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Environmental justice, elections on tap at 2013 General Assembly

Eboo Patel and Wendell Berry are among the featured speakers at Louisville, Ky., meeting in June.
By Donald E. Skinner
3.25.13

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Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry, poet, novelist, and Kentucky farmer, will speak at a public witness event at the 2013 UUA General Assembly in Louisville, Ky. (Guy Mendes)

Author-activists Eboo Patel and Wendell Berry will be among the presenters at the 2013 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which will be held June 19 to 23 in Louisville, Ky.

The theme of this GA is “From Promise to Commitment,” said Jan Sneegas, the UUA’s director of General Assembly and Conference Services. “This theme is expressed in a variety of content areas including environmental justice, immigration, and congregational life, including growth and stewardship.”

Environmental justice sessions will include ones on poverty in Appalachia, the “true cost of coal,” compassionate consumption, local food production, and climate change.

This will not be another “Justice GA,” however, like GA 2012 in Phoenix, Ariz., which focused exclusively on immigration justice. In Louisville there will be many workshops on other topics, including congregational growth, management, and finance.

There will also be considerable follow-up to the immigration work begun in the past several years. At GA congregations will share what they’re doing on immigration as part of the “Immigration as a Moral Issue” Congregational Study/Action Issue adopted at GA in 2010. This year delegates will be voting on an immigration Statement of Conscience. At least six workshops or other sessions will be devoted to immigration issues.

Patel, author of Acts of Faith, the 2011-12 UUA Common Read, will present the Ware Lecture on Friday. Patel is also founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a nonprofit focused on building an interfaith youth movement.

Berry, a poet, novelist, essayist, and Kentucky farmer, will participate in a public witness event, which will be Thursday evening at a plaza near the convention center. “This will be about mountaintop removal, but also about dependence on coal and the intersection of race, economic justice, and environmental justice,” said Sneegas.

The Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz, president and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and former executive director of Amnesty International USA, as well as former UUA president, will present the sermon at the Sunday morning worship, the largest annual gathering of UUs in worship. The Rev. Vanessa Southern will preach at the Service of the Living Tradition, which honors ministers and religious educators. She has been parish minister at The Unitarian Church in Summit, N.J., since 2001.

Business returns to the 2013 GA. At GA 2012, little association business was conducted so there would be more time for immigration-related events. This year will make up for that, said Sneegas. She estimated there would be 17 to 18 hours of plenary sessions, compared to a more typical 12 to 13. The tentative business agenda is available online.

Among those business items will be Actions of Immediate Witness. GA delegates voted in 2011 to strip them out of the 2012 GA and then reinstate them this year. That same vote reduced the allowable number of AIWs to three rather than the customary six.

Elections

There is also an election this year at GA. UUA President Peter Morales is running unopposed for a second four-year term. The only contested election is the race for moderator. GA delegates will elect a successor to the current UUA moderator, Gini Courter, who has held that position since 2003. The two candidates for that position are Tamara Payne-Alex, a former UUA board of trustees member, and Jim Key, who has been president of the Southeast District. There will be a candidates’ forum Thursday night at GA. The election will be on Saturday.

Also on the ballot will be nominees for a search committee to select nominees for a UUA president to be elected in 2017, along with other committee seats. A complete list of other candidates is online.

Delegates will vote using paper ballots. Offsite delegates cannot vote in this election. Mark Steinwinter, the UUA’s director of Information Technology Services, expects around 100 people to apply to be offsite delegates this year. This is the third year that GA delegates have been permitted to vote on association business from off site.

Registration for GA is $330 for adults before May 1. Youth pay $190. Offsite delegates pay $125. Scholarships are available.

Business will be balanced by worship. Sneegas said the GA in Phoenix demonstrated the importance of worship to GA participants who are deeply engaged in social justice work. There will be about a dozen worship services this year, including one by the Church of the Larger Fellowship and one honoring UU military members and veterans.

Sneegas noted that the UUA is boycotting the Hyatt hotel chain internationally because of a labor issue involving treatment of housekeeping staff. A Hyatt hotel is connected to the convention center in Louisville, but UUs are encouraged to stay at other hotels. She said accessibility in and around the convention center should be good this year. “Louisville is flat, and while the convention center is an older building that’s been added on to, it doesn’t take people long to catch on to where they need to go.”

She estimated that 3,600 to 4,200 UUs will attend GA. The Program Book describing the GA schedule and events will be available online in May. There will also be a GA Mobile App with program information. A Preliminary Program Book is online now.


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