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Reflections on the 2024 UUA General Assembly

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) 2024 General Assembly (GA) took place June 20-23 on a virtual platform. Our congregation selected Yaakov (Trek) Reef and Jeanne Landers to serve as delegates, and Barbara Moloney represented our congregation as the acting Director of Religious Education (DRE(. This year more than 3,400 Unitarian Universalists came together to be in community with each other, worship together, conduct the business of our association, and lean fully into our mission.


Barbara, Jeanne, and Trek report on the honor of representing First Parish Church at GA and hope to share more with you in person. Yaakov (Trek) reported on Article II, Jeanne reported on the Ware lecture, and their experiences in cohort meetings. A new set of Values to the Covenant was adopted as the General Assembly voted 80.1% in favor of affirming the revision to Article II in our bylaws. The Sunday worship service: “Weaving our Lives” is available online- It was powerful, healing, and is definitely worth watching.


 

Report from Barbara Moloney:

The business meetings took place each day. The agenda included the Final Proposal for Article II of the UUA bylaws, business resolutions, Actions for Immediate Witness (AIWs) and a responsive resolution. As delegates, we were able to participate in the process and vote. The business resolution, Embracing Transgender, Nonbinary and Intersex People is a

Fundamental Expression of UU Religious Values was passed by 91.8% opposed by 8.2% with 2.7% abstaining. It was resolved that we will “pledge our collective faithful efforts to the full affirmation and celebration of transgender, nonbinary, intersex and gender diverse people within our congregations and the wider community and uphold this commitment as a fundamental obligation revealed by our principles and values.”


The Bylaw Amendment put forward by the Religious Education Credentialing Committee, asked for the option increase the number of members of its committee should the need arise. This was passed by 96.3%.

The Final Proposal Revision to Article II of the UUA bylaws was affirmed by 80.1%, opposed by 19.8%, with 0.08% abstaining. Please see Yaakov (Trek) Reef’s report for an in-depth review.


There were three Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs). An Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) is a statement about a significant action, event, or development in the world that necessitates immediate engagement and action among UU member congregations and groups. World on Fire: Humanitarian Work and Climate Change called for immediate actions related to the impact of climate change. It was affirmed by 95.6%, opposed by 4.4% with 5% abstaining. Centering Love Against the Ongoing Impact of COVID-19. asked us to consider the disproportionate impact of the virus on marginalized group (i.e., disabled, uninsured and underinsured, incarcerated, BIPOC, LGBTQIA, older adults and youth) as we take action to care for our community. It was affirmed by 86.1% opposed by 13.9% with 9.3% abstaining. Solidarity with Palestinians gave rise to considerable discussion in from both the pro and con side. Some of the language in the statement which was concerning for our Jewish members and friends. It was affirmed by 73.5%, opposed by 26.5%, with 11.5% abstaining. You can read the AIWs with specific concerns and actions by clicking the links or asking one of us. The Responsive Resolution, UUA General Assembly Support for October 7 Hostages , asked us to call for the immediate release of all Hamas held hostages. Further, we are asked to acknowledge the real suffering of Jews within our association and beyond. This was affirmed by 77% , opposed by 23% with 13% abstaining.


There were 14 cohorts that met in the morning and evening. I joined the “Religious Educators: Lived Stories of the Profession” cohort. We were invited to connect and reflect on the profession of religious education in small breakout groups. We discussed professional identity and I learned about their dedication as well as their journey to becoming credentialed religious educators. They spoke about the need to recognize religious educators as a profession, supported and appreciated as our ministers are. Most of the credentialed religious educators work in larger congregations that have the funds and numbers to support them. However, I learned about their hopes, challenges, joys, and heartbreak, and found them similar to my own. Our hope is to maintain growth and sustainability. One of the challenges we discussed was inconsistent attendance and how to plan. I shared my plan for decreasing the number of meetings to twice a month. They talked about a flexible curriculum and asking adults to help with the holiday pageants. We also talked about creative use of space. I got some ideas for curriculum which I will share with the religious education committee.


 

Report from Jeanne Landers:

Thank you to everyone at First Parish for electing me to be one of our delegates representing First Parish at General Assembly (GA ) 2024. It always an honor to serve in this capacity. This year was unusual in that it was the first one to be held entirely online. Although there was not the tangible excitement of meeting and gathering with other UU’s in person, there were some unique and valuable benefits as well as different kinds of challenges in this entirely virtual GA.


