Last week, a delegation of 14 Foothills members joined in for some or all of the 2015 UUA General Assembly in Portland Oregon. This annual gathering of over 5,000 representatives from Unitarian Universalist congregations across the US includes worship, learning workshops, lectures, reports, and the business of the association (think: giant congregational meeting) – plus the often-best-part of connecting with UUs from across the country in informal ways over the course of 4 full days.
It was a wonderful General Assembly in the great city of Portland, and we hope to offer the congregation lots of ways to hear back from us about our take-aways. However, to get us started, I asked everyone to send in their “top 3” things off the top of their head that they felt everyone should know based on their experiences. So, we’ll start here with that list and then look for more in-depth info coming soon. Most of the general parts of GA are captured on streaming video, so if you’re anxious to learn more sooner than that – go to UUA.org and search for General Assembly.
- From a graceful presentation by UU Buddhists comes the idea that when a contentious debate becomes too heated, ask the group for a couple of minutes of silence and then to join the dialogue in a more loving manner. This was practiced by the GA moderator in the final general session.
- The worship services were moving and restorative – especially the International Worship Service, with participation from several countries, and wonderful music; but also the CLF worship service and the Sunday morning worship service with the GA choir and a moving sermon.
- It was joyful to meet UUs from around the country and around the world.
- From a workshop on “Building Contemplative Practices”: Carrying the sacred into everything we do, bring a spirit of contemplation to our every day actions. “bring spirit to the work and make it holy.”
- Many rich, diverse sources of practices, music (Taize chanting, Sufi Zikur chants, Kirtan, Buddhist, Kundalini, Muslim chants) and collaboration for our Services(especially Vespers!).
- From a workshop on Non-Violent Communication (source:Marshal Rosenberg):
- All actions arise from (a beautiful) need
- When in conflict
- Pause – Get yourself under control
- Connect to your unmet needs(empathy for self)
- Connect to the unmet needs of the other(empathy for other)
- Seek solutions grounded in empathy
From workshop on “branding” (speaking of millenials): people join a cause, not a club.
From Kathleen Dean Moore – philosopher and author: A moral problem calls for a moral response and the church is an institution of moral affirmation. Our work is to set the moral context – we have an obligation to protect the earth and climate change is a failure of reverence, a betrayal of our children and an issue of justice (the poor of the earth are disproportionately affected adversely by the excesses of the richer).
People I met have a positive impression of Foothills. In particular, our work with small groups and Share the Plate projects – I think we will be seen as a resource.
- Building relationships and respect at the intersections of cultures: As we engage partners in the wider community, how do we advance our values of multicultural growth and witness in social justice work with those who may differ with us on important issues? After attending a fascinating multiculturalism workshop at GA in Portland, where we learned tools for advancing equality, I was having breakfast in a small logging and sawmill town café when news broke on Fox News of the marriage equality SCOTUS decision. I was struck by the irony of the situation when our pleasant meeting of strangers evolved into some tension as TV coverage sucked up the oxygen in the café, as contrasted with the jubilation I imagined among UUs in the Oregon Convention Center. The lesson and challenge for me is to keep trying, learning and exercising leadership to further our love and values in activities such as One Village One Family and Faith Family Hospitality with people of different faith traditions and values. Or just enjoying the experiences engaging with folks over breakfast at the local café. We can help “Get to Yes” with our shared interests and community partners, even when we have trouble agreeing on every important issue.
- From Alison Miller’s powerful sermon in the Sunday morning worship: the stories we tell matter – they shape our vision of ourselves and how we feel hopeful or hopeless. With any set of “facts”, we have a choice in how we construct that story and tell it to give the “story” its power.
From the Berry Street Lecture by Sean Dennison, this question: “For whom does your heart break?”
From a workshop on “Talking the Walk: Speaking Justice in the Language of our Faith”–the idea that we don’t check our reason at the door when we enter church, but we often check our spirituality at the door on our way out into the world (especially when we engage in social justice work). The workshop leaders then took us through an exercise to help us reframe our social justice commitments in language tied explicitly to our Unitarian Universalist faith.
From a workshop on “Habits of Humility and congregational teams as learning communities” – A culture of humility is a culture where no one is the expert. There are 3 viruses that show up in our congregation: 1. Scoring – someone tries to be the smartest in the room; 2. Sneering – sarastic comments about others who “don’t get it”; and 3. Shaming – directly calling out people who “don’t get it.”
From the same workshop – spiritual strength in the congregation – Have a commitment to learn together.This requires: Willingness to be vulnerable and a covenant to hold that tend space; trust in leaders, curiosity, openness to what is unseen an unknown, engagement with difference, and resilience. While learning as a community we hear how other people learn new topics, everyone is a learner and a teacher, and we are multi-generational.
From a workshop on “Leaderly leadership – Accountable Leadership” – The session was most powerful when Marlin Lavanhar spoke (also reference everything he shared in his Thursday Service of the Living Tradition sermon). He shared that intentionality is what we do – who we put on our board, how we advertise, where we advertise – why are we doing this, is this the right person at the table? We need to increase people’s ability to sit with discomfort, while always making sure they will be beloved and safe, just not always comfortable. Be aware how your intention can have a hard impact. He shared how their congregation has transformed over the past 15 years, 71/2 years a mainly liberal white congregation, then merged with a Pentecostal congregation which how they have existed in the past 7.5 years. On Sundays they offer 3 different services: humanist, tradition, and “Unicostal” service. Lastly: Love the stranger, love the other – doesn’t mean liking. In the spirit of Loving Beyond Belief – welcome all who welcome all. You do not need to like or believe what others believe or like them to love them.
