Plenary IV, General Assembly 2009
The Session was called to order by Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) moderator Gini Courter. Representatives from the Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Appleton, WI, lit the chalice. They briefly described the work, the growth and the vision of their fellowship.
Moderator Courter then noted the first media headline from the Salt Lake City Tribune. In one of their top stories, the headline read “Interfaith rally points to spiritual side of immigration debate.” She then briefly described the work of the Board of Trustees, indicating the seated group and inviting the affirmation of applause. The four UUA trustees at large were introduced to the delegates and spoke briefly about the work and intentions of the board.
Charlie King spoke first, describing ways in which the Board of Trustees does its work, noting that it is a volunteer board. Much of the work takes place over several years. Mr. King used the example of the request for a consultation of ministry with youth, made in 2004, which culminated in the 2009 report of the Mosaic project.
Charlie Burke spoke next, as the youth trustee at large. According to the bylaws he will be ending his two year term at this GA. Mr. Burke described the ways in which the Board has engaged the voice of the greater association to develop “ends” (or goals) for the Association. Those ends will drive the Board’s work, which will in turn direct UUA staff for their efforts. The Board has worked to transition to a governance structure which will more clearly reflect the values of the association. The board has voted to end its relationship with “independent affiliate organizations” as of June 2010 and charged the UUA staff with setting up a new system to work with independent organizations by June 2010.
Jose Ballester has served for six years on the Board of Trustees. The Board is in the process of addressing its concerns about the UUA’s election process and the social and economic limits on candidacies for moderator and president. Changes are also on line for 2010 with forthcoming proposals for changes in the election process. Reverend Ballester emphasized the fifth principle task force’s work on those and other forthcoming proposals for guidelines which will reflect fiscal and technological realities in future democratic processes.
Tamara Payne-Alex is completing her last term as an at-large trustee, having served for nine years. She described Board efforts toward creating a conversation on excellence in ministry, noting that the UUA Panel on Theological Education has devoted a large proportion of resources to two seminaries, a model which is being scrutinized. The Panel on Theological Education convened a conference on Excellence in Ministry in 2008 to lay the groundwork for new relationships and for new and imaginative ways to work together within current relationships. Ms. Payne-Alex noted that additional information and conference notes are available at the UUA website. Board agendas are available there as well, posted prior to the October, April and December meetings. She concluded with her appreciation for the “honor, joy and privilege” of serving.
John Bevins, Trustee from the Prairie Star District reported on the Boards’ governance work, reiterating that “governance is how we get things done in ways that reflect our values.” He noted that to have an impact, we need to align our “ends” with the sensibilities which are grounded in our congregations. Congregations must send informed and empowered delegates to the General Assembly as well as to District business meetings. We must also have a deep, trusting and collaborative relationship between the volunteer Board and the professional leadership of our organization.
The Board has adopted new governance policies which will go into effect on July 1, 2009.
A Distinguished Service To Unitarian Universalism Service Award was presented to Rev. Alice Blair Wesley by Rev. BurtonCarley. The award recognizes those who have strengthened the institutions of Unitarian Universalism or clarified the message of Unitarian Universalism in an extraordinary way. Reverend Wesley delivered a series of six lectures on covenant as the selected speaker for The Minns Lectures in 2000-2001. The lectures were published as Our Covenant in 2002. She also authored the introduction to the Cambridge Platform, published by Skinner books in 2008, along with a number of other scholarly publications.
The citation read, in part, “that Alice has generously shared her gifts as historian and teacher in the areas of church polity, covenant and ministry... calling us to honest about the ways we order our lives together in community. Alice is loyal to the free church and the covenantal relationship.” He added that “Her candor, insight, and scholarship have blessed our congregations. Our movement is stronger due to Alice’s unfailing persistence.”
Accepted the award, expressing her surprise and gratitude to the many who had supported her in her ministerial and academic journey, Wesley elicited several rounds of laughter and applause as she described her journey from ministerial call to the present, acknowledging her spouse, Joe, for supporting her distance learning and “extension ministries.” In spite of describing her mid 90’s retirement as “feeling like an old work horse, driven hard and put away wet” she subsequently began the scholarly and research writing that led to her nomination for the Distinguished Service Award.
She spoke compellingly of the free church where “we can reason out whither love and wisdom lead, we freely covenant to walk together in the spirit of love, as best we can see to do,” maintaining that “covenantal theology remains at the heart of our movement.” She encouraged theological reflection about the structure of our association.
