General Assembly's opening worship and first plenary session was already rocking before the lights dimmed. As GA attendees filed into the hall Wednesday evening, they were greeted with the infectious rhythms of Heritage O.P., a four-man acoustic percussion and vocal ensemble. Florida District GA Coordinator David Fisher welcomed the crowd, concluding with the words of Maurice Sendak's Max in Where the Wild Things Are: "Let the wild rumpus start." And start it did. After a chalice lighting and hymn, UUA President William G. Sinkford introduced the annual banner parade, a procession of delegates from scores of congregations, each bearing a colorful banner representing their congregation. The banner bearers fairly danced down the aisles to Heritage O.P.'s beat. Energy defined the mood as UUA Moderator Gini Courter called the gathering to order.
The first order of business was approving the rules of procedure. These rules, summarized on pages 7-9 of the GA Agenda booklet, lay the ground rules for participating in the plenary sessions. They include which microphones to use for discussion, time limits, and the different kinds of resolutions. Volunteers would be available to assist with questions during voting. "Treat them with kindness!" Courter said with mock sternness.
Members of the youth and young adult caucuses were introduced, as were members of the Right Relations Team, a group ready to assist conference-goers who might be experiencing oppression in the form of sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, etc. "We’re here to help this community of thousands work together," said B. Scott McNeal, head of the 14-member group.
After the introductions, the UUA Board of Trustees’ first vice moderator Jackie Shanti recognized the six new congregations that have joined the UUA this year. "Starting a new congregation is an extraordinary piece of work and an outstanding act of faith, vision, courage, patience, and bureaucratic brilliance," Shanti said. "Most of all, it takes love." The six new congregations are: Prairie Circle Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Grayslake, Ill.; the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Rocky Mount, N.C.; the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tupelo, Miss.; the Unitarian Universalist congregation of the Chesapeake in California, Md., the Washington Ethical Society in Takoma, Md.; and WellSprings Congregation in Chester Springs, Pa.
With the evening's official business concluded, a performance of "Sources: A Unitarian Universalist Cantata" began. The cantata, with music by Jason Shelton and words by Kendyl Gibbons, illustrates the six sources of Unitarian Universalism in seven movements. It was performed with an orchestra, electric guitar, drums, and a choir and incorporated a variety of musical moods and styles ranging from contemporary to samba to gospel.
Each movement focuses on a different source of Unitarian Universalism. The third movement, called "All Lifted Hearts," celebrates wisdom from the world's great religions. The audience was invited to sing along: "Many windows, one light; many waters, one sea; All lifted hearts are free." The movement concluded with the spoken chant "Shanti, Shalom, Hasiti; Salaam, Heiwa, Dohiyi; Pax, Paco, Mir. Peace."
In the seventh and last movement, called "The Promise," rapper Justice Whitaker had the crowd on its feet. "The promise is justice; together we make it; the promise is wonder; that flows into praise; the promise is freedom; no falsehood can shake it; the promise is meaning; in all of our days." Which brought the evening full circle as people exited the hall energized by this uniquely UU performance.