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Closing Ceremony, General Assembly 2005

General Assembly 2005 Event 5056

The Closing Celebration of the 44th annual General Assembly (GA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) started off with a half hour of ingathering music. The General Assembly Band played straight-ahead jazz, with pleasing solos by Stan Strickland on flute and soprano sax, Jim Scott on guitar, and Mark Freundt on piano. Brian Foti on drums and Jorge Ginorio on percussion also contributed solos on one number. The band finished up with a relaxed rendition of "Take the A Train." Some parents brought their toddlers up to the front of the arena to enjoy the band.

The General Assembly Choir, with over a hundred voices, sang "Voices in Unity," words and music by Jason Shelton, as the Prelude. The composer provided solo vocals, and he got the congregation singing along, and clapping in time to the music. Perhaps a thousand people attended this closing celebration and worship.

The Rev. William Sinkford, President of the UUA, gave the call to worship. "Tonight the 2005 General Assembly community comes together for the final time," he said. "For the last five days we have worshipped together, witnessed together, sung together, danced together, played and prayed together." Sinkford noted that General Assembly provides an ethnic and cultural diversity that most Unitarian Universalists don't have the opportunity to experience in their local congregations. He especially noted the growing numbers of Latino/a Unitarian Universalists. "What we have done here in Fort Worth is to build as clear a vision of beloved community as our hearts can hold—and then we worked to bring that vision into reality," he said.

"Here in Fort Worth we have done the soul work of revealing the bonds that unite each to all." Calling the congregation into worship, he said, "May the spirit of life, may God be present among us."


By the Rev. William G. Sinkford

Tonight, this 2005 General Assembly community comes together for the final time. For the last five days, we have worshipped and witnessed, we have sung and danced, we have met and meditated, we have prayed and played.

Here in Fort Worth, we have been in the midst of a diversity most of us do not know in our congregations. The Latina/Latino presence in this community is a taste of what diversity increasingly looks like in our land. We have much to learn about both the contributions and the struggles of this community—both within Unitarian Universalism and without.

We have done many things in these days together. But beyond the specifics of workshops and worships, what we have done here in Ft. Worth has been to build as clear a vision of the Beloved Community as our hearts could hold—and then tried to live into that vision and make it real.

We have done the soul work of making connections in our minds and in our hearts.

Here in Fort Worth, we have done the soul work of revealing "the bonds that unite each to all."

So, tonight, let us celebrate, in word and in song, our time together and the vision which binds us together. And may the Spirit of Life be present here as we celebrate.

Roger Grape, Steve Krueger, and their son Lucas Grape-Krueger lit the flame of the chalice, as the congregation read a responsive reading led by Sinkford. Following the chalice lighting, the congregation rose to sing "Blue Boat Home," a new hymn from the just-published hymnal supplement "Singing the Journey." The hymn was accompanied by the General Assembly band, with standout guitar work by Jim Scott, who provided a high, sparkling accompaniment to the singing.

Gini Courter, Moderator of the UUA, then came out, dressed in a black vest and a Texas ten-gallon hat. She was greeted by cheers. "My friends," she said, "this has been an exciting time, a time so rich, so lush, so intense, so... exhausting." The congregation laughed and applauded in sympathy. "We know the warmth of friendships new and renewed," said Courter, "the joy of celebration, music that stirs the soul, sermons that put fire in the belly, words that call us to reflection and action. Because we were here, we know that we stand on the dawn of a fresh new day."

The General Assembly Choir rose to sing "We Are," a song by Unitarian Universalist singer, composer, and scholar Ysaye Maria Barnwell, and which is included in the new hymnal supplement. "For each child that's born," sang the choir, "a morning star rises, and sings to the universe who we are." The band provided tasteful jazz-inflected backup, with solos by Scott and Stan Strickland on soprano sax. the song ended with the words, "We are one."

The choir immediately followed that with the song, "Seek To Serve," conducted by Jeannie Gagne. This twentieth century setting of medieval words began with a quiet piano introduction. The musical setting was reminiscent of early Western music, but with distinctly modern harmonies and rhythm. The choir sang, "May love sustain the will to serve," and brought the energy of the congregation to a serious and contemplative point.

