General Session III, General Assembly 2016

Captions (txt) were created during the live event, and contain some errors. Captioning is not available for some copyrighted material.

General Assembly (GA) 2016 Event 403

Program Description

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 for details on the specific items to be addressed. General sessions are shorter than previous years in response to delegates’ suggestions. Presenters have been asked to be as brief as possible, 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.


The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.

Call to Order

Moderator: I now call to Order the Third General Session of the Fifty-Fifth General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Right Relations Report

Moderator: Does the Right Relationship Team have anything to report?

Welcome back Lisa Bovee-Kemper or Steven Ballesteros.

Lisa Bovee-Kemper: To be live-captioned.

Presentation: Distinguished Service Award

Moderator: I call on the Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, yet again, this time to tell us about the Distinguished Service Award.

Rob Eller-Isaacs: As Secretary of the UUA Board, it is my distinct privilege to convene the Board committee charged to propose a recipient for the annual award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism. The award is presented each year to honor one who has made extraordinary contributions in helping to strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions while deepening the impact of our ministry. This year, the UUA Board of Trustees is honored to celebrate the exemplary service of the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman. Here to read the citation and introduce Dr. Hallman is her successor as Senior Minister at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, Texas, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Kanter.

Daniel Kanter: The 2016 Annual Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism is presented by the Unitarian Universalist Association to The Reverend Dr. Laurel Hallman.

We need a language of reverence. We need a language of forgiveness. We need a language of reconciliation. A language of hope. A language that gives voice to despair. To name a few. That language for centuries, and in countless cultures has been metaphorical, it has pointed beyond itself to something much deeper than it could name. It is our turn to keep such language alive, hold it to our hearts, and speak to the depths of those who so desperately need our good word.

These are the words of Laurel Hallman in her 2003 Berry Street Essay.

The Reverend Doctor Laurel Elizabeth Hallman—preacher, pastor, leader, grandmother, visionary, teacher, guide, and friend—for 50 years, you have ministered to UU congregations, colleagues and communities in so many cherished ways. Builder of congregations, UU institutions and leaders, spirituality and friendships—you have brought a vision of the larger truth and a keen wisdom to everything you have done.

Born in San Francisco and raised as a fundamentalist Baptist—so serious about your faith you carried your bible on your books in high school—you learned to cultivate a spirit of soulful contemplation and purposeful intent to grow the faith. In the 1960s, you prepared to be an elementary school teacher majoring in music and social sciences. When you moved to St. Paul, Minnesota you become a Quaker, and then a friend introduced you to Unity–Unitarian Church. In the 1970s, you were part of their curriculum design team building the “Images for Our Lives” using values clarification matched with stories from many faith traditions in the 266 lessons. You came to the ministry through church administration and this religious education work, and entered theology training at Meadville Lombard in 1977, a divorced single parent and deeply experienced in Unitarian Universalism.

Before receiving your MA in Divinity from the University of Chicago Divinity School and D.Min. from Meadville, you were a chaplain in San Francisco and the John B. Wolf Preaching Scholar in Tulsa.

Ordained at Unity-Unitarian, you were first called to the Unitarian Church in Bloomington, Indiana in 1981 and then, in 1987, became the first female senior minister of a large church at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas.

You led both churches to new levels of professionalism, generosity, and spiritual depth. Throughout your career, you have pioneered your place, often in all-male settings, where clergy gathered.

With dynamic preaching and worship, a high-quality religious education program, and by helping both members and guests connect to the church in meaningful ways, First Unitarian Church of Dallas doubled to more than 1,000 members, and in 2005 was named one of the UUA’s Breakthrough Congregations.

In your justice work in Dallas, you connected with Ernesto Cortes of the Industrial Areas Foundation and helped build trust across faith barriers. You have mentored a generation of ministerial interns, trained countless board members, and addressed financial stewardship as a spiritual practice. In the 1990s, you brought Carver Policy Governance into being at First Church in Dallas—a visionary example to many large UU churches.

Your work to develop and make available a unique spiritual practice for UUs through your Living by Heart program, with your mentor Harry Schofield, has a lasting impact on us all.

Your call for us to embrace diverse and spiritually driven language in worship and faith development sustains us and challenges us to live into being the faith we are called to be. Through your collaboration on the “Whose Are We?” book and curriculum, we are further deepened to respond to theological questions of import. You remain grounded, cultivating your own deepening through continued education with the Shalem Institute for spiritual leadership.

Your leadership contribution to Meadville Lombard Theological School extends from first being a student, then in an active role in the school’s ministerial formation program, and as a trustee, collaborator, and capital campaign chair. You have been a strong advocate of high standards, willing to take on the role of supervisor both for students who showed great promise for the ministry and for those who had significant challenges. In 1997, you received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree from Meadville Lombard. In 2013 you became chair of Meadville Lombard’s Pointing the Way Campaign Committee to strengthen the foundation of the school and initiate new educational programs.

Small in stature, strong in spirit, you meet each challenge with courage and conviction. You have always understood yours was a higher purpose, and so your ministry included leadership in clergy retreats, the publishing of your book Reaching Deeper, and coaching ministerial colleagues who needed your support and guidance.

Elegant and thoughtful, you model the highest standards of religious leadership in every role you undertake: lay leader, church administrator, professional religious educator, curriculum developer, parish minister, senior minister and executive of a large church, spiritual teacher, candidate for UUA President, author, mentor, and trustee.

Laurel, we must include poetry because it has been your sustenance and guide. Ask Me, by William Stafford, is a favorite of yours:

Some time when the river is ice ask me

mistakes I have made. Ask me whether

what I have done is my life. Others

have come in their slow way into

my thought, and some have tried to help

or to hurt—ask me what difference

their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.

