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dan harper

Final impressions of GA 2009

Standing on the Side of Love banner hanging on the Salt Palace
Standing on the Side of Love @ the Salt Palace

I’m about to go to bed, because I have to get up at three in the morning (heaven help me) to catch my train back east. Before I do, though, here are a few impressions of General Assembly 2009:

— The weather was just about perfect: dry, warm but not too hot, and a couple of thunderstorms to keep it from getting boring. I have a theory that when the weather is perfect, there are fewer major conflicts at General Assembly — and indeed, this year I have heard of no erupting conflicts.

— The schedule was grueling. I had noticed that I was feeling particularly tired, but I hadn’t thought about why until someone pointed out that the GA schedule had no consistency. Plenary happened at odd times, workshop slots got thrown in when you didn’t expect them, UU University required an exhausting commitment of six hours Thursday afternoon and four hours Friday morning. I found the lack of regularity draining.

— The election for the next UUA president seemed to dominate everything else. I didn’t hear many people talking about their workshops, but everyone seemed to have something to say about the election.

— UU University (UUU) got mixed reviews this year. Some people liked their UU University track, some people thought it a waste of time (Doug Muder says much the same thing). Two years ago, I heard nothing but glowing reviews of UUU; maybe it didn’t scale up very well? It will be interesting to read summaries of the evaluations of UUU.

So ends another GA. Now off to bed.

Liveblogging the Celebration of the UUA Presidential Candidates

8:35 p.m. MDT

Peter Morales has just released a statement on his Web site. Go here to read it.

8:30 p.m. MDT

That’s it. Final result: all uncontested candidates were elected. Peter Morales was elected the next UUA president with 59% of the vote.

8:28 p.m. MDT

The Rev. Tracy Robinson-Harris is leading us in the congregation in a responsive reading. I can feel myself calming down as more than two thousand people read together. Now John Hubert is leading us in the closing song, “For All That Is Our Life.”

Guess this means that neither Peter Morales nor Laurel Hallman will be speaking to us.

8:25 p.m. MDT

Heard around me: “I love this sermon, even though I’m not really listening.”

It’s a great sermon by Carley, but I know I’m too excited thinking of the election results to pay proper attention. But oh, he really is a good preacher. (more…)

Liveblogging Service of the Living Tradition

10:13 p.m. MDT

One of my favorite parts of a worship service is sitting and listening to the postlude after the worship service. I like hearing good music (tonight we’re getting something from Handel’s Water Music), while all the people around me are talking about the service, talking among themselves, talking about their families, heading out of the worship service and back to normal life.

10:11 p.m. MDT

The last of the professional religious leaders being recognized head off the stage. “Give ’em a last round of applause,” says Beth Miller. The congregation erupts in applause.

10:07 p.m. MDT

The recessional hymn is one of my favorites, “For All the Saints,” with music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. (I still say he’s the best writer of hymn tunes of the 20th century.) Another hymn that sounds particularly good when two thousand people sing it.

9:59 p.m. MDT

Mary Harrington’s voice is very soothing. Her voice is creating an almost meditative state in the congregation here — very much in line with part of what she’s saying in her sermon, which is that we all need to take time for quiet and reflection and awareness. (more…)

Liveblogging Plenary 3

5:10 p.m. MDT

And everyone heads off to the rally for immigrant rights….

5:05 p.m. MDT

There’s another motion to refer this motion back to the Commission on Social Witness. It needs a two-thirds vote. Gini Courter says the motion carries on a visual vote. “By a whisker,” says someone near me.

So the peacemaking SOC goes back to the Commission on Social Witness for additional study….

4:58 p.m. MDT

We’re getting into convoluted parliamentary procedures. Gini Courter says, “Now I’ve even confused our general counsel.” She explains, tries to call for a vote, but now the parliamentarian consults with her. The vote is on calling the question. The delegates vote to call the question. The vote to refeer the question failed to get two-thirds vote. Back to the amendment microphone.

Some people still look confused (I’m one of them). But here we are, back where we were ten minutes ago….

4:53 p.m. MDT

A motion is been made to refer this whole motion back to the Commission on Social Witness. A few groans audible from the delegates. The motion to refer has to get a two-thirds vote…. (more…)

Liveblogging Candidates' Forum II

1:25 p.m. MDT

I just got up and walked around the hall. It’s less than half full, but there’s a steady stream of people coming into the hall. I stopped to talk with some people I know. “We didn’t hurry our lunch,” they admitted, knowing that all the candidates speaking today were running in uncontested elections. But they came.

And as I walked around, I saw that nearly everyone was really paying attention. I didn’t even see anyone knitting. Democracy at work: people paying attention even during the less-than-exciting bits.

1:11 p.m. MDT

The candidates are making funny and brief statements. But as I look around, half of the delegates I see are reading their program books.

1:02 p.m. MDT

The hall is still more than half empty. There wasn’t much time for delegates to have lunch today… or maybe people just aren’t interested in the non-contested elections for UUA committees and Board slots.

Local flavor from Salt Lake City

Yesterday I found myself in Sam Weller’s, the oldest independent bookstore in Salt Lake City. It’s as good a bookstore as Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, which reveals something about the intellectual life of Salt Lake City. There was a television crew there conducting interviews, because Sam Weller, the owner of the store, had died that day. I overheard the interviewer asking a girl of about ten years old, “So what does Sam Weller’s mean to you?” Very eloquently, she told how important books were for her, and how much she likes to go to that bookstore. She sounded like a budding intellectual, with all that entails.

