Report from Spokane: General Assembly 2019

ESUC had 33 people at last month’s General Assembly in Eastern Washington—one of the largest delegations in the whole UUA! Come hear what excited and energized our GA delegates and allow some of their enthusiasm to rub off.

Report From Spokane

I have attended at least 12 General Assemblies and this one had the biggest impact by far. Ever since I heard our former Minister Peter Luton say that we must change or we will just be an older, whiter, deader church, I have been thinking, reading, pondering what a multicultural East Shore would look like, would feel like. At this GA every session I attended was led by both white and people of color. The difference was subtle but powerfully transformative! Sunday morning Rev Marta Valentin’s amazing sermon topped off my experience. It sounds corny but I had the feeling of glimpsing the holy land of a multicultural Unitarian Universalist Community and it was wonderful! -Milly

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I attended “A Radically Inclusive Pathway to Membership” and got some excellent new ideas to grow our membership. I attended Paula Cole Jones Sophia Fahs Lecture on “Building a Community of Communities”, A tame title but an intellectual tour de force explanation of moving from critique to integrated conception of the future. She sold me on the 8th Principle promoted by BLUU (Black Lives UU) as well. The Ware Lecture by Richard Blanco was fabulous. His reading of his own poems was brilliant, and… spiritual, and deepened my understanding of all art. Chris Crass’s conversations with white men about white supremacy was eye-opening as well. I bought two of his books, and three others during the GA. Lots to read!! We white men CAN get free of white supremacy with awareness, self-examination, practice, and community building work. This is our job! Time spent with my fellow ESUC folks was relationship building, and rewarding. I also attended the UUSC President’s reception for us larger donors to the UUSC. My brother John is on their Board and asked for donations for his birthday during GA. The 2019 General Assembly exceeded my expectations, and my hopes as well. -Paul

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Many favorite moments including the worships and general sessions that were led by marginalized folk. It was striking when a young Black man said “I’m now an unapologetic Black UU” For me personally I got a lot out of Chris Crass’ session for white men. I think this would be effective at East Shore, and I’d be happy to lead a workshop. Basically he reminded us of our common values against bias, and the enlisted us to be outspoken, enthusiastic supporters for justice and progressive role models for white boys. -Doug

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Wow! What an uplifting, invigorating, spiritual experience for a first timer. I felt the power of WE when seeing 2,700+ UUs from all 50 states, and more places, all together in a room on the first morning, singing familiar and new hymns together. And when seeing Louise Wilkinson and Barb Clagett carry our ESUC church banner in the Opening Celebration parade. And again during the Sunday morning worship–the most powerful experience I had listening to Rev. Marta Valentin’s Meditations of my Heart Sunday morning. Rev. Valentin spoke of our faith being in a delicate turning. Turning away from exclusion and oppression of marginalized groups in our faith, turning towards inclusion and empowerment of those groups. A delicate endeavor, we will make mistakes, apologize, and repair. This is where we UUs are in an ever-turning, never-ending path towards living into our principles. The service, the message: it all felt so very right and true. -Grace

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Spokane 2019 was my first time attending GA, and I enjoyed it very much–especially the people there.

I met a previous East Shore minister, Joan Montagnes. And I got reacquainted with four people whom I first met last year at the Fort Worth TX UU church…

In one small-session conversation a member of the Anchorage congregation described their successful advertising campaign on the local NPR station.

Following another small session an African-Canadian (Beverly) explained north-of-the-border white supremacy for me.

Another Canadian woman (Lisa) had an exhibit booth (UU Hysterics) promoting a lighter side of UU-ism, in part via Monopoly-style Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free cards.

At another exhibit booth an African-American author (David) related a personal experience of verbal attack, and sold me one of his “White-Ally-Bootcamp” manuals.

And at a cafeteria lunch table Ingrid and I met a delegate (Ed Edelson) from Southbury, Connecticut who related his town’s civic expulsion in 1937 of an impending local Nazi training camp; he gave us a link to an inspiring 50-minute documentary video of the historic, portentous events.

With all that, plus a test drive of an electric scooter, I had a blast at GA. -Don

