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Plenary VI, General Assembly 2008
General Assembly 2008 Event 5028
Gini Courter, Moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) called the sixth and final Plenary Session of the 2008 General Assembly (GA) to order at 3:00 p.m. at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center. She called on Rev. Hope Johnson, Chair of the UUA Nominating Committee, to offer a chalice lighting reading while Rev. Mel Hoover, co-minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charleston, West Virginia, lit the flame. Johnson read her poem, Wending Our Way Home, which encouraged General Assembly attendees to "...remember the sense of Oneness that we've created here..." as we return to share our "learnings" with our home congregations.
Actions of Immediate Witness, Part II
After showing the Assembly attendees the white baseball cap worn by the GA web team and tech crew and thanking these volunteers for bringing GA to the wider world through the internet, Courter returned the delegate body to the task of debating and voting on the remaining five proposed Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs) that had been admitted to the agenda during Plenary IV.
The first to be brought forward was AIW 1: Single Payor Health Care, which calls upon Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations to become "informed advocates for universal access to non-profit health care financing." It also calls upon individual UUs to urge their members of Congress to co-sponsor and pass HR 676, United States National Health Insurance Act (the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All bill). The first speaker at the pro microphone said the single payer system is the only way to provide health care for all citizens in a way that "is affordable, where all medically necessary services are included, and where patients have their choice of physician and hospital..." She continued, "This is a deeply moral issue...a humanitarian imperative," and mentioned the role UUs played in the passing of the resolution of support for HR 676 by the National Conference of Mayors at their recent meeting in Miami.
There was significant debate on this proposed AIW, with those opposed to it voicing concern that, though they supported the idea of universal health care, the single payer model is not the best solution. One warned that by specifying single payer, the AIW would lose possible support among UUs and their allies on this issue. The fact that the 1992 General Assembly had already passed a resolution in favor of Universal Health Care was emphasized. Another delegate mentioned that Medicare is in deficit as it is, and that a woman's right to choose will not be allowed under a single payer system, as it would be too easy to politicize a government run program.
Courter became concerned about the amount of time the assembly was spending on this one proposed AIW, and she reminded the delegates that if they spent this much time on all the AIWs, the plenary would not be over until after the Closing Ceremonies had started that evening. Debate continued for a while after her admonishment, but then the body moved to vote on the proposal vote. AIW 1 was approved.
Courter's concerns about lengthy debate were eased when it became apparent that the discussion on the remaining proposed AIWs would be quite brief. No one came to the con mic to speak against AIW 2: Oppose a U.S. Attack on Iran. In answer to a question from the procedural mic, Courter confirmed that AIWs are resolutions of a particular General Assembly and are not considered to be the stand of the whole UUA in the way that a Statement of Conscience (SOC) would be. AIW 2 passed with very few no votes.
Since AIW 3 had been adopted during the previous plenary, the next to be considered was AIW 4: Raise the Federal Minimum Wage to $10 in 2010. One of the 'whereas' statements was a good example of the power of the arguments in favor of this proposed AIW. "Whereas: A minimum wage of $10 in 2010 would restore the minimum wage to about half the projected average worker wage; in 1968 the minimum wage was 53% of the average worker wage; and in 2006 the minimum wage had eroded to 31% of the average worker wage..." The motion carried resoundingly.
AIW 5: Extend the Tax Credit for Wind and Solar Power, and AIW 6: Oppose the Florida and California Marriage Protection Initiatives, were both overwhelmingly approved with no one speaking against them. The rapidity with which the assembly dispatched these issues incited Courter to say "What a hoot!" She furthermore admitted that she needs to "get better at guessing what you don't want to spend time talking about!"
With the AIW voting was completed, GA music coordinator Sarah Dan Jones led the assembly in singing Peter Mayer's Blue Boat Home, a song (published in Singing the Journey) growing rapidly in popularity among UU congregations. She also expressed her pleasure in having served as the GA Music Coordinator for the last two years. Then Scott McNeill spoke for the Right Relations Committee, asking the delegates to take the concept of right relations back to their congregations and communities.
In her report, Courter asked the Assembly three questions. The first was "Why do we need UU congregations, anyway?" She gave some answers, and asked the delegates to talk among themselves about it. The second question was "Why does the world need Unitarian Universalism?" The third was "What should your community demand of your UU congregation?" As part of her remarks on these questions, Courter spoke of Gloria Steinem's description of the stages that women (and men) go through from dependence, to independence, to interdependence. Women often get stuck in dependence and men in independence. She said that the many comparisons people have made between leading UUs and "herding cats" resonates with us because we, like domestic cats, reject the notion of ownership. If we get stuck in independence, however, it can be harmful to our congregations and to individuals. We need strong followers as well as strong leaders. Courter said, "We need to build and maintain a culture of follower-ship that authorizes leadership and holds it accountable in healthy ways."
