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General Session VII, General Assembly 2014

General Assembly 2014 Event 503

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Order of Business


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 Seventh General Session of the Fifty-Third General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

How is everyone doing this morning. An early call for our 7th general session. We have a great session ahead and Sunday morning worship with thousands of Unitarian Universalists (UUs); always a great experience. So are you ready to do our Association's business?

Declare Election Results

The Moderator: OK, so I now call on Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, you remember her don't you, to declare our election results.

Susan: There were five elected positions to be decided at this General Assembly: that of Financial Advisor, as well as four open positions on the Board of Trustees. As each of the elections was uncontested, according to our bylaws article 9.10.1, they are to be declared without balloting. The position of Financial Advisor, to fulfill the remaining two years of a three year term after a vacancy in this past year, goes to Lawrence Ladd.The four elected members of the Board ofTrustees, each to serve a three year term are:

  • Rev. Andy Burnette
  • Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs
  • Christina Rivera
  • Susan Weaver

Please help me congratulate these volunteers on their willingness to serve our beloved Association in these important and often quite demanding roles.

UU Service Committee Report

The Moderator: Thank you Susan. Now please give a warm welcome to an old friend of the UUA, The Rev. Dr. Bill Scultz, President of the UU Service Committee. The UUSC and the UUA are working collaboratively together as evidenced by the jointly sponsored College of Social Justice, that you will hear from a little later. One of the first notes I got soon after my election was from Bill inviting the UUA Board to join the UUSC staff and board members to underscore this new spirit of collaboration. Bill, welcome.

Bill Schultz: [Begin Slide #1] Here is the most dazzling philosophical retort of which I have ever heard. We all know that mathematically and linguistically a double negative amounts to a positive. If I say, “I don’t think you’re not an idiot,” you ought not to be flattered. The great linguistic philosopher, [Slide #2] J. L. Austin, was once lecturing at Columbia University and made the assertion that though two negatives make a positive, [Slide #3] it is never the case that two positives make a negative to which a member of the audience, Sidney Morgenbesser, himself a great philosopher, shouted out dismissively, [Slide #4] “Yeah, yeah.”

When I read that story many years ago, I decided not to become a philosopher. I was just not smart enough. I had [Slide #5] never been good with numbers or computational logic or math. In fact, I flunked Algebra I in high school and had to attend summer school, the only compensation for which was that Tippi Canfield, the most beautiful 14-year old girl in the City of Pittsburgh, did too. My parents could not understand that summer my new-found passion for algebra.

Nonetheless, this morning, in an attempt to confront my numero-phobia, I’m going to show you some numbers because they tell more quickly than words alone can what a remarkable organization the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is.

Here’s the first one: 75. [Slide #6] That’s how old we’ll turn in this coming year. Here’s another one: 30%. [Slide #7] That’s how much our budget has grown since 2011 [from $6.3 million to $8.2 million this coming fiscal year.] 81%: [Slide #8] that’s how much of that budget we spend on helping people and only 19% on overhead. It’s one reason we received this year a number of which we’re particularly proud: 4. [Slide #9] That’s the number of stars we have been awarded by Charity Navigator for transparency and efficient use of funds. It’s the highest rating you can get and it means that every penny you give UUSC is spent wisely and productively.

But [Slide #10] how many people do you really help when you help UUSC? Most of you know that we work in four program areas: the human [Slide #11] right to water; economic justice; [Slide #12] political liberties; [Slide #13] and rights at risk [Slide #14] from human or natural disasters, such as our new work with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. What you may not know is that we do that work in 15 countries [Slide #15] and the United States; that we do it with 55 program partners [Slide #16] around the world; and that two-thirds [Slide #17] of our work is international and one-third [Slide #18] domestic.

