General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Plenary III, General Assembly 2000

General Assembly 2000 Event 303
Presenter: Moderator Denny Davidoff
Moderator Denny Davidoff convened the Saturday, June 24 plenary session at 8:30 am in the Nashville Convention Center. The chalice was lit by Rev. Susan Suchocki, minister of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation of Leominster, MA, and Chair of the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Team.

The session was called to order, and Davidoff introduced Rev. Wayne Arnason, Secretary of the Association, who made announcements, including one that 25% of all Unitarian Universalist congregations are now Welcoming Congregations, and that the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) voted to become the first UU affiliate organization to apply to become recognized as a welcoming organization.

Davidoff announced that a member of the board of Trustee's anti-racism assessment team will make observations each day on how the proceedings of the assembly are viewed through an anti-racist lens.

Canadian Unitarian Council

Kim Turner

Turner, from Halifax, NC, came to the podium to honor Ellen Campbell, the retiring executive director of the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC). "Under her care," Turner said, "the CUC has moved from its young adulthood into the mature organization it is today. Our reputation in the international community has never been more respected. Ellen has kept us moving forward, her eyes on our vision ahead. Little or big, she has kept track of our tasks, and made sure that we as a board and an organization live up to our promises." Turner also introduced the new executive director of the CUC, Mary Bennett.

Business Items

Davidoff then turned her attention to business issues, and, with a vote from the assembly, moved proposed action on social action study issues to earlier on the agenda. She then took up the issue of two district mergers:

  • Action on Proposed Amendments to Bylaw Section 6.3 and Rule G-12.2.1, Establishing Districts
  • Action on Study/Action Issues for Social Justice

Davidoff then called for a vote on proposed study/action issues. The five proposed Study/Action issues were:

  1. Abortion Availability Requires Trained Doctors
  2. An Alternative to the "War on Drugs"
  3. Leveling the Technological Playing Field for All Children
  4. No Place for Hate
  5. Understanding the Challenges of Globalization

One of these issues can be referred to member congregations and districts for two years of study and action. This, Davidoff explained, is the first step under bylaw section 4.12 in the process that may produce a Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) statement of conscience. Davidoff invited a sponsor of each issue to speak for two minutes in favor of each issue.

Davidoff called for up to forty minutes of debate, asking people who wished to speak on a particular issue to go to the designated microphone for each action.

Speaking on abortion rights, one individual said, "what we have not succeeded in doing is ending funding for clinics that deny medical service if a clinic dares to let a woman know that abortions are available."

Speaking on the war on drugs, one woman said, "my family has been affected by this war…think of all the people who are jailed and what it is like for a father to see his son in jail…it's a nightmare."

Re- leveling the technological playing field, a speaker said, "this is not an issue of minorities and majorities. There are those who have and those who do not. This is about opportunity, and it is a problem we can solve. We need to come together to solve this crisis…all churches, all religions…it can open the door to interfaith understanding…all children, standing up for all children. Only then can we call ourselves a community."

Barry Johnson Fay of All Souls Church, Colorado Springs CO, spoke about understanding the challenges of globalization… "passage of this issue will allow us to reflect on the role that our white economic privilege plays in globalization, how we benefit from the exploitation and denigration of the lives of people across the globe."

Kristen Lee Grasso, Cedar Lane Church, MD, speaking on abortion rights, said "It is of the utmost importance that the UUA support the abortion issue…making this available to economically challenged areas where these services are not available…All of the issues before us are important…but it is most urgent and important in defending a woman's right to choose."

Speaking about "No Place for Hate," Rev. Abhi Janamanchi of Clearwater, FL said: "I find this place to be a place of love…as a person of color, I stand before you and say that…we need to be intentional about that, and make it public… that we as a faith are known…we do not provide a place for people who hate each other. I wish we as a faith would do this and be more intentional about creating a loving community."

The moderator, at the conclusion of the time allowed for statements, called for a vote by delegates for the study action issue of their choice. Delegates voted, and the results were as follows:

  • Abortion Availability—236
  • Alternative to War on Drugs—450
  • Leveling the Technological Playing Field—76
  • No Place for Hate—395
  • Understanding the Challenges of Globalization—201

A total of 1360 votes were cast; with a majority vote being 683. Since no majority was received by any item, there was a runoff vote between the alternative to drugs and no place for hate. When the vote was taken, the winner was declared to be "An Alternative to the War on Drugs."

