General Session I, General Assembly 2017

Sound and captions begin at four minutes.

General Assembly 2017 Event 113 (combined with the Welcoming Celebration)

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Unedited Live Captioning (TXT)

Program Description

A team of board-appointed moderators preside over the general sessions in which the business of the Association is conducted.


  • Call to Order
  • Invocation
  • Review and Adopt Rules
  • Introduction: Right Relationship Team
  • Introduction: Chaplains
  • GA Accessibility
  • Recess

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

Call to Order

Moderator: Good evening, New Orleans! My name is Denise Rimes and I have served as the Vice Moderator of our UUA Board since February of 2016. I am honored to serve our Association, albeit under sad circumstances after the passing of Jim Key. Our bylaws indicate that in the absence of the Moderator a Vice Moderator shall preside at meetings and perform the duties of the Moderator. In the next month, a new Moderator will be chosen by the Board, and until then, the Board of Trustees and I will continue to represent you. With that in mind, I now call to order the Fifty-Sixth General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association.


Sofia Betancourt: I am Rev. Sofia Betancourt.

Bill Sinkford: I am Rev. Bill Sinkford.

Leon Spencer: I am Leon Spencer.

Bill: We are the Interim Co-Presidents of the Association, called into service by the Board of Trustees.

Sofia: We have been called on, in the absence of an elected President, to serve for a short period until a new President is chosen here at this gathering of Unitarian Universalism.

Leon: The three of us have been charged with leadership as our faith responds to the call for a deeper justice within our community, just as we resist the forces working to roll back justice in the world.

Bill: There is much loss that must be recognized as we gather. Moderator Jim Key died just weeks ago, after a cancer diagnosis forced him to resign. We hold Jim’s wife Liz, and their whole family in this time.

Sofia: President Peter Morales resigned just three months ago, in the midst of controversy about whether we were living toward our aspirations for the Beloved Community or falling far too far short. Other resignations followed.

Leon: We thank Peter for his service and celebrate the strengths he brought to us. We hold Peter and his wife, Phyllis, as they move into the next phase of their life. We respect Peter’s decision though we wish he had remained. Our faith insists that there are no surplus people and that we can discard none of us without diminishing all of us.

"Spirit of Life" (instrumental) begins softly.

Bill: There is so much that we bring with us into this space, into this gathering of the faithful. There is so much that we need to name. We bring all of ourselves into this space. No less than all of our selves will do. That is our most fundamental religious point of view.

As we gather, we invoke, we call in and call on the spirit of life to be present, to move within us and among us and through us.

Soloist: Spirit of Life, come unto me

Sofia: We bring the shock of November’s election. It is here with us and within us. Our confident expectations disappointed. The values at the heart of our faith challenged and threatened. The assumptions about gradual, but predictable progress on which we built our hope…proven wrong.

Soloist: Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion

Leon: We bring the energy of resistance made manifest in the Women’s March and the Movement for Black Lives and the organizing and the effort that continues to this day. We bring our commitment not to accept fear and divisiveness.

We are living the truth that resistance is what love looks like in the face of hate. Love Resists.

We bring our renewed hope that the Beloved Community is not just an idle dream. That hope is here with us as well.

Soloist: Blow in the wind, rise in the sea, move in the hand giving life the shape of justice.

Bill: We bring our grief at the absence of those we choose to lead us. That sense of loss is real. And so is uncertainty about the future.

We also bring the knowledge that kindness and care have been absent from too many of our conversations.

So many of us have fallen short of our promises. We must gather ready for truth-telling but also willing to seek and offer forgiveness so that we can move forward together.

Soloist: Roots hold me close, wings set me free.

Sofia: We have a complex history as builders of Beloved community, a history of both success and failure. Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism and the White Supremacy Teach-Ins held by almost 700 of our congregations call for urgent attention to the shortcomings of our present.

There is a very human cost to our failures. Persons were not welcomed in a faith that claims to be Universalist. Some persons decided to leave, knew they could not stay, though they also knew they might never find another religious home. Who we are today is shaped by decisions we made yesterday.

Leon: We know that the culture in which we live, our habits of heart and mind, work to bind us to a world in which all of us are not yet welcome. We are in and of this world, just as we work for its transformation. More of us see this now, or to be more accurate, we glimpse its truth.