Here are some numbers that will give you a little sense of our success:

  • 200 [Slide #19]—That’s the number of former child slaves in Haiti to whom we’ve taught a sustainable trade.
  • 2000 [Slide #20]—That’s the number of people whose farms we are rebuilding in the Philippines following the typhoon there.
  • 10,000 [Slide #21]—That’s the number of Haitians we’ve treated for trauma over the years since the devastating earthquake hit Port-au-Prince
  • $600,000 [Slide #22]—That’s the amount of back wages we’ve retrieved so far for poultry workers in Arkansas whose wages the big poultry companies have stolen from them.
  • 1 million [Slide #23]—That’s the number of trees and seedlings we’ve planted in Kenya to reforest the land there.
  • $27,000,000 [Slide #24]—That’s the amount we forced a corporation called Goldcorps to pay to clean up the water supplies of eighteen communities of Mayan Indians whose water had been turned toxic by the runoff from Goldcorps’ mines.

Joseph Stalin [Slide #25] famously said, “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.” So enough with the statistics; enough with the numbers. But I hope they give you some sense of how effective and far-reaching your Service Committee is. I want you to be proud of all that is being accomplished in your name. And in a moment Kathleen McTigue, Director of the UU College of Social Justice, a joint program of UUSC and the UUA’s, will tell you how you can do justice directly, if you want to.

But finally I want to tell you why UUSC exists in the first place; why I have done this work for justice for fifty years; and maybe why you have too. It came to me in an instant about ten years ago in the middle of a horrendous refugee camp in Darfur, Sudan, 90,000 teeming people who had been burned out of their villages, their menfolk murdered, many of the women raped and battered. It was in that camp that I met a young woman who, amid the utter squalor and degradation, her clothes, such as they were, tattered and falling off her, wore around her neck a lovely piece of jewelry—just glass no doubt but a turquoise-colored glass that sparkled constantly in the relentless sun.

At first I thought it was a religious symbol and I asked our Arabic-speaking translator to ask her what it was. “She says ‘It is me.’” he told me. At first I didn’t understand and thought she had simply said “It is mine” and he had mistranslated. “What did she say?” I asked. “Did she say it is hers?” “No,” he said definitively, “She said, ‘It is me.’” And suddenly I understood.

I have led such a blessed life. Two loving parents; no experience of want; the gift of the sun has never been a threat to me; my life has rarely been in danger; I kiss the earth with my gratitude, the gifts of Creation mine for the asking.

But…when you are in a refugee camp with nowhere to shelter, the gift of the sun becomes not a blessing but a curse. When you are in constant fear for your life, the gifts of grace—a starry night, a baby’s coo, the color purple, your lover’s smile—are almost impossible to see. They are there but they are hiding behind toxic water and men with machine guns and only bread, if that, to feed your family.

This piece of jewelry, this small, sparkling piece of glass around my neck: “This is me!” This is how I know that, though I am mere brute flesh, bone, water, swollen tongue, excrement-stained thighs, my most private parts exposed for all to see, that though I am brute flesh right now in this horrific camp, I am not just those things and there is more to life than this. There is also flash and color, dazzlement and decoration. I can wear a piece of turquoise glass around my neck and call it beautiful. I can wear a piece of turquoise glass around my neck to remind me of the gifts of grace. This glass is me because even here…I am a human being…still.

This is why UUSC exists. In that instant I understood why I did this work and maybe why you do too. To give back of course for my good fortune but, even more than that, to do what I can to strip the varnish from life’s blessings, to take down the walls that block its favors and to defeat all that which would blind us to Creation’s grace so that at least a few more people might know its comfort and at least a few more people be able to say, “I am a human being. Still.”

UU College of Social Justice Report

The Moderator: Bill, thank you. I am pleased to introduce, Rev. Kathleen McTigue to bring us to date on what is happening at the UU College of Social Justice. Kathleen was, like Bill, one of the first to reach out to me soon after my election, eager to talk about the College of Social Justice. And she introduced me to a great coffee shop in Boston, I should add. The Thinking Cup on Tremont. Give it up for Kathleen.

