General Session II
General Assembly 2017 Event 203
Captions were created during the live event, and contain some errors. Captioning is not available for some copyrighted material.
Unedited Live Captioning (TXT)
A team of board-appointed moderators preside over the general sessions in which the business of the Association is conducted.
- Call to Order
- Chalice Lighting
- Reflections: Co-Presidents Panel Discussion (Video)
- Preliminary Credentials Report
- Right Relationship Team Report
- Introduction: GA Planning Committee
- Introduction: Youth Caucus
- Introduction: Young Adult Caucus
- Recognition of Emerging Congregations and Covenanted Communities (Video)
- Living Downstream, A History of Mississippi and New Orleans
- Commission on Social Witness
- Moderator’s Report (Video)
- Board Panel Discussion (Video)
- Financial Advisor’s Report (Video)
- Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) Report (Video)
- Renewing the Covenant Task Force Report (Video)
- Process Observation
- Closing Reading
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 Second General Session of the Fifty-Sixth General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Are the delegates ready to do the business of this Association of Congregations?
Moderator: Our chalice has been lit in worship. Let us Center ourselves with these words from Board Trustee Rev. Patrick McLaughlin
Video: Reflections: Co-Presidents Panel Discussion
Moderator: It is again my pleasure to introduce to you our co-presidents, Rev. Sofia Betancourt, Rev. Bill Sinkford, and Leon Spencer. With them is Jesse King, who will facilitate the conversation. Jesse consults in the areas of organizational development and leadership, and is the founder and managing director for Fulcrum Advisors LLC. He also serves as Chair of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.
Sofia Betancourt, William Sinkford, Leon Spencer, and Jesse King: (live caption)
Notes from Deb Weiner
Our online chat moderator captured some of the sense of this conversation as it occurred.
Weiner: Reflections from our Interim Co-Presidents — Sofia Betancourt, William Sinkford, Leon Spencer — and Jesse King, organization development consultant and Chair of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.
This conversation is in place of the traditional 'President's Report' that we hear during a Business Session.
Leon Spencer speaking... now the first lay person to serve as UUA President.
Rev. Sofia Betancourt, the first woman to serve as UUA President.
In listening to this conversation, I think it's helpful for us to remember Moderator Jim Key's request to these three leaders: "I need you to hold the faith for ten weeks."
Rev. Bill Sinkford speaking — first individual to ever serve twice as UUA President. "We need you to help set the table for the future of this faith," said Jim Key in asking him to serve again.
King: "What is that opportunity, and is it all about black people?"
Sinkford: "IT is critical...to understand this time in UUism ...as a time of opportunity to chart a more inclusive, more grounded course forward."
Sinkford: "This is a time...to shift attention away from persons and toward the patterns...and how it is that we embody this fabulous faith, and make some changes so that we can live into a hopeful future."
Spencer: "We have such a history of pain, and such a history of success. We have lived in our pain... and we can grow from it. And we run from success...I hear that we have a second chance. This is the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth... chance. We need to do it differently. How do we come together in our differences, our pain, our healing?"
Spencer: "This is about all people? What is the picture of the benefit of dismantling a white supremacist culture? This isn't just about my brothers and sisters of color; this is about you white folks also. This is an opportunity, to think about what it would be like to let that go."
Betancourt: "This is an opportunity to respond in another way. I saw three religious educator colleagues who responded in a way... that was not about rage. They provided us with tools for working with this issue. That is profound. That kind of response feeds a moment of opportunity. I am thinking of a Board that responded to crisis with this kind of opportunity. I am thinking of a UUA staff that responded with faithfulness..."
Betancourt: "There is this fear that there is only so much energy to invest in racial justice... we become whole if we lean into this opportunity and remember... that this is the foundation of what we mean when we talk about white supremacy... but this culture dominates everyone.... so is it all about black people? No. Will it ever be addressed if we don't dig into this issue...no. This is how we become whole (by digging into it)."
King: "What would you like this GA to wrestle with as it goes forward?"
Spencer: "I love saying 'come to the welcome table.' My thought goes to 'who owns the table we are coming to,' and 'where am I going to sit at the table?' I want to come to that table, but we need to build a welcome table...and we need to build it on the structure of white supremacy culture. We all need to be at the table. We have to do more than sing it, we have to restructure. I think we know how to do it. We do. So how do we risk restructuring the table, and what do you bring to it?"
Sinkford: "We have the theological strength. We have to think about who can take part."
King: "What do you want people to take home?"
Sinkford: "We have relied a lot on the staff around what is needed, pastoral support. That is the easy part. The hard part is what we do in our congregational settings. That means asking different questions... who you hire, how you welcome, who you buy from... this is not beyond your scope. And move beyond systems to a place where it is always OK to ask how race and class impact that conversation."
Spencer: "Going to the pews, some of that has happened with our teach ins. The pews are ready. It's our leaders. We had 800 or so congregations ready to respond. You've never seen people so ready... some thought we shouldn't do this; it would rock the boat. "
Betancourt: "We have understood ourselves to be on that edge around justice... this is an invitation to our broader communities to do this long-needed work that must be driven by our values and supported by our faith. And you will hear more about a Commission on Institutional Change, to help guide vision and resources. They can't do it without you. This allows us to do the work together."
Betancourt: "We are a community of faith. When you get an invitation, say yes, show up. Be faithful. We believe in you."
Spencer: "Yesterday I had an opportunity to go in for a minute to say hello to a group of religious educators. And I had a new piece that connected with this. I wondered what I was running from when I was invited to be a Unitarian Universalist, and what I hoped I was running to. I served as a religious educator — the only male — in the basement of a church I won't name. I stayed for 2 years because I could learn about UUism in an uncontaminated way.
Spencer: "The minister invited me upstairs. But the big people were downstairs. I hope that the little people will grow to be UUs. And I realized that RE is a lifespan piece. When you connect this to the work we are doing today, we have a huge piece of educating adults and children. People see that from the outside. I am glad I am upstairs... it never struck me till I was speaking to LREDA. That is justice work, anti-oppression work. What a goldmine."
