Sunday, June 29, 2008

My week in Florida

Last Sunday, June 22, I caught a morning flight to Ft. Lauderdale from Kansas City. I am entering my third year of a three year stint as an elected member of the 10-member Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association Executive Committee. We arrive a day and a half early for meetings. Our Sunday evening gathering consisted of an opening worship service plus some work on our agenda in addition to a few small "nuts and bolts" items.

The next morning we went to work in earnest. Our main piece of business for the day consisted of an orientation for the incoming Exec. members and a farewell to the outgoing members. We adjourned at 4:30 to attend a reception for all of our other colleagues who flew into town on Monday.

Ministry Days commenced on Tuesday and began with a worship service for the 500+ ministers who were in attendance. This was followed by our keynote presenter, the renowned Biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman. Brueggeman gave a wonderful lecture about the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. During the Q+A segment I tried to stump him by asking him to contrast his interpretation of the Exodus story with Harvard professor Jon Levenson's interpretation of Exodus. This provoked a hilarious reaction from Brueggeman who grimaced and ground his forefinger into his forehead before giving a stunning response, including referencing the relatively obscure Levenson essay to which I was referring. The highlight of Tuesday afternoon consisted of an hour of discussion with UUA President Rev. Bill Sinkford.

Wednesday was the second day of ministry days and it kicked off with the always-moving 25/50 service. This worship service honors those completing 25 and 50 years in the ministry and each class votes to elect a class speaker. Elizabeth Strong offered the 25 year address and Khoren Arisian delivered the 50 year address. As a member of the UUMA Exec., I had a role in the service, reading Stephen Spender's powerful poem "I think continually of those." (This means I had to schlep my robe all the way to Florida for a 90-second reading.)

Following the service, came the annual UUMA business meeting. This was followed by lunch and then by break-out "collegial conversations." I led a collegial conversation on how the Emergent movement could impact Unitarian Universalism. I offered an introduction to the Emergent movement, made observations about Emergent theology and worship forms, and then invited my guests, Rev. Ron Robinson and Rev. Ken Beldon to make comments about how they have implemented Emergent practices in the congregations they serve. With 50+ attendees, our conversation was the best-attended. The rest of the 90-minute conversation consisted of Q+A and dialogue.

Wednesday's main event, however, was the Berry Street Address. The Berry Street is an annual lecture for UU ministers dating back to 1820 when William Ellery Channing delivered the first Berry Street. It is, reportedly, the oldest continuous lecture series in the Untied States. This year's essayist was Rev. Christine Robinson, minister of the UU Church in Albuquerque. (I visited the church she serves when I was in New Mexico in April.) She delivered a brilliant essay entitled "Imagineers of Soul." I will post a link here when it is available on line. The only other piece of business that day was a dinner that evening with all of the members of the UUMA Exec. at a restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale.

Thursday was just about as busy as Wednesday. My day began early at 7:00am with a breakfast for students preparing for the ministry. I was the MC of the breakfast and gave a short speech about the UU Minister's Association. Following the breakfast, I departed for the convention center where Forrest Church was giving a sermon on "A Ministry of Love in a Time of Fear." I was in charge of tech support for this event which consisted of operating a digital projector and power point. This also allowed me to sit right in front for this event that attracted a standing-room-only crowd. I am currently reading Church's last book, Love & Death, and will write more on it when I finish reading it.

Next, it was back to the hotel suite for lunch and meeting with the UUMA committees working on Continuing Education and a special minister's convocation in November, 2009. After meeting with them, it was back to the convention center where I attended, with SMUUCh's congregational President, a workshop sponsored by the UUA Board of Trustees on "Appreciative Inquiry." Unfortunately, I had to leave this workshop early in order to attend a reunion reception for the ministers featured on the Listening to Experience: 12 Visionary Ministers Discuss Growth DVD. Following the reception, I returned to the Convention Center to attend the Service of the Living Tradition that featured a magnificent sermon by Rev. Victoria Safford.

At 10:00 at night my day was not done yet. I had to write a brief piece for the Kansas City Star that was due the next day. Look forward to an article on spiritual book recommended by various ministers in the Kansas City area that should appear in the paper soon.

Friday was supposed to be a full day of meetings with the UUMA Exec. except I was only able to attend a portion of the day's meetings. From 9 to 11am we met with Chapter Leaders from various UUMA chapters across the country. After this, I departed for the day to prepare for my afternoon workshop presentation. Along with Rev. Harlan Limpert, I presented a GA Workshop based on the learning that came out of the Louisville Growth Summit and Listening to Experience DVD. You can watch streaming video of my presentation here. (Scroll down to Friday and event number 3042.) You can also read a recap here.

Following the workshop I was barraged with questions and was also invited to have coffee (well, bottled-water, actually) with one of the attendees of the workshop. It was a delightful meeting. I was very pleased with how the presentation had gone. Next, I went to dinner with the President of the church I serve.

Saturday we ended our UUMA Exec. meeting with 4 1/2 hours of back to back meetings. First we met with a team from the UUA Stewardship & Development office. Then we met with two representatives of a group for Retired UU Ministers and their spouses. We talked about how we could better support retired and retiring colleagues. Finally, we met with our two representatives on the Ministerial Fellowship Committee and had a rich discussion with them. By this point in the week, I was worn out. I made my way over to the convention center and checked out the exhibition booths and bought a few books. I also attended the Candidate's forum for the two contenders for the UUA Presidency: Peter Morales and Laurel Hallman. I have to make a partisan comment and say that after being personally asked for an endorsement by both candidates and spending over 5 months weighing the pros and cons of both, I decided to endorse Laurel Hallman for UUA President. However, it was clear from the Candidate's Forum that this is going to be a real race. (I hope we will send a full slate of delegates to GA next year in Salt Lake City and make all our votes count!) Later that evening, I attended a reception for supporters of Laurel Hallman.

Sunday was the final day of General Assembly and, to tell you the truth, I had had enough of convention centers and hotel suites. I did spend about half an hour on Sunday morning meeting with our UUMA staff person, Janette Lallier, about my goals for my final year on the Exec. After that, it was time to hit the beach. (How can one spend a full week in Ft. Lauderdale and not make it to the beach?) I had worked hard all week and floating in the Atlantic Ocean was a great way to relax and unwind.

The final thing I might mention about the whole trip is that one of the small joys was that the fountain in front of our hotel had a family of very large iguanas that lived there. At any hour of the day or night you could walk out and observe these wonderful lizards doing things that lizards do. What a treat!