Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Sunday in Minneapolis: the last day of General Assembly
June 28, 2010, 7:43 pm
Filed under: Travels, UUA General Assembly 2010 in Minneapolis

There were plenary sessions after worship and after lunch.  After decades of studies, debates and votes, we have changed the way we select a UUA President (head of staff) and UUA Moderator (board chair and General Assembly moderator).  Instead of two terms of four years each, the president and moderator will serve for one term of six years.  Candidates will be nominated by an elected Presidential Search Committee.  Moderator candidates will be nominated by the Board of Trustees.  This may reduce the cost of political-style UUA campaigns.

In the afternoon, Minnesota minister (and the new minister of the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship and Church of the Younger Fellowship) Meg Riley introduced us to the Hon. Al Franken, United States Senator.  He said we were “a cool church” and that instead of his planned speech he was going to talk to us about religion.  He spoke, at surprising length, about his Jewish tradition and his late father, his children, and his commitment to doing good and doing justice in his public service.  He became visibly moved a few times and told some funny stories, which I hope to quote in a sermon some time. (Earlier at GA Meg had introduced U. S. Rep. Keith Ellison, an African American man from Minneapolis who is the first Muslim in Congress.  He took his oath of office with his hand on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Holy Quran.  She also introduced us to Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who like California Secretary of State Debra Bowen is a member of a UU congregation.)

Delegates heard from various committees of the UUA Board of Trustees as well as the elected Commission on Appraisal.  As its next topic for research, polling, study, and hearings, the Comission on Appraisal has selected the issue of authority and ministry in congregational life, with the catchy title “Who’s in Charge Here?”

Delegates passed a Responsive Resolution on the state of congregational ministry to youth (teens) and young adults (those 18-35), noting that while youth and young adult caucuses have a lot of community and support at the denominational level, the local experience is often unsatisfactory, leading to isolation and a feeling of being ignored by congregation members.  This resolution called on delegates to take this urgent message back to our churches and get involved in evaluating the state of programs for these two groups of younger UUs.  It was overwhelmingly approved.

We heard a special presentation from Daniel Aleshire (president of the Association of Theological Schools) about issues of ministerial education, professional ministry and congregational life–and the major changes in each of these areas going on right now in our culture, making church work harder and people less likely to attend religious programs than they used to.

At every GA about four congregations are highlighted as “Breakthrough Congregations,” notable for their risk-taking, growth in attendance and programs, or turnaround stories.  Each church’s team presented a video and spoke briefly to delegates.  These short videos will be available on or YouTube soon, and we may get DVD copies at the church.

The delegates passed three Actions of Immediate Witness on Sunday:  against anti-immigrant state laws, for Gulf Coast environmental justice and economic justice, and to “clean up the clean energy bill.”  These actions arise among delegates during GA and require a minimum number of petition signatures even to be considered at the Mini-Assembly and then on the floor of the plenary session.  To be approved takes a 2/3 majority vote.  Twenty minutes of significant debate on both amendments and the core Action texts preceded the votes.  Actions not getting a 2/3 majority (but getting lots of impassioned debate) were those calling for the ending the blockade of Gaza and the growth of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territories and for “ending the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”  (I may have dozed off and missed that one of the other items actually DID NOT get a 2/3 vote.  I’ll correct it when I find out.) The Commission on Social Witness says:  “While Actions of Immediate Witness carry the authority only of the General Assembly at which they are adopted, AIWs reflect considerable thought, collaboration, and commitment.  Use adopted AIWs to advocate in your congregations and districts.”  Given the high emotion of the debates, after the fifth AIW vote (which failed to achieve a 2/3 majority), Moderator Gini Courter said it was a good time to sing together again, so we did.

By the closing ceremonies at 7:30 PM many folks had left, but there was a decent crowd.  On the stage was the 75-member Children’s Choir, who sounded lovely and whose cheerful faces showed in close-ups on the big screen.  With them was the adult GA choir, about 200 folks.