Sinkford: "There is a tension about whether to invest my energy here or elsewhere. And I need to know that this is one piece of work... what we are called to do is what the spirit is asking us to respond to. I found that space. Given my commitments to this faith, it could not be more important to me, for this faith to redeem its history. A lot of it is history I lived through. I had to leave at one point. I don't want to have to leave again."
Sinkford: "I don't want to anyone to have to leave because we refused to do this work."
Betancourt: "We all have mentors who invested in this faith. We are people of this moment. The people of color... we are not the only ones who need to be invested. Even though you have three people of color who said yes to this moment, we are a predominantly white denomination. If others do not participate, we will burn out our leaders of color."
Betancourt: "I am here because mentors stayed to mentor me. Some left and never came back. Let us remember those who gave so that we could come to this day."
Preliminary Credentials Report
Moderator: Welcome back the Secretary of our Association, Rob Eller-Isaacs, for the preliminary credentials report.
Rob Eller-Isaacs: (live caption)
Right Relationship Team Report
Moderator: Does the Right Relationship Team have anything to report? I invite you to talk with us about what you're hearing so far. Please welcome Steve Ballesteros / Hannah Villnave.
Introduction: General Assembly Planning Committee
Moderator: Before I introduce our General Assembly Planning Committee, I want to say a few quick words about our being together. We are all here because we are Unitarian Universalists. That means we are in covenant with one another; that is, we promise to uphold our principles and values with respect and dignity. It means we will listen deeply and HEAR, trying to focus on intent, but realizing that impact and intent frequently don't match in the midst of passionate debate. As human beings and UUs, we often fall short. Our communities of color are tired…tired of being minimized, marginalized, and ignored, and in way too many cases, killed. The white community must work harder and longer to learn to be in right relationship. Let us make this General Assembly a teach in on how to listen, hear, discern and learn. This is the only way to move forward on the path to Beloved Community.
In that regard, I would like to make 2 introductions. Process observation is an integral part of how we learn together. This year, we have 2 process observers who will help us reflect at the end of each general Session on how we are doing both with how we are getting our business done and how we are treating each other. Natalie Jeffers is the founder and director of Matters of the Earth - an international collective of educators, creatives and multi-sector practitioners who create strategy to transform organisational spaces and design materials that build intersectional consciousness and direct action, around issues concerning: anti-blackness; LGBQTI+ rights; mental health; decoloniality; and environmental politics. Natalie is also an activist and organiser with Black Lives Matter UK and Network.
John Sarrouff was first exposed to the work of Essential Partners while studying in the masters program in dispute resolution at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Since then John has facilitated dialogues on issues such as sustainability, gender, Israel-Palestine, religious pluralism, and technology and sexuality. He served as the Assistant Director of Difficult Dialogues at Clark University, where he taught dialogue to faculty and students. John teaches in the departments of Communication and Peace and Conflict Studies at Gordon College. John’s private consulting work has focused on mediation and transforming conflict in small work groups and non-profit boards. To all of his work he brings a background of 15 years in the theater as an actor, director, and administrator.
We are grateful for their support and we'll hear more from them each day.
Introduction: GA Planning Committee
Moderator: According to Article V, Section 5.8, of our bylaws, the General Assembly Planning Committee is responsible for arranging General Assembly, and all the “programs and meetings…held in connection therewith.”
Here is the Chair of the Planning Committee, Chip Roush.
Chip Roush: Thank you, Acting Moderator Rimes.
I am honored to work with a very talented, very dedicated group of people on the General Assembly Planning Committee—and it should be obvious that, as remarkable as they are, the committee does not actually create our General Assembly. Nor do we create all of the programs and meetings held “in connection therewith”—during the days before or after GA.
Rather, the committee creates the structure within which the speakers, musicians, officers, ushers, vendors, staff personnel, dancers, delegates and thousands of other Unitarian Universalists go about creating transformational experiences for each other.
This week we have gathered to do the business of our Association; we will also mourn and celebrate; we will witness for justice; and we will share an uncountable number of ideas and best practices. Many of us will leave GA feeling that our lives have been changed in profound ways.
Helping to create the space for all that to happen is one of my favorite things.
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—especially talented leaders who help us to more closely resemble the society in which we live. If you think you would like to serve on the Planning Committee, please do look up the Nominating Committee process online—by the August deadline!
Finally, allow me to introduce this year’s General Assembly Planning Committee. It is truly my pleasure to serve with these good people:
- Katherine Allen
- Mary Alm
- Debra Gray Boyd
- Jennifer Gray
- Ila Klion
- Tuli Patel
- Samuel Prince
- and the Director of General Assembly & Conference Services for our UUA, Jan Sneegas.
Introduction: Youth Caucus
Moderator: Please welcome our fabulous Youth Caucus Deans: Jaidyn Bryant from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Baton Rouge and Eric Broner from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta.
Eric: Hello everyone! My name is Eric Broner.
Jaidyn: And I'm Jaidyn Bryant!
Eric: As the Deans of the Youth Caucus, Jaidyn and I are in charge of all youth programming at GA.
Jaidyn: There are over ____ youth at General Assembly this year!
Eric: We invite people of all ages to share the space we have in room 217-219 of the convention center. All week, we will be hosting workshops and worships, which can be found in your program book.
Jaidyn: We’ve got all sorts of programming that directly engages with our GA theme of Resist and Rejoice, as well as our Youth Caucus mission of galvanizing the youth of our movement.
Eric: We are offering workshops, panels, worships and night activities with themes from racial justice to community organization.
Jaidyn: We also want to introduce Elliot Ferrell-Carretey, the Thrive@GA Youth Coordinator, a new position this year supporting youth of color. If you are a youth of color who wants to know more about programming for UUs of color, find Elliot! He and the Thrive Staff will be wearing silver bandanas.
Eric: And if you have any questions about the Youth Caucus, our staff members can be found wearing pink bandanas.
