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Plenary III, General Assembly 2008
General Assembly 2008 Event 3004
Moderator Gini Courter called the third plenary session of the 47th General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to order at 8:33 a.m. on Saturday, June 28, 2008 at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center. She called on Florida District President Jennifer Carver to light the chalice. Carver lit the chalice in honor of Unitarian Universalist (UU) Youth and Young Adults. She asked us to "look closely and see within them the spirit and fire of our flaming chalice."
Financial Advisor’s Report
Courter invited Dan Brody, Financial Advisor, to give his report. Brody promised "no charts and few numbers," but reassured the financial wonks in the audience that they can find all the numbers they want on the UUA’s website. He reported that the Association’s finances are strong, with a balanced budget and growth in endowment assets. Beacon Press has shown a surplus for six years in a row, and its net assets now are sufficient to protect it from possible future losses. And, he added, "We have again received a clean audit report."
The new UUA Health Plan, which now serves almost 700 employees and their family members, finished its first year with a surplus of almost $ 1 million, twice the budgeted amount. He noted that this will cushion the plan against premium increases in future years and act as a reserve against losses. Brody thanked Rev. Ralph Mero, retiring Director of Church Staff Finances, who spearheaded the creation of the health plan. "No matter what obstacle he encountered, Ralph just wouldn’t give up!" said Brody. The assembly gave Mero, who was in the plenary hall, a warm round of applause for his service.
Brody said, "As proud as I am about the UUA health plan, I hope it doesn’t last much longer…because I believe that the nation must adopt a universal health insurance system." The delegates loudly demonstrated their support for universal health care.
Brody said, "We should take a fresh look at the assumptions that guide the investment and spending of the UUA endowment." Among the questions he would pose is this: "Can investment policy changes further our goals for socially responsible investing?"
Lyn Conley, Chair of the UUA Finance Committee, came to the stage to deliver the Report of the UUA Finance Committee. Conley offered graphs for those who wished them, noting that she hadn’t yet "figured out how to discharge my duty without them!" "Budgets are moral documents," she said. "For those of you out there who do this work in your congregations, you know it matters what we do with the money entrusted to us."
Total anticipated income for Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 is $26.78 million. Of this, 56% is designated as general income and 44% is designated for a specific purpose. Fundraising, mostly from the Annual Program Fund (APF), brings in 61% of this income, with some help from the Friends of the UUA and from bequests, Conley said.
Explaining the Association’s expenses, Conley noted that the allotments for Communications and Administration were significantly smaller than that for programs, which uses almost 60% of the budget. Another chart showed the breakdown of how program money is spent. Conley emphasized several programmatic priorities, including the Crisis Relief Fund, UUA Health Plan, funding for Excellence in Ministry and Lay Theological Education, the Diversity of Ministry Team, Stewardship and Development, Youth and Young Adult and Campus Ministries, and programs for congregations and districts.
Conley concluded her remarks by saying, "On a year-in and year-out basis, we have all this for the measly price of Annual Program Fund (APF) and District contributions from each of us. We should be looking around for the police! This is a steal!"
The assembly was quiet and respectful as they viewed images and names of some of the over 100 dedicated UUs who have passed on during the previous year and offered their financial support to the Association. Conley said, "We offer our gratitude and appreciation to these very special people, and their families, who have served Unitarian Universalism so well."
Report on the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth
Courter welcomed Jackie Whitworth, who serves on the Youth Ministry working Group, Laura Spencer, a program associate in the Identity Based Ministry staff group, and Sara Eskrich, who serves as the Youth Ministry Associate on the UUA staff. Using their powerful voices, they expressed some of the thoughts of those who have offered input to the Consultation: "Deep conversations are most important for accomplishing overcoming oppression… The only way ‘ism’ will end is when people start connecting spiritually…" The voices of thousands of youth have been heard over the past three years to contribute to the development of a new vision for UU Youth Ministry.
At the Summit on Youth Ministry last summer, these voices were distilled to create a single statement:
"We envision a youth ministry that is central to the articulated mission of Unitarian Universalism, offers multiple pathways for involvement in our faith communities, and is congregationally based, mutigenerational, spirit-centered; counter oppressive, multicultural, and radically inclusive."
The Association will do its part by focusing its services toward congregations and districts, directing resources towards building intentional and authentic relationships within multicultural and multigenerational communities, and systematically increasing youth access to and participation in all levels and structures of decision making in the UUA.
The Whitworth, Spencer, and Eskrich encouraged the delegates to participate in the discussion of the Business Resolution on Youth Empowerment, to be held later in this plenary session, and to attend the workshop that will be held the next day which will "go into more detail about…what you can do to create change… and to take information back to your congregations to continue the conversation."
Breakthrough Congregation: Pacific Unitarian Church
The assembly was treated to a 12-minute video produced by the second of four "Breakthrough Congregations" to be recognized at this General Assembly. The voice of Rev. John Morehouse told us that "Pacific Unitarian is located on a hilltop in Rancho Pales Verdes, California…just a short drive from LA’s famed beach cities in one direction, and our nation’s busiest port in the other."
Diane Hayden, president of the congregation, said that as the congregation looked at what it would have to do to grow and mature, "We agreed that we would have to move beyond our former mentality of scarcity and invest in new facilities, programs, and personnel, and… we needed to become a fair compensation congregation." They hired an interim minister, Rev. Jim Grant, who encouraged them to adopt a Covenant of Good Relations, which helped them to build open and honest communications.