You and I can turn and look

at the silent river and wait. We know

the current is there, hidden; and there

are comings and goings from miles away

that hold the stillness exactly before us.

What the river says, that is what I say.

Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, your leadership, fellowship, vision, words, and wisdom are powerful expressions of the best our ministries can offer the world; we are honored to recognize you with the 2016 Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism.

Laurel Hallman: Thank you Rob Eller-Isaacs and the Committee, Thank you Jim Key, and Daniel Kanter.

I am a bit overwhelmed. Like most of us, involved in congregations and in our Association, we do what seems to be needed and hope it is worthwhile. Jim Key’s call to tell me I am this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Service Award caused me to reflect on what I have done as a body of work—to think of the threads that have been constant in my ministry through the years—, the religious literacy of our children, the spiritual depth of our members, the strength of our institutions, generosity as a spiritual practice, inviting in the people who need us, and community organizing to join forces with other churches to create change.

A long time ago I adapted some questions from St. Ignatius for use in my UU Spirituality Classes and Retreats, and more importantly in my own practice. I found that ministry had so many demands coming from so many directions that it was easy to lose sight of who I was, or what it was I thought I was doing.

When I began to slip into going all directions at once I would stop and begin the simple practice: Who am I? Who else am I?

I would insert the phrase “God be merciful” in between my answers to “Who am I?” UU’s in m retreats would sometimes be confounded by the additional phrase, but I would encourage them to just ‘go with it.’

And it almost always did its work—which had little to do with the imagined mercy of an imagined God, and a lot to do with deep metaphorical religious imagination spanning centuries, and real, present spiritual depth.

I have to admit that after Jim Key called with the news I was to receive this award I was stunned. And then driven back to my “who am I?” practice.

Ironically I have been working with my Spiritual Director on my capacity to receive—I was one of those children trained not to be prideful, which became a kind of self-discounting when people told me I had been a help. I’ve been working on being more receptive to heart-felt statements of appreciation.

And then God’s little trick (that would be a metaphor) God’s little trick on me was this Award. My Spiritual Director would say, Breathe, smile, take it in.

So here I am receiving the Distinguished Service Award from the faith tradition that saved my life so long ago when the religion of my childhood, my early world view failed me.

A Distinguished Service Award for my ministry to congregations which opened their collective hearts and lives to me at a time when it seemed easier for congregations to choose men.

I am receiving the award for all the gifts I have already received through the years. Amazing.

Early in my time at Unity Church-Unitarian, in St. Paul, Minnesota, working as an administrator and RE Director, I decided I wanted to preach. My great grandfather had been a circuit rider preacher.

Maybe it was in the genes.

I began to preach in churches in the area which needed supply. One Sunday, waiting to peach at the First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, John Cummins said, “When are you going to theological school?” I answered that I had no plans for ministry. I had a young son to raise and was happy in my work as it was. He said, “Well, when you go we have some scholarship money to help. Let me know.”

Does this award take into account people like John Cummons who planted the seed?

When I first started preaching I discovered that because I am short, I couldn’t see over the top of the pulpit.

The custodian in St. Paul, Phil Platt, built a riser that I could take with me when I preached in other churches and fellowships.

I used it in Bloomington, Indiana in my first Called ministry. I took it with me to Dallas, where because it was Dallas, they carpeted it put molding around the corners, and added a small handle.

In the meantime a wonderful doctor in the community in Bloomington, Walt Owens, retired and took up woodworking. His first project was to build a new pulpit for the church with a fold out step that was built in.

The year I preached the Service of Living Tradition in Indianapolis, the good people in Bloomington put the pulpit in a truck and drove it up to the convention center so I could preach from it. I was literally lifted up by their love.

I tell you this because if grace is ours according to our capacity to receive, I first have to answer the “Who am I” question by acknowledging that I am here because grace has come to me in the form of people in congregations and on denominational task forces and committees, who met me where I was, as I was and blessed me with acceptance and love and support—so often literal support—not only step ups into pulpits, but money and time for projects we undertook together—I cherish their memory.

The night I lost the UUA Presidential Election, I stood on a table in a patio to talk with my closest supporters. I told them our message had been important and we had made a difference, even though we had lost the election. When I paused for breath, Larry Ladd, who was standing next to the table, said, “I won!” I admit I was a bit startled, but in a way, I won too. Larry and I were married that September, I’ve had good work with Burton Carley for the UUMA, time to be with my Austrian Grandchildren. Do projects I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and enjoy life.

I decided to formalize my retirement and walk in the Service of the Living Tradition. In the Fall I announced my last sermon, preaching at First Unitarian in Dallas for the last time.

And then, in January, as a surprise even to myself, I accepted the invitation of the Falmouth UU Fellowship to be their Interim Minister. So evidently it’s not over until it’s over.

But here’s the thing: three weeks ago I was visiting with a couple in the Falmouth congregation, pillars. We discovered in the course of our conversation that we all had roots in Minnesota. “My sister still lives there, in the northwest part of the state, just over the border from Fargo, North Dakota.” Avis said. Then she added, “She is a member of the Underwood UU Congregation.”

I said, “I preached at the tiny Underwood Church in the ‘70s! They had no minister and wanted someone to preach on Easter, so I would go, with my young son in tow, and preach for them.”

The next Sunday, Avis said, “I wrote my sister. She remembers you. She said they still have the riser they built for you to be able to see over the pulpit—and my sister said, “Come back any time.”

I just may do it.

I’ll show them my Distinguished Service Award, and tell them the part they had in making it possible.