The Rev. Wayne Arnason and Dr. Helen Bishop came forward to install the newly elected officials and committee members of the Unitarian Universalist Association. "Guided by love for this tradition, with hope leading the way, this General Assembly has elected officers, members of the Board of Trustees, and committee members," said Arnason, "who represent both new and continuing leadership for this our association of congregations." Bishop led the actual litany of installation, and Arnason offered a prayer for the new leaders. "We pray not for results, for results will come, and surely will be proclaimed in numbers and reports and speeches," said Arnason. "Instead let us pray for the heart and the soul of our Association of free congregations, embodied in these leaders. May we find this association of congregations renewed by the service that these leaders provide, so that the vision of our ancestors is fulfilled, and the legacy for our children is secured."

Courter and First Vice Moderator the Rev. Ned Wight led a "Celebration of Community and Family," reading comments that had been offered by those attending General Assembly. They were accompanied by Mark Freundt on piano, who played a medley of familiar hymn tunes.

"What is it that lit your fire this General Assembly?" said Courter in introduction. "What are you taking home?" Courter and Wight alternated reading answers to this question. Photographs of General Assembly were projected onto the large screen over their heads as they read.

"I am taking home music, the spirit of hope emblazoned by the fire of commitment that will transform my soul," they read. "I am taking home stories of and from the heart.... Just when it seemed to have faded, renewed hope that the anti-racism effort that I have been involved in since 1968 is catching fire." The rest of the band gradually began playing, and the energy picked up.

Courter and Wight continued reading: "I'm taking home the flame of love (which some call God) which will not let me go, which will not let me down, and which will not let me off—at last, an elevator speech!"... "Happiness that our faith seems to be returning to its Universalist roots, that we are primarily a religion, not a political institution."... "Confidence in being less uptight with music and theological conversation...." The congregation offered cheers for these and many other remarks. They also cheered some of the slides, including a slide of Courter receiving a t-shirt from the newly established Church of the Younger Fellowship, a Web-based outreach to young adult Unitarian Universalists.

The band segued into the familiar music of the song "Lean On Me," which is included in the new hymnal supplement. The audience rose to sing along, and the tempo picked up as the band moved into a rock-and-roll beat. Strickland offered exciting vocal solos over the congregation's singing.

The Choir sang "Dance with Me," a latin samba written for the occasion by Gagne and Shelton. Many in the congregation rose to join a conga line dancing through the aisles, led by members of the Youth Caucus and staff for the UUA's Youth Office. Percussionist Ginorio broke into a dynamic solo, and the conga line dissolved into free-form dancing throughout the arena. The music ended to joyous applause and energetic cheering.

Patsy Sherrill Madden, regional coordinator for the 2006 General Assembly in St. Louis, Missouri, extended an invitation to the congregation to join her at the next General Assembly.

She extolled the many virtues of the city of St. Louis, adding that the city is the location of the oldest Unitarian church west of the Mississippi River. "We live with conviction our Unitarian Universalism," she said. "Meet ya in St. Louis, now y'all come." The Choir sang a medley of songs, beginning with "Deep in the Heart of St. Louis" and ending in "Meet Me in St. Louis."

Sinkford gave the final charge and benediction to the congregation. "As this General Assembly of 2005 ends, how can we take its measure?" he asked. "Can we measure it by the number of times we've laughed or the number of times we've cried?" Then he said, "May the measure of this General Assembly first and foremost be the benefit to our congregations.... May the measure of this General Assembly be the renewed fire and commitment we all feel. May the measure of this General Assembly be in the deepened experience of the blessing of Unitarian Universalism in our lives, and the hope in the communities in which we minister."

Finally, he suggested that this General Assembly should be measured in the love it has generated.

For the Postlude, the Choir sang "Seasons of Love" from the musical "Rent," which tells us to measure our lives in love.

Reported by Dan Harper; edited by Lisa Presley.