The most notable benefit and challenge was the technology which made it possible to attend conveniently from home with just my laptop/phone combo. Way different than hopping multiple flights to another state and figuring out arrangements for housing. Different yes, but not necessarily easier to figure out. The GA schedule was organized on a new app called Whova which I could access on my laptop but not my phone. The registration for GA and then the delegate credentials were on different platforms which was a different process than for verification on the Whova app. With the help of my fellow delegates, I was able to get that done and then take advantage of the organizational capacities of the app to plan a schedule for attending the GA general sessions with discussions and voting on amendments, article 2. delegate discussions and chats, resolutions, worships, as well as individual “Cohort Groups”, delegate discussions and chats during the sessions, some of which could be accessed on the Whova app, or live on Zoom or YouTube.


I attended the online gatherings of meetings of the “Small Congregation Cohort Group”. There was discussion, ideas and suggestions from UUA Regional leaders and other churches about some of the challenges we have in common. Themes that resonated were too few people doing most all of the work, too few people attending services, how to attract and keep new people, how busy families are, competition for time and interest with children’s activities and work. Here are some ideas discussed that we can consider.


What do people really want or need from church? Opportunities for meaningful connections.

Maybe church doesn’t need to be a sermon in the sanctuary every Sunday. Some have success by exchanging one or more Sunday sermons with some other activity that offer a soul nourishing worship and ways to connect with each other more deeply. Some had poetry gatherings, or games that can be intergenerational and offer faith development across generations, a pot-luck or brunch or dinner so busy parents don’t have to cook and would have time to participate. Could be a movie or music theme or gathering with small group meaningful conversations. It could involve social justice work or an earth centered celebration. These could be once a month or more or less in place of a regular Sunday sermon in the sanctuary. What do members or potential members feel would be meaningful and worthwhile enough to attend?


It is a common experience of small churches to have too few people doing most all the work

and is recommended to reevaluate what we have capacity for in terms of people, funds, ability, interest and energy and then be willing to let go of some things and keep what serves our mission, which is good to look at again and discuss and define and change for who we are now and want to be.


There is a “volunteer vacuum” in many UU churches. Some people that do not really have time or energy to commit to being on a committee and meet regularly can be asked to help with some specific task, or something small or quick or something they have a particular interest or skill in or to help with part of a specific time limited project. Helping others with something or participating in some activity together helps people build connections, and form relationships, which builds community which is central to why people might want to come to church.


Also noted -It is important to follow up with visitors, with a note or email as well as a call to

thank them for coming and give opportunity to answer questions and invite to next service or event. It is important to address conflict directly. It is important to ask questions and invite

participation when introducing new ideas and to balance old and new practice.


The two other remarkable highlights of the GA were the WARE Lecture and the closing

worship service on Sunday. Each year a distinguished guest is invited to address the General Assembly. Previous Ware Lecturers have included the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Kurt Vonnegut, and poet Mary Oliver. This year’s guest was Julia Watts Belser, a rabbi, scholar, spiritual teacher and a longtime activist for disability and gender justice. Her most recent book is “Loving Our Own Bones: Disability Wisdom and the Spiritual Subversiveness of Knowing Ourselves Whole. The provocative story she told is incredible and will deepen our capacity for social justice and bring tears and wisdom and honor of the sacredness of disabled people’s lives. For more info: https://www.uua.org/ga/program/highlights/ware-lecture

I highly recommend we all watch this together, as part of a worship service, as well as the

powerful Sunday Service given by Rev. Molly on mending and healing.


Honored to be Delegate at 2024 General Assembly from First Parish Church in Billerica.

Appreciate feedback, thoughts or questions,


Jeanne Landers,


 

Report from Yaakov "Trek" Reef:

Beloveds - 

Over the past four years, our liberal religious movement has done what few religious

movements are even allowed to do: we have re-examined what it means to be a

Unitarian Universalist. I want us to take that in for a moment because it can sometimes

be quite easy to take this for granted. Our faith is a living tradition, one that has evolved

throughout our history, from our Unitarian and Universalist roots before 1961, to our

Unitarian Universalist heritage thereafter. We are a faith that puts into action the words

of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of the Jewish Reconstructionist Movement:

“Our past gets a vote, not a veto.” The vote our history has gifted us is one affirming the

continuing evolution of our Unitarian Universalist movement.


For 26 years, the Six Principles served as our Unitarian Universalist movement's guiding light. The Second Principle is those days called on us “[t]o cherish and spread the universal truths taught by the great prophets and teachers of humanity in every age and tradition, immemorially summarized in the Judeo-Christian heritage as love to God and love to man.”