Thank you all. This is an extraordinary day.

Moderator: Terrific, and congratulations to the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman.

Actions of Immediate Witness

Moderator: I call on Susan Goekler Chair of the Commission on Social Witness to give us a report on potential Actions of Immediate Witness and an overview of the process for AIWs

Susan Goekler: Moderator Key, the Commission on Social Witness submits the following [Number] issues that meet the criteria for Actions of Immediate Witness and have received the required number of delegate signatures. Delegates may select up to three to add to the final agenda for a vote on Sunday:

To be live-captioned.

Moderator: We will now take the first step of the process for adopting Actions of Immediate Witness. Bylaw section 4.16 provides that not more than three Actions of Immediate Witness may be admitted to the agenda for possible final action, and that two-thirds of the delegates must support the admission of each one to the agenda. Delegates had an opportunity to pick up a copy of the proposed Actions of Immediate Witness from the information table located next to the entry doors. If there is any delegate without a copy, please raise your voting card and the tellers will make sure that each delegate receives a copy of each proposed Action of Immediate Witness. Today's CSW Alert includes a summary of each proposed AIW.

The following proposed Actions of Immediate Witness have qualified for possible admission to the final agenda as you heard from Susan.

To be live-captioned.

Please note the letters A through F on the ballot attached to your delegate card. You are going to check three of those blocks before we are through. But don't vote yet!

We have six groups that have decided that there are some issues that the delegates need to consider. It will be up to you this morning, based on the rules found in the bylaws—section 4.16—to narrow these six down to three. Tomorrow you will vote on the actual language of those. Today you are just voting on whether there are three topics that you feel are worthy and important enough that you want to spend some time on this afternoon in mini-assemblies and tomorrow in general session—to see about actually making a statement as a delegate body.

So here's the process. You get the CSW Alert, and you look at the proposed AIW summaries that are printed there. These are in random order. The letters that are there correspond to the letters on your ballot card at the bottom stub. A is etc.

To be live-captioned.

The statements themselves, the full statements, are at the CSW booth. They're not available now because you're not voting on the full statement. You're only voting on the topic. At the mini-assemblies this afternoon in rooms E160, E161,and E162, you'll have an opportunity to look at the full statements and then to make decisions about whether you want to revise the wording on those.

Before you vote, we are going to hear statements from the proponents of each of these. Each one has two minutes to tell you about their issue.

I recognize the delegate at the Pro microphone. Please tell us your name and the congregation you represent.

"This year we are trying something new. Offsite delegates will be submitting typed statements online instead of calling into the hall. These statements will be read by: Karen Madrone from the UU Church of Greensboro in Jamestown, North Carolina, Phoebe Mussman from Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood Missouri, and Rachel Nicaise (Nee Kase) from UU Congregation of Monmouth County, Lincroft, New Jersey. These volunteers are here to be the ‘voice’ of our offsite delegates and the statements they read do not necessarily reflect their own personal views. We have every intention of returning to full audio, and even adding video, in the future, as the technology becomes easier to use and integrate into these sessions."

Speaker 1: To be live-captioned.

Moderator: Thank you. I recognize the delegate at the Pro microphone.

Speaker 2: To be live-captioned.

Moderator: Thank you. I recognize the delegate at the Pro microphone.

Speaker 3: To be live-captioned.

Moderator: Thank you. I recognize the delegate at the Pro microphone.

Speaker 4: To be live-captioned.

Moderator: Thank you. I recognize the delegate at the Pro microphone.

Speaker 5: To be live-captioned.

Moderator: Thank you. I recognize the delegate at the Pro microphone.

Speaker 6: To be live-captioned.

Moderator: Thank you. Having heard from the six proponents of these proposed AIWs, have you gotten an overview of the potential AIWs?

Vote on Actions of Immediate Witness

Moderator: So now it is time to vote. Take out a pencil, pen, or crayon, and select up to three that you would like to see move forward. If you do more than three, your ballot will be invalid. If you select one three times, that will be invalid. You can check just one or just two, but no more than three. Then you're going to tear this stub off ever so gently. And this is going to be passed down the isle and the ushers are going to collect them. Any questions?

Special Collection to Support BLUU

Moderator: Our special collection this year is to Support Black Lives Unitarian Universalism or BLUU. Here us Kenny Wiley to tell you about it.

Kenny Wiley: Good morning, friends! I’m Kenny Wiley. I serve Unitarian Universalism as a senior editor for UU World Magazine, as the director of faith formation at Prairie UU Church near Denver, Colorado, and as a lead organizer in the Black Lives of UU organizing collective.

My Unitarian Universalist story is unusual. My black grandmother found UUism at a time when many black folks were leaving the faith. My parents married in the First Unitarian Church of Austin, Texas. My sisters and I grew up at Northwoods UU near Houston, and did every program you can name. Our Whole Lives. Coming of Age. YRUU. If “How UU are you?” were an internet quiz, I’d have to think I’d do well.

Every year on Christmas Eve at my home church in Houston, a woman elder would read these words from 20th-century Unitarian religious educator Sophia Lyon Fahs, found in our hymnal

“Each night a child is born is a holy night.

A time for singing, a time for wondering, a time for worshipping.”

Those words are deeply embedded in my soul. Those words are my UU theology. Each night a child is born is a holy night. When Mike Brown was left in the Ferguson streets, those words came roaring back and pushed me out into the Denver movement for black lives. When I think of Sandra Bland, of Rekia Boyd, of Tamir Rice, and many others, and when I see media outlets or others suggesting they deserved what they got, I come back to the night (or day) they were born.