Moderator: I now welcome to the stage the co-facilitators of Young Adults at GA, known as YA@GA: Cameron Young and Aisha Ansano.
Cameron: Hi, everyone! My name is Cameron Young from Westside UU Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
Aisha: And I’m Aisha Ansano from First Church in Boston and First Parish UU in Arlington, Massachusetts. We are the co-facilitators for Young Adults at General Assembly, also know as YA@GA.
Cameron: We are so excited to offer a variety of programming to young adults who are attending GA! While the young adult age range is 18-35, we invite people of all ages to spend time with YA@GA in room 214 in the convention center, where we will have worship, workshops, and informal events in our effort to connect and support young adults here at GA, and to transform our faith.
Aisha: We also want to introduce Vanessa Birchell, here on stage with us. She is the Young Adult half of the new Thrive@GA team, and she’ll be supporting young adults of color at this GA. We also have 3 other YA@GA staff members, doing community engagement, worship and pastoral support and connecting with bridging youth.
Cameron: All YA@GA staff will be wearing these blue bandanas and the Thrive@GA staff will have silver bandanas on during GA.
Aisha: We look forward to being here in New Orleans with you all. Have a wonderful GA!
Recognition of Emerging Congregations and Covenanted Communities
Moderator: it's an honor to present to you two new covenanting communities this year.
For those who live in the Castle Rock, Colorado, area, being progressive-minded can be isolating. It is the mission of the Castle Rock Unitarian Universalist Community (“CRUUC”) to provide a supportive sanctuary and sense of community to such individuals, along with a philanthropic/ volunteer presence, with the beliefs, principles and sources of Unitarian Universalism (“UU”) as its cornerstones.
In the words of the people of SunPoint Farm Sanctuary in Derry, New Hampshire, “By transforming our own lives, we create a clearing and an opening within us, whereby we can serve others and heal the brokenness that is so prevalent in our world today. The opportunities for growth and community engagement at SunPoint Farm are many. We are engaging in a variety of activities including daily mindfulness practices, working with adults with disabilities, and farming with refugee communities from Bhutan and Burundi.
We recently were granted "covenanting community" status with the UUA - Unitarian Universalist Association, and are partnering with Grassroots Fund - New England Grassroots Environment Fund, who awarded us with a grant of $500, as well as partnering with NERT - New England Resilience and Transition network.
It's also joyful to announce two new AIM-certified congregations. AIM, the Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry. AIM certification helps congregations become more inclusive and accessible to people living with disabilities. The first congregation was certified in 2016. This year, First Parish in Bedford, Massachusetts and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Las Cruces both received their certification. We applaud their dedication to this work and congratulate them on their achievements.
Last, and certainly not least, let's take a moment to recognize our sanctuary congregations.
The Sanctuary Movement is a growing movement of faith and immigrant communities working to protect immigrants facing deportation by literally offering sanctuary to people who are at risk of being deported. 63 Unitarian Universalist congregations and organizations now support the Sanctuary Movement and/or are offering sanctuary. We lift up the work that you do to save these vulnerable human beings.
Living Downstream: The Mississippi River and New Orleans
Moderator: Dr. Edwin Lyon [Slide #1] is a member of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge. He worked for 25 years in New Orleans on historic preservation projects as an archaeologist and historian, and taught Mississippi River and public history courses at Tulane University in New Orleans. Please welcome Dr. Lyon.
Ed Lyon: Welcome to New Orleans.
When you think of New Orleans and the Mississippi River [Slide #2] you may think about this. And Mardi Gras [Slide #3]. But we’re going to visit a different New Orleans and a different Mississippi River.
I’m your tour guide.
This will be an easy tour. You won’t have to go outside in the 100-degree temperature or the 125-percent humidity. You won’t have to leave your seat. And you don’t even have to tip the tour guide.
In some ways, this will not be an easy tour. New Orleans and the Mississippi River are the result of some very, very difficult history. The tourism industry doesn’t want you to know this for fear of spoiling the experience of the tourists who visit the city.
But your experience in New Orleans should be different. You are Unitarian Universalists and not the normal tourist. Your New Orleans should include the buried, the hidden, the unmarked, the neglected, the repressed.
And this is what I did for 25 years in historic preservation in New Orleans and along the Mississippi River. I uncovered buried and neglected histories: historic districts, the drainage system, urban archaeology, African-American cemeteries and many others. I may be an old white guy but as a result of my years of experience, I have a multicultural approach to New Orleans and the Mississippi River.
Some of these projects identified serious impacts on people of color in New Orleans and along the Mississippi River. And I’m not proud of how some turned out.
We will visit only a selection of sites of interest. There are many others. Sites such as the Upstairs Lounge arson attack on a gay bar in 1973. The Hispanic presence in New Orleans increased dramatically when so many people came to New Orleans to work on rebuilding the city. In the 1970s, Vietnamese people began coming to New Orleans and Louisiana. Many settled in New Orleans East. Native American tribes in Louisiana are still struggling for federal recognition.
To help you understand the difficult history of New Orleans the UUA has a link to a Google Map [Slide #4] titled New Orleans for Unitarian Universalists. This will give you the location of each site I discuss. You can find the link on the GA site. I hope this will help you put New Orleans and the Mississippi River in a broad historic context. And for more of this, please consider attending a workshop organized by the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge on Living Downstream: The Mississippi River and New Orleans at 5:00 today.
So, let’s get started on our very quick and incomplete tour.
Let’s begin with the recent history of Hurricane Katrina and what is called the federal flood that inundated [Slide #5] 80 percent of New Orleans.
I flooded during Katrina. When I came back to the city and worked on the recovery, I was able to see at first hand devastation all over the city. But it was the Lower Ninth Ward that I remember most clearly. This is the African-American neighborhood that was destroyed by the failure of the Industrial Canal floodwall. The sight [Slide #6] of the houses moved into streets is burned into my memory.
