Tuesday, June 28, 2011

FYI, Apps!

Just FYI, the UUA is in the process of designing a UU app.  A couple of weeks ago they put out a page where you can submit ideas.  As is often the case, however, I can't find it easily by searching for it through the UUA's page.  Problem number one is that "phone" and "app" are too common.  "Submit ideas for mobile phone app" doesn't turn it up, either.  Fortunately, I have found it for you.  It's at http://www.uua.org/about/184350.shtml

But, if you can't wait to see what the UUA will turn out, the Church of the Larger Fellowship just put out a very nice app, "Quest for Meaning."  The Android version is available; the iPhone version may still be "coming soon."  It was free when I downloaded it during GA, and features four options -- reading joys and sorrows, posting a joy or sorrow, lighting a chalice (along with a reading), and podcasts.  It's a nifty little thing.  I found it hard to located.  In my apps store, I searched under "Quest" and then under "Unitarian" and then finally found it by searching for either "Quest Unitarian" or "Quest Church of the Larger Fellowship" -- I can't remember which. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Blogging GA: Plenty O' Plenaries

This morning's plenary sessions at the UUA General Assembly dealt with several housekeeping bylaw changes (some of which will have to be voted on at next year's "Justice GA"), and the Actions of Immediate Witness.  Four AIMs were proposed, and three passed.  Interestingly, the one that didn't pass was on opposing the war in Afghanistan.  Arguments against ranged from that it's not an immediate issue (since it's been going on so long) to that it instructs us to instruct the people of Afghanistan in how to run their country, which is inappropriate.  It's significant to note that a similar AIM was rejected last year at the General Assembly.  But both of these also follow on the heels of the 2010 Statement of Conscience on Creating Peace.  AIMs have to pass by a 2/3 majority.  The AIM on the war was so close that our moderator had to call for the vote three times before it was clear that it didn't pass.  Those we did pass were on supporting supermarket workers in California, protesting the Peter King hearings on "Muslim radicalization," and opposing the "Citizens United" Supreme Court decision. One of those was by a pretty close margin. 

Later in the day, after I had already left, the General Assembly passed some interesting Responsive Resolutions.  Apparently I am urged to go learn Spanish, as are you.  Let's do that.  Seriously.  I'm sure I can take classes at JCC.  And next year at GA there will be no AIMs.  I think this might be something we're sorry about later, but hopefully not.  And then the following year and thereafter we're limited to 3 AIMs per year, rather than six, for the delegates to vote on.  What worries me about that is that I think the way we decide which ones go before the delegates are which ones get the most signatures, which may just mean that the ones proposed by the most efficient or persistent people, not really the most popular, are what we'll end up seeing.  This year, for example, I signed a petition for an AIM titled "Solidarity" that was on workers and unions, but it didn't apparently get enough signatures for us to see it in the plenary.  Was this because not enough delegates were interested in the subject, or because the person gathering signatures wasn't persistent enough?  I may never know.  So the AIM process is definitely problematic to begin with.  Hopefully the changes made today made it better, not worse.  I know others felt like the AIMs were not researched enough, and sometimes poorly written. But I don't see how lowering the number we can vote on improves that necessarily.  Nobody, I think, is reading the whole proposed AIM before signing the petition. 

Well, that's it for GA for this year.  I've left Charlotte.  Now we'll just have to see if I can learn enough Spanish plus do everything else we're urged to do to make ourselves ready for Phoenix next year.  It's a tall order, I think.  I'm already trying to figure out what will happen to my child in GA childcare if I'm arrested.  I think they add on an additional charge for every 5 minutes you're late picking up...  Meanwhile, send me the links to everything we're supposed to be doing to ready ourselves.  No, this isn't cynicism, I really do take this seriously, but let's also remember that there are people sometimes new to our movement and sometimes of limited means who join us at GA, and not be too high in our demands, too, okay?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Blogging GA: Meadville Lombard

As a Meadville Lombard Theological School alum, one of the regular GA events I attend is the Meadville Lombard alumni dinner.  After everything Meadville Lombard has been through this year, I wasn't sure what the mood would be of the room this year.  Often the event is a mixture of school pride, nostalgia as we hear 25 years and 50 years in the ministry speakers, and silliness as we hassle the president or scribe and bark (literally--it's a long story) our approval for various statements or motions. 

This year, after Meadville Lombard has sold its historic building and cancelled the plans to join with Andover Newton in forming a new theological university, and has now leased space in the Chicago loop area (location still mostly undisclosed, but alums are in the know now).  It's been such a whirlwind year that when you go to www.meadville.edu, you land now on their news page -- that's what they're putting first on the web, because it's so significant.  Compare that to the front page of Starr King's at www.sksm.edu -- you get the picture.

