General Assembly 2014 Event 434
Order of Business
- Call to Order
- Debate and Vote on Business Resolution on Fossil Fuel Divestment
- Special Collection to Support Standing on the Side of Love’s Fifth Anniversary
- General Assembly (GA) Talk: Humanism and Theism in Conversation
- Presentation: Angus McLean Award
- Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation Report
- GA Talk: Living Our Witness at WaterFire
The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.
Call to Order
The Moderator: I now call to order the Sixth General Session of the Fifty-Third General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).
Debate and Vote on Business Resolution on Fossil Fuel Divestment
The Moderator: Our first order of business is to debate and vote on the Business Resolution on Fossil Fuel. I call on our Vice Moderator, Donna Harrison, to make the motion.
Donna: Moved that the business resolution titled Fossil Fuel Divestment, presented on pages 98-99 of the Final Agenda, be adopted by this Assembly.
Moderator: I call on UUA Trustee-at-large, Julian Sharp to make the Board's statement for this motion.
Julian Sharp: (From the Amendment Mike) During our April meeting, the Board of Trustees discussed one of the most critical social justice issues of the 21st century, climate change. Before us, was the Fossil Fuel Divestment Business Resolution, which calls on us to divest our Common Endowment Fund of the 200 major fossil fuel extraction companies, known as the Carbon Tracker 200. The resolution is carefully worded, affirming the Board’s legal responsibility to be financial stewards and allowing the flexibility to retain limited shares in order to engage in shareholder activism on the issue of climate change with our interfaith partners.
At its April meeting, the board heard of our movement's four-decades long leadership in socially responsible investing and this Assembly’s many votes on issues ranging from Ethical Eating to the Threat of Climate Change. It’s worth noting that global market exposure to CT 200 stock is about 9%, while the UUA portfolio currently contains 2.9% exposure. The board heard testimony from financial experts and climate change activists, all of which is available to you at UUA.org. Following an engaging and wholehearted conversation, the board voted unanimously to support the resolution.
We support this resolution for three reasons. First, our role is to use our limited resources to achieve the greatest good. Simply put, we do not feel it right to profit from the destruction of our planet, particularly when that destruction disproportionately affects those already at the margins.
Second, we understand from financial experts that divestment can be compatible with sound investment practices. and will not necessarily negatively impact our portfolio. This is key, because we depend heavily on revenue from our endowment to advance our UU values throughout the world.
Third, this gives us an opportunity to boldly live our values in the wider world. By bringing more attention to this issue we hope to continue to make meaningful contributions to the larger movement to keep our planet healthy and livable for future generations.
To truly make progress on this critical issue will require all of us to be engaged for the long haul. Thank you for considering your support.
The Moderator: We have the motion and the Board's response by Julian Sharp. There was a GA Talk on the subject in yesterday afternoon's general session and there was a mini-assembly yesterday as well.
The language of the resolution is on page 98 and 99 of your program book. (We have incorporated certain amendments from the mini-assembly yesterday). Do we have any additional proposed amendments that were made at the miniassembly but not incorporated?
According to the Rules of Procedure you approved on Wednesday night, we have up to 30 minutes for debate. Speakers are limited to two minutes each and, as usual, will speak from the Pro microphone on your right, and the Con mike on your left. Any questions about the process should be made at the Procedures mike.
Are we ready with the timer in the tech deck? And do we have our off site delegates ready to participate?
I recognize the delegate at the Pro mike. Please give us your name and congregation you represent.
Speaker(s): [To be live-captioned.]
Thank you all; the motion passes. We all return to our congregations and begin a discernment process on how we will live our values in a world of climate change. It is not just about divesting fossil fuel equities, but making life-style changes and reducing our carbon foot print, perhaps more electronic meetings and less travel.
Special Collection to Support Standing on the Side of Love’s 5th Anniversary
The Moderator: Please welcome Meg Riley and Jennifer Toth, who are here to talk to you about Standing on the Side of Love.