Action on Proposed Amendment to Bylaws Section 11.8, Appeal by Ministers, and 11.4, Classes of Ministerial Fellowship

Davidoff announced action on proposed bylaw amendments relating to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC). The first item was a proposed amendment to section 11.8 of the bylaws concerning appeal from the Ministerial Fellowship Committee to the Ministerial Board of Review. This amendment, Davidoff said, which is actually a complete substitution of a new provision, was submitted by fifteen certified congregations. A 2/3 vote is required to approve the amendment.

The chair of the Planning Committee, Bob Martin, made the appropriate motion. Debate commenced. The Rev. Wayne Arnason reported that that when the Board of Trustees voted on this matter, 20 voted against the proposal, none for it, and four abstained. Arnason said, "The proposal that is before us would make the Board of Review into a second Ministerial Fellowship Committee… Most candidates for ministry are given an opportunity to meet with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee again. The concern expressed by those who advance this amendment have been respectfully heard. The board urges you to reject this amendment again."

Davidoff noted that the delegate body had received through the mini assemblies an amended resolution to consider, and it had "thrown people who were for or against the original resolution into some confusion."

The proposal, amended in mini-assemblies, read: "A candidate for fellowship who has been denied fellowship by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, a minister in preliminary fellowship or a minister in final fellowship may appeal the determination of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee to the Ministerial Fellowship Board of review. The Ministerial Board of Review shall have the exclusive jurisdiction hear and decide such appeals."

Rev. O. Eugene Pickett, chair of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, reported that last year, eighty candidates were interviewed. Two were denied fellowship, which is, Pickett said, about the average. Nine candidates received a rating of four, in a scale where one is best and five is worst. All the rest received a rating of one, two, or three.

David Johnson, First Parish in Brookline, MA spoke in favor of the motion: "I respect intensely the work of the MFC…almost always their decisions are correct. But I've always believed there needs to be an appeal procedure. Most denominations have a procedure, and it is a simple procedural safeguard…what's the problem providing such a safeguard?"

Madeline Campbell of Arlington, VA said, "This is a difficult question to decide. I have to say, given my personal experience instructing university nursing students, that it is painful to have my judgment second-guessed, when I have the opinion that someone would be inappropriately passed on and might do damage…we have the Ministerial Fellowship Committee because we have asked for their judgment and their recommendations. Nothing prohibits a congregation form ordaining without the MFC…but we ought to grant the MFC their expertise to accept what they have to tell us, and make our decisions based on their guidance."

The Rev. Sydney Wilde, Chair of the Ministerial Board of Review, spoke against the motion: "The Ministerial Board of Review acknowledges that the system (for fellowshipping ministers) is somewhat flawed, but does not believe that the amendment is a good solution. We are working to come up with an integrated solution to the appeal process. The Board of Review works by reviewing the rules for procedural mistakes. We do not make a qualitative decision, or rule on the merits of the case. We look to make sure that the MFC was correct in following the rules. This amendment would change the rules and the process, and we would work to make those changes in another way."

David Sammons, Walnut Creek, CA, and former chair of the Commission on Appraisal when it studied the Ministerial Fellowshipping process, said "The UUMA, when presented with this issue, voted overwhelmingly not to support it. The Board of Review is not a retrying agency, it deals only with gross injustice. I have enormous sympathy for someone who gets a 5 (from the Fellowship Committee)….We are studying this issue, it can be handled if there are injustices, under our current procedures … I urge you to vote against this proposal."

An amendment offered by the Rev. Kathleen Korb of New Orleans, LA, failed, and the vote on the main motion was taken; the motion failed.

Davidoff called for discussion on a proposed amendment to bylaw section 11.4 on classes of ministerial fellowship. This amendment would remove the authority of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee to make rules regarding lay ministers—an authority which has never been implemented.

Bob Martin, Chair of the Planning Committee, moved the amendment. Wayne Arnason gave the position of the Board of Trustees on the amendment. Arnason reported that the Board was unanimously in favor (22:0) of the amendment, and offered the opinion that it "removes something that has never been used or implemented." He added, "Passing this amendment has no impact on chaplaincy in Canada."

The Amendment passed.

Actions on Non-Substantive Proposed Changes to Bylaws and Rules

Davidoff called for action on non-substantive changes to the bylaws and rules proposed by the Board of Trustees. All of them, she noted, are "housekeeping" changes to the bylaws proposed by a task force appointed to conduct a thorough review of the Association's bylaws and rules.

Davidoff said that the task force, chaired by Carol Agate, included Robert Senghas and General Assembly (GA) Administrator Barbara Prairie. Carol Agate noted that in addition to the changes being discussed in this plenary, there are also substantive changes that are being reviewed by the Board of Trustees and those may come before a future general assembly. All of those changes were moved by the Board.