[Begin Slide #1] The great Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel, wrote, "The beginning of faith is not a feeling for the mystery of living or a sense of awe... The root of religion is the question what to do with [these feelings]... Religion begins with a consciousness that something is asked of us…”

Religion begins with the consciousness that something is asked of us. This is not a foreign idea for us as Unitarian Universalists, of course. This hands-on, grounded-in-the-world religion of ours is not about a private feeling of happiness or well-being, or even feelings of gratitude or reverence, but what we do with those feelings: especially how they lead us to turn our gaze outward, toward a fractured world, and put the weight of our lives on the side of its mending.

The UU College of Social Justice [Slide #2] was created to help us find new ways to do this. During the busy two years of our existence so far, we have created different kinds of programs all designed to help participants grow [Slide #3] in three ways: gain a deeper understanding of structural injustice; be inspired by new ways to work for justice; and find grounding and sustenance in the spiritual truths of our faith.

Experiential learning [Slide #4] is where we focus our programs, because we believe the most powerful kind of learning—- the kind that sometimes leads us to literally change our lives—- comes not from books or films or lectures or sermons, but from direct, first-hand experience [Slide #5] that takes us out of our comfort zones and shows us something new about our world and our place in it.

So we’ve created three different kinds of programs. First, we offer short-term journeys [Slide #6] of a week to two weeks. These are pilgrimages of faith and solidarity, linking us to people [Slide #7] on the front lines of justice struggles in our own country and abroad.

We support the programs with a short course of study [Slide #8] on the politics and history of the place and people. We focus on how we can deeply ground ourselves in our faith, not only by thinking or talking about what we believe, but through contemplative practices of prayer [Slide #9], meditation and worship that hold us open to new learning.

This year [Slide #10] we’ll bring groups to Chicago (worker justice), Arizona and Mexico [Slide #11] (immigrant rights), Mississippi [Slide #12] with the Living Legacy Project (civil rights pilgrimage); India [Slide #13] with the Holdeen India Program (land rights and gender justice) and Haiti [Slide #14] (just recovery).

Our second area is for high school youth: [Slide #15] we offer intensive trainings that help them build community with their peers, and develop their own ways to manifest our faith through justice work. This summer [Slide #16] we have one- and two-week gatherings in Boston and New Orleans, and we just held our first annual one-day GA training here in Providence! Our Mississippi Journey [Slide #17] is intergenerational, so there will be a focus for high school youth in that July program as well. In the coming year we will explore youthfocused service-learning journeys, particularly within the U.S., so if your youth group is interested in developing these new opportunities, please contact us!

Our third area is focused on young adults, [Slide #18] especially those of college age. We have created summer-long internships with justice partners in the US and as far afield as this placement in Kenya last year. These young adults experience effective social change up close. We support them in both spiritual growth and vocational discernment through weekly reflections, and by linking them to one of the UU ministers serving as Program Leaders to the College. Last summer [Slide #19]we had nine internships; this summer [Slide #20] we have grown it to fifteen!

We’re really excited about expanding our internships, because we know that these young adults represent [Slide #21] the long-term future of our faith. A key part of our mission is to help them envision new ways to find themselves within a vibrant, relevant Unitarian Universalism.

In the coming year we’ll grow our other programs as well. Next spring [Slide #22] we’ll pilot a program focused on the rights of indigenous people in North America; our partner will be the Lummi Nation Service Organization, in the Puget Sound area of Washington state.

We’re partnering with the UUA’s Central East Regional Group [Slide #23] to bring groups of volunteers to Long Island, to help the long rebuilding after the damage done by Hurricane Sandy. And we’re piloting opportunities for skilled adults [Slide #24] in retirement, who would like to put their lifetime of skills to work with one of our partner organizations within the U.S. or abroad.

As I’ve outlined this rapid program growth of the UU College of Social Justice [Slide #25 and/or alternate between this slide and screen of Kathleen as she is speaking for the remainder of the presentation], I hope the core elements of what we’re trying to accomplish shine through. Though the programs differ from each other in structure, destination and the age groups we’re targeting, central to all of them is the bright flame of our mission: to inspire and sustain faith-based justice work on issues of local, national and global importance.

