Moderator’s report: ‘All of us working together’

Moderator Gini Courter“We have a very clear vision of Unitarian Universalism,” said UUA Moderator Gini Courter, “and it comes up from the people.” Courter was delivering her eighth report as the moderator of the UUA, during the final plenary session of the 2011 General Assembly on Sunday afternoon.

Courter outlined the three main polities, or ways religious groups can organize themselves, and said that in the form of polity used by Unitarian Universalists, authority comes ultimately from all the people in the religious group. “In our polity, congregational polity,” she said, “there is no higher authority, there’s only deeper down.”

“This precious weird thing we’re doing here,” she said, referring to the democratic processes of the Plenary sessions, “this is what sets us apart from most of the religious movements in the world.” She said she believes that congregational polity, “our belief in the power of the people,” is of equal importance with liberal theology or social justice work.

Courter pointed out that too often, the history of Unitarian Universalism is told as the story of prominent men and women, often ordained ministers. “Sometimes when I go into a congregation, I see photos on the wall of all the ministers who have served there,” she said, “and I wonder where are all the pictures of the other people who have served there.” Similarly, when remembering the history of the UUA, she said it was important to remember not just the presidents and moderators of the UUA, but all the people who participated in the democratic process. “It’s all of us working together,” she said. “Not just clergy, not just laity, but all of us working together.”

“The way we often tell our story,” she said, “it’s the story of individuals. We list the names and dates. That’s not a bad start, but it’s not the whole story, we need to tell the history that’s full and fair, that’s wide and deep. We must always remember that our richest history is a people’s history.”

“I tell you these things because I’m concerned that we must remember who we are,” Courter said. “If you expect our vision to come from me, or from a president, then we have a problem.”

Looking ahead to GA 2012

Looking ahead to the justice-centered GA to be held in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2012, Courter outlined the complex preparation and planning that is taking place.

Part of the preparation was the passage of a bylaws amendment. Not long before Courter began her Moderator’s Report, the delegates had passed a bylaws amendment eliminating Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs) during the 2012 GA. “We made an agreement [at the 2010 GA] that we would go to Phoenix in a particular way,” she said, and that included not taking time in plenary sessions for AIWs.

Courter also apologized to the GA Planning Committee for all the extra work that they are having to take on because the 2012 GA will be so different from previous GAs. “We’ve had a rough year, your [UUA] Board and Planning Committee,” she said. To help alleviate the workload, she said she will ask the UUA Board for more people to help plan the 2012 GA.

“If we’re going to build the GA we need in Phoenix,” she said, “we can’t look to someone else for a vision. . . . We need the wisdom of all of us.”

Courter asked for “tenderness, patience, and tenacity” as the planning for the 2012 GA goes forward. The delegates rose in a standing ovation at this remark.

Thanking those who help plan GA

Courter then thanked the many people who help to plan GA. As she named each group, she asked them to join her on the stage at the front of the plenary hall. The groups who joined her on stage included the UUA Board of Trustees, the GA Planning Committee and local volunteers, the Commission on Social Witness, the musicians “who help us sing our way through this,” the tellers and ushers, the GA planning staff, offsite delegates planning team, the Right Relationship Team, the accountability group for the 2012 GA, the youth and young adult caucuses, UUA staffers, the IT tech staff, UU World staff, the parliamentarian and legal counsel, “anybody who is elected to do this stuff in the next two years,” UU ministers who participated in protests in Arizona and the Arizona ministers, and UUA President Peter Morales. By the time she had finished, the stage was nearly full.

“You begin to see what it takes to plan a GA and execute it,” Courter said. “And [next year] we’re going to ask them to do it again a whole different way.” Looking out at the delegates, she added, “And we’re going to help them, yes?” The delegates responded with applause.

“Are we ready to go to Phoenix?” Courter said. The delegates responded with cheers and applause.

Racism and GA

“We have spent a lot of time talking about Charlotte at this GA,” Courter said. She was referring to the 1993 GA, also held in Charlotte, N.C., where a “Thomas Jefferson Ball” was perceived by many delegates as having racist overtones.

“But I was reminded that many of our younger UUs weren’t there.” She said she was reminded of racism and ageism that occurred during the 2005 GA held in Fort Worth, Texas. “Sometimes when we talk about ‘Charlotte,’ we make it seem like a place,” she said. “But for our youth and young adults, Fort Worth was their Charlotte.” She made clear that racism must be countered at GA, as elsewhere in Unitarian Universalism.

A tiara and a banana

Before Courter could give the Moderator’s Report, however, she recognized delegate Suzi Spangenberg at the procedural microphone. Spangerberg reminded Courter that Courter had promised to wear a tiara at this GA, and held up a sparkling tiara. Laughing, Courter put on the tiara, and even held the sparkling wand Spangenberg gave her.

Courter then told a story about wanting to use a gavel during a meeting of the Board of Trustees. “I went to do the gavel thing, and it [the gavel] was gone,” she said. “So I picked up the closest thing, and it was a banana. Now a banana is only effective for the first few times. After that, it’s a candidate for banana nut bread.” This brought laughter from the delegates.

“But I came back, and the finance chair sitting next to me had picked up the banana and had written stuff on it.” She held up a banana that was on the podium. “So there’s one back again today. On one side the banana says, ‘Turn over.’ And on the other side this banana says, ‘Gavel’.” A close-up of Courter holding the banana was flashed on the big screens at the front of the hall, and the delegates laughed and cheered.

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