So what was the atmosphere?  We're mourning the loss of 5701 S. Woodlawn -- the Curtis Room, the Stairwell, the Stacks.  But beyond that, there's a cautious optimism.  I think the alumni are largely glad not to be worried about losing identity in this institution with Andover Newton, and glad for Meadville Lombard to be going it alone and to be self-sufficient.  We're also glad that there's now, finally, an answer to the question of where Meadville Lombard's physical home will be, and that it will be in Chicago.  Our reservations are mostly around things that have already been in place for a while -- the touch point program and the loss of the strong relationship to the University of Chicago that was there in days past.  The touch point program is a big change from the residential program most of us went through, but it's been going on a couple of years, and the students (as well as faculty and supporters) are speaking of it as a strong program that's meeting all their needs and doing what it needs to do. 

I was cautiously optimistic heading in.  I come out of the Meadville Lombard annual event much more hopeful and with a lighter heart. 

President Lee Barker invited us as alumni to come by 5701 this fall and say goodbye to the building.  I'm thinking I want to take him up on that.  It's only a three hour drive from Jackson to Chicago, so it would be easy to make it a day trip or an overnight trip.  They have a very nice blog for sharing memories of our home in Hyde Park, but I think I need to make the pilgrimage. 

Blogging GA: Social Media

There were only a couple of workshops on social media this year at General Assembly, and one of them was at the same time as another big lecture I wanted to attend the other day, so I happily grabbed the one today that was sandwiched between the plenary sections.  It was led by four ministers who talked about how they use social media.  What was really nice was that they all saw use of social media as a valid piece of ministry -- not just something they do on the side -- and they also talked about how it shows the congregation a different side of the minister, through seeing snarky blog posts or goofy cat videos or exposure to the different interests and social groups a minister interacts with.  And they all seemed to think this was largely positive for congregations to see this side of ministers.  As someone who has friended congregation members on Facebook, I have to agree.  My facebook friends see more of me than they would otherwise, and that's largely good.  (Although an amusing question came up about seeing the minister in online dating communities -- a question that's pretty touchy, considering the topics of discussion at UUMA these days.  For more on that, see my last few blog posts.) 

One fun thing about this workshop was seeing other people I know from social media and seeing them interact with each other, and then having our workshop itself interact with social media when one of the presenters took a picture of the crowd and posted it to Facebook.  The picture isn't wide enough to see me, but she tagged me anyway (I'm Facebook friends with 3/4 of the presenters), so if you're on Facebook with me, check it out.  We're all being flaming chalices for her.  (Please be aware that I don't friend UUs from other congregations unless I have a secondary connection with them in some way, like friends or relatives or working together on something where Facebook connection would facilitate things.)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Blogging GA: Ethical Eating

Today the UUA General Assembly had one main issue before them in the short (comparatively) plenary session: to vote on the proposed Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating.  There were two main debates that were held about the SOC.  The first was about the elephant in the UUA room: classism.  The proposal put before us in plenary included two lines that urged us to tell food sellers and producers that we will buy and pay more for ethically produced food.  One fellow from my own economically devastated state of Michigan urged people to vote against the SOC because of this.  He shared with the gathered delegates that while he wishes he could pay more for food to follow ethical eating guidelines, he's on food stamps.  As another person put it, it's all about the math. 

The second issue was around a sentence that says, "Minimally processed plant-based diets are healthier diets."  The complaint was that this speaks for everyone, and calls on all UUs to be vegetarian.  We heard from people saying that it's simply not true that vegetarian diets are better for everyone -- one woman spoke of her partner, a previously committed vegetarian, who was forced to add meat to her diet to survive due to increasing food allergies and other health issues.  Another person said he just didn't believe that vegetarianism wasn't always the most healthy option for everyone.  One person argued that the focus of the sentence was on the issue of processed foods.  Yet another argued that the sentence talked about plant-based diets not vegetarianism, and that meat can be included in a plant-based diet.  An amendment to strike this sentence was proposed, and struck down. 

Later, we went back to those lines about money, and an amendment was made to strike them, and was passed with no argument. 

