Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Just a few GA photos (Louise)

Last year I was really motivated to take pictures at GA, but this year I only have these three lame ones to share.

Art in the lobby of the Oregon Convention Center. I believe the glass flowers are the work of Dale Chihuly, but admit to being too lazy to look for a citation nearby.


The CLF banner. Is this a new one? I didn't remember having seen it before.


The Dragonboat in the lobby of the OCC. We have good friends who dragonboat and have seen a couple races, so it was fun for us to "meet under the boat."

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

GA thoughts still swirling around (Louise)

This Boy in the Bands post motivated me to write about my reaction to the final Open Space vote on 30 statements. My thoughts are in the comments on his site.

On a related note, I've really been enjoying following the GA commentary in other blogs. I'm using to find many UU sites . I feel like part of a real community and love the variety of voice and attitudes. As Jane would say, "Isn't that just like church?"

On to Plenary VI (Sean)

My apologies for the delay in getting this out. I was hoping to post yesterday, but the dog's been having trouble with her ears, and we needed to get her to a vet. Portland's transit system actually allows you to bring your pet, as long as it's in a carrier -- in our view, a real commitment by the transit system to getting people out of their cars. It took all morning, but we were able to get her taken care of. (We've now got drops to put in her ears for the next couple weeks.) I also wanted to see OMSI while we were still here in Portland (well, OK, I really wanted to see the submarine), and I spent the afternoon there.

Continuing my delegate's report from where I left off, on Saturday afternoon after Open Space Convergence concluded, I attended an excellent and also very well attended session entitled The Pentagon Papers Then and Now: UUs Confronting Government Secrecy, moderated by Amy Goodman and with panelists Daniel Ellsberg, Senator Mike Gravel, and Reverend Robert West. Ellsberg and Gravel were both very well-practiced speakers, and I would add also quite humorous -- I really enjoyed their presentation.

That took us into Plenary VI, wherein little business was conducted. We heard several reports in succession, to wit:
  • Report of the UU Women's Federation (which had been deferred from Plenary-V)
  • A moving report on Breakthrough Congregation Davies Memorial
  • Report of the Journey Toward Wholeness committee
  • Presentation of the Distinguished Service Award to Leon E. Spencer
We then had a brief song break, after which Dr. Helen Bishop did a short presentation on the Open Space process. Here she announced that over 1,000 GA attendees participated in the process, a number which I question, as I came up with much different math on the subject, as follows:

Firstly, I counted/extrapolated perhaps 800 people who attended the initial "domain" sessions wherein proposals were made for break-out sessions to be convened. (I suspect the 1,000 number came from counting in the "largest" room -- the only one designated for folks with hearing impairment and the closest room to the Plenary hall -- and extrapolating. I counted in three other rooms, and got an average of 80 attendees.) Now, perhaps, one could say that these 800 or so people "participated," but, considering the only thing we did in those sessions was allow people, individually, to step forward and propose topics, a more sensible number of "participants" is 285 -- the number of people who stepped forward. But, OK, 700 other people at least observed this initial part of the process.

As I shared in my last post, only 175 people were involved in the final "convergence" sessions. That's down from 285 "interested" parties on day one. Which leaves the math in the middle -- hard to figure just from sampling. Here's my own guess: I counted an average of six people in the first (of six) sets of breakout sessions, and an average of only three people in the last set. If you extrapolate these numbers across all 105 sessions that resulted in statements, that would be some 470-480 people participating in breakouts. But wait -- that assumes that, over six slots, no individual attended more than one session. That represents the most generous interpretation of the data. I would guess that no one attended all six -- there were just too many compelling alternatives on the agenda. But at least some people attended more than one. Which means that the true number of participants is somewhere between ~120 (if the average number of sessions per attendee was 4) and ~400 (at an average of 1.2). I would guess the number to be squarely in between those two, based on the number of participants in the end-game.

So Dr. Bishop's number of 1,000 is, IMO, overly optimistic. I would think an overly generous estimate would be 500, which does not represent even 10% of GA attendees.

In any case, the list of 105 statements produced by the break-out sessions had been distributed to GA attendees, and we were told that it would be forwarded to the Board of Trustees along with all the back-up materials. The list of 30 statements that were produced by the Open Space convergence process was then distributed. Attendees were invited to step up to the microphone and spend up to 45 seconds to say which of these statements really excites them.

Many folks got up to express their support for several of the statements. In keeping with the fact that these were recurring themes in both the break-out and convergence processes, there were lots of statements in favor of supporting our youth, the great turning toward Earth community, and anti-racism/anti-oppression/multi-culturalism.

The Youth Caucus strongly endorsed statements number 12 and number 11 from this list.

After time expired for statements of support, there was a recognition of those volunteers whose terms are ending with this GA, and then Plenary was recessed until Sunday morning.

Louise and I stayed on for the youth-led worship service, and then headed off to the annual donor reception. After another exhausting day, we went home before the Ware Lecture started. Which reminds me to mention the length-of-day issue: at several points, including in Plenary, we've heard that the poor attendance at the bridging ceremony was, umm, disrespectful, or at least less than fully supportive of our youth. I can't say I disagree with this, even though we did not stay for the Bridging ceremony (9:00-10:00).

But neither did we stay for the Service of the Living Tradition (8:00-9:30), likewise disrespecting our newest clergy, or the Ware Lecture (9:00-10:00), and the simple reason for our absence from all of these is that days which start at 8:00am for us can not end at 10:30pm. It takes a minimum of half an hour for us to travel to or from the CC, which means once we are there, we're there for the day. And the poor dog is home crossing her legs by the time we get back even as it is (sometime after 8:00pm). I'm guessing this might be an anathema to folks who, after finishing the Bridging Ceremony (or whatever) will be traipsing off to hotel ballrooms to participate in "Evening Entertainment (10:00-Midnight)," but that's our life. So, yes, I want to attend Bridging (and Living Tradition, and the Ware Lecture), but meet me half way: schedule them at a time I can reasonably attend.

Living the life that we do, of course, we'd rather see all of GA run another full day, and the whole schedule be less frenetic. I realize that most attendees are in a different place, and the schedule we have now fits better into their lives. But everything is a trade-off, and this schedule means that at least some GA attendees will come late enough to miss morning activities, some will leave early enough to miss evening activities, and some will take time out of the middle of the day to get some rest. In our case, as delegates we view Plenary as non-negotiable, and that means we need to be on-site by 8:30am. So, I offer my apologies to the youth, and to those newly fellowshipped, and to the esteemed Ware lecturer, for not attending, but I would suggest that it is also the UU thing to do to respect that I, and others, have limitations.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Recovering (Louise)

We're both taking some much-needed downtime today and may (or may not) finish our GA blogging tomorrow. It is amazing how exhausting GA is.

I will say right now that Portland is now at the top of my list of places to eventually settle down, strictly on the basis of the excellent First Unitarian Church's choir(s). First UU sent a choir (a combination of two or more of their regular choirs) to GA for closing ceremony and they were so good, so tight, so professional. I doubt that the streaming video captured it, but having been a member of about a dozen choirs, this one was among the best I've ever heard. The Sanctus was exquisite. The opportunity to hear them was adequate compensation for not singing in the service myself.