As the Foothills world turns, as the Foothills pendulum swings….Our family was attracted in 2001 to our Foothills community in part because of its intellectual past and then-present humanist perspectives. It was good to touch base at GA in Portland with the UU Humanists. These past few years at Foothills have been a transition with some interesting, yet uncomfortable changes. And although I still identify as a religious humanist, I also welcome our more “heart,” and “spiritual” communications while expanding our concepts of theological diversity in our Foothills community. As my support for a free pulpit in UU churches sometimes contrasts with my wincing when our heavier holy language feels like “fingernails on a chalkboard,” I maintain that our close relationships and sense of community will help us work through a new normal. Hopefully, as our ministerial searches continue, we will seek people with complementary skills and abilities who can serve our diverse community within our available resources, while realizing that trying to do so is a particularly difficult job.
The Power of Foothills connections with the regions and the UUA – The Portland GA was the second I have attended, following the Salt Lake City GA in 2009. As we attended sessions, met old friends and made new ones, the value of our wider UU relationships was reaffirmed. We can learn much from our fellow congregations and ministers about how to make progress in social justice work, running our church organizations well (also known as “church governance” – not a scary phrase, by the way!), and strengthening our relationships in our Foothills community, Northern Colorado and the wider world. The process of growing into our future can be eased by building those relationships and drawing on lessons learned by our new friends who have already navigated many of these issues. Yes We Can!From a workshop on “Congregational Polity for a Beyond Congregations Age” – we have been congregational in polity much longer than we have been liberal in theology. Polity is the way churches are connected to each other, sets of beliefs, doctrines, and structures that hold local churches together. Spirituality can be practiced alone; religion cannot. People no longer feel being claimed is important – membership is going down. Joining and covenanting is like wedding and marriage. Joining and wedding happens once. Covenanting and marriage is continuous. A community that accepts an individual act as connect is creating a community of isolation – people want to be connected, but membership is not the only way to do that. How do we do that? With covenant. With the larger UU movement.
- From a session on adult faith formation – we need opportunities every Sunday for seekers to “drop in” and learn about the culture of the church.
From the session on domestic violence I was reminded that one in four women have been or will be in their lifetime the victim of physical or sexual violence. I was asked to change practices in my congregation as a result of this fact. I concluded that we need to train our pastoral care volunteers on how to recognize indicators of victimization and how to respond appropriately and that a sermon on what it feels like for women or men to be controlled by men in their home or job would be very helpful and could reach a broader audience than the pastoral team can identify. We were reminded that domestic violence is present in all congregations.
- I was quite taken with the energy and flow of the worship sessions, the great music with joined singing by all near 5,000 of us. Also how much black spirituals seem to speak to so many of us in words and music and emotions—so fitting for these times Also the great sermon by Rev. Allison Miller on Sunday morning.
From a session on engaging church members along a continuum of involvement comes the idea of having ten volunteers each take one church member to coffee each month, twelve each during a year. During this time the volunteer learns what the member is involved in at the church and what they want to do more of. This is not a pledge visit, but instead purely a time to get to know more members in a deeper way, to engage each member more and to thank them for their past involvement. This simple act helps the membership team, staff and ministers to better know 120 members each year while helping members to feel heard, appreciated and wanted.
“Let phones be smart… We need to be wise and strive for integrity.” From the Ware Lecture by Cornell West. I was so struck with it that I pulled out a pen and piece of paper to write it down.
From a session on Classism: We need to confront classism in our own congregations before we can accomplish true justice work outside our congregations, because so much of the justice work we identify includes some kind of classism. Class is not just how much money you have in the bank. It is related to education level, employment, income, speech, color, immigration, etc., etc., etc. People “pass’ for middle class to fit in. Just like we work to become Welcoming Congregations to the GLBTQI community, we need to work to understand and become welcoming to class differences.
From a session on Planned Giving: This is often the only opportunity a parishioner has to make a large (in their own terms) gift, and can strengthen the bond between the individual and the church. If you want congregants to include this final donation in their estate plans, you have to educate them, ask them, keep in touch, and recognize those who do in advance.
- From the Ware Lecture: We need to be a “Blues” people – which means not turning away from the pain or suffering of the world, but responding to it with love and hope.
- I think Cornel West’s major points on decency, integrity, honesty and virtue are worthy of discussion and a sermon here at home. I am reading his book Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism. I hope I can convince
one of the book groups we belong to to read this book.
- I attended many of the climate change groups and was glad to see many other UUs ready to work and act on this most threatening of issues. And that it was one of the four actions issues chosen.
- Also several of the workshops gave focus to the corporate capitalist structure of power and control that we all live in, something many people UU or not, still feel uncomfortable about naming the elephant in the room.
- The sermon from Marlin Lavanhar on Thursday night was maybe the most moving sermon I’ve ever heard from a Unitarian Universalist. A few highlights: “most people… including most of us… (including me) are more afraid than we let on…If coming to church means putting on our Sunday face and hiding all of this from one another and presenting a façade of self-reliance (well, pardon me Mr. Emerson) but who wants to go to that church?” “I’m willing to bet that most of us have something about ourselves that we would be scared to tell the people in our congregation… but that if we did tell and we found they still love and respect us, it would be incredibly healing for us and would free others to do the same. Now that sounds like a church I’d like to attend!” “But as I’ve begun to teach and preach from my mistakes, rather than always talking about my successes.”hile we’ve created a whole conference this year on the idea of discovering the “New Way”… I want to propose that it’s not a new way that we have to live into. It’s that we have to finally embody the fullness of the proposition which is the old way. We have yet to fully embrace the promise of our democratic, covenantal tradition.” YES YES YES