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Plenary VI, General Assembly 2005
General Assembly 2005 Event 5043
"This is the last and longest plenary session," Moderator Gini Courter announced, as she opened the 6th plenary session of the 2005 General Assembly (GA).
Courter recognized representatives of four professional organizations: the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA), the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network (UUMN), the Association of Unitarian Universalist Administrators (UUAA), and the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA). The Rev. Kenneth Sawyer, president of the UUMA, said, "We all share a commitment to Unitarian Universalism and to our shared values." Elizabeth Norton, president of the UUMN, lifted up the stirring music that had been shared at this General Assembly and announced that UUMN will sponsor a children's honor choir again at the next General Assembly.
The Rev. Wayne Arnason, Secretary of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), gave an updated credentials report. Arnason announced that voter turnout onsite for the elections held on Sunday was about 72%. However, Arnason said, "I'm particularly chagrined by the [low] use of absentee ballot by our congregations." Congregations who are unable to send delegates to General Assembly may fill out absentee ballots for elections of board, officers, and elected committees. "About one tenth of the votes that were possible to be cast, were cast," said Arnason. "It's something to think about for next time."
Arnason announced the winners of contested elections and thanked those who had run but didn't win. David May and Jan Carlson-Bull were elected to the Commission on Social Witness, while Catherine Blue was not elected. Barbara Atlas, Fred Cole, Lynda Bluestein, and Donald Wilson were elected to the Planning Committee, and Karen Araujo and Carol Agate were not elected. Arnason did not provide final tally of votes, but he did note that Gini Courter was "top vote-getter."
Moderator Courter then invited the Rev. William Sinkford—just re-elected as president of the UUA—to the podium to introduce the presidents of two of the associate member organizations of the UUA. Sinkford was greeted with scattered cries of "Four more years!"
As he introduced Nancy Van Dyke, president of the Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation (UUWF), Sinkford noted that the endowment for the Clara Barton Internship in Women's Issues is now complete. The endowment will fund an annual internship to help train young adults to be leaders in advocacy on women's issues.
Van Dyke reported on the "radical transformation" of the UUWF from a service organization to a grant making organization where members help fund grants to support advocacy. She also reported that the UUWF was making a one-time grant to Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom, an organization that "spreads the pro-faith, pro-choice message to the post-Roe v. Wade generation." Van Dyke also announced a UUWF award to the Women's Alliance of First Unitarian Church of Dallas, TX, who signed an amicus curiae brief supporting reproductive rights in 1970.
Sinkford next introduced Dr. Charlie Clements, President and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) another associate member organization of the UUA, saying, "The relation between the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has never been better." As one example of this closer cooperation, Sinkford noted that the UUSC and the UUA are now sharing office space in Washington, DC. In another example of cooperation between the two organizations, the UUA and the UUSC worked cooperatively to raise over two million dollars in relief.
"We want to make sure the ‘UU' is a central part of ‘UUSC'," said Clements. Even though the two organizations are separate, he said Unitarian Universalist principles are central to the mission of the UUSC.
In other examples of closer cooperation, Clements cited an upcoming trip to Africa that the UUA and the UUSC will undertake together in the fall of 2005. UUSC is also working to rebuild UUSC state networks for local advocacy. The "Guest at Your Table" program continues to be popular in local UU congregations as well. Clements thanked the senior leadership of the UUA for the increased "closeness."
Clements announced two UUSC awards. Ryan Ersland received the Mary-Ella Holst Youth Activist Award for his social action leadership. Debby K. Sublet received the Social Action Leadership Award.
Next Courter called on Dr. Helen Bishop for the final accessibility update for this General Assembly. Bishop noted that her group will be surveying all Unitarian Universalist congregations "to find out what you understand to be accessibility issues, and what you're doing about it."
Several awards were then presented as has been the practice for each plenary session of General Assembly. Tracey Robinson Harris, Director of Congregational Services at the UUA, presented the O. Eugene Pickett award to the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, in recognition of "this congregation's significant contribution to the growth of Unitarian Universalism." Robinson-Harris noted the congregation has not only grown in many ways, in numbers, spiritual depth, etc., but it has also worked in the local community promoting social justice, particularly in the area of marriage equality. The Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara has also been "the lead sponsor of the Goleta congregation" near Santa Barbara, "and is starting yet another new congregation."
Judith Frediani, Director of Lifespan Faith Development at the UUA, presented the Angus H. McLean award, for outstanding contributions to religious education over the years, to the Rev. Makanah Elizabeth Morris. Frediani said Morris "has been an outstanding advocate for religious education, and religious education issues." Morris formerly served as the director of the (former) Department of Religious Education, and currently serves on the board of Starr King School for the Ministry, and as co-minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne, Wyoming. "Makanah's ministry is visionary," said Frediani.
The Rev. Polly Guild presented the US Chapter International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) Award, given annually to an outstanding person who has promoted the cause of interfaith cooperation. The Rev. Olivia Holmes, Director of the UUA Office of International Relations received the award for the work she has done. A representative of the main office of the IARF brought greetings.
