Monday, June 30, 2014

General Assembly 2014 -- Day 5

So it's all finally over. I wish it would never end but MAN am I glad it's over. As you can tell, I was so exhausted that it took me nearly a whole extra day to put this up but here we go...

For me, this was a day of deepening connections. Sunday Morning Worship was lovely and the last General Session and Closing Celebration were nice in spite of a somewhat sparse crowd, but what I'll remember about this day are things like platonic cuddles with a fellow Starr King seminarian during General Session/Closing Celebration and meeting for dinner to decompress with my fellow UU Miami delegates and the large gathering of young adults at a local bar for one last hurrah, complete with a spontaneous sing-along to "Wonderwall" and oodles of wonderful conversations and discussions.

It's difficult to gauge so soon after it's over, but this may well have been my favorite General Assembly I've ever been to, which almost seems impossible to fathom. What's even more mindblowing is that next year will probably be even BETTER when I come as a 2nd year seminarian for Ministry Days. Oh what a journey this Unitarian Universalism thing has been and will continue to be for a long, looong time.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

General Assembly 2014 -- Day 4

It almost seems hard to believe at this point (even though it wouldn't have been at all hard to believe before GA started) but today may have been my favorite day of GA. The workshops were fine. I caught the tail end of "The Art of Missional Church" and split the other time slot between "Many Roads, One Journey to Beloved Community" and "GA Talks: Looking Forward," both of which were very cool. Plenary (er, "General Session") was pretty cool just because the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to divest from fossil fuels.

Then it was time for the Ware Lecture. WOW. Sister Simone Campbell was AMAZING. Totally blew me away. She talked about "walking towards trouble" as an act of faith and shared some incredible stories she's heard while doing the work she does and it was simply awe-inspiring. If you weren't able to attend the viewing party at UU Miami, I highly, HIGHLY recommend going to the UUA website and finding the recording of her Ware Lecture and watching it several times. So beautiful.

After the lecture I killed some time and then bought Sister Simone Campbell's book and got it signed and took a photo with her which was awesome! Then I was off to a HUGE GA worship with The Sanctuary Boston that was far and away the highlight of my week (with the possible exception of The Sanctuary Boston's Wednesday night YA Opening Worship), particularly because they invited dozens of folks to be on stage to worship with them and I was one of them. What a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL service. I know I've already gone on and on about how amazing The Sanctuary Boston and David Ruffin are but MAN ARE THEY AMAZING. This was also in the General Session Hall so do yourself a favor and make SURE you watch the video. Indescribable.

After that was Waterfire, which was pretty awesome, but me and my friends were spent from worship so after enjoying Waterfire for about 20-30 minutes, we just hung out at a bar for a bit and then turned in for the night.

And yeah, it's kinda ironic that my so-called "favorite day of GA" was the one I wrote the least about but that's just how immensely powerful the Ware Lecture and Worship were and words fall way short of describing either of them. In about 14 hours all this will be over and, as usual, I will struggle with how I return to normal life but for this brief moment in time, everything is amazing and every drop of energy in my being is drained and I love my faith and the people that make it what it is more than I could possibly describe. I might even go as far as to say that this was the best GA I've been to yet. :)

Friday, June 27, 2014

General Assembly 2014 -- Day 3

So once again, today started off with another amazing worship service featuring the wonderful David Ruffin as well as the AMAZING Rev. Thandeka, who gave a BEAUTIFUL, heartfelt, passionate homily. That was just part one of the two-part "Gathered Here In the Mystery of Love" workshop. Part two was the actual workshop portion but there was also a lot of interpersonal sharing. One of the most powerful things we discussed was times when worship "fell short" for us and why and how we can make it so that it doesn't happen in our congregations. Rev. Thandeka spoke passionately about the three elements that are crucial to any worship service: 1. Music, 2. Spoken Words, and 3. Synchronicity between the Music and Words. And of course, we ended by singing. :)

Then it was time for"General Session." Nothing particularly exciting except that we DID choose a new Congregational Study/Action Issue for 2014-2018: "Escalating Inequality." SO happy that these folks dusted themselves off after "Exploring Class Barriers" lost a very close run-off to "Reproductive Justice" in 2012 and reframed and tried again. This is going to begin a great many conversations that BADLY need to happen in our faith right now and I'm incredibly excited to be part of what happens next!

