General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Plenary V, General Assembly 2013

General Assembly 2013 Event 3028

Breakout sessions were not recorded.

Program Description

Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Moderator Gini Courter presides over the plenary sessions in which the business of the Association is being conducted.

Report from UU World


Late-arriving items may require rearrangement of the agenda as published.

  • Call to Order
  • Chalice Lighting
  • Special Collection to Support the Work in Greater New Orleans
  • Update: Transforming Governance for the Second Half Century
  • Instructions for Small Group Discussions and Twitter Reporting
  • Recess to Breakout Rooms
  • Breakout Discussions and Tweetchat


Call to Order

GINI COURTER: I now call to order the fifth plenary session of this General Assembly. How are we this afternoon? Great time to find seats. For our chalice lighting this morning, please welcome the Reverend Jim VanderWeele. Let's try that again. Please welcome the Reverend Jim WanderWeele.


Chalice Lighting

REV. JIM WANDERWEELE: The tree of life is fed by the spirit of life. As the yogis say, all our Earth's creatures draw from a single breath of life. Ironically, this breath in that Holy Spirit, here in our tree of life, carries beneficence, and it contains trials. For it feeds the forest fires. It twists across Oklahoma. It blows up over our oceans and lashes the land with hurricanes. And it contributes to the flooding in Canada.

We arrive here from many homes, each with its own afflictions. We gather to celebrate together the spirit of life as it lives in our hearts. Yet despite our trials we have learned to live together, to love one another, and to do our best to bless our planet Earth.

We light this flame not with any individual pride, but with a gratitude and humility that there is much we must still learn about this interconnected web of existence of which we are a part.

Special Collection to Support the Work in Greater New Orleans

Good afternoon. I'm Erik David Carlson, UUA Trustee from the Central Midwest district. And I'm blessed to be the minister of our historically Universalist Church in Stockton, Illinois. I want to start by thanking Reverend VanderWeele and the members of the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalist congregations, who helped light our chalice flame this afternoon.

From promise to commitment—as we all know, in August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. The storms and flooding that followed devastated entire neighborhoods and deeply affected our three area congregations. In the days and weeks that followed, I, along with thousands of other Unitarian Universalists, made a promise to help our UU cousins and friends in the New Orleans area recover and rebuild.

This was a promise we knew would be long in fulfilling, that no single donation or act of support would suffice, but that it would take an ongoing commitment to the congregations and the people there.

Two years after the storms, I had the unique opportunity to move to New Orleans to serve as an intern minister for Community Church and also to work with the two other area congregations. While there, I was consistently amazed at the talent, passion, and dedication of our family of faith, whose members were rebuilding their lives, their homes, their schools, and communities, while, at the same time, they were rebuilding their congregations.

Through their work, these churches came to know that they could not do it alone, but they needed each other. Through their collaborative efforts, the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists have initiated and sustained ministries, such as the Center of Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal, that has served thousands of people—not just those who worship with them on Sunday mornings.

The congregations and the center have housed dozens of volunteer groups who have, in turn, helped hundreds of households rebuild and recover. As an association, we, too, have made a promise to New Orleans to walk with members of our family of faith through the difficult process of rebuilding and revitalization.

Like my own promise, this, too, requires more than a single act of charity or volunteerism, but, rather, an ongoing commitment to help serve these people who are, in turn, are serving so many more. This collection is not the ultimate end of that process, but yet another important step in reaffirming our promises and commitment to the heroic work of these brave individuals and the congregations they make up.

And unlike some of our previous fundraising efforts, the money raised today will go directly to the GNOUU congregations to be used at their autonomous discretion to best serve the immediate needs of their ministry as they see it. I asked that we all honor our promise and continue to show our commitment. We all thank you for your continued support and generosity. Reverend Jim? In my years before ministry, I worked as a carpenter. Me and Jesus.