The GA choir sang a short concert in the 30 minutes preceding Plenary VIII. They did a fine job, even without me. It's good that they didn't follow First UU Portland, though. Five rehearsals under even the best director just can't compare to years of working together. I hope that the GA choir members had a rewarding experience this year, even without being part of Closing Ceremony. By day two of GA, I was grateful not to have the added time burden of rehearsals.

More Open Space (Sean)

Well, GA is now over. Last night I was pretty wiped out, since it had been a non-stop day, without even a big enough break to get some notes posted here. After Closing Ceremonies we had dinner plans with a friend who lives in town. I'll talk about yesterday in some later posts -- I think I have several ahead of me.

Now that I've had a little rest and rejuvenation, I'd like to try to cover the continuation of the Open Space process from Saturday.

Before I get into that, though, I should mention an item from Saturday morning's plenary that I could not recall when I was typing my last post: The first item Saturday morning was the report on Breakthrough Congregation, First Unitarian Church of Portland. I'm not sure how I forgot that, other than my mind is turning to mush here, since it was a great report and we had remarked to each other about what a huge and vibrant church it was. The other item I omitted was the report on the implementation of past Statements of Conscience.

Moving on, as I mentioned in the last post, plenary ran over by a good bit. When we were done, I raced over to my assigned "domain" room for the Open Space Convergence session. Unfortunately, the plenary delay meant that I missed the first 20 minutes.

When I arrived, I counted only 18 people in my domain room. Louise went off to count heads in all ten rooms, for completeness, and counted about 174, so my room was fairly representative. And, her headcount included the 20 facilitators. When I came in, folks were sharing their observations on the process. There were several comments around the small number of people participating in the open space process.

At this point, facilitator Lois informed us that the written report, as it stands, which was handed out this morning, will be passed up to the board of trustees as-is. The report, which was the result of the break-out sessions, was a list of 105 "priorities" statements, the direct aggreagation of the written reports turned in by the group conveners. I'm not sure what happened to the other 15 reports, but I know there were a couple of empty slots on the schedule, and I observed that some break-outs simply did not happen.

Lois then asked all participants to think of three or four key words to include in the concept of the mission of our faith community. The process was similar to "brainstorming" -- all the words went up on flip-charts, and we will "vote" on them by placing sticky dots next to the words we think are most expressive of the mission.

I note here that this is a separate and distinct step from what had been done thus far in creating the 105 statements. At some point, it became clear to me that these two parts of the process are unrelated -- what we are moving forward with here does not carry forward any of the preceding work -- other than the earlier workshops perhaps informing our thought process as we craft and vote on the individual words.

At this point participant Rev. Kurt Kuhwald noted that many of the 105 statements do not speak to mission, but to strategy.

The complete list of words from our domain:

Great Turning
Earth Community
Spiritual Depth
Intergenerational Community
Religious Identity
Beloved Community
AR/AO/MC (Anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multi-cultural)
Dominator Culture
Faith Development
Youth Ministry
Youth-Adult partnership
Spiritual Growth

Note that several "words" contributed were actually phrases, even though, when someone asked if phrases could be used, the answer given was "no." Also, during this process, about half a dozen or so more people filtered into the room, and were asked to contribute words to the process. In the interest of completeness, the three words I contributed to the charts were Love, Respect, and Courage.

After this, each of us was issued four sticky dots to place as we saw fit next to words, which we all did. Then the session was adjourned for lunch.

When we returned from lunch, the facilitators had counted the dots, and here is our room's "top ten" list of words (in order of number of votes):

Intergenerational Community
Earth Community
Spiritual Depth

I counted only 16 people in the room at 1:10, plus the two facilitators.

Someone asked a question: What are these words supposed to speak to?
Answer: Same as the original Open Space Technology question: "What is the mission of our faith community in this complex world?"

Someone asked to clarify the OST process. Answer: the 105 statements from the breakouts will go to Boston for consideration by the board. Moving forward from here, the statements we will work on around these ten words will be what appears on the ballot in Plenary tomorrow. After we work the ten statements, we will again dot-vote to determine the top three, and those will move forward. So there will be 30 statements from the ten domains for the delegates to vote on.

We had a small group, so, after a brief discussion, the group immediately decided to consolidate several words:

Empire, Turning, and Earth Community
Faith, Spiritual Depth, and Religion

That gave us only six items to work on -- these two consolidations, and the other four words.

Upon further clarification, we learned that each statement is to be only about 15 words in length.

People then gravitated to words (or consolidations) that called to them. We ended up with people working on:

Empire, Turning, Earth Community
Faith, Spiritual Depth, Religion
Intergenerational Community

I observed here that will leave two words, Justice and Diversity, that no one is working on. It was agreed that groups finishing early with their focus could tackle them.

My belief is that when this process was created, the expectation was likely that there would be more people in the room and so ten words would have been more manageable. With a group of only ~16, we worked on only four topics (and one of those topics had a lone individual working on it).

I say "we", but of course, I did not work on any -- I simply observed the process and wrote these notes. One other person clearly did not want to work on the wording, but wanted to know approximately when the voting would be so he could come back.

During this time, I stopped into two other domains and counted 16 and 20, respectively. Again, in stark contrast, I also stopped into a traditional session hall running against Convergence 2, where a session was in progress on the breakthrough congregation in Portland (a follow-up to the morning's presentation in Plenary). I could not count in that room easily, but I estimated an attendace of around 150 -- nearly as many in one traditional session as are taking part in the entire Open Space process.

Our domain ultimately came up with five statements:

  1. Intergenerational community: "Our Religious communities become truly intergenerational as faith development is recognized as a lifelong task."
  2. Earth Community: "As UU's we must now lead the turn from our current empire culture to earth community."
  3. AR/AO/MC: "Recognize the work of the youth in the association regarding Anti-racism/Anti-oppresive/Multi-culturalism and incorporate it into the larger UU community"
  4. Justice: "UU's of all ages covenant to build a just world."
  5. Spiritual depth: "Covenant to deepen our spiritual practice, explicitly connecting our faith with action."
The results of the dot voting clearly chose the statements on Spiritual Depth (19 votes) and Earth Community (15 votes), with a runoff between the Intergenerational Community and AR/AO/MC statements (14 votes each). The Intergenerational Community statement won the runoff by a wide margin.

So these three statements rolled up to the list of 30 for the delegates to vote on. Unsurprisingly, these themes were commonly repeated in the roll-up from the other domains.

I realize this was a very long-winded post with an overabundance of detail, but I know several people are reading here for the explicit purpose of seeing how the Open Space process worked. I have several comments on the process, now that I've been through the whole thing, but I will hold them until after I have reported on the ultimate conclusion of the process in Plenary.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Asleep at the wheel... (Sean)

OK, I'm going to take a break from the non-stop play-by-play of GA tonight to follow up on some earlier posts. Also, I'm looking at the several remaining pages of notes from today (mostly on Open Space), and I just don't have the stamina to organize it and get it on here.