General Session went quite a bit over time and pretty much everyone was really hungry at that point, so I went to get some [lunch? dinner? whatever] with my lovely new friend Katherine whom I had the pleasure of walking back to the dorms with from Trinity last night. We were soon joined by Bart and his lovely partner Amelia for some good food and wonderful conversation. After we ate, Katherine, Amelia, and I ran to catch the end of the short Young Adult vespers service which was lively and lovely and then Katherine and I got our seats for the Service of the Living Tradition.

Service of the Living Tradition was very cool even though it's kinda not really my thing. The sermon by Rev. Rebekah A. Montgomery was phenomenal. She shared some fascinating stories of her time as a military chaplain in Afghanistan. It was great but I was so exhausted and it wasn't really my style in terms of worship, especially after all the incredibly vibrant, heartfelt worship I've experienced this week. After the service, I walked on back to my dorm and now here I am typing this.

Tomorrow is the big day with WATERFIRE which will also be preceded by what I can only assume will be an AMAZING worship service put together by none other than The Sanctuary Boston. Definitely need to get some rest for that so with that I bid you all adieu until tomorrow!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

General Assembly 2014 -- Day 2

Day two started off pretty much the way day one ended: Worshipping with The Sanctuary Boston. WOW. Just...WOW. I know I've already ranted about them but goodness gracious these young folks can worship their ever-loving faces off. SO much singing and SOOO much heart and SOOOOO much love. It is so insanely beautiful what they do and it has been a gift and a blessing to have been a part of it. Rev. David Ruffin is my new hero. I gave him and many others involved with The Sanctuary Boston big, HUGE hugs after the "workshop" (that word doesn't do it justice--and really it was mostly straight up worship). Can't WAIT to see him do his thing AGAIN tomorrow in the two-part "Gathered Here In the Mystery of Love" worship/workshop!

I spent a little time walking around the Exhibit Hall for a while and introduced myself to Starr King Director of Recruitment, Rev. Jeremiah Kalendae. Great to finally meet him. Then I got some food and then went up to Starr King's "Sacred Activism: Heart-Opening Multireligious Exercises for Liberation" workshop with outgoing SKSM president Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker and Rev. Jeremiah as well as Starr King's Interim Director of Advancement Abbey Tennis (who also has a brilliant singing voice) and someone else whose name escapes me. Really interesting workshop going through a number of spiritually nourishing exercises from several religious traditions, including lots of beautiful singing and some wonderful chanting.

Wandered around chatting with some people for a while and then hit up a three-hour workshop entitled "AWAKE Ministries: A 21st Century Model for UU Worship" led by Rev. John T. Crestwell, among others, which was AMAZING. Veeery music-centered, much like The Sanctuary Boston, but much more gospel-styled music with a full band--many of whom are Christians--and a lot more "God language," (it is Rev. John T. Crestwell, after all) which I actually liked. I like the idea that UUs are (or should be) getting more comfortable with religious language than we have been. We're a religion, it's about time we act like it! The first half of the program was a beautiful, joyous worship service and then we took a short break and came back for the more workshop-y portion of the program where they discussed how they intentionally create deeply multicultural, multigenerational community in the home congregation of AWAKE Ministries in Annapolis, MD. Very, VERY interesting and useful stuff. I took lots of notes and I can't wait to get to work on implementing some of what AWAKE (and The Sanctuary Boston) are doing at UU Miami!

Wandered around a bit more. Hit up the exhibit hall again. Had a lovely chat with Abbey Tennis at the SKSM booth. Bought a few chalice necklaces and one of the lovely ladies there was nice enough to give me some cord for my bamboo chalice because the one it came with broke. She even threaded it and tied it up for me!

Around 6:30 I met up with Jenn Toth and a bunch of friends of hers at a nearby restaurant for some food and fellowship which was lovely. Then at 7:30 it was time for SYNERGY! This is always one of the highlights of GA for me and this time was no exception. Beautiful stories and beautiful singing and SO much joyous celebration from the bridging youth and their wildly supportive kin. I am always struck by an incredible sense of pride and awe and humility being in community with the amazing young people at General Assembly each year. They (we) truly are the future--but also the present!

