Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 Wrap-up (Sean)

I promised earlier to come back and fill in some gaps in my coverage of Friday and Saturday. Since then, Louise has posted her report, and she's covered many of those points. Louise also takes better notes than I do -- I'm a slow writer, and all my life I have had the problem that I can either pay attention and be present with what is being said, or take notes, but not both. I won't rehash the items that Louise has already covered.

I wrote on Friday that I would explain my "nay" vote on the SOC on "Creating Peace." In hindsight, when I reflect upon those reasons, I should have simply abstained. What it really came down to for me was that the "Calls to Action," while laudable in purpose, struck me as overly burdensome (as I have written elsewhere) for congregations that, in many cases, are struggling for their very existence. As I have said before, I am concerned that we are asking them to expend a great deal of energy and resources on a goal (world peace) that is largely beyond our influence.

Spending the same amount of effort on, for example, marriage equality, or more outreach to those marginalized in our society such as people of color, LGBT, or recent immigrants, would have more of an effect in the world (and, yes, I know that we are already working on those issues). That being said, if the delegates, who theoretically represent their congregations, are willing to step up and take on this challenge, who am I to suggest it is too much. (Although I must repeat my oft-stated concern that perhaps the very congregations that are already stretched too thin are the ones who are not sending delegates to GA.)

That's a good segue into one of my wrap-up points, which is that I am convinced now more than ever that the GA business process is broken and needs to be fixed. That goes hand in hand with the Association's organizational structure being byzantine and cumbersome, a fact that is now recognized by the board and is being addressed. But, as I wrote last year, I am most looking forward to a more robust democratic process as proposed by the Fifth Principle Task Force, wherein a much smaller number of delegates who are more focused and empowered will carry on the business of the association. Funding for delegates and a stronger mandate to bring with them the will of their congregations and carry back the action items will, I hope, lead to more intentional and purposed actions at GA.

On Sunday morning I wrote that I would have more to say about the Phoenix discussion Saturday afternoon. Since then, as Louise has written, we received some clarification and background from Gini during her Moderator's Report. And, not having gone to the mini-assemblies on the topic (in hindsight, a mistake on my part), it is not reasonable to be too critical of the resolution that ended up before us. What I can say, though, is that more time could have been spent sharing with the assembly how the compromised was reached, and, more importantly, what was the shared vision of how the 2012 event would look.

At one point in the debate on the floor I went to the Procedural microphone to ask just what the BOT considered the "minimum business" of the assembly, and whether the proposal implied an overall event that was much smaller, much larger, or about the same size as a "normal" GA (whatever that means). I got a dismissive answer to my first question (they defined the term, rather than enumerating the list of required business), and no answer whatsoever to my second. When I sat back down, I turned to Louise and said that I must not have been clear, and she immediately shot back that, no, my question was crystal clear and the Board and Moderator chose not to answer it. We had dinner later with three other delegates who all concurred with her assessment.

On Sunday, Gini asked for a show of hands of the assembled delegates during her report, on several questions. One was whether everyone understood that what was asked for was a much larger event than a normal GA, and it was clear to me at that point that this was the answer to my question that she was unwilling to give before the vote. This does strike me as an aberration in the democratic process; if that was the vision of the framers of the resolution (as amended in mini-assembly), then it should have been stated thus, especially under direct questioning.

I suppose I have an axe to grind in all this, because Louise and I happen to own (with about a half dozen partners) a pair of restaurants in downtown Phoenix, just a short walk from the convention center and most of the hotels. (And we do hope that you'll dine with us in Phoenix.) I was well-prepared with a 2-minute "con" speech for the original resolution (an outright boycott of Phoenix), which went something like this:
  • Neither we nor our partners support SB1070 (but most of us being out-of-state, we don't have a vote).
  • If any of the businesses around ours ever supported this bill, I can assure you they don't any longer.
  • The economy nearly put us out of business, and SB1070 is threatening to be the final nail in the coffin. We send money to Phoenix every month now just to keep the doors open.
  • We do that not only to protect our investment, but also to keep our workers employed. Many of those workers are Latino/Latina.
  • Phoenicians in general are not supportive of this legislation and that includes the Mayor and the police department.
  • As with all boycotts, businesses like ours and their employees bear the true cost, and state legislators are unlikely to "hear" any message sent by people who don't show up.
  • How much more effective would it be for us as a movement to show up in force instead, and take our message to the streets?
I never had to deliver this, of course, and in the end we are pretty satisfied with the compromise. Someone else got up to speak against boycotting local businesses that are in many (most?) cases opposed to the bill. In the end, it was a contentious and divisive issue and I am impressed with the respect and thoughtfulness of the debate, the compromise, and the ultimate charge. That has not stopped some rancor, I note, on UU World over the outcome.