MEG RILEY: I’m Meg Riley, one of the proud creators of Standing on the Side of Love, that baby which has now toddled off to its fifth birthday party! I would be remiss not to name the other two people who worked with me to birth Standing on the Side of Love, Helio Fred Garcia and Adam Gerhardstein. Speaking for myself, I can say that it was one of the most exhilarating and exhausting projects of my life. There are so many things I could say about it, but when Jen asked me to speak, here is what came to my mind.
Five years ago, on the plane to GA, I had one nagging obsession. Would our giant banners, hanging from the Salt Lake City Convention Center, make people think we were satanists? My sister, a graphic designer, had inserted this into a conversation. After our logo and colors were picked, after the printers were at work on the banners, she asked innocently, “Don’t you worry that people will associate the colors orange and black with Halloween and think UUs are satanists?” No, actually, I had never once thought that, not until she popped it into my consciousness where it now thrashed around. Ah, sisters!
I’d only been in Salt Lake City for a moment before my obsession diminished. The banners, inside and outside, were stunning. I stood with my suitcases at my feet, taking pictures with my phone through teary eyes. Others told me the images made them weep.
This goes to show that what you worry about is probably not the calamity that will befall. Never did I worry that lightning would strike the Salt Center, wrenching the giant outdoor banner to the ground. Never did I imagine recounting this story to the plenary the next morning via interpretive dance.
I also could not have imagined, then, how proud I would be to see that chalk heart, that garish yellow t-shirt, in times both somber and celebrative. Who could have imagined the progress five years would make towards marriage equality? Who could have imagined leaders so completely stalemated on reforms of the immigration or prison systems?
Through grief and delight, progress and stalemate, our beloved logo and t-shirts have helped us to remember who we are, find one another, and commit ourselves to another step forward. And now I’d like to welcome Jennifer Toth, our current Campaign Manager for Standing on the Side of Love!
JENNIFER TOTH: Thank you Meg! I’m eternally grateful for your vision, and I’m honored to carry the flame of your leadership.
I’d like you all to close your eyes for just a moment. Recall your first encounter with Standing on the Side of Love, the first time you were in a sea of yellow shirts, witnessing for what you believe in. Can you remember how that felt? Have you experienced how this campaign calls us to be our best selves?
One of my favorite pieces of feedback I have heard over the past nearly two years working with the campaign was a few months back, when I was part of the national Fast for Families Bus tour to advocate for immigration reform. Eliseo Medina, a leader on this trip and a longtime farmworker and worker rights advocate, said to me when he saw my bright yellow shirt—Aha! You’re with the Love People?! You know, they’ve shown up at nearly every single stop we have made, (and there were over 100 stops across the country). He said: We know we can always count on the Love People.
I believe that in just the past five years, you all, the Love People, have been changing the world.
In every single state that has won the freedom to marry for all, we WERE THERE!” From our initial victory in Massachusetts ten years ago, to states that have just passed marriage equality from Pennsylvania to Oregon, UUs have been there at every step of the way. AND in all the states that are currently working towards not only marriage equality, but also more inclusive LGBTQ policies: we WILL CONTINUE TO BE THERE. Let’s reflect on this—one day very soon, this time when you couldn’t marry the person you love everywhere across the country will be but a distant memory—and you all are making this happen!
Every time you show up at a rally, call or go into a Congressperson’s office, every time you sign a petition, even, yes when you like or share something on facebook or forward an email, every time you slip our iconic yellow shirt over your head, every time you unfurl our banner and march in the streets, march to a Capitol, march in step with someone who has faced oppression just because of who they are, or who they love—YOU are changing the world.
Let’s go on a quick trip down memory lane. Remember Justice GA? Let’s reflect on the great shift in our country on immigration in just the past two years. We have many accomplishments to celebrate, like the many cities and states across the country that are taking action on their own to protect immigrant families in their communities while we continue advocate for Federal action.
Here we are together in North Carolina just a few months back, called by our clergy there and the NAACP to join them in their Mass Moral March. We had close to 1500 UUs in Raleigh this past February, and UUs have been involved in creating Moral Monday inspired events in their home states, working on justice issues from an intersectional approach. Will you clap with me if you were in Phoenix or Raleigh, in body or spirit?
