Plenary V, General Assembly 2008
General Assembly 2008 Event 5005
Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Moderator Gini Courter called the fifth plenary session of the forty-seventh General Assembly (GA) to order at 10:45 a.m., and asked the Reverend Wayne Arnason, Chair of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC), to light the chalice.
Courter then invited Susan Leslie, Director of Congregational Advocacy and Witness, to the podium to update the delegates of the activities of Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations within the growing interfaith movement of Congregationally Based Community Organizing (CBCO). As part of her report, Leslie showed a film clip about the continuing efforts of civil rights leaders, especially around the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Both Courter and Leslie informally polled the assembled delegates regarding the activities of their congregations in interfaith partnerships.
The delegates applauded the brief report from Bruce Knotts, Director of the UU-United Nations Office, regarding that group's activities in persuading the UN to include Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (BGLT) rights in their deliberations.
Courter then recognized a delegate at the procedural microphone, who informed the assembly that the Office of Youth Ministry had produced a flyer that is begins the implementation process for the Business Resolution on Youth and Young Adult Empowerment which the delegates had adopted in Plenary III only two days earlier. Delegates were encouraged to obtain a copy of the flyer at the Youth Ministry booth or from the UUA's Youth Office. Courter remarked in complimentary fashion on the speed with which the UUA staff and committees were working to develop tools for congregations regarding this new resolution.
Courter asked for a motion to amend bylaws Sections 7.6 and 11.2 through 11.9. The Chair of the GA Planning Committee, Dr. Elisabeth McGregor, was recognized to make the motion.
Rev. Burton Carley, UUA trustee from the Southwest Conference, gave the position of the UUA Board of Trustees, to unanimously support the motion. Some of the amendments were simple language changes that clarified but did not alter the effect of the by laws. Some others had significant, but clear and uncontroversial effects, such as the addition to Section 11.3 that “three years as an accredited director of religious education may be considered as satisfying the time requirement for granting of final fellowship as minister of religious education.” The one section that delegates wanted to debate related to proposed changes to the section regarding the Termination of Fellowship, particularly around the use of the word “incompetence” in the new version.
Courter recognized a delegate at the procedural microphone who moved that lines 129 to 139, the lines regarding termination of fellowship, be separated from the rest of the bylaws changes for the purpose of separate discussion and vote. This motion was made, seconded, and passed. The motion to approve the remaining bylaws changes was made, seconded, and passed. The delegate at the procedural microphone then asked for clarification of the sense in which the word “incompetence” was used by the committee. The speaker also asked if the concept of “legal incompetency” was applicable in this case.
MFC Chair Wayne Arnason was asked to respond. He explained that the process by which ministers are admitted to fellowship includes tests for specific competencies needed for successful ministries. These competencies are spelled out to candidates for the ministry. It is in this context that the word “incompetence” was used in the proposed language, to indicate the circumstances under which a minister is no longer demonstrating competence in the areas evaluated by the fellowship process. He explained that it was not intended to cover all uses of the word, and that “legal competence” was a separate issue.
During the discussion that ensued, the concerns that were voiced about the new wording related to the potential for disgruntled congregants to try to make a minister they don't like seem incompetent. Speakers also expressed concern over the proposed deletion of lines which had spelled out a minister's right to be represented by counsel at a “Fellowship Review” before the MFC. “Taking out the right to counsel implies it is no longer a right,” one speaker said.
Members of the MFC spoke in defense of the amendment, saying that the issue would not be before the Assembly if it weren't for the fact that situations have arisen where lay people are left to suffer under the incompetence of a minister who may not have engaged in “unbecoming conduct,” but whose actions, or lack thereof, nonetheless are damaging to the congregation. In the situations in which a minister no longer demonstrates the specific competencies required of fellowshipped professionals, competencies which the MFC was created and charged to assess, the committee may intervene to relieve the congregation. They reassured the Assembly that the right to counsel is spelled out in the full rules of the Fellowship Review process, and is therefore not needed in the bylaws.
The issue engaged the assembly enough for them to vote to allow an extra ten minutes to the clock so the discussion could continue. Delegates finally indicated that they were ready to vote, and they passed the amendment with the required two third's majority. At that point Courter admitted that she had not thought that this issue would so engage the delegate body. “Good for us!” she congratulated the crowd.
The other bylaw change, the effect of which is to consolidate the Northeast District and the New Hampshire/Vermont Districts into the Northern New England District, was moved and explained to delegates by Roger Comstock, trustee from the Northeast District. Comstock described the “careful four-year process of dialogue and compromise” between the two districts, including the consolidation of office and program staff, approval of bylaws and budget, and the election of officers. The only item of discussion on this motion pertained to whether this change would contradict the Rules regarding the division of districts. Courter responded by saying that if delegates approve this change to the by laws, the Board will see to it that the Rules are modified to reflect the change. The motion passed overwhelmingly with little discussion.
The first business item completed, Sarah Dan Jones then led the Assembly in singing When Our Heart Is In a Holy Place before Meg Riley, Director of the UUA Advocacy and Witness staff group, spoke about the impact of our past Statements of Conscience (SOC). She asked delegates to call out if their congregations were involved in the issues surrounding our past SOCs regarding moral values in a diverse world, the threat of global warming, GLBT rights, and several others. Responses ranged from a few isolated calls to hefty hollering. Riley summarized by saying, “It's not Public Witness unless it is public and unless someone witnesses it!” The Assembly gave hearty applause to her declaration.
Actions of Immediate Witness
Courter then introduced the final item of business for this plenary, debate and a vote on one of the six Actions of Immediate Witness (AIW) which the delegates had admitted to the agenda in votes taken during Plenary IV. She explained that the five other proposals would be debated during Plenary VI later in the day. Courter recognized the delegate who had proposed AIW 3, a call to End Modern Day Slavery in the Fields, to make the motion and speak in favor of its adoption. The delegate did so, giving examples of slave labor camps that had recently been discovered and disbanded. The discussion which ensued followed two tracks. One was regarding the issue itself, with those taking the con position claiming that the wording of the proposal was not comprehensive enough, in that it only referred to slave labor in the agricultural industry, when sweat shops in the garment industry should have been included. Those taking the pro position responded that this AIW was intended to support the local (Florida) people who want to be the partners of the Association in direct action in the local agricultural business.
The second track of the discussion was regarding the AIW mini-assembly process. Delegates asked if the Planning Committee could reserve more time for mini-assemblies at future GAs. Courter responded that she would think about how that might be accomplished.
The proposed AIW was approved by the delegates, after which Courter asked for a motion to reconvene for Plenary VI at 3:00 p.m., fifteen minutes earlier than scheduled, to give them sufficient time to debate the remaining proposed AIWs and conduct the other business required at the final plenary. A motion to that effect was made, seconded and passed. Courter then asked UUA Secretary Paul Rickter to make the day's announcements. She recessed the plenary at 12:36 p.m.
Reported by Pat Emery; edited by Deborah Weiner.