I think that mostly catches me up here. I have one more item to add, which is that we both very much enjoyed marching to Loring Park on Saturday to deliver our Standing on the Side of Love message at the Pride Festival. (Although that seems a bit like, uhh, preaching to the converted.) We had not realized the Twin Cities had such a large and well-organized festival; after listening to the speech we spent what time was left wandering around, and I would say we barely made it through a third of the enormous event.

In all, we had a great GA and, as always, we are grateful to the CLF for allowing us to participate as your delegates. We are also grateful to the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis for allowing us to park Odyssey in their parking lot, which we will be departing this afternoon.

One final note, for those reading here real-time or subscribed via RSS: today is the last day to make your donation to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) for this year's annual fund and have your gift matched by Shelter Rock. We've made our donation, have you?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

GA 2010 (Louise)

I was unable to write daily reports this year because of the way GA was structured, so I'll try to summarize my thoughts from my chicken-scratch notes.

Scheduling all the plenaries on Friday, Saturday and Sunday was a mixed bag. I love plenary, and having concentrated days of business and governance helped keep the flow of ideas and discussion going. However, for delegates in the choir, like me, it meant that Saturday and Sunday had no breaks longer than 30 minutes. That's not enough time to purchase and eat a meal, so I carried food with me. It held body together, but soul got really, really tired.

Thursday and Friday had some chunks of time available, so that's when we worked the CLF booth in the exhibit hall. It is always a treat to see the CLF staff again, and I enjoy booth duty because they are all so much fun. This year I was able to wear a name tag that said, "I have a UU Prisoner Pen-Pal, Do YOU?" which helped start several conversations about our prison ministry.

We did not attend any evening events. By our second or third GA, we figured out that there is just too much going on and not enough of our time and attention to go around; something had to give. So, no Service of the Living Tradition, no Bridging Ceremony, no Ware Lecture, and this year, no Closing Ceremony. That makes me sad, and I'm always tempted to push just a little harder to fit it all in, but I have to respect my physical limits.

Choir this year was less organized than usual. We had four rehearsals to learn music for both Sunday morning worship and Closing Ceremony. By the end of the third rehearsal, we had not even opened the Closing Ceremony music. I had mounting anxiety that we wouldn't be prepared for that event. Fortunately, the Closing music was quite simple and we were able to learn it in a single hour. Ironically, I was unable to physically make it all the way through the day to Closing anyway.

I prefer a strong, dictatorial music director. Tell us what you want, correct our errors, set a high bar, and bring out our very best music. This year's director did not conduct her rehearsals that way. The end results, however, were fine. Sunday morning's music sounded very nice, and our invocation to "Come, Come, Whoever You Are" moved me to tears. Perhaps it is because it is a strong reflection of my life on the road, living full-time in our motorhome. I am a Wanderer, a Worshipper, and very much a Lover of Leaving.

Plenaries I and II were introductory in nature. We agreed on the rules we'll follow, discussed the business agenda, and met a few committees. As Sean has said, we didn't attend the 30 minute Plenary II at 8am Thursday to give ourselves a little more sleep and gird our loins for the rest of GA.

