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

Plenary V, General Assembly 2002

General Assembly 2002 Event 5057

Monday Plenary Features Actions of Immediate Witness and Changes to UUA Bylaws

(Québec City, QC, June 24, 2002) Moderator Diane Olson, calling the fifth plenary of the 41st General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to order, asked UUA Secretary the Rev. Wayne Arnason to light the chalice. Arnason said he did so to recognize that "new light is ever waiting to illumine our minds, new truth ever waiting to illumine our ways, and new love is ever waiting to warm our hearts." Arnason made a brief announcement, recognizing the presence of former UUA President (1985-1993) William F. Schulz. Arnason said, "We are proud of your role as Executive Director of Amnesty International USA and we are encouraged by your reflections. And we continue to reap the harvest of the seeds you sowed during your administration."

Bylaw Amendments and Rules Changes

Olson then called for action on the first of the proposed bylaw changes, which would amend Section 9.87 of the UUA bylaws relating to supervision of elections. This shifts responsibility for elections from the Moderator of the Association to the Secretary of the Association.

Wayne Arnason, current Secretary, spoke to the motion, saying, "This would require neutrality of the UUA secretary and would establish the secretary rather than the moderator as arbiter of elections. The vote of the Board was in favor of this motion, 24:0." Arnason continued, "This issue was thought to be unclear in the bylaws during the 2001 elections. This bylaw amendment represents the board's response, and transfers to the secretary authority for deciding questions about bylaws or interpretation of ballots. The secretary must remain neutral and not engage in electioneering unless the secretary him or herself is a candidate."

The motion carried.

Olson then introduced another amendment to the rules of the association, dealing with assuring neutrality during election campaigns. The motion would add 2 sentences to rule G-9.12.10 regarding those appointed to serve on the Election Campaign Practices Committee. Once again Arnason spoke to represent the Board's position, saying, "The board concluded that the neutrality of the election campaign practices committee should be made clear, so the board sees this as a further clarification of the neutrality rule. This was recommended by a vote of 24:0."

The motion carried.

Olson then took up a proposed amendment to a C-bylaw, specifically c-3.5, on required minimum size of congregation for membership in the association. Olson explained that the affirmative vote of today's plenary is a requirement to move this issue forward in a two-year process. The item would specify that a congregation must have ten or more members to certify its membership. Certification must be done b y February 1 of each year. Kathryn McIntyre, trustee of the St. Lawrence District, gave the opinion of the Board of Trustees, saying, "We have a process for congregations certifying their existence with the association for the purpose of voting; we thought 30 [minimum members] was too high and put the number at ten."

Olson called for debate on the issue. Jack Risely of the UU Fellowship of Warrenton, OH, spoke against the motion, saying, "Our congregation had forty members, now we are down to seven. Many of us travel. But there is a good reason why we should be in existence. One of our members passed on funds which keep us in existence. It's my job to keep us going."

Wayne Arnason, Trustee at Large, spoke in favor of the motion: "We found that there are eleven congregations currently certified to vote at this GA who have less than ten members. They are certified because of this ambiguity [in the bylaws], with lack of or different information about what the floor on this should be. There are 59 congregations who are between ten and twenty members, so there are many that might brush up against this. As my colleague said, this is proposed to make the bylaws consistent, not about an in-depth discussion in the board of trustees about what the ceiling should be, although I think we will have that conversation next year."

Rev. Brendan Hadash, minister of the St. Johnsbury, VT, congregation, spoke against the motion, saying, "My entire ministry has been to small congregations. Asking a congregation to pay fair share dues without representation [at General Assembly] is like taxation without representation. These congregations are sometimes the only liberal light in their community. When I started in St. Johnsbury, they had three members, now they have 35. We are growing. This amendment is not kind…does this lead us toward the beloved community?"

Arnason, speaking from the Procedural microphone, said, "We would not remove congregations from membership if they had certified properly, this would only impact their ability to vote at General Assembly."

Valerie White of Sharon, MA, spoke against the motion: "I spent six years as a board member of CLF [the Church of the Larger Fellowship] and that gave me heightened awareness of the importance of tiny little churches. I think this bylaw amendment moves us in the wrong direction. We need to keep these tiny little lights lit and we want them to feel more connection with the greater movement, not less, because [quoting Barbara Pescan's Sermon of the Living Tradition] there might be someone in the valley, trying to get home."

The Rev. Jonalu Johnstone, Growth Consultnat, Southwest District, spoke in favor of the motion: "I love lay led congregations, and I take a lot of inspiration from the small congregations where people do important work in the communities where it is so needed. But sometimes they need a reality check. And I don't see this as anything more than a reality check. …Sometimes we have to say, 'if you go and on, with less than ten members, maybe you need to think about what you are doing and how you are proclaiming the UU message, because you aren't getting it across with less than ten members.' "

Wayne Arnason, speaking from the procedural microphone, asked Olson whether it might be appropriate to make a motion referring this back to the Board. Olson indicated such a motion would be in order, and Arnason moved to refer this bylaw amendment back to the Board for further study. The motion was seconded, and carried.