One of the reasons experiential learning is such a powerful way to support this lofty goal is because it gets into us in a way that intellectual understanding alone does not. When we meet and work alongside people whose struggles are very different from ours, the result can be a real shift in how we perceive and move through our world. We learn new truths about inequality, both within the U.S. and between nations. We expand our field of vision, and understand more deeply our own position in the matrix of privilege and power.

Yet there are real pitfalls in this work. Shortterm journeys are often criticized as unhelpful, or even damaging. North Americans on service trips to the global south can be naive at best, paternalistic or self-serving at worst. Even when we think we’re going with our eyes open, we can bring along the invisible baggage of our assumptions or privilege. Though we don’t mean to, sometimes we unconsciously support the very frameworks of injustice we want to challenge.

To avoid these pitfalls, the College builds our programs around three core elements. First, they are grounded in justice partnerships with organizations that are led by the people they serve—people marginalized by our political and economic structures. We enter not as top-down helpers, but as allies working in solidarity to change unjust structures. The UUA and UUSC have long-term relationships with our partner organizations, and the programs we organize are part of building that connection.

Second, our framework of study, reflection and preparation grounds us in our faith, and in justice education. Participants learn about our destination and the organization we’ll visit, and about the systems and structures that impact the host community. But we are also learning to study ourselves: to see where we each stand in the matrix of privilege and power, and to be more aware of all the things that shape our points of view. As we try to change the world, we’re also open to being changed.

And third, we focus not on the help we might give while on a short-term journey, but on how the inspiration and learning of the journey can translate into new commitments for justice on our return. It is perfectly possible, for instance, to spend ten days repairing houses from Hurricane Sandy destruction without really seeing how vast the difference in impact has been across communities, how terribly slanted aid has been by race and class. It is possible to spend a week trying to help people in Haiti, without ever hearing Haitians themselves tell you what they need, or comprehending the decades of harm done there by the United States. It is possible to immerse in the tensions and struggle of our border regions with Mexico without finding ourselves in that immigration narrative, without gaining a handle on how we might put our own small weight on the side of justice there.

Our programs help you find yourself in the story. They help you prepare for a boundary-crossing experience, and then to take the insight and inspiration you gain and translate these into new ways you can make a difference. Because our faith is not something we simply feel: it is something we enact. We look forward to having you join us on the journey!

Debate and Vote on Actions of Immediate Witness

The Moderator: Thank you Kathleen. Yesterday you voted to place three actions of immediate witness on today’s agenda. Today, we will take up each of the three items. According to the Rules we adopted on Wednesday, we will have up to 20 minutes of debate for each AIW. The mini-assembly to offer amendments was held yesterday morning. So let me once again turn to Susan Goekler.

SUSAN GOEKLER: At the Mini-assemblies yesterday, delegates proposed amendments to the proposed AIWs. The Commission on Social Witness reviewed the proposed amendments and incorporated some. Those we decided not to include appear at the end of each proposed AIW. During the discussion, delegates may go to the Amendment mike at ask either to unincorporate an incorporated amendment or to incorporate an unincorporatred amendment. Also during this discussion time, those supporting an AIW may speak at the Pro micophone.

The Commission on Social Witness moves to adopt the proposed AIW-1 as revised in today's CSW Alert.

The Moderator: Thank you Susan. Before allowing any amendments, I will ask the AIW proposer to speak in favor of that issue.

I recognize the delegate at the Pro mike.

Speaker: [To be live-captioned.]

[AIW A, Support the “Pray for Relief” Faith Summit on Stopping Deportations, is adopted.]

SUSAN GOEKLER: The Commission on Social Witness moves to adopt the proposed AIW-3 as revised in today's CSW Alert.

The Moderator: I recognize the delegate at the Pro mike.

Speaker: [To be live-captioned.]

[With some amendments, AIW C, Affirming Congregational Commitment to Gun Violence Prevention, is adopted.]