At this GA, we are celebrating many victories, including five years of the campaign. But even as we celebrate, we also know there is much work to be done. We know that everyday, families are still torn apart because of our broken immigration system, and we will need to remain tireless in our efforts until that changes. For all the many states where folks still cannot get married, we will remain diligent. For all the many ways that people still face oppression every day, we will continue to harness the power of love and build the beloved community together.
And we need your support. If everyone here in this room gives something, we can continue to grow. Maybe you can give $30—with that, we can send LOVE materials in the mail to a small congregation that could otherwise not afford it. Or perhaps it’s in your budget to give $75—which can help fund a partial scholarship for a seminarian to join with us and the College of Social Justice on a trip to the US Mexico border, who will then be able to work with immigrant justice groups on the ground.
I brought my checkbook, and I’m personally giving back $100 dollars today to this campaign, as part of my own commitment to live these values every single day. How about you—what can you give? Whatever the amount; it will truly make a big difference.
In just a moment, I’m going to share a joint project with All Souls, my UU home congregation in DC. We did a flash mob on the steps of the Supreme Court to raise awareness about the gutting of the Voting Rights Act one year ago.
Looking to the future: I hope we can join together to create even more positive change in our world. We will be expanding our advocacy to the intersections of mass incarceration, the New Jim Crow and access to voting rights, especially as we lead up to so many important 50th anniversaries of civil rights landmarks, and maybe you’ll also be called to start your own Love Flash Mob after seeing our video!
For five years now, we have reclaimed LOVE from a fuzzy feeling to show it is not just some flimsy sentiment; Love is mighty, fierce and revolutionary. And when need be, it can move mountains. Tonight, we will practice what we preach, and go out into the world as Love Evangelists at WaterFire. Tonight, we will be showing the world what we believe, that, in the words of Dr. Cornel West, “justice is what love looks like in public”. Let’s join together as evangelists on the side of love. I look forward to creating new memories with you all. Thank you.
The Moderator: Thank you Meg and Jennifer. While the tellers are continuing the collection of your donations, we get to do one of our favorite things...sing. Let's bring back our Music Director, David Glasgow.
GA Talk: Humanist and Theist in Conversation
The Moderator: Welcome the Rev. Meg Riley back to the stage to moderate our next GA Talk: Humanist and Theist in Conversation. Meg is, as you know, is the senior minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship. She is joined by Dr. Sharon Welch, Provost at Meadville Lombard Theological School. and the Rev. Joanna Crawford, the new incoming minister at Live Oak UU in Austin, Texas.
Meg: It sounds like the beginning of a joke…An atheist, a theist, and an agnostic walk into a bar…An atheist, a theist, and an agnostic walk onto the General Session stage…but here we are!
I don’t know about you, but sometimes as a minister, and as a person truly open about what language is used to convey the life and vitality and love of the universe around me, I feel as if I am constantly approached by people who feel unheard, unseen, and unrepresented. Theists tell me that they feel marginalized, ignored, discounted. Humanists tell me that they feel marginalized, ignored, discounted.
Sometimes I feel like saying, “How about a game of chess?”
Sometimes I do say, why don’t you talk to each other and leave me out of the middle? So, today, we want to have a conversation where Dr. Sharon Welch, who describes herself as an atheist, and Rev. Joanna Crawford, who describes herself as a theist, actually talk and listen with joy and attention to one another. We do this in the hopes that, back home, you might stimulate similar conversations. Too often, we back away from the uncomfortable conversations, from the places where we have different opinions. Perhaps a different game to play is to listen to one another’s stories, and search for common ground.
Sharon: I am a mystic, a political activist, and an atheist—an odd combination, I grant, but one that I come to naturally. I was raised in a religious tradition in which spirituality was inextricably bound with politics, in which the motive for prayer and service was not guilt or duty, but living fully, deeply, and well. For my parents and grandparents and many members of their churches, life was spirituality and spirituality was life. Service and belief in God did not require sacrifice of individual will, aspirations, or intellect—such religious practice was, rather, the chance to live out the best of one’s talents in response to nature, to people, to the particular opportunities for beauty and justice in one’s immediate world.