After Synergy, a group of about seven young adults convened at a local bar for some "small group ministry" and seven turned into like 20 so fast we almost didn't notice. Got to chat with several people I truly love and respect a great deal (like the exceedingly lovely Raziq and my UU brother from another mother Jeremy) and had some particularly lovely conversation with GA Planning Committee Chair Bart Frost. The perfect end to another perfect day at GA! :)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

General Assembly 2014 -- Day 1

For me, today started yesterday.

I had a 7am flight out of Fort Lauderdale airport and the Super Shuttle was coming to pick me up at 4am. So OF COURSE I put off packing until the last minute and didn't even TRY to fall asleep until midnight. Even then, it just wasn't happening so I ate ice cream and watched Wayne's World and Heavy Metal.

By the time the Super Shuttle arrived, my eyes were heavy with sleep but no matter how sleepy I get, sleeping sitting up is a major struggle, particularly with my neck muscles. I drifted in and out of sleep for the two-hour flight to Washington, D.C. and then rushed to my gate to catch my connecting flight to Providence when who should I see but Standing On the Side of Love campaign manager Jennifer Toth! We chatted for a while and split a cab when we got to Providence. And then the sweating began.

Providence, you see, has a lot of hills. And, well, summer apparently means the same thing here as it does everywhere else because MAN is it hot and humid here. So I thought I was staying at RISD's "15 West" dorms (like they told me in my confirmation email...) but was told at check-in that I was booked at "Colonial House" instead. This was around noon. In the 15 or so minutes I spend wandering around the hilly wonderland of Providence, I became drenched in sweat and would continue to be until, like, 15 minutes ago when I took the mother of all cold showers. Because, spoiler alert: RISD dorms don't have A/C.

Anyway, once I found my dorm, I toweled off as best I could and set out to the convention center to catch Young Adult orientation. That was pretty cool. Didn't see as many old friends as I expected but there was a rousing Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament replete with cheering and chanting and hooting. After that I went and got registered and credentialed and all that good stuff and found some friends who were having drinks with the UU Seminarians Salon Facebook group. That was really great, talking to a few amazing seminarians (especially Rose and Schuyler) about our stories and our call to ministry and interesting papers we've written, all over beers and fries.

Then I went and checked in our very own UU Miami BANNER for the Banner Parade (yes, I FINALLY remembered to bring it this year) and then back to the room to towel off some more and then to Viva Mexico for some quick and cheap tacos before the Opening Celebration. I have to say, as much as I loved marching in the banner parade and as much of an honor as it was, and as wonderfully LONG as the parade was, I can't help feeling like I missed out on way too much of the Opening Celebration. Oh well, I got to see a good chunk of it and was especially blown away by the amazing display of lights and paper lanterns. BEAUTIFUL.

After that was the real highlight of the night. Took another long, sweaty walk over to First Unitarian Providence for the Young Adult Opening Worship featuring The Sanctuary Boston which was INCREDIBLE. These people have an amazing thing going, creating beautifully emotional, heartfelt, vulnerable, intensely musical and intensely meaningful worship. Absolutely blew me away. I can't wait for their workshop tomorrow when they'll teach us how they do it and how we can bring it back to our own congregations!

After that, walked back to my dorm, took the most EPIC cold shower of my life, and started typing this. Honestly, I might actually take another cold shower because it's still ridiculously stuffy in this room and that shower felt glorious. Yeah, I think I'll go do that right now. See you tomorrow, all! Blessed Be. <3 p="">

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Derrick's General Assembly Recap - Part 5 - SATURDAY/SUNDAY (Days 4 & 5: Conversations, ByLaws, Jim Crow, and Astonishment)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

SATURDAY started off inauspiciously with me (and not Jeremy) being woken up several times in the 6:00 am hour by Jeremy's cell phone alarm.  I tried putting the damn thing next to his head and he still wouldn't wake up.  Eventually I decided since I was up anyway, I'd go to Morning Worship.  It was alright, the content was interesting but overall I found it to be pretty uninspired.  The best part was making quiet conversation with Greg and becoming Twitter buddies.