I'd like to go back to my perhaps over-the-top reaction to the BOT report yesterday. Maybe I can even say "our" reaction, though I can't really presume to speak for Louise.

First off, these posts generated some comments. Wherein it has been pointed out that this is old news, and, had we just been following along in some major UU information spaces (such as UU World -- duh), we'd have known about it.

Chris Walton helpfully pointed out that has articles about the theological education and independent affiliate funding discussions, as well as the more recent seminary funding cuts. And Scott Wells pointed out that these items have generated a number of threads on his blog and The Lively Tradition.

So I am inclined to believe that this was all very ho-hum by the time the BOT got around to its assigned time slot in plenary to summarize its report, which is likely always received by GA delegates in much the same way the morning Bloomberg report is received by pension-fund members -- they sort of have some vague sense that it impacts them in some way, but not enough connection to the details to pay close attention. And so perhaps it is true that I really was the only one startled by the news.

We also have some acquaintances on the board, and chatting with one of them over cocktails tonight, managed to glean that the internal perception is that these decisions were well publicized, particularly within the impacted groups, and that feedback has been solicited and is being received. Having only tenuous connections, at best, to the directly impacted parties myself, it is also, in hindsight, unsurprising that I had not already heard the news through those channels.

So my apologies (and shame on me) for possibly over-reacting here. And, sheesh, I had no idea how many people are even paying attention to my ramblings here. (All that being said, I did feed back that the back-channel chatter, as it were, is less than entirely positive.)

I'll try to get some of the Open Space reporting posted here tomorrow. I'm definitely too sleep-deprived to tackle it tonight.

Plenary the Fifth (Sean)

Wow, really big day today. I'll try to be brief, but I will also try to be as complete as possible. I have several pages of notes, and, in order to break up the work and also the size of the posts, I will break this up into at least two posts, starting with the business of this morning's plenary. I have plenty of notes on the Open Space process as well, but those will have to wait for a later time.

Before I start, though, I want to apologize here for misspelling Gini's name in several places here. I try to be careful about these things, and when I was unsure of the spelling, I looked it up. Of course, when you look something up you become only as good as your sources, and, apparently, I turned to the wrong source. Many apologies to Gini, who really works hard at her job, and deserves better.

This morning's plenary was the first real business of GA. I know we did some other things there first, but I didn't take notes on them and I don't have the agenda here in front of me (Louise and I are sharing a copy). So I will jump right to the meat: The debate/discussion on draft Statement Of Conscience "Moral Values for a Pluralistic Society" brought forward from GA 2006.

The assembly moved and carried that there will be 15 minutes for discussion of the SOC before amendments are taken up.

During the discussion, I noted more folks lined up at the Con microphone than the Pro.

Too much to capture, but the gist of the con arguments was that we need to spell out our moral values, BUT this document is either not strong enough or not clear enough, or both. One speaker felt the document called on the wrong set of references/sources, and one speaker felt the statement so weak that it would actually provide ammunition to those who would oppose us.

The gist of the pro arguments was that, while this statement is not perfect, it is timely and any further delay in passing an SOC on this matter is unacceptable.

After the 15 minutes expired, the amendments were taken up. I found two problems with the way the unincorporated amendments were presented to us -- on one page indexed only by line numbers. (1) The amendments were not individually numbered or otherwise indexed for easy reference and discussion (so we had to say, for example, "the amendment to lines 13-28 of the original text"), and (2) we did not have before-and-after versions, so we had to keep jumping back and forth between the original text, and the amended (only) text without context.
This puts me at a loss on how to relate what amendments we discussed here, so I will refer to them only as "the first amendment," "second amendment" and so on. You'll have to go to the minutes to figure out just what was discussed.

In fact, though, only the first amendment was discussed before a motion was made to refer (meaning send the entire matter back to committee, for presentation again at GA one year hence).

Since the body was in the middle of an amendment discussion, the moderator asked the delegate making the motion to refer, to hold the motion until after the first amendment was debated and voted upon.

I note here that, just as last year, quite a number of delegates with a real desire for input to the document seemed to have arrived at this point in plenary without having first attended the mini-assembly where the SOC was discussed and worked. These same people now appear upset that there is no more time at this GA to work the document before voting.

Now, every year during the very first plenary, Gini tells all of us to pay special attention to the rules of procedure, and even points out that there will be a mini assembly to work on the statement(s) and that interested parties should go to that assembly. Then the delegates vote in those very rules of procedure, which is always nearly unanimous. And yet people, apparently, do not read the details or follow the procedures, and then are surprised later by what comes before the assembly in plenary. Which finds us at the point of "this doesn't look done to me, so let's send it back."

Moving along, the vote on the first amendment carried (thus incorporating same into the SOC).

The amendment having thus been taken care of, the motion to refer (which is not debatable) was taken up, and this motion was defeated.

Another motion was advanced to refer for only one day, convene another mini-assembly, and take the SOC back up at a later plenary at this GA (a nightmarish proposition that we went through last year at great cost) [editor's note: I managed to lose track of this item in my notes (by somehow starting to type new things above it rather than below) and, while I've tried to put it in the right sequence, it may actually be in the wrong place -- corrections from readers gladly accepted].

Now, related to my diatribe above, in response to yet another attempt to re-do the process, Gini asked for a show of hands -- how many delegates worked this issue in their congregations: almost no hands were raised. She remarked that we couldn't fix that here. Then she asked for another show of hands: how many here went to the mini-assembly: a few more this time, but still almost no hands raised. And again she remarked that we were not going to fix that here.

Thus having, in her own words, "poisoned the well" a vote was taken and the motion was defeated.

A question was asked at the Procedural microphone -- are we not already doing/acting these values in accordance with years of existing SOC's UU values, association policy, etc.?

To answer this Gini called upon Rob Keithan, director of the UUA advocacy office in Washington, DC. Answer: The advocacy office already lives and advocates essentially these values in accordance with existing SOC's and denominational history.

After Rob's answer, the motion to defer was presented again, on the grounds that this answer might represent substantial new information to the assembly. Gini stated that motion was not in order having already been defeated, and could not be reconsidered without new information of an even more substantial nature.

At this time, some CSW members pointed out that some of the more substantial proposed amendments, that might move the conversation further along, are much further down the list (and, due to a printing error, were omitted from the copies distributed to the delegates). Gini acknowledged this, but pointed out that this fact was likely moot since only 20 minutes of discussion time remain and the assembly was unlikely to get as far as even the proposed amendments already printed.

It was then moved, from the amendment microphone, to commence debate on the second amendment. A short discussion pro and con followed, and the amendment carried, thus being incorporated into the SOC.

In the middle of this, a motion was made from the procedural microphone to add 15 minutes to the discussion of the amendments, and this motion carried.

Also during this time, a procedural clarification was asked: Can we now only vote the entire SOC up or down, with down meaning that at least another four years would pass before we can have this kind of SOC before us again. Answer: yes, that's what it means.

