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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.