Speakers: Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President William Sinkford, UUA Moderator Gini Courter, and Jim Sargent
Prepared for UUA.org by Pat Emery, Reporter, and Jone Johnson Lewis, Editor
UUA Moderator Gini Courter welcomed over 300 congregational presidents and moderators and then straight away asked UUA Vice-Moderator Ned White to lead the group in a rousing variation of a familiar song. "Lead and rejoice, lead and rejoice! Let UU Presidents now lead and rejoice!"
Courter then introduced UUA President, the Rev. William Sinkford, who asked the leaders how many had received some financial assistance from their congregations to come to GA. About ¼ of the attendees raised their hands. When he asked how many had received full funding for their expenses, all but three lowered their hands. Sinkford told the group that he hopes many more will be able to raise their hands for both questions next year.
Sinkford then made the statement that the current health care system in the United States is morally bankrupt, but admitted that we can't change it overnight. We can start, however, by offering a health care plan to our congregations' ministers and staff. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield coverage they had been offering was cancelled, and the UUA could not find any other company to take us on as a group. Nor could we find another denomination who would accept us as part of their group. With over 400 UU staff members and 115 ministers without any coverage at all, due to the great cost in some areas, the UUA looked into creating its own insurance coverage.
After much research, it was determined that if we can get 500 employees and ministers to sign up by the deadline, October 15, 2006, then we will be able to make it work. The entire UUA staff will sign up. If congregations look into it and discover that it will cost them a lot more than their present insurance, then, by all means, they should stay with their present carrier. If a congregation finds it will cost only 5% or 10% more, Sinkford asked the leaders to then please consider it a justice issue, and sign up, so that others now uninsured can be covered.
After another song led by White, Sinkford introduced Jim Sergent, who will help market the UUA's new Health Care Plan, to field questions about it. During the course of the questioning, Sergent explained many aspects of the new plan. If we are successful at signing up enough people, the coverage will begin January 1, 2007. It is a PPO plan with two basic options available, one with a $500 deductible, and another with a lower premium, but with a $2500 deductible. The second option will be paired with a health care savings account. Pre-existing conditions will be covered, as will abortions and gender reassignments. Domestic partners will be included in the plan, as will retirees. New employees can join the plan when they are hired. Present employees who are now covered by a spouse's plan would be able to enroll in the future, if that becomes necessary. Half time employees are eligible, but congregation members are not.
Sinkford then returned to the microphone and responded to more questions. He told the presidents that if a congregation has contracted with a carrier, such as Kaiser, then the church Board will need to take action to discontinue that coverage and sign up for this one, but if instead they have an account from which they reimburse staff for their own premiums, the staff will be able to sign up for the UUA plan directly themselves. The UUA will be protected by catastrophic losses by purchasing an additional insurance policy against such an event.
Sinkford then added that, assuming we can get the minimum of 500 employees to sign up, the UUA will be in this to stay the course, and will maintain the coverage until universal health care is available in the U.S. The leaders applauded this statement. He asked presidents to encourage their Boards to pay for 80% of the premiums for employees. He concluded his remarks on this subject saying there would be a workshop on the new plan on Saturday.
Sinkford then changed subjects and spoke briefly about the concept of breakthrough congregations which have been featured at this General Assembly. He allowed that attempts to grow our movement with big campaigns started at the Boston headquarters had not been as fruitful as hoped. The breakthrough congregation idea is to identify the congregations which are doing things really well, and are growing as a result, and let them share their stories. They will showcase four congregations each year at GA, and will try to capture the information in a database with the hopes of sharing it with the rest of our congregations. He suggested that all congregations are doing something especially well, and asked Courter to organize the leaders into small groups to share about their successes.
The presidents were asked to sort themselves into a bell shaped curve across the large meeting room according to the size of their congregations, with the few very small congregations at one side, the bulge of medium sized ones in the middle, and the few largest ones on the other side. Courter then asked them to form groups of three and to spend ten minutes sharing with one another about what they do well. The leaders created a buzz of conversations in the hall, and then, when called back to the large group, one person from each trio lined up to share one breakthrough idea.
With nearly 100 people lined up to share, it took a bit longer than anticipated, but good ideas abounded. They included such things as performing arts series, financial transparency, implementing the Rochester model for social justice, 4th Sunday collections donated to charity, full time membership coordinator, small group ministries, policy governance, strategic planning with follow up, terrific youth programs with mentoring, hiring circuit riding preachers, reclaiming the "liberal" word in a conservative area, worship service on local cable TV, and leadership training. One especially intriguing idea was to ask church members who wish to donate to public radio to do so by writing the check to the church, with NPR in the memo. The money gathered that way went to NPR, but the church was named on the air as one of the station's supporters.
The leaders were then asked to gather again in their groups of three to discuss two more subjects, but there was not enough time for them to report back to the larger group. One was to share "What three changes would you do to change the world?" and the other was to share "your current number one governance struggle." Courter and Sinkford closed the session by thanking the congregational leaders for serving their congregations, and attending GA and the presidents' workshop.