We were invited to the 2011 General Assembly, to be held in Charlotte, NC.  We were assured that the downtown has been revitalized and now has restaurant choices.  The big theme of 2011 will be the 50th Anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist Association (i.e., the merger).  The speaker for the Ware Lecture will be major author Karen Armstrong!  Our 2012 GA will be, given the debates and votes made at this GA, considered and planned as a justice assembly, focusing on mercy, compassion and justice for immigrants, and limiting regular business.


Saturday in Minneapolis: Your Delegates at General Assembly

Hello, dear blog fans,  all 19 of you!  The few, the  proud, those with nothing better to do.

Thousands of UUs walked through the streets to Loring Park, where the GLBT Pride Festival is taking place.  We held a rally on the site and heard from several local ministers and leaders, including clergy from Iowa, which is the only state outside the North East to have same-gender marriage equality.  Some UU churches have chartered buses to take couples to Iowa for marriage ceremonies.  They call each one of them the Love Bus.  We were a sea of yellow tee-shirts proclaiming that UUs are Standing on the Side of Love.

The most exciting plenary debate Saturday was about whether to boycott Phoenix, which had been on the schedule for General Assembly in 2012.  There has been much discussion, emotion, and heartfelt prayer and reflection on this crisis, which has been heightened since the passage of the anti-immigrant state law.  The debate was truly impressive.  The outcome of this ordeal was an overwhelming vote to go to Phoenix but “not for business as usual.”  Delegates of color said they know it may be dangerous to be in Arizona, but they are willing to go in order to support the people who live in that state.  The GA business in 2012 will be limited the the minimum necessary, and we will use our presence there to support allies and local partners for immigrant justice as well as to learn about the issues and bear witness to what is happening on the ground, including trips to the US/Mexico border.  We also committed to making travel to Arizona as safe as possible

The Children’s Choir has been off site at choir camp all week, but last night they gave a wonderful half-hour concert.  They sing tonight at the closing ceremonies.

The major lecture of GA is the Ware Lecture.  Mary Oliver, Martin Luther King, Norman Cousins, Norman Lear and many other significant speakers have appeared before us.  Last night we heard from Winona LaDuke, a Native American environmental activist from Minnesota, and the author of All Our Relations.  She leads the White Earth Land Recovery Project.  I took notes and will try to include them in a future sermon or posting.  One gem about the “doctrine of Christian discovery”:  “We [Natives] are confident we did not get ‘discovered.’  We were on to the fact that we were here.”

I attended a reception for major donors to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee–about the best spread of food I’ve had at such an event, which was good since there was no time for dinner.  We heard from interim president William Schulz [who has been president of the UUA and of Amnesty International USA], and from several program staff working with partners in Haiti for earthquake relief and reconstruction.  Currently there is the opportunity to have donations to UUSC/UUA Haiti Relief Fund tripled by a matching grant from the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock.  Every $1 will be matched with $3, up to a total of $500,000.  To give online, go to

Friday in Minneapolis: Your Delegates at General Assembly

This morning I sat next to Seya in the plenary session.  Unfortunately, I missed the UUA Board’s presentation of the annual Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism, to lifelong UU and esteemed minister Jane Rzepka (jep-ka).

The delegates considered final amendments to the Statement of Conscience entitled “Creating Peace.”  This statement  is the result of three years of study and action by congregations and input from them to the UUA’s Commission on Social Witness.  Today we heard from peace activists, ministers, the Youth Caucus (teens at GA who debate together and speak as one voice), veterans, military families and chaplains.  Seya and I voted the same on one amendment, differently on another, and then I abstained for a restroom break.  The statement of conscience ultimately was approved overwhelmingly by the delegates.  It is now the official stance of the denomination.  I will post a link here as soon as it’s available.

Every General Assembly the delegates also choose a Study/Action Issue to send to congregations for three years of…guess what…study and action.  The result will be a Statement of Conscience in three years, just as we did today with Creating Peace.  Two years ago the issue was Ethical Eating, and there have been plenty of sermons, workshops and lectures related to it at this GA.  Hence, there will be a Statement of Conscience on this next June (in Charlotte, if you are thinking of going).  Shall I preach on Ethical Eating this year?