That was followed by another procedural clarification: has there now been enough new information to reconsider referral? Gini answered that it was really her call and, yes, she will entertain this motion just before the final vote on adoption of the SOC, if it is made by someone who originally voted not to refer and has subsequently changed his or her mind.

At this point the third amendment was proposed, and discussion began. Since time was running short, even though several speakers remained at the microphones, a delegate came to the procedural microphone to move the question, which motion carried. The motion to adopt the amendment then failed.

With very little time remaining, the fourth amendment was proposed, followed by a very brief discussion. This motion to amend also failed.

At this point Gini entertained again the motion to refer as per her earlier statement. Such a motion requires a 2/3 majority and this also failed.

We proceeded immediately then to vote on adoption of the SOC as ammended, which passed by a relatively narrow (by my observation) margin.

At this time we had the brief daily report from Right Relationships Committee chair Petra Aldrich, which was somewhat troubling. Apparently, once again, racial stereotyping has raised its ugly head at GA, as exemplified by an incident that occurred on the Max. On a less serious note, lack of TG or gender-neutral restrooms had been noted, and Petra informed us that single-stall restrooms were available in selected locations, noting that all UU's had the right to "pee without stress" (to some chuckling). I found those restrooms later, which I was amused to note were labeled "Family."

The Women's Federation report, scheduled for this time, was moved to a later plenary with their agreement, so that the delegates can move on to the Actions of Immediate Witness.

Unfortunately, at this point we were now moving into the 10:45am session time. Even though, as Gini was quick to remind us, we as an assembly voted earlier to extend debate (and thus extend plenary), it was very disappointing to me to see hundreds of delegates leave the room. Apparently, informational sessions (or maybe Open Space?) are more important to many GA delegates than conducting the business of the association. Or at least admitting the AIWs.

In any case, all six proposed AIWs were admitted to the agenda, after a brief presentation of each followed by voting.

More later on Open Space.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Stolen Thunder (Sean)

Notwithstanding the fact that Scott found our tandem-blogging useful, I did mention that it was uncharacteristic. What is more common is one or the other of us posts first, and tonight that was Louise, while I was off dealing with a PayPal dispute. So she has already delivered what I consider to be the stunning news of the evening, which was the content of the Board of Trustees report. I, too, was floored -- perhaps it was coincidence, but it sure felt to me like this set of major changes got announced without fanfare at a very slack time in plenary -- sort of like the way pork-barrel amendments get read into the congressional record when virtually no one is on the floor.

Louise already went into the IA status changes, which is news enough just by itself. Announcement of that particular item fell to Jose Ballester. However, I also took notes on another item mentioned by Tamara Payne-Alex, which I could not find written anywhere in the printed copy of the BOT annual report (the IA issue is spelled out in black and white there, brief as it was). It all went by so fast, I hardly had time to type, but what I thought she said was that the board is now considering changes in how theological education is funded. At least, that's what I typed in the "copious notes" to which Louise alluded in her earlier post. Wow. I guess I had better start reading the board minutes, which are posted on line after each meeting.

The other two board speakers were Charlie King and Julian Sharp (who is actually the youth trustee, not a trustee-at-large as Louise wrote), according to those same copious notes. Before Julian started off the main part of the board report (appearing to me to be the lead speaker, coming after, as he did, a procedural announcement from Ginny), we had a presentation by three young UUs that, I am ashamed to say, I did not recognize (the names flew by before I could capture them), though I now take them to be members of the Task Force. Not realizing this was actually part of the board report, here are the raw notes that I typed at the time:
Not on the agenda was a "welcoming" presentation by young UU's on the "Consultation on Ministry To and With Youth." I have to confess it was a bit touchy-feely, so much so that I did not really get the sense of what the Consultation actually does. But the presentation concluded with an invitation to visit them in their booth, so I guess that will be my opportunity to find out.
Later, after the aforementioned bombshells prompted us to get and read the printed annual report, I found the paragraph in the BOT report on this item -- which explains why it was "not on the agenda," as it was actually part of the BOT presentation.

As long as I'm core dumping my notes on you, here's what I wrote about the rest of the plenary:

Chair Linda Friedman introduced the slate of candidates for open positions filled by the Nominating Committee. Each candidate delivered a short introduction. A motion to elect the entire slate of candidates was made and carried handily, although I noted a very small handful of ballots cast in opposition.


Ginny Courter invited anyone with comments on either of the Responsive Resolutions to meet after the bridging ceremony in specific locations to provide that feedback before the resolutions are finalized.
I also attended the 4:30 blogging session, but I knew ahead of time that Louise was going to write it up, so I didn't take any further notes. It was a good session, though, and I was happy to put some faces with the names and on-line personae. Including ChaliceChick, who may have been prescient when she wrote, in this post, about the UU Polyamorists. I suspect it is now a moot point, given the IA changes.

In between, Louise and I did another shift in the CLF booth. The 6-7 hour is the one just before close, and we were stunned when CLF staffers Beth and Iris asked us to close up shop for them. There is always a staff member in the booth. Tonight, however, the staff was getting together for some type of celebratory dinner (I confess I don't remember whose what was being celebrated, and, even if I did, it's probably not for me to post it here anyway). After we were done being stunned, though, we felt privileged that they trusted us with the responsibility. They did, however, take the cash box, which meant we couldn't sell anything (though I flagrantly violated orders and sold a copy of Jane Rzepka's book to a passing minister -- and CLF member -- anyway, and I will dutifully turn in the proceeds in the morning).

Two other items merit mention here, the first because I mentioned it to Louise and she said I should blog it: In order to get on-line at the convention center, I have to go outside. There's WiFi inside, too, but the CC wants $12 a day for it. (As an interesting, to some anyway, side note, I can see the free downtown Portland MetroFi network, with five bars of strength, inside the CC, but I can't get on -- I think the CC is jamming that channel to force people onto their own revenue-producing network.) While I was posting my first report today, a Portland Duck rolled up in front of me, put down his ladder, and half a dozen tourists got on. I was mighty tempted to just fold up the laptop and climb aboard for an amphibious tour of Portland. Well, Louise thought that was funny -- I guess you had to be there.

The other item is that I sat next to some Freightliner middle-manager on the Max this morning, on our way into the CC for morning plenary. He had his laptop out and was busy working on emails or whatever, and I remember thinking ho-hum another day at the office, poor guy, etc.. So when Louise shared her mid-day Max story with me, I was again floored. It was clear, in hindsight, that this guy had no idea what was just about to hit him. (I am assuming here that he was among the victims -- if he was one of the hatchet-men, he'd have to have been pretty cold blooded to be as calm and casual as he was on the train. In a former life, I was a walking bundle of nerves on layoff day until the word was out and the deed was done.)

Open Space Breakout Session Titles (Louise)

Sean mentioned in one of his posts how cryptic the Open Space breakout session titles were. The master schedule format limits the title to 40 characters, including spaces. Note that this is NOT an Open Space Technology limitation. OST doesn't require any particular format at all; in fact, the session titles could be hand-written on a piece of butcher paper in crayon. This was an artifact of the way the printed and electronic schedules were published at this GA.

