General Session II, General Assembly 2015
General Assembly 2015 Event 203 (starts about 25 minutes into the video, which includes the Thursday Morning Devotional)
Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Moderator Jim Key presides over the general sessions in which the business of the Association is conducted. Please refer to the Agenda (PDF, 30 pages) for details on specific items addressed. Presenters have been asked to demonstrate how their work relates to our Global Ends also known as our Shared Vision, and to raise important questions for delegates to consider going forward.
Approximate start times noted in parentheses.
- Call to Order (27:30)
- Right Relations Team Report (29:30)
- General Assembly (GA) Planning Committee (35:30)
- Commission on Social Witness Report (38:30)
- Presidential Search Committee Report (50:00)
- President’s Report (53:30)
- Singing (1:22:30)
- Moderator’s Report (1:26:00)
- Board of Trustees’ Report (1:39:30)
- Introduction: New Congregations (1:58:00)
- Introduction: Covenanting Communities (2:06:30)
- Budget Report (2:12:00)
- GA Talk: Young Adults at General Assembly (YA@GA) (2:21:30)
- GA Talk: Mosaic Makers (2:30:30)
- Announcements (2:44:30)
- Recess (2:47:00)
The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.
Call to Order
Moderator Jim Key: I now call to Order the Second General Session of the Fifty-Fourth General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Are the delegates ready to do the business of this Association of Congregations?
Right Relations Team Report
Moderator: Does the Right Relationship Team have anything to report? I see that it does. Please welcome back Mr. Barb Greve.
GA Planning Committee
Moderator: Please welcome the Rev. Chip Roush, Chair of the General Assembly Planning Committee, or GAPC. The GAPC is a Committee of the Association authorized by the bylaws, Article 5, Section 5.8. Chip, let us meet your team.
Chip Roush: Good morning!
I often say that our General Assembly is an interesting blend of business meeting and state fair. We gather to do the business of our Association; we gather to mourn and to celebrate; and we gather to share our ideas and best practices. General Assembly can be a transformational experience.
It is not the job of the General Assembly Planning Committee to create the moments of potential transformation—that is for the speakers, presenters, musicians, and all of our human cousins, who arrive with good questions and tales of their congregations’ creative solutions. We of the Planning Committee help to create the structure in which all of you co-create transformative moments for each other.
Just as our Annual Program Fund amplifies Unitarian Universalism, the Planning Committee helps to amplify the possibilities when meeting several thousand other UUs.
The work of the Planning Committee can be difficult, challenging, exhausting, and immensely rewarding. We and the rest of our Unitarian Universalist Association are always looking for new leaders. If you think you would like to serve on the Planning Committee, please do look up the Nominating Committee process online.
Finally, allow me to introduce this year’s GA Planning Committee. It is truly my pleasure to serve with these good people:
- Mary Alm
- Debra Gray Boyd
- Greg Boyd
- Kathy Charles
- Ila Klion
- Paul Langston-Daley
- Tim Murphy
- and the Director of General Assembly & Conference Services for our UUA, Jan Sneegas
This year Unitarian Universalist (UU) recycling volunteers will give over 430 hours of service reducing landfill waste at GA. For the first time, we have made a Zero Waste goal this year, meaning that all waste created at GA can be either reused, recycled, composted, or donated. Our volunteers are here to help us reach that goal by helping you sort your waste at our recycling and composting stations. Here are a few key things to know about GA 2015:
- The City of Portland now practices food-only composting, which means we are not using compostable serviceware this year and as much as possible will be using reusables. Unfortunately that means if you bring a to-go coffee cup onsite we will have to landfill it. So please use your reusable mug, purchase coffee at the Convention Center where reusables will be used, or purchase a mug from First Unitarian Church of Portland outside the exhibit hall.
- Salad to-go containers and Portland Roasting coffee mugs may look like they are either recyclable or yours to keep, but please leave them at a recycling station after use so we can wash and reuse them throughout the event.
- Since paper towels can no longer be composted, we have removed all paper towels from bathrooms in place of air-driers. We appreciate your patience in helping us reduce our landfill waste.
We thank you for your help and support of UUA’s decade long pursuit to “green” GA. If you have questions or want more information visit the Green Booth just outside the exhibit hall.
Commission on Social Witness Report
Moderator: Thank you Chip, and thanks to the GAPC, and all the volunteers that make this gathering come together seamlessly.
The Commission on Social Witness is another important committee of the Association articulated in our bylaws in Article 5, Section 5.10.
Please welcome the chair of your Commission on Social Witness, Dr. Susan Goekler.
Susan Goekler: If you pay attention to this report, you should be able to answer the quiz at the end—to define each of these letter combinations
You can identify the elected and appointed members of the Commission on Social Witness (CSW) by the blue baseball caps we wear when on duty. We are here to help you navigate the opportunities at GA to contribute to social witness statements.
Volunteer Commissioners work all year. Between the 2014 and 2015 General Assemblies of the UUA, the Commission on Social Witness (CSW) drafted a statement of conscience (SOC) on Reproductive Justice (RJ), solicited comments on the draft, and revised the draft based on the comments received. You can find the revised statement in the business agenda starting on page 94. The CSW also solicited comments on the congregational study action issue (CSAI) selected in 2014 on Escalating Inequality (EI).
For the SOC to be added to the GA business agenda, at least 25% of certified congregations must cast a vote in the congregational poll to add it to the agenda. By the February 3 deadline this year, 544 of the 957 certified congregations (57%) voted “Yes,” “No,” or “Abstain” to the question about adding the Statement of Conscience on Reproductive Justice to the final Agenda. Of those who voted, 389 voted yes; 5 voted no and 150 abstained. This meets the 25% threshold.
Commissioners also revised information on the UUA web site that explains the CSAI process and judged submissions for the Social Witness Sermon Contest that the CSW co-sponsors with the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA).
In April, the CSW announced on the CSW and GA e-mail lists and Facebook page that those planning to submit an Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) could post their idea on the CSW portion of the UUA website.
The work of the CSW is supported by the UUA through the Annual Program Fund (APF).
The main CSW activities at the GA are
- A mini-assembly on the proposed Statement of Conscience on Reproductive Justice Thursday afternoon;
- Help manage the Debate and vote on adopting a Statement of Conscience on Reproductive Justice;
- Conduct Implementation Workshop on the Reproductive Justice SOC Friday afternoon;
- Present a worship service that features the social witness sermon contest winner;
- Manage the process for Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs)
Statements of Conscience carry the full weight of the denomination, after several years of study and action and multiple opportunities for congregational input. Some issues, however, might come up quickly. To address such, delegates at GA may propose, discuss, and vote on Actions of Immediate Witness that meet these criteria.
During the GA, the CSW will provide help to those proposing Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs), which must be posted by 5 p.m. today at the CSW booth in the exhibit hall (#206). Proposers will have until 5 p.m. on Friday to collect the required number of signatures. At the early morning general session on Saturday, delegates will decide which 3 proposed Actions of Immediate Witness they want to add to the final agenda for a vote at general session on Sunday. Mini-assemblies to propose amendments to Proposed AIWs will be early Saturday afternoon.
The CSW is offering a new opportunity for witnessing this year. We will offer room at the CSW booth in the Exhibit Hall (#206) for people wishing to collect signatures for social justice –related petitions, other than AIWs.
Now for the quiz:
- CSW = Commission on Social Witness
- CSAI = Congregational Study Action Issue
- SOC = Statement of Conscience
- AIW = Action of Immediate Witness
- RJ = Reproductive Justice
- EI = Escalating Inequality
- APF = Annual Program Fund, which supports our work
Good job—and thank you for your attention.
Moderator: Thanks Susan for that report. The details of the proposed Statement of Conscience can be found on pages 95 thru 97 of your Program Book.
Presidential Search Committee Report
Moderator: Our next presenters are the Rev. Michael Tino and Elandria Williams of the Presidential Search Committee, another committee of the Association authorized by Article 5, Section 5.10 of our bylaws. Please welcome Michael and Elandria.