Plenary III started the meat and potatoes of the work to be done. My notes and impressions:
  • I was impressed by the breakthrough congregation from Summit, NJ. For their centennial celebration, they raised $100K and gave it all away to the community. Wow! I went to high school about 5 miles away from Summit, and I'm sorry I didn't know about UUism then. Sounds like a really neat church.
  • Jane Rzepka received the Distinguished Service Award. I cried, hard. I'm going to miss her so. My CLF, the only one I've known, is so colored by Jane's presence. It is hard to imagine CLF without her. Meg Riley has big shoes to fill, and I pledge to welcome her whole-heartedly. I know that ministerial transitions are hard enough without congregants holding on to the past.
  • The Committee on Social Witness spoke passionately to endorse the Statement of Conscience, Creating Peace. There was then a spirited debate on using the words "Theological Principles" vs. "Theological Groundings." Several newer, younger UUs said they had become UUs because they resonated with our 7 principles, and didn't want to dilute that connection by using the word in another context. Interesting.
  • I loved when Helene Atwan of Beacon Press commented on having one of our authors interviewed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, "It doesn't get any better than that!"
  • Both the Financial Advisor and the Treasurer gave reports that were glum. Our investment income fell about 10% in 2009. Our endowment lost $14M in 2008 and $23M in 2009 and as a result we had to cut endowment spending by 16%. 13 staff members were laid off. Dan Brody commented on GA2012 that there could be significant financial impacts whether we moved away from Phoenix or stayed. Personally, I feel that it will cost much more to boycott Phoenix than to stay there, and was prepared to argue against a boycott with financial points from these reports. Fortunately, the boycott idea was dismissed fairly early in the discussion.
Plenary IV, Saturday morning, brought inspiration and insight:
  • What jumped out at me from the Board of Trustees report was the statement that so many congregations feel alone. I remember that from my time at the UU Church of Palo Alto. We rarely interacted with other congregations, and few people were involved at the district level.
  • UUA governance is too big and byzantine; we are trying to move to a smaller organization through by-laws changes.
  • Only 2 out of 5 congregations can send delegates to GA.
  • GA decisions must be congregationally accountable. How do we accomplish this in the CLF?
  • Adam's report on the Standing on the Side of Love campaign was rousing, ending with the hall chanting, "Love! Love! Love!"
  • Breakthrough congregation from Harrisburg, PA purchased an inner-city church building and doubled their membership. Now that's a great way to reach out to a more racially diverse population!
  • Representative Keith Ellison clearly could have chosen to be a preacher instead of devoting his energy to government. He spoke passionately about Radical Abundance, and got us on our feet by saying, "Love is the only thing that makes SENSE!"
  • I asked myself, what would happen if I fully embraced that which I voted against? It's that whole "lean into discomfort" thing. We think of the democratic process as majority rule, but the flip side of that is the minority needs to be integrated back into the process. Vote your heart, but accept the will of the group if you lose. No, not just accept, but embrace that will. Hard stuff.
Plenary V was emotional:
  • The slideshow of UUs who died in the last year is always very moving to me. Jerry Davidoff and my dear friend Ed Barlow were among them. I miss them both.
  • The Sherborn, MA breakthrough congregation was started in 1685. How amazing is that?
  • Peter Morales choked up during his President's Report. It is good to be moved by your work.
  • Katie Tyson, an influential UU youth, died in a car crash on her way home from GA last year. To honor her memory, an offering was taken to fund sending other youth to GA. Katie said, "GA messes with your mind." And that's a good thing.
  • We began our debate and vote of the Business Resolution: GA 2012 in Arizona with an hour of discussion about right relations and prayer. It was a LOT of prayer, and I felt it was an excess of being reminded to treat each other kindly. After 30 minutes or so, I started to feel like we couldn't be trusted. The next day, we were given more background on why the BOT thought this was necessary, which helped a little bit. Three prayers in a row by three different ministers made this agnostic rather peevish.
  • The actual debate and vote were quite civil, so perhaps all the preamble was helpful, even necessary. I'm pleased that we will be going to Phoenix and not forfeiting a huge sum of money to cancel hotel and conference center reservations.
Plenary VI started with the disturbing news of a murder/suicide involving children in a UU congregation in Transylvania. I have not been able to find out any more about this.
  • Dan Aleshire gave an excellent talk on The Future of Ministry. While this wouldn't normally be my cup of tea, his stellar speaking skills made it totally engaging.
  • The video for the Mankato, MN breakthrough congregation was quite funny. Two new members talked about how appealing the church was in the new building. One man quipped that he "at least knew where the exits were." A woman said that meeting with a small group in someone's home was too intimate and a barrier to attending a church for the first time. When she saw how "professional" the church had become, she attended then joined.
Plenary VII was very productive, and I'm sorry I had to leave early to make the choir call for Closing Ceremony. After that 30 minute call, I decided to bow out of the ceremony, so I should have just stayed in Plenary.
  • I learned that July 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • The District Presidents' Association report was a recitation of comments from people who were clearly afraid of change. I'm not certain, though, who made these statements. District board members? Congregants?
  • Only 11 congregations submitted reports on the 2009 GA resolutions concerning inclusion and accessibility. Every year we vote up these Mom and Apple Pie resolutions, toss them over the wall to the congregations and into a giant sucking void. I often vote against resolutions because I don't think we have a workable process for seeing them through.
  • The Action of Immediate Witness about Israel and Gaza generated a lot of debate and strong feeling
  • Senator Al Franken spoke of his religious beliefs: "Be Just, Be Good." He counts his blessings as a form of prayer, and he told us, "You're my favorite kind of church." He was funny and genuine.
  • Gini's Moderator's Report fleshed out some of the history behind the Board's concerns regarding the Arizona debate. Specifically, she talked about the Black Empowerment controversy from the 1970s, which I was unfamiliar with.
  • Gini also recognized, by a show of hands, all the congregational presidents in the hall. With over 1000 congregations, there should be 1000 presidents, but alas, many fewer can attend. I really hope that the Fifth Principle task force can help change that.
  • A large number of Resolutions in Response to the Report of an Officer were put forth, debated and voted. I had to leave before they were completed, and so missed the final Proposal of Marriage by one delegate to another. I hear, though, that it passed unanimously.
As always, I am grateful for the opportunity to be a CLF delegate. It is an honor and a privilege. I look forward to attending GA in Charlotte next year and hope to be a delegate there as well.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sunday report (Sean)

