General Assembly opens with celebration
Three former presidents, one new hymn, liberal amounts of history, and several thousand cupcakes combined to open the 50th annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association Wednesday night in Charlotte.
This GA marks the 50th anniversary of the consolidation in 1961 of the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association. Much of the opening ceremony, held in Hall C of the Charlotte Convention Center, was devoted to commemorating the anniversary.
The Rev. John Buehrens, former UUA president and chair of the 50th Anniversary Task Force, welcomed around 4,000 GA attendees. He and two former presidents, the Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz and the Rev. William G. Sinkford, shared a recounting of the UUA’s history, including the involvement of UUs in the civil rights movement, the deaths of Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo in that struggle, the publication of the Pentagon Papers by Beacon Press, the UUA’s support for women’s equality, and the founding of the first denominational office for gay and lesbian concerns.
Buehrens noted that the first UUA president, the Rev. Dana Greeley, reached out to international religious leaders, including the leader of the Rissho Kossei-kai religious group in Japan. The Rev. Kosho Niwano, the president-designate of the RKK and the granddaughter of the RKK leader at that earlier time, was in the hall Wednesday night and was warmly welcomed. (See “Soul Mates,” UU World, Jan./Feb. 2001)
In a section of the program titled Acknowledgement and Confession, Buehrens, former UUA Moderator Denise Davidoff, and Dr. Leon Spencer, a former UUA Trustee, spoke about the UUA’s checkered history with racial justice, noting how the black empowerment controversy of the 1970s led to a determination to do better and ultimately to the UUA’s present focus on a “Journey Toward Wholeness.” Said Davidoff, “It has been, and continues to be, very hard work.” (See “The UUA Meets Black Power,” UU World, Mar./Apr. 2000)
Spencer noted that at each GA there is the potential for hurt in relating to each other, “but also an opportunity for healing.” Buehrens shared how a shooting at a Knoxville, Tenn., UU church in 2008 and the ensuing outpouring of support led to the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love movement.
The chalice was lit by the Rev. Robin Tanner of the Piedmont UU Church of Charlotte, youth leader Jessica Coates of the UU Church of Charlotte, and the Rev. Clark Olsen. Olsen is a former minister of the UU Church of Asheville, N.C., and a civil rights activist.
A high point of Wednesday night’s service was the presentation of the hymn “Together,” commissioned for the anniversary. The hymn, written by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Mikelson, with music by Thomas Benjamin, spoke of creating here on Earth “an Eden of infinite worth” by working together in community. Other music was provided by the GA Band, GA Choir, the Charlotte Pride Band Brass Quintet, and a choir from the UUA’s Southeast District.
Five new congregations were recognized Wednesday night. They are the UU Fellowship of McMinnville, Ore.; UU Fellowship of Lake Norman, N.C.; UUs of the Blue Ridge, Washington, Va., All Faiths Unitarian Congregation, Ft. Myers, Fla.; and Harmony UU Church, Mason, Ohio.
At the close of the service, UUA President Peter Morales invited those in attendance to move into the future. He said in his benediction, “We are one people. Feel the spirit and the ideals of our forebears. That spirit is here. It lives in us when we love each other and when we dream bold dreams. Let us go and make those dreams come true. Let our future begin.” At that the doors were opened to the exhibit hall next door and the throngs moved out toward tables of cupcakes that were made to honor the anniversary.