Elandria Williams: Good morning. I am Elandria Williams.
Michael Tino: And I am Michael Tino. And we’re here to update you on the progress of the Presidential Search Committee.
As you might be aware, the General Assembly built a new way to nominate candidates to run for President of the UUA.
Our committee was elected two years ago to design a process that had never existed before.
An open, transparent, accountable process by which nominees for the next UUA Presidential election would be chosen.
We think we’ve done that—with your help. Over the past two years, we’ve interviewed dozens of stakeholders and representatives. We’ve surveyed all Unitarian Universalists who wanted to have a say in the process. And we’ve kept you all in the loop through regular postings on our blog and Facebook page.
From all of this, we have created a job description for the President our committee is looking for. To be sure, it’s an ambitious job description for an important job.
We also created a process by which we intend to select our applicants—a process that is publicly available on our blog.
Beginning last fall, we asked you to suggest the people you thought best matched this job description. To date, almost 50 people have been suggested to us.
Women, men, transgender and genderqueer people. Straight, gay, lesbian and bisexual people. People of Asian, Native American, Latina/Latino, African, and European descent and mixed ancestry. People ranging in age from their mid-20s to their mid-70s.
Each person suggested was sent an encouragement to apply for our nomination and given several channels to discuss their discernment process with the committee. All discernment, however, must soon end: the final deadline for applications July 15.
Between July and December, we will carefully read all of the applications submitted. We will interview applicants, check references and have deep conversations.
And then we will nominate those applicants who best exemplify the things in our job description. At least two of them, but possibly more.
Those nominations will be released to the public on February 1 of next year, at which point a campaign will begin, culminating a vote at General Assembly 2017 in New Orleans.
But one final time, we need your help. We need you to ensure that we have the best possible candidates for the future presidency of our denomination. We need you to talk with the people you want to apply. To tell them why you suggested them to us. To tell them why they need to submit their application.
They’re due July 15. We look forward to meeting the applicants—and to introducing you to the next candidates for UUA President.
Moderator: It is my pleasure to welcome the President of our Association, Rev. Peter Morales, for his report to the delegates. He will be joined by some of the senior staff.
Peter Morales: Good morning!
Wow. Just look at this hall. It is wonderful to see so many people here. I love the GA’s that have a high attendance.
Returning to Oregon is always special. Twenty years ago I began my UU journey in Eugene, a couple of hours south of here.
This is my sixth president’s report at General Assembly. So much has happened. I have been thinking about the things we have done together that I feel most proud of. That scene of a sea of yellow shirts and candles outside Tent City at Justice GA in Phoenix is a precious memory. I recall how thousands of UUs showed up at the Moral March in North Carolina and the Climate March in New York City.
I remember launching the College of Social Justice with the UUSC. I think of how our staff, your staff, worked thousands of extra hours to imagine and design a headquarters for the 21st century.
Do you see a pattern? We are at our best when we work together—together with other UU’s, with other congregations, with other faiths, with organizations that are working for compassion and justice. Together we are not only more powerful; together we create new possibilities.
In this morning’s report I want to tell you about a small sample of what our Association is doing to shape the future. I want you to feel proud of what your Association is doing. Your generosity fuels our work, and together we amplify the love and the power of Unitarian Universalism. I will ask a couple of my colleagues on our Leadership Council to tell you about some of the work they are heading up.
Let be briefly introduce the members of the Leadership Council.
- Harlan Limpert is our chief operating officer. He runs our day to day operations “the man behind the curtain” at the UUA.
- Terasa Cooley is our Program and Strategy Officer. She oversees and coordinates our program areas.
- Sarah Lammert is director of Ministries and Faith Development.
- Taquiena Boston leads our Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group.
- Scott Tayler is director of Congregational Life. He oversees our field staff across the country.
- John Hurley is head of communications. He oversees our public witness team, UU World, Skinner House Books and the Bookstore.
- Tim Brennan is our Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer. He also leads our shareholder advocacy work.
- Mark Steinwinter leads our Information Technology team.
- Rob Molla is head of Human Resources and led the design team for our new headquarters.
- Mary Katherine Morn leads our Stewardship and Development staff group.
- Helene Atwan, director of Beacon Press, is not able to be here this morning.
They are an amazing team.
In addition to getting a flavor of important work, I want you to see how we are doing our best work, because how our best work is being done is critically important.
Third, I want to share with you what I see as our great challenges and opportunities in the coming years.
Let me begin with our program in entrepreneurial ministry. We all know that we live in times of historic change in our religious institutions. Leaders today need to lead change, to innovate, to take risks.
Together with the UU Ministers Association, we are partnering with leading business school faculty across the country. Let me show you a short clip from the first session: [video clip of Asilomar session—transcription sent with video]
As I travel around the country I meet UU’s [Slide #1] of all ages who are eager to make a difference, hungry for an opportunity [Slide #2] to bear witness to another way. Public witness isn’t just political action, [Slide #3] it is spiritual practice.
During the last year images of police killing unarmed black men has shocked us all. In Ferguson and Baltimore and Cleveland and elsewhere we continue to raise our voices. I want to ask Taquiena Boston, director of our Multicultural Growth and Witness staff team, to talk about our commitment going forward.
Taquiena Boston: At a recent gathering, multifaith leaders grappled with the question” What must we, the Multifaith Movement do, to advance racial justice?”
The UUA surveyed Unitarian Universalists asking a similar question about our faith’s role in advancing racial justice. The consistent response? We must follow the lead of communities of color—those who suffer most from the evils of racism economically, politically, socially, culturally, bodily, and spiritually.
All over the country [Slide #4] Unitarian Universalists are engaging #BlackLivesMatter, #Not1More, and understanding how racial justice is at the heart of the climate justice, economic justice, the New Jim Crow, immigration, LGBTQ equity, and reproductive justice movements. In partnership with you, the UUA provides financial and spiritual resources, and support with witness, advocacy and social media.
This General Assembly offers substantive opportunities to network and strategize with frontline racial justice leaders to build a new way to Beloved Community.
This fall the UUA will unite Unitarian Universalists, and non-UU organizers and leaders—including #BlackLivesMatter—to identify our faith’s particular role in advancing racial justice.
Fifty years ago, [Slide #5] Unitarian Universalists answered the call to Selma, Alabama, in support of voting rights for African Americans living in the South. We marched, witnessed, organized, and worked in solidarity with communities of color. [Slide #6] Today’s call of faith, love, and justice is no less urgent. And Unitarian Universalists again are saying “yes.”
Peter Morales: And say yes to the Moral March [Slide #7] on July 13 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Voting rights must be defended and we must show up.
Thank you Taquiena.
Because we are at our best when we work together, we need to remove barriers that separate us and that make collaboration difficult. It no longer makes sense to have our staff in the field divided into 19 separate districts. In the last few years we have made tremendous progress in creating one unified national staff.
This effort has gone by the name of “regionalization.” Scott Tayler, our director of Congregational Life, has been doing heroic work to move this along. Scott, tell us where we are and why you are so passionate about this work.
Scott Tayler: Regionalization is one of our UUA’s most creative, extensive and inspiring undertakings.
Practically speaking, it involves restructuring ourselves [Slide #8] from 19 largely independent districts into five stronger,[Slide #9] more aligned regions. Each region is pursuing this structural streamlining in their own unique way, but all are seeing tremendous gifts. We’ve reduced administrative and governance redundancies, freed up capacity for more congregational support and created larger, more flexible and better integrated field staff teams.
But the larger gift is spiritual. From its beginning, regionalization has been about modeling and embodying our theology of interdependence. This is ultimately why our UUA has made it a priority. The larger hope is to inspire and support a similar deepening of relationship between our congregations and covenanted communities. As we move together into the ever-increasing challenges of 21st century church life, there is less and less room for the imagined autonomy of the past. Regionalization’s great gift to us all is its invitation to shift from an association of independent congregations to an association of radically interdependent congregations!