Unlike Actions of Immediate Witness, which are proposed at General Assemblies and voted on at the same one, the Statements of Conscience we pass are much longer and thoughtful procedures.  Ethical Eating started as a study-action issue for congregations, and then out of that process comes the statement of conscience.  That this is now a statement of conscience makes it an important document for our faith, and UUs might be interested to read it and consider what it asks of us as individuals and congregations.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blogging GA: More on Ministers and the Code & Standards

Okay, so I've now figured out what was unclear to me before.  Here's what we've voted in that is now in our "Standards of Professional Practice" (our unenforced part of the document, or "best practices):

G. Personal or Romantic Relationships
1. A minister of a congregation, or a community minister affiliated with a congregation, who engages in personal friendship or pursues a romantic attraction with a member or participant of that congregation, or whose family members or existing friends join or participate in that congregation, must take into account the following considerations:
 a. Such relationships will change the dynamics of the congregation as well as of the ministry, potentially in negative ways that may persist beyond that minister’s tenure.
 b. Members of the congregation who have special relationships with the minister must often refrain from positions of visible leadership or systemic influence for which they might otherwise be eligible.
c. It may be advisable for a potential romantic partner to refrain from visible leadership or systemic influence for which they might otherwise be eligible in the congregation, agency or enterprise, at least until the nature of the relationship with the minister is clearly established and can be made public.
 2. Ministers who pursue such relationships should seek and heed the advice of colleagues as to how the conduct of that relationship may affect their ministries and their congregations.
 3. It is unfair and destructive to congregations for the minister to ask them publicly to accept a succession of several romantic partners, whether or not these partners have been previously connected to the congregation.
4. Community ministers should be guided additionally by the expectations of the agencies or enterprises where they work, and by the standards of professional organizations to which they may belong, regarding the establishment of personal friendships or romantic relationships with those they serve.
 5. In all cases, ministers must be careful not to take advantage of those they serve, or damage the integrity of the congregation, agency or enterprise in which they serve.

And here's the stronger language under review (with the agreement that the final language would avoid he/she language in preference to the use of "they" as a non-gendered third person single pronoun.  The justice advocate in me agrees.  The grammarian still has problems with the singular use of "they" and would prefer other work-arounds such as consistent use of a full noun or pluralizing of the entire sentence):

1. A minister who initiates or responds to sexual contact, sexualized behavior, or a sexual relationship with any person he/she serves or serves with professionally must take into account that such relationships will change the dynamics of the congregation/work site as well as of the ministry, potentially in negative ways that may persist beyond that minister’s tenure.
2. A minister who initiates or responds to sexual contact, sexualized behavior, or a sexual relationship with any person he/she serves or serves with professionally agrees to:
 a. Either the minister or the other person will leave the congregation/site of ministry for 6 months before the relationship can be pursued
 b. Fully disclose to the potential romantic partner the implications for that person of a relationship with the minister, including the change that the person could lose his/her congregation or work site regardless of the success of the relationship.
 c. Fully disclose such decision to the chapter Good Officer of the UUMA.
d. Fully disclose such decision to the congregation/work site if at the end of 6 months the relationship is pursued
 3. It is unfair and destructive to congregations for the minister to ask them publicly to accept a succession of several romantic partners, whether or not these partners have been previously connected to the congregation.
4. Community ministers are guided additionally by the expectations of the agencies or enterprises where they work, and by the standards of professional organizations to which they may belong, regarding the establishment of sexual contact, sexualized behavior, or a sexual relationship with any person served professionally.
5. In all cases, ministers must be careful not to take advantage of those they serve, or damage the integrity of the congregation, agency or enterprise in which they serve.

It may also be under review for the "Code of Professional Conduct" (the enforceable part of our document) to read: "I will not engage in sexual contact, sexualized behavior, or a sexual relationship with any person I serve professionally."  That piece of it was still confusing.  We didn't vote on this, I believe, but it seems like adding this is the goal that we're still working towards.

At any rate, what is clearly the difference between what was voted in and what is under review is that what was voted in has much more to do with the role of the minister's partner in 1.a-1.c., and the review version is very explicitly laying out steps that should be followed if a minister is to date a member of the congregation in 2.a.-2.d.  While we'll take this year to review it, I think the proposed version is very good, and these steps of contacting good offices, ending the pastoral relationship, and disclosing to the congregation, are important and necessary.  People might argue over the six month period, I suppose. And I can certainly see that if one was dealing with a very new member to the congregation that this might be excessive, but this is also "best practices" and, as such, in consultation with good offices, it seems that sort of case-by-case situation could be negotiated. 

Special thanks to James Kubal-Komoto whose comment on my last post prompted me to go back and read through it all to understand it.  Balancing my laptop on my knee and trying to see where the differences in the two versions were proved not to be the most effective way for me to do business.  Now that I can look side-by-side, the situation is more clear.  That one sentence deal in the whole explanation threw me off and was, I think, unnecessarily confusing, but perhaps only to me. 

