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Plenary V, General Assembly 2009
General Assembly 2009 Event 4030
And so it continues...
The fifth Plenary session met (after a glorious sun-soaked lunch break) on Saturday afternoon. As the delegates and observers entered the hall, ushers handed them documents outlining the ‘Rationale for the Proposed Article II,” and a report from the Unitarian Universalist Commission on Appraisal on “The Mandated Review of Article II of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Bylaws.”
Gini Courter, UUA Moderator welcomed us to “…this shrine of democracy.”
The Reverend Tim Kutzmark, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Reading, MA, told the assemblage about the new “Breakthrough Practice” at his congregation. When he was starting his new role at this healthy church, the lay leaders told him that they recognized one problem in congregational life: "What to do with the kids?" Kutzmark and the other leaders decided to move the children to the front and center of every service. They pack the first 15 minutes of the service with energy, and although he admits it’s not solely due to the children, Kutzmark does think the role of children in the church has had a significant impact on the success of the congregation. The new, dynamic culture of the congregation has resulted in a 15% growth in members over the last 4 years and a dramatic 157% increase in pledges.
Meg Riley, Director of Public Witness and Advocacy for the UUA, reviewed last nights activities in Salt Lake City: “Last night," she reported, "as we stood on the side of love with our interfaith partners, the atmosphere got electic, and winds began to blow—storms howled across Utah.” Connected the “Valuing ALL Families” rally at Salt Lake’s Gallivan Center Plaza to earlier events at the convention center—which many of us witnessed—she declared that “our banner was no longer willing to be tethered to the Salt Palace,” as she described the "Sanding on the Side of Love" banner being torn from the building in a plume of shattered glass. “God sent us a sign—the moral arc is long but it sometimes is rainbow colored.”
The Unitarian Universalist (UU) Congregation of South County in Wakefield, RI, was introduced as another of our breakthrough congregations. Their showed a video emphasizing that “Love is he spirit of this congregation” Starting with four friends, they took New Congregation training in Boston. The congregation was established in 1993 in Peace Dale, RI, with 29 members. Meeting in an American Legion hall, the congregation grew to be able to search for a permanent building and call a minister. Through all their growth and changes, the conflict between the desire to grow and the concern about their finances, they drew on their core tenet of maintaining a loving spirit, and "a miracle" happened. In a period of four months, they ran a capital campaign and developed a strategic plan. Members gave of their time and skills, and even the death of their minister’s life partner could not stop their loving spirit from helping them learn who they were as a congregation. On February 1, 2009, the first service was held in their new home.
Prior to the business session, Dr. David May, a member of the Commission on Social Witness (CSW), provided some information that had been requested during the Saturday morning Plenary session. He explained that nine proposed Actions of Immediate Witness had been presented to the CSW this year, and that the CSW is limited to bringing no more than six to the delegates. The selected proposed actions are first introduced by a short presentation by an advocate for each, at the Saturday morning Plenary. The criteria that CSW use to select the final six proposals and the explanation of the overall Action of Immediate Witness processcan be reviewed online.
Representatives from Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) told the assembled delegates and observers about their relatively new, but powerful, Congregation-Based Community Organizing (CBCO) organization. VOICE is a broad-based organization that works to organize the communities of Northern Virginia across all religious, racial, ethnic, and class lines for the public good by changing the social and political system. Its primary aim is to correct social injustice issues such as affordable housing, immigration, child care, poverty, etc., that affect the lives of low- and middle-income residents in four Northern Virginia jurisdictions: Prince William, Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria. VOICE strives to hold both public and private power holders accountable for their public responsibilities. To date, they have had 1000 one on one meetings with various power holders, including meeting three times with Virginia Governor Tim Kane to talk about federal stimulus money. More can be learned about VOICE by viewing the video that the delegates were shown (YouTube).
A small delegation of Iranian UUs rose to express their solidarity with Iranians in Iran and all over the world. This was intended to be more than a mere protest. A prayer was offered in Farsi and in English, before the delegates were asked to hold the people of Iran in our hearts in silence. “Let us share in a breath that takes us deep, that we may be one," we were asked. "May our hearts beat as one with the Iranian people.” The silence in the hall was palpable.
Denny Davidoff, former UUA Moderator and Chair of the Fifth Principle Taskforce, asked the delegates and observers in the hall to raise their hands if their congregation provides financial assistance for sending their ministers and congregational leaders to General Assembly. Very few hands were raised. “Maybe its time to get serious” Davidoff said. “Can we say the delegates have been democratically elected?” “Is our process fair and distributive?” “The status quo is not an option” Davidoff then added, “We should get serious about governing ourselves democratically, or I will move in 2010 that we rescind the Fifth Principle until we can prove we are democratically represented.”
The business of the Saturday afternoon plenary session was voting on whether to place the changes proposed to Article II of the UUA Bylaws—known as "the Principles"—on the agenda of the 2010 General Assembly for adoption. (See a discussion of the proposed changes.)
A number of delegates spoke to the meeting, both for and against sending the measure forward.
There were three primary arguments against proceeding with the changes as currently proposed:
- Some speakers argued that “[The existing Principles] ain’t broke—don’t fix ‘em,” or no change to the existing language;
- Others recognized the need for change but thought that “Together we can do better,” that is, they would like to have an opportunity to further revise the proposed language;
- A third group advocated that we “Save our Sources,” accepting the proposed new language honoring Unitarianism and Universalism as primary sources, but also wishing to retain the existing language which specifies and celebrates inspiration from other sources, such as Judaism, Humanism and Earth-centered traditions.
Those in favor of advancing the proposed changes for consideration primarily argued that these changes can, and should be, made at this time to improve our understanding of ourselves. A members of the General Assembly Youth Caucus, speaking in favor of the proposed changes, said “We’ll take the two steps forward over the half step back that this represents."
The time set aside debate was twice extended for ten minutes as many delegates tried to find a way to move forward with the change while, at the same time, allowing for improvements to address specific issues. Eventually, the question was called and the delegates moved to a vote on the proposed change.
The initial vote was conducted by asking delegates to raise their yellow voting cards, either in favor of or against moving the proposed changes forward. It became clear that the nearly 1,200 credentialed delegates present were too closely divided on this issue to allow a visual count to accurately determine the outcome, and Courter called for a teller vote. As the Yeses were counted and tallied, those present sang “When your heart is in a holy place;” while the Nos were counted and tallied, the delegates and observers sang “Breathe in, Breathe Out.”
When all votes were counted, the result was 573 Yes and 586 No. By a margin of 13 votes—slightly more than 1% of the total cast—the motion failed. The proposed change will not be on the General Assembly agenda for a final vote in 2010.
The assembled delegates asked that the General Assembly Board reconsider the bylaws that prevented any amendments to proposed changes. The Board agreed to do so. In addition, a group of delegates started to form to to work to bring proposed changes to Article II to the General Assembly two years from now, after congregational discussion. Two years is the earliest opportunity the bylaws currently allow for this type of change to be reconsidered.
Courter ended by asking the delegates to express their gratitude to the Commission on Appraisal team and to all the people who stood in line to voice their position on this issue, whether or not they had been able to speak.
Reported by Rodney Lowe; edited by Bill Lewis.