Yesterday was another overfull day. In fact, we never made it to closing ceremonies; I raced home after the final Plenary, which ran a few minutes over, in order to walk the dog before what was sure to be a late night, with no chance for dinner until perhaps 9:30. Louise, meanwhile, actually had to leave Plenary fifteen minutes early in order to make the final choir practice. We had not yet finished voting on Responsive Resolutions.

About fifteen minutes after I got home, she called me. "I'm coming home." What? I already knew that choir this year had been a frustrating experience for her, although I thought they sounded great at Sunday morning worship. But after a day that started for her at 7:45 for the last pre-worship practice (meaning she had to leave here at 7:15), had no opportunity for breakfast or lunch, and only a few minutes for a snack before Closing Ceremony, she realized she was just not going to make it through the whole day to 9pm. Of course, once you're seated on the dais, there's really no graceful way to bow out. So she decided to drop out of choir before it even started. Thus it was that we skipped closing for the first time in our GA "careers."

In addition to the choir, worship was excellent as usual. I did think that Reverend Morales ran a bit long in the sermon, which was a reiteration of many of his campaign assertions regarding membership numbers and what brings people into (or drives them away from) our faith community. In any case, I did not feel energized by it, and would have preferred something a bit more inspirational for morning worship.

A presentation by Dan Aleshire, Executive Director of the Association of Theological Schools was actually the highlight, for me, of Plenary VI. A business resolution entitled "The Green Revolution in Religion" passed handily, as did a raft of changes to the Bylaws that were essentially proposed and supported by the Board.

The afternoon's session included a report on transforming governance by the District Presidents' Association, which echoed many of the findings of the Fifth Principle Task Force, and talked about moving forward on that path. The presenters read a list of statements made by either district presidents or their constituents, and we both found many statements disturbing. By which I mean, some of the statements wandered far enough from our core principles as a movement that we wondered to each other whether they were made by congregational leaders (we hope not) or random congregants (better, but still worrisome). I did not write them down; I hope they will appear on-line in due time.

The secretary's report on the progress made by congregations to last year's responsive resolution on Power, Privilege, and Oppression was equally disturbing. While the report highlighted some very good results from exactly two groups (a congregation in Kent, OH, and a district in New York), congregations as a whole have overwhelmingly refrained from responding to this.

While I do think that, in the case of this particular resolution, this is a shame, I think this result reinforces what I have been saying here for some time: It is all too easy for a room full of delegates, swept up in the emotions of the moment, to pass resolutions that charge congregations to heap more work onto what are often already over-full plates. I often wondered whether every delegate with a voting card in the air is going to return to her congregation brimming with enthusiasm to pass along the new charge and get to work right away. I need wonder no longer: Secretary Loughrey's report has answered my question.

We moved on to debate on the Actions of Immediate Witness for this GA, which I will discuss momentarily. Before we finished with them, however, the moderator had to suspend debate, complete with stopping the motion clock, to accommodate a distinguished guest, introduced by CLF's own Meg Riley (in her role as UUA Director of Advocacy and Witness). That guest was none other than Minnesota Senator Al Franken, who was met by rousing applause.

Senator Franken spoke for an unusually long time (IMO, under the circumstances). He spoke about his own faith background and shared with us a story about his father that actually moved him to tears at one point. A side of Al Franken that I had never seen in either the comedian or the distinguished gentleman from Minnesota. I did not write any of it down, but more is here on UU World. It was one of the high points of my day.