The Rev. Jonalu Johnstone, representing Interweave the organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender concerns, presented the Mark Mosher DeWolfe Award. The award is presented annually for lifetime contribution towards lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender causes. Patricia Kolodny of First Unitarian Church of Houston received the award for her work with Houston Area Teen Coalition of Homosexuals (HATCH).
The Rev. LoraKim Joyner presented the Albert Schweitzer award to the Rev. Mark Ward, minister of the UU congregation in Asheville, NC. The Schweitzer award is presented annually by Unitarian Universalists for Ethical Treatment of Animals for the best sermon by a Unitarian Universalist minister which best celebrates Albert Schweitzer's concept of reverence for life. Ward's winning sermon was titled, "How Wide the Web."
The Rev. Naomi King received the Stewardship Sermon Award, given annually for the sermon judged most effective in exploring and promoting financial support of our Unitarian Universalist faith. This award is co-sponsored by the Annual Program Fund, the UU Ministers Association, and the Liberal Religious Educators Association. King received the award for her sermon, "Stand by This Faith."
The Rev. Meg Riley presented the Skinner Sermon Award, presented annually to the preacher of the sermon best expressing Unitarian Universalism's social principles. The award is named after Universalist minister Clarence Skinner, who championed social justice. The Rev. Sue Phillips of Keene, New Hampshire, received the award for her sermon on marriage equality.
After taking a break to sing the song "Vieni Spirito Creatore," a meditative Taizé chant, Courter introduced the Rev. Dr. Lee Barker to recognize the 160th anniversary of Meadville Lombard Theological School one of two Unitarian Universalist schools which prepares students for the ministry. Barker presented a short video on the school.
The Rev. Meg Riley reported on the progress of the most recent statements of conscience approved by past General Assemblies. "These statements should live in your congregations," said Riley, urging local congregations to take their own action on statements of conscience. Last year, General Assembly passed a statement of conscience on civil liberties, and Riley reported that from a UU staff perspective, "The short answer is that we've done quite a lot." Rob Keithan and the Washington, D.C. office of the UUA have been active in a coalition for a fair and independent judiciary. Riley also reported that local congregations have held educational forums, worked to pass local ordinances, and engaged in other action protecting civil liberties.
Moderator Courter then introduced herself (as "a simple farm girl from Michigan") and delivered her oral report to the Assembly. After speaking of the inspiration, and the exhaustion, that accompanies General Assembly, she said, "I want to lift up three simple phrases: ‘Please,' ‘Thank you,' and ‘You're welcome'."
"Please find a ministry," she said to the delegates, a ministry that comes out of a sense of abundance, and that calls out the best in people. She said her ministry is "the privilege of serving as the Moderator of the UUA." She also said, "Please don't hold on to a job forever. When it is time for new leadership—and you all know what I mean—please move out of the way, in love, and allow another ministry come alive."
Courter called on the delegates to thank those who work within local congregations and the UUA. She then thanked the Rev. William Sinkford, president of the UUA, whom she called "my partner in shared leadership." She also thanked those who made General Assembly possible. "Take ‘thank you' back to your congregation," she urged. "Don't leave a meeting without thanking the leader of the meeting. Thank the church school teachers. Thank those who do the gardening."
Turning to the phrase "you're welcome," Courter said that Unitarian Universalists must be attentive to welcoming newcomers. "We had best be jubilant that they have found us," she said, speaking of newcomers. "How much time do you spend when you meet a visitor in your congregation?" she asked. "You can't miss a Sunday, y'all," because most newcomers decide on their first visit if they will join a congregation.
In closing, Courter said, "It is so easy to do the simple things. Please find your ministry and help others find theirs. Thank those who serve. Spread the news that all are welcome. Please, thank you, you're welcome. Thus endeth the Moderator's report." Her report was greeted with cheers and applause.
Courter then turned to the recognition of those completing terms of service on the UUA Board and committees, using a litany of thanksgiving based on the Marge Piercy poem, "To Be of Use." The following people were recognized: Joyce Gilbert, the Rev. Earl Holt, and Janice Marie Johnson for serving on the Commission on Appraisal; the Rev. Richard Nugent and Robert Sarley for serving on the Commission of Social Witness; Lillian Anderson, Elizabeth Collins, and Betty Holcomb for serving on the General Assembly Planning Committee; Ervin Barrios, Young Kim, and John Young for serving on the Nominating Committee; the Rev. Paul Johnson and Howard McMahon for serving on the Board of Review; Larry Ladd for serving as Financial Advisor; the Rev. Wayne Arnason, the Rev. Calvin Dame, Megan Dowdell, Charles Redd, Judy McGavin, and Katherine McIntyre for serving on the Board of Trustees.
Courter then turned the Assembly's attention to proposed Actions of Immediate Witness (AIW). She noted that a two-thirds vote is required to approve any AIW.
The first AIW asked the Assembly to "support the Call for Justice Weekend in Washington DC, on September 24-26, 2005, sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee." This event will call on the United States government to stop sponsoring any acts torture as defined by international treaties. Robert Sarley of the CSW made the motion for adoption, and after almost no debate the Assembly passed this AIW with only a few scattered votes in opposition.