This is the wider journey of which regionalization is a part. It is an exciting journey. Even a holy one. Thanks to the many district and associational leaders that have helped us see that so clearly.
Peter Morales: Thank you, Scott.
Something struck me 10 years ago while serving as a parish minister in Colorado. As I stood out front greeting people Sunday morning, I realized that most first time visitors already recognized me and knew my name. While this was their first physical visit, they had already been visiting electronically. Our web site was our true front door.
Not only is your congregation’s web site your front door, UUA.org is the front door to our movement. Our website is often the gateway to your website. Last year UUA.org [Slide #10] received over one million first time visitors, an increase of almost 10 percent over the previous year.
Our movement’s front door needed some sprucing up. This [Slide #11] was a huge effort, for our site has something like 20,000 pages. We had to rebuild from the foundation. I think our staff did a terrific job.
You’ve told us that your congregation’s website needed sprucing up, too. We have created a [Slide #12] template that congregations can use. We are unveiling the template at this GA.
In addition, we have completely redone [Slide 13] uuworld.org. The site is also mobile friendly.
One of the important ways we promote our values is our book publishing. Beacon Press continues to be a thought leader in social justice. Beacon has been on a roll. Beacon is increasing the number of books they publish. This year’s [Slide #14] Ware Lecturer, the Rev. Dr. Cornel West, is a Beacon author.
Last year Beacon authors spoke at over 500 events.
Skinner House continues to publish wonderful titles on an ever broaden number of subjects. [Slide #15] Here is a sample of new titles
Be sure to get to the bookstore in the exhibit hall.
Because of our respect for all religious traditions, Unitarian Universalist ministers are particularly suited to chaplaincy duties where there are people of many faiths. For many years we have done this work in hospitals and hospice settings. In recent years the number of UU ministers serving [Slide #16] in the military has grown. Those who serve [Slide #17] in our armed forces are mostly young people from a wide variety of religious backgrounds who find themselves thrown into immensely stressful situations.
We have a few of our military chaplains here. Thank you for your service.
Our work in this ministry continues to expand. Sarah Lammert, our Director of Ministries and Faith Development, has been voted the chair elect of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces. Sarah is the second woman and the first Unitarian Universalist to hold this important position. This is a great honor.
But our ministry to people who serve in the military is not just the work of military chaplains. We have created resources to help all our congregations participate in this important ministry.
What makes all this good work possible? You do! Your support makes it happen. All our work happens because our member congregations support their association through the [Slide #18] Annual Program Fund. Together we amplify our power and our voices.
A fun way to learn more about your Association, meet leaders and connect with other UU’s is to join the APF scavenger hunt [Slide #19] throughout the day tomorrow. Get the Scavify app on your phone.
I said earlier that the best work we have done has been when we create partnerships.
Partnerships are not organizational tactics. Partnerships are how we live out our theology. We are a religious movement who has always believed that when people come together and freely commit themselves to one another and to their highest aspirations, blessings will abound.
We are building relationships on so many levels—your board of trustees and the administration have formed a true partnership; clusters of congregations are working together; we are collaborating with advocates for justice, partnering with the UUSC, the UUMA, and building relationships with other faith traditions not because it is organizationally smart (though it is), but because when we connect with common purpose we unleash power and create new opportunities. Love is a relationship. When love guides us, we seek ways to act together.
Looking at the years ahead, we face awesome challenges and breathtaking opportunities.
Seven years ago, when I was a candidate for president, I talked about the fact that half our parish ministers were 58 and older and that we would face a huge turnover. Then the economic crisis hit and the high number of retirements did not materialize. All that has changed. At this GA’s Service of the Living Tradition we will honor a record number of retirees.
We [Slide #20] suddenly do not have enough interim ministers to fill all the open positions.
But there is another side. The number of people expressing an interest in UU ministry is rising and the quality of new ministers is outstanding.
The Quakers have a wonderful saying: “When way closes, way will open.” Traditional congregational life faces challenges ranging from a changing culture that is skeptical of traditional religious organizations to a generational changing of the guard in ministry.
At the same time we have a wonderful outpouring of creativity and passion in a variety of emerging groups. Our staff is working closely with them to support and nurture their efforts, and the board of trustees is changing the very definition of congregation. Your will hear more about that in the board report.
Beyond the challenges we face as a religious movement, we face challenges as human beings living on earth. The greatest of these is climate change caused by the fuels we burn to support the way we live. Environmental justice is the focus of our public witness at this GA. More importantly, it will shape the very future of humanity.
We are all part of the problem; we must all be part of creating a solution. [Slide #21] The Commit 2 Respond effort is part of an effort to build a new way.
Last year we passed a business resolution on fossil fuel divestment. Tim Brennan, our treasurer, has worked closely with our investment committees. Our work goes beyond divestment to include climate solution investments and shareholder advocacy. I urge you to learn the details at the workshop #237 at 1:15 today.
Every time I attend a public witness event, whether it is about immigration, voting rights, anti-racism, environmental justice or marriage equality, other faith leaders are there, too. There are Protestants, Jews, Catholics, Muslims and others. We work together easily. We have moved beyond tolerance to acceptance and even appreciation. We form strong relationships.
What we never do is reach out together to serve the spiritual needs of millions of religiously homeless people. I am convinced that the future of liberal religion is interfaith and multi-faith.
We have a historic opportunity to work together to create a multifaith future. I recently hosted a meeting of leaders from the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Islamic Circle of North America, Religions for Peace and the United Religions Initiative to explore how we might collaborate. We are at the very early stages, but I can tell you that we all are committed to further work.
General Assembly next year, in Columbus Ohio, will have a multi-faith focus. The theme is “Heart Land: Where Faiths Connect.” We UU’s have an essential leadership role to play helping faiths to connect. We are multi-faith at our very core.
There is so much more I would love to tell you about. [Slide #22] Check out our annual report (PDF, 38 pages).
Your Association staff is doing important work. Maybe I am a little biased, but I believe our Association has the finest staff it has ever had. Would the UUA staff here this morning please rise as you are able?
You, all of you, make the work of our Association possible. Together we are so much stronger, so much more creative. Together we can face our challenges and seize the historic opportunities before us.
Finally, on a personal note, thank you for this great privilege of serving as your president.
Moderator: Imagine “A healthy Unitarian Universalist community that is alive with transforming power, moving our communities and the world toward more love, justice, and peace…”
Those words are the preamble of your Association’s Shared Vision, or Global Ends in our governance language. They can be found in full on page 115 of your program book and on the UUA website. Thousands of UUs participated in shaping those “Ends” or “Shared Vision” beginning right here in Portland at GA 2007, eight years ago.
Our ten enumerated Ends have been the foundation of the generative discussions that your Board of Trustees, senior staff, and many others have had over the past several years. Those generative discussions have led to the governance and bylaw changes you will consider at this GA, the covenanting communities you will meet later this morning, the collaborative work with the UUSC, the GA Talks that will be presented, re-imagining our democratic process, and the Budget we will report this morning.
These Ends are what informs and animates your volunteer board and Moderator: working to create that “healthy Unitarian Universalist community that is alive with transforming power, moving our communities and the world toward more love, justice, and peace…”
As I have visited congregations, I have been speaking “On Being Bold, Brave, and Bodacious” and reflecting on what that shared vision calls us to do, …what radical hospitality looks like, …what prophetic witness can be, …and if we all were honor congregations in our Annual Program Fund how much we could amplify those Ends, our Vision of Beloved Community.
There are Bold and Brave and Bodacious initiatives almost everywhere I have been: immigration justice activities in California and Arizona, …the Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina, …climate justice initiatives with the Commit2Respond initiative, …income inequality and economic justice activities, …#BlackLivesMatter prayer vigils, ….and challenging discussions on white privilege.