Blogging GA: Thursday

Today I dropped my daughter off at the UU Kids Camp for the first time.  She had a good day; they took a field trip to the science museum.  She's in the camp for three days, and it's field trips each day.  I confess to a little disappointment around this.  I've been so longing for her to have a UU camp experience.  (See this article from a UU World blog on more about UU kids camps.)  It seems like this great opportunity at General Assembly to have a camp that's integrated around UU principles and heritage and to tie it to our values.  What is in fact the case is they contract the kids camp job out to a local child care provider to run.  I suppose this is not the primary goal of GA, to provide UU experiences for children, but it's a wasted opportunity, if you ask me.  All the same, I hope to continue doing this bringing my daughter to GA and putting her in the camp, hoping that I'll have additional opportunities to expose her to the larger world of UUism beyond the local congregation.  She went with me to the Banner Parade last night and will walk the exhibit hall later in the week.  We watched a bit of the Service of the Living Tradition together tonight.  So those pieces of UUism will still sink in, perhaps.  And if it doesn't, well, at least the kids camp was fun, eh?

After dropping the girl off at camp, it was a workshops day all day today.  In the past, the days have been a mixture of plenary and workshops.  This year plenaries are all stacked into the weekend, with the workshops packed into Thursday and Friday.  I see the logic in this model, but I'm not enjoying it.  It makes for a long day if the two aren't mixed. 

One workshop I went to today was the first part of a two-part series by Galen Guengerich on "Church of the New Millennium: Formula for Failure."  I'll probably miss part two, because it's in the same slot as Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.  Guengerich structured his remarks around an imagined future in which his daughter's grandchild is writing a thesis about why Unitarian Universalism failed and disappeared.  He suggests that she would write that it's because we were "spiritual but not religious." 

I'm reminded of when I was asked while interviewing for my current ministry whether I was "spiritual or religious."  "Religious," was my response.  I love the institution of Unitarian Universalism.  That's what's so wonderful about being at General Assembly -- it's an embodied representation of this great thing that is Unitarian Universalism that I love.  I love the moment the gavel is pounded during the opening plenary and the General Assembly is declared to be in session.  I love the swirling frenzied excitement of the banner parade.  I love running into colleagues between sessions and catching up or exchanging hugs.  I love shopping around the exhibit hall.  I love my mind and heart being stretched in program and worship.  Heck, I even love discussions about our bylaws.

Guengerich expanded on what he meant by religious and spiritual, but you need to go hear it for yourself when it's available, as I'm sure it will be.

Today concluded with the Service of the Living Tradition, in which ministers and religious educators are honored for their service.  Ministers who have passed are listed in the "roll call," and ministers receive preliminary and final fellowship, and are acknowledged when they retire.  Similar milestones for religious educators are marked.  I needed to go back to the hotel so I could be around my little one for one evening, since my next two are booked, and I needed to hear how kids camp went, so I opted to watch the service on line.  It was clear from the service itself and from the comments of my colleagues on Facebook as well that this was the best service in years.  The feed went in and out a bit (probably the hotel connection), but the sermon was awesomely good.  Everybody seems to love that this year instead of admonishing people not to cheer and clap, this year it was encouraged.  Every bit of the service was just right on.  If you want to know what a Service of the Living Tradition is and what it means, watch this one.  I can't remember a better one, including those in which I got preliminary and final fellowship (one of which was pretty darn good, one of which was awful, and I won't say which here on the blog).  This was it.  Seriously.  This was religion.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blogging GA: Ministry Days

Today was "Ministry Days" (a misnomer, because it's one day and one evening, really).  The two highlights for me of Ministry Days are the 25/50 worship service and the Ministerial Conference at Berry Street.  The 25/50 worship service features a speaker from that group of ministers who have been in the ministry 25 years, and also one from that group who have been in the ministry 50 years.  It's always a delight to hear their stories of their experiences and how things have changed and yet been the same.  We have a similar thing at the Meadville Lombard Theological School alumni dinner, which will be later in the week.  Can you imagine about 800 Unitarian Universalism ministers singing "Turn the World Around"?  (We were some fewer than that, I think, but I can't remember the number.  The total number of UU ministers is now in the 1700s.)