What, you ask, was the newly selected Study/Action issue today?  Well, by written ballot the top two were National Economic Reform:  A Moral Imperative and Immigration as a Moral Issue.  But neither got a majority, so first thing Saturday we had a runoff vote.  The winner was Immigration.  What this means is that the UUA’s Commission on Social Witness will prepare and provide resource materials for congregations to use in studying this issue and engaging in social justice and service activities related to it, and after three years there will be a draft Statement of Conscience on this issue to discuss, debated, amend and approve.

Friday Night in Minneapolis: Thunderstorm

One thing I miss about living in the Midwest is the summer thunderstorm.  There’s one right now going on outside my hotel window:  hard, heavy rain and wind, thunder and lightning.  The only problem is that I came back to clean up briefly before heading to the Meadville/Lombard alumni/alumnae association dinner, which is at another hotel.   Not looking forward to a soaking before sitting in an air-conditioned banquet hall.  Saturday is the Twin Cities LGBT Pride Festival in Minneapolis, and the General Assembly schedule includes our presence at the rally in Loring Park, about a mile away.  Here’s hoping it does not rain on the parade!

Thursday at General Assembly: Day 4 in Minneapolis

I had a sighting of Doug Kraft, second-hand sighting of May Tucker, and a voice mail from Carole Czujko, and I ran into our delegate Seya. She had enjoyed the Young Adult Worship after opening ceremonies Wednesday night.

My first session of the day was fascinating and fun:  a worshop led by the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (which helps newly-forming groups of religious liberals around the world get support and make connections) and the UU Partner Church Council (which promotes international church-to-church partnerships like Sister City relationships).   We heard from a man who has founded a UU group in Mexico City and whose ministry takes him into prisons.  We heard from two partner ministers:  a young man from a village in the Transylvanian region of Romania and an older woman minister from Boise.  By webcam we heard from a man who leads the new group the Christian Unitarians of Indonesia and then from a woman who is part of the UU congregation in Bujumburra, the capital city of Burundi.  Lots of exciting stuff going on.  I’ll know more after the ICUU ministers’ conference in July in the Netherlands.

Late morning I spoke at a workshop about the various grant funds that are part of the UU Funding Program.  I serve on the grants panel for the Fund for a Just Society.  I also attended a meeting with members of the Board of the UU Veatch Program, a major foundation owned by the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock, on Long Island.  The UUFP is a re-granting program, so the Veatch board decides how much we can give away.   After a quick lunch I attended a workshop about recent health-care reform legislation.  Speakers included leaders of state UU Legislative Ministries in Maryland, Michigan, and of course, California.

In the late afternoon I attended a “Mini-Assembly,” which is where delegates go to propose, debate and edit amendments to major items of business in advance of the plenary session.  This keeps plenary business from getting bogged down in haggling over and rewriting multiple amendments, so we only debate the motions on the floor that come out of a Mini-Assembly.  The topic Thursday was how best to oppose the anti-immigrant law in Arizona, which creates a climate of fear and promotes racial profiling.  The GA of 2012 is scheduled for Phoenix, and many people have agitated that we should boycott and forego the $500,000 deposit the UUA has made.  (Slogan: We will not meet in a state of fear.) Arizona UUs want us to come and support them and their community partners in their stand for racial justice.  However, there is concern that UUs from other states who are undocumented immigrants or who are not white could be at risk.   It  is likely now that we will not pull out of Phoenix, but the final resolution likely will commit us to a major public witness and education while we are there.  Voting on this is Saturday.

The highlight of the second day of GA is the evening Service of the Living Tradition, the annual occasion when our ministry is celebrated:  the procession includes ministers retiring from full-time service (which this year included former UUSS minister John Young and next year will include Shirley Ranck), those who have died in the past year (including author Forrest Church, my former study group member Marjorie Newlin Leaming). We received word of the recent passing of Paul Sawyer, who has served the Berkeley Fellowship, Pasadena’s Throop Universalist Church, and most recently the Chico Fellowship).  Also recognized were new ministers granted Preliminary Fellowship (or credentialing) with the UUA and those receiving Final Fellowship after three years of work, evaluation,  development, and monthly meetings with a mentor. Ministers from Napa, Grass Valley, and the UU Community Church of Sacramento all received their final fellowhip Thursday night.  Speaking of mentoring, late Wednesday night my mentee and I had a beer on the sidewalk on the Nicollet Mall–think K Street but wider and filled with restaurants and people.  The preacher for the Service of the Living Tradition was Page Getty, a young minister in Columbia, MD, and mother of a one and four-year-old.  Her lectionary texts were from The Velveteen Rabbit and a sentence by Annie Dillard.

I had a very quick dinner at a Vietnames restaurant Thursday with a friend I haven’t seen in over two decades.  He lives here with his wife; we all three worked together as budget analysts back in 1985.  I hope to see the whole family after GA.  He asked about my career change  and caught me up on his life.  He told me that this morning at 9 on the local Public Radio news station he heard an extended interview with the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.  Take a look at the intro and picture, and listen to the whole thing if you want, at this link.

Tuesday & Wednesday: Days 2 & 3 in Minneapolis

Ministry Days takes place for nearly two days before GA starts.  This is the annual gathering of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, whose purpose is to nurture “excellence in ministry through collegiality and continuing education.”  Our professional association now has 1,681 members (including active, retired, and candidate or student members).

The emotional highlight of the meeting is our worship service in the morning, which honors those ordained and fellowshiped 25 years ago and 50 years ago. The names of those surviving in each group are read aloud, and a minister elected by her “class” gives a sermon.  The Rev. Barbara Wells (the daughter of a UU minister) was in her mid-20s when she was ordained 25 years ago and has been a co-minister for much of her career with her husband, Jaco ten Hove.  They are co-authors of an Adult RE course in five sessions, “Articulating Your UU Faith.”  Barbara asserted that she is grateful to have grown up in this faith, grateful that it was “imposed” on her by her parents.  She recalled that in the mid-1980s she was looked down upon at her UU seminary for speaking openly with religious language!  She was ordained just as the revival of spiritual exploratoin and expression was beginnning, and she has been a leader and teacher in worship practice.

The Rev. Kenneth Torquil McLean (raised a Methodist) told us that became a Unitarian over 50 years ago when he became engaged to Harriet and began attending church with her.  Then he entered Harvard Divinity School and was ordained in 1961, the year of the merger of the Universalists and Unitarians.  He’s had  a long career of institution building (leading Cedar Lane church in Bethesda, MD, for 20 years) and building international partnerships in liberal religion.  However, when he went through the ministerial fellowship (credentialing) process in 1960 he feared that in the pyschological testing he would be found out as a closeted homosexual and then be ineligible for our ministry.  His wife passed away in 1993 from cancer, and three years later while traveling on UUA business in London he met a man and fell in love.  He came out to his family and colleagues and sent a letter to his hundreds of former parishioners at Cedar Lane church, where he is minister emeritus.  Dozens of letters, calls and emails came in reply, all supportive.  He and Terry have been together 14 years.

At our UUMA business meeting we elected new officers and adopted a budget of $458,000, most of which supports the expenses of our volunteer leadership, though about 1/4 of it funds our full-time staff–an administrator and an executive director. We adopted a major dues increase in order to fund the hiring of the director last year.  For the past two years a committee of seven has been leading a review and revision of our UUMA guidelines, and yesterday after much discussion and no amendments we adopted a major revision of the part we call the Code of Professional Conduct.  The next part to be revised is our Professional Standards.  You can read our UUMA Covenant (and all the bylaws and codes) at this link.

The culmination of Ministry Days is a major address by a colleague, a tradition known as the Berry Street Essay.  It founded in the early 1800s by liberal congregationalist ministers in Boston with the leaader ship of the Rev. Dr. William Ellery Channing, well before the American Unitarian Association’s founding in 1825.  We heard from the Rev. Gary Kowalksi, of Burlington, VT, author of 6 books on animal-human relationship and the spirituality of animals, though his topic was “The Poetics of Ministry.”  He recalled how many New England Unitarian poets had been pop stars in the 1800s and early 1900s, with many Americans of all faiths memorizing their verses and feeling nourished, healed, inspired by their verses.  He paraphrased Ralph Waldo Emerson:  God does not make things beautiful.  Beauty is the creator of the universe.