Moderator Courter acknowledged and thanked Alice for her years of support, counsel and lively engagement. “Alice has helped us think about what is most precious and important about us,” Courter said.
The third Breakthrough congregation to be presented to the delegates, the Unitarian Universalist church of Bloomington, Indiana, was represented by a team of fifteen members who introduced a video describing the efforts of their “team oriented congregation.” The video contained reflections from a number of voices speaking of their vital ministries to the generations, the imprisoned, the unwelcome and the oppressed. At one point in the video, dog puppet “Theodore Barker” reminded viewers to take a break and be playful. Other voices remembered that the church had set out to be a loving caring community, not a breakthrough congregation. In describing the various ministries that made that a reality, one voice advised, “if your UU church is the best kept secret in town, there’s something wrong.” The video closed with the invitation to “Join us on the journey.”
Three associate member organizations delivered reports on their work and initiatives of the past year. Reporting on behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation (UUWF), President Linda Lu Burciaga underlined three highlights of the past year. She detailed the ongoing celebration of the life of Marjorie Bowens Wheatley through scholarship support to women of color aspirants to Unitarian Universalist ministry. This years three seminary grant recipients were acknowledged, as well as Marjorie’s husband Rev. Clyde Grubbs for his financial support.
The UUWF also played a role in the first International Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women in February of 2009. More than 600 women from thirteen countries were in attendance, engaging with issues and actions plans including women’s economic rights, health (including reproductive rights) and violence against women. Burciaga concluded with an introduction of the Clara Barton intern, Orielia Busch, who is working on justice issues touching the lives of women and girls through the Washington, DC, office.
Dr. Charlie Clements, executive of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), thanked outgoing UUA president William Sinkford for his efforts toward collaboration between the UUA and UUSC.
Interrupted frequently by applause, Dr. Clements updated the delegates on the UUSC justice work. In Darfur the UUSC has been asked by United Nations to establish more women’s centers and broaden their efforts in protecting women and girls in refugee camps. Due to this body’s work there is now a special envoy to Sudan from the Obama administration.
The UUSC and local partners pressured Kansas City to raise the minimum wage to $6.55 an hour. Kansas City will be aligned with the national minimum wage when it is increased. The UUSC will continue to apply political pressure to the current administration regarding the U.S. role in torture. Although Guantanamo Bay has closed, the UUSC considers it imperative that investigation uncover what we permitted as a nation.
The UUSC continues its work in advocating for the human right to drinkable water. In California they pioneered a precedent setting piece of legislation guaranteeing water rights to all people. They continue advocacy work in advance of a Senate vote on the bill. With socially responsible investment firm Northstar Assets, the UUSC introduced a shareholder resolution at the PepsiCo annual meeting, pressuring the corporation to set a standard to protect the water rights of communities where billions of gallons are consumed by bottling operations. CocaCola may hear from the UUSC as well.
The report concluded with a presentation honoring Rev. William Schultz for his work in public witness standing against torture in the fifteen years since his UUA presidency.
The final report was delivered on the behalf of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UUUNO) by Bruce Knox, Executive Director. He detailed the improved visibility of UUUNO through advocacy at the UN annual human rights conference.
In response to the UUUNO, the rights of gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgendered persons were placed on the agenda at this conference for the first time in the sixty-one years of meetings. At the time of his report, sixty nine nations had signed on to continue actions which will insure “everyone everywhere has a safe and dignified life “. He emphasized that through trainings, advocacy and sponsorship the UUUNO is projecting UU values into global debates in the only forum that addresses issues which impact the entire planet.
In the final business of the morning, Moderator Courter directed the delegates in the first step in the process of adopting actions of immediate witness. To begin, delegates heard a two minute presentation from a sponsor for each action. The assembly was then asked to vote on whether or not to admit up to six to the agenda of the General Assembly. All six, listed here, were admitted to the agenda.
- AIW 1: Pending Legislation Toward Clean/Verified Elections in U.S.
- AIW 2: U.S. Ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
- AIW 3: In Support of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act
- AIW 4: Support Bolivian UUs Struggling for Justice and Human Rights
- AIW 5: U.S.-Sponsored Torture: A Call for a Commission of Inquiry
- AIW 6: Oppose Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Based Violence in Iraq
Following a procedural discussion, announcements and brief closing worship, the plenary session adjourned.
Reported by Rebecca Kelley-Morgan; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.