General Assembly 2009 Event 1010
The 48th annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) kicked off with the traditional Banner Parade. Representatives from Unitarian Universalist congregations and organizations across the United States and around the world paraded through the main hall at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, each carrying colorful banners. The parade was accompanied by music from jazz musicians who play regularly at the jazz vespers service at First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City.
The first congregations in the parade were all from the Mountain Desert District, the host district for this General Assembly (GA). Banners from Unitarian Universalist congregations in places like Laramie, WY; Missoula, MT; and Littleton, CO, were greeted with applause and occasional cheers from those assembled.
The lighting of the flaming chalice, a worldwide symbol of Unitarian Universalism, was led by two Unitarian Universalist ministers from Salt Lake City, Rev. Tom Goldsmith of First Unitarian Church and Rev. Sean Parker Dennison of the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society. They welcomed delegates and other GA attendees on behalf of the five Unitarian Universalist congregations in Utah.
Lew Phinney, district coordinator for the GA Planning Committee, welcomed those assembled on behalf of the congregations of the Mountain Desert District. Phinney spoke his welcome over the music of a folk group called "The Ever Hopefuls," who sang the song of the Mountain Desert District.
Jacki Shanti, first vice moderator of the UUA Board of Trustees, welcomed three new Unitarian Universalist congregations to the UUA. These three congregations were: Foothills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Maryville, TN; Unitarian Universalists of Central Delaware in Dover, DE; and New Hope Congregation in New Hudson, MI.
Gini Courter, UUA moderator, called to order the first plenary session. She announced the "sole business item" for the first session was the adoption of rules of procedure. The rules were adopted without debate. Courter then called the members of the GA Planning Committee onstage and thanked them for their work.
After the managers of the Youth and Young Adult Caucuses introduced themselves, the two leaders of the Right Relationship Team—Scott McNeil and Tomoko Takano—introduced themselves. They said that the job of the team was to promote anti-racism, anti-oppression, multiculturalism, and accessibility at GA. "We'd love to hear from you," they said, "both positive experiences where people have welcomed you and countered oppression, and experiences where that has not happened." They said they would have regular office hours and be available after all plenary sessions.
Gini Courter then called on Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the UUA, to give the president's report (PDF, 16 pages). Courter noted this would be Sinkford's eighth and final report as president of the UUA, since his term ends at this General Assembly.
Sinkford said when he was running for the presidency, his campaign promised greater visibility for Unitarian Universalism and more Unitarian Universalist public witness. He recognized John Hurley, UUA Director of Communications, for Hurley's efforts in turning those promises into reality.
Sinkford recalled his first public witness as UUA president. "On the morning of September 12, I issued my first pastoral letter," he said, as part of his response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Sinkford said the role of Unitarian Universalist public witness was changing. "Today, we need to move beyond protest mode," he said. "This new role calls for new skills and new commitments from us." In terms of racial justice, Sinkford said "we need to stop lamenting" and move forward by claiming "a mission for the Association staff that will lead us to a hopeful future."
Sinkford listed several issues that remain at the center of the UUA's public witness, including marriage equality, genocide, and efforts to help the poor and oppressed in the United States. He said that, just like Martin Luther King, Jr., Unitarian Universalists have to keep asking, "Who is our neighbor?" This question can guide our public witness.
Turning to Beacon Press, Sinkford announced that the publishing house had just come to an agreement with the family of Martin Luther King, Jr., to be the sole trade publisher of King's writings. Academic editions of King's writing would continue to be published by the University of California Press, but Beacon will publish trade books for the ordinary reader.
Next, Sinkford reviewed "some mission priorities" of his presidency. He said a new vision statement for youth ministry has been developed and is ready to be implemented by the next UUA president. He spoke of the increased racial diversity of Unitarian Universalist ministers, saying, "We should be pleased with this trajectory." He added that "we have not yet reached a tipping point," but acknowledged that substantial progress was made toward racial diversity in ministry during his presidency.
Sinkford spoke about the "Now Is the Time" capital campaign, saying the campaign had reached its goal of raising $50 million for capital developments in the UUA.
Sinkford then turned to the shootings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday, July 27, 2008, where two churchgoers were killed. He recognized those from the Knoxville area who were affected by this violent act.
Referring to the various "Standing on the Side of the Side of Love" campaigns, Sinkford said, "Unitarian Universalism can make a real difference if we're willing to stand on the side of love."
"But we have much to do at home," he said. "We have done work on race in the past few years." But, he said, Unitarian Universalists have to move beyond the narratives that center on relations between black people and white people. "For some time, we have needed better language," he said, language that includes people of all racial groups, and he offered the possibility that Unitarian Universalism could become a truly multiracial, multicultural religious community.
In closing his last report as president of the UUA, Sinkford said, "There are no solo acts," and he thanked the many people who helped make his presidency successful.
Reported by Dan Harper; edited by Dana Dwinell-Yardley.