Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Pastor Cranky’s Report from the 2011 UUA General Assembly in Charlotte

Here are some glimpses of my activities as your ministerial delegate at the 2011 GA of the UU Association of Congregations.  This was a historic GA–our 50th!  It marks the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association with the Universalist Church in America in 1961.  (Of course, the youth organizations of those two denominations had merged in 1954, forming Liberal Religious Youth.)

Meetings and Social Stuff

I attended a lunch meeting with the UU Veatch Program, a grant-making board at our congregation in Manhasset, NY.  I sit on the grants panel for the UU Fund for a Just Society, which is a re-granting arm of the Veatch program.  So we answered questions for staff and board members from our granting organization.  I also spoke as part of a panel at a GA workshop entitled “Get a Grant from the UU Funding Program.”

I attended a fund raising breakfast for my alma mater, Meadville Lombard Theological School.  (Every year I joke that this is a “free” breakfast that costs me $500.)  I also attended the annual alumni dinner, where I saw classmates, recent grads and professors.

My school has sold its 4 historic buildings in Barack Obama’s south-side Hyde Park neighborhood to the nearby University of Chicago, and has entered into a long-term lease with the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Michigan Avenue in downtown.  It’s using the proceeds to beef up its endowment, create scholarships, and to hire a new professor of UU history.  Though I contribute also to the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley (Doug and Carole’s seminary), I decided to sleep in on the day that it had a fund raising breakfast.

Among other chances to socialize and re-connect, I had lunch with the Minister from Livermore, dinner with a college friend and her family, dinner with a family from Florida who used to attend the church I served in the Bay Area, and coffee with our UUSS music director’s partner (who is a student in Georgia), with the Associate Minister from Palo Alto, with Emily (our member who is volunteering as an usher/teller at GA).

I had snacks and drinks with various friends and acquaintances at night.  The other night a hotel bar erupted in cheers and applause.  There were two TV monitors, one of which showed a baseball game.  The other one had CNN’s live coverage of the New York Assembly’s vote to grant marriage equality to same-sex couples.  That was the cause for the cheering!

GA Business:  Changing Governance, Speaking Out on “Ethical Eating” and Other Issues

Yesterday we voted on a major reform of our UUA governance.  After vigorous debate (and years of study) delegates reduced the size of the UUA Board of Trustees from 23 to 11.  Now, all trustees will be elected on an at-large basis.  The UUA Nominating Committee will be charged with presenting slates of candidates to reflect diversity of experience, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation/identity, gender, and geography.  (GA delegates will elect all 11 trustees, but the candidates can include not only those nominated by the Nominating Committee but anyone who runs for election “by petition.”)

Until now, all but 4 trustees were elected by regional districts.  Debate on this change centered on the loss of explicit regional representation versus the addition of other categories of diversity, in particular the voices and presence of persons from historically marginalized communities.  The current board had recommended this change unanimously, even though it meant shrinking their numbers.  They argued that it would make for a more nimble, efficient, effective and potentially more diverse representative Board of Trustees.   The measure clearly passed, and I voted for it.

Following that vote was a vote to change the terms of members of the UUA Nominating Committee.  Previously, those on it served one term of 6 years.  The proposal was to change the terms to 3-year terms, with the possibility of serving for two terms.  Among those favoring this change were youth delegates and young adults, for whom a 6-year term can be daunting.

Earlier this week GA delegates finished study and amendments to a Statement of Conscience: “Ethical Eating:  Food and Environmental Justice.”  This followed a three-year process of study, action and resolution-drafting. Read this article about it on the UU World magazine’s website.   If you are interested in local applications of this resolution, check out the 40-Day Challenge at UUSS, sponsored by our Green Sanctuary team.

Today we vote to suspend the UUA bylaw for “Actions of Immediate Witness” (AIW) at General Assembly.  That’s because next year’s Assembly in Phoenix will be  “Justice GA” and will focus on education, reflection and action for social justice, given Arizona’s passage of SB 1070 last year, which harms immigrant families and promotes racial profiling.  Next year’s GA won’t be “business as usual,” so the idea is that we will save time by skipping the AIW process.  However, to do so it means deleting it altogether from UUA bylaws.  There will be a vote also to reinstate the AIW process for the 2013 GA, but with a smaller number of AIWs possible.  So, we vote on deleting the AIW process and then putting it back in at a reduced level. (Today we will be voting to choose 4 AIWs, though a GA can choose as many as 6 AIWs.  These are the proposals:

AIW-1: Protest Rep. Peter King’s Hearings on Muslim “Radicalization”
AIW-2: Support Southern California Supermarket Workers’ Struggle for Decent Wages and Benefits
AIW-3: Toward Ending the U.S. Military Engagement in Afghanistan
AIW-4: Oppose Citizens United – Support Free Speech for People

AIWs are not binding on congregations and are not the same as the Statements of Conscience, which follow a three-year process of study, action and resolution-drafting.  As noted, this week we adopted the Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating:  Food and Environmental Justice.

Various Speakers

We heard from the progressive Muslim leader who has been at the center of controversy for plans to build an Islamic center in lower Manhattan.  Read a UU World article about it.

The female president of a 6-million-member Japanese religious organization addressed the Assembly the other day. Read a short article here.

Of course at every GA we hear reports from the UUA President, Moderator, Financial Advisor, and other elected or appointed officials or groups.

The major lecture at General Assembly is called the Ware Lecture, which took place Saturday night.  We heard from the scholar of religions Karen Armstrong, most recently the author of 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life.  Click the Ware Lecture link above to watch it (it’s an hour).

The longest-running lecture series in the United States is the Ministerial Conference in Berry Street, which began in 1820 with a talk by Unitarian forbear William Ellery Channing.  It no longer takes place on Berry Street or in Boston, but during Ministry Days, the meeting of UU ministers that comes just before General Assembly.  This week we heard from the Rev. Deborah Pope Lance.  Her challenging lecture was about the legacy of clergy sexual misconduct in our UU movement, and how misconduct damages congregational systems for generations, promoting cultures of secrecy, mistrust, manipulation, and misplaced anger.  (In our movement most of the misconduct has been male ministers who took advantage of their roles by having sex with women parishioners.)

Pope-Lance is a therapist as well as a minister, and much of her consulting work to helping “after-pastors,” which means ministers of congregations whose earlier ministers committed sexual misconduct.  As I listened to her powerful reflections, I realized that on my right was a colleague who had been an “after-pastor” in a New England church.  On my left was a colleague who had been an “after-pastor” in a Southern California church.

Worship Services

Major worship include the Service of the Living Tradition, honoring our religious professionals as they gain credentialing, enter retirement, or pass from this life. Every year I know fewer of the new ministers and more of those who are retiring!

I also attended the annual service of the on-line Church of the Larger Fellowship.  This year’s service was an installation for CLF’s new senior minister, Meg Riley.  The July/August issue of CLF’s Quest magazine features a sermon that I wrote and gave at UUSS.

If I don’t finish this and get cleaned up, I’ll miss the big Sunday morning worship at the convention center.  Tonight I depart and head to Asheville, where a two weeks of vacation will begin.  The UUSS Office will know how to reach me in an emergency.

My best wishes to all of you!

P.S.–the morning worship was fabulous.  You can watch it at this link.

To watch selected other items from GA, “streaming on demand,” click this link.


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

“Her challenging lecture was about the legacy of clergy sexual misconduct in our UU movement, and how misconduct damages congregational systems for generations, promoting cultures of secrecy, mistrust, manipulation, and misplaced anger.”

Who says the anger is “misplaced”?

From what I have seen the anger is usually directed at either the UU ministers who are directly responsible for the clergy misconduct, and not just sexual misconduct I might add, and the UUA and MFC officials who fail or refuse to hold their professional colleagues accountable for their misconduct.

Comment by Robin Edgar

What I understood from her lecture is that one or two or three ministries later, people in the congregation can react disproportionately to events, words and actions that have nothing to do with sexuality or inappropriate use of authority. The lecturer gave examples from her own earlier ministries, and of those after-pastors she has known, of unexplainable outbursts of anger or passive-aggressive behaviors against people in the congregation, including clergy and lay leaders, who were not present during the times of misconduct. That is what I meant by the term “misplaced anger.” If you did not hear the lecture I’m sure it will be posted in the coming months.

Comment by Pastor Cranky

Thank you for your response to my somewhat cranky comment Pastor Cranky. 🙂

It is genuinely appreciated.

With 20/20 hindsight I actually came to the conclusion that I had probably misinterpreted the “misplaced anger” bit, and came back here to post my reinterpreted take on it. My reinterpretation differs somewhat from what you have posted here but I believe that it worthwhile posting here.

It should be obvious that my original comment was speaking from the point of view of the quite justifiable anger of victims of U*U clergy misconduct which is rarely, if ever, “misplaced”. Victims of clergy misconduct usually direct their anger at either the perpetrator (i.e. abusive U*U minister) or the *perpetuators* of the clergy abuse (i.e. the leaders of the implicated congregations, and the negligent and effectively complicit UUA and MFC staff. . . who not only do little or nothing to hold the abusive minister accountable for his or her “unbecoming conduct” but even go so far as to “whitewash” abusive U*U clergy and engage in various forms of victim blaming and “shooting the messenger”).

It occurred to me later that what Rev. Deborah Pope-Lance *may* have been talking about was the “misplaced anger” which is often directed at victims of clergy misconduct who dare to complain about abusive U*U clergy by the leaders and members of the affected congregations and indeed those UUA and MFC officials who “don’t want to hear about it”. I have certainly been subjected to such “misplaced anger” and know of other victims of U*U clergy misconduct, including victims of U*U clergy sexual misconduct, who have been the target of such “misplaced anger”. In fact I received an “electronic communication” within the last week or so from one victim of UU clergy sexual misconduct who wrote about how UUA administrators of the “hear no evil” variety “got angry” at them for “unblocking their ears”. . .

As far as “unexplainable outbursts of anger or passive-aggressive behaviors against people in the congregation, including clergy and lay leaders, who were not present during the times of misconduct” goes I can see how that *could* come about if the congregation failed to deal responsibly with the clergy misconduct when it occurred and the “after-pastors” and subsequent lay leaders failed or refused to do what is necessary to clean up the mess that was left. . . In effect they would be *perpetuators* of the original clergy misconduct.

I certainly would like to hear Rev. Deborah Pope-Lance’s lecture to enter into a free and responsible search for the truth and meaning of what she actually said and meant. I will probably request a copy of the lecture from her soon, since it may be some time before it becomes publicly available. I would like to thank you for publicly speaking about Rev. Pope-Lance’s lecture on your blog. To the best of my knowledge you are the first and only UU minister to have done so. Hopefully you are not the last though. . .

Best Regards,

Robin Edgar aka The Emerson Avenger

Comment by Robin Edgar

I was at GA, and I was incredibly inspired by a program that I attended about immigrants and protection networks. It was a small group, led by a young man wearing a blue baseball cap (backwards) and a white t-shirt that said Legalize Arizona. I wonder if anyone reading this can identify that young man to me. I’ve looked in the program book, but I attended so many programs about immigration that I can’t identify which one was this one.
Helen Etters
UU Fellowship of Winston-Salem, NC

Comment by helenofmarlowe

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