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Plenary IV/Candidates Forum, General Assembly 2007
General Assembly 2007 Event 3079
Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Moderator Gini Courter called the fourth Plenary session to order at 8:02 p.m. on June 22, 2007 in the Oregon Convention Center. She said, "This evening we have the opportunity to hear from the candidates for various elected positions on UUA Committees." Courter called upon the chair of the General Assembly Planning Committee, Linda Friedman, to explain the format for the statements. Friedman said that the Nominating Committee had put forward one person for each of the open positions, and there had been no nominations by petitions. Each candidate will be allowed to speak for ninety seconds, and at the conclusion of this time, a vote would be taken to confirm the election of these individuals.
Commission on Appraisal
The purpose of the Commission on Appraisal (COA), said Friedman, "is to review any function or activity of the Association that would benefit from an independent review."
Candidate Pete Fontineau has been an active lay leader for more than twenty years and has been a member of Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations in Burke, Virginia, and Winchester, Massachusetts. He has served as congregational board chair, member of the long range planning committee, served on the Greater Washington Council, and on the Joseph Priestley District Board. He has served as the Annual Program Fund representative for his district for eight years. He is a retired Coast Guard naval engineer, and is currently a student for the UU ministry at Wesley Theological Seminary.
Candidate Bev Harrison is from the UU congregation in San Jose, California, and has served on many committees including worship, fund raising, and search. She is a retired school administrator and teacher of math and chemistry. She has served on her school's self-accreditation committee, and the skills she has gained through work and church life allow her to work well in collaboration and to see both the detail and the big picture at the same time.
Candidate Don Moore is from Columbia, South Carolina, and has been a UU for thirty-five years. He has served his congregation as board member and board chair, and as member of the membership and worship committees and chair of the religious education search committee. He said he "writes reasonably well, is a pretty good researcher, listens well to others, and approaches problems without a preconceived agenda." Most of all, he said he "hopes to bring my heart and mind to Unitarian Universalism and to make a contribution that will last into the future."
Candidate Jackie Williams was asked to fill a vacancy on the Commission last year, and said "it was wonderful to work with eight amazing people. She is honored to complete that term. She came to Unitarian Universalism through a colleague in Glens Falls, New York, and has served as board president of her congregation. She has been involved with Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM), serves as a Beyond Categorical Thinking Facilitator and is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF). She lives in Albany, New York, where she works with the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Commission on Social Witness
Friedman next introduced the candidate for the Commission on Social Witness.
Candidate John Hooper is a retired research and development manager from Westport, Connecticut. He was appointed last June to fill a vacancy, and said he "has enjoyed guiding the first four year study/action issue, Peacemaking, with the core team as they develop options for congregations." He stated that the ultimate responsibility for social witness belongs to the members of our congregations, and said that the Commission exists to help individuals and congregations do their best in fostering peace and justice at all levels.
Friedman then introduced the candidates for her "favorite" committee, the General Assembly Planning Committee.
Candidate Joan Benzinger is 30+ year member in the Davenport and Iowa City, Iowa, congregations. She has served as Director of Religious Education, is a graduate of the MidWest Leadership School, and has served on the Planning Committee since January, filling a vacancy. She looks forward to continuing the work.
Candidate Ginger Brown, another incumbent, is from Nashville, Tennessee, where she has served as president of the church board. She said that her involvement on the Planning Committee began when she was asked to serve as the District Volunteer Coordinator when GA was held in Nashville. She then served two years on the committee in an adjunct position before being elected to a term in 2003. By seeking reelection she said "it must be obvious that I thoroughly enjoy being part of the planning team—it is a way to use my skills and experience."
Candidate Beth McGregor, from Sharon, Massachusetts, is the current Vice Chair of the Planning Committee. She stated that GA is like a big plant in the UUA garden—the Planning Committee's job is to keep it safe, healthy, beautiful and productive, and then dig it up and move it to a new location in the garden every year. They sometimes have to prune it, provide support and fertilizer. It is not just a showy flower, but a working plant that bears fruit that will sprout seeds in your own garden, your congregation.
Candidate Tim Murphy, from the UU Church of Indianapolis, Indiana, said that he is looking forward to serving again on the Planning Committee. He was appointed two years ago to a vacant position, and said he "has found the work challenging and rewarding." Murphy has participated at the local, district, national and continental levels in youth work. He's also worked with other committees: his congregation's nominating and fine arts committees, and the Heartland District communications committee. He is looking forward to making GA more anti-racist and anti-oppressive for people of all ages.
