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Opening Celebration and Plenary I, General Assembly 2001

General Assembly 2001 Event 1026

Opening Celebration

(Cleveland, OH—June 21, 2001) The fortieth General Assembly (GA) formally opened at 7:00 p.m. in the Public Auditorium of the Cleveland Convention Center. After the lighting of the chalice by Rev. Dr. John Cummins, son of Robert Cummins, beloved moderator Denny Davidoff was met with loud applause as she came to the stage.

Call to Celebration

She greeted the enthusiastic gathering with a Call to Celebration:

"Good Evening. My name is Denny Davidoff and I am, still, the Moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)." The group responded with a standing ovation that went on for a full minute. She went on:

I am delighted to welcome you to the annual General Assembly Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. This year we mark the 40th anniversary of the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. We claim our heritage in many ways:

Gathering in worship,
Debating issues in plenary sessions and in corridors,
Freely, electing new leaders,
Recognizing ordained and lay leaders who have served our congregations,
Continuing our cherished lifelong quest for new insights and old ideas,
Together in these next few days we can and should be caught up in the energy of Unitarian Universalism: who we are, what we are doing, where we are going.


Speaking of who we are, let me ask you a few questions.

If you come here from a congregation that was in the Universalist Church of America before consolidation in 1961, please rise as you are able and continue standing.

If you come from a congregation that was a member of the American Unitarian Association before consolidation in 1961, please rise as you are able and remain standing.

If you come from a congregation that was chartered by the UUA in the 1960's, please rise as you are able and remain standing.

The 1970s… The 1980s… The 1990s…

Were you welcomed as a new congregation by John and me in Nashville last year?

Okay, if you're not standing by now, you'll likely be recognized as a new congregation later this evening.

Let's have a lusty and long cheer for us!


Denny invited Reid Swanson to lead us in singing two hymns from our pre-consolidation past. First we sang "Years are Coming," written by Rev. Adin Ballou, a song from our Universalist heritage, followed by "Faith of the Larger Liberty," a Unitarian hymn written by Vincent Silliman.

Years Are Coming

Years are coming, speed them onward when the sword shall gather rust,
And the helmet, lance, and falchion sleep at last in silent dust.
Earth has heard too long of battle, heard the trumpet's voice too long.
But another age advances, seers foretold in ancient song.

Years are coming when forever war's dread banner shall be furled,
And the angel Peace be welcomed, regent of a happy world,
Hail with song that glorious era, when the sword shall gather rust,
And the helmet, lance and falchion sleep at last in silent dust.

Faith of the Larger Liberty

Faith of the larger liberty, source of the light expanding,
Law of the church that is to be, old bondage not withstanding:
Faith of the free! By thee we live—
By all thou givest and shalt give our loyalty commanding.

Heroes of faith in every age, far seeing, self-denying,
Wrought an increasing heritage, monarch and creed defying.
Faith of the free! In thy dear name the costly heritage we claim:
Their living and their dying.

Faith for the people everywhere, whatever their oppression,
Of all who make the world more fair, living their faith's confession:
Faith of the free! Whate're our plight, thy law, thy liberty,
Thy light shall be our blest possession.

Denny stated that we were to have a Native American greeting from Mary Jane Buckshot. She was unable to attend; however, Denny acknowledged that "this convention center stands on land of questionable ownership."

John Cummins offered "a history lesson," about our past and the consolidation of the Unitarian and Universalist faiths, which was finally completed on May 23, 1961, in Symphony Hall in Boston. It was particularly appropriate as the UUA begins its fifth decade.

Read Rev. Cummins' remarks (PDF)

The group then sang Marion Franklin Ham's "As Tranquil Streams," which was written in the hope of a united faith tradition that might be achieved by joining together Unitarianism and Universalism, although, Cummins pointed out, the hymn was written ten years before the actual consolidation of the two organizations.

As Tranquil Streams

As tranquil streams that meet and merge and flow as one to seek the sea,
Our kindred hearts and minds unite to build a church that shall be free.

Free from the bombs that bind the mind to narrow thought and lifeless creed;
Free from a social code that fails to serve the cause of human need:

A freedom that reveres the past, but trusts the dawning future more;
And bids the soul, in search of truth, adventure boldly and explore.

Prophetic church, the future waits your liberating ministry;
Go forward in the power of love, proclaim the truth that makes us free.