Moreover, district and regional leaders are being bold around the country. The MidAmerica Region was born several years ago with the consolidation of three districts into one regional structure. The four districts of the Southern Region eliminated their four, district governance structures altogether, deferring to the UUA Board on governance matters (ENDS) and to the UUA staff for operational activities (MEANS). Other regions are considering their unique approaches to streamline or eliminate costly and redundant governance structures.
There is no shortage of bold actions taking place around our Association. You heard many from the President Morales and the Leadership Council.
I would like to know what your congregation or community is doing that is bold, brave, and bodacious. Let me hear from you. We will showcase the boldest and the most bodacious initiatives next year in Columbus with a featured general sessions slot, perhaps a workshop as well.
Over the past year, I have visited 16 congregations and participated in 14 conferences; and too many webinars and conference calls to count.
Generally, I see positive trends that suggest more and more religious professionals and lay leaders have growing confidence that the collaboration between board and staff are improving the efficacy of our governance structures. Moreover, the focus of the Board and staff on monitoring progress toward our Ends, or Shared Vision, has been noticed and appreciated.
More specifically, my observations from these visits and interactions can be catalogued into three broad areas that bear reporting:
- the concern that the Board of Trustees’ reimagining-governance initiatives appear to be an attempt to concentrate power,
- the challenge of making GA more inclusive and financially accessible, and
- the need to recognize that covenant is both a noun and a verb.
First, the concern that the Board of Trustees’ reimagining-governance initiatives appear to be an attempt to concentrate power. These tend to be voices that do not value the Board’s initiatives to continue the path begun years ago to re-imagine and restructure governance to be more effective. There are several initiatives that have created some anxiety in the system:
- the move to a smaller board of two years ago,
- the recent movement of four districts in the Southern Region to dissolve their governance structures and rely on the UUA Board as the singular governance entity,
- the proposed bylaw amendment this year to change the Commission on Appraisal to a smaller appointed rather than elected commission, as well as
- the proposed bylaw amendment to remove the ability of districts and regions to place bylaw amendment and business resolutions on the Tentative Agenda.
All of these initiatives are seen by some as an attempt to concentrate power. I don’t see it that way. Over time, institutionally we developed systems and practices of governance that kept us focused on the internal workings of governance of our association and not as focused outward to our mission. We simply must do better. The model the Board of Trustees and I are working toward is intended to unburden our staff as well as unleash the hundreds of talented and dedicated volunteers, now working on governance-related concerns, to do the work of justice making. The Board has developed—and continues to consider—new models for broad-based inclusion and input to governance decisions. We must continue our efforts of modeling and communicating our efforts at transparency and linkage with our Sources of Authority and Accountability. This will better frame our work and efforts to balance the cost of governance with the benefits to our congregations.
While we have been live-streaming our board meetings when meeting in Boston; posting our board agenda, packets, and minutes on the website; and hosting post-board meeting and pre-GA webinars; our efforts are not reaching many people. We are committed to finding ways to make better use of social media to communicate and demonstrate our transparency and encourage feedback.
As I travel the country, I have spoken to these issues, and that all of these governance-related changes are in fact for the purpose of making the governance structure more accountable and accessible to congregations and other Sources of Authority and Accountability. My congregational visits and our board linkage activities have spoken to the need for more congregations to elect, charge, send, and financially support delegates to General Assemblies and seek a more inclusive delegate body who will be accountable to their own congregations and the larger movement. These delegate attributes are essential if we are to create a representative delegate body that is essential to our democratic aspirations.
Second, the challenge of making GA more inclusive and financially accessible comes up over and over in linkage conversations and surveys. I have proposed to the board that we create a pilot scholarship program for General Assembly in Columbus, OH in 2016. The objective of the project would be to attract traditionally under-represented constituencies as delegates that would otherwise not be asked or able to attend by their congregations. Partnering with the GA Planning Committee, we would expect to increase the number of delegates by ten percent over our current ad hoc approach. This pilot scholarship program will be initially funded by a special collection at GA on Saturday that will provide seed money to jump-start the pilot for 2016. Additionally, we would engage the Stewardship and Development staff to ensure the special collection is appropriately monitored to ensure donors’ intentions are honored. If the pilot project meets the objectives, then we would make these scholarship funds part of the governance budget in future years.
The program imagines that congregations who participate would seek to select youth, young adult, people of color, and other historically marginalized people to represent those congregations as delegates to GA 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. The registration fee would be born by the pilot program, and the congregation would be expected to underwrite some of the travel expenses in conjunction with other funding sources that might be available from other sources.
There would be pre-GA web meetings to prepare these delegates for their responsibilities, orient them to the process, and support them during GA. There would be post-GA web meetings and surveys to assess the success of the program in targeting a different demographic to the delegate body and congregations who have not sent delegates in recent years.
Third and finally, the need to recognize that covenant is both a noun and a verb. Too often, I see congregational leaders speak of covenant only in the context of controlling unhealthy behaviors rather than an expression of how we manifest our love for one another and the world. Covenant is both the commitment and the means to practice engagement in community. It is both a noun—the promise itself—and a verb—the practice that manifests the promise. Covenant is the collective commitment TO and practice OF religious community that we embrace when we say we are a covenantal faith tradition.
Covenanting, the gerund…verb, must be intentional if we are to counter the forces of individual and community isolation and institutional drift.
We need to explore over the next months how we might change the conversation from membership to mutual covenant. What we have seen as we discussed emerging congregations and covenanting communities over the past year is that the practice of covenanting has energized some groups that appeared to be isolated and static.
Let’s imagine, rather than signing the book, people entered and were welcomed into covenant that would be renewed periodically.
Imagine if congregations and communities entered and were welcomed into mutual covenant with the larger association that would be renewed periodically.
This approach to covenanting would energize our movement and attract individuals who are increasingly just not interested in membership in yet another organization, but they do desire to get connected and stay connected in networks of connection, to probe for and express affiliation.
This process of covenanting is an activating impulse that connects our personal commitments in community, drawing individuals together to co-create a world of more love, more justice, and more peace.
I will ask the board at our October meeting to consider how our Association might imagine moving forward from the notion of membership in an institution to one of mutual covenant.
“A healthy Unitarian Universalist community that is alive with transforming power, moving our communities and the world toward more love, justice, and peace.”
Imagine what that would be like. Imagine what your congregation or community could do to be braver, bolder, even bodacious as you actively begin COVENANTING to create that community alive with transforming power,
Imagine our collective and individual UU communities and the world with more love, more justice, and more peace.
Are you ready to be that bold…that brave… that bodacious?
Board of Trustees’ Report
Moderator: Please welcome all of your Trustees to the stage. Donna Harrison, your Vice Moderator, will introduce the Board of Trustees report.
Donna: The Board of Trustees is very pleased to bring you our report this year. We believe that we have made significant progress in a number of areas, and we would like to share those with you. In addition, we see some real challenges for our Association, and we will share those with you as well.
On the stage we have all of the Trustees on the UUA Board. Several of them will be speaking to you as part of this report. The Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs will first talk about the progress that we have made this year in our implementation of Policy Governance. Susan Weaver will share the work that the Board and others have done regarding ministry and our institutional response in the wake of clergy or professional misconduct. Julian Sharp will share the work of the Board’s Inclusion Working Group, especially the Board’s response to several Responsive Resolutions. And lastly I will share with you some information about the Board’s progress on our initiative to transform the way we do GA and governance together.
Rob: Change is challenging. Governance, at its best, is about deciding what we will promise to each other and to the world. Once we have made those promises governance is about making sure we are doing our best to make them real. We need to ask whether or not the Association is having the impact it intends. We call that “monitoring.” Over the past two years the UUA Board and the Administration have made significant progress toward asking the right questions at the right time. Working together we’re making good headway. At the beginning of the governance change there was extensive misunderstanding by both senior members of the administration and many board members about exactly what should constitute effective monitoring.