Reports of Associate Member Organizations

The reports of Associate Members of the Association were given. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee report was given by Board member Marjorie McHugh. McHugh said, "This year we have received unprecedented financial support from our members. Our role has changed since September 11. Our lives as individuals and as an organization have changed. But our commitment to amplify the voice of UUism has not changed. Our mission calls us to advance justice throughout the world.

"We are especially concerned with supporting women's efforts to secure their full human rights. There are several efforts underway to aid women's organizations in Afghanistan and provide women with much needed training, aid for children who are forced to beg in the street, programs in refugee camps in Pakistan. We are able to do this due to your generosity.

"We were founded by courageous Unitarian and Universalist men and women who refused to remain silent when others turned a blind eye to Nazism as it swept through Europe. As we expand our membership today, we are reaching out to youth and young adults so that they can put their faith in action."

Justice Waidner, a member of the UU Women's Federation (UUWF) Board, brought greetings from the federation. She noted that the Federation had welcomed six new persons to their board at the triennial gathering held last summer, and that the organization had hired The Rev. Charlotte Cowtan to act as an organizational consultant, as they try to become truly inclusive and multi-generational. Waidner also said that "The Communicator" [the UUWF newsletter] had undergone a transformation this past year.

Waidner said that the Women's Federation had contributed over $7000 to aid widows of Transylvanian ministers; and said that the UUWF was looking into ways in which they could help fledgling women's groups national and internationally. She said, "We are currently in dialogue with the UUA Washington Office to find a way to establish an internship with a focus on the special concerns of women and gender issues overall." She said, "We still have a long way to go, but we are standing on the shoulders of women who came before, opening up the UUWF to all feminists of all ages and all genders, and we are reclaiming our radical roots to take us into the future."

The Rev. Benjamin Bortin reported for the UU United Nations Office (UU-UNO). Bortin said, "We want to shine our light of hope and justice in the valley and bring people home, particularly those who are in dire need. Ten days after Sept. 11, Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, said that those who destroyed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon also wounded the world, for people of sixty nationalities, of every large faith tradition were affected. We grieve their losses, we are revulsed at those events that can not be justified, but we also grieve the lives of innocent Afghans whose homeland has been under bombardment for the last six months. Whole villages were obliterated…and we have decided in the UU-UNO to focus on the villages of Afghanistan—the most serious humanitarian emergency in the world."

Bortin reported that in March, 3500 schools opened in Afghanistan for boys and girls thanks to the work of UNICEF. He also noted that children have been immunized against measles, and workers are now working to immunize people against polio. And quietly, he said, "the UN was behind the convening of the Loya Jurga… the UN saves lives and bolsters human freedom quietly."

Bortin said, "It will be a great day on July 1 when the International Criminal Court is in operation—and I am sorry that the U.S. is not willing to be a part of it. And we must write the heads of state and encourage them to participate in an international institution which can bring terrorists to justice."

Bortin concluded by talking about the participation of the UU-UNO in the Durban, South Africa conference on anti-racism last August-September.

Service Project Report

Moving on in the plenary agenda, Olson called on Planning Committee member Ginger Brown to announce results of the 2002 GA service project, designed to aid the Café Rencontre de Centreville, a food kitchen in Québec. Brown stated that the Café had thus far received $21,310 (Canadian funds) in donations. This is enough to provide 4,262 hot meals in the café as well as social service and advocacy. Michel Godin, Director of the Café said, "We are lovingly dedicated to those we serve. It is no wonder that at this café, hope is on the menu—l'escole et en le menu. UUs, thank you very much—come back and see us again!"

Whitney Young Fund Report

Diane Olson then invited the Rev. Nannene Gowdy to present an update on activities of the Whitney Young Fund. Gowdy reminded the plenary that Whitney Young, Jr. was an African American UU and executive director of the (United States) Urban League. The UUA founded the Whitney Young Grants Panel to further efforts toward racial justice in congregations.

Awards included $3000 to the Third Unitarian Church in Chicago, IL, to fund an internship of a Meadville/Lombard Theological School student to prepare to and work with youth of community specifically around celebrations of Kwaanza.

$3000 is given to All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, DC, to continue development of a children's choir that brings together children from diverse racial, economic and geographic backgrounds. Gowdy also announced that "Courage," a program that sponsors interracial community conversations in the greater Hartford area, will receive $3000 for its work which is supported equally by four churches: the Unitarian Church of Hartford, the Unitarian Church of Manchester, the West Hartford Universalist Church, and Bethel AME church.