To give you a flavor, here are the session choices that were available at 4:30 today. Participants initially choose sessions based entirely on these titles.

Model the future of religious relationship
How shall we better embody our 7th principle
How can we become more anti-racist
Forming and promoting UU religious identity
Articulating our faith to the world
Vehicles for participation
To provide excellent youth ministry
Reparations/healing for racist history
Well-being for all: a moral foundation
Just immigration policy
Minority scholarships to promote equality
Universalism, a courageous hospitality
Meeting the needs of those who come
More love, baby!
Sustaining the earth
Commitment to support youth retention
UUA becoming a peace denomination
Owning and using our collective identity
Dialogue with the world: uu mass media

How could I forget? (Louise)

I almost forgot to mention the UU Blogger workshop this afternoon! (Can you tell the IA thing got me riled up?)

iMinister, ChaliceChick, Philocrites, and UU Planet were the panelists and did a fine job presenting the ins and out of blogging. The crowd was extremely mixed, from those who admitted to not ever having seen a blog to those of us who regularly maintain one.

My big thrill was meeting PeaceBang and thanking her for inspiring me to look for other UU bloggers. My daily fix of 5 or 6 UU blogs has become a vital part of my spiritual journey. Some are funny, some are thought-provoking, but all are authentic UU voices that I can hear every day from anywhere in the world. For an isolated CLFer who lives quite literally anywhere in the world, that is a real blessing.

CLF folks can appreciate how wonderful it is to finally put faces to names we've only seen online.

I hope that the Church of the Larger Fellowship will consider using blogs as another method of sharing our voices. I would love, for instance, to read one written by Jane Rzepka. How about one that shares the letters from our incarcerated members? We have wonderful, lively interns and strong connections with the Church of the Younger Fellowship; how about blogs from them?

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Louise)

I am envious of Sean's willingness to carry his laptop to the convention center and "live blog." I scolded him for checking his email during plenary tonight, but it turns out he really can multi-task and took copious notes of the procedings.

Okay, Thursday's standout GA moment for me:

Watching the two Breakthrough Congregation videos at morning plenary. The vitality of these churches was contagious and they received thunderous applause. There was some discussion on another blog about what a lukewarm reception the crowd gave to the introduction of two new affiliate congregations at an earlier plenary. During one of the breakthrough videos, they listed as a proud accomplishment that they had spun off two new churches recently, and the crowd cheered. So rest assured that there is appreciation of that type of growth.

Paul Rogat Loeb's lecture on Peacemaking. He spoke about how incredibly hard it is to do the good work of justice and offered advice on avoiding burnout. His story-telling is young, hip, funny and thought-provoking. I was inspired to sign up to help with a Peacemaking and Technology Work Group. They plan to create a website, and I will volunteer to be the editor.

Robert Fulgham's talk, "What in God's Name am I Doing?" I laughed, I cried, I sat on the floor. It's nice to spend an hour just feeling good, warm, simple things about being in the world. His story-telling is down-home, funny, head-nodding "yup, that's right." Even Robert cried as he thanked us for the honor of speaking to us.

I'm thankful for the opportunity to hear two such different, yet inspiring, authors speak. Good to feel connected to a movement that includes big names, big ideas.

Two other outstanding moments, but not as positive:

On the light rail train back to walk the dog at lunch, a man sat down next to me and asked how my day was. When I ride transit, I arm myself with my 1000-yard stare and "I'm not interested in conversation" body language. I nodded vaguely in response. "Better than my day, I bet," he continued. I turned slightly toward him and said, "I'm having a pretty good day, thank you." He replied, "I was just laid off. Just now." The sincerity in his voice finally broke through my barriers and I looked him in the face and said I was sorry. He told me he had worked making bumpers for Freightliner trucks for 14 years and they closed the plant today. He looked and sounded the part of tough blue-collar manufacturing guy, except for the pain in his eyes. He looked right at me as he told me he had hoped to get 20 full years before retiring from this job, but now he only had 60 days of severance pay. Stunned with sympathy, I could only say, "Wow, how hard. I'm so sorry. You must be shocked." And then, he got off the train at the very next stop. "Good luck!" I called after him. I wanted to run with him to ask more questions, to offer more...something. Hope? A job? I don't know.

Tonight at plenary, the agenda included only two items: the candidate's forum/election and the UUA Board of Trustees report. The plenary was sparsely attended. The slate of candidates were all brought forward by the Nominating Committee and consisted of one candidate per open slot. Pretty obvious that they would all be elected. They each gave their 1.5 minute introduction and were easily voted in. I think this easy and predictable procedure lulled the assembly into a sleepy state. When the Board then gave their report, including what I consider to be the bombshell of major changes to Independent Affiliate status, there was polite applause. Each of the four At Large Trustees spoke for about 2 minutes, then Gini adjourned the session.

Did anyone else notice? I've read the Board's Annual Report and the two paragraphs on IAs were just as short as the verbal report, slipped under the radar, and yet significant.

I don't necessarily disagree with the Board's position that "...our congregations are not served by Independent Affiliates operating in isolation or being an alternative for congregational life." It just seems to me that if we are severing ties with groups that we have had long and meaningful relationships with that we owe both them and ourselves more time to discuss, reflect and absorb this. As far as I can tell, there isn't even a workshop on the topic. We can talk for hours about how a song offended someone so much that we formed a task force to investigate, but our divorce from Faithful Fools, Project Hope and District Presidents’ Association warrants not a moment more than a cursory and vague report. I disagree with the process here. Am I missing something?

Racing off to... nothing (Sean)

"Running" off to my next session proved wholly unnecessary. I had allocated the 2:45-4:00 time slot to "check in" on some more OST sessions. (To use the OST jargon, I've deemed myself a "bumblebee," flitting among several session rooms, as well as a "butterfly" hovering on the edges of the discussions. Mostly in the name of research.) So I zeroed in on a session entitled, simply, "Ten Times in 20 Years." Really, it was because the title was so, umm, uninformative, that I just had to go to the session to find out what it was about. It should not have been very surprising, therefore, that I arrived to find only the lone convener of the session in the room. He allowed that just one other person had come by, also to find out what it was about, and that person had left as soon as he found out.

Stan, the convener, was pleasant enough, and let me know that his intent was to discuss the paradigm of growing the denomination by a factor of ten in a span of twenty years. That made sense, and we chatted briefly about his concerns that we may be a dying denomination, and I talked a bit about the "Now is the Time" campaign. After five minutes or so, I told him I was going to "buzz off" (sticking with the bumblebee metaphor) and wished him well -- he seemed perfectly comfortable with the fact that he would get to write his task force report all on his own and submit it. I did suggest that he might have included the word "Growth" in his 40-character title and gotten a few more takers. We both agreed that coming up with the right 40 characters on-the-spot in the domain sessions was suboptimal -- perhaps telling people further ahead of time, such as at Plenary-I, about this limit might have given people some time to come up with more creatively descriptive titles before submitting their topics.

