Thursday, June 13, 2013

8 Things to Watch for at UUA General Assembly 2013

I will be traveling to Louisville, Kentucky, from June 17- June 22 to attend the Unitarian Universalist Minister’s Association’s Ministry Days professional development event and the first two-thirds of the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly.  Here are 8 things to watch as several thousand UUs from around the country (and world) gather for business, worship, witness, learning, and inspiration.

(If you’re interested, there are lots of ways to follow GA as it happens, both by live-streaming certain events, and following coverage on the web.)

8 Things To Watch

1) Peter Morales to be Re-elected UUA President
In 2009 Peter Morales was the underdog running against Laurel Hallman for the UUA Presidency.  Though Hallman outspent him $232,646 to $92,420, Morales’ campaign strategy was a work of genius.  This GA he’ll be re-elected to a second 4 year term.  He is running unopposed.  Also being elected this year at GA are five members of a seven member presidential search committee to look for candidates interesting in running for UUA President in 2017.

2) UUA to Elect a New Moderator
UUA Moderator Gini Courter is coming to the end of her tenure as Moderator, a position she has held for nearly a decade.  Her first two years in the position were to fill a vacancy when the previous moderator resigned.  Then she was re-elected twice. In the only contested election this year, Jim Key and Tamara Payne-Alex are each vying for the position of head of the UUA Board of Trustees.  After perusing the websites of both candidates, Key is leading the way in endorsements from established power players in our movement while Payne-Alex has a young, upstart following.

3) A Brand New UUA Board
Only six members of the 23 member UUA Board of Trustees will still serve on the board following the end of General Assembly.  That’s because the UUA is transitioning from a 23 member board to an 11 member board.  The current board consists of four at-large positions and seventeen members representing districts within the UUA.  The new board will consist entirely of at-large positions.  Seven board positions will be elected by the General Assembly and four board positions will be appointed by the board.  All seven candidates for the UUA Board are running unopposed.

4) Covenant is the Theme
Many of the programs, worship services, workshops, and other events center around the idea of covenant.  Here is how the theme of this GA is described:  “From Promise to Commitment.” Promises call us into relationship. The experience of making, breaking and remaking promises is the reality of our lived faith. We will gather in Louisville, Kentucky to examine and renew our covenant to our faith, one another, our congregations and the larger world.”

5) Environmental Justice is the sub-theme
My UU friends in Louisville have a bumper-sticker that announces, “Topless mountains are obscene.”  Each year the General Assembly holds a public witness event around a social justice issue.  (In Phoenix in 2012 it was Immigration and the human rights abuses at Sheriff Arpaio’s Tent City; in 2010 it was a prophetic call for marriage equality in Minnesota.)  This year’s witness will address the theme of environmental justice, as we gather in an area of the country known for its coal production.  Poet, writer, and environmental activist Wendell Berry will help lead the witness alongside UU Tim DeChristopher who was recently released after serving 21 months in federal prison for disrupting an oil and gas lease auction.

6) Eboo Patel to Deliver the Ware Lecture
A few weeks ago I helped my friend prep for an interview with Patel’s organization Interfaith Youth Corps.  Patel is a young, charismatic man doing extraordinary work promoting interfaith service, understanding, and dialogue across the country.  He is the author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation which was the UUA’s Common Read book in 2011-2012.  On Friday evening he’ll be delivering the Ware Lecture, a distinguished lectureship that dates back to 1922.  Previous lecturers include Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, Kurt Vonnegut, Van Jones, and Karen Armstrong.

7) Vanessa Southern to Preach the Service of the Living Tradition
Each year General Assembly features the SLT, a celebration of ministry and professional leadership.  New ministers, retiring ministers, and deceased ministers are honored alongside religious professionals in religious education and music who are becoming accredited.  Vanessa is the minister of the Unitarian Church in Summit, NJ.  She’s served there since 2001 and that congregation is doing lots of wonderful things.  Not only is she a fine preacher, but she’s also great at karaoke.

8) Who’s In Charge Here?
One of the committees in our larger movement is the Commission on Appraisal.  The COA is elected at General Assembly and charged with studying and appraising an aspect of UU religious life.  They issue a report every four years or so.  In 1997 they issued their report on Congregational Polity.  In 2001 their report dealt with the meaning of membership.  In 2005 they wrote about “Engaging Our Theological Diversity,” a report that studied the benefits and challenges of theological diversity within our congregations.  In 2009 they spearheaded a review of the Principles and Purposes, although an attempted revision of them failed.  This year they will be reporting to the General Assembly about Who’s In Charge Here? The Complex Relationship Between Ministry and Authority.  The Commission on Appraisal will be addressing the delegates in a plenary session on Friday and hosting a workshop on their report on Saturday.

Plus One More:  A Shout-out to SMUUCh?
Did you know that Closed Captioning for the business meetings, worship services, lectures, and other key GA programming is provided by one of the members of our church, Kim Meyers.  For years I’ve been trying to get her to put a shout out to our congregation up on the screen during one of the assemblies.  Will this be the year?

Also worth noting:
I’m looking forward to having lunch with Mary Benard, the editorial director at Skinner House Books who wants to pitch me on writing or editing another book for them.



I’m looking forward to visiting the city of Louisville for the third time.  I was there way back in 2007 to attend the UUA Growth Consultation and I was also there in 2011 to preach the sermon for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Thomas Jefferson UU Church in Louisville.  It's a fun little city.