The location of the failure of the floodwall has a historical marker [Slide #7] and you can see the new floodwall in the background. But the neighborhood has not recovered [Slide #8]. Yes, there is new construction, but you see many areas where the foundations of houses are all that are left.
But if you want another perspective on the Katrina disaster you should visit the Presbytere [Slide #9] museum exhibit at Jackson Square titled Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond. This is certainly worth your time.
Let’s go deeper into the past of New Orleans. The city was a major site of the trade in enslaved people. But these sites where the sales occurred are unmarked. There were approximately 50 of these areas in the city and New Orleans activists are working to have these historic sites marked and interpreted.
But there is some progress. If you go to Esplanade Avenue on the border of the French Quarter, you will see this empty lot which was the slave pen of Theophilus Freeman [Slide #10]. This empty lot is part of the story of Solomon Northup, author of the book 12 Years a Slave and subject of a recent feature film. In the median, [Slide #11] or the neutral ground, as we call it in New Orleans, you will see this recently installed historic marker for the slave pen where Solomon Northup was confined. But this is not what the tourist industry wants you to see.
Instead, this is the New Orleans the tourist industry wants you to see, Jackson Square [Slide #12]. You can take a carriage ride, eat, drink, listen to music and sit for a portrait. You can see the Cabildo to the left of St. Louis Cathedral. But you should get outside the tourist narrative and do something else as well. In the portico in front of the entrance to the Cabildo is an area where human beings were bought and sold. This is unmarked [Slide #13]. I would urge any of you visiting Jackson Square to go to this place and pause and contemplate the tragedies that took place there.
New Orleans is a city with a long history of white supremacy and a long history of resistance to white supremacy. You may know of the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision in 1896 that legalized the separate but equal doctrine, which served as the legal basis for segregation and the Jim Crow system. But you may not know that the case began in New Orleans as an act of deliberate civil rights resistance. In 1892, Homer Plessy [Slide #14] was arrested for violating the Louisiana Separate Car Act at this location. So, separate but unequal became the law [Slide #15] of the land and of New Orleans.
Skipping over many acts of resistance in the city and Louisiana, we come to the battles over desegregation of New Orleans public schools in 1960.
Two New Orleans elementary schools were selected for desegregation. Three students integrated the McDonough 19 [Slide #16] school which is now closed but has a historical [Slide #17] marker. One first-grade girl, Ruby Bridges, became the first African American student at the William Frantz [Slide #18] Elementary School. She had to be protected from white mobs by federal marshals. Ruby Bridges was made famous by Norman Rockwell’s painting titled “The Problem We All Live With” that you will see in a moment.
But there is some progress. The school, now called the Akili Academy maintains the classroom where she was taught as the “Ruby Bridges Room” with period furnishings and decor to honor her. There is now a statue [Slide #19] of Ruby Bridges on the campus.
Tonight, in this building, you can attend a performance of Step [Slide #20] by Step: The Ruby Bridges Suite composed by Darrell Grant. I have watched a performance at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville on Youtube and it is quite an experience. I highly recommend that you experience it tonight.
If you have been following New Orleans news recently you have heard about the long-overdue removal of white supremacy memorials in the city as a result of many years of effort by New Orleans activists [Slide #21].
The New Orleans City Council authorized the removal of four white supremacy memorials on public property in the City: statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard, the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and a memorial to a white riot in 1874. You will be happy [Slide #22] to know that they have all been removed. And here they are.
But the problem is national, not just in New Orleans. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that 1503 Confederate place names and other symbols are located in public places across the nation. So, the struggle not only to remove offensive monuments but to change public historical consciousness will go on.
And New Orleans will continue to lead the way with a major national conference on struggles to remove white supremacist symbols being planned for 2018. We have with us today two of the activists who have worked so long to remove the monuments: Leon Waters [Slide #23] and Malcolm Suber. Will you thank them for their work? They have a story to tell about lessons learned during the battle and they would like to talk with us about continuing the struggle. They have agreed to be available in the Exhibit Hall from 1:30 to 3:00 at the tables at the end of the Hall and I hope that some of you will come by to meet them and me during this time. And by, the way, Leon and Malcolm give great tours of the French Quarter and New Orleans.
As we drive upriver along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge [Slide #24] we find the chemical corridor. Sugar plantation land where enslaved people worked was converted into chemical plants and refineries. This area is also called Cancer Alley because the air pollution produced by these plants has caused very high rates of a variety of cancers and respiratory problems. One community called Diamond, an African American neighborhood, in the Norco area was located between a refinery and a chemical plant. The residents endured both pollution and deadly industrial accidents. Eventually after a long battle Shell was forced to buy out the community. But many other environmental justice issues remain unresolved.
This area along the River is the location of the largest slave revolt in U.S. history in 1811, and despite years of publicizing the revolt by Leon Waters and others, few Americans know about it.
And right next to this plant is Bonnet Carre Spillway, a flood control structure to protect the New Orleans area from Mississippi River floods. During the construction [Slide #25] of the Spillway after the Great Flood of 1927, two African-American cemeteries, Kenner and Kugler, were “lost” and remained in the Spillway. They are still there and the issue of how to deal with them has yet to be resolved and Leon Waters and others are working for the relocation of the cemeteries.
But to end on a positive note, even the famous Oak Alley Plantation on the west bank of the River is changing to reflect the truly multicultural Mississippi River. You may have seen this photo of the 300 year old live oaks. [Slide #26] But there has been a change now. At the rear of the plantation house is a reconstruction of a collection of houses used by the enslaved people on the plantation.[Slide #27] It presents a much more accurate picture of life on the plantation including these instruments of confinement and torture [Slide #28]. And there is even a wall with the names of some of the enslaved people identified by historical research. [Slide #29].
Another plantation is Whitney Plantation on the west bank of the Mississippi River near Oak Alley. Whitney is a sugar plantation converted into a museum of slavery. It is receiving many positive reviews and you should visit it if possible.
And the experience of slavery at Whitney is not whitewashed. This is the jail [Slide #30] on the plantation. As I stood in the jail and looked through the bars at the plantation house, I tried to imagine what the life of the enslaved people was like.