Yet, as a community we have traveled far, worked hard, learned much. We would not even be able to glimpse the truth of these days, if we had been asleep all these years.

Bill: Like the flawed world in which we live, this community has a history that is waiting to be redeemed. Will we search for the opportunity in this time? Will we find a way to move forward together? Will we renew our commitment to build the world we dream about…here and now…and tomorrow as well.

We gather at a time of decision, given yet another second chance.

Together: Spirit of Life. Come Unto Us.

Bill: Help us find the hope in our history and the courage to accept this present opportunity with an embracing love.

Spirit of Life. Help us answer your call with a faithful “Yes.”

Will you sing with us?

Sing "Spirit of Life."

Review and Adopt Rules of Procedure

Moderator: The proposed Rules of Procedure can be found on pages 78 through 79 of the Final Agenda or Program Book.

These rules will govern our consideration of, and voting upon, the business items that come before us during our general sessions. The rules are largely the same as in previous years. There are a couple of items that I want to direct your attention to.

As this is a justice-focused General Assembly, rules for Actions of Immediate Witness are not included this year.

Please note that Rule 5 provides that no amendments to a business resolution, bylaw change or rule change will be in order unless submitted for consideration at the mini-assembly for that item.

Also, please note that Rule 5b indicates that thirty minutes is allowed for discussion of any proposed bylaw or rule amendment, resolution, or action on a report that is on or admitted to the Final agenda. The specific change states that the time includes time devoted to discussing any amendments to the proposed amendment. Any motion to extend time for debate must be made from the procedural microphone before time for debate expires. This is an adjustment that simply clarifies the rule. provides that, unless the Association’s bylaws otherwise require, action

Additionally, Rule 5c, clarifications have been made to explicitly include off-site delegates and adjust time limits is there are no speakers at the pro or con microphones regarding calling of the question.

As reminder, Rule 7 provides that separate microphones will be designated as pro and con for discussion of proposed bylaw amendments, rules, resolutions or actions.

The pro microphone is up front on the left (point). The con microphone is up front on the right (point). There is also an amendment microphone which has been placed at the front of the arena (point), and a procedural microphone which has been placed immediately in front of me (point).

Please note that points of personal privilege and points of information must be made from the procedural mike, not from the pro or con mikes or the amendment mike. By the way, only delegates may speak from the microphones, except by express permission of the Moderator.

I strongly urge those of you who are attending General Assembly General Sessions for the first time to read the Rules of Procedure. Particularly look at Rule 6 on page 78 of the Rules, so that you understand the time limits in effect. No person may speak on any motion for more than two minutes. Thirty minutes is the time allowed for discussion of any proposed bylaw amendment, rule change, resolution or action on a report that is on or admitted to the final agenda.

Before proceeding with our business, I want to introduce you to Tom Bean, our legal counsel and Nina Elmo parliamentarian. All clear?

Will the Board Secretary make the appropriate motion with respect to the Rules of Procedure?

Rob Eller Isaacs: Moved: That the Rules of Procedure of this General Assembly as set forth in full on pages 78 through 79 of the Final Agenda be adopted.

Moderator: Is there a second?

Does anyone want to discuss the rules?

There being no [time for further] discussion of the Rules of Procedure, discussion is now closed and a vote is in order. All those in favor of adopting the Rules of Procedure, please do so by raising your voting card. (Pause for response.) All those opposed. (Pause for response.)

Let's wait for the off-site delegates to vote on these rules.

(A two-thirds vote is required to adopt the Rules of Procedure; any Amendment requires a two-thirds vote. The Moderator announces the result of the vote.)

The motion carries.

The Empty Chair

Sarah Dan Jones: My name is Sarah Dan Jones, and I serve as the Director of Music at Starr King UU Fellowship in Plymouth, NH, and on your UUA Board of Trustees.

Elandria Williams: Hello, my name is Elandria Williams and I am a member of Tennessee Valley UU Church in Knoxville, TN and also a member of your UUA Board of Trustees.