He told of a late Black Baptist preacher in Massachusetts who in 1987 wrote of resurrection by poetry, in particular being roused from a depression by our own Samuel Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Light.”

Gary asserted that our movement again needs to find our original voice.  We need to rise out of the habit of analytical thinking–our literalist ways of  speaking and relating–and to reclaim a metaphorical approach to religion and religious living.    His invited respondent was the Rev. Lynn Ungar, director of Religious Education of the Church of the Larger Fellowship and herself a published poet.  (Both of them are birthright UUs.)  Among other things, Lynn said:  Religion and poetry do the same thing.  Their function is to “connect little things to big things.”  Ministry, she said, is the act of holding things together, up to the light, so that big things shine through the little things and little things shine through the big things.”  Her benediction:  “Metaphors be with you.”  The essays are not yet posted, but you can read one from two years ago, “Imagineers of Soul,” by the Rev. Christine Robinson.

I had dinner at Bombay Bistro with the Modesto minister and her husband and a minister from Mount Vernon, VA.  Ages 67 to 40, we were all ID’d by the waiter for our drink orders.

General Assembly began at 8 PM with a call to order and adoption of rules by the UUA Moderator, Gini Courter, as a small part of opening ceremonies.  The banner parade featured folks from all over the country and world carrying their church banners high around the hall, to cheering and singing.  The UUA Board trustee from the Prairie Star District (the host district) gave us a welcome and panorama of the varied geography of the states that are home to 59  PSD congregations (we have about 35 in Northern CA, Reno and Honolulu).  He also recalled the earliest inhabitants of the lands we are on, as well as the heritage of Univesalists and Unitarians.  One-eighth of the congregations in Prairie Star were founded before 1870.  UUA President Peter Morales gave a short welcome homily.

We heard from the Youth Caucus and Young Adult Caucus representatives and heard a cheer from those contingents in the hall.  We also heard from the Right Relationship Team.  The PSD choir was large and lovely, and we had a number of soloists.  Singer Peter Mayer introduced us to a song he wrote for the occasion, “Come Rising,” and led us in singing “Blue Boat Home,” which he wrote to a very old hymn tune (it’s in the teal hymnal supplement) and the highlight was hearing him sing “Holy Now.”   Here is a 2007 video of him.

Sunday and Monday, Day One in Minneapolis

Sunday was a great day in Sac:

early morning meeting of the intergenerational and family ministry task force, a good Solstice and Father’s Day crowd for last service of the regular church year, lots of cupcakes to say thanks to Carole for her intern ministry (we might have thanked her but I bet I ate more cupcakes), and an RE committee meeting at which we appreciated all the hard work, which made for so much progress this past year, and checked in about publicity, parent orientations, and teacher trainings for late July and August.  Thanks to Marilyn for leading our Religious Education youth and children through some folk dances on Sunday, including costumes from various cultures and a map.

Took light rail from MSP airport and walked to hotel.  Under 80 degrees but very humid.  In evening took bus across the Mississippi River to the University area for dinner at Stub & Herb’s Cocktail and Dining Emporium, which must have 40 beers on tap.  Somehow over 3 hours I had only one, a Scurvy IPA.  Had nice long visit with Anya, a former ministerial intern and now colleague from Virginia.  Nice  to hear things are going so well there.  A small congregation that has expanded its rented space, has a full but small staff, and an average pledge of $3,000.

Have had a couple of other talks with colleagues as well and connected with a married couple of coworker friends I have not seen for over 20 years.   Now to have a long walk with one from Berkeley and breakfast.  I staff registration for UUMA Ministry Days this afternoon.  We have worship, Q&A with the UUA President, etc.  The sun is bright and it’s 73, though the forecast calls for 86 and T-storms.