Pacific Unitarian called Rev. John Morehouse in 2005 Membership began to grow, as did the average pledge and the level of volunteerism. The congregation established an "Enhancing Our Ministries Fund" to which people gave in addition to their pledges, and with which they hired a part time pastoral care director, and then a director of membership. Once the congregation’s ministry of caring for one another was "well in hand," they educated the congregation about the importance of not only sustaining themselves but to help sustain the greater community as well. They decided to build up to giving away 10 percent of their budget within five years, and are close to succeeding in this goal. Recently, one of the church members left a bequest of about $75,000, which Pacific Unitarian pledged to their partner church in New Orleans. They are also proud of the "intergenerational nature" of their congregation, their revitalized Welcoming Congregation program and their Addiction and Recovery Ministry.
The audience gave an enthusiastic round of applause to this congregation as their presentation concluded
Courter then called GA Music Coordinator Saran Dan Jones, to lead the assembly in singing We Are Building a New Way, # 1017 in Singing the Living Tradition.
Debate/Vote on Youth and Young Adult Empowerment Resolution
After the song, Courter moved to the first of several business items to be considered during the Assembly, a change to Rule G-4.18.2, a resolution that "directly involves the administration and structure of the association." Courter reminded delegates of the locations of the ‘Pro,’ ‘Con’ and ‘Procedural’ microphones, and recognized a delegate at alternating ‘Pro’ and ‘Con" microphones.
Many, but not all, of those who spoke in favor of the resolution were representatives from the youth and young adult contingents at GA, speaking passionately of the need for the proposed resolution which, as one delegate put it, would "provide a guideline for standards for youth ministry of the UUA."
Those in favor of the resolution commented:
"The Church of the Younger Fellowship community has overwhelmingly supported this resolution. They know that we need to make it clear that we must put our resources where our priorities are."
"When I hear that congregations don’t have the will to implement this, my heart sinks. It is not an option not to have enough, to not do youth ministry…it is not an option to not have enough to do young adult ministry well. This resolution sends that message to all of us."
"We, the GA youth caucus, come to ask you to support the resolution… We are future Young Adults and we are the future of our faith." Dozens of members of the Youth and Young Adult caucuses stood in solidarity with the speakers at the Pro microphone and cheered when each was finished.
Those who spoke in opposition to the resolution expressed the idea that, though the sentiment and goal of the resolution were laudable, the specific wording had no "meat" and would let us go home and "pat ourselves on the back, and not live out this commitment in the world." Some others were concerned that the delegates might "be mandating things to congregations which do not have the resources to follow through." Other comments offered in opposition to the resolution included:
"(A) resolution like this lets us off the hook too easily…doesn’t call us to concrete, measurable outcomes…call us to make choices about the priorities of our faith…youth and young adult ministry slides by the wayside because we passed a resolution."
"This resolution does not serve our young people as well as it needs to. It lumps together youth and young adults, and, like Yoda said, ‘There is no try, there is just do’… Any equivocal language that gives us a free pass to not do should be taken out."
Several people asked questions or made motions from the Procedural microphone. One was a motion to "remand this resolution for specifics and metrics and bring it back for action next year." That motion failed, but one to extend the debate for an additional 20 minutes passed. One question was about whether the motion could be amended, but Courter indicated that "the answer is ‘no’."
In response to several questions and statements made from the Procedural microphone, Courter explained that a Business Resolution not only charges the UUA administration with a task, it also charges congregations, but it does not ‘mandate,’ as congregations cannot be dictated to by the UUA. She got a chuckle from the audience when she said, "I often have urges; I rarely have mandates."
Courter also discussed the broader question of "What does it mean to be a delegate?… We would like to come to GA and do the work we were supposed to do before. We get here and think, ‘Oh gosh, I have to represent my folks, but we didn’t talk about this.’ But next year, the folks here won’t be you, and they’ll say ‘gosh, we didn’t talk about this.’ So you have to use your best judgment, and then take that back and remind people what it means to be part of a community, and to be in association.
"Two years ago," Courter continued, "We passed a resolution that committed congregations to do anti-racism training, and you did it… I trust you can do the same with this… We need to know what it means to be a member of the Association. I would not want anyone to leave thinking that voting this is the end. Being a delegate means you are accountable to the congregation that sent you here… If you want this to go away, with or without details, you could vote it down. Or you could vote it up and ask for details."
A motion to go into a Committee of the Whole (which would suspend the rules and allow for straw polls) failed, as did a motion to extend the debate for yet another 20 minutes, after which Courter said, "I think the delegates are ready to vote." She called for a show of voting cards. The motion carried with more than the two-thirds majority required by the bylaws, at which point the youth and young adult delegates in the hall cheered enthusiastically.
Courter then called on UUA Secretary Paul Rickter for the day’s announcement. Rickter invited people to come to the "Valuing All Families" public witness event to be held on Friday afternoon, and reviewed the logistics about how we are those who wished to attend would arrive at Stranahan Park, where the gathering is to be held..
Rickter then asked if delegates had noticed a FEMA trailer which was parked in the lot outside the plenary hall. He noted that "It is one of two purchased by a group which tours the country offering tours of these trailers, and encouraged people to visit the trailer to get a better sense of the conditions under which residents of the Gulf Coast have been living for the last three years.
Courter asked those in attendance to bring their checkbooks the next day so that they might make a donation to the Volunteer Center of New Orleans. Then, at 10:33 a.m., she declared the plenary session in recess until 8:30 a.m. on Friday.
Reported by Pat Emery; edited by Deborah Weiner.