Gowdy stated that there was less funding available for projects this year, because there had been decreased support of Journey toward Wholenss Sundays, which by definition raise funds for both the local congregation (2/3 of the total), and for UUA funding of programs (1/3 of the total). Gowdy encouraged congregations to support Journey Toward Wholeness Sundays for the coming year to increase grants of this kind.

Olson then shared her observations about the GA, saying that she had had a wonderful time, and enjoyed the work tremendously. She thanked the delegates for the support she'd received, and ended by talking about her deep commitment to the anti-racism and anti-oppression work of the Association.

After an energy break, led by representatives of the UU Service Committee, Joseph Priestley District Trustee Linda Olson Peebles came to the stage to lead the song "This Little Light of mine."

Actions of Immediate Witness

Olson called for debate on the six admitted action of immediate witness proposals.

  1. Toward Peace and Justice in the Middle East
    Speaking in favor of the proposed action, Derek Jackson of Arlington, VA, said his congregation would unanimously support the motion: "We are highly concerned with the state of the world we are inheriting. This AIW articulates these concerns and proposes solutions we can support. It is balanced in its treatment of both Israelis and Palestinians. It calls for an end to illegal settlements and house detentions which violate international law and treat Palestinians as less than human…it calls for two separate states, Israel and Palestine, the only way to insure lasting peace."
    The Rev. Anita Farber Robertson of Rockport, MA, spoke against the motion, saying, "I care deeply about the issue. I have been troubled about this issue since I can remember, for my whole life. Actions of immediate witness are for immediate witness; this has been going on for years, and this issue should instead be a study action item that we work with over a two year period."
    Thomas Hargrave of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, DC, said, speaking in favor: "This is long overdue. On Nov. 19, 2001, Colin Powell announced that the Bush administration supported the development of a Palestinian state and within 24 hours, the Sharon government announced demolition of Palestinian homes…48 hours later, American-supported gunships killed Hamas leaders, setting off a reign of terror. I urge us to support this because the government is doing everything it can to block the creation of a Palestinian state.
    A proposed amendment, as well as a motion to extend debate time by ten minutes, failed. Olson called for the vote on the proposed AIW, which carried.
  2. Support the International Criminal Court
    Speaking for the amendment, delegate John Washburn said, "This issue is immediate. The U.S. government says it will not help the court pursue actions through the court. As we meet here, the U.S. is seeking, through a Security Council resolution, to limit and cut back the jurisdiction of the court. The final phase is that the court will be in full operation by June 2003, a year from now. Thus we have a year ahead as the priority period for us. In the U.S., we as citizens and UUs can mobilize our government to change their actions and support the court."
    The proposed AIW passed.
  3. Québec Union Civile Law Passes Giving Same Sex Couples Full Legal Equality
    Jason Vinett of Vermont, a member of the Young Adult caucus, spoke in favor of the motion, saying, "The Young Adult Caucus lends its support to the passage of this action of Immediate Witness. We feel that the action of the Québec legislature should receive the support of this religious body."
    Erika Baron, representing UU Society of Amherst, MA, proposed two amendments. One failed, and the other was withdrawn.
    Another speaker, opposed to the motion, said, "I find myself opposed to this, not because I am against same sex marriage, but because I am in favor of them. In the US, there are currently 1000 laws that are triggered by marriage. For this reason, I oppose this action of immediate witness."
    A delegate called the question, which passed, and the subsequent vote on the main motion passed.
  4. Palestine-Israel Conflict and the United States "War on Terrorism" 
    Alan Keiswetter of Arlington, VA, a US foreign service office, spoke against the proposed AIW. He said, "This issue requires far more study and confuses civil terms. On line 320, the US is in effect branded as a terrorist state. In the aftermath of 9/11, I doubt whether that is a well considered point of view to take, certainly from the point of view of the Arlington UU church, the one nearest the Pentagon, this matter affected us deeply. I would like to turn to another point, the resistance to state military power. This [motion] speaks of resistance in Chechniya, Palestine—what does this mean, is this Palestine and Israel? We don't know. Then sentence (at line number) 331 calls for the end of violence against civilians or others. Osama bin Laden is a citizen—how are we to deal with him?"
    Julian Fine of Marblehead, MA, spoke in favor of the motion. He said, "This may, in some peoples' opinions, not be something that should be enacted upon and that needs more research—but this has been going on far too long. This conflict is the center of the war on terrorism, and it is becoming a war against the world."
    Rob Steinhoffer of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, WI, spoke against the motion: "I think this (motion) is repetitious in its content and lacks specificity. I believe this has displaced other AIW statements including one of my own including a call for an investigation of the events of September 11."
    There was a motion to call the question, which carried; following an initial vote, delegates asked for a vote count, a motion that failed by 3 persons. Discussion returned to the main AIW and amendments.
    The Rev. Paul Sawyer: move to strike the words "against civilians" in line 331, which carried.
    Speaking on the main motion, Susan Churnosky of Beaconsfield, QUE questioned what we call "terrorism" saying, "these are the main sources of terror and fear, actions of the state and its actions against other states and innocents; what we now seek in this century and in a new era is a new way of operating with state power guided by the United Nations, that will bring all states a way of behaving peacefully toward all people."
    A motion to extend debate by five minutes carried; Robert Hopper of Arlington, VA spoke against the proposed AIW, saying that he had been inspired this week by the need to work together and reach out; inspired by (Ware Lecturer) Stephen Lewis last night. "We need to work with the UN and others, to find positive things to support. I found this debate so difficult and tense, not positive, not constructive. I make this simple proposal, that for the rest of the day, we be calm and nice to each other; and that we vote this down. We've already done something good in first Action of Immediate Witness—the questions of who do we fight, who is enemy—are complicated, and should be examined as part of the civil liberties process."
    An amendment (labeled A on the list of unincorporated amendments from the Commission on Social witness hearing on the proposed Action), amending lines 320-328 was proposed, but time ran out. A motion to extend time by five minutes failed, but the maker of the Amendment was allowed to speak. The motion to amend the text carried. Olson then called for a vote on the main motion. The motion failed.
  5. Legislation to Create a Department of Peace
    Karen Schulz of Glens Falls, NY, spoke in favor of the motion, saying, "The US is not in a state of war, the US has used a tragedy and has exploited the public's grief over it to justify murder, discrimination…the US has enacted policies regarding this which have legally sanctioned oppression, censorship, and unjustified imprisonment. The first step toward change is to envision that change."
    Another delegate, speaking against the motion, said, "The government is full of staff, administrators, paper pushers, God knows what else. If we're going to start appointing a department for each and every one of the worthy causes of life, I would prefer a department of love, kindness…"
    The Rev. Ellen Johnson Fay of Colorado Springs, CO, said, speaking for the motion: "This action would be a fulfillment of a vision first articulated by Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who envisioned an office of peace many years ago. It is a worthy vision to put forward."
    Bob Nicholson of Pasadena, CA, opposing the motion, said, "I have what I consider a rhetorical question, as I am very much for the idea of something like a department of peace. How can we support a department that reports to the president when what we want to do is contain what the president is doing?"
    A proposed amendment to institute a change in Line 367 as stated in the Commission on Social Witness' unincorporated amendments, carried.
    "Introduction of a bill by a member of Congress is not a sufficient trigger to justify an Action of Immediate Witness. Thousands of bills are introduced each year. I think the department of peace is an idea that has been around for years. I think it is a good idea, but I think it should be one that we discuss at greater length." 
    Olson called for a vote on the main motion, which carried.
  6. Endorse the Earth Charter
    Delegates voted on this motion without debate. The motion passed.