Spirituality was that which brought us into full engagement with the world around us.
For my parents, this work took many forms— serving as pastors, church administrators, farmers, activists in the liberal wing of the Democratic party, members of the hospital board, leaders of programs to empower teenagers. It was always fascinating to see what new avenues for activism and service they discovered. Their work was filled with laughter, exuberance, and a delightful absence of fanaticism or self-righteousness.
While their political activism and work in the church was grounded in a clear sense of the divine, they were aware that they could be wrong, that it was possible to feel led by the spirit and to misinterpret that leading. They brought two basic criteria, both collective, to their private and communal spirituality: 1) Do these spiritual practices and experiences make us more loving? Do they help us see the worth of everyone? and 2) Do these experiences change how we live?
I remember my fascination as a teenager with tales of angels. When I left for college in 1971, one of the stories being commonly told was of people picking up a hitchhiker, the hitchhiker telling them that Jesus would soon return to earth, and then the hitchhiker disappearing.
I told my father about these stories, certain that he would be thrilled at the announcement of the imminent return of the messiah. His response was measured and clear. "Well, Sharon, I don’t know if the people really saw an angel or not. What I would want to know is this—did that encounter change their life? Did it make them a better person?"
Joanna: I am a mystic, a political activist, and a theist. I was raised in an atheist Unitarian family where the focus was on what we did, and on our relationships. Spirituality … well, that term was never used, but my parents played gospel music and talked about their awe and wonder with science and the natural world. I was raised to believe that “doing right”—living morally, extending kindness, and working for justice—was simply what you did, not because of any God, but because of logic—if we all did that, the world would be a better place and we would all benefit.
I was like the title character in Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, quietly talking to God every night (without my parents knowing). Growing up UU, I was introduced to a range of religious belief and cobbled together my own understanding of God and Mystery. It all served me well enough. Until it didn’t.
I was an adult. A mom of four. An aspiring minister in seminary. And then, my 6 month old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. And it all came crashing down. And I was left with nothing. All of my beliefs were stripped away. It’s like there should be another word for something even beyond atheist.
There was no God, no call, no arc of the universe, no meaning at all. My soul was just dry sand. Because what kind of God could there be, what kind of meaning could there be, in a world where a baby could get cancer?
She got better. Slowly, I did, too.
I didn’t believe in God. And yet, I would find myself … missing God. Not the facile understanding of a God, of a world where “everything happens for a reason.” No, that was gone. And good riddance. But that connection to something larger than myself. That experience of communion, of relationship, of being called out of my own self to something greater … I missed that.
This is where some might patronizingly say, “Well, I guess some people need that sort of thing.” Or less kindly, talk of imaginary friends or “woo woo.”
A more generous UU sent me a quote by John Shelby Spong: "I do not experience God as a supernatural power, external to life invading my world in supernatural power. I see no evidence to think this definition is real. The problem is that most people have most deeply identified this definition of God with God that when this definition dies the victim of expanded knowledge, we think that God has died."
And that gave me permission to explore other definitions.
Sharon: At this point in my life, I don’t believe in God. I know of no concepts, symbols, or images of God, Goddess, gods, or divinity that I find intellectually credible, emotionally satisfying, or ethically challenging in the face of evil and the complexity of life. I do know, however, of spiritual practices that do change our lives, that help us see where we are wrong, that propel us to work for justice, that provide a sense of meaning and joy.
There are spiritual practices that are intellectually credible, emotionally comforting, and ethically challenging, habits of individual and collective attention, meditation, reflection, and physical ecstasy that can sustain us as we work for justice. I don’t think that life makes sense, but I do know that there can be joy and wonder in the service of beauty and justice. As I told my father shortly before his death, "You don’t have to believe in God in order to serve God."
Joanna: So, a couple of years later … the cancer came back. I didn’t have the protection of shock and ignorance this time. It was liking being the living embodiment of a scream. I was in Hell. Worse, Hell was in me.