This situation along with the nature of and number of policies requiring formal monitoring reports helped to create an adversarial environment between the administration and the board. The most important thing in the past two years is move from that oppositional dynamic to far more respectful and cooperative and mutually accountable ways of working together.
In 2009 when we began PG monitoring, we had 115 executive limitation policies and sub-policies all of which were monitored annually. We now have 47 executive limitation policies, some of which are monitored by direct inspection by the Audit Committee as part of their annual audit responsibilities. The monitoring schedule has been totally revised so that policies that require close board attention are monitored annually, but others are monitored as infrequently as every ten years. I want to assure you that these changes have strengthened the Board’s ability to exercise appropriate oversight while not interfering with day to day operations.
The board is grateful for the assistance of the Audit Committee for their work recommending various policy changes based on actual risk thereby reducing the number of monitorable policies while maintaining the highest standards of fiscal accountability.
In January 2010 we had 140 policies that directed operation of the board. All of them called for monitoring reports. Most of them annual. After a careful redaction, consolidation and reassignment of reporting requirements, we have 14 such policies. We have made executive limitations monitoring much easier while assuring that the Board can fulfill its stewardship responsibilities. The Board is excited about the progress President Morales and his Team have made on Ends monitoring. We are seeing a holistic approach evolving where the data gathered for monitoring has an energizing potential to help both Board and Staff understand where things are really working well and where we are falling short.
I want to thank the many thoughtful and dedicated former Trustees who recognized the need to clarify and strengthen our governance process and especially retiring Trustee Lew Phinney for his years of focused attention to the changes being made. The Trustees are pleased with our progress in moving toward manageable and effective ways to evaluate the work of your Association. The Administration’s view is best summed-up by President Morales who writes, I am delighted and, frankly, surprised by how our relationship has improved. Our work is focused, thoughtful and mission driven. It is a true religious partnership.
Susan W.: Moderator Key, at General Assembly in Providence last summer, pledged to hold all of us accountable to “values at our core” in addressing issues of clergy sexual misconduct. More transparency—and more compassion—was needed, particularly in the process of bringing a complaint of such misconduct to the Association.
This year, the Board, the Ministerial Fellowship Committee and UUA staff have each taken steps to ensure parties to the complaint process are treated with care, respect and fairness.
Individuals who bring such complaints now have more voice in the review process. When an accused minister is invited to meet with the MFC Executive Committee, a complainant will be similarly invited. So that the investigation of a complaint appears and is objective, no member of the MFC—the body that reviews the complaint—will serve on the investigation team. In approving these MFC Rule changes, the Board invited comment from an Advisory Group that included survivors of misconduct.
The Board has recommended to the MFC “best practices” for receiving, investigating and resolving such complaints. The practices were suggested to ensure basic fairness, transparency, and integrity of the complaint process. The MFC quickly responded and made policy changes that provide better communications with complainants and assure greater fairness and transparency. More information on the work of Board, MFC and UUA staff in this area is available in the “Building Restorative Justice” workshop on Friday afternoon, and on the UUA Board of Trustees webpage.
We hope that voices of survivors continue to be included in this work, which the MFC will continue in the coming year. Any survivor who would like to comment on recent and future MFC policy changes should contact the Board or Moderator Key. We respect privacy; we will not actively seek you out but welcome your concerns.
I thank Safety Net, the social justice organization from First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, who first called for a national discussion of clergy sexual misconduct. And I thank all members of the Advisory Group. We have learned from you. It is your determination and compassion—despite your pain, despite your doubts of being heard—that leads us to be a more caring community.
Julian: Greetings. I serve as chair of the Empowerment & Inclusion Working Group. I serve alongside Benji Janapol, Michael Sallwasser, and Christiana Rivera. Our working group is tasked with assessing and furthering our deep commitment to become an anti-oppressive, multicultural, and truly welcoming board and Association.
Our major focus this year has been on assessing practices and education with UUA committees that deepen our commitment to an anti-oppressive and multicultural movement. Two years ago this body passed a responsive resolution entitled “Deepening our commitment to an anti-oppressive, multicultural UUA. You instructed your board to “ensure that the Board and staff-appointed, Board-appointed, and elected committees of the Association are empowered and encouraged to identify existing and new practices and structures that will lead to greater diversity among participants in the work of those committees and a greater sense of inclusion among participants, and that will provide for youth and young adult led efforts”. Your board takes this work very seriously. We have interviewed the chairs of our committees to better understand what practices they currently have in place, how new members are welcomed and oriented to the work, and how each chair understands the mission of their committee as it relates to our commitment to deepen anti-oppressive behaviors and foster multiculturalism.
Our full report with recommendations will be made available following the October board meeting. Today I’d like to share two initial findings with you. First, while all committee chairs have sought out some form of training and competency building as it relates to anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism, we were surprised to learn that the vast majority of committee chairs are in fact the same people who lead trainings and design educational opportunities to deepen these commitments.
We also found that when committees are given greater financial resources they develop better tools to address anti-oppression and multiculturalism. While this is not surprising, it indicates the high prioritization of this work within the committees.
Thank you for your support and dedication to building beloved community.
Donna: In 2010, the Board passed a motion that established three priorities—indeed three commitments—for improving the governance of our association. One of these has been accomplished: putting in place a much smaller board. The second is well underway, which is to better align the role of districts (and regions) with our UUA governance structure and our polity. This initiative is intended to free the staff of the UUA from multiple layers of oversight and to free literally hundreds of talented volunteers to do other—hopefully more meaningful —work for Unitarian Universalism. The third initiative has taken longer to gain traction, but in many ways it has the most potential to be truly transformational. This is the initiative to transform General Assembly and the way we all work together to make the fundamental decisions that guide our Association. Done right, this can make our governance much more inclusive and engaging AND make it more likely that we will spend our time focused on issues that truly matter to the future of our faith and our Association.
The Board has been listening to literally thousands of Unitarian Universalists over the past several years. As a result of that time spent listening, we have developed some concrete ideas.
We will be sharing what we have learned and those ideas in a variety of forums during this GA, beginning with some time in the General Session on Friday morning and followed by a Board sponsored workshop on Friday afternoon.
I do not have time during the Board report to share in detail the ideas. But I can say that there are several major priorities that drive our work.
First, we envision a governance process that is much more engaging, fun and meaningful.
Second, we envision a process that is more inclusive—economically and culturally—than what we have today.
And finally, we envision an agenda that is dominated by issues that really matter to the future of our faith and our Association.
The work that we do together at this GA will set the foundation for action at an upcoming GA—we hope in 2016.
Introduction: New Congregations
Moderator: Thank you Donna and all of the trustees for your work on behalf of the liberal faith we love. I want to specifically recognize Donna Harrison, Rev. Susan Ritchie, Rev. Sarah Stewart, and Lew Phinney who complete their board service at this GA. Join me in thanking them for their countless hours of service to our Association.
As I indicated in my report, we have been focused on emerging congregations and communities this year which has focused on the covenanting process I also referenced. Out of that attention to these new communities came the good news I have invited some folks to share with you.
Please welcome Trustee James Snell.
[slide #1] James Snell: At GA in Providence, the Board reported that we had formed a collaborative emerging congregations working group with the UUA staff. We stated that our goal was to more quickly bring some 50 emerging congregations and communities the UUA Staff had identified into relationship with our Association, and on a path to membership.
The UUA's work since Providence to foster growth and new relationships with the emerging UU congregations and communities underscores how important it is to intentionally build relationships. In pursuit of the goal of this work, the UUA reached out to these emerging groups. The revolutionary question they asked these communities was:
"How do you covenant?"
This question was asked because an earlier survey had revealed that more of the emerging congregations and communities had Facebook pages than had a Covenant.
This work, these conversations the staff held with Emerging UU communities, was significant and productive. The UUA staff reported to the Board at our March meeting in Birmingham that these deep conversations have helped 5 of the emerging communities seek membership in the UUA at this GA. Another dozen of these communities are moving into an intentional relationship with us, and we are recognizing them here as "Covenanting Communities."