I buzzed over to five more nearby break-out rooms, including one topic that actually called to me: Habeas Corpus. Two of the five rooms were stone cold empty, including the Habeas one (reminding me of the current ACLU campaign: "Habeas Corpus is missing"). One had only two people in it, though they were clearly well engaged, and the other two had six each. To offset the empty rooms, though, I also noted that there were a half dozen people at each of two impromptu tables in the lobby, presumably convening topics that didn't make the random selection.

In stark contrast, after twenty minutes or so of looking at OST sessions, I decided to take in the remainder of Robert Fulghum's lecture, "What in God's name am I doing?" -- I couldn't. The room was packed to the doors, and the room monitors were not letting anyone else in. I would estimate that to be a ~500-person crowd. I think Louise attended it, so she'll have to update me later.

Similarly, I attended the 10:45 Starr King President's Lecture by Dr. Amina Wadud entitled "Islam and Gender," and I counted 325 seats, all full, and 100+ "standees" including myself (though we mostly squatted or sat in the aisles once the lecture started), and Louise attended a session next door that was similarly packed, so between our two "normal" sessions there were 800+ attendees, nearly as many as attended the entirety of the Open Space Domain process.

Dr. Wadud delivered a compelling lecture, by the way. Reverend Rebecca Parker did the introduction, which was very moving, so much so that Dr. Wadud was speechless for a moment. I love listening to Rebecca -- she is one of the most articulate and eloquent speakers I know. That said, her five-minute introduction of Dr. Wadud was preceded by a nearly ten minute advertisement for Starr King, which is a bit tiresome for those of us who've already heard it several times. It's just a guess, but I think the Meadville Lombard merger flap is prompting both institutions to re-assert themselves a little vigorously.

In between those two time slots, I attended an eye-opening session entitled "This is my song? Reflections on Cultural Misappropriation" and delivered by moderator Ginny Courter and the Task Force on Cultural Misappropriation. Apparently and unbeknownst to me, even though it happened right in front of me, there was a disquieting moment at GA last year. In hindsight, I remember it and I remember thinking about it at the time, but I am hard pressed to cite details. It was a song break during plenary, and a group of musicians did a very upbeat presentation of a song that had been a spiritual belonging, culturally, to the African-American community. And, perhaps unsurprisingly (even though people were clearly caught off guard) some of our members of color were offended by a seeming inappropriate use of these cultural materials. It brought up a host of questions about how we incorporate elements of other traditions into our community, and yet still respect those traditions and cultures.

Arising out of this "learning opportunity" is the above-named task force, and what a great and challenging mission they have! You can read about their work, including the definition they have crafted of "Cultural Misappropriation" and some of their results thus far, on the UUA web site. The Q&A to the session generated some great comments, including the observation that altering long-standing Christian hymns to make them non-theistic may be another form of cultural misappropriation that some of our community finds offensive.

This morning was Plenary-III, where we heard reports from Beacon Press, UUA Financial Advisor Dan Brody, the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, and the UUSC President. The O. Eugene Pickett Award was presented, and President Bill Sinkford also made his award for Volunteer Service, recognizing, in lieu of an individual, the work of the UU Trauma Response Ministry, to widespread applause. We also heard moving reports from two Breakthrough Congregations, the Carbondale (Illinois) Unitarian Fellowship, and All Souls Unitarian Universalist, Kansas City, Missouri. As always, details of all these proceedings are available on the UUA web site.

Hey, somebody reads this... (Sean)

I have a few minutes here before my next session, so I thought I'd take advantage of free WiFi in downtown Portland to post a few thoughts.

First off, thanks to "Boy in the Bands," who is apparently reading our posts and gave us a great plug in this post on his blog. I feel a little sheepish, though, because I haven't really participated in any of the Open Space sessions -- I've attended a couple, and mostly have just taken away some statistics and observations to post here. Frankly, I've looked at the matrix of all 120 break-outs, and I can't find a single title that moves me to jump in and contribute to the discussion. As Louise wrote in her last post, I am hopeful that the "convergence" sessions and the final roll-up in Plenary will engage me, and that I will feel I have something substantive upon which to cast my five votes.

This is a good reminder that I owe an answer to a comment that he posted here earlier, although I'm afraid it's not much of one: I believe the somewhat muted response to the new congregations had to do with several factors, including the energy level with which their presentation was made (lower, IIRC, than in years past), and the fact that it was already late in the evening, even later if you consider how many folks are here from the east coast, where the first day is always the worst jet lag.

Since I am caught off guard by having an actual audience, now is also a good opportunity to point out why we are writing here: As CLF delegates, we owe the board a written report of our experience at GA. Louise had the idea back in '05 (when she was a delegate but I was not) to use the format of a blog to create that written report. It's a great format, because it makes our report accessible immediately to the CLF board, but also in real time to CLF members who could not make it to GA. And so I try to organize my thoughts and words with that "audience" in mind (although I am always surprised when an actual audience materializes).

Louise also happens to be a big fan of several UU bloggers (the real kind, who blog year round and not just at GA), and has been following along on their plans here at GA etc., and apparently put a short link to us on somebody's comments, and, voila, we have new readers. I do know that we also get some folks from completely outside the UU community, who are some of the 300 or so readers of our regular travel journal and come over here just because I'm not posting over there during GA.

We'll be going to the UU blogger panel (as attendees, not panelists) today at 4:30. And, now, I have to run off to my next session, so more later, including notes on today's sessions.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Simultaneous updates... (Sean)

Uncharacteristically, Louise is typing her post here even as I am typing mine. We'll see whose post makes it in first, although Blogger dates them from the time we start typing the entry, so hers will predate mine no matter what.

I have only a few key observations about today:

Plenary was brief, to the point, and on time. Distinguished visitors were introduced, and President Bill Sinkford presented his annual report. You can read that on line elsewhere, but the gist was that the organization needs a vision, which we all must come together to create, and he shared with us one possibility -- his own. Mighty applause was forthcoming several times throughout.

Another key element of Bill's report was the "Now is the Time" fundraising campaign. Again, you can read this on line. Suffice it to say that we were moved by the focus, and we are considering shifting part of our annual giving, which last year went in large part to UUSC, to the new campaign (call it "leverage" if you like).

The remainder of plenary was the introduction to OST.

The opening OST "domain" sessions went OK. There was some confusion, as the program indicated a 10:00 start, but Ginny indicated a 10:30 start during plenary, which was barely over by 10. So at 10ish, we were wandering around the lobby areas, and were told that the sessions would start at 10:30 -- no problem.

At 10:30 we went in to one of the appointed rooms. The entire assembly was randomly divided into ten rooms (although people were free to deviate, so Louise came with me to my assigned room). I counted about 70 people in the room, and mostly the same number of people wandered in as out during the first ten minutes or so.

Our facilitator, who happened to be fellow CLFer Lois Reborne, did a good job explaining the procedure, and, after a brief Q&A, people started submitting ideas for break-out sessions. An unfortunate limitation of the system was that session titles could be no more than 40 characters (including spaces) in length, leading to some weird titles. Our "domain" submitted 24 sessions, and, from that group, 12 were drawn at random. (Each other domain also chose 12 sessions). Those whose submissions were not formally "selected" were invited to post their topics on a board in the main hall and try to gather a group of interested people to discuss them. Within the 24 submissions, there was a good deal of subject-matter overlap, and thus it remained in the 12 random selections.