The entire Black Lives of UU collective has deep roots in this beautiful, challenging faith of ours. For us, we don’t just see our faith as part of why we work to make Black Lives Matter—we believe that the work of Black Lives Matter is the work of Unitarian Universalism. If we are to be the faith that believes, truly, that the night or day we were born was a holy night, then we’ve got work to do.

The UUA Board committed $60,000 from this morning’s offering to the Black Lives of UU collective. Because of this commitment from the UUA, we have been able to assist over 65 Black UUs from 22 states who contacted us for assistance with registration, transportation and housing costs. Two-thirds of respondents have never been to GA before and half would not have been able to attend GA without our support.

With your financial help this morning, friends, we are excited that the grant will allow to begin preparations for the first Black Lives of UU Convening to be held in the Southern Region in the first half of 2017. A dozen Black Unitarian Universalists attended the Movement for Black Lives Convening in Cleveland last summer, joining more than 1200 Black people. We look forward to creating a similar explicitly Black gathering for Black UUs to connect and live into the world we dream of.

As an organizing collective, we wrote the UU Seven Principles of Black Lives last fall. Our first principle states, in part:

We strive to promote and affirm queer Black lives, trans Black lives, formerly incarcerated Black lives, differently-abled Black lives, Black women’s lives, immigrant Black lives, Black elderly and children’s lives. BLACK LIVES MATTER. We throw no one under the bus. We rise together.

We rise together, friends. If you believe as we believe—that all black lives matter, that the night each and every of us was born was a holy night—we ask you to join us. We ask you to financially give generously and abundantly. We ask you to help us meet that $60,000 goal.

We ask you to take risks, to have the hard conversations, and to proclaim, without apology, with words, and with actions, and with funds, that Black Lives Matter.

Moderator: While our ushers are collecting the offering, I want to acknowledge the [TBD] congregations that have pledged $1000 or more to this special collection. Their gifts total [TBD].

If you would like to give online, you may text BLUU to 41444. You will get a response that asks you to click on a link that takes you to a donation page. Easy!

Donate Now

Black Lives of UU (BLUU) provides information, resources and support for Black Unitarian Universalists and works to expand the role & visibility of Black UUs within our faith. Donate to BLUU.

To donate to Black Lives of UU by credit card on your mobile phone text BLUU to 41444.

Singing, Offertory for Black Lives Matter

Moderator: And now I want you to hear a special piece of music that works well for this offering. Jan Chamberlin will introduce it.

Jan Chamberlin: Good morning!

We have a new song for you today, but it has a familiar melody.

I’d like to share with you briefly, how it came to be.

My dear former colleague, the Rev. Michael Hennon, was a young man in the Unitarian’s Liberal Religious Youth organization.

In the 1950s, the Executive Director of the LRY, Sam Wright, was inspired to write new words to the old tune of “Finlandia”. This became known as the LRY hymn.

In 1993, When the UUA published our gray hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, they adjusted just a few words of the LRY hymn and included it. I think you’ll agree it’s become one of our all-time favorites: “We Would Be One”.

Michael Hennon says, “Our faith is a living, growing thing—to be written and re-written when times, conditions and new insights require it.”

As Eliot Unitarian Chapel has stood in solidarity with our neighbors in Ferguson, Michael Hennon was inspired to write new words for us to sing, with the same power found in the music of “We Would be One". He asked for my assistance, and then, in honor of Michael’s retirement, I asked Clif Hardin to create a new choral arrangement.

This song is called, “For Justice Now.”

“For Justice Now,” Lyrics by Rev. Michael Hennon, Jan Chamberlin & Clif Hardin; Melody: Finnlandia by Jean Sibelius. Arrangement by Clif Hardin on the occasion of Rev. Michael Hennon’s retirement from Eliot Unitarian Chapel, 2015.

Moderator’s Report

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…” [1]

These words are the preamble of our Association’s Shared Vision, or Global Ends. They can be found in full on page 84 of your program book and on the UUA website.

I opened my report to you last year with that same phrase, and I have shared them with every congregation and community I have visited over the past year—26 visits across 13 states.

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 still animate my work for this liberal faith and inform my report to you on how your governance structure is responding to that vision.

I have been reading turning point, essays on a new Unitarian Universalism edited by Fred Muir, the senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis. I strongly recommend it to anyone who cares for this faith and wants it to remain a prophetic voice in the public square.

Muir challenges us to acknowledge and correct our Trinity of Errors. He writes, “Fundamental to our survival is a paradigm shift, a frame bending that goes deep in the history, (and) character… of Unitarian Universalism… because it goes to the essence of how we understand our ourselves and, in turn, relate to the world at large, which means how we relate to our demographic context”.

Muir continues, “Fundamental to our future is recognizing our way of faith, from its leadership to its Sunday service to justice-making partnerships, has been supported and nurtured by a trinity of errors, leading not only to ineffectiveness but also to an inability to share our liberating message. This is to say, while Unitarian Universalism’s gospel is good news, it is loosing its vitality and relevance.”

He defines this trinity of errors this way:

  • “We are being held back and stymied by persistent, pervasive, and disruptive commitment to individualism that misguides our ability to engage the changing times.
  • We cling to a Unitarian Universalist exceptionalism that is often insulting to others and undermines our good news.
  • We refuse to acknowledge and treat our allergy to authority and power, though all the symptoms compromise a healthy future.” [2]

Muir offers a Trinity of Promises as an antidote to our Trinity of Errors: generosity, pluralism, and imagination.

I want to report on those promises that the Moderator and UUA Board of Trustees are pursuing: generosity, pluralism, and imagination.