So, how do we expand our initiatives to foster the growth of our UU Faith community? First each of you has the power to expand our faith. The UUA is you: Our member congregations and communities. You might do many things. Importantly, if you are part of a new community looking for a way to connect to Unitarian Universalism, know that we want to be in relationship with you. Find out if there are UU groups meeting in your community and support them. Add new forms of worship that are more welcoming to the diversity you see in your visitors. Create services that reach out to Youth and Young Adults in your communities. Partner with other congregations in your area to make your collective resources available to all congregations. Pursue a new mission outside your walls - perhaps even start a satellite sanctuary - in an underserved area of your community.
Secondly the UUA staff, supported by your APF contributions, is here to coach, connect and co-learn with you.
Our [slide #2] UUA staff under has created a comprehensive system of support for all Emerging Ministries. I see this support as a highway, with many lanes, helping you map out where you want to go and giving you the tools to get there. And so today, we not only celebrate all of these new communities, but also a new commitment on behalf of your UUA to support new ways of being and accompanying UU religious communities in all the forms those take.
I would now like to introduce your Vice Moderator, Donna Harrison, who will help us welcome our new member congregations. [slide #3]
Donna Harrison: At every General Assembly, we welcome new congregations into our Association of Congregations. This is a time of real joy for all of us. According to our Bylaws, one of the primary purposes of our Association is to organize new congregations. The work that Board and the staff are doing to create energy and momentum around emerging congregations and covenanted communities speaks directly to this call in our founding documents.
This year, as James mentioned, we are welcoming 5 brand new congregations into our Association. This is as many as we welcomed over the last three years, combined. I know that you share my hope that this is the beginning of an upward trajectory! As I introduce the congregations, will their representatives please come forward to be welcomed by Moderator Key and President Morales.
[slide #4] All Souls in Miami, Florida
[slide #5] Iowa Lakes Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Okoboji, Iowa
[slide #6] Open Door Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Owensboro, Kentucky
[slide #7] Saint Croix Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin
[slide #8] Unitarian Universalist Bay de Noc Fellowship in Escanaba, Michigan[slide #9]
We also have a newly formed congregation that has come about as the result of two congregations coming together.
[slide #10] The Paint Branch Unitarian Universalists of Rochester, Michigan and the Emerson Unitarian Universalists of Troy, Michigan have talked and researched and reached the conclusion that they are better together, merged and now we welcome this new, resulting congregation, Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Troy, Michigan.
Introduction: Covenanting Communities
[slide #11] James: And now, please welcome your UUA staff Emerging Congregations team - Tandi Rogers & Annie Gonzalez-Milliken, The Emerging Ministries Support Coordinators, along with Terasa Cooley, Program & Strategies Officer who oversees all this goodness, Carey McDonald, Director of Outreach, who will help introduce the Covenanting Communities, and Scott Tayler, Director of Congregational Life who will introduce multisite partnerships. [Those named step up to the podium.]
Tandi: As I call their name, please send your prayers and wishes to these pioneering communities. [turning to leaders on stage] Are you ready to receive the good will of your siblings in faith to which you now officially belong, and them to you?
[slide #12] (Tandi) Buffalo Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (Buffalo, Minnesota)
[slide #13] (Carey) Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (virtual & multiple locations)
[slide #14] (Tandi) Lucy Stone Cooperative (Roxbury, MA)
[slide #15] (Carey) Methow Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (Twisp, WA)
[slide #16] (Tandi) North Kitsap Unitarians (Poulsbo, WA)
[slide #17] (Carey) Peninsula Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (Port Orchard, WA)
[slide #18] (Tandi) Prairie Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (Hutchinson, KS)
[slide #19] (Carey) Sacred Fire Community (Carrboro, North Carolina, growing in locations)
[slide #20] (Tandi) Sacred Path, A Unitarian Universalist Church (Indianapolis, Indiana)
[slide #21] (Carey) The Welcome Table (Turley, Oklahoma)
[slide #22] (Tandi) Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (Salina, Kansas)
[slide #23]. (Carey) Unitarian Universalists of Goldendale (Washington)
[slide #24] (all Scott) MultiSite Partnership
[slide #25] First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque and its Branch Campuses
First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque (NM)
- Desert Springs UUs (Calsbad, CA)
- Edgewood UUs (NM)
- Socorro Unitarian Universalists (NM)
[slide #26] First UU Church of San Diego and its Branch Campus
First UU Church of San Diego (CA)
- South Bay Campus (Chula Vista, CA)
[slide #27] The Houston Network, which includes
- First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston (TX)
- First UU Church of Houston, Copperfield Campus (TX)
- First UU Church of Houston, Thoreau/Stafford Campus (TX)
[slide #28] Jefferson Unitarian Church (Golden, CO) and its Branch Campus
- Jefferson Unitarian Church (Golden, CO)
- Jefferson Unitarian Church Evergreen Campus (Evergreen, CO)
[slide #29] Piedmont-Salisbury Partnership, which includes
- Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church (Charlotte, NC)
- Piedmont UU Church Salisbury Gathering (Salisbury, NC)
[slide #30] Rochester-Canadaigua, Partnership which includes
- First Unitarian Church of Rochester (NY)
- UU Church of Canandaigua (NY)
[slide #31] Rockton-Rockford-McHenry Theme Network includes
- UU Congregation of Rock Valley (IL)
- The UU Church in (Rock Valley, IL)
- Tree of Life UU Congregation (McHenry, IL)
[slide #32] The Unitarian Church of Harrisburg and its branch campuses
The Unitarian Church of Harrisburg (PA)
- Swatara Township (PA)
- Allison Hill Neighborhood (PA)
[slide #33] UUnited: 7-Church Youth Collaborative. which includes
- First Parish Church in Taunton (MA)
- Murray Church in Attleboro (MA)
- First Parish Bridgewater Unitarian Universalist (MA)
- First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro (MA)
- Foxboro Universalist Church (MA)
- First Unitarian Church of New Bedford (MA)
- Unity Church of North Easton (MA)
Moderator: Thank you to the board and staff.
We now need to hear from the Rev. Sarah Stewart, Trustee of our Association and Chair of the Finance Committee, for the budget report.
Sarah Stewart: I’m Rev. Sarah Stewart, minister of the First Unitarian Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, UUA trustee and Chair of the Finance Committee. I’m here to report on the budget the Board adopted for the UUA at our April teleconference meeting, and share some thoughts on the opportunities and limitations we see in the UUA’s operating budget.
The Unitarian Universalist Association is in a stronger financial position than ever. The final purchase of the new headquarters building at 24 Farnsworth Street took place in January 2015. With this purchase, and the sale of the UUA’s three properties on Beacon Hill, a total of $7.7 million was added to our endowment. In addition, we now receive lease revenue on the top three floors of 24 Farnsworth Street, valued at $13.3 million. These new assets are offset by a loan secured to underwrite the build-out of our beautiful new headquarters in the amount of $10 million. So, the only math in this report: $7.7 million in unrestricted funds plus $13.3 million in offices which generate income equals $21 million in new assets on our balance sheet; minus $10 million in a loan equals $11 million in new unencumbered assets going to work for Unitarian Universalism.
By investing the proceeds of the sale of the Beacon Hill properties in the endowment and in real estate, we are keeping faith with our ancestors who built our historic headquarters. These donations were intended to benefit Unitarian Universalism over the long term. By not spending these resources on immediate needs, however pressing, we are investing in the future of our faith. In addition, the new headquarters are functional, beautiful, and welcoming. I believe that the move to a modern, technologically sound, unified headquarters will prove to be a lasting and beneficial legacy of President Morales’s administration.