Candidate Dr. Denise Hall is a seminary student at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, working toward her M.Div. degree with an emphasis on justice and peace. She defines herself as "UUvangelical, Womanist, empirical universalist." Her previous career was as a veterinarian, and in her clinic she used acupuncture, and focused on community events emphasizing ways to prevent disease and support good nutrition. Hall said she and her partner have worked to support sustainable agriculture, living with and participating in art therapy with animals and earth healing. She is involved with a green-friendly retreat center, is an adult advisor to the DRUUMM Ya/YA (Youth and Young Adults of Color) Caucus, coordinates justice ministries in the Mountain Desert District, and is campus minister at the University of Colorado.
Ministerial Fellowship Committee Board of Review
Candidate Diana Jordan Iyede is a member of the Auburn UU Fellowship, in Auburn, Alabama, where she currently serves on the Committee for District Services, reviewing the effectiveness of district services. She is a member of the UU Ministers Association and the Southeastern Chapter of the UUMA, where she serves as good offices person. She believes that there are few things more important than fostering trustworthy bonds between ministers and the congregations they serve. When this is called into question, with serious concern for the minister as to vocation and congregations as to outcomes, review is necessary.
Candidate Glenn Moore is from Cordoba, Tennessee where he has served as the president, building committee chair, worship chair, member of the ministerial search committee, member of the Committee on Ministry, and on the board. He said he "is honored to be in the hall with like-minded committed volunteers."
Candidate LoraKim Joyner, from Gainesville, Florida, said she "is looking for gifts, the kind of people who have the skills and experience and willingness to serve." She wants to work with people to develop their unique gifts and deepest passions.
Candidate Larry Ladd had his first encounter with the Nominating Committee in 1968. In 2001, while serving as UUA Financial Advisor, he spoke out to establish a position on the UUA Board for youth trustee. Ladd currently serves as president of the Falmouth, Massachusetts UU congregation, and as the chair of the board for Meadville Lombard Theological School. He said, "We need boards and leadership that will make the Association worthy of loyalty to those who receive messages that they are not truly welcome."
Candidate Chris Buice serves as minister of the Tennessee Valley congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee. He has been a director of religious education and has served in the mental health field. He graduated from Earlham College, and served a congregation in Oxford, Ohio, before moving to Knoxville. He is author of the UUA/Skinner House book, Roller Skating as a Spiritual Discipline, and said he looks forward to working with people to take them to their next level.
Board Of Trustees, At Large Positions
Candidate José Ballester is running for reelection. Ballester was ordained 23 years ago, and has served congregations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Florida, and currently, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, Texas. During his first term on the Board, he served on the Investment Committee, the Distinguished Service Committee, and the Congregations Working Group. He is a founder of LUUNA (Latina/o Unitarian Universalist Networking Association), as well as the UU Ministers Association (UUMA) Hispanic Caucus. He was Director of the UU Service Committee's JustWorks Program for five years. He stated that in the past four decades we have lost twenty-eight congregations, "increased adult membership by 18,000, but lost 31,000 young people." Ballester said he will stress "the importance of growing and supporting congregations, religious education, and social justice making."
Candidate Charlie Burke is in line to be the next Youth Trustee for the UUA. He lives in Milton, Massachusetts, and will be attending Whittier College outside Los Angeles in the fall. He is a member of the Church of the Younger Fellowship where he has served on the anti-racism, anti-oppression, multicultural committee and the governance working group. He said he "cherishes being part of leadership as it goes through great change." Burke said he will be "an effective leader not just for youth, but for the entire community."
Friedman asked delegates to thank the candidates for their positions as the Candidates Forum ended.
Courted also thanked the candidates, and reminded delegates that, since there were no nominations by petition this year, the election could be held in the plenary. She called upon UUA Secretary Paul Rickter to make the appropriate motion. Rickter moved that the delegates vote by acclimation for the entire slate as proposed by the Nominating Committee. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, and the elected candidates will be installed during the Plenary session on Sunday.