Davidoff, indicating that she hoped to vote on the items as a package, received a motion from Bob Martin, chair of the Planning Committee to make the changes in the bylaws. The motion passed.

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee Report

Nancy Bartlett, President, announced that over $7 million had been raised in a special endowment fund drive for Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). She introduced UUSC Executive Director Valora Washington, who reported that over 1200 UUs had raised over $400,000 for aid to Kosovo. The Service Committee, Washington said, was currently working to remove the ban on sale of food and medicine to Cuba, and to normalize relations with Cuba. The Service Committee is also working domestically, urging U.S. congress to increase the minimum wage.

Action on Proposed Amendment to Bylaws Section C-14.1 from Commission on Appraisal

Davidoff announced action on a proposed amendment to section C-14.1 of the Bylaws from the Commission on Appraisal. The change would make all bylaw amendments subject to a two-year process, with the second year approval similar to the current election process where absentee ballots are permitted. It would, Davidoff said, eliminate the distinction between C and non-C bylaws.

Davidoff said, "Because this proposal is, itself, an amendment to a current C Bylaw, there is a two-step approval process. First the proposal must receive at this general assembly, preliminary approval by majority vote. If such approval is obtained, the proposal will be put on the agenda at next year's GA for final approval.

The Chair of the Planning Committee made the appropriate motion, and Rev. Lisa Presley, chair of the Commission on Appraisal, spoke to the motion. Presley said,

"This is the first time the Commission has exercised its authority to place a bylaw amendment on the Agenda of the Assembly…The C-bylaw section was designated to recognize those amendments which came from the constitution of the American Unitarian Association. This would place all bylaws as a two-year process. This would be a slower process, but would allow for more conversation and participation by our congregations. It is consistent with our commitment to a democratic process."

Kathryn McIntyre, Trustee from the St. Lawrence District, said that when the Board of Trustees considered the proposal it received only one vote in favor and twenty-three opposed.

David Barrus of Community Church, NY, and a former member of the Commission on Appraisal, said, "We believe that democracy often takes more time. We submit that and urge you to vote for it. The alternative is less democratic and unworthy of the UUA spirit. "

Patsy Madden of the UU Women's Federation, spoke against the motion, saying "We experience this motion in our lives (at the Women's Federation), since we have a triennial meeting, and this is very, very difficult…three years can seem forever. I would urge you to think about how long a period of time that is."

Rev. Mike Young, Honolulu, HI, also spoke against the motion, saying "Our congregation may have come the farthest to GA. But I speak in opposition…being able to blackmail my members into coming to this event, and recovering a sense of being a part of a larger movement than the piddling thing we have going on in Oahu, is incredibly valuable!"

An amendment: to delete three lines (399, 400, 401) from the body of the motion passed.

Davidoff said, "we now go to the part of the motion that would have us take bylaws in a two-year process before amendment."

Speaking against the motion, Linda Olson Peebles of Mt. Vernon, VA said, "Earlier this morning we made a bylaw change that created two new districts. The four districts who asked for this spent years debating….I wonder what democratic process would mean if we had held (that process). Our voting for it in strong affirmation was affirming their democratic process and I would not want to have that be lost."

Davidoff suggested that the delegates split the motion into two parts, one concerning absentee ballots and another concerning the two-year process. A vote was taken on the two-year process, and the motion failed.

A discussion on absentee ballots occurred, with The Rev. Laurel Sheridan, Stoughton, MA, who is disabled due to a stroke, commenting that she "would like to be able to vote on UU issues from home (because of health issues)."

Lisa Presley, who had made the original motion, commented, "When we proposed this amendment, we were suggesting that there might be absentee voting in the second year. We should defeat this (portion of the motion) and see if there is a way for there to be a better use of technology to support absentee voting.

A vote was taken on absentee ballots, and that motion failed.

Process Observations

Patti Lawrence, trustee of Pacific Central District, offered observations that might help the delegates become more anti-racist and inclusive in their behavior.

Davidoff then called on Rev. Wayne Arnason, secretary of the Association, for announcements. He stated that attendance in plenary was 2,501. The Friday Plenary had 1546 delegates, Saturday's session had 1627 delegates. He announced that the Nashville area is experiencing a critical blood shortage, and encouraged those in attendance at the Assembly to go to the Blood Center, five blocks from the plenary hall, and donate blood "with regards from Clara Barton's people."

Davidoff recessed the plenary until 12:30 p.m., Sunday afternoon, June 25.

Reported by Debbie Weiner; copy-edited by Helio Fred Garcia