Later that evening, Rev. Tom Goldsmith, minister of First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City, welcomed delegates to the first session of Plenary. Among other things, he said that some state leaders look askance at Salt Lake City, because of the intellectual ferment of the city. “They call it ‘Sin City’,” he said.

If you think of Salt Lake City as a dour theocracy, you’ve gotten a wrong impression of the city. In the neighborhood of the convention center, I have found not just Sam Weller’s, but also art galleries, a film center, ethnic restaurants, and more. After experiencing a little bit of Salt Lake City, my only surprise is that there are only two Unitarian Universalist congregations in the city.

Opening worship

9:55 p.m. MDT

After a powerful homily by Angela Herrara, Ysaye Maria Barnwell is bringing to yet a deeper level of contemplation us with her song “We Are.” A few people are singing along quietly, but most of the people around me are simply moving to the music, letting this worship service sink in.

9:37 p.m. MDT

Clifford Duncan, an elder in the Ute nation, just offered a prayer in the Ute language. “In my prayer was my ancestors of yesterday, today, and those that’s yet to come,” he says upon concluding. People behind me are rapt, some leaning forward to hear.

9:24 p.m. MDT

Bill Sinkford is telling how the American Unitarian Association was given charge of the Northern Utes by the Grant administration in 1870. If you’re not watching live video of this, go now and listen to his talk. This is big stuff….

9:14 p.m.

We’re singing a song, and near me a couple of boys, about 7 and 9 years old, are dancing with a woman who might be their mother.

9:11 p.m. MDT

Eric Cherry introduces the “passing of the peace” as something that was done during Bill Sinkford’s trip to Africa, to meet the Unitarian Unviersalist congregations there. And now everyone in the congregation gets up to greet those around them, saying everything from “Peace be with you,” to “Hi, how are you?” to nothing at all. I’m seeing people hug, shake hands, or just talk to each other.

8:55 p.m. MDT

We’re singing the hymn “Spirit of Life” in four different languages: Spanish first, then Hungarian, then Khasi (a language of northeast India). I’m surrounded by people singing a little out of tune, and with a great variety of pronunciations of Spanish, but it’s still a profoundly moving experience.

Now a representative of the Unitarian church in Transylvania is singing “Spirit of Life” in Hungarian — and believe it or not, there are quite a few people singing along. I can hear what seems to be dozens of people singing along. When the representative from the Khasi Hills Unitarians of India sings, not so many people try to sing along.

8:35 p.m.

Lots of people leaving the hall, maybe for a bathroom break. Which is too bad, because Rev. Eric Cherry, director of International Relations at the UUA is introducing Rev. Mark Kiyimba, the leader of the Uganda Unitarian Universalists. Kiyimba is greeted with cheers, whistles, and applause.

Plenary I

8:32 p.m.

I turn to the person next to me. “That was a moving talk,” I say.

She says, “I’m an emotional dishrag.”

8:27 p.m.

Bill Sinkford is thanking all the people with whom he’s worked over the past eight years as the UUA president. “No solo acts,” he says, recognizing UUA staff, lay leaders, and others. He recognizes and thanks his wife and children as well. The audience is particularly quiet and attentive — except when they applaud. “This has been a journey of faith,” he says, referring to his term as president — and the crowd stands up and gives sustained applause, a few people waving to Sinkford.

“Thank you Mr. President,” says Gini Courter, “I think we love you.” I think most of those here in this crowd would agree with statement, after such a moving President’s report.

7:46 p.m.

There are two local reporters sitting a few seats away from me. They are listening intently as Bill Sinkford talks about how the UUA supports same sex marriage. “How many of you are from Iowa?” asks Bill Sinkford, “Raise your hands!” — and then he asks how many of those assemlbed are from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, all the states where same-sex marriage is legal. Bill Sinkford promises that the UUA will fight until same-sex marriage is legal in all states, a remark that is greeted by applause — and both reporters applaud, too. It will be interesting to read the local news coverage of General Assembly.

7:39 p.m. MDT

“Here for his eighth and final report to the General Assembly,” says Gini Courter, “the Rev. William G. Sinkford. Bill Sinkford comes to the microphone, and there’s a standing ovation for him, and in honor of his service.

7:24 p.m. MDT

Gini Courter is announcing that the only item of business for this first plenary session is to adopt rules of procedures. She goes over the various rules and procedures for conducting business. She shows where the pro and con microphones are, the amendment microphone, etc. etc. Boring stuff, but somehow Gini manages to make it entertaining, and actually gets some laughs out of the assembled delegates.

Gini introduces Gordon Martin, the General Assembly parliamentarian, who has been serving in that role for 40 years. He gets a round of aplause, and a few people actually stand up to applaud him. Where else would a parliamentarian get this kind of applause?

The delegates adopt the rule of procedure, and Gini says, “Yes, now celebrate your first vote.” Another laugh, and a few cheers.

Banner Parade

I’m sitting in the front row of the plenary hall. The band from the Salt Lake City church’s jazz vespers is playing some cool jazz, and the banner parade has begun.

People from all over the United States carrying banners from their Unitarian Universalist congregations — from Utah, from Colorado, from Devon, Pennsylvania, from Long Beach, California….

The people behind me are cheering the churches they know, shouting: “Yay Maryland! All Souls! Wooo!”

Now there are some people carrying a big white banner, with big bold red and blue letters, which reads: “IOWA: Where I Can Marry the One I Love.” This banner, recognizing that same-sex marriage is now legal in Iowa, brings lots of cheers from the crowd.

And the banner parade ends with UUA Moderator Gini Courter announcing, “I now call to order the 48th annual General Assembly….”