Monday, June 29, 2009

Saturday and Sunday (Louise)

Photo by mike_benefiel

I have just finished re-reading both of our earlier reports, and I must say we are a verbose couple! When the CLF by-laws were written to require a written report by CLF GA delegates, they probably didn't expect quite so much verbiage. And if you are one of the CLF Board members tasked with reading this report, I apologize in advance if this seems like too much information. We would both welcome your comments; if you want us to write less, please let us know.

That being said, we blog regularly and are used to processing a day's events in this format. That and the reverse chronological order lends itself best to daily reading, rather than trying to digest it all at once, backwards. So, your indulgence is appreciated.

(As a side note, I just suggested to Sean that he might want to pause in his writing to wash the dishes, as they have been piling up. He replied, "You have to blog when the Spirit says blog, and you have to wash dishes when the Spirit says wash dishes. And right now, I'm blogging. Oh, and by the way, you are the Wife, not the Spirit." Oh, snap!)

Saturday was another full day, of course. Sean has written a lot about Plenary IV, so I'll just add a few things here. I was tickled to hear that our Public Witness event from Friday made the front page of the Salt Lake City Tribune. SLC really is a small city, and having over 3,000 UUs in town packs a wallop, I think. I am sure that we made a huge impact on the local LGBT community and hope they heard our message of love and acceptance.

At least twice during this plenary, speakers who had been clearly given a time limit blatantly ignored it. One woman said right up front that she had 4 minutes, then spoke for 10. One receiving an award seized the bully pulpit and gave a homily 15 minutes long. While I understand that a person being honored should also be heard, surely each knew their time limit in advance. These awards aren't big surprises. The sad consequence of this time disrespect is that another, equally important, item was completely short changed. It broke my heart to slip out of the worship service at the end of plenary to attend the next choir rehearsal. If I was going to have to choose between that lovely worship and someone's rambling committee report, I certainly would not have chosen the latter! Harumph.

On the positive side, the reports from the UU Service Committee and the UU United Nations Office were so uplifting. As donors to the UUSC, we love hearing how our gifts are being used to improve the world. Now I'm thinking seriously of making a donation to the UU-UNO as well. Good stuff!

After choir rehearsal #4 and a quick lunch, it was on to Plenary V. We had heard on Friday night that the fierce thunderstorm that roared through Salt Lake right before the Service of the Living Tradition had caught our huge "Standing on the Side of Love" banner hanging outside the convention center and whipped it around. Apparently the hardware holding it up smashed through the atrium windows, breaking glass and damaging the banner. The story of this exciting event, and the subsequent gorgeous double rainbow that followed the storm, was retold in words and funny dancing at the plenary opening by the SSL committee members. They also told us that pieces of the banner would be available as souvenirs. I was pleased that no one was hurt and that the committee was making lemonade out of it all.

(Several people noted wryly that a more conventional religious gathering would probably seize on storm and rainbow as evidence that a deity was approving of our actions at GA, but most UUs chose to be simply awed at the natural spectacle and grateful for a benevolent outcome. I would much rather claim, through my own concrete actions, to be Standing on the Side of Love than that God is on Our Side. Too many have used that claim to justify a world of hurt.)

After plenary, I attended the tech rehearsal for Sunday morning worship. The technology required to present a multimedia event of this size is just staggering. Dozens of microphones, scores of people, monitors showing the words to the hymns and close-ups of the speakers, chairs in their proper places, lighting, cues, sight-lines...what a production! The hard work of some very invisible volunteers makes the huge difference between a worship service where 5,000 people can hear and see, sing and be moved, and a big mushy muddle of tiny garbled figures on a stage far away in a huge echo-y conventional hall. There's a special place in heaven for audio-visual folks, a big sound board where they can fiddle and tweak to their heart's content, without temperamental "talent" making demands. Blessed are the A/V nerds!

Photo by ardie96750

After rehearsal, we went to dinner with dear, long-time friends that we see only at GA. Two bottles of wine later, the Ware Lecture simply wasn't in the cards, and I gratefully went to bed early.

Sunday morning rolled around early, as choir members were required to be in place by 7:30am. More sound checks, vocal warm ups, and then we ran through our pieces one last time. As the final chord of our anthem "Choose to Bless the World" echoed through the still-empty hall, our GA choir director, Allison Wilski, paused. She quietly told us that she had a difficult year in her personal life, and that Spirit had been missing. She told us that we had restored her, had opened her heart again with our love and music, and tearfully thanked us.

And that, dear readers, is why I go to GA. That moment, that opening of one heart to music that I made, that I studied and worked for. To be part of something larger through music. Our life on the road makes it very, very difficult to be part of a regular musical group. I can play my own guitar and sing to the cats, but to practise with others toward performance in a worship service is a blessing I only can find at GA.

Photo by WolfS♡ul

Floating on Allison's praise and love, we rocked the worship. Everything came together and it was all lovely. Abhi's sermon was great, the hymns were among my favorites, the hall was packed with UUs. I loved it!

Immediately after worship, we had ANOTHER tech rehearsal, this time for the giant Closing Ceremony production. We sang in a rather complicated combination with Gini Courter speaking a prayer, and that needed to be ironed out logistically. Fortunately, there was time after that for a substantial lunch, because the rest of the day was completely filled with no time for dinner until after 8:30pm.

The final plenary took the rest of the afternoon. I was moved by the chalice lighting, which honored the UUs shot in Tennessee last July. It was powerful to hear about their lives, and how the community came together to mourn and heal.

Other highlights: Gini's Moderator Report. She said that the bad economy can "out" bad governance, as budget cuts force unhealthy practices into the light. She encouraged us to see this as an opportunity for spiritual growth. She also warned us against letting the power of elected boards and committees be usurped by self-selecting, non-official groups. That democracy demands that we honor our elections and responsibilities in this way.

We learned that the morning's offering had raised almost $30,000 for the Utah Pride Center. Yee haw!

And finally, Closing Ceremony. The choir, of course, had to arrive early to get settled on stage and warm up. When GA was at Portland in 2007, I chose not to sing in the choir. That year, they did not participate in Closing Ceremony, the choir's traditional venue. Instead, they had a small, separate concert, sparsely attended. That, for me, was not enough to justify the many hours of work in rehearsals. I don't know what happened in Ft. Lauderdale in 2008, but here in Salt Lake City in 2009, the choir performed at two of the key events, and I am so thrilled! Every minute of preparation was worth it.

We began with rousing hymns. Then a slide show of Bill Sinkford's presidency. At the end, he received the longest standing ovation I've ever been part of. He was an excellent president, and he will be missed. But like the President of the US, it is clear how difficult a job it is. The photos, to me, highlighted how much he has aged in the eight years. Sitting behind him, he looked a bit fragile to me, and tired. I suspect he is relieved that it is over, and looking forward to a well-deserved rest. Thank you, Bill.

Rev. Sinkford then charged Peter Morales with the new responsibilities of presidency. He drew on the words and wisdom of other past UUA presidents, and included Bill Shultz's recommendation to surround himself with true friends. They would "praise and support you in public, but behind closed doors, and preferably with martini in hand, would tell you when you are being a horse's ass."

Photo by Sister72

In what other denomination will you hear that exact advice? I love being a Unitarian Universalist.

Rev. Morales was inducted into his role with the traditional laying-on of hands. Gini prayed, we sang. And then, it was over.

Until next year.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as a General Assembly delegate of the Church of the Larger Fellowhip. It has been, once again, an honor and a privilege.

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