Afterward we resumed debate on the AIWs. You can read about the AIWs and how the vote (and debate) went elsewhere, suffice it to say that protracted debate was held on only a couple. The AIW to End the Blockade of Gaza and Growth of Israeli Settlements [in Palestine] was defeated by a narrow margin. I believe it had a majority but not the required 2/3 majority. Arguments on both sides were strong, and this blogger voted against the resolution on several grounds:
  • As delegate Denny Davidoff said, we "have a lot of chutzpah" to think we can control the government of Israel. IMO, this AIW calls congregations and individuals to futile action.
  • While I may question their tactics at times, I do not question Israel's right to defend itself from the unending flow of weapons to Hamas. If U.S. soil was rocket-bombed daily, would we be content with leaving our defense to "an international inspection" of cargo heading into enemy territory?
  • Why does this resolution unilaterally target Israel, without making mention of the culpability of those who would see her destroyed? For that matter, as many speakers brought up, why is Israel singled out, among all nations who have transgressed even against Palestine, for action by our movement?
  • Most importantly, it is clear to me that, for the most part, the delegates can not possibly have enough information or insight into the actual state of affairs in that part of the world to make an informed decision about taking these actions. I know I, personally, do not, and I would venture a guess that my own education and experience on the subject is reflective of no fewer than 50% and more like 80-90% of the delegates. This is just presumptuous.
All of that said, I think there would have been little disagreement, myself included, on the portion related to Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory. But the elements were not separated nor really separable as the AIW came to us.

The discussion on ending the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan also saw a great deal of discussion and was similarly defeated. Here I think things were a bit more clear-cut, with the room dividing along traditional "all war is wrong" and "just war" lines, with the twist that even some die-hard pacifists realize that you can't start a war someplace and then just walk away without picking up the pieces.

Once again, this delegate voted against, principally because the resolution left no wiggle-room for necessary (IMO) peacekeeping forces and an orderly transition. The "immediate" nature of the proposal was, well, too immediate. I suspect many delegates felt the same way and this is why the AIW failed.

The remaining AIWs passed, and, as usual, I (or we, in some cases) were in the small minority opposed to some. In particular, I thought the notion that we could somehow immediately stop using off-shore oil expressed in the Gulf Coast Environmental and Economic Justice AIW was quaint and unachievable. As one delegate said, passing knee-jerk unachievable resolutions makes us look like cranks rather than the well-reasoned people we proclaim to be. The ultimate goal of the resolution is laudable, but the language and timetable was unreflective of scientific reality.

The remaining bylaw changes, postponed from an earlier Plenary, passed with little drama, and the final credentials report reflected 1,957 delegates representing 581 congregations and a grand total of 3,880 attendees. Sadly, not that many delegates remained in the room when the Responsive Resolutions were brought forward. Again, I will let you read about these elsewhere, with two exceptions. First is that the responsive resolution on ENDA passed by a landslide without the text of the resolution, or even what report it was a response to, ever being presented to the delegates. I have to confess that we were among the guilty here, even though I had a niggling sense that we had not heard all we needed to. Only after the vote did a delegate ask this as a point of personal privilege, prompting the moderator to have to ask the floor if anyone needed to then change his vote.

The last resolution turned out to be a marriage proposal, which while perhaps a slight abuse of the rules of procedure, was well-received by the assembly. The flabbergasted recipient of said proposal asked the assembly what we suggested, at which point the moderated called for a show of voting cards; I do not think there was a single nay or abstention.

I think that will about wrap up my coverage of Sunday, and my next post will attempt to go back and fill in the blanks I left in my Friday and Saturday coverage.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A wild ride (Sean)

Yesterday was basically a full day of Plenary and I have much to report. Unfortunately, I must leave for today's service in just a few minutes, and so I must make this brief; I hope to catch up later. I was trying to figure out why it's been harder to blog here at this GA than in years past, and a casual comment from someone yesterday made it hit me: This year, all the workshop sessions were moved to the front of the schedule, and all the Plenaries to the back.

Effectively, this gave us a "free day" on Thursday (when there was not yet anything, really, to blog about) and a block of time Friday afternoon, but we won't come up for air now until GA is over. This appears to be yet another stab at re-inventing GA; you may recall my earlier reports on the disaster that was "Open Space" a couple years ago and the marathon sessions of last year's UU University.