Extensive background research has identified the names of many of the enslaved women, men, and children held captive on the plantation [Slide #31].
We should remember and honor these people for their resistance to their enslavement. And we should also be prepared to resist injustice in our time.
So, remember the theme of this General Assembly and Resist and Rejoice [Slide #32] when you travel around New Orleans.
Commission on Social Witness Report
Moderator: Some groups are required to submit reports to you, the delegates – because they report to you, not to the UUA Board. One of those is the Commission on Social Witness. The Commission has the responsibility for implementing the UUA Bylaws Section 4.12. UUA Statements of Conscience. Please join me in welcoming the chair of the Commission on Social Witness, Dr. Susan Goekler, to present that report.
Susan Goekler: Thank you.
Volunteer Commissioners work all year. Between the 2016 and 2017 General Assemblies of the UUA, the Commission on Social Witness (or CSW) drafted a statement of conscience, sometimes referred to as an SOC on Escalating Inequality, solicited comments on the draft, and revised the draft based on the comments received. The issue of Escalating Inequality was selected by delegates in 2014 for 4 years of study and action as a Congregational Study/Action Issue. The CSW also solicited and reviewed comments on the Congregational Study and Action issue selected in 2016 The Corruption of Our Democracy. To help people navigate social witness opportunities, the CSW created an online calendar with deadlines for submissions. This October, for instance, congregations will have an opportunity to submit new issues for consideration as a Congregational Study and Action Issue.
Each year the CSW works with the UU Ministers Association to sponsor a Social Justice Sermon contest – we review the submissions.
This year, the CSW also considered alternative ways of engaging UUs in collective social witness work. We created an online chat forum and are providing opportunities this year at GA for sharing your ideas. I will discuss that opportunity shortly.
You can identify the elected and appointed members of the Commission on Social Witness by the blue baseball caps we wear when on duty that have the initials CSW. We are here to help you navigate the opportunities at GA for doing social witness work.
For a Statement of Conscience to be voted on at GA, 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, 522 or 62% of certified congregations voted “Yes,” “No,” or “Abstain” to the question about adding the Statement of Conscience on Escalating Inequality to the final Agenda. The vast majority voted Yes. This meets the 25% threshold, so a proposed Statement of Conscience on Escalating Inequality is on this year’s agenda for your consideration.
You can find the revised draft statement of conscience in the business agenda starting on page 80.
Delegates will vote on adopting a statement about escalating inequality at the General Session on Saturday.
To meet our bylaw requirements, the CSW will conduct a mini-assembly on the draft Statement of Conscience on Escalating Inequality. This is the only opportunity to propose changes to the version of the Statement in your business agenda. Delegates will have access to a CSW Alert – both on the GA app and in paper form – on Saturday morning with a revised statement based on suggestions from the mini-assembly.
The CSW is also hosting a workshop with activists working on the 2016 CSAI and engaged in fighting Corruption in Our Democracy. They will share ideas for your engagement with the issue. The CSW also facilitates the worship service featuring the winning social justice sermon on Saturday afternoon.
Last year, delegates voted to suspend Actions of Immediate Witness this year. As an alternative, the CSW will provide a time and space where activists can meet, share insights and strategize ways of responding to common issues or concerns. This is a pilot to see whether such an opportunity to meet and network is a viable alternative to AIWS in the future. Anyone interested in meeting others passionate about their issue can come to the CSW booth and propose that issue for consideration. The time for meeting with others is Friday at 3:15.
I suspect that every UU congregation and many individuals engage in some type of social justice work. Are there ways we can magnify that when we come together in a body at GA? If you have ideas for how that might happen, please bring them to this opportunity to share and dialogue. We can make a difference if we work together effectively.
The CSW is offering a third opportunity for witnessing this year. We will offer space at the CSW booth in the Exhibit Hall (#406) for people wishing to collect signatures for social justice-related petitions. Also at the booth, we invite you to share what your congregation has done to implement previously adopted Statements of Conscience.
As I said at the beginning, the CSW works all year in a volunteer capacity. These are ways you can follow what we are doing and interact with us. Delegates should check the GA app or pick up a copy of the CSW Alert on Saturday morning to get the revised version of the proposed Statement of Conscience on Escalating Inequality that you will vote on that morning.
Public Witness PSA
Carey McDonald: Have you heard about Love Resists? This joint campaign of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is inspiring people of faith and conscience to expand sanctuary, grow solidarity and raise our voices in this justice movement moment. Over 15,000 people signed Love Resists Declaration of Conscience, raise your hand if you were one of them!
Love Resists is hosting this year’s public witness event, a distinctly New Orleans take on sanctuary. Wear your yellow Standing on the Side of Love gear, since SSL is also a sponsor of Love Resists!
There are three ways to participate in year’s public witness event:
We’ll start with a "second line" procession, drawing on the tradition established by black New Orleanians to express grief and celebrate life which has offered cultural resistance to systemic oppression for generations. Step off with the band at 5:00 pm at the corner of Julia St. and Convention Center Blvd, the north entrance to the Convention Center. Dress for the sun and bring a water bottle! And if the second line will be a cross-cultural experience for you, we urge you to attend one of the excellent learning opportunities, trainings and workshops that address racial justice and the New Orleans context beforehand.
You can also go straight to the program location at Mississippi River Heritage Park, just down Convention Center Blvd, to greet the second line as it arrives soon after 5. Featured speakers included Rev. Juanita Ramos of the Congreso de Jornaleros New Orleans, local spoken word artist Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa, Joseph Santos-Lyons, Darcy Roake, Sara Green, and the Young & Talented Brass Band.
And no matter where you are, you can watch the event livestreamed at loveresists.org, portions of the event will be livestreamed on the UUA Facebook page, and tweet with #loveresists.
Get ready for a faithful and festive call to action to join the loving resistance we are bringing forward together.