First, generosity: It is no secret that costs are up and congregational fair share giving to our Association is down. The Board of Trustees charged Larry Ladd, Financial Advisor, to form a task force, collaborate with the Stewardship and Development staff and others, and then bring to the board recommendations to imagine an APF approach that was not based on membership but a percentage of income. The Southern Region has been testing such an approach, and we have learned much form their pilot.

The Second of Muir’s trinity of promises is pluralism: This General Assembly is a great example of our understanding of the power of pluralism. Consider our theme, “Heart Land: Where Faiths Connect.” President Morales has made multi-faith pluralism central to his presidency, working with partners in our justice and anti-oppression work as well as with progressive faith movements, many of whose leaders who are with us this week. He wrote in the summer edition of UUWorld: “Unitarian Universalism has long been a ‘multi-faith faith.’ As such, I believe we have a unique opportunity to bring faiths together and to lead a multi-faith movement.” I agree with him.

But we need to focus on pluralism in our congregations as well, specifically in how we practice our fifth principle, “the right of conscious and the use of the democratic process…” We have been urging congregations to send delegates to GA and consider underwriting their expense for many years. However, typically less than 50 percent of our congregations bother to send delegates and fewer still offer financial support to attend. Our most recent data suggest 28 percent receive some financial support but it is not typically substantive. As a result, our delegate body tends to be older, whiter, and privileged who have the time and money to pay their own way. This apathy towards participating in the democratic process, closes out an opportunity for congregations to consider youth, young adults, people of color, and the economically fragile.

Last year your board of trustees approved establishing a scholarship fund to attract an appropriately diverse body of delegates. The Saturday collection in Saturday’s General Session last year along with gifts from the board and senior staff matched by the Davidoff Fund raised approximately $28,000 to support the participation of delegates at this General Assembly. I am delighted that we were able to award 87 scholarships to support delegates, but was disappointed that we didn't hear from more congregations.

The third part of Muir’s trinity of promises is imagination. I must confess this third part of the trinity is the one that most animates me.

I have shared with many of you, in various settings, my personal story of having been diagnosed with Stage-IV, non-small-cell lung cancer in 1999. The morbidity rates were grim; five percent of those so diagnosed might live for one year, only one percent might live for five years. I quickly imagined that I could be one of the one percent.

Several times a day, during my ten months of chemotherapy, I imagined little Pac Men consuming those rapidly multiplying cancer cells. I envisioned the toxic brew of my carboplatin infusions melting away the diseased cells. Further, I imagined myself surrounded by Liz, my children, my grandson, friends, and my new Unitarian Universalist community. I would gather them in my visioning at a beach on Pangkor Laut, an island on the west coast of Malaysia where Liz and I had been privileged to holiday when we lived and worked in Asia.

Imagining the healing provided by good science and amplified by the unconditional love of family and friends was powerful. Every day for many years I imagined my health restored. I still return to Pangkor Laut in my imagination as I have a need.

Friends, it was imagination that guided me to be among this one percent. And I have lived to see my family grow from one grandson in 1999 to six grandchildren in 2016.

I believe in the power of imagination, visioning, and wishing to move Unitarian Universalism to a place of more love, justice, and peace.

You do too apparently! We have congregations moving into actualizing the Beloved Community as a result of the Mosaic Makers initiative, with many congregations and communities having tough conversations on race stemming from the Beloved Conversations curriculum.

Moreover, district leaders are imagining other ways of shaping governance. Three districts in the Mid-west consolidated into one region two years ago, and eight districts in the South and Central Northeast have dissolved and deferred governance to the UUA. The four districts in New England have entered into an agreement to dissolve district governance structures over time. All of this “right-sizing” of governance structures is freeing hundreds of folks for other ministries that are bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice.

The board is in an imagining mode as well. At my request, the board established a task force to reflect on how we might focus on covenant over membership. I asked the delegates last year, to “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.

You will have a chance at this General Assembly to share with that task force what that might look like. The chair of the Renewing the Covenant task force, Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, and her team have been considering what a network of UU networked communities might look like and how that network could energize our faith. Many of you participated in our breakout groups yesterday.

The board is imagining through its Committee working group how we might further streamline governance structures. We now have 13 committees of the board and 6 committees authorized and elected by the delegates. Do we need all of them all the time? Are they all a good investment of our governance costs? Are they the right size? Should they be elected or appointed? Do they advance our Ends? Do they have a sunshine clause that requires re-authorizing from time to time? Can we imagine the Goldilocks “just right” committee structure for a religious movement of under 200,000 members? The board will bring some suggestions to you hopefully as early as the New Orleans General Assembly in 2017.

I can imagine a different way for delegates to discern positions on bylaws, business resolutions, and actions of immediate witness that allow time to learn together before any up or down votes are taken. We have modeled some ways of doing that discernment at this GA.

You and the congregations you represent are the UUA, not the board or staff. Participation in the democratic process is how you direct us to act on your behalf between general assemblies. That is our covenant; that is our polity. But too few congregations participate and fewer still offer any financial support for delegates to attend that would ensure wide and diverse participation in our democratic process. We must find ways for broader participation in the business of our association. I speak to this issue everywhere I go, but you must do so as well as leaders of this liberal faith.

I close with this reflection, again from Fred Muir: “Living as twenty-first-century Unitarian Universalists means restoring a faith that is religious and spiritual, covenantal and experiential, progressive and evangelical. From the trinity of promises, Beloved Community will be shaped and the future of our faith can deepen and grow again.” [3]


  1. UUA Global Ends
  2. Turning Point: Essays on a New Unitarian Universalism. Fredric Muir, editor. Skinner House Books ISBN 978-1-55896-766-3.
  3. Ibid.