Honoring the Rolling Blackout

Davidoff noted that this day is being recognized across the United States as one where a "rolling blackout" is being voluntarily observed, to encourage awareness of our precious natural resources. The lights in the public auditorium were dimmed as the audience sat in silence for thirty seconds—the only light in the hall the flaming chalice on the stage.

The Banner Parade—Let's Rock and Roll

The Banner parade began hall with "Cleveland Rocks" and concluded with James Brown's "I Feel Good," in honor to the music hall with "Cleveland Rocks" and concluded with James Brown's "I Feel Good," in honor of the rock band "One Brick Shy," who rocked the Cleveland's Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. One of the highlights of the opening ceremony, and general assembly, the banner parade represents the diversity of the Unitarian Universalist movement. Representatives from Unitarian Universalist (UU) churches, congregations, fellowships, campus ministries, organizations, committees, and retreat centers carried a wonderful array of 3'x4' color banners. There was diversity of fabric, craftsmanship, color, and style in the banners. Those carrying the banners represented a broad range of the membership of the UU faith community. The locations that each banner represented were a joyful reminder that there are UUs all over this country and around the world.

Spirit of Life

Reid Swanson returned to the stage to lead the singing of Hymn 123, "Spirit of Life"

Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirring of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.

Plenary I

Call to Order

A second "history lesson" was offered by Norma Poinsett, Trustee at Large for the UUA. She recalled the turbulent times of the 1960's and the 1968 General Assembly held in Cleveland at the Renaissance Hotel. Across the United States, she said, was an angry rebellion that ignited the UUA in 1968 and threatened to divide the US into two societies. Out of this atmosphere rose the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus (BUUC), which believed that only they could determine what was needed for black UUs. They urged the UUA to establish the Black Affairs Council, appoint black representatives to all UUA committees, and provide $250,000/year for four years. FullBAC, a white support group to endorse BUUC, sprang up, as did Black and White Action (BAWA), which stood in competition with this endeavor, embracing a different goal.

Read Poinsett's text (PDF).

Following Poinsett's commentary, Davidoff reviewed the rules of procedure for the Assembly, and Bob Martin, chair of the General Assembly Planning Committee, moved the rules of procedure by adopted. An amendment was made to allow for more debate from one microphone if no people stood at opposing microphones and less than five minutes had elapsed in debate of an item. This amendment was adopted, and Davidoff commented: "You know where the power of this assembly resides—with all of you!"

Deadlines for proposing Actions of Immediate Witness submissions were reviewed. Then new congregations were honored, including:

  • The UU Fellowship of Sun City Center, Sun City Center, FL
  • The UU Community of Lake City, Kelseville, CA
  • All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Durham, NC
  • Elora-Fergus Unitarian Church, Ontario, Canada
  • Hattiesburg UU Church, Hattiesburg, MS
  • Red River UU Congregation, Sherman, TX
  • Kittias Valley UU Congregation, Ellensburg, WA

There was a review of the Association's response to the Cleveland Indians baseball team's use of the racist Chief Wahoo symbol.

Resolved that this General Assembly urge the Planning Committee and the Board of Trustees to consult and cooperate with the United Church of Christ's ongoing effort to support the Cleveland Native American community in their struggle against the Cleveland Indians baseball team and the racism implicit in the use of symbols, names and mascots which Native American people find offensive.

Rev. Wane Arnason, Secretary of the Association, commented on the resolution, saying, "I have been through an enormous education around this issue. We have recommended including opportunities for actions of Public Witness in other years, including 1968 in San Francisco marching for fair housing, 1980 in Albuquerque, NM witnessing for nuclear disarmament, 1993 in Charlotte, NC witnessing against sodomy laws. "This year," Arnason said, "we invite you to join the United Church of Christ and other religious people and our Native American friends" in witnessing against the racist use of native people as mascots.

Dr. John Thomas, President, United Church of Christ (UCC), was recognized for the UCC's leadership in this event. Arnason said: "This witness is one your Board of Trustees endorsed as consistent and compelling in our effort to create an anti-racist Association. It is troubling to me that native Americans see no other group, race whose culture is exploited to this degree in sports…If a culture being hijacked in this way was Italian or black or Latino, I doubt this would have happened…This is a national and international issue…There are hundreds of U.S. and Canadian sports teams in high schools that use Indian names…This is about you."