Recognition of Incoming and Departing Board Members; Final Credentials Report

Matt Moore was announced as the new Youth Observer on the Board of Trustees. The plenary recognized departing board members: Jacob Larsen (youth observer), Katie Stein Sather (Trustee at Large from Canada), Peter Morales (Mountain Desert District—Morales joins the staff of the UUA this summer).

Secretary Wayne Arnason made announcement, pointing out highlights of web coverage of GA, including a live webcast of the Service of the Living Tradition, Sunday plenary, and the Ware Lecture. Arnason gave a final Credentials report, showing that there were 4261 individuals registered, including 432 youth, and 2271 delegates representing 627 congregations from 48 states as well as the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands, 8 Canadian provinces, Mexico, and France.

Invitation to 2003 Boston GA and Recognition of the GA Planning Committee

Pacific Central District Trustee Patti Lawrence gave process observations, and Diane Olson then invited Linda Lu Schulz, District Coordinator for the 2003 GA, to say a few words about the upcoming Boston GA. Schulz said, "We are already working hard on this GA—on affordable options for housing, B&B options with the local congregations, which will also help the congregations financially. Picture 10,000 people at the Service of the Living Tradition; listen to my single voice—and magnify it 10,000 times…please join us in Boston in 2003—we can't wait to see you.

Moderator Olson then invited members of the General Assembly Planning Committee, the Commission on Social Witness, the General Assembly Office staff, on the stage. She expressed appreciation for fabulous AV crew from CMI productions in Rochester, NY and the Centre des Congres AV staff in Québec City—Steve, Doug, Ed, Tim, Tim, André, Martin, Jason—camera operators Jerome, Martin and Natasha. Olson, thanking the committees for their work, expressed particular appreciation for the work of the General Assembly Administrator, Barbara Prairie, who is retiring from the UUA after seventeen years.

Olson received a motion to adjourn at 6:55 p.m. and the plenary stood in adjournment.

Reported by Debbie Weiner and Lisa Presley.