The Berry Street lecture is, we were informed, the oldest running lecture in the United States.  It was started by William Ellery Channing in 1820.  I can't explain the exact words shared of what the purpose of the Berry Street lecture is, but my understanding is that the person giving it is called to bring a new understanding around an issue of their choice to the UU ministers assembled.  For example, Mark Morrison-Reed in 2000 talked about how we leave congregations.  His discussion was fresh and informative, and I know congregations that have used his Berry Street words as study when their minister is leaving.  Today the Rev Dr. Deborah J. Pope-Lance took us to task on an issue that's been plaguing our ministry for decades--clergy misconduct.  It was incredibly timely.  The UUMA has been wrestling with what language to have in their code of conduct for, well, a very long time.  We had voted in some new language this morning, in fact, with an immediate amendment of stronger language following right on its heels.  The tension is our ministry is between those who believe it is always wrong for a minister to get involved with a member of his or her congregation, and those who say that if done carefully and openly, ministers can and have built successful marriages with members of their congregations, and for single ministers in isolated locations, it's unreasonable for them not to be able to pursue romantic relationships within their congregation.  Pope-Lance made it very clear that we need to take a hard line here.  And in an increasing number of states in the U.S. it's already illegal for a minister to get sexually involved with a congregation member.

The votes this morning that we took were very confusing--it seemed like we voted to put certain language into place and then voted to study that exact same language for a year.  I'm still sorting that out.  But whichever it is, what seems to be in place for UU ministers starting now or soon is a best practices recommendation (not enforceable) that says that before ministers get sexually involved with someone in the congregation, that person must leave the congregation, or the minister must leave the congregation, for a period of six months.  The minister must inform the UUMA Good Offices person.  And then after six months, the relationship can be pursued, but the congregation must also be informed.  There are a lot of further details, but that's the heart of it.  And there's less detailed language in the enforceable part of our code, but that's where, I think, we're still also working on strengthening up the language. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blogging GA: Ministry Days & Chapter Leader Training

I got into Charlotte, NC yesterday afternoon for the 50th annual UUA General Assembly, which begins tomorrow evening.  Before GA begins, however, there are "Ministry Days," and before Ministry Days this year there is Chapter Leader Training, which began yesterday evening and continued through the day today.  As Heartland Chapter President, and still feeling my way around the job, it was a welcome opportunity to hear what other chapters were doing well and where we all were struggling -- mostly around membership questions, welcoming, and technology.  It's become clear to me that something we need is a Chapter Connections/Technology officer in the Heartland.  Luckily, I seem to have found someone for the job, and it's not me.  Members of our chapter will not be surprised at the wonderful techie colleague who has indicated her willingness to step forward.

Don Southworth, the UUMA Director, started us off in worship today at Chapter Leader Training by talking about those moments when we feel really blessed to be able to do the work we do.  It was a feeling echoed in our opening worship for Ministry Days when our Charlotte Colleagues reminded us how blessed we are in this work.  And, yes, when we get together at this time of year we like to tell stories of how busy we were and how tired we are.  But it's an amazing gift to get to do this work.  And what a joy, really, to be together here with all these wonderful UUs engaged in the work of faith and love and justice.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Letter to the Editor

My letter to the editor today in response to this article.  Don't read the comments to the article if you don't want to feel sick or angry.  I'm sure if you read the CitPat you'll see the article within the week.  They're very good about printing letters, and I haven't written one in a while.

Dear Editor,
            Your article on the Gay Straight Alliance at Columbia High School quotes people saying “They shouldn’t get to push it down other students’ necks” and “If you support your homosexuality, then we shall support our heterosexuality.” 
            First, heterosexuality is universally supported—at every church, school, and family, and by the state.  These things aren’t labeled “heterosexual” because it’s the dominant norm.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, too, support their heterosexual relatives, classmates, teachers, and friends.  The Gay STRAIGHT Alliance also supports heterosexuals.
            Second, how is supporting students by allowing them to be themselves “pushing it” at people?  By this argument, prom is a great big celebration of heterosexuality which pushes it at LGBT students.  LGBT students interact with heterosexuals constantly without complaining if they openly declare it. 
LGBT students often experience bullying.  They are much more likely to be tossed out of their homes by their parents and out of churches by pastors.  They face a constant barrage of mistreatment and need this support.  Only two schools in our county have a GSA.  I’m aware of only one Jackson community organization for LGBT people (PFLAG), and only one Jackson-area church openly and explicitly welcoming LBGT people (mine).  That’s four oases of support in a very large and often hostile region for these youth.
            Arguments against range from “I was bullied; I survived,” to “Bullying is unlawful; GSAs are unnecessary” to “They deserve it.”  It’s outrageous to argue against bullied students coming together in support.  Violence against children is always wrong.  Creating environments that love and support all children is always right.  It’s really that simple.  The best rules, like the Golden Rule, always are.
            The simple solution if you don’t like the GSA: Don’t join. 
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Landrum
Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty