Monday, June 27, 2005

Mysterious and wonderful

WOW!!! I am so jazzed about Closing Ceremony, I am dancing on air! What a fabulous, moving, exciting, thrilling, wonderful sacred time it was!

I know from past experience that being involved in a service always makes it better for me. I've given sermons, read children's stories, lit chalices, recited poetry, and performed music at many UU services. But never have I been part of a group singing to 5,000 people, at least 500 of whom were in a conga line. That's right: there was a conga line of happy, laughing UUs snaking through the Ft. Worth convention center arena. The song was Dance With Me:

Dance with me, querida, into the Mystery.
Celebrate, we'll light the flame.
Take my hand, we'll move together on a journey.
As we sing the song of love that calls our name.

Dance with me, sing with me. Celebrate the Mystery!

GA has been a Mystery in the best sense for me. What is the love and dedication behind the work to set it all up and make it run smoothly? What touches all the hearts and opens all the wallets to bring thousands of people from literally all 50 states and several other countries together? What magic makes it happen and makes it moving? I don't know, and I don't think it matters. The feelings are real and present.

Blessed be!

Voting on the Actions of Immediate Witness. My heart was full of wonder and joy that literally THOUSANDS of people care enough about Unitarian Universalism to be part of this process!

Volunteer time

This morning I worked a shift in the CLF booth in the Exhibit Hall. Had a nice conversation with the new Youth Representative on the Committee for Social Witness. I also enjoyed speaking with our CLF minister, Jane Rzepka, and the staff members at the booth. Since I forgot my camera, of course now I can't put faces with names, darn it! (I admit that I'm actually writing this post weeks after the fact to finally finish this blog and turn in my delegate report, so it isn't too surprising that I've forgotten alot...)

The one thing I regret about GA is that I never found time to browse through the Exhibit Hall. The few spare moments I had, the hall wasn't open. Oh well!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Introduction to GA of the brand new Church of the Younger Fellowship. Woo hoo! Great energy, great logo. You'll have to trust me on the logo. No flash photos are allowed in any of the sessions, so in the large, dark hall it is difficult to get clear shots.
The Dallas UU Church choir, waiting in the wings.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

On Being a Good Delegate

Several times during plenaries, we delegates were encouraged to think about our congregations when we voted. For the five Study Action Issues, Meg Riley urged us to choose the issue that would most like fire up our congregation. After all, the issues must be studied and discussed by congregations to be made real in the world.

The delegates were also straw polled on the potential Statements of Immediate Witness. Eight were presented, and we were asked to vote for no more than three in order to narrow down the total field to six.

Having never met any of my fellow congregants, how was I to vote? What is the sense of the CLF? When I was active in the UU Church of Palo Alto, this was easy. Attending services regularly, reading the Bulletin, and listening to the talk on the patio and in committee meetings, I heard the hot topics everywhere.

I suppose one way to handle voting now would be to think about what the Palo Alto folks would get fired up about. But as I spend more time in GA, I realize that Palo Alto is not a typical UU church. It is very much a reflection of the liberal, well-to-do California city it resides in.

When the minister from the Dallas church said, "A member of my congregation told me it was much easier to come out as a gay man than to come out as a UU here," I knew that the work and word of Unitarian Universalism is different in the heartland, in the Bible belt. Harder, and more life saving. That same minister said that it is very common for visitors to her church to weep. They weep because for the first time in their spiritual life, they feel normal.

Toto, we are in Kansas now. This spiritual landscape is alien to me. It ain't California, and it certainly ain't Boston.

CLF represents people from every state and beyond. I can't in good conscience treat them like Palo Altans. Nor can I profess to understand their lives as an abstract. I can only learn about each one as I meet them, if I meet them.

The only way to vote as a CLF GA delegate, is by choosing items that fire ME up. So that's what I've been doing. It feels selfish, but oddly liberating as well. I feel like a church of one.

Friday, June 24, 2005

This is the CLF banner. Not nearly as colorful as some, but a great concept. It shows a field of stars, perhaps a galaxy, and says "We are here." It was hanging from the third floor balcony, so the only way I could get close enough to photograph it was to stand above it, stick my camera out into the void, point and shoot by guessing. Took me four tries to get even this good a shot, so that's all folks.
Photos from the CLF worship service. This couple received the Unsung Heroes Award. I think their name is Simonson. They both were quite surprised and got a lot of applause. I assume they are well liked and basically all around neato folks.
Lois in another photo that doesn't do her justice. Sheesh, my pictures would be better if people didn't do all that moving around. By the time I frame a nice smile, they move on to some other facial expression!
Linda. A lousy shot, but I really want to post these names and faces while they are fresh in my memory.
Jane, our minister. Hopefully, I'll get a better photo at another time. She really does have a terrific smile.
Denny, Lorraine, and Lynda
CLFers rock out at worship this morning. This is the most musical congregation I've ever been part of. Either the tone deaf are hiding it really well, or there really are some great voices here.
Banners, banners everywhere. This is fewer than 20% of them.