While speaking about how congregations might work together more effectively, Courter said congregational polity means not only "where each congregation is self-governing" but also means that "the Association of Congregations will be governed by congregations (and) that congregations will be in each others' lives and here at General Assembly. In our polity, congregations are accountable to each other. That's our roots, our history, our theology." She stated that the Youth and Young Adult Empowerment Resolution passed during Plenary III is a "huge opportunity" for congregations to collaborate to accomplish what many of our congregations cannot do by themselves.
Courter concluded her report with observations on leadership. "Leadership isn't management or oversight," she said,"and it isn't supervision. Management and supervision are tactical activities. Leadership is about strategy. Leadership knows that there's only one reason to gather in religious community: to grow souls so they can transform the world."
After her report, the Moderator recognized the members of GA Planning Committee and the Volunteer Committee, the Commission on Social Witness, the General Assembly and Conference Services Director, Janiece Sneegas, and the General Assembly staff for their efforts in making this Assembly a success. Delegates gave them an enthusiastic round of applause in appreciation for a well run GA.
Action on Response to Reports of Officers
Courter asked if there were any motions with respect to the reports by the officers of the Association, and explained that a two-thirds vote is required for responsive resolutions and budget recommendations. Three such motions were made, the first of which was in response to the Financial Advisor's report and resolved that the "UUA will leverage its power through shareholder engagement with the corporate world to further and create avenues for the realization of the right of all people to high-quality health care." This motion carried with little discussion.
The second responsive resolution was related to the Youth and Young Adult Empowerment Business Resolution. It resolved that the 2008 General Assembly requests that member congregations, districts, and the UUA deliver accountability reports at each of the next three General Assemblies to inform delegates on their "planning, implementation, results and recommendations" regarding the four main points of the Business Resolution. Much of the discussion about this motion was centered around the use of words such as "urges" and "invites." Con speakers felt the language should be stronger. The majority of delegates liked the language as it was, however, and the motion passed.
The third motion was a response to the report on the Consultation on Ministry To and With Youth. It resolved that the 2008 GA endorse and support the continuation of the Consultation on Ministry To and With Youth and encouraged the UUA to consider engaging in a similar consultation with regard to Young Adult Ministries. The debate on this resolution centered on the need for a different process for a consultation with young adults than had occurred with youth. A proffered amendment to take out the word "similar" in describing the two processes passed. In response to a question from the procedural microphone, Courter explained that responsive resolutions encourage the UUA to consider, in this case, a consultation with young adults, but does not require it to do so or require a commitment of resources. When another delegate at the procedural mic asked what such a process for young adults might look like, Courter asked UUA President William Sinkford to respond. He told the Assembly that it would not be appropriate to describe a possible process until the young adults were consulted. With that, the Assembly voted to adopt the responsive resolution.
An Invitation to Salt Lake City
Courter introduced Lew Phinney from the Mountain Desert District, who invited the delegates to attend the 2009 General Assembly from June 24 to June 28 in Salt Lake City. While slides were shown on the big screen, Phinney brought greetings from the "largest geographical district in the UUA... the district with the most national parks," and from the people of the Utah congregations who are "justifiably proud of their city and their state and the UU presence they provide." Phinney reminded delegates of the importance of next year's GA: "It's election time. Come to Salt Lake to listen to the candidates, to learn, to decide who can best lead our Association into the next several years, and most important, to vote. Participate in the democratic process—live our fifth principle!" He also encouraged people to take the time to explore the natural wonders of Utah.
Courter then asked the Association's Secretary, Paul Rickter, to give the final credentials report to the Assembly. He reported that 504 congregations from all 50 states, 2 Canadian provinces, the District of Columbia, the United Kingdom, and Germany had sent 1556 delegates and 145 youth, and with others registered, there were a total of 3020 Unitarian Universalists gathered in Ft. Lauderdale.
Courter asked for a motion to adjourn, which was made and overwhelmingly passed. "There's always a few!" she said with humor at the sight of a very few yellow voting cards raised in opposition to adjournment. She declared the forty-seventh General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association to be adjourned at 5:30 p.m.
Reported by Pat Emery; edited by Deborah Weiner.