Board of Trustees’ Report

Moderator: Please welcome Denise Rimes, your Vice Moderator, who will deliver the Board of Trustees report.

Denise Rimes: It is with great humility that I report to you on behalf of the Board of Trustees or our UUA. The past year has been one of rebirth and growth, as the Board and the Administration have evolved into a relationship that is blessed with covenant, collaboration, and commitment. Last year’s Board report reflected the growing pains of a smaller board and the ongoing implementation of policy governance, and while this past year has not been without its challenges, the Board is hitting its stride with clarity and purpose.

As cultural and political issues take deep root, our Board adapts quickly to the changing needs within society and within our faith movement.

Our Inclusion and Empowerment working group assures that we keep our ears to the ground on issues that intersect with our values. In the October, 2015 Board retreat, we welcomed Jacqui Lewis and John Janke from the Middle Project in New York who led us into a heartfelt and promising conversation about our commitment to Black Lives Matter. We began to consider how the UUA and its member congregations might strengthen and expand our commitment to Black Lives Matter. We also recalled and discussed our experience of the GA general session at which the BLM resolution was considered. The Board regrets that the process in place, the limited time, and the racism we’re still working to root out enflamed debate and brought out the worst in many of us. People were hurt. Lines were drawn in the sand. Old wounds were opened. We know this work is full of heartbreak. And we must find the will and the way to do a better job. As part of that extended conversation, we welcomed thirty high school youth and their advisors from the Twin Cities. We broke into small groups and returned to the Black Lives Matter conversation. It was a profound moment of “linkage” as together we tried to figure out how to improve the likelihood of creativity, respect and transformation. At the April meeting we engaged one another in intimate and inspiring conversations about prejudice against the trans community and what is required of us in response to the anti-trans legislation being proposed across the United States.

We are working hard to amplify generosity and stewardship, both through our traditional channels, and through generative work in collaboration with the Staff. And the Board seeks to model and encourage generosity. Our support for the Friends of the UUA and our involvement in encouraging financial support of the Association is central to our obligations and commitments as Trustees. Moderator Jim Key, as part of our effort to expand the circle of those able to come to General Assembly, established a scholarship fund that has enabled 87 people to attend GA this year who would not have otherwise been able to be here. We are in close collaboration with Stewardship and Development on the Annual Program Fund and on a Task Force that has been convened to consider how best to strengthen our core fund-raising efforts by examining our current contribution guidelines based on membership. And we are supporting, with great enthusiasm, the development of the Generosity Network, to help build relationships with congregations to help them be more generous with the UUA. In January of this year, the Board authorized a Board-restricted “Innovation Fund” that sets aside unrestricted bequests to provide the administration funds for new and creative initiatives. In other important votes this year, we helped assure the maintenance of 24 Farnsworth by setting aside the cash needed to fund depreciation on the building, received a report from the Audit Committee on their Enterprise Risk Management strategy that helps us mitigate the danger of unforeseen threats, welcomed an overview of UUA staff compensation showing that our lowest paid workers are paid above market with a $15 an hour minimum wage. We still have opportunities to make salaries more market-competitive reflecting Unitarian Universalisms commitment to economic justice. Equally as important, the Board received and approved a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The presentation tied the proposed expenditures to the stated Ends of the Association making it easier for trustees to understand the intended impacts of our spending. We took a look at the budget through a racial justice lens and are convinced that the UUA is making solid progress toward becoming a credible partner in the work. We also discussed projected income and are cautiously optimistic that the income goals are attainable.

The Board is working in a variety of ways to strengthen Unitarian Universalism’s capacity to make and keep important promises. The Board Task Force on Reimagining Governance is working on ways to encourage greater participation in the conversations, which shape and strengthen our faith. The Moderator has convened a team, led by Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, to consider how we might broaden our understanding of membership in ways that lead us into covenant. The Board was pleased to learn that one of our new covenanting communities, the UU Cooperative Communities which created the Lucy Stone Cooperative, and the new Margaret Moseley Cooperative, received a $100,000 grant from "The Forbes Under 30 $1M Change the World Competition." The Socially Responsible Investing Committee has also invested $50,000 in the effort whose mission is “to create cooperative housing based in UU principles and purposes.”

And the Board has approved a policy calendar, developed and administered by the Governance Working Group, requiring that we annually consider the adequacy of the global ends of the Association in order to determine when it would be best to engage our member congregations and communities in a process to reconsider and renew the Ends that govern our efforts. The Board continues to monitor itself and our policies at each quarterly meeting, in keeping with our commitment to a strong, accountable partnership with all of our stakeholders.

The Congregational Boundaries Working Group continues to partner with the Office of Ministries and Faith Development to honor the Association’s pledge to hold all of us accountable to “values at our core” in addressing issues of clergy sexual misconduct. The Ministerial Fellowship Committee is committed to ongoing training on this topic, and the Board will also be trained during the next year to better understand the deep implications of misconduct. We are deeply grateful to all of those who have come forward with their stories, and to those who have helped mend the system.

There are three declared candidates for UUA President, all of whom have completed the certification process. Rev. Susan Frederick Gray, Rev. Alison Miller and Rev. Jeanne Pupke represent our current slate of candidates, but other nominees are eligible to enter the race up until February 1, 2017. Board members and senior staff gathered with the three candidates recently to share our hopes and dreams for the future of Unitarian Universalism. We also reviewed the oversight structure in place for UUA elections and decided to take a more active role than in past elections by hosting five candidate forums prior to the election to be held in June of 2017. We have learned much from the nomination process of the first election of a single, 6-year term president that will offer important guidance for future elections. And, as if that isn’t enough, we have begun to plan for the creation of a Moderator Search Committee by charging the Appointments Committee to begin to assemble the team and by specifying the attributes needed.