The whole process lasted only 22 minutes, which amazed me. We adjourned, and I spent a few moments afterwards typing my notes, and looking at the program to see if there was a regularly scheduled session I wanted to attend. Finding none, I wandered out into the lobby, and noted that several other domain rooms were still in session. I very casually went into two of them, noting the attendance at about 70 or so per each, and saw they were involved in much the same process as our domain had just finished. (I did think it was odd that we were done so far ahead of everyone else.) So my quick math is that, out of 5,000 or so people at GA, 700-800 participated in the "domain" phase of OST, and 120 sessions were selected at random from, perhaps, 250 submissions, with lots of overlap.

I then went to the exhibit hall, and then we had lunch. (And, don't get me started on how there are not enough food venues in the CC to feed 5,000 people who all have the same lunch hour. I was fortunate to have arrived at a cafe ten minutes ahead of the crowd.)

We attended a 1:00 session on volunteer leadership opportunities (can you say "suckers"?), and then headed to the nominal location of the information boards to get the skinny on what OST sessions were scheduled when and where. The idea being that the 120 (ten domain rooms times twelve topics per domain) formal break-outs were to be scheduled in 20 rooms over six time slots, the first of which was slated for 2:45 this afternoon. When the 1:30 scheduling announcements had not appeared by 2:10, we walked down to the OST headquarters room to get the straight skinny. Of course, normal start-up pains had the whole scheduling process a little behind, and, after getting all the information we could (from none other than, again, Lois), Louise and I stationed ourselves outside OST HQ to fend off the madding crowds, give out as much information as we could, and insulate the OST people so they could actually finish the schedule and have even a chance of getting it published before the start of the 2:45 sessions.

Somewhere during this crazy half hour or so, I chatted with Lois about the time difference between our domain and the others, only to find out that Lois had started her session at the program-indicated time of 10:00, while other facilitators started at 10:30. Just by sheer coincidence, we had entered the room (around 10:30) at a natural break in the proceedings when it seemed to us like we were coming in at the beginning. (What we missed was more OST explanation and what I like to call "Kumbaya" -- let's all get in touch with ourselves and the moment. Oh well.)

By the time the schedule was done, and Louise and I had handed out a couple hundred copies to frustrated GA attendees (and pointed countless others to the electronic screens around the CC with the same information), we had neither the inclination nor the stomach to actually go to a break-out session. (To be honest, none of the topics caught our interest, and, lacking a mandate from CLF to advance any specific agenda, we had no basis for choosing.) Nevertheless, I felt compelled to continue my observation of the OST process (if for no other reason than to report it here), so I popped into a random break-out room (I don't even know the topic) for a few minutes to check in. There were 13 people, mostly passionately engaged in discussion, although two seemed to be just observers. A one-session sample does not a survey make, though, so I won't extrapolate the observation until I have been in at least one more break-out.

Exhausted, we went home for a while to rest, walk the dog, and regroup. We returned to the CC to handle CLF booth duty for the 6-7 hour as we had previously scheduled. We always enjoy working the booth with CLF staffers Beth and Iris, who always seem genuinely glad to have us there.

After the exhibit hall closed, we went downtown on the Max for a nice dinner at upscale Portland City Grill, on the 30th floor of the US Bancorp Tower. The food was excellent and the service impeccable (even in the lounge -- we couldn't get into the dining room on short notice), although there was a little mix-up in the kitchen with regard to my "no mushroom" request. The waitress made it right by comping my entree, and the manager also came over and bought us a round of drinks, a classy gesture. So two thumbs up from us (in case any other GA attendees reading this blog are looking for a nice dinner venue).

Tomorrow is another early morning, with Plenary beginning at 8:30.

Process Junkie (Louise)

Today was the first day of programming at GA: workshops, breakout sessions, etc. Plenary in the morning until 10:00am then an unbroken series of scheduled events that initially seemed to me to be...totally uninteresting stuff.

By noon, I was tired to the bone. I had a good night's sleep last night, my regular coffee and breakfast this morning, and an easy walk to transit and then to the convention center. What was dragging me down?

I gave myself permission to come back home and take a nap. But before that happened, we wanted to see what sessions would be offered through Open Space. At 10:30am, we had met in large domains to propose session topics. Not wanting to facilitate a breakout session, I watched from a distance. Most of the topics proposed seemed, um, same-old, same-old. I guess I was skeptical of the whole Open Space thing.

By 1:30, the proposed topics were supposed to be posted in a central location so that attendees could choose their next session at 2:45. We couldn't find any schedule, so we sought out the Open Space office. Inside, it was a bit chaotic. This being the very first Open Space GA, steep learning curves were being climbed. The technical gurus in charge of getting the schedule posted on electronic boards around the convention center were clearly having trouble. We were not the first random attendees to walk in and ask what was going on. Each question stopped the work in process. They clearly needed help managing the tide.

The help we offered was simple: we sat at the doorway and answered the question of when and where the Open Space schedule would be posted. We did that for 45 minutes, and it was the most energizing part of GA so far. To Be of Use. It felt great. So easy, and yet no one else had thought to do it.

Then we attended a traditional workshop given by the Nominating Committee and the Committee on Committees about how to submit an application to serve on a UUA board/committee/task force. The prospect of giving my time in that way is exciting.

It reminded me of what I enjoyed most about traditional congregational life. I loved being a facilitator, a leader, following the process of other people making the church into what they needed it to be. I'm really not all that invested in the results of a vote or a workshop, I just want to help make other people feel like they OWN it. What I love about plenary is how the discussions and voting and process can make us come together and often be our best selves. I'm probably the only person who is disappointed that plenary time this year was cut 40%. Maybe I'm really not a UU, but an RR (Robert's Rules-ist).

What I have loved about the previous 3 GA's I've attended have been plenaries and choir. I'm realizing now that they are quite related. Choir rehearsals are work toward the goal of creating worship that enhances everyone's journey. Do I enjoy it? Yes, immensely. But I also enjoy the work of plenary with the goal of creating a plan to move the denomination toward its goals. The goals themselves? I'm not too picky, as long as they aren't directly in conflict with my beliefs.

This gives me hope that later, as Open Space reconverges back into the most important conversations, that I will become more interested in the process. It also gave me hope when we did an hour of CLF exhibitor booth duty (a requirement for CLF delegates) and I was once again energized by the sense of being of use. I guess I came here to work and the work is what gives GA meaning for me.

Calmer and collected (Louise)

In the daily poetry list I subscribe to, I received the gift of this poem by Alice Walker:

Expect Nothing

Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
Become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.

Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.

Discover the reason why
So tiny a human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.

A wonderful reminder that joy and life grow out of seeing what IS not what I want it to be. I decided to not join the choir this year, and it felt like the right decision. I will watch for and be nurtured by surprise; it was my expectations that GA would be the same as last time that got me into a snit. Shame on me; I know better.