REV. JIM WANDERWEELE: And at the end of the work day, the lead carpenter would say, good job, thanks for the effort, but the work is not done. He was saying, go home, get some rest, and be back here, on time, tomorrow.

Well, in my new hometown, New Orleans, Louisiana, the rebuilding costs have been humongous. And each of our crews have needed their own reconstruction crews, AKA boards, committee chairs, key contributors—all have participated in reconstruction. And two of those crews are still hearing that the work is not done.

They have seen the bills from the roofers, from the sheetrockers, the painters, the electricians, the general contractors, and the architects. If you have had a building project in your church, you know how these things work, right?

You have to cover the costs. But here is the thing. All of these costs were unexpected. And as the members of these churches struggled through their costs of fixing a mass that was visited upon them because the levees broke, they have participated in the work of our GNOUU cluster.

We have linked hands together in partnership and worked with the people in our community who have needed our support and our assistance. The message of your faith, the message of our faith, has life in the South because we, as Unitarian Universalists, are there. And we are there and speaking our minds. And we are there and sharing our vision. And we are there are promoting justice, equity, and compassion in human relationships.


REV. JIM WANDERWEELE: —despite the other messages that surround us, and that is why we thank you for your support. That is why we are most grateful for your help with rebuilding. But the job is not completed. It is, in fact, well short of being completed at Act Two of our GNOUU congregations—not the one where I serve, but those of my sisters and brothers and companions in faith. And so I am asking, not for me, this time, but for them.

I am most grateful for all you have done to help. But the work is not done. Your assistance in what has been a lengthy rebuilding process, an unexpected rebuilding process, will be most deeply appreciated. Thank you so very much.


REV. DEANNA VANDIVER: Thank you for being here, beloveds. I'm the Reverend Deanna Vandiver. And it is still my odd wonder to be the community minister for the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists and to serve as the director of our Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal.

The center was co-created by the three Unitarian Universalist congregations in the Greater New Orleans area, when they realized that we must turn to each other, not only to survive, but to learn how to thrive. How to bring our life-giving faith into a world that is so incredibly hungry for it.

And this center could never have begun without your generosity immediately after the flood, the federal flood of 2005, with 53 levee breaks, 80% of the Greater New Orleans area flooded, followed soon after by another hurricane—just in case people weren't exiled enough.

Almost eight years later, we recognize that the work—oh! There's a lot of work to be done. And we have learned that when people come and do the work with us, when people come and bear witness to what is, and we say, so what are going to take back home with you?

Whoa, the questions. Almost always, is it answered with, oh my god! You know, I thought New Orleans was going to have this. And that I didn't understand. But now I see that what is broken here is also broken where I live.

And I am called, as a person of faith, to take what I've seen here, bear witness, go home, and build the world I dream of living in right in my neighborhood. And I want to offer up the deepest thank you from a grateful heart to everyone to everyone who has born witness in body and spirit. Raise your hands, y'all, if you've been there.

[APPLAUSE] Yeah, as we say at home, yeah, you right. And you can all be right. I would like for you to take this moment to think about what it means to be a part of healing this world.

Think about it. You have the power to be a part of that and as you reach into your purse, or your wallet, or your folder, or your back pocket, or your envelope, think about what you would give to heal the world.

And then give a little more—because it's probably going to take a little more—and know that there's nothing but the deepest gratitude and joy in healing our world. Thank you, beloveds.



GINI COURTER: Thank you musicians. Thank you, our faithful Unitarian Universalists of the Greater New Orleans area. Thank you Unitarian Universalists right here in the hall and online who contributed this afternoon. If your congregation is one of the many that does a give away the plate Sunday, sometimes, tell me if that's your place.

Remember, please, during in this Church year that our work in New Orleans is not done. We have promises to keep. Thank you very much. I would like to introduce you to two members of UUA board of trustees.

We try to parcel them out because if they all came at once, it would just overwhelm you with the energy and passion for our faith. So we're bringing them up—it's the Ark sort of thing, two at a time. Why I was thinking about water, who knows.

