyce Poley, for a musical break in the plenary action.

Open Space Presentation

Courter called on Dr. Helen Bishop, GA Open Space Coordinator, for a report on the Open Space process. Courter noted that there had been a small technical problem with the process, in that the paper which holds the potential Association priority statements had not been printed as soon as she would have liked. Consequently, many delegates didn't have the sheets and materials had not been prepared for projection on the plenary screens. While ushers moved through the hall to distribute the handout, Courter invited Bishop to report on the progress with Open Space thus far.

Bishop noted that more than 1000 individuals had been involved in the Open Space meetings, and that today, the process had moved from discussions of goals and strategies to focus on mission work. Bishop explained that the plenary would send three statements about the priorities of the Association to the board, and that at Sunday's plenary, delegates would be asked to vote on no more than five statements which resonated with them as articulations of the Association's priorities.

Courter then invited delegates to the microphone to briefly speak to which of the proposed statements struck them as articulating what the central focus of the Association should be. Many speakers lined up at the microphones, expressing different preferences for the statements. Many, however, focused on two statements that made the needs of youth and young adult communities a priority.

Others spoke to the need for social justice to be woven throughout everything we say or do; the need to revere and sustain the earth; the wish to call all congregations to commit time and effort to anti-racist anti-oppressive multicultural study and work; to call UUs to live lives of meaning and purpose; to deepen spiritual practice and couple it with action; to be a force for peace, justice, and compassion in the world.

Courter explained that when delegates came to plenary on Sunday, they would receive ballots which would allow them to cast votes for their priorities. She thanked Bishop, and the Open Space facilitation team, for their efforts.

Thanking Individuals Completing Service to the Association

Courter called on Secretary Paul Rickter to recognize individuals, elected by votes taken at prior General Assemblies, to serve on the Planning Committee, the Board of Review, the Commission on Appraisal, the Nominating Committee, and the UUA Board of Trustees (either through election at General Assembly or through their districts).

Following warm applause, Sarah Dan Jones led those gathered in the hall in singing "Alleluia," a multi-part round of thanks written by Kenneth Nafziger. Courter reminded delegates that immediately following the conclusion of the plenary, a worship service led by the GA youth caucus would take place and encouraged all to remain in the hall.

Courter then declared the plenary in recess until Sunday morning.

Reported by Lisa Presley; edited by Deborah Weiner.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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Individuals participating in one of the many Open Space Technology meetings at General Assembly.


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Janice Marie Johnson is a new member of the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Team.


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Delegates at GA voted on Open Space Technology Convergence statements that they felt best captured the mission of the UUA.

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