We at the Fifth Principle Project have been sharing the experiences of Rebecca Pace, a lay leader, from the recent 2023 General Assembly. We now have another experience from a retired minister, Rev. Denise Tracy. She shares her experience in a letter she sent to Rev. Meg Riley, Co-Moderator of the UUA. We welcome your comments.
We will also be hosting a post-GA forum on July 5th so that we can all discuss our experiences at General Assembly. Please see the bottom of this post for the particulars, the time and the date.
Letter to Rev. Meg Riley
I want to tell you what it felt like to be at GA. I attended these meetings for 30 years in a row. I took a 20-year break. This was my first time back in 20 years. The entire meeting felt like a giant manipulation. One aim: convince (or intimidate) attendees to accept this new (or expanded ) point of view.
For the past three years, the smaller congregations have worked hard to just survive. To continue to have worship services, much of their money has been spent on technology. The tech geeks in these congregations have basically saved their/our churches.
Across the UUA, both attendance and giving are down. Smaller churches have cut back on non-essential giving, one of these decreases has been giving to the UUA. Smaller congregations do not get visits from field staff and basically are ignored by the UUA.
During a pandemic where we have all lost loved ones, our lives have been at risk, and the leaders of our denomination (you) spent $500,000.00 to launch an exploration of our faith statement. You say that 10,000 people were contacted. I would dare to suggest that few of these 10,000 folks were from small struggling lay-led societies. Churches with large budgets and well-paid professional ministries were engaged. So everyone on the commission went to their friends to reinforce their point of view.
Every song, every reading, every sermon at this GA was in line with “change” and the message was– if you are not for it, you are not looking forward “as WE are.” From the sermon in the Service of Living Tradition—You are turtles! Our now-former President told us if we disagreed, we were part of an unhappy minority group.
The UUA has two new splinter movements, the NAUA (North American Unitarian Association), and the Fifth Principle Project. Both exist because of the bullying style of the current (your ) leadership. Until this GA, I knew nothing of either of these groups. I do now. When this type of splinter happens it is usually because people are not being listened to. They act against it because there is no other choice.
At the GA, I staffed a booth. People wandered by and wondered out loud. I heard many statements like this: “Where did this Article II come from?” “Why are the Principles no longer worthy?” “I taught my kids the Principles, I use them myself to measure my actions.” “I came into the UUA when I most needed a faith. I don’t like the way this meeting feels. I am seriously considering leaving.” “Why can’t we have the Principles AND this new document?”
People were afraid to speak up because of how they were feeling and how others were being treated. If love is supposedly at the center of this new Article II, it was not evident. In fact, the entire meeting felt unloving, unsafe, and bordered on an abusive environment. The applause and cheers for those who spoke for the new point of view and the begrudging silence for those who questioned or wanted more explanation made this very clear. Those in power were not protecting anyone who had not drunk the kool-aid.
Your leadership did not protect all in attendance.
People voted for discussion because they wanted to see what real discussion would actually be like.
So you have your year of discussion. Is this year going to continue to be a continuation of the editing of the new document? Or are there going to be some real questions, answers, and choices?
Do the principles really need to be done away with?
Is there a way for Article II to include the Principles as well as a newer expansion of the ideals of our denomination?
What is a congregation to do if it does not want to follow some type of new and revised faith statement?
When I entered the UUA in 1971, I was not welcomed. I was in attendance in 1978 when the idea of the Principles was first suggested. I worked for nine years for their adoption. We had four years of discussion and three votes before they were passed. I wanted to have a faith statement in plain language to use as a yardstick for my own faith in action. From the Principles, I officiated many Holy Union ceremonies (gay weddings), worked in my community on race issues, and worked on equality, and from this people joined congregations I led. I am in a mixed-race family and my children found a home where they could grow.
I looked at this GA and the dream of equality that the Principles stood for was before me. My dream and my 50 years of work were in evidence. What was also in evidence was no appreciation for how hard many of us have worked for the diversity we now have. No, it may never be enough, and in the past 50 years, our faith has grown and changed.
If there is not a real discussion this year, the UUA may no longer be my church. When I came into this denomination there were knock-down drag-out discussions at GA. Then people went out to lunch or dinner with those they had argued with, minutes before. Disagreements were faith-strengthening. This is no longer the case. The plenaries were set-ups toward one point of view. You have the influence and power to make this year a real exploration not a sham of a forced choice.
Retired UUA Minister
Post General Assembly Townhall Forum
The Fifth Principle Project will host a post-General Assembly Townhall Forum to provide a venue for people to share their thoughts about this year’s General Assembly.
We have three guest speakers, Anne Schneider, Dick Burkhart, and Rebecca Pace. They will share their perspective on General Assembly.
- Date: Wednesday, July 5, 2023
- Time: 8:00 PM Eastern, 7:00 PM Central, 6:00 PM Mountain, 5:00 PM Pacific
- Duration: 75 – 90 minutes
Pre-registration is required.
All are welcome. However, if you wish to participate in the discussion, make a comment, or ask a question, you will be required to turn on your device camera and directly speak to the forum. To foster a free-flowing conversation, we have opted not to use the Chat feature for questions. In short, we ask that if you have a comment or a thought to share, please engage in the conversation and not use the Chat feature.
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