Security at 2008 General Assembly concerns UUA board

Security at 2008 General Assembly concerns UUA board

October meeting approves fifth independent affiliate, plans review of General Assembly, elections practices.
Jane Greer


Trustees raised concerns about security issues at the 2008 General Assembly site during the October meeting of the board of the Unitarian Universalist Association. After hearing that government-issued photo IDs are required to enter the port of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the June 2008 GA convention center is located, trustees expressed fears about the potential for racial profiling and discrimination against youth.

In other actions at its quarterly meeting in Boston, October 20-21, the board announced plans for a discussion about reforming UUA elections, recognized one more independent affiliate organization, heard a report about proposed new Ministerial Fellowship Committee rules and the graying of the UU ministry, and welcomed five new board members and a youth observer.

Eva Marx, trustee from the Ballou Channing District and board liaison to the GA Planning Committee, told trustees about the security procedures at the Fort Lauderdale convention center, where the UUA’s annual meeting will be held June 25-29, 2008. Adults must show government-issued photo IDs, such as a passport or driver’s license, she said. Young people will be expected to show student identification. (The convention center’s written security guidelines add that “minors without identification, who present no obvious threat, will be admitted on a case-by-case basis.”)

Many trustees expressed fear about the prospect of a racial incident at the security checkpoint. “There is potential for real harm here,” said UUA President William G. Sinkford. The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, trustee from the Metropolitan New York District, agreed. “A lot of the good work we’ve been doing [around antiracism and antioppression] could get undone,” she said. Both Sinkford and McNatt are African American.

Jan Sneegas, the UUA’s director of General Assembly and conference services, said in a later interview that the GA Planning Committee was concerned about the security issue and will be working with the convention center’s security team and the Broward County Sheriff’s office to do whatever can be done to ensure smooth passage for all GA attendees through port security. “We’re going to have conversations [with these groups] about youth concerns and racial profiling,” she said. Sneegas will be visiting the convention site in November for the annual staff advance trip.

Sneegas said that when the convention center had been booked for the 2008 General Assembly years ago, the GA Planning Committee had been assured that the checkpoints would be gone. “Unfortunately, this is a matter concerning national security,” she said. “We have no control over these decisions.” All GA information and registration materials will include reminders to attendees to prepare for the security check.

The board’s Association Working Group announced plans for an in-depth conversation about reforming the way the UUA elects its president and moderator. “The system as it currently exists is extremely time-consuming and expensive for candidates,” said Paul Rickter, trustee from the Massachusetts Bay District and board secretary, “and this makes it impossible for some people to run.” Questions about the nomination process, how many nominations should be allowed, term length, fundraising, and other issues will be discussed at the January board meeting.

The next election for these offices will be held at the 2009 General Assembly in Salt Lake City. Rickter said any changes to the elections process would be voted on at the 2010 General Assembly and would not impact the 2009 elections.

The board voted to accept the UU Partner Church Council as an independent affiliate organization, all but completing its annual review of groups seeking affiliate status. The board has accepted only five applications out of more than 40 under new rules implemented this year. The board tabled consideration of the only remaining application, from UU Ministry for Earth, to give UUMFE an opportunity to modify its application to meet the board’s requirements.

The rigorous application of the new rules has proved controversial for many of the rejected organizations. Tamara Payne-Alex, trustee-at-large from San Jose, Calif., and head of the board’s working group dealing with the independent affiliates, said that the move to re-examine the credentialing of independent affiliates was part of the board’s new focus on serving congregations, as opposed to organizations. “The rules haven’t changed that much,” Payne-Alex said. “But we are looking at them with a new understanding of what they mean.”

Trustees discussed issues related to ordained ministry in response to two reports. The Rev. Doug Gallager, trustee from the Heartland District, reported on a conversation he had with the Rev. Dr. John Weston, director of the UUA’s transitions office in the Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group, about the rising age of UU ministers. According to statistics provided by the Transitions office after the board meeting, the median age at which ministers are called to a new settlement (whether it is their first or fourth) has increased from 43 in 1991 to 53 in 2007. Trustees expressed concerns about the aging of the ministry and the implications this could have when a large group of ministers reaches retirement at the same time.

The Rev. Burton Carley, trustee from the Southwestern Unitarian Universalist Conference, reported on changes that the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) has recommended be made to its rules. The MFC is in charge of credentialing UU ministers and is also responsible for dealing with cases of clergy misconduct. The changes mostly concern different fellowship statuses for ministers and requirements for seminarians. They include the elimination of the classifications of full and associate fellowship for ministers in final fellowship, changing the term “associate fellowship” to “inactive fellowship status” for ministers in preliminary fellowship, lengthening the internship period for seminarians, and dropping the requirement for endorsement in final fellowship for community ministers.

The proposed MFC rule changes were distributed to the board in October and will be voted on at its January meeting. If approved, these rules will go before the 2008 General Assembly for a vote.

In other actions, the board:

  • Created the Fifth Principle Task Force to examine the larger issues surrounding the General Assembly, including its frequency, duration, off-site participation, and inclusion of pre-GA activities, like UU University, the training conference for congregational leaders. The task force will begin work before GA 2008 and will give a final report to the board by April 2010.
  • Received the final report of the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth. President Sinkford is in the process of appointing a youth ministry working group to implement the Consultation’s recommendations. The group’s first meeting will be in February.
  • Voted to extend benefit and insurance programs to a wide range of UU organizations, including associate member organizations, professional organizations, independent affiliates, and theological schools. Other organizations, including former independent affiliates, may be included upon the recommendation of Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and vice president of finance.
  • Approved a $5 increase for General Assembly registration fees for 2008.
  • Approved the rules of the Board of Review, an appellate body for ministers and religious educators.
  • Approved the fiscal year 2008 operating budget, capital budget, and Beacon Press budget.

The board welcomed five new trustees and a new youth observer at the October meeting. They are: Linda Laskowski of the Pacific Central District; the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt of the Metropolitan New York District; Aymie Manning, youth observer; Anna Olsen of the Thomas Jefferson District; Justine Urbikas of the Central Midwest District; and Chuck Woodridge of the Joseph Priestley District. Urbikas, at 20, is the youngest trustee ever elected to represent a district on the board.

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