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I was particularly moved by Marta Valentin’s closing sermon on Sunday morning. She noted that “for decades, we Black, Indigenous and People of Color have spoken up many times about how exclusionary our faith can be, even as Unitarian Universalism swears, we are the most inclusive.” Because it came into existence in the dominant culture. People of color were deeply attracted to the faith and theology, but suffer from the culture. I went to the sessions on White Supremacy Culture. I know we’ve had trouble with those words. They do not refer to white supremacists, or to all white culture, but to a part of dominant white culture that assumes white superiority, values individual freedom over communal care and responsibility, promotes structures that produce efficiency more than relationships, and ties us to the rightness of our opinions rather than to the beauty of each other. It tells us that important decisions must be made with the head, and the heart is suspect. Dominant white culture teaches us not to expose our mistakes nor our vulnerable hearts—all cultural proclivities that tend to alienate and marginalize people on the edges. These behavioral patterns also hurt the hearts and souls of those—including many of us—who benefit from these structures and so perpetuate them. Mostly, we do so automatically, unconsciously—which is what makes change so difficult. Nevertheless, the many workshops I attended and Reverend Valentin’s inspirational sermon gave me hope! And this is because I have seen that people who look directly at these cultural traits often wonder why they’ve lived under thse constraints for so long and find great joy in shifting to a new way of doing and being. I have great hope that in an exploration of white supremacy culture, we will all of us, of all races and various political views, find our hearts and souls. And we can do this together, in a compassionate and loving process. G.A. gave me hope. Lots and lots of hope. -Louise

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I’ve been blessed with a wonderful life so far. Now that I am retired I want to focus on giving back as I continue my exploration of life. GA for me was like walking into a kaleidoscope book store of options. Though there were many real books available, the books I’m talking about were alive. They were real live people who had already dived into their own exploration and wanted to share it. There were unplanned inspiring conversations in line for coffee. The challenge for me was which books to pick up. As I was doing my search, I felt this incredibly inspirational atmosphere of organized speakers, music and collaborative activities to support my search. The most important piece for me is that I don’t have to do my search alone. There are lots of people out there on similar searches. Just knowing that is comforting for me. Thank you. -Mark

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I was very inspired by attending GA. I could see how hard the UUA is working on being more inclusive and welcoming of all kinds of people. The workshop I attended that most inspired me was one about the process of welcoming, enlisting, and truly roping in new members. Most UU churches, like ours, have a class that you need to attend, and then you sign the book, make a pledge and you become a member. The workshop suggested many paths to membership that encourage people to get involved in all aspects of the church before or along with actually joining. The presenters, from the UU church in Phoenix, came up with a great checklist of ways to get involved and connected. The materials they shared have already been handed over to Nicole and our Membership Committee and they’re integrating them into our outreach, helping us be much more welcoming and inclusive, and the helping our newest members become more fully engaged as a result. I like it that we are already working to integrate these ideas into our work at East Shore. -Amanda

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You have heard from several of the thirty-three ESUC members and staff who went to the 2019 General Assembly—one of the three largest delegations in attendance, and the largest by far proportionate to our size. For me, personally, it was an absolutely WONDERFUL experience to shepherd such a vital, dynamic group around G.A.!

Among the many thirty-three members who were in Spokane, two shared the following that you should hear about. First Chris Struble commented on the Banner Parade, all the lovely banners from churches all across the land, and the exquisite craftsmanship that went into making so many of them. He said—and here I must emphatically agree with him—that he experienced our UUA President, Susan Frederick Gray as a wonderful, inspirational preacher and leader. He and LuAnne also especially enjoyed a pagan-infused summer solstice ritual they participated in with over 100 other Unitarian Universalists.

The congregation should also know that ESUC member Barb Clagett was honored as recipient of the 2019 Steward of Partnership award for her 20 years supporting the UU Partner Church Council. Over those two decades, Barb focused, first, on our partner church village and other Unitarian churches in Transylvania, and then on to the Friendship School connected with our Unitarian partners in Kharand, India. Hooray Barb!

There is not much I can add to the testimonies you have already heard, but I do want to focus a little on the Assembly’s theme: The Power of We. Every year the G.A. Planning Committee decides upon a theme—“Building a New Way,” and “Love Reaches Out,” for instance, were the themes in 2015 and 2014. This year—2019—the theme was The Power of We. Event planners invite presenters to meditate and focus on the theme, such that the entire weeklong assembly hangs together in an integrated, holistic way. And in keeping with a denomination-wide effort to confront white supremacy culture, both in our country and among ourselves, The Power of We highlighted the many ways the UUA and America are the richer and healthier when we seek to intentionally include—on every level—the historically marginalized among us. We are, in fact, doing a better and better job of this, and if it’s not yet obvious here it was very very obvious at General Assembly. Refreshingly so!

The Power of We comes to mind when I contemplate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing. It took our country a little over eight years from the time of President Kennedy’s challenge to the July 20th night when two of our astronauts set foot on the lunar surface, and then return safely to earth. At the start—in May of 1961—the entire country was overtly and intentionally white supremacist. By the end, and by necessity, as dramatically portrayed in the award-winning movie Hidden Figures, those days were gone. One of the Senior Engineers of the Apollo program I was watching on PBS a couple of nights ago, said it well when he said, “Look what’s possible when we all pull together.” Yes! The Power of We. That’s what we celebrated this year at General Assembly: what our Unitarian Universalism looks and feels like when we all pull together. And it was—and always will be—thrilling!

So may it always be. Amen. Shalom. Salaam. Namaste. Blessings upon all.