I have talked and written before that my goal in life is to try to love the hell out of this world. This is simply a response to the fact that I feel like this world tried to love the hell out of me.
The world came to my doorstep. Friends, acquaintances, total strangers. They sent cards, they did good deeds in her name, mailed us hats, handmade clothes, prayers.
The world loved the hell out of us. People of all different income and educational levels. Different religions. Different politics. They all had Love to give. They gave it abundantly. My daughter was healed with medicine, and all of us were healed with love.
For me, God is a process. A persuasive verb. An arc that bends toward justice, if you will. And this force of love, running through all who will open themselves up to it, calls us—each of us, little "events" ourselves—to be the hands and feet of God, of love, of whatever you want to call it.
Meg: Listening to Sharon and Joanna tell their stories, what I hear is that both of them are interested in how people live responsible, ethical, joyful, lives. They want their faith, their beliefs, to lead them to be generous, justice-centered, honest, ever-evolving, loving, people. And they want the people in their communities to share those values as well. Joanna and Sharon, did I get that right? Is that what you want? And what do you want from each other?
Sharon: To be the hands and feet of God, to be the hands and feet of justice and love—the world needs us all, the world invites us all into greater fellowship, into more creative service.
Joanna—I am so deeply concerned about the polarizing politics that are paralyzing our democracy. Every time I hear of another school shooting, another victory of politicians committed to doing all they can to stop gun control and prevent immigration reform, another threat of war, I realize how much we need each other! I learned the values of justice and compassion from theists, and I am now a humanist. You learned them from humanists, and you are now a theist. Can we live our values together as Unitarian Universalists?
Joanna: I am honored to walk beside you, as we struggle for justice.
Sharon, for most of us, there will come the dark night of the soul. We will lose hope. We will find ourselves without answers, our hearts broken. We will need someone to love the hell out of us. When I am shattered, when I am in despair, will you sit with me? I learned the values of justice and compassion from humanists, and I am now a theist. You learned them from theists, and you are now a humanist. Can we live our values together as Unitarian Universalists?
Sharon: I am honored to sit beside you when your heart is broken.
Meg: So I would like to know from you, from all of you, will you work with Sharon and Joanna to address the polarizing politics that are paralyzing our democracy? Will you stand shoulder to shoulder with atheists and with theists, to work for justice? If so, please call out, WE WILL!
And will you be with Joanna and Sharon when they face their hardest times, when their hearts are broken? Will you sit by the side of theists and atheists, to love the hell out of them? If so, please call out—WE WILL!
Then I think it is official. New game ON!
The Moderator: I am liking these GA Talks, arn't you?
Presentation: Angus McLean Award
The Moderator: Welcome Jessica York, Faith Development Director for the presentation of the Angus McLean Award.
Jessica York: Angus Hector MacLean is one of our Universalist ancestors, a religious educator and minister whose legacy is central to our identity still today: religious education that is child-centered, religious education which insists on relevance to the life of the participant of any age. MacLean espoused experiential, hands-and-full-body-on learning that involves all our senses and anticipates diversity in the ways we each learn and grow. If you have ever heard the phrase “the method is the message”, you know something about Angus MacLean.
MacLean served the St. Lawrence Theological School as professor of religious education and dean. In 1972, the school’s Alumni Association and the UUA’s Religious Education Department created the annual Angus MacLean Award for Excellence in Religious Education. For 43 years, the MacLean Award has honored someone who understands that religious education is crucial to sustaining our faith and who has lived in bold service to this call. This year, I present the award to Rev. Dr. Nita Penfold.
Angus MacLean asked us to recognize that how religion is taught is just as important as what is taught. Nita Penfold’s work for our faith exemplifies this understanding. A multi-disciplinary artist with degrees in divinity, the arts, and communication and certifications in Montessori Education and music, Nita is an educator whose many gifts help us understand and explore how faith development can, indeed, must, be nurtured among people of all ages and abilities. As one of its creators, Nita’s name will forever be identified with the program Spirit Play, a Unitarian Universalist adaptation of Jerome Berryman's Godly Play, which is based in the Montessori philosophy that encourages independent thinking through wondering questions. Numerous religious educators have participated in the more than 100 Spirit Play trainings Nita has led. Spirit Play programs are happening in congregations all across the country and parts of Spirit Play, including wondering questions, independent learning activities, and story baskets, have become woven into the DNA of many of our religious education programs.