So if you would please give a warm welcome to Mr. Lou Finney and the Reverend Jake Morrill to talk to you about transforming governance for our second half century. Welcome them.


Update: Transforming Governance for the Second Half Century

LEW PHINNEY: Good afternoon. I am Lew Phinney, trustee for the Mountain Desert district on your UUA board.

REV. JAKE MORRILL: And I'm Jake Morrill, trustee from the Southeast district. So who here likes democracy.


REV. JAKE MORRILL: OK, OK, who here thinks more democracy would be better?


REV. JAKE MORRILL: OK? Who here knows that figuring out democracy sometimes isn't easy?


REV. JAKE MORRILL: General Assembly serves so many different purposes. It is a gathering of the people, where we celebrate milestones and passages. It's a leadership development school. It's somewhere that people of diverse identities can gain strength knowing that they're not alone.

General Assembly is a marketplace of great ideas, where we can learn from each other. It's a place to see friends, A place to be renewed and inspired. And General Assembly is where Unitarian Universalism, at the broadest level, practices democracy.

In the fall of 2011, the Occupy Movement reminded many in this country what democracy looks like. And many Unitarian Universalists in our local communities in congregations work to strengthen what 19th Century Unitarian Theodore Parker called "A government of the people, by the people, and for all the people." But in our association, we have not always practiced democracy as well as we could have.

LEW PHINNEY: Six years ago, the board of trustees sensed that in our association, including General Assembly, we didn't fulfill one of our seven principles—the fifth principle, which states, "We the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant and affirm to promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large."

To explore the question, the board commissioned the fifth principle task force. Here are some of the ways that the task force determined the General Assembly fell short of democracy. Most delegates did not represent, in any accountable way, their congregations. Delegates didn't represent the broad spectrum of identities in our association. In most cases, delegates were chosen because they were the folks who had the money to travel to General Assembly and pay the hotel bill and the registration costs.

Four years ago this weekend, when the fifth principle task force presented its recommendations on how to strengthen governance, they said, "The status quo is not an option." They wanted to make General Assembly economically accessible and financially sustainable. They also wanted to encourage congregations to set up structures whereby delegates would be accountable to their congregations and to the association.

That brings up one of my favorite questions. Great idea, how are you' going to do that? They had several recommendations. Key among those possibilities were—paying the costs for a delegate to attend General Assembly; holding General Assembly every other year; appointing delegates 18 months prior to a GA so that they could become aware of the issues and discuss them with their congregations; having fewer, better prepared, delegates; separating governance activities from program activities.

The board worked to integrate the task force recommendations into our efforts to reform the UUA governance at all levels. In the past few years, we've reformed the board itself toward a stronger democracy. Together with district leadership, we've worked to reform the governance at the district level, again, to stronger democracy.

Last year, we knew it was time to reform General Assembly. In October, we had conversations with the UUA staff. In January, we invited leaders from key stakeholders in organizations to Philadelphia, so we could hear from them. These voices included youth and young adults, the UUA Ministers Association, the General Assembly Planning Committee, Diverse Revolutionary UU Ministries, or, as we affectionately know them, DRUUM, and several more. What we heard is that any new model of General Assembly needed to take into consideration not only how we govern. It needed to take into account how we gather.

REV. JAKE MORRILL: And now we are bringing these questions to you. In a few minutes, we'll ask you to divide into conversations to work on big questions. But before we do, we want you to imagine some possible scenarios. We're offering you these sketches not because they are actual choices—it's way too early for that—but because they show the vastly different paths this change process could take. So without getting too attached to the details, or too worried about what's included or left out, listen to these three possible scenarios.

LEW PHINNEY: The first scenario is gradual transition, where much of what you know as General Assembly would remain the same—the same annual schedule, the same lineup of workshops, and worship, and public witness. What would change would be to find ways to make General Assembly more economically accessible than it has been to this point. This would include more scholarship money and growing capacity to engage people virtually as off-site delegates.