Moderator’s Report & Board Panel Discussion
Moderator: The Moderator’s Report and the Board of Trustee’s Report can be found on the UUA website and the GA app for your review.
Let me say a few words about the Moderators Report. We began the church year with a heavy workload and great optimism. Our board retreat in October at Shelter Rock in New York helped many of us open our hearts and minds to the work that lay before us in our anti-racism and anti-oppression work. We took a leap of faith and committed to raising $5.3 million dollars for Black Lives of UU. It wasn't a universally popular decision, but we were and still are deeply committed to that pledge. In the spring of this year, we planned and executed different way of facilitating our in person Board meetings in a way that brought more voices into the discussion. While we were not patting ourselves on the back, we were beginning to nod to ourselves that change and transformation was possible. And then ….and then….
The hiring process failed and we were complicit. Senior leadership stepped down, and we struggled mightily to find our way to a new paradigm. At times our whiteness nearly blinded me. And Severance packages were granted that we had no knowledge of until after they were executed. We missed opportunities and lost ground. And Jim got sick, and we lost him forever. There is a lot of catching up to do, and lots of trust building that needs to happen with our communities of color and our congregations who we represent. We are committed to moving forward to fix some of the brokenness. Our co presidents have served us so well, and have given us a taste of how we can move forward. We hope you will join us on the journey.
Given the multitude of leadership changes, and often turmoil, this year, we have decided to share our experiences with you through a Board panel. Friends, we know we gather at a pivotal moment for our nation and for our faith. Our challenge is to embrace new ways of being, new ways of listening, new ways of speaking out, new ways to confront and root-out the racism that permeates the life we share. The question now is, are we willing to be changed by what we’ve started?
We have set aside this time to give you a glimpse into the courageous, often agonizing conversations in which your Board does its best to rise to the challenge. Four trustees, Andrea Briscoe, Rob Eller-Isaacs, Christina Rivera and Elandria Williams have agreed to speak to three powerful questions.
- How has your faith prepared you for this moment?
- What qualities will we need to embody together as we continue the work of building Beloved Community?
- As trustees of our Association what do you need from our people, now and in the future, as you work to make our promises real.
We’ve asked these four brave souls to try their best to tell the truth in love. We ask no less of you.
We’ve asked John Sarrouf from the Public Conversations Project to moderate the panel.
John Sarrouff: (live caption)
Financial Advisor’s Report
Moderator: (live caption)
Lucia Santini Field: Good morning. I have the privilege of reporting to you broadly on the financial health of the Association.
I have observed the strong and steadfast leadership of both Larry Ladd and Dan Brody in this position over the past nearly two decades. Their legacy is impressive. I am grateful for their guidance and support and for the patience and kindness of my colleagues on the Board, the staff and the many, talented and committed volunteers.
The Financial Advisor serves as a member of the Board and the Executive Committee of the Board, as well as on the following Committees: Audit Committee, Employee Benefits Trust (Health Plan), Retirement Plan Committee, Investment Committee (for Common Endowment Fund) and Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SRI - advises the Investment Committee regarding the Common Endowment Fund).
I will report briefly on the overall financial health of the Association, the financial Committees and Beacon Press. I note the relatively smooth, modest and well managed changes in most aspects of the Association’s financial results. I also report to you, as I have reported to the Board and the Administration, that I believe the Board orientation and training program needs improvement with regard to fiduciary duty. This duty, broadly outlined as the duties of care and of loyalty, encompasses many key areas including stewardship and financial management. There is broad agreement to review and revise the training to include clear emphasis on these important topics and I am committed to working with those responsible to enhance future training in this area.
As you will see in the Treasurer’s Report submitted by Tim Brennan, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer, the Association’s financial position remains healthy. While is it still too early to report on fiscal results for 2017, it appears that the Association’s income statement and balance sheet remain in good shape.
The publishing industry has been buffeted by unrelenting changes in technology, distribution and consumption. The performance of Beacon Press through this chaotic and murky cycle of change has been impressive beyond rational expectation. I encourage you to listen to Helene Atwan’s presentation on Friday morning beginning at 9:15 or so. From Anita Hill to the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II to Eboo Patel, Beacon Press publishes outstanding books by important thought leaders that affirm and promote the values of Unitarian Universalists and the liberal religious community. Beacon’s books continue to garner much favorable press and have been adopted in courses at hundreds of colleges. Beacon Press is a critical asset of Unitarian Universalism and, through its astute management and leadership, has gradually accumulated enough small operating surpluses to begin an endowment. Publishing is a low margin business plagued by cyclical pressures and the vagaries of changing consumer preference. I am delighted that my husband and I are among the first to contribute to Beacon’s Endowment, to help support it in leaner times, which are not at all unlikely in this industry!
My written report provides an overview of each of the financial Committees and their work. I am pleased to report that the Association is well served by experienced and knowledgeable staff and volunteers. There are risk management structures, including policies and procedures in place to ensure prudent financial management. These will continue to evolve and improve to reflect both lessons learned and evolving standards over time.
A key responsibility of the Financial Advisor is to assess the needs of these Committees and to recruit highly qualified individuals to serve the Association through their volunteer service on these Committees. Each of these Committees has significant oversight responsibility for important assets of the Association and services to Congregations, ministers, religious educators, and administrative staff. We seek to create a database of UUs with professional experience in these areas who may be willing to serve. We also seek to increase the diversity of perspective and experience. Please contact me through the UUA’s website or at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information or have suggestions or interest in this regard.
Of all the sources of income for our UUA, the APF or Annual Program Fund contributions from congregations is by far the most important, in amount and in representation of commitment to each other and the promotion of our values in the world. Our Association has long sought to improve the formula based upon number of members to a more equitable and sustainable formula. We are most grateful for the leadership and flexibility of the Southern region and the APF Task Force for piloting a formula based upon operating expenses rather than number of members. They learned a great deal about the wide variety of challenges and blessings of our congregations through this process. You will be hearing more about this, Honor Congregations and the Generosity Network from Mary Katherine Morn on Friday morning beginning at 9:30 or so. Please don’t miss this important session and please help us to ensure strong support for our faith!