To quote Angus MacLean: “It has been said that liberal religion is a ‘do it yourself kit.’ But there is a danger that we would make it a kit not only without blueprint but without tools and materials.” A religious educator, especially, is charged to find the tools and materials, and if sometimes even present possible blueprints, to inspire and nurture the faith development of others. Nita Penfold has taken this charge to heart and gone well beyond to share resources across our faith.
Spirit Play is not the only tool Nita has given us with which to work. Nita, you bless us by being an educator: preschool teacher, Montessori teacher, drama teacher, writing instructor, Renaissance leader, Unitarian Universalist religious educator. Through your over 21 years of service as director of religious education at the Milton, Lexington and Melrose, Massachusetts congregations and as a teacher of spirituality and arts classes at Andover Newton Theological School, a writing workshop leader at Star Island and Ferry Beach, a teacher in community outreach programs in Massachusetts, and an author for the UUA’s own Tapestry of Faith core curriculum, you have helped hundreds of educators incorporate the arts into curriculum.
Nita, you bless us by being an artist: visual artist, award-winning poet, curriculum writer, singer. The light you shine on women’s spirituality, the transcendent beauty of our everyday lives, and the serious work of play reminds us of the ways art both expresses and expands our human spirit. I do not believe the educator can be separated from the artist, for as one member of the Melrose congregation remarked, “Your ministry is integrated into all aspects of your life.”
Nita, you are a generous, loving, yet forceful spirit, who is not afraid to speak up in defense of gentler souls and who does not ever check her values or her intelligence at the door. More yet, you encourage others—children, youth, adults, elders, teachers, religious educators, artists—to play their spirits out into the world, creating love, celebrating life, growing in faith.
Assembly, I give you the recipient of the 2014 Angus H. MacLean Award for Excellence in Religious Education: Reverend Dr. Nita Penfold.
Nita: As religious educators, most of us toil behind the scenes, doing the work we are called to do with little expectation of reward. The work itself has to be enough. So it is somewhat of a surprise to find that people somewhere have been paying attention. I am overwhelmed and greatly honored by this award. Thank you.
The Moderator: Congratulations to Nita Penfold for this well deserved recognition.
UU Women’s Federation Report
The Moderator: The UU Women's Federation is an organization that advances justice for women. The UUWF is an independent non-profit, 501 (c) (3) corporation and one of only three associate member organizations of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
The UUWF was formed in 1963 through consolidation of the Association of Universalist Women, which was founded in 1869 and believed to be the first organization of lay church women in the United States, and the Alliance of Unitarian Women, founded in 1890.
Please welcome Kirstie Lewis, President of the UU Women’s Federation.
I begin my first General Assembly report as president of the UU Women’s Federation’s by reminding you of our mission [slide 2]: advancing justice for women and girls and supporting their spiritual growth.
How do we implement that mission? Certainly through our three funding programs, but education and advocacy also comprise a major portion of UUWF’s work. In 2002, [slide 3] for example, we founded the UUWF Clara Barton Internship for Women’s Issues in the UUA’s Washington Center. Jessica Halperin, [slide 4] who was the intern when the General Assembly adopted the 2012-16 reproductive justice study/action issue, helped call UUs to action on this issue by both assembling the congregational resource packet and writing the curriculum on reproductive justice. Hanna Christianson, [slide 5] our current intern, continues the work of providing resources and opportunities for congregations and their leaders to advocate for justice issues specific to women.
This aspect of our work [slide 6] assumed an exciting new dimension last fall with the appointment of Rev. Marti Keller [slide 7] as our affiliated minister. We see her ministry as parallel to the UUA’s “Congregations and Beyond” initiative, which refocuses the UUA as both an association of congregations and the epicenter of a liberal religious movement. While our affiliated ministry benefits our traditional members, it extends beyond congregations to embrace the many other women who identify as UUs and see themselves as participating in the UU movement.
The legislative part [slide 8] of Rev Keller’s ministry addresses UUWF’s key public policy priorities. She works with the UUA and other partner organizations in public witness and grassroots organizing around reproductive justice, immigration reform, economic justice, domestic violence, and sex trafficking as these issues impact women and girls. Her weekly blog [slide 9] on our website keeps us up to date on those issues, and Rev. Keller also provides valuable advice to our UUWF leadership on advocacy initiatives. This includes recommendations to sign onto amicus briefs, statements in support of legislation (or not), and letters to congressional representatives.
Another goal [slide 10] of Rev. Keller’s ministry references Dr. Cynthia Grant Tucker’s groundbreaking book “Prophetic Sisterhood,” the story of the mid-19th century female Unitarian ministers who became the voice of liberal religion in the Midwest. Rev. Keller seeks to create a New Prophetic Sisterhood [slide 11] among ordained and fellowshipped UU women ministers, whom she envisions as supporting her ministry’s other goals and participating in a new demographic study of women in UU ministry today.
Rev. Keller’s proactive professional connections [slide12] with UU seminaries and theological schools, as well as with organizations such as UUMA, LREDA, and DRUUMM, and with her UUA staff colleagues will also deepen the work of the Federation’s three funding programs.
What are those programs? Our Equity and Justice [slide 13] Grants Program awards funds to UU congregations and organizations to support justice projects that improve the lives of women and girls and address the root causes of gender oppression.
At this GA we’re proud to highlight “Amigas de Amado,” [slide 14] a project we awarded an Equity and Justice Grant in 2012. Women from the UU Congregation of Green Valley, Arizona, are using their $5,000 grant for activities that help empower marginalized Hispanic women and girls in their congregation’s home community of Amado. Their work [slide 15] has included hosting craft/art workshops as a venue in which self-esteem issues were addressed; assisting at a local youth center’s after school homework sessions—critical for young girls who may not have English-speaking parents or guardians in their homes—and teaching English as a second language, in both formal classes and as part of their other activities. Especially rewarding has been the relationship the UU women have established with the local Hispanic church, where they are helping the congregation renovate a camp for their children.
Our Margaret Fuller Grants Program [slide 16] supports UU women doing scholarly and accessible work in UU religious feminisms. Here in Providence we featured Rev. Susanne Nazian’s [slide 17] 2013 funded project, a book about “The Woman’s Congress,” an event held in conjunction with the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. A significant number of Unitarian and Universalist women [slide 18] helped plan and participated in the Congress, and Rev. Nazian’s book will partially focus on the concepts and ideas these women put forward and how their contributions reflect a feminist theology from a UU perspective.
Our third funding program is named for the late Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley [slide 19] and gives scholarships for general support to individuals who identify as women of color, Latina, or Hispanic and who are either aspirants or candidates for the UU ministry or are enrolled in the UUA’s religious education or music leadership credentialing programs. Since creating this program in 2009 [slide 20] we have given scholarships to a dozen women, and this year’s recipient, Ranwa Hammamy, is preparing for the ministry at Union Theological Seminary.
In closing, none of what I have spoken to you about today would be possible without the financial support of our members and the generous amounts of time and energy our volunteers contribute. If you aren’t a member, [slide 21] there’s still time for you to join by visiting our booth in the display area. If you miss that chance, visit us our website and click the Donate/Join button on the home page. Go to UUWF.org—it’s easy to remember.
The Moderator: Thank you for that report, Kirstie.
GA Talk: Living our Witness@WaterFire
The Moderator: “Love is the spirit of this church.” So begins a well-loved and often-used passage adapted from the words of the Rev. James Vila Blake, a UU minister in Evanston, Illinois.
These words are often spoken in the life of our faith. Many congregations speak them communally every week as part of their worship. At this General Assembly, we have been deeply engaged for the past three days in how love is the spirit of Unitarian Universalism, and what love reaching out looks like for us—individually and collectively.
I’m delighted to present a stirring example of what love looks like (YouTube)—and how it reaches out—when it is authentically lived out in our movement. The Sanctuaries is a soulful community in Washington, DC, led by UU minister Rev. Erik Martinez Resly, that empowers social change through the creative arts. They have a message for you: love reaches out.
The Moderator: I hope you were as inspired as I was by the Sanctuaries DC and their message of love. These entrepreneurial and missional communities have much to teach us on how to Get Religion in this century.
If you heard my moderator’s report yesterday, you know a little about me and what evangelism means to me. For me, UU evangelism isn’t about changing peoples’ minds or changing their beliefs. It’s about touching their hearts and inspiring greater love in the world. And that’s exactly what we have been building toward this week—engaging with the power of love and preparing ourselves to actually practice reaching out in love.
I want to bring up a fellow evangelist now, someone who embodies the love we are all about and believes in sharing it. Please welcome Alex Kapitan, Congregational Advocacy & Witness Program Coordinator for the UUA.
Alex Kapitan: Hello General Assembly! Are you feeling the love?
I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. I said are you feeling the love?
Alright then! Well my name is Alex Kapitan, I work for your national headquarters, I am a lifelong UU, and I am here to testify for love.
What do you think about love? What do you really think? Because I’ve seen the eye-rolls. I’ve heard the grumbling: why are we talking about something soft and squishy like love when there’s injustice that needs to be battled right now.
But let me tell you something: “When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life.” “I’m talking about love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. I’m talking about understanding goodwill for all humankind.”
Those are Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words. He was 26 years old when he was tapped to be the leader of the Montgomery bus boycott. How many people do you think told him he was naïve to believe in love?
He wasn’t naïve. Neither I am. Practicing love—not affectionate love, but unconditional love—toward people who perpetuate injustice is HARD. It is HARD. But working toward a world where all people—ALL people, even the people I struggle with—are able to thrive and live in harmony? It’s worth it.
That’s Beloved Community. Beloved Community is not an enclave. In Beloved Community, there is no US and no THEM. If, as King preached, we projected the ethic of love to the center of our lives, there could be no injustice, no war, no inhuman treatment.
There is no greater justice cause. There is no greater spiritual imperative, than love.
Do you believe in the power of love?
Excuse me, I said Do you believe in the power of love?
If you believe, or if you want to believe, then join me in being an evangelist for love! Join me in spreading the good news that because of love, a better world is possible.
Will you join me? Tonight we get the ultimate opportunity. At our public witness event tonight, we are going to witness for love. Every year at General Assembly we stand on the side of love and witness for justice. This year we are going to witness for the greatest justice cause of all.
We are going to prepare our hearts at our Make Way For Love worship service right here, and then we are going to process to the riverfront and join the Providence community for a local community arts festival called WaterFire. We are going to have the chance to light fires on the river, join in this community event, and infuse it with love. There’s going to be all kinds of love happening. Check out the flyer you got on the way in for more info.
We are the sponsor and hosts of this festival, in partnership with the nonprofit that runs it, because we want everyone there to feel the love. We want to meet each other, engage with each other, invite each other to act on love and justice and spirit. Just for tonight, what if there was no US or THEM? What would it feel like to practice that and take it home with you?
This event gives us a chance to really practice love reaching out. I want you to consider how you can embody unconditional love through your actions. Don’t just think about love, ACT on it.
How can each of us be an evangelist for love, each in our own way? What will you do to cross borders, be bold, and practice something new tonight? What will you say when someone asks you “what is this love stuff all about?” Or “what is Unitarian Universalism?”
Tonight we will celebrate the fifth anniversary of our Standing on the Side of Love campaign and we will proclaim to tens of thousands of people that love can create a better world. Are you with me?
Then I’ll see you tonight!
The Moderator: Thank you Alex for that report. I am coaching him on how to be a little more enthusiastic in his delivery.
The Moderator: There being no further business to come before us and in accordance with the schedule set forth in your program book, I declare that this General Session of the General Assembly shall stand in recess until Sunday, June 29 at 8:00 a.m.