REV. JAKE MORRILL: So let's imagine a second scenario. In this second one, imagine a much smaller delegate body better able, because of group size, to engage big questions before the association at a deeper level. These delegates would have spent months of preparation engaging their local constituencies with stakeholder conversations. A smaller delegate body would make the financial support needed for greater economic accessibility more possible.

In this second scenario, non-governance activities, workshops and worship, for instance, could be held concurrently, attended by other Unitarian Universalists, or held at a different time, perhaps with the creation of an annual national conference that was not a General Assembly focused on governance in the democratic process.

LEW PHINNEY: A third scenario would reimagine the frequency of General Assembly. What if we gathered as a national body not annually but biennially, to conduct the business of the association and also to experience the power of being together at that scale only once every two years.

And what if, in the off years, we gathered in regional assemblies, enabling us to build capacity through closer regional connections and focus on issues particularly to that region. And because an annual General Assembly provides vital sustenance to various marginalized communities of Unitarian Universalists among us. If new ways were found to support and sustain these communities.

OK, UUs. In a few minutes, when you break into these groups, please do not spend your time critiquing these scenarios, deal? OK, these are just scratch paper concepts. They are not actual plans. Don't spend your time in the details of conference planning.

What we want to ask you is to tell us what really matters. What's the big stuff? Tell us the values and priorities that should guide any change? To do that, please work with your groups to respond to three questions.

LEW PHINNEY: And the three questions are—first, if you could not attend the General Assembly, describe the person from your congregation who ought to attend and why. Number two, what do you love best about General Assembly? Three, for the future of our faith, what is the one thing in General Assembly should stop doing. You don't have to memorize these. Group leaders, facilitators, will have those on pieces of paper.

REV. JAKE MORRILL: So the challenge before us all is to figure out how to strengthen democracy, how we govern, while at least maintaining, if not strengthening, all the other important aspects of General Assembly, or how we gather. It's not simple. It's not easy. But it is possible. And it's worth it. Thank you for your part in helping Unitarian Universalism now, and in the future, live up to its own promises.


GINI COURTER: Well, I can't help but recognize the delegate at the procedural microphone because this is former moderator Denny Davidoff, who actually chaired our fifth principle task force. So first, Denny, thank you so much for your work.

DENNY DAVIDOFF: You are most welcome.

GINI COURTER: And the love.


DENNY DAVIDOFF: Madam moderator, I am indeed Denny Davidoff. And I am a delegate from the Unitarian Church in Westport Connecticut. I am very pleased with this process. I really enjoyed this presentation. And I am thrilled that Unitarian Universalists gathered will now continue the dialogue that our original task force and the board have started.

I'm just really pleased. And I do urge all of you to heed Jake's advice—don't sweat the small stuff. We need to hear the big ideas. I'm going to be part of the group.

Instructions for Small Group Discussions and Twitter Reporting

GINI COURTER: Thanks, Danny. Thank you. Fabulous. So this is what we're going to do now. OK, so how many of you are Tweet-enabled now. How many of you can Tweet or do stuff on Twitter? That's going to work great for us. OK, thank you.

So let me see, the first thing I need is, I need the first slide. This is our tag, our hashtag, #newuuga. Now, this seems like, OK, so what is this? This is a sorting and filtering mechanism. And it's absolute magic in social networking because what it means is that anything that we Tweet that includes this string in it, where you've typed #newuuga, no matter what you used to Tweet with, whether you're on your iPhone, or your Android, whether you're using Twitter or TweetDeck, whether you pull out your iPad, or a Microsoft Surface, or whatever you use, they are all going to the same place, which is a big pile of Tweets that we can filter just our out of.

And what would that look like, then, right now on Twitter, because we have some folks who have tweeted already, what does that look like, Tech Deck? So this is like when we were using the tag #newuuga, or #gacovenant. See how those work? You can actually go say, show me everything that says uuaga. And we can see them.