After worship was Plenary, which included selection of potential Actions of Immediate Witness by voting to put 3 of the 6 proposed AIWs on the agenda, the Board of Trustees report and statements from the candidates for the Board, and debate and vote on bylaws amendments enabling regions.

After Plenary, Jeremy, Raziq, Sarah, Erik, Lincoln, and I went to lunch at Smash Burger and ended up having the most fascinating conversation that started out being about whether or not the Seven Principles constitute a "creed" or "doctrine" and whether or not it's a positive thing if they do and whether or not the Seven Principles are necessary for all Unitarian Universalists.  It ended up being about roughly a million other things but more importantly it ended up being about two amazing new friends and three deepened relationships.

After lunch, Raziq, Jeremy, Erik, and I hung out in the Exhibit Hall and talked some more with Connie, who is a UUA Congregational Life Consultant, which was quite interesting.  We also took a few minutes to vote in the elections while we were there.  Sadly, our candidate of choice for UUA moderator fell 40 votes short but Jim Key is a great guy so I'm not too concerned.

Later, I attended the workshop "Building the Movement to End the New Jim Crow" which actually lived up to its name more than I expected.  There was a particularly good presentation from one UU minister who was leading efforts in his congregation to partner with grade schools in at-risk communities to keep the kids out of the school-to-prison pipeline that seems to be growing every day.  Another initiative I really want to look into is the "Ban the Box" movement to get companies to stop forcing applicants to disclose that they're a former felon on their job application.

For dinner Saturday night, Jennifer Toth got a bunch of congregational leaders from Florida together at a fine restaurant called the Milkwood to network and exchange ideas and information on immigration issues and what folks are doing.  I got a lot of interest from folks regarding CIVIC and the visitation program our congregation is setting up and Jeremy also brought up the issue of human trafficking and how it relates to immigration issues.  We also discussed strategies for pressuring our respective representatives in the House to pass immigration reform.  Very awesome dinner with some delicious food and amazing service to boot.

After dinner, I went to check out the Service of the Living Tradition for a few minutes but what I was there for wasn't really doing it for me so I decided to join a whole bunch of young adults at a table at BBC for more awesome conversation.  After a few hours, I started getting sleepy so I wandered back to the hotel and basically passed out talking Israel/Palestine with Erik.

SUNDAY finally rolled around and it was time for the highly anticipated Sunday Morning Worship featuring a sermon from Rev. Dr. Bill Schulz, President and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.  The service was phenomenal, as expected, and Rev. Schulz made a rousing call to consider the vastness of the universe and the utter insignificance and incredible significance of our place in it.

A going away present from the Youth to Gini Courter: "We (HEART) Gini. Thank You.
After that, most of the rest of the day was spent with Jeremy, Lincoln, Erik, and I discussing the virtues of revolution v. reform for hours.  After that, we all slipped in for the end of the final Plenary so I could say my heartfelt and bittersweet goodbyes to everyone I could get my arms around and just like that, I was in a cab and off to Miami via Charlotte.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with my home city but when I fly into Miami at night, it's hard to remember why I hate it--although stepping off the plane into 120% humidity usually does the trick.  In the spirit of this temporary revelatory love of my city, I thought, since I've been sharing my stories of Heat Finals games, might as well close out the way I closed out my week...


Chris "Birdman" Anderson

Dwyane Wade

LeBron James

Monday, July 1, 2013

Derrick's General Assembly Recap - Part 4 - FRIDAY (Day 3: Statement of Conscience, 5th Principle, Eboo Patel, and SYNERGY!)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Friday started with a very important Plenary session.  After a litany of reports from various committees and commissions and statements from (mostly unopposed) candidates for office, the Assembly finally got down to the business of passing a landmark Statement of Conscience: "Immigration as a Moral Issue."  The vote was quite swift, especially for something of this magnitude, and after incorporating a few small amendments, the 52nd General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations UNANIMOUSLY passed "Immigration as a Moral Issue."