Opening Ceremony did for me what it always does: remind me of the larger picture. Hearing about what Unitarian Univeralism committed to long before I was involved tells me once again that this is the place for me.

CLF In-Gathering was nice. I always like to the faces behind the names. Jane gives such large hugs from such a petite person!

We also had dinner with old friends we usually see only at GA. It has become a tradition and I love that.

Off to morning plenary...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Glad to be through the first day... (Sean)

Well, we're back home after an exhausting first (half) day.

At least the logistics are fairly easy. We're staying at the Gateway Elks lodge (map), which is a short walk from the "Max" light rail station. From there it is a 13 minute ride to the convention center (CC), and $19.50 apiece bought us seven-day passes good for the entire transit system. As a bonus, there is a grocery store across the street.

I'm exhausted, though, because Louise has been insufferable since discovering that Choir and Worship were in direct conflict (and that choir also conflicted with our already too-few dinner/social options). It was really painful to watch her ruminating about this for most of a day -- it's been really, really hard on her. In the end, she decided she just could not do choir, even though she reported it here earlier as "non-negotiable." A tough choice, but she's been more upbeat since releasing that burden. I'm sure she'll have more to say about it herself later.

That meant that we did not need to be at the CC until a little before CLF in-gathering at 4:45 -- just long enough to get registered and make dinner plans for tonight with some friends we see only once a year -- at GA. (She happens to be a minister, and is moving from a congregation in California to an interim position in Virginia at the end of the month, so we had much to catch up on.) So far, so good, but we made it all the way to the CC stop on the Max before Louise realized that she had left our delegate credentials back at our bus. We briefly flirted with the idea of making the half-hour-plus round trip back home to get them, possibly being late to in-gathering, before we determined that we would not really need our delegate ribbons or voting cards for the opening celebration. Which just means we will have to be a bit early tomorrow to go through credentialing before Plenary-II begins at 8am.

Speaking of Plenary-II, roman numerals and all, the plenaries are so numbered all the way to Plenary-VIII, at the end of GA. Being of a certain age, neither of us can now get the tune of "I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am" [sic] out of our heads, substituting, of course, "Plenary" for Henery. Either the Herman's Hermits version, or, worse, the Alvin and the Chipmunks version. I'm hoping that, by the time Plenary the VIII is over and done, the inane tune will fade from my brain.

Also speaking of Plenary-II, that is when we will be indoctrinated into Open Space Technology (OST), which, it is hoped, will be a springboard to some productive outcomes at this GA. I'm trying to keep an Open MindTM, but I tend to approach these things with a certain amount of skepticism (having been through myriad meeting facilitation schemes in the past). For one thing, calling this method a "technology" is like calling a pencil and paper "note-taking technology" -- not factually wrong, but a bit overblown. Of more concern, though, is the fact that even proponents of OST advise against meeting structure involving schedules and blocks of time -- even meals are unscheduled. Yet we have a program involving very specific and fixed blocks of time for the OST activities, even overlapping with the more traditional GA sessions and workshops. I am eager to hear how we will be working around this as we have our OST introduction tomorrow morning.

The only other substantive thing I have to report tonight is that the Opening Celebration was pleasant, motivating, and generally on time. In addition to the usual festivities including the banner parade and the welcoming into the fold of new congregations, UUA president Bill Sinkford made an impassioned presentation of how GA outcomes do make a difference, highlighting several key advances through the decades involving race and gender equality, LGBT issues, and accessibility. As always, we are reminded that work still needs to be done on all those fronts, and especially in the areas of race, ethnicity, and full accessibility.

Oh, and lest I forget, the CLF business meeting took place at in-gathering, wherein the slate of nominees for officers was unanimously approved, as were last year's minutes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A huge decision (Louise)

I'm sorry I read the GA schedule last night. I electronically searched the document to remind myself when the CLF worship service would be held. That led me to the page where all of Sunday's events are listed by title only, under the appropriate time. There, just a few lines away from the worship service I look forward to ALL YEAR, was this ominous line: "GA Choir Rehearsal V."

ARRRRRRGH! Choir conflicts with Worship!?! Skipping this rehearsal is not an option: it is the dress rehearsal for the concert and with only 5 practices anyway, the need for all members to attend all rehearsals is intense. There is simply no way to do both.

I knew that the rehearsal schedule had been changed significantly, probably in response to choir members who complained of other conflicts. I've heard many choir members regret that rehearsals overlap many of the program time slots. This year, it looks like most of the rehearsals are in a stand-alone time slot. That would be great, except for a couple things.

1) That stand-alone time slot is during DINNER. That's right, three of the five rehearsals are stuffed between afternoon program/plenary and big evening events. So, if you sing, you can't eat. More importantly, the opportunity to socialize over dinner with friends I see only once a year is gone.

2) The stand-alone time slot for the concert is during LUNCH on Sunday. Again, when will the choir members eat? Our last rehearsal is immediately before the concert. Final plenary is immediately afterwards.

While I'm at it, I think moving the choir's performance from Closing Ceremony to a special concert time (at a lousy time) just plain sucks. Being part of Closing Ceremony is a huge, huge part of the spiritual practice of singing for me. I sing in church to WORSHIP, not to perform. And while choral music enhances a service, choral music alone is an acquired taste. I suspect that the hard work of 160 people will be heard by only a few (and they'll be hungry!)

Living on the road full-time as we do, GA is my once-a-year chance to be part of a choral group. We simply aren't anywhere long enough for me to commit to enough rehearsals otherwise. Likewise, it is our once-a-year time to attend "our" church service, CLF.

Having to choose between the two has literally made me sick to my stomach. An option I considered (briefly) was to skip GA altogether. I know many people come to GA and find they can't attend some events because of conflicts, but choir is a huge commitment. 5 rehearsals plus concert/ceremony; miss one and you're out (there is a waiting list of others who promise to attend them all.) My question is: should it be my ONLY commitment at GA?

Choir or CLF worship?
Choir or social dinners?
Choir or food?


Monday, June 18, 2007

Getting in the GA groove (Louise)

GA starts in two days and I'm starting to look forward to it. In the last several months I've been reading a number of UU bloggers and of course the discussions now are mostly about General Assembly. One asked who was blogging for GA, which prompted me to get this site ready. That primarily involved capturing the official GA image and sticking it into the blog template. Beyond that, the software does it all. Gotta love these free blog sites.

Sean downloaded the GA program in .PDF format several weeks ago, but I haven't looked at it at all. I like to take the printed hard copy and page through it, highlighting and circling interesting things. Since our snail mail will not catch up to us before GA starts, I'll have to pick up a copy at registration and begin my planning on Wednesday. Non-negotiables for me: choir practice and plenaries. I understand there is a UU blogger session this year and I'd really like to attend that. It would be great to put some faces with the voices I've been reading lately.

At some later date, I'd like to write about how much more connected I've become by reading these UU blogs. This full-time living in an RV, always on the road, is a lonely one from a UU standpoint.