President Morales and his leadership team presented a thorough and carefully conceived report evaluating the Association’s progress in pursuit of our stated Ends. The Board enthusiastically entered into deep and fruitful conversation with staff as to the implications of their conclusions and the need to find more effective ways to measure the impact of our efforts. It was generally agreed that staff is developing strong evaluative skills and that more baseline information is needed in order to track our progress over time. It is difficult to measure the impact of the Association’s efforts in congregational and community life but the Board and Administration are committed to the effort. With deep appreciation and regret we received the resignation of Vice Moderator, Susan Weaver, and enthusiastically expressed our appreciation for her excellent work in behalf our Unitarian Universalism. We also said goodbye to The Rev. Terasa Cooley, UUA Program and Strategy Officer, who stepped down after many years of dedicated service. Our best wishes follow these two outstanding individuals who have been so important to us.

In summary, our progress has been nothing short of remarkable. The year has been marked by a hard-won clarity of purpose and a genuine sense of collaboration between the Board and the Administration. Our Communications Working Group has made every effort to ensure that transparency provides full insight and awareness into the work of the Association, which is no small task! We have deep appreciation for all of those with whom we have partnered and those who have offered feedback and support throughout the year. There is much work ahead, but the energy and spirit with which we face the work will carry us well into the future.

Debate UUs for Justice in the Middle East Business Resolution

Moderator: Let me introduce Ted Fetter who facilitated the mini-assembly yesterday that considered the Business Resolution titled “Divestment from Corporations Complicit in the Violation of Palestinian Rights.” Before we debate and vote on this business resolution, I have asked Ted to give the full delegate body the sense of the mini-assembly to better frame the debate.

Ted Fetter: To be live-captioned.

Moderator: Thanks Ted. Our next order of business is to debate and vote on the Business Resolution titled “Divestment from Corporations Complicit in the Violation of Palestinian Rights.” I call on our Vice Moderator Denise Rimes to make the motion.

Denise Rimes: Moved, that the Business Resolution titled “Divestment from Corporations Complicit in the Violation of Palestinian Rights” that is presented on pages 99-101 of the final agenda and was amended in the mini-assembly be adopted by this assembly.

Moderator: The motion to adopt the Business Resolution on Divestment from Corporations Complicit in the Violation of Palestinian Rights has been made and seconded.

The chair calls on Larry Cooper, President of UUs for Justice in the Middle East, the maker of this motion business resolution for their statement on the subject.

To be live-captioned.

Moderator: Thank you.

The delegates have had an opportunity yesterday to hear a panel discussion on the complexity of this business resolution. Under the rules you approved Thursday morning, we have 30 minutes to debate this motion before voting. The motion can only be amended by introducing amendments offered in the mini-assembly but which were not incorporated. In other words, no new amendments can be made by this assembly. The business resolution requires 2/3 vote in the affirmative to be adopted.

There must be 20 minutes of debate before a delegate may call the question. The motion to call the question must then be voted with a majority voting in favor to require an immediate vote on the motion.

The chair reminds those who wish to speak in favor or against the business resolution, that debate must be confined to the merits of the business resolution. Avoid injecting a personal note into the debate; do not attack or make any allusion to the motives of others or the chair will rule the comments out of order.

Each speaker is limited to 2 minutes and may only speak once. Subsequent speakers should make new points rather than repeat what others have said.

Their are four possible outcomes on this business resolution:

  • Approve with 2/3 favorable vote,
  • Defeat with more than 1/3 unfavorable vote,
  • Move to postpone indefinitely which in effect kills the motion for this general assembly, and requires a majority vote,
  • Move to assign the resolution to a committee to report their recommendations at GA 2017 and that also requires a majority vote.

This year we are trying something new with our off site delegates to enable them to participate more fully. Offsite delegates will be submitting typed statements online instead of calling into the hall. These statements will be read by: Karen Madrone from the UU Church of Greensboro in Jamestown, North Carolina, Phoebe Mussman from Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood Missouri, and Rachel Nicaise (Nik Kase) from UU Congregation of Monmouth County, Lincroft, New Jersey. These volunteers are here to be the ‘voice’ of our offsite delegates and the statements they read do not necessarily reflect their own personal views. We have every intention of returning to full audio, and even adding video, in the future, as the technology becomes easier to use and integrate into these sessions.

Are we set to debate this? We will start with the con mike.

The chair recognizes the delegate at the con mike.

To be live-captioned.

The motion to adopt the business resolution (is approved or has failed).

Motion to Admit Actions of Immediate Witness to Final Agenda

Moderator: Let’s now move on to admit the AIWs to the final agenda. Here is Susan Goekler of the Commission on Social Witness again.

Susan Goekler: Moderator Key, based on the votes of the delegates, the Commission on Social Witness moves to admit the following three issues to the final agenda for a vote on Sunday.

To be live-captioned.

Moderator: The motion to admit the three issues to the final agenda for a vote on Sunday has been made and seconded. This motion is not debatable or amendable so those in favor raise those green cards. Those opposed.

The motion to admit the three issues to the final agenda for a vote on Sunday is approved.


Moderator: Now its time to call on the Secretary of our Association, Rob Eller-Isaacs, for any announcements.

Rob Eller-Isaacs: To be live-captioned.

Moderator: Thanks Rob.