Consultation on Ministry To and With Youth
Courter introduced Megan Dowdell and Beth Dana to present the report on the Consultation. They stated that the process for this Consultation began when Unitarian and Universalist youth came together prior to the creation of the UUA. It continued when members of Liberal Religious Youth made way for others, as the current Young Religious Unitarian Universalists are doing for those who will come next. Dowdell and Dana said they hope that delegates will bring the hope and excitement of the Consultation home to their congregations.
Report of the UUA Board of Trustees
The four Trustees at Large for the UUA Board, Charlie King, José Ballester, Julian Sharp, and Tamara Payne-Alex, were called forward to present the report of the Board of Trustees.
Youth Trustee at Large Julian Sharp described the Board's membership, stating that the District Trustees provide reports all year round to their Districts, and that the Trustees at Large are charged with reporting back to the General Assembly as they are elected directly by the GA delegates. Sharp reported that he has served for the past two years, and that his term expires at the end of this GA. Sharp said that the Trustees-a-Large will report on three areas of work this year: Independent Affiliate status, Excellence in Ministry, and Governance.
These three areas of Board work begin with a simple question: "Why are our congregations in association with one another?" The answer, on the face, is simple: congregations are in association to share resources, and support the health, vitality, and growth of existing and emerging congregations. We are together to share ministerial settlement resources, curriculum, hymnals, marketing materials, and a website. Yet, Sharp said, there is more.
Charlie King said, "we come together at GA each year, and that before he was on the Board he was a member of the GA Planning Committee. Over the years, King said, it was becoming clear that GA was turning into a conference for individual UUs who could afford a pricey vacation in a convention hotel. The expense and structure of GA didn't encourage congregational participation. With decreased congregational participation in the life and business of the Association came an increased sense of disconnection between congregations and a perception of "top down" decisions directed by Board or staff. The leadership of the UUA began an intentional strategy to make GA a true meeting of congregations. This included subsidies for congregational presidents, new lay leader education opportunities, and a shift toward the Association's mission during events.
José Ballester stated that the Board believes that the primary relationship is between congregations, not between congregations and the UUA staff or Board. The Board is exploring ways to make stronger ties between congregations, and therefore looked at the role and place of the Independent Affiliate organizations. They appeared to be separate groups, each of which may be doing excellent work aligned with our values, but with little or no connection to other affiliates or to congregations. The Board believes devoting energy and resources of the UUA toward these groups is not the most effective or proper use of the Association's resources. This year, at the end of a four year transition, the Board has implemented new guidelines for Independent Affiliate status. They require groups work together in coalitions, share resources, and serve or engage congregations in their work. Some groups will not be accepted—and some will decide the status is not necessary. Others may join with other groups to create a council or coalition to seek Independent Affiliate status.
Tamara Payne-Alex stated that every congregation eventually wrestles with what constitutes excellence in ministry. The Board's focus on congregations has sparked a passion about ministry for and with youth, ministry in growing congregations, ministry to congregations in transition, effective social justice ministry, and ministry that is focused on the future of our faith.
The Board is reaching out to religious professional to engage with them in substantive conversation about excellence in ministry, Payne-Alex reported. "The Board has also challenged the Panel on Theological Education to re-imagine its funding structure to increase accountability and strategic use of resources. It is neither equitable or in the best interests of our congregations to continue the current funding pattern where 75% of funds go to institutions preparing just 35% of our UU ministers. The conversation on excellence should help inform this transition."
Turning to governance, Payne-Alex said that "good governance is accountable and transparent, so the Board is working to clarify and differentiate its roles and responsibilities and those of the President, and the administrative staff. Good governance is effective and efficient," she said, and so the Board is making changes to ensure that the structures, focus, and resources of the UUA are aligned with its mission. Good governance is participatory and inclusive, so the Board is looking for ways to engage congregational leadership more fully. The Board also monitors its work with an anti-oppression lens because good governance assures the voices of the most vulnerable are heard. Good governance is responsible to the future needs, and so they are working to support ministry to and with youth that is well prepared, well informed, and welcoming.
Payne-Alex ended by stating that the Board is fully committed to good governance so that we may maximize our positive influence for good in the world. She said, "I speak for the entire UUA Board of Trustees when I say it is an honor and privilege to serve our member congregations."
After asking delegates to thank the entire UUA Board for their service, Courter declared the Plenary session in recess until Saturday.
Reported by Lisa Presley; edited by Deborah Weiner