This is a critical [Slide #4] time for UU leadership and UU values in this country and around the world. We must remain committed to each other and our values, and demonstrate that commitment in our words, our actions and with our resources, spiritual, physical, emotional and financial, despite our differences, challenges and disappointments. It is times like these that call us to summon our reserves of strength, love, compassion and forgiveness. We must remain steadfast in our pursuit of the beloved community. Please join me in supporting the strengthening and the growth of our movement and this vision of beloved community. We must continue to learn, grow and lead in these turbulent, chaotic times for our faith, country and our world.
Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism Report
Moderator: (live caption)
Lena Gardner: (live caption)
Notes from Deb Weiner
Our online chat moderator captured some of the sense of this conversation as it occurred.
Weiner: Report from Black Lives of UUs, Lena Gardner, Executive Director, reporting.
Gardner: Introducing Paula Cole Jones, Rev. Mel Hoover - elders in this work.
"We were asked to give an update of all that is happening with BLUU. We do this in gratitude." (Showing a short video).
"In March we had a BLUU convening meeting, and just over 100 UUs came. It was life changing. One of the things I wanted to share with the wider UU community is that this is a heavy time. We just had a police verdict in the Castillo case, and it affected our community deeply. There are murders in Seattle and on the other coast. It is a heavy time for Black folks. To continue to support people is of the utmost importance."
"We have launched the BLUU ministry network, called BLUUmin. People are holding office hours, we are fund raising for more people of color to come to GA. We are thankful to the Board and Planning Committee for their support. We have hired for our BLUU community minnister, Rev. Michael Slack. We have launched the BLUU 360 Elders Council."
"We want to honor our elders and the babies. Rev. Mel Hoover and Paula Cole Jones are two of those elders. Also Rev. Susan Newman Moore, and Baba Sanyika. In that spirit, I want to give them a little time to talk to us about the journey we have been on..."
Jones: "The passing of the torch video talks about a similar situation to now, about fifty years ago, in that civil rights period. You will see in that video Hayward Henry. He is with us this weekend: Dr. Sanyika. He was a leader like Lena Gardner is, then. And he is here now. This is not finished... If we ever get there we have to stay engaged. This is intergenerational work. If our congregations are going to live into the future we must do this work and embrace multiculturalism at its depth."
"I hope my grandchildren will brow up in a UU church. But i can't guarantee that. Something needs to change. One more thing: I have the utmost confidence in the BLUU leadership. And with our Association and the Board, so that we can correct the wrongs of fifty years ago and have a different future."
Hoover: "I wasn't coming to New Orleans to come to the BLUU event or this one. I was on staff for a number of years, and one of the pains in my heart was the mistake the Association made in those years of BAC/BAWA. We had a GA then, and 1/3 of the people were people of color. We had some of the best minds in the country. They thought they had found a home because in 1865 it was UU ministers who marched with us and put their lives on the line and ...we couldn't handle it."
"Last night people said to me, 'this may be the most important event in UU history for our future. ' We have been given another chnace. Trust me: our country is in a critical place. Those values of freedom, liberty, democracy, are at risk. The things going on need to be colorized. When I was at the BLUU event I saw these brilliant, committed leader saying 'this is my faith. I am not running away. I am going to run into it. We see multiculturally... we have to see that way to survive."
"We have the leadership. You have to be part of the process, or we will be where we were before. We are here to experience their leadership and bringing us into their midst. And my heart is so full. We can't just sit now. We have to come forth. We have something we have never had before. We can hand off the baton, not to run away, but to pass the baton to a new generation of leadership. So join them."
"And those of you in the white community — you need to pass off the baton of leadership too!"
Jones: "Our principles were passed twelve years before we stepped into leadership. What do we need to live as an antiracist community? Pay attention, you will have a chance to support this work."
Gardner: "It has been my BLUU family that has held me... my faith helps me speak truth to power. It is so difficult to look into the faces of those who can stop the killing, who say that it is too hard. But these are my people, my family, who are being killed in the streets. And it is my faith that helps me have the strength to help keep black people alive. So my challenge for all of you is to stop thanking me for my work, and join me. We have a long way to go. We know this. "
"We can't do it without your help. We also don't want you to try and take it over."
"We have been in many places as Black Lives of UU. We want to keep building and make a bigger impact. Thank you for stepping and helping us. We need you."
Renewing the Covenant Task Force Report
Moderator: I am delighted to introduce Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie to update us on the work of the Renewing Covenant Task Force.
Susan Ritchie: On October 15, 2015, Moderator Jim Key called for the Board to consider ‘how we might imagine moving the UUA from the notion of membership to covenant’. Jim Key proposed a Task Force, to be led by Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie to take up this initiative.
In Jim Key’s charge to us, he mused:
“Let’s imagine, rather than signing the book, people entered and were welcomed into a covenant that could be renewed periodically. Imagine if congregations entered and were welcomed into covenant with the larger association that would be renewed periodically. Perhaps this is an approach that would energize our movement….”
We have indeed been imagining these things, and we are here to report to you our thinking and progress and to make a proposal for your consideration: a proposal that we think will help move our association and congregations in the direction of greater mutual cooperation and accountability, and toward greater enthusiasm and commitment to our shared work.
The task force consists of myself, Kathy Burek, Rev. David Miller, and Rev. Tom Schade. Other members have included Rev. Tom Ruffin and Elizabeth Mount.
The question that we felt that we needed to answer first was “what is this covenant?” that we are being asked “to enter into and periodically renew”, to use Jim Key’s phrase.
That covenant must be more than a set of carefully chosen words that we periodically recite, like the pledge of allegiance.
That covenant must be more than agreement between us to treat each other with respect. It must be an agreement between ourselves and something larger than ourselves.
That “something larger” is a compact between ourselves and the work we share in the world: our mission. Not our mission statement, but our mission.
