A number of foreign dignitaries were welcomed to General Assembly Friday morning. The Rev. Eric Cherry, director of the UUA’s International Office, introduced the Rev. Kotaro Suzuki of the Hiroshima Dharma Center of Rissho Kosei-kai, one of the UUA’s longtime interfaith partners in Japan. Also on stage were Naoki Taketani, director of Rissho Kosei-kai’s International Group, and Rika Okayasu from the same organization; Dr. Thomas Matthew from the South Asia Chapter of the International Association of Religious Freedom in India; the Rev. Steve Dick, executive director of the International Council of Unitarian Universalists, headquartered in the United Kingdom; the Rev. Petr Samojsky from the Religious Society of Czech Unitarians; Vyda Ng, executive director of the Canadian Unitarian Council; the Rev. Arpad Csete, president of the Transylvania Unitarian Ministers Association; the Rev. Adel Nagy, minister of the Recsenyed Unitarian Church; and the Rev. Bela Jakabhazi, minister of the Nyomat Unitarian Church.
Others were Logan Deimler and Lara Fuchs from the European Unitarian Universalists, representing UU Fellowships in Frankfurt, Germany, and Basel, Switzerland; and Cassius Shirambere, president of the Assembly of Unitarian Christians of Burundi.
The Rev. Rebecca Sienes, president of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines, said the church is grateful for the help it has received over the years from UU groups in the U.S. She shared that the church is embarking on its biggest social justice project—building a two-story dormitory at a university so that female students will have safe housing. “I am sending warmest greetings from your brothers and sisters in faith to this General Assembly,” she said.
Author Eboo Patel presented the Ware Lecture at GA Friday evening. Patel is the author of Acts of Faith, published by Beacon Press. The book is the UUA 2011-12 Common Read. Patel is also founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, an international, nonprofit youth service leadership organization. He spoke at GA in 2008 as well.
Patel invited his listeners to engage in interfaith work. Such work is not easy, he cautioned, but it is rewarding. “What happens when you explain to someone at an interfaith Habitat for Humanity build that you believe the different religions are like light coming through the various windows in a cathedral and the person you are speaking to shakes his head and says there is only one light and one window? Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. An interfaith leader recognizes that not everyone is going to have the same theology of interfaith cooperation. An interfaith leader works to understand the other person’s theology while gently articulating her own.”
He added, “We need exceptional people who are able to hold the tensions here in a way that binds together rather than breaks apart, people who are willing to lead with their chin and take a punch. That’s you. In fifteen years of doing this work, here’s what I can promise. It is worth it, but it is not easy.”
It is helpful, he said, to remember that interfaith work is not just civic, but also sacred. “It is something you UUs know deeply. Nurturing positive relations between people with deep disagreements is holy.”
Watch the lecture or read the text:
In their final appearance together before the election on Saturday that will make one of them the next moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Jim Key and Tamara Payne-Alex drew distinctions between their backgrounds and approaches to governance. Thursday night’s Candidates Forum began in front of a small crowd but eventually attracted several hundred delegates.
Some votes have already been cast. Don Plante, from the UUA’s General Assembly and Conference Services staff, said 385 absentee ballots were received for this year’s race—compared to approximately 1,800 absentee ballots in the contested race for president four years ago. On-site delegates will cast their ballots until 4:00 tomorrow, and the winner will be announced just prior to the start of Saturday night’s Service of the Living Tradition at 8:30. The race for moderator is the only contested race this year.
Tamara Payne-Alex repeatedly emphasized her background as a lifelong Unitarian Universalist. A member of First Unitarian Church of San Jose, Calif., and a former member of the Board of Trustees, the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, and the Black Affairs Working Group, she told delegates in her opening statement, “Being a lifelong Unitarian Universalist . . . means I can bring thirty years of UU leadership experience to the moderator role, and still be in my forties.”
Key emphasized Unitarian Universalism’s appeal to religious liberals and seekers who have not found a religious home. “I was converted to a life of justice and love and community in my childhood, but I was a grown man before I found my religious home. Too many of us have to wait too long before we hear the good news of Unitarian Universalism,” said Key, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Beaufort, S.C., a member of the UUA Audit Committee, and a former president of the Southeast District and the District Presidents Association.
Referring to recent tensions between the UUA administration and Board of Trustees, Key said, “I have not been a part of the traditional governing history of our association, and I believe that is an asset. At this moment in our history of governance, I believe that a fresh approach is necessary as we go forward to restore all the covenantal relationships among us that are damaged.”
Payne-Alex, who has a professional background as an educational administrator and a corporate diversity consultant, and who also has experience in Policy Governance at the congregational level, said, “I will leverage my knowledge and experience of our association and the board to ensure the smoothest possible transition.”
The Rev. Ken Sawyer, who moderated the candidates forum, asked Key and Payne-Alex what they would do first after taking office. Payne-Alex said, “I would call Harlan [Limpert] and ask how the board is going to be supported.” The Rev. Harlan Limpert will become the UUA’s Chief Operating Officer in July, replacing retiring Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery, who is the functional liaison between the board and administration.
Key pointed out that one or the other of them will be chairing a board meeting on Monday morning, but he added, “The next step would be to talk to Peter, and say, ‘You were elected, I was elected. How are we going to be in right relationship? Here’s my vision of accountability; what’s yours? How do we proceed?’”
Key, who founded a leads a firm that provides consulting internationally on governance, risk management, and compliance, said he had the experience to repair strained relationships between the administration and board.
Payne-Alex took a different tack. “It’s not about the relationships,” she said. “People like each other. That tells you that something else is going on. So I approach it with curiosity: What’s underlying the conflict? Does it tell us something important about a conversation that needs to be had? So that’s the way I approach conflict, is to be intrigued.”
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