Almost too pooped to post

Wow, GA is really wearing me out! I'm just not used to going non-stop all day anymore.

Today's highlights: CLF worship...great, two good sermons, tons of fun, upbeat music, got to put a few faces with names, mostly staff members.

Needed tickets to attend Intergenerational Lunch and tix were sold out days ago. Note to organizers: more capacity needed at this event! Had to walk to Radisson Hotel for a fast salad for lunch. Convention center is 4 blocks long, plus two to the hotel, then all the way back to the far end. Yikes, more walking than I've done in many months.

Good choir rehearsal, lots of laughing. Tenors all moved to one section so some strong voices in my ear to help me learn.

Quick walk through the exhibit hall, found the CLF booth, signed up for a Monday morning shift. Feet killing me; so much walking!

Short worship service before Plenary 2 was very moving. I couldn't make it all the way through the hymn without tears...what was THAT all about? Hymn was Wake Now My Vision. Young woman minister, I thought she was excellent and had to look hard for her after the service to thank her. Hard on the heels of this service and in the same space was Plenary, so it was a bit chaotic.

Tried once more to find the red bandanna crew, and finally gave up. Feeling pretty isolated, and the beginning of plenary was introductions and thank yous and awards and stuff. I didn't know anyone. Finally spot one man with bandanna. I leapt from my seat, greeted him and said, "Let's sit together!" He replied that he was looking for his wife, then we could sit down. I watched him search and search for her (its a HUGE hall) and I just couldn't stand on my feet any longer. At this point, I was done with looking for CLFers, so I sat in a random row. A very pleasant looking lady smiled at me, moved over a chair and made room. I noticed that her name tag said she was a minister. Her tacit welcome was just what my sore heart needed, and I settled in next to her like a baby bird (the seats are REALLY close together).

Later, during discussion of the Study Action Issues, she and I whispered together. I found her to be quite thoughtful and observant. She had to leave early; I never did get her full name. Bless you, anonymous minister lady, for helping me through Plenary.

Found two parts of Plenary to be moving: the presentation of the Quimby Congregation from Port Townsend, WA and the nice memorial slide show of UUs who died this year and left money in their wills to the UUA. All those names and photos...surely, they were all well loved and even in death were giving, optimistic fellow church members. Bless you, spirits of those who have passed.

After Plenary, where Sean met me in the final 15 minutes, we headed to the Petroleum Club a few blocks away for a cocktail reception for those who have donated to the UUA (either now or via estate planning). The food was great, the music was hoppin', and I saw Cilla, Andrew, Bonnie and Pam again. The theme was "Hats Off to You" and we were encouraged to wear funny hats. Sean brought me my pink fuzzy bunny ears hat and dozens of people gave me the thumbs up. Only about 10% of the attendees wore any hat, and pink ears stood out. Oh well, I don't mind looking goofy.

And even better, the ears started several really nice conversations. One couple, Sandy and Bruce from Brevard, North Carolina, were so interested in our story. It was very validating. I have to admit that everyone who has heard us say we live in our RV and travel has thought it was just great. People I met yesterday have come up to me today and asked further questions or introduced me to someone else: "This is the woman who lives in her bus!"

I've been looking so hard for new friendships through the CLF, but the truth is that the friends are everywhere at GA, from every congregation. And after all, CLF is just a variation on all UU congregations. The values are the same, people are the same everywhere. I've never had trouble making new friends, and here is a conference with over 3,000 of them. Bless you, smiling faces, outstretched hands, hugging arms. It is good to be back in my UU home.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Please, please take me with you to GA! I fit so nicely here in your backpack.
I have no affiliation with the Gainesville church, but loved the enthusiasm of this banner bearer. He waved and smiled and just looked like a party all by himself. The Lord entertains them that entertains themselves.
Yay, new Church of the Younger Fellowship banner! As usual, the youth caucus is a raucus caucus.
First session of the convention today: choir orientation. On the way to the rehearsal room, I ran into Bonnie S., a member of my old congregation in California. It's been almost two years since I saw her, and it was great to catch up a little bit. She was on her way to the PCD District In-Gathering, so I dropped in briefly to see who else I knew. I saw Cilla and Andrew, Reed S. and Ruth F. Wow! How wonderful to see familiar faces!

Choir was great. This year there are two co-directors, Jeannie and Jason, and they are both young and enthusiastic. "Too enthusiastic for me!" grumbled one older lady later on the escalator. The music varies widely, from Latin influenced to Barbershop to Broadway to Plainchant. Lots of rhythm, lots of movement. I sat next to Alma, who was also in my section in Boston.

Sean met me after rehearsal and we had a fabulous dinner at the local steak place, del Frisco's.

7:30 was Opening Celebration and Plenary I. I dutifully wore my red bandanna to signal fellow CLFers, but could not find them. We spent 10 minutes wandering the huge hall (a hockey arena), looking for flashes of red. I saw one teen in the youth caucus wearing a bandanna and one hat with a bandanna hat band, but no CLFers. How disappointing! Sean and I sat in the nosebleed section and my disappointment turned to anticipation as the band "The Lucky Pierres" opened the meeting.

I was thrilled to watch the banner parade, as usual. I moved a bit closer to take some photos, hoping to see the CLF banner, but no luck. The last message on the email list was asking for someone to carry the banner, but I don't think there were any takers. I would have volunteered, but my feet can't handle that much marching/standing/waiting in line. I did see many banners from places familiar to us, and cheered them on loudly.

I did not realize that this year's GA theme was Nurturing Families and I have to admit that it is not really my bailiwick. But some of the family stories presented tonight were quite moving and its hard to NOT support such a broadly do-good theme. Families: nothing really controversial there.

NINE new UU congregations welcomed into the fold; that's pretty impressive.

As often happens with me, I was most moved during the singing. There is something about opening voice and breath that also opens my heart, and I choked up several times. During "Turn, Turn, Turn," I couldn't make it through the phrase, A time for peace, I swear its not too late. It is good to be moved to tears; it cleanses the soul and hammers home the important things.

After the celebration, we headed up Main St. to catch our bus home, and ran into Bonnie again with Pam A. Pam threw her arms around me and said, "Oh, I thought I'd never see you again after you moved away!" We agreed to try to get together for a dinner/lunch/drink/coffee here in Ft. Worth.

Even though I was a bit sad to not find and make some new CLF friends today, it was wonderful to see some old friends. Tomorrow morning is the CLF worship service, so I'll take my bandanna and try again. In the meantime, the warmth of my reunions with carry me through the night.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Today we tested the Ft. Worth transit system and were pleased to find how easy it is to get to the Convention Center. We are staying at a small RV park about 2 miles west of downtown, and the #2 bus takes us within a block of our target on both ends.

We registered, picked up our program and ribbons, had a nice dinner at the local Italian restaurant, and headed back to the coach. Our closest neighbor at the RV park is also attending GA, selling jewelry as an exhibitor. Maybe she knows about prayer boxes? Hmm.

I read through the entire program, highlighting sessions that looked interesting, circling those that are "mandatory" (Plenaries and choir rehearsals, of course!) Fond memories of GA2003 came flooding back. I can't wait to jump into the good work of the Plenaries; I'm a bit of a process junkie.

Tomorrow during opening Plenary #1, many of us CLF delegates have agreed to sit together. Since most of us have never met face to face, we have decided to wear red bandannas. Hopefully, a red bandanna is not a gang symbol here like it is in San Jose, or I'll have trouble on the city bus...

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Boxed In

This afternoon as I was checking us into the campground, the woman behind the counter politely asked what brought us to Ft. Worth? I mentioned that we were here for a conference, and she said, "Oh, are you part of the church group?" I said I was, and she showed me the prayer boxes she had purchased for her gift shop. They were small, intricately decorated boxes on necklaces and key chains. I have no idea what a prayer box is used for, but I admired the pretty little silver charms.

Do the boxes come prefilled with prayers? Do you insert your own? Or do they contain the answered prayers? I did not open one, so I don't know if there is a piece of paper, like a fortune cookie has, inside. If there was, would it contain lucky lottery numbers?

Having grown up in a Presbyterian household, I thought I had seen most of the standard Christian items. After 20 years in California, I also thought I'd seen most everything else. But I was flumoxed by prayer boxes, and too embarrassed to ask. Perhaps later in the week I'll work up the courage to find out more.
Where was this listing this morning?!?

Lost and found

This morning I downloaded the PDF version of the GA Program and started looking for sessions to attend. The most important activity at GA for me is the choir. I searched the program high and low and could not find any choir rehearsals. Oh, no! I looked in the index; no listing for choir. I looked under Music; lots of sessions, but none of them choir.

I was so upset, I went into the bedroom and cried. No choir! We've driven 1500 miles across 100+ degree desert and GA has no choir this year! I almost said to Sean, "Let's just forget it; its not worth it." But we have other business in Ft. Worth, so we packed up and pressed on.

Now that we have settled in for the night, I fired my computer back up and searched again for rehearsal listings. This time, it came right up: Choir Orientation, Thursday afternoon at 4:30. I have to admit, I burst into tears again, I am so relieved.

We're on our way...

Well, technically speaking, we're always on our way. That's because we live on the road in our bus. If you're interested in all the gory details about that, check out our website here. Otherwise, suffice it to say that we are Louise Hornor (me) and Sean Welsh (my husband), and I am a delegate to the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly 2005 for the Church of the Larger Fellowship. I set up this blog to record my thoughts and feelings about GA this year.

Today we will drive into the greater Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Statistical Area and check out a few campsites, perhaps pick up our monthly mail. Tomorrow we will visit the convention center and register. Our schedule was complicated enough these last few months that we decided it would be simpler to register on site rather than in advance.

Thursday we'll attend our first GA event (District In Gathering, if there is one for CLF? Need to read that program!) and get started. I'm beginning to feel quite excited!