The operating budget of the UUA, however, continues to feel the constraints it has since the Great Recession in 2008. To weather that recession, the UUA came more and more to rely on big individual gifts and bequests, to supplement income from congregational giving, smaller individual gifts, and the endowment. At the end of fiscal year 2014, the administration realized it was facing a significant shortfall in large individual gifts, resulting in layoffs and a planned additional endowment draw. In fiscal year 2015, a previous gift of mineral rights were sold profitably, realizing $944,000 to be put toward the mission of the UUA. This unexpected income made the proposed endowment draw unnecessary. We are deeply grateful to Lois and Ken Carpenter, who made that original donation of mineral rights, and to all who give in amounts large and small to the UUA.
Still, this year’s budget is nearly the same as last year’s. Personnel cuts were largely not restored; the Regional Sub-Committees on Candidacy will be phased out; your dedicated staff continue to do their good work, but with less support. Programs are feeling the squeeze.
The RSCC phase-out is a good example of this. The program, which has interviewed UU seminarians during their formation to make sure they’re on the right track, before they see the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, has not accomplished all the goals originally hoped for. This is partly owing to underfunding and partly because not all ideas work out. Just as we do in our churches, the UUA needs to try things and continue to work toward the best programs to serve congregations. But the replacement program—an in-care system to work with seminarians throughout their formation—is currently in development and not yet funded nationally. If we want the UUA to be able to fund an in-care system or other new programs to support ministries and congregations, new revenues will have to be developed.
What will new revenues look like? We have already seen that too much dependence on large individual gifts is not wise, as grateful as we are for those Unitarian Universalists who are very generous to the Association. [And the Board has just passed policy to ask the administration to develop a three-year plan to move from putting unrestricted bequests in the operating fund to putting them in the endowment instead. This will allow bequests to be true legacies, supporting the UUA over the long-term.] The largest source of potential revenue growth for the UUA is congregational giving, most commonly known as APF. The APF amplifies Unitarian Universalism. It takes one congregation’s voice and joins it with the voices of all the other congregations to make a real difference for each other and for our world. Congregational giving is how we show our support not only for all the services we receive from the UUA, but to all our sibling congregations throughout the UUA. If our endowment income and bequest income represent the commitments of past Unitarian Universalists, and their hopes and dreams for our faith, then our congregational giving represents our shared participation in that commitment. It is a way we keep a covenant with each other and with our heritage, on behalf of the present and future of Unitarian Universalism.
So if the UUA is going to be able to do more and be more and have an even louder amplified voice for Unitarian Universalism, we need to think about what our congregations can do. When has the UUA really excited you? When have you said, “I am so glad we have the UUA?” When have you given thanks for your district or regional staff, who are also part of the UUA? When have you been proud and happy to have that amplified faith, that bigger voice that is possible when we all pull together? We, your trustees, want to hear what would help your congregation become an Honor congregation, if you’re not already there, and we would love to hear why you are an Honor congregation if you are. Your Stewardship and Development staff, and your district and regional staff, would like to hear the same thing. Congregational giving to the UUA, that commitment that helps amplify Unitarian Universalism, is the growth mechanism for our future. It is our “Yes” to our ancestors’ dreams, and our promise to future generations of religious liberals. This year’s UUA budget is one “Yes”; by working together, that “Yes” can get louder and stronger in every year to come.
The budget hearing, where you can delve into all the detail of the budget if you want, will be held on Friday at 1:15 p.m. in room B110-112. It has been a privilege and an honor to serve this Association as trustee and Chair of the Finance Committee. Thank you for your commitment to Unitarian Universalism.
GA Talk: YA@GA
Moderator: Thanks Sarah. I am pleased to introduce the first of eleven GA talks that will be presented throughout these General Sessions. The objective of these talks is to spread ideas that spark conversation about Unitarian Universalism.
These are modeled after the TED Talks you may be familiar with, and like them we hope you will agree these are ideas worth spreading. The idea for these GA Talks came from the young adult caucus and they have branded their talks YA@GA.
So it is appropriate that our first GA Talk is from one of our young adult leaders, Ruth Hinkle.
Ruth Hinkle: Hello. My name is Ruth and I have been a Unitarian Universalist my entire life. I was asked to share my bridging story with you.
You should probably know that I was a bit of a poster child for church involvement. Not only did I attend church every Sunday, but I served as a leader in my youth group. For three years I was a member of my district’s youth steering committee, which planned 5-7 youth conferences a year. At the Midwest UU Summer Assembly, where I’ve attended since I was six, I planned worships every year in middle and high school. As a senior in high school, I co-wrote a youth worship curriculum.
So, as you might imagine, I really didn’t think I could become disconnected from my faith. Sure, I’d heard about how young adults drift away or disappear. I heard that some returned and some didn’t. I’d even seen it happen to my friends.
But I was determined it wouldn’t happen to me. And you know, I thought I had a fighting chance. I continued to live with my family in the house that’s just seven minutes away from the church. I stopped going to youth group and stayed for the whole Sunday service.
It’s tempting, I think, to suggest that the services didn’t do it for me. After all, us millennials want cool, hip churches. We’re being told left and right that churches are dying and if we don’t attract those young folks, we’re doomed.
But here’s the thing. I liked the services. My transition coincided with the arrival of a new minister. He did a lot of things I liked. I found his sermons challenging and insightful. I loved the direction the music took. I enjoyed that those services touched me emotionally.
And it didn’t matter. Something was missing. It took me a while to figure out that I was lonely. When I did figure it out, I did the only thing I could think of: join a committee. Yup, that’s right. I was so desperate to deepen connections with the people who raised me that I took on the stress and extra work of a committee.
Before I move further, I want to draw your attention to two things. The first is that around 90% of church members found Unitarian Universalism as adults. That’s an astonishing percentage to consider. That brings me to number two. Around 90% of church members have no clue what Unitarian Universalism means to youth, unless they have the chance to experience it as chaperones and mentors.
In a poignant post on the Raised UU Facebook group, Nina West shared her experiences with Liberal Religious Youth, or LRY, which was an earlier incarnation of youth culture. She writes: “Because I grew up with a model of a high level of responsibility for and with my fellow youth and within my congregation, I expected that to be part of a community meant to participate. A lot. To be very hands on.” She continues, saying “this idea that my religion, my congregation, is something I am expected to participate in—a lot—that’s central to how I grew up as a UU. I think of that as essentially UU.”
I was struck by Nina’s words. Participation is a fundamental value of youth culture. Religious education classrooms encourage participation from all voices, which are, of course, inherently worthy. At the beginning of conferences, youth collaborate to create a covenant for the weekend. Youth worship is designed around participation and community building. The most successful worships I ran were ones where I accurately judged the closeness of the group and pushed them to get to know each other even better. Vulnerability is valued and cherished. The hallowed spaces of youth community become sacred, despite the smell of unwashed teenager.
My friend Taylor recently described youth community as a “warm, safe nest.” I love these words. Have you ever woken up feeling cocooned, protected, and warm? There are those mornings where the bed and your blankets are just so right that you can’t bear to break the spell.
Now, imagine that someone rips off those covers. The chill of the room shocks you. You stumble out of bed, fumbling for something to protect your body. It’s not a pleasant experience.
In many ways, this is what we ask of youth when they graduate. They are forced of youth group, youth conferences, and youth portions of camps and assemblies. They have no choice about leaving. After 18 years of nurturing their bodies and souls, we deposit them at the foot of a metaphorical bridge and send them on their merry way.
Now, can you imagine the difference between the youth culture I described and sitting in a Sunday service? In youth culture, you create your experiences. In a Sunday service, you typically receive your experience, pre-packaged. Now, imagine trying to get that warm, cuddly feeling from a committee.
If your story is like mine, I want you to know that congregations really want to support you. And they are trying to figure it out. At Faith Architects, where I serve as the program director, we are building curricula that teaches young adults how to bridge those cultural differences in practical ways.
If you’re an adult wondering what you can do to support youth as they transition, I want you to consider the following:
Does your congregation have a deep relationship with your youth? If not, what’s preventing that connection? Do you talk about youth as by-products of your church? Are you taking credit for their awesomeness without participating in their culture? How do you maintain relationships with youth after they graduate?