The Rev. Richard Nugent moved the second AIW, which asked the Assembly to support the current United Farm Workers' boycott of all Gallo Wines products. Erin Resnick, a member of the GA Youth Caucus and delegate from Raleigh, North Carolina, spoke in favor of the AIW, saying, "For those of you like me who are too young to buy alcohol, tell your parents and friends who are old enough to support this boycott." There was no further debate, and the motion passed.
Nugent moved the third AIW, which asked the Assembly to support the Millennium Development Goal One of ending extreme poverty. David Reno, delegate from First Church in Boston, pointed out that this AIW offered a chance for religious conservatives and religious liberals to work together. With no further debate, the motion passed with a handful of votes in opposition.
The Plenary running ahead of schedule, Nugent moved the fourth AIW, which called on the Assembly to "advocate for immediate action to end the crisis in Darfur," Sudan. A short debate focused on whether or not this AIW would open the door for the United States to deploy troops in Sudan, but it was pointed out that the resolution supports the existing international peacekeeping force now in Sudan. The AIW passed overwhelmingly.
The fifth AIW was moved by Nugent, who asked the Assembly to oppose proposed deregulation of the airwaves and support funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. There was very little debate at first. However, there were three amendments that had not been incorporated into the AIW.
Reed Singer, delegate from Palo Alto, California, moved an amendment that condemned the "constant violence, stereotyping, and base consumerism" of commercial broadcast media. The amendment failed. A second amendment was moved by Bonnie Bluestein to add quotation marks around the phrase "freedom of the press" as seen in the AIW text. This amendment failed after a debate which consumed the remainder of the time allotted to this AIW. The main motion, without amendments, passed with few dissenting votes.
Nugent moved the sixth and final AIW. The motion asked the Assembly to support a fair trial for Dr. Sami Al-Arian. Delegate Harold Fuller of Fairfax, Virginia called the motion "too narrowly drawn in its current form. "To single out one individual is to do a disservice to all the other prisoners of conscience," he said. Wes Johnson of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said Dr. Al-Arian is "symbolic," and Rob Keithan asserted this AIW could help the UUA's Washington office in its broader work of supporting prisoners of conscience. Terry Gainer of Long Beach, California made a procedural remark, pointing out that the language should be made gender-inclusive, and the delegates were assured this would happen if the motion passed. Another delegate approached the procedural microphone to note that a past General Assembly had indeed supported an individual person, during the sanctuary movement of the 1980's. The time for debate ended, and a motion to add ten more minutes of discussion failed. The AIW passed although it was opposed by perhaps a fifth of the delegates.
With most of the business of the Assembly being completed, Courter thanked all those who volunteered to make GA possible this year, including the Planning Committee, the tellers, those working in the sound booth, etc. Courter called these people up to the stage to receive the applause of the delegates. Jan Sneigas was not available to be recognized in person, so Planning Committee member Marc Loustau called her on his cell phone, and held the cell phone up so she could hear the applause of the delegates. Valerie White, delegate from Sharon, Massachusetts, then approached the procedural microphone, and invited the delegates to "thank the moderator for her humor and unfailing good will." Courter also thanked the people who provided the closed captions for the Assembly, adding, "They'll be typing in their own thanks." After Courter's words appeared on the screen for the closed captioning, the scriptors typed in response, "Something kind of cool about that."
There were two "responsive resolutions," made in response to staff reports given at this General Assembly. The Rev. John Gibbons of Bedford, MA, offered a resolution in response to the President's report. He moved that General Assembly urge the UUA administration and Board of Trustees to engage international Unitarian Universalism at the next General Assembly, in keeping with next year's theme of "Toward Right Relations." The motion passed easily, with no discussion.
The Rev. Sydney Morris of Houghton, Michigan offered a resolution in response to the Financial Advisor's report. Her resolution, which was "crafted during a public hearing last night," affirmed "ethical corporate governance principles." Courter thanked Morris for "a very open and collaborative process on this resolution." This responsive resolution also was approved overwhelmingly, and without discussion.
The Rev. Wayne Arnason, outgoing Secretary of the UUA, presented the final credentials report for the General Assembly. He reported that in the end, delegates from all fifty states in the United States registered for this General Assembly, as well as delegates from the District of Columbia, two Canadian provinces, and Mexico. There were 2361 registered attendees, including 291 youth and 1816 delegates.
Arnason also noted that there had been 1773 "hits" accessing the video archives of General Assembly coverage since Sunday night. Arnason further noted that some absentee ballots had not been included in the total votes for elected officials due to his error. "None of that made any difference in those who are elected," he said, and "all the absentee ballots that were sent were counted" in the final tally. That revised tally is posted on UUA.org.
All the agenda items for this sixth and last plenary session were completed an hour before the scheduled 5:00 p.m. adjournment time, and Courter called for a motion to adjourn after reminding delegates to return to the arena at 5:00 p.m. for closing worship led by members of Youth Caucus. The motion to adjourn passed, but not unanimously, as some delegates expressed regret that General Assembly was now officially ended.
Reported by Lisa Presley; edited by Deborah Weiner.