We are here at this General Assembly in the midst of troubling and trying times in the world around us and also within our UU faith institution and community. We each have different sources to help us move through. One source that most of us turn to, and which is connected to my cultural and spiritual tradition, is turning to our ancestors for guidance, remembrance, and for me the holy or spirit. There is a song by Sweet Honey and the Rock called "We Are" and in the song they sing "we are our grandmothers prayers and our grandfather's dreamings". While we are here in body and spirit, there are those of us that we thought would be amongst us here that have joined the ancestors across this country and the world. They are now our ancestral guides. One of those people was Jim Key. I met Jim as a teenager when we served on the then Thomas Jefferson district board. His infectious smile and laugh, as well as his passion for Unitarian Universalism and Justice was uncontainable. I will miss Jim with all my heart and spirit. We talked about honoring our ancestors at the last in person board meeting before he passed so suddenly away.

Sarah Dan: It is customary at the Board Face to Face meetings to leave an open chair around our table. This chair is to honor the voices that have blessed the proceedings in the past, and to leave space for observers to join us when appropriate. It is an important custom, and a sacred one. We give thanks to Denise Rimes for suggesting that we honor both Jim and all the other ancestors in our lives by this open chair, which will remain as such throughout General Assembly. All were important.

Elandria: In the spirit of remembering and honoring our ancestors in some African and African American cultures we pour libations. Libations are poured to honor their lives, their courage and to remember the lessons that they taught us. We are going to pour libations this morning to remember and honor James "Jim" Key and other people who have had great value in your life. We are first going to call out some names from here and after we call each name we will pour some water onto this plant and we will all say Ashe. Can everyone say Ashe with me? Repeat after me. Ashe. Ashe.

  • Jim Key
  • Majorie Bowens Wheatley
  • Philando Castile
  • Marlys Brinkman

Now please say a name and during this process we will all say Ashe until all the water has been poured.

Now please say a name and after the water had been poured say Ashe. Please call into the room one more name. For all the names that have been spoken and unspoken we say Ashe three times. Ashe, Ashe and Ashe.

We sing in closing that line from "We Are" by Sweet Honey and the Rock. We are going to sing the line three times so feel free to sing with us the second and third times.

We are our grandmothers prayers, and we are our grandfathers dreaming, we are the voice of the ancestors, we are the spirit of God.

Introduction: Right Relationship Team

Moderator: Please welcome one of the so-chairs of your 2017 Right Relationship Team, Steve Ballesteros / Hannah Villnave.

Steve Ballesteros / Hannah Villnave: (live caption)

Introduction: Chaplains

Moderator: We welcome our 2017 GA Chaplains. The chaplains are available during GA and will often be in the Chaplain Office in Room 211.

John Crestwell: My name is Rev. John Crestwell and I am co-lead Chaplain for this year’s General Assembly. I would like to introduce the five other chaplains who will provide pastoral support this week.

  • Rev. Jan Carlsson-Bull
  • Rev. Meredith Garmon
  • Co-lead chaplain Rev. Alex Holt
  • Rev. Joan Javier-Duval
  • Rev. Maria Cristina Vlassidis

Look for us with our official Chaplain hat and we’ll be happy to provide pastoral support and deep listening to you all this week.

GA Accessibility

Moderator: Please welcome Patty Cameron, who is here to tell us about Accessibility Services at this General Assembly. The GA Planning Committee and Patty have done a great job over the years at making GA more and more accessible to more and more people.

Patty Cameron: My name is Patty Cameron and it’s my pleasure to coordinate Accessibility Services for General Assembly again this year. Our services are available to anyone registered here at General Assembly, and our goal is to provide assistance that allows everyone to participate fully in GA. But accessibility is not my job alone.

It is our collective role to practice radical hospitality in order to build a beloved community – a community that includes everyone – those who use mobility equipment, listening devices, interpreters, have chemical sensitivities, assist dogs, or need special seating to accommodate for vision or hearing. It’s our collective role to welcome all!

Please reserve the elevators for people with mobility or health needs.

I invite you to be with one another this week in ways that allow you to practice radical hospitality, stretch your comfort zone, enrich your spirit, and widen your field as you take in all those around you whether they walk or ride. We are all part of this General Assembly – one beloved community – a bright, wonderful community of people of all abilities. Be with each other in love. Thank you!


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 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, June 22, 2017.

Interim Co-Presidents Leon Spencer, Sofía Betancourt, and William G. Sinkford light the chalice during Wednesday's opening celebration.

2017 GA Photo Album