  

As time moved forward, our movement became more humanist focused, more caring to

the concerns of women in our movement who called for more inclusive language to

replace the dated language of “man” as a reference to humankind. Further evolution

brought us different sources of knowing the world, and an increased awareness of our

movement’s need to affirm our interdependence and oneness. In 1987, our General

Assembly adopted - and not without significant and similar controversy as we

experienced this year - the Seven Principles and Five Sources, calling us to “affirm and

promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person; and respect for the

interdependent web of all existence…” among others principles. We adopted the Sixth

Source, including pagan and earth-centered faiths, in 1995. These Seven Principles and

Six Sources have served our faith well for 37 years, additions included.


On Saturday, June 22, our General Assembly voted 80.1% to 19.8%, with 0.08%

abstaining, to adopt a new set of Values and Covenant, now reflected under Article II of

our Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) Bylaws. I’d like to share

a bit of the journey that led us to adopt the new Article II at this year’s General Assembly.


Phase 1: Initiation and Commission Formation (2020-2021) In 2020, the UUA Board of

Trustees, as authorized in the bylaws, appointed the Article II Study Commission to

review and propose updates to Article II, encompassing the Principles and Purposes of

the UUA. This phase focused on gathering broad input from UUs across the spectrum,

ensuring diverse perspectives were considered. This required process occurs every 15

years according to our bylaws. As I mentioned above, the last major change was in

1987 with the adoption of the 7 Principles and 5 Sources, which faced similar opposition

at the time.


Phase 2: Community Engagement and Drafting (2021-2022) Throughout 2021 and 2022, the Commission engaged in extensive community outreach. Workshops, surveys, and discussions were held to gather input on what values and commitments should be highlighted in the revised Article II. The Commission aimed to capture the evolving

spiritual and ethical commitments of the UU community, emphasizing inclusivity, justice,

and interdependence. Several members of our congregation engaged in those conversations and surveys.


Phase 3: Proposal Development and Initial Review (Early 2023) By early 2023, the

Commission presented a draft proposal incorporating community feedback. This draft

emphasized core values such as Equity, Generosity, Interdependence, Justice, Pluralism, and Transformation, all centered around the guiding principle of Love. The draft was shared for further review and refinement, allowing for additional community feedback and revisions. We hosted two conversations at First Parish, which were not well attended, moving delegates to take the opportunity to engage in one-on-one conversations with congregants to gauge their feelings about the proposal.


Phase 4: General Assembly Presentation and Amendments (June 2023) During the 2023 General Assembly (GA), the proposed revisions were presented to delegates. This stage involved detailed discussions, debates, and the opportunity to propose amendments. The process highlighted the participatory nature of the UU tradition, with delegates engaging deeply with the proposed changes. We sent Yaakov Trek Reef and Teresa English as Delegates. Both Delegates voted to move the discussion forward.


Phase 5: Final Approval and Implementation (2024) The revised Article II received overwhelming support, with more than a two-thirds majority (80.2%) of delegates voting

in favor during the 2024 GA. The new statement of values, now officially part of the UUA

bylaws, marks a significant milestone in our collective journey. It reaffirms our commitment to living out our values in a changing world, guided by the enduring power of Love. We sent Jeanne Landers and Yaakov Trek Reef as Delegates. Of our two elected Delegates, one voted in favor of the proposal and one voted against it. Our Director of Religious Education, Barbara Moloney, voted in the affirmative. Based on conversations in the congregation, we believe this vote adequately reflected the feelings in our congregation toward the changes.


The approval of the revised Article II is more than a procedural update, I believe it is a

profound reaffirmation of our shared mission and vision. The 7 Principles will forever remain a part of our foundation and the updated Values statement will guide our actions and decisions, reflecting our dedication to justice, inclusivity, and community. As we move forward, we will focus on integrating these values into our congregational life and broader social justice efforts.


Remember, though the vote was 80.1 - 19.8 - 0.08, we are 100% Unitarian

Universalists. How we move forward together matters. As the Rev. Victoria Safford so

eloquently put it during GA, “However we vote, we put love at the center, unflinching,

insistent: this free faith we so cherish reveres the past and trusts the dawning future

more. We believe in evolution—unfolding always, not unraveling—and revelation is not

sealed.” 


May we listen to one another more deeply, so that we can hear revelation as it is

revealed in each of our stories. And as our faith continues to evolve, I look forward to

how Article II will evolve with us over the next 15 years. 


Trek Reef

Delegate




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