In an article called “Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool,’” Rachel Held Evans wrote that she returned to church because of the sacraments: “[The sacraments] don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.” Loving, authentic, and inclusive community.
As for me, I’m still here because I don’t expect perfect community. But I do expect communities that are willing to look deeply at themselves. Do you think you can do that for me?
Moderator: Ruth, thank you so much for that.
GA Talk: Mosaic Makers
Moderator: Now I want to introduce our next GA Talk by Rev. Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre.
He is Professor of Social Ethics and Latino/a Studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado and Executive Officer for the Society of Race, Ethnicity and Religion.
He is a "theologian-activist" whose writing, teaching, preaching, and speaking is intended to move people of faith toward creating justice and living in solidarity with the oppressed.
He is launching today's first-ever GA Mosaic track, a four-part workshop series that stems from Mosaic Makers: Leading Vital Multicultural Congregations. Mosaic Makers is a national conference that considers four pillars of intentional multicultural community: Leadership, Worship, Justice Ministry, and Congregational Life, and Worship as being critical for building multicultural sensibility and community.
He served as main presenter at the 2014 Mosaic conference host by First Unitarian, Tulsa. Welcome Miguel.
Miguel A. De La Torre: Buenos Dias! I am honored to be here because I know that Unitarian Universalists want to be part of building the Beloved Community. That has been difficult for you because you have historically been a white denomination with the added burdens of affluences and education. This does not mean you cannot work toward the dream. It means you will have to go deeper to understand how you will participate in shaping and realizing the future. I am so happy to see how your workshops are designed to help develop your understanding of the mosaic real by focusing on justice-making, accountable leadership, community life, and worship. These four pillars are key to the transformative work you in which you are engaged as people of faith. But this work is not easy, the pitfalls are many, and the shortcuts are too tempting.
For example, the great modern-day theologian - Steven Colbert of the former “The Colbert Report”—accepted applications for the position of his very own “black friend.” Realizing the importance of political correctness, Colbert thought it would be crucial to have a black friend he could point to just in case he was ever accused of being a racist. He was so committed to the effort of not appearing to be racist that he had to ask someone else, before choosing from the pool of applicants, which ones were black, because he was, of course, “colorblind.” Colbert’s approach to racially and ethnically diversifying his cadre of friends is similar to the shortcuts many take to diversify their churches. For some, the hope of diversification is more for the sake of political correctness rather than creating the Beloved Community.
And while I appreciate the overtures made to include people of color into you fold, I must ask: “Why do you assume I would even want to worship at your church? After centuries of exclusion, why should I come a-running now that you think it makes your church look good by having a black or brown face in the pew to prove that your congregations aren’t racist?” It is difficult for people of color to pray while sitting next to the banker who will charge me an extra point of interest because my last name is Latino. It’s hard to shout praises while being stared at by the police officer who gave me a ticket for driving while under the influence of being Hispanic. It’s challenging to proclaim the mercies of my God knowing that sitting across the aisle is a parishioner who refuses to show mercy toward the undocumented. Unless those within the congregation begin to honestly and seriously deal with their white supremacy and class privilege, it is unlikely that believers of color will ignore the realities outside the church building, and just come on in.
We don’t have time for churches to perfect their strategies before doing the justice work of reconciliation, because statistical trends reveal that as a nation, we are becoming more segregated. For the past half millennium, racial and ethnic forms of economic oppression have been normalized and legitimatized in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of Euroamericans, an entrenched understanding that found religious justification. Due to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (and other antiracist, anticolonial and democratizing movements throughout the world) the way whites construct reality was radically challenged and changed. Nonetheless, repackaging white supremacy that secured structural inequalities and injustices under the concept of “color-blindness,” preserved the historical racial hegemony; thus, a masked racism and ethnic discrimination persist in our churches. Unfortunately, claiming “color-blindness” simply replaced racial domination with a racial hegemony that poses questions concerning the struggle for justice on a universal rather than on a corporate plane by integrating the opposition so as to nullify their more radical demands. The reconciliation forged and advocated was a color-blind reconciliation that enacted anti-racist laws while failing to fundamentally change or transform the social structures that maintain and sustain racism. The more radical demands of the Civil Rights movement (i.e. equitable distribution of wealth, resources, and opportunities) were sacrificed in favor of limited economic, political and cultural access to power and privilege for a minority of middle-class people of color.
To claim the ideal of color-blindness allows church folk to approach racism on an individual, rather than communal level. Euroamericans can downplay, if not outright ignore, the importance of initiating socio-political acts that challenge the present embedded social structures that are detrimental to communities of color. For them, reconciliation is achieved through personal relationships across racial and ethnic lines. Like Colbert, having a black friend. Stressing individual-level actions over and against changing social structures allow those who are privileged by those same structures to feel righteous because of public apologies offered, with crocodile tears, for past racist acts. Meanwhile, they can continue to benefit from the status quo that protects Eurocentric privilege. We are thus faced with the question, “What is the best advice that can be given to whites living in a so-called post-racial society, wishing to diversify their institutions?” Or to answer Rodney King’s immortal question, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Here’s my disclaimer. I am an ordained Southern Baptist Latino preacher, so what I’m about to say should not be all that shocking. No church or institution should consider diversifying unless they first get “saved.” More specifically, they must nail their white supremacy and class privilege on the cross so that they can become a new creature. Becoming a new creature is not to be taken figuratively, but rather literally. The question that must be asked is how much the institution is willing to change, to die to itself, to become a new local where all can come, were all are welcomed. The institution wishing to diversify will never succeed while holding on to the attitude that “this is the way we’ve always done it and if you want to join us, you have to become like us.” The question we must ask is if we are committed to building a new way. Can we commit to the necessity that "black lives matter” before rushing to all lives matter.
Although we may come to our spirituality through different paths, we still are attempting to form one body—one very diverse body. The apostle Paul was among the first to see the importance of diversity. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “There are a variety of gifts yet the same Spirit, there are a variety of ministries yet the same Lord, there is a variety of working in all sorts of different people yet the same God who is working in all of them” (12:4-6). For Paul, because we represent different traditions, we all offer different gifts and different ministries. Our unity as one body does not come from watering down different races, ethnicities, or orientations so that they can become Euroamerican in thought and action; rather, our diversity makes unity possible, especially when that diversity is manifested in Community Life and Worship.
Paul reminds us that just as the human body is made up of different parts yet remains a single unit, so too is it with this General Assembly. Therefore, it would be ridiculous for the foot to insist that the eye also be a foot. Likewise, it is ridiculous for the Euro American to insist that the Latino/a must sing three hundred-year-old German hymns if they want to properly praise the Creator of all. Likewise, it is absurd that the African-American must follow a Eurocentric liturgy in order to be more spiritual. If all parts conform to the will of one of its parts, how then could it be a body? The parts may be many, but the body remains one.
I know that the first Mosaic workshop is called “Why Do We UUs Cross the Road.” Crossing the road is about justice ministry. The doing, orthopraxis, and not the believing, orthodoxy, is the answer for creating the Beloved Community. Moving beyond Steven Colbert’s political correctness requires the dominant culture’s consciousness to be raised to consider the struggles of their neighbors of color, without being defensive. The church discovers its own salvation through its solidarity with the marginalized. One engages in the process of liberation not to achieve the ultimate goal of having more faces of color in the congregation. One engages in the process of liberation for the sole purpose of becoming the church. Then, and only then, can we become one body poised in turning the world upside down.
Moderator: Now its time to call on the Secretary of our Association, The Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, for any announcements.
Susan Ritchie: (live caption)
Moderator: Thanks Susan.
Moderator: Regarding tomorrow’s general session. Note that the singing starts at 7:45 and you don’t want to miss that. Then a special worship service starts at 8:00 to prepare us for our work together at 8:45.
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 8:45 a.m. tomorrow morning.