"I am proud," Arnason continued, "to be a new resident of the Cleveland area, and I am proud of the hometown team. This is about the owners of professional sports teams, the media that covers them, the fans that turn a blind eye—and also the political leaders who do not act."

Dr. Charlene Teters, the co-founder of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media, spoke. Teters, a member of the Spokane nation, said: "We ware not mascots, we are not fetishes to be worn by the dominant society."

D'Knowledge, a rap poet, presented his piece, "Why I Will Never Buy a Jeep Cherokee." Amir Fouad, a youth observer to the UUA Board of Trustees, encouraged the group to witness against this racism. John Buehrens returned to the stage and called on John Thomas to come and offer a prayer. Buehrens, reflecting on the General Assembly's call to witness, said, "We recognize in repentance how often we have ignored this distortion of your heritage…We ask you to abide with us…for the hope that must beckon us to be one people."

Teters said, "I hope in years to come to celebrate when this is moved from our way…"

One More Step

As a closing, the assembly sang Hymn 168, "One More Step."

One more step, we will take one more step,
'Til there is peace for us and everyone,
We'll take one more step.

One more word, we will say one more word,
"Til every word is heard by everyone,
We'll say one more word.

One more prayer, we will say one more prayer,
"Til every prayer is shared by everyone,
We'll say one more prayer.

One more song, we will sing one more song,
"Til every song is sung by everyone,
We'll sing one more song.

Those not participating in the vigil, left during the song. About half of the crowd remained in the auditorium, where Dr. Teters gave more background and history about the harm caused by the misuse of Native American culture in sports.

After her remarks, Rev. John Buehrens and Denny Davidoff along with John Thomas, President of the United Church of Christ, and members of the Native American community lead the group gathered behind a UUA banner. The crowd of about 2000 strong moved out of the convention hall into the rain, chanting, "people, not mascots."

Reported by Jessie Washington and Deborah Weiner.

Post Opening Ceremony Anti-Racism Vigil

After recessing to the rousing "One More Step" at the end of Thursday's Opening Ceremony, more than three-quarters of this year's General Assembly (GA) attendees stayed behind to participate in an anti-racism vigil to protest the use of the Indian Chief Wahoo mascot by the Cleveland Indians baseball team.

Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President John Buehrens invited our Native American visitors and friends from the United Church of Christ on stage to be honored. He then introduced Dr. Charlene Teters, a founding Board Member of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media (NCRSM), an artist, an activist and a lecturer.

Dr. Teters is of the Spokane people and is currently a Professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM. Her uncle, Sherman Alexie, is the author of the book, Smoke Signals. She herself was featured in the award-winning documentary, "In Whose Honor?", by Jay Rosenstein. Her work in protesting and challenging the inappropriate use of American Indian images, culture and spiritual life ways by schools, scholars, museums, corporations, and media has led to progress in the United States, Canada and South America.

At the turn of the last century, more than a hundred years ago, her great-grandparents had their Indian names taken away and were given western names pulled out of a hat. Her great-grandmother was named Ellen Moses and her great-grandfather was named Joseph Moses. The enforced loss of one's name was the beginning of a whole series of steps in the subordination of a whole culture by the dominant culture. The practice of the Native American religion and rituals became illegal. Children were gathered up and taken to boarding schools to be taught the language and the ways of the dominant culture. Many of them died. Some ancestors went underground to keep alive the songs and the stories of their tribes in order to preserve their culture and their heritage. Such violent subordinations went on for generations.

Dr. Teters comes from a family of six children and is the only one amongst her siblings who received a college education. When she went to college at the University of Illinois with two other Native American students, she looked for connection with other Native Americans. There were no Native American Student Organization, no Native American Faculty member and no Native American groups in or out of campus. The lack of a protest of any sort towards the use of Chief Illiniwek, the University of Illinois' team mascot, has created the proliferation of its use. The true humanity of a group becomes lost when they are represented as caricatures.

Dr. Teters shared the feeling of humiliation when she saw a neon sign showing the figure of a drunken Native American falling down over and over again as an advertisement.

About the protest against the use of the Chief Wahoo mascot by the Cleveland Indians, Dr. Teters said, "This is not about baseball. It's about our children!" Native American children are affected in negative ways by the misappropriation of their cultural heritage. "Mom, what is so bad about being an Indian?" they ask.

It's also about a people's right to define themselves, to be able to pass on their religion and cultural heritage to their children.

Additional Information

Reported by Kok Heong McNaughton.