We were inspired by the work of the American Baptists who engage in a form of collective discernment they call “the mission table.” The Baptists have a simple clarity of their overall mission, “spread the gospel of Jesus Christ”, which is different than the way that we would express our work. However, they have a vigorous process of discerning how each entity in their world can work together through their work to fulfill their collective mission. They sit at “the mission table” and discuss their work, their challenges and obstacles, their strengths and capabilities, and align their work together.
Upon reflection, the task force has come to understand that for Unitarian Universalists to genuinely covenant together, they would be engaging together in theological reflection—broadly defined to include humanism, atheism, and agnosticism--to determine the why, what, and how of our shared work as a religious movement. To covenant is to commit to that engagement and to agree to be mutually accountable to what comes of it. We do not renew our covenant periodically but continuously.
Our response to Jim Key’s invitation “to imagine moving from the notion of membership to covenant” is to imagine all Unitarian Universalists, in all our forms, actively building mutual accountability to our collective discernment of what Unitarian Universalism is called to do in the world at the time. Covenanting is discerning together and being accountable to our mission.
It’s fairly basic, isn't it?
People joining together, agreeing on a mission and purpose, and being accountable to each other to fulfill it.
Why would the task force feel that what we are proposing is not what is already happening. After all, aren’t our congregations having regular congregational meetings? Don’t we take lots of votes here at General Assembly? Don’t we elect our President and Moderator?
Elections and debates are insufficient to generate the discernment of mission we seek. Unitarian Universalism seems by its structures and processes to sideline theological reflection and keep mutual accountability to our mission at minimal levels. From top to bottom, Unitarian Universalism is a membership organization, with minimal expectations of each other. The result is a half-hearted religious movement.
The way we do things are the result of the values that were important to our forerunners.
The UUA is organized as standard non-profit enterprise. The standard non-profit organization structure, first evolved in the early 19th century, was itself a copy of the business corporation, and specifically, a small New England business corporation that saw virtue in consolidating power to a limited number of patrons. The 1825 establishment of the AUA was very much a part of this milieu, and while there have been many changes since that time some core patterns of distributing power remain the same. Indeed, in many ways the UUA maintains much of the structure given it by Samuel Atkins Eliot (American Unitarian Association President, 1900-1927; some even call the UUA the “House that Sam built”). Eliot did work to deliberately match the AUA organization with that of business models, especially in terms of disempowering the Board, along the lines of successful “banks, insurance companies, and mills.” Of course, in doing so, he was also bringing the AUA even more in line with how wealthy New England families were accustomed to running New England charities.
Our structures inexorably reduce discussion of our mission and of the work of the Association, into the business of the Association. How can we discern together what the world needs from us, and what we have to offer the world, if when we come together we meet as shareholders in a non-profit corporation, to hear reports, to elect pre-selected slates of candidates, and line up at pro and con microphones for resolutions that do not address the fundamental questions of our mission? The way we do our business inevitably keeps us focused on technical issues, rather than the adaptive issues that really challenge us.
Our present structures, ways of relating, ways of talking together are structures which maintain the supremacy of white, middle and upper class, male elites within Unitarian Universalism.
The Task Force has come to the conclusion that if Unitarian Universalists are to fully covenant with each other, we need a different way of being together.
Fortunately, our history has examples of more substantive ways of coming together: specifically, the General Conference.
Both the Unitarians and the Universalists, like almost all denominations, have historically had two wings, the administrative and ecclesiastical bodies. Traditionally, administrative wings are responsible for providing services to the congregations and to the larger world on behalf of the congregations such as the congregations cannot practicably assume themselves. The ecclesiastical body is an intentional community of delegates who come together for the mutual strengthening of the congregations, the creation of relationships of mutual aid and accountability, and theological discernment. The ecclesiastical body is responsible for discerning the religious movement’s ultimate and broad purpose. Ultimately, the ecclesiastical body asks and discerns answers to the question: “what is the purpose of Unitarian Universalism in these times?”
A General Conference is an ecclesiastical meeting of delegates from congregations, covenanted communities and trans-congregational organizations that represent historically marginalized UU’s. These general conferences should be smaller than our current General Assembly, so that meaningful discussions can be held. We might, for example, limit congregations and organizations to a small number of delegates. Every effort should be made to make these conferences affordable, so that attendees are not limited to older people of means. Further, so that these conferences can build for the future of our movement, we should actively engage youth, young adults, UUs of color, and other historically under-represented groups. The conferences should engage in one or two large questions in depth over the course of several days. It should be without activities that not directly advance the focused conversation.
The Task Force welcomes feedback from all UUs. To that end, we have been reaching out to all of the identity and professional groups we know of to hear what you all have to say. We invite you to talk with us here at GA, or to email your comments to email@example.com.
Here is our Summary Recommendation: The Task Force recommends that the UUA Moderator call for a General Conference of Unitarian Universalists as soon as possible and no later than the fall of 2018, for the purposes of exploring what the UUA is called to be and to do in today’s world. We further recommend that the Unitarian Universalist Association schedule general conferences on a regular basis, perhaps in biennial rotation with General Assembly business sessions. Prior to merger in 1961, both the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America separated the business meetings from ecclesiastical gatherings that fostered deeper discernment of the underlying theology and philosophies of the respective movements. These conferences were unfortunately abandoned at the time of consolidation. The Task Force believes it is time to bring them back. Further, the Task Force believes that the organization DNA of the UUA be re-assessed given the racist, sexist, and class biases that formed and which are reinforced by our structure, precluding the full realization of covenantal relationships.
We look forward to being in touch with you now, and in new and different ways in the future.
Moderator: Now its time to call on the Secretary of our Association, Rob Eller-Isaacs, for any announcements.
Rob Eller-Isaacs: (live caption)
Moderator: Thanks Rob.
Moderator: Welcome to Natalie Jeffers and John Sarrouf for our first process observation.
Natalie Jeffers and John Sarrouf: (live caption)
Moderator: Elandria Williams will offer our closing words for today's session.
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. tomorrow morning.