You may also recall my lengthy report on the findings last year of the Fifth Principle Task Force, and I am happy to report here that progress is being made. The board officially announced yesterday that they recognize many of the shortcomings found by that group, and will be working to change GA into the more deliberate experience that I talked about last year. The commitment is to make some kind of change, but what, exactly, that will look like is undecided. They have committed to a transparent process, however, and will be posting the work and progress on the web site.

I will have to update the meat of yesterday's business later. Suffice it to say that the most contentious item on the agenda was saved for the very end of the day, and that was a decision on what to do about GA in Phoenix in 2012. What ended up being passed is a compromise that takes us to Phoenix then, charges us to focus on immigration issues, and prohibits us from doing any business at all there other than the "minimum business" mandated by the bylaws. We shall see if that holds; I'll have more to say on this later.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 3 snapshot (Sean)

It's been a long day, and we're beat. I hope to catch up here maybe tomorrow with more detail on today's activities, but tonight I just don't have the energy. To make matters worse, I have Red Cross curriculum development that is due Sunday, and Tropical Depression 1 has formed in the Caribbean (we are, actually, on call already for hurricane season).

In the meantime, a quick snapshot: This morning was Plenary-III, wherein we debated and voted on the Statement of Conscience (SOC) on "Creating Peace," which had been referred back to committee last year, and also voted on choosing one of five Congregational Study Action Issues (CSAIs). A very moving part of the morning's ceremonies for us, of course, was the presentation of the Distinguished Service Award to our very own Reverend Jane Rzepka. We also heard reports from the treasurer and financial advisor, and Louise will be posting some details of those in due time.

As a quick summary, we passed the SOC on Creating Peace by a landslide after some contentious adopting of amendments. I may have cast the only "nay" vote in the room, and when I have time I will explain my reasons. The amendment process and several motions to extend debate put Plenary a full hour over, and we ended just in time for Louise to go to choir (more precisely, stay at choir, which was scheduled for the main hall and booted Plenary out). That meant I had to forego a 1pm session so I could go home and walk the dog, and I made it back to the MCC just in time for the Legacy donor reception. As for the CSAIs, the votes had not yet been tallied by the time we adjourned, so we will find out tomorrow morning if one had a majority, or if, more likely, we will have a runoff vote.

After the donor reception we did our second hour of booth duty at the CLF booth, having already done an hour yesterday. That took us right up to the CLF worship, and we helped cart the various accoutrements over to the ballroom for the service. Worship was good, as always, with sermons by Reverends Abhi Janamanchi and Gail Geisenheimer (and please excuse me if I got the spelling of either name incorrectly, I don't have them handy, but will correct them here later as needed). We ended up wit usher duty as well, and since we were already there helped get everything back to the booth.

By this time it was pouring rain with a tornado watch, and we decided to wait out the storm downtown rather than riding the scooters back home, so we took advantage of Minneapolis' enclosed "Sky Walk" system to make our way to the Hilton for dinner.

Tomorrow we have another early start and long plenaries; we'll see if I find time to update here. I do hope to share with you some more about the SOC and CSAI votes and process today.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

In-gathering (Sean)

Welcome once again to our almost-live blogging of the 2010 General Assembly (GA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA), to become our official report to the board of the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF).

We are in Minneapolis, with our bus well-parked in the lot of the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, who have very generously offered us this parking space for the duration of GA. We arrived here Tuesday evening, checked in with the office, and got settled into position. Apparently, there will be no service here Sunday on account of GA.

Yesterday was the first official day of the Assembly, and we attended the CLF in-gathering cum reception for outgoing minister Reverend Jane Rzepka, followed by opening ceremonies and Plenary-I. In-gathering was very informal this year, and we had a "normal" turnout of perhaps 40 or so; frankly, I was a bit disappointed, as I expected the reception for Jane would have brought in more of a crowd.

Plenary hall is good this year, with decent acoustics and lighting. We enjoyed, as always, the banner parade and the convocation, and Plenary-I consisted of the usual pleasantries and reminders principally aimed at first-timers. By 9:30 Plenary was adjourned to 8am this morning.

Plenary-II was scheduled for only half an hour, and the agenda showed only committee reports and no actual business to be conducted. We've done this before, and learned the hard way that we can get burned out early in the program if we try to do absolutely everything. So while we usually consider Plenary to be mandatory, with everything else optional, we gave ourselves permission to skip this morning's session, since we can read the reports on-line, and the detailing of the mini-assembly process is, again, targeted at first-timers.

In a few minutes, we will be heading off to our 1pm workshops; there is no more Association business today, and we'll get into the meat of things tomorrow at Plenary-III.