SUSAN GOEKLER: The Commission on Social Witness moves to adopt the proposed AIW-2 as revised in today's CSW Alert.

The Moderator: I recognize the delegate at the Pro mike.

Speaker: [To be live-captioned.]

[With some amendments, AIW F, UUA Support for “Uganda New Underground Railroad” to Safety Extract LGBTQ People from Persecution in Uganda, is adopted.]

Presentation: Presidential Award for Volunteer Service

The Moderator: We are going to reprise President Peter Morales for an important presentation.

Rev. Peter Morales: Every year, when the selection of the recipient of the president’s award for volunteer service comes up, I always ask colleagues for recommendations. This year the name of Kathy Burek kept coming up over and over. And with good reason, for Kathy has been at the center of important changes in our association—changes that go to the heart of how we relate to one another across our congregations.

Kathy is well-known in her home congregation, the Michael Servetus Unitarian Society in Fridley, MN. Nearly every year since joining in 1979, she has taught in the Religious Education program. She rolled up her sleeves taking on the leadership of the board, the strategic planning committee—several times—and the Committee on Ministry, helping to chart to the way forward.

Kathy has served the wider movement as president of Prairie Star District and president of the District President’s Association. Being both a district president and president of all the district presidents gave her an important perspective on our efforts to reimagine how our districts and our national association align with one another. Kathy was the convener of the transition team that led to the creation of the Mid-America Region. This work brought over 200 congregations in the Central MidWest, Heartland and Prairie Star Districts, together, into one region.

Now, all of this can sound kind of wonky and far removed from practicing our faith. This reimagining of our relationships, however, is crucial to our success. It is all about working collaboratively together and freeing up dedicated volunteers to focus on our mission and our ministry.

Kathy, thank you for helping to lead the way to our new future.

To honor her remarkable service, the UUA will make a $1000 donation to Alexandra House whose mission is to end domestic and sexual violence. Kathy chose this organization that is supported in part by her home congregation.

Please join me in congratulating Kathy Burek.

Kathy Burek: President Morales, thank you so much for this award. I am deeply honored.

As leaders in our Unitarian Universalist faith, all of you here know that no one ever accomplishes anything of significance alone. There are many others who contributed immeasurably to the projects I worked on. I regret I can mention only a few by name.

Amy Taylor of Heartland District, Rev. Brian Covell and Rev. Bill Sasso of Central Midwest District—you are more than colleagues, you are cherished friends. Our dedicated staff, the members of our district boards, UUA Leadership and the UUA Board provided much-needed support and encouragement through our regionalization process.

Phil Reed, Janet Richardi, Gail Sphar, Ramon Urbano, and Jim Key, as members of the Role of Districts Task Force of the District Presidents’ Association—I appreciate the two years of diligent work, insights, and contributions to our report.

Members and staff of the Employee Benefits Trust Board, past and present— your dedication has created a plan we can be proud of.

Finally, I express my deepest gratitude to my husband, Ed, for his willingness to put up with many hours of phone meetings, emails, document drafting, out-of-town trips, etc. I know you’ve given up a lot to support my work.

Thank you again, President Morales, for this award. I will strive to be worthy of it.


The Moderator: Would you like to sing? Let's bring back David Glasgow for some more singing.

Debate and Vote on Proposed Amendments to C-2.3 Regarding Inclusion

The Moderator: Thank you Jonathon

Our next item of business today is to consider and vote on the proposed Changes to Section C-2.3 Regarding Inclusion. The text is found at page 97 of the Final Agenda. The mini-assembly concerning this amendment was held Friday. You will recall that this is a C bylaw, which is one that takes two years for two successive general assemblies ratify by a majority vote. This was passed overwhelmingly last year and awaits a second vote.

Will the First Vice-Moderator make the appropriate motion.

Donna: Moved: That the proposed Changes to Section C-2.3 Regarding Inclusion, found at page 97 of the Final Agenda, be adopted by this Assembly.