Renewing the Covenant Charge

Susan Ritchie: Hi, my name is Susan Ritchie and it is my pleasure to serve as the convener of the Task Force of Re-covenanting, and to share something of our process with you, and ask you to help participate in some important work that might change how it is that we come together as an association, and beyond.

The first thing to notice about us is our name. We are the task force on re-covenanting.

We UUs, of course, already have many covenants. Some of them are explicit, some of them are implicit. Many of us are a part of a covenant of church membership. And, for those of us from congregations, our congregations are in covenant as a part of our participation in the Unitarian Universalist Association—indeed, it is the covenant of congregations that creates the UUA.

So what is our covenant?

You probably recognize the words that begin the part of our UUA bylaws which reads, “we, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association do covenant to affirm and promote…” the phrase which introduces our purposes and principles.

This covenant, however beautiful, is a fairly formal and static one, something that exists inside of our bylaws, not in our living relationship with each other.

Which is why we would like to talk now about re-covenanting—supplementing our basic covenant with news ones-so that we keep our commitments, our resolve, and our promises one to another fresh, dynamic, and mutual. Think people and promises and rainbows; rainbows being one of the ancient signs of covenant—not paperwork and Roberts Rules of Order and endless conversations about bylaws.

To understand how this might be, let’s begin with the gemstone of congregational polity, which reminds us that congregations, not bishops or any other sort of hierarchical power—are our highest authority. Only congregations—acting out of their own democratic process—can direct and inform what it is we do together, in association.

So how do congregations inform what it is that we all do in the name of Unitarian Universalism?

Here’s how it currently works. Here’s an organization chart of the UUA governance structure.

Please understand that this chart is rated “R” for its sheer quantity and difficulty of adult governance content. But look, if you can even discern it, you might not be able to—there we are with congregations right on the top of the page, the ultimate source of authority, informing all of this purposeful activity that we see as we move down the bottom of the page.

So, how does this informing take place?

Well, clearly General Assembly is a vital link. Congregations send delegates to General Assembly, and then General Assembly in turn offers direction to those entities that perform some of our work in the world, such as the UUA staff, and the many committees and groups of our association.

GA informs our ultimate purposes when we elect leaders.

GA informs our ultimate purposes when we vote on social action issues, which inform what it is that we say is the UUA’s position on important justice issues.

And of course, at GA, we have the power to change the bylaws, the rules we set for ourselves.

All this enables the UUA’s administrative staff, which serves as a kind of central hub for services.

However…As wonderful as this all is, it doesn’t really capture entirely some of the things that excite us the most. When we really feel like we are living out our purpose together, when we gather as the yellow shirted love people.

This is why Moderator Jim Key asked this task force to consider what it would be like to work away from the idea that we merely belong as congregations to a member service organization. Here is the charge he gave to our task force

[Jim’s video, unscripted]

We hope to bring specific recommendations related to this charge to General Assembly 2017. But in the meantime, we are beginning a listening tour in order to deliberate and imagine together. Specifically, we’d like to ask:

What in fact, if the UUA was not just a hub serving member congregations, but a complex network of different communities—each making commitments to each other so each community realize its own expression of Unitarian Universalist purpose? We can easily imagine that not all of these communities would be traditional congregations, and that some of these communities might come and go from covenant.

What if instead of just up down voting on issues at GA, what if we had more deliberative conversations with each other—the sort of conversations that change lives and communities as we develop and refine our understandings of our religious purposes and how to achieve them. What if we had these conversations frequently, and everywhere—in our congregations, in our clusters, in related organizations, in regional groupings—the list goes on.

So how would all of this work?

Well, currently we ask our member congregations to phone home to the UUA mothership once a year, tell us the number of members they claim, and promise that we’ve met a minimum number of times a year. That’s a little lonely and uninspiring.

What if instead, we asked congregations and other communities to share with all of us how it is that they have lived out their UU purpose, what help they need from the rest of us to realize those purposes, and how it is that they have engaged with other communities, either to ask assistance or offer guidance?

What if our associational l glue were purpose and covenant and relationship, not just something that we phone in?

So, the specifics are still yet to come, so you might wonder how will we know if we have succeeded?

Well, here are some members of our Task Force speaking to that.

To be live-captioned.

Susan Ritchie: As Rev. Dave put it, we can only live into this new world through practice, which is exactly what we are going to do right now. We are now going to break into different smaller groups, to discern and deliberate together—to form the base of our recovenanting. Jim has the details.

Moderator: Based on the first letter of your last name, please attend a session for these important conversations. If you are in Hall E or a room that starts with E, you will find those just outside this hall and to the right.

If your room starts with C2 (ie C250, etc), you will go to the floor above us.

If your room is in the Hyatt, go to the second floor (above us) and follow the signs to the Hyatt. None of the rooms is more than a 6-minute walk through the skywalks, but please ask an “Ask Me” volunteer if you need assistance.

Recess to Breakout Groups

Moderator: There being no further business to come before us, and in accordance with the schedule set forth in your program book, I declare that this general session of the General Assembly shall stand in recess until 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 26, 2016.

Turning Point Essays on a New Unitarian Universalism

By Fredric Muir

From Skinner House Books

In inspiring, fresh essays, 20 Unitarian Universalist leaders issue a clarion call for change in the denomination. They show a way forward from an isolated, individualistic “iChurch” to an inclusive, multicultural Beloved Community.

Buy This Book

Special Collection for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism

Black Lives of UU (BLUU) provides information, resources and support for Black Unitarian Universalists and works to expand the role & visibility of Black UUs within our faith. Donate to BLUU.

To donate to Black Lives of UU by credit card on your mobile phone text BLUU to 41444.

UU World: Liberal religion and life