We can download them and put them in Excel, which is something you can't do with those pieces of paper with sticky dots on them, OK? We can get instant feedback and use it. So simply by using the tag #newuuga, every single thing that we Tweet will be able to be information, not just to the, board or to a committee, but to everybody—everybody.

So we'll all have access to this pile of information that we put together today. I need you to take a look at your name tag. At the lower right hand corner, there's a bar code on it. And beneath that barcode, there's a number.

And if you're like me, you need to pull out your reading glasses right now. It's a really small number—above. Oh yeah, that one underneath, you really can't read. It's so small. So the one above, look at the last two numbers in it.

OK, they range from 01 all the way through to 00. And then I want to pay attention to these screens. And they're going to be running even as we leave the hall. But if the last two numbers on yours are 36 through 40, you're going to go to room 207.

If there are 56 though 60, you'll go to room 218, 219. See how that works? Take the last two numbers of that number above the barcode. The last two numbers will tell you what room to go. Not the first two, but the last two.

We're just going to keep running this. Don't worry, it's going to come back around until you find your number. Find it on your name tag first, then go there. We want to make sure everybody has their number before they leave. There's nobody outside of the hall with these numbers to help you much. Does that make sense? If you're a little lost and can't figure this out, hold your hand up, and a neighbor is going to help you, or a teller will help you.

So now, when you get to the room, and we're going to leave the way we're learning to leave right now, which is, we're going to let the folks with scooters, and wheelchairs, and walkers and stuff, leave first. And we'll have music to leave to. We loved the jazz earlier, right?


GINI COURTER: So when you get to your room, we will have facilitators there. They will have paper that has all of the questions on it that you saw earlier. You don't have to remember them. They will have the hashtag on there. They will have some more instructions for you. And they will ask that every group have somebody in there who can be posting stuff on Twitter.

You don't all have to do that. As a matter of fact, if you're in a group where there are two other people who are tweeting, you should go someplace else because we figure we need about one person per small group.

So you're going to go, a bunch of you, to a room, form into smaller groups for conversation, discuss these three questions. And you don't have to decide at the end we'll decide what we're going to Tweet. That's not how it works. The person who's Tweeting will pretty much be Tweeting all the way through important ideas they hear. Or we could talk about the idea of sticky ideas, something that goes by, and you go, oh, that's cool. Make sense?

So we're generating a conversation space together, knowing that any one of our conversations might be in this part of the conversation, or this part, but, together, we'll cover the territory. Does that make sense? OK.

So let's go ahead and let our folks who are showing us how we [INAUDIBLE] first. I'm going to turn to David Glasgow for some music. And by the way, one more thing. You will never come back to this room. When you go to the room, you're going to—well, I don't mean never. The Ware lecture and synergy worship are here. Now, surely you would know I was wrong about that detail.

However, you won't come back here for plenary. We need to go to your room. And when you get there and get formed up, you're going to spend an hour on this. So you don't even have to rush there, but you do need to go directly there.

When you're done, you can stay and keep working if you want, or some people can leave. But we're asking that you go to a room, get into a conversation, and spend one quality hour talking about the future of the governance of our faith. One quality hour. Who in this room can give all of us one hour right now? Make sense? OK, so go ahead, David.

DAVID GLASGOW: Hey, Gini we're going to sing come and go with me if that's all right? I'll start it off. And there won't be words on the screen because you'll be looking at your room numbers. But it's one of them. So join in and sing when you get it, or don't. We'll have fun.

GINI COURTER: And actually, I think people have their room numbers, yes?

DAVID GLASGOW: We OK, with that?

GINI COURTER: Yep, We can go to words.

DAVID GLASGOW: So Tech Deck, if you've got 1018 pulled up, that would be groovy.


Recess to Breakout Rooms

Breakout Discussions and Tweetchat