At UU Miami, we're already beginning to take action on the statement by partnering with community members to begin an immigration detention center visitation program at the nearby Krome Processing Center.  "Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees" came out of a conference the UU Florida Southeast Cluster of congregations held on "Immigration and Mass Incarceration."  We featured prominent South Florida speakers such as Executive Director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, Jeannette Smith, and President of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Desmond Meade.  We also had Christina Fialho, co-founder of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), who not only came all the way from California to speak to us but actually came down the day before the conference and set up a tour of the Krome Processing Center to use as a sort of jumping off point for the visitation program.  Since then she has been working with us and others in the community on starting "Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees" and the progress we've been making has been very promising (including the possibility of the opportunity to make a presentation for Rep. Joe Garcia at his office and hopefully get a letter of endorsement from his office!).

(left to right) Jeanette Smith (SWIWJ), Christina Fialho (CIVIC)

After Plenary, had a little lunch and then it was time for "The Fifth Principle Task Force: It's Time!"  It was tough to skip out on several really cool-sounding workshops that were going on at the same time, but I knew how important this was.  The Fifth Principle Task Force was convened in 2006 to examine General Assembly and how it measured up in terms of living our Fifth Principle by affirming and promoting the democratic process.  As it turns out, General Assembly is not very democratic and not very representative either.

The task force produced a 13 page report which it presented to the 2009 General Assembly.  That report can be found HERE but the basic gist of it is that due to economic accessibility issues, less than 60% of UUA member congregations have been represented at GA in recent years and since 2001, the average delegate body of roughly 2,200 is less than 45% of all eligible delegates.  There is also substantial evidence that many delegates "participate in GA business with little or no guidance from or sense of accountability to their home congregation."

The workshop itself discussed several ideas and questions--such as the pros and cons of separating the "gathering" aspect of GA from the "governance" aspect, the pros and cons of moving more of our association's governance into cyberspace, and the idea of moving to some form of biennial assembly.

The next thing on the agenda was a Plenary in which the delegates split up into smaller groups in separate rooms and used Twitter to help re-imagine GA and help the Fifth Principle Task Force collect ideas on how to improve it.  Delegates were asked to answer the following three questions:

1. If you could not attend General Assembly, describe the person from your congregation who ought to attend. Why?
2. What do you love best about General Assembly?
3. For the future of our faith, what is one thing General Assembly should stop doing?

The tweets from these sessions can be found by searching Twitter for #newuuga.  Or you can just CLICK HERE.

I, however, had to skip out on this session--but don't worry, I had a very good reason. I was invited to a reception in UUA President Rev. Peter Morales's suite at the Marriott to take part in a conversation with Eboo Patel among Campus Ministry leaders within our faith. What an incredibly humbling and inspiring thing to be part of! Eboo Patel is an extraordinary young man with an incredible passion for hearing and telling stories and for finding our sacred common ground through interfaith work.

After our conversation with Eboo, it was time for his Ware Lecture.  For those who did not see it, it was really something, and I HIGHLY recommend going back and watching it on the UUA website.  The video can be found HERE.  One of the highlights (which we also discussed in our conversation beforehand) was when he said to us that we UUs do two things in terms of educating our youth on interfaith work--one of them we do very well and the other, not so much.  We're very, very good at educating our young people about other religious and cultural traditions and fostering cultural competencies in them.  However, we're really bad at teaching them how to connect those traditions back to their own faith tradition and how to articulate their own faith and their own culture to others.  It is truly not to be missed.

Sadly, an unfortunate incident followed the Ware Lecture.  Immediately after Eboo Patel had finished his lecture, over 700 of the 2000 people in the Plenary Hall formed a huge line to get out the door right as the Synergy Bridging Worship was beginning.  Many folks took to Twitter to either voice their frustration about this mass migration or to defend themselves for leaving early, leading to a lot of tension and hurt feelings and many a report to the GA Right Relationship Team.  Many issues led to this problem: a scheduling faux pas, seemingly designed to keep people from leaving before Synergy, lack of childcare options later in the day, many folks complained of being too tired to stay up past 8:30pm, and the list goes on.  At the end of the day, though, the Youth had an absolute blast, more people showed up for Synergy than usually do (over 1200), and the service was beautiful and inspiring.  We're all so proud of all our amazing youth and we really must take every opportunity we possibly can to lift up the amazing things they do and are.  All things considered, a beautiful end to a beautiful Friday...

Bridging Youth line up!  Ready to come of age!
Part 5