The Moderator: I call upon Michael Sallwasser, UUA Trustee at large to give the position of the Board of Trustees.

Michael: Fifty years ago, when we first included a nondiscrimination clause in our bylaws, discrimination was the law in many states. For our congregations to include this statement in the same article as our principles, our sources, and our purposes was important… and groundbreaking.

In 2009, your Commission on Appraisal, acting as a study commission, called for a new era—an era of inclusion, in which the challenge put before our congregations is not merely passive nondiscrimination, but active dismantling of the persistent systems of power, privilege, and oppression that diminish us all. This new language for Article II compels us to intentionally build the world we dream about. Right here. Right now.

At our 2009 General Assembly, the language of inclusion did not pass because it could not be separated from other proposed amendments and it did not attain the required super majority. Deeply frustrated, but undaunted, the delegates in Salt Lake City instructed your Board to bring the language of inclusion back to you as soon as possible.

We did that last year… and you voted overwhelmingly in the affirmative to adopt new inclusive language for Article II. Changes to Article II, because it is so important to our identity, requires a second vote of two-thirds in favor, one year later… which brings us to today.

Your Board strongly urges you to, again, vote in the affirmative to adopt this groundbreaking amendment to our bylaws. Right here. Right now.

The Moderator: As a reminder, those speaking in favor of this by-law amendment should use the pro microphone and those who wish to speak against the microphone should use the con.

The Moderator: There being no time for further discussion, a vote is in order. All those in favor of the proposed Changes to Section C-2.3 Regarding Inclusion please raise your voting cards (pause and wait for off site voters). Opposed (pause and wait for off site voters).

The motion clearly passes.

GA Talk: YA@GA

Moderator: Congratulations Kathy, a well deserved award. Awesome.

Welcome back Jonathan Rogers for another GA Talk. This is number 6 in our series if you are keeping score.

Jonathon Rogers: Hello again, my name is Jonathan Rogers, I am the Program Coordinator for Young Adults @ General Assembly, or YA@GA, and I’d like to tell you a little bit more about GA Talks, the initiative with its inaugural happening these last three days in RICC Hall C. If you were there, if you were able to join us in singing “Building a New Way” as we built a new way, if you were swept away by the stories and the dynamic multimedia presentations then you know what an initiative this was! When we first came up with this idea last year, we knew that there were so, so many voices within Unitarian Universalism that would fit this format, that would rise to the occasion in this venue. But seeing and hearing them all come together this week has been more inspiring and rewarding than any of us could have possibly imagined. There were so many moments, so many peak experiences that came out of bringing these amazing speakers onto the big stage.

If you were not able to be with us this week or if you would like to relive some of these moments throughout the year, videos of each of these talks will be online shortly. [Insert instructions for accessing videos online here]. Just like with TED Talks, our goal is for these ideas to go viral via the videos of the speakers we have generated here in Providence. Those who spoke at GA Talks represent some of the many important messages we have for ourselves, for our congregations, and that our faith tradition has for the world at large. Please check out the videos online and share them widely, they will give you a sense of awe and optimism about the capacity and future of UUism that few other experiences can match. Some mid-week evening between now and next June, when you’re looking for an up-lifting reminder of who we are as a faith movement, what we do and we are capable of, head over to [our website], be reminded, and then pass it along and bask in the Facebook likes of people who appreciate your sharing it. Once again, please check out our videos online and continue to join us in future years as we persist in building a new way!

GA Talk: Follow Up: Gathering for Purpose and Future of GA Straw Poll

The Moderator: Welcome back UUA Trustee and Vice Moderator, Donna Harrison for our 7th and last GA Talk.

[To be live-captioned.]

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Board of Trustees would like to hear from you! Go to Gathering for Purpose to learn more about and participate in this conversation.


The Moderator: Does our Secretary, Susan Ritchie have any announcements for us toay?

[To be live-captioned.]


The Moderator: There being no further business to come before us during this penultimate general session, 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 this afternoon at 1:30 p.m.