July 5, 2017

Highlights: 2017 UUA General Assembly

The following photos, videos, and event summaries were shared in Starr King’s email updates during the 2017 Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly (GA), June 21-25, 2017 in New Orleans, LA. To receive the latest news from Starr King, please subscribe to our mailing list (look for the red box on this page) and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Greetings from The Big Easy!

The 2017 Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly is officially underway and there is a buzz in the air here at the newly renovated, 1.1 million square foot, Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Each year we look forward to this annual business meeting of the Association, where Unitarian Universalists have the opportunity to worship, witness, learn, connect, and participate in the UUA’s democratic process.

This year’s theme, Resist and Rejoice, in many ways represents what Starr King is all about, and we have packed the schedule with a variety of activities in that vein. Here are some of the Starr King events you can look forward to this week:

  • Starr King Graduate Association Breakfast
  • The Fire of Love: Sheikh Ibrahim Abdulrahman Farajajé
  • UU Prison Ministry and Justice Beginning Today!
  • Big Easy/Real Life: An Immersion Experience
  • Starr King President’s Lecture, by the Rev. Dr. Gabriella Lettini
  • Starr King Friendship Breakfast
  • Seminary 101: Are You Called to Spiritual Leadership?
  • Ramadan Iftar Dinner

Banner Parade & Welcoming Celebration
Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In true New Orleans fashion, this year’s welcoming celebration included a live brass band with percussion, colorful dress, and lots of dancing. It was a lively scene as hundreds of Unitarian Universalist congregations and organizations participated. As you can see, Starr King showed up loud and proud!

The Starr King Booth is Up and Running!
Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Despite Tropical Storm Cindy‘s best efforts to delay our shipment of booth supplies yesterday, the Starr King booth is quickly becoming a highlight of the exhibit hall. This year, in addition to our traditional brochures and decor, we are providing a multimedia experience. Visitors can enjoy three iPads for easy access to information, multiple charger outlets, mandala coloring meditation, and, of course, a selfie station with our beloved Thomas Starr King. Free giveaways include water bottles, fans, tote bags, stickers, pens, lanyards, and notepads. As always, our friendly staff are on hand to answer questions about our academic offerings and the latest school news, so if you are in the Exhibit Hall please come say hello!

Starr King Graduate Association Breakfast
Thursday, June 22, 2017

One of our favorite parts of GA is reconnecting with familiar faces. Yesterday morning Starr King graduates from all over convened for a catered breakfast at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel. Munching and mingling were first on the agenda. Then, President Rosemary Bray McNatt gave a brief update about recent developments at the school.

“We admitted 35 students last year,” said McNatt to the sound of applause. “It’s a glorious problem to have but when we have intensives in August, we will have about 90 people in that building and we have no idea where we’re going to put them.”

“I want you to know that I can feel your presence and your prayers as I work,” she continued. “So many of you drop little notes and call to say ‘I’m thinking about you’ or ‘I’m praying for you’ and we feel that.”

After the president’s update, guests watched a video premiere about one of the recent stories coming out of Starr King:

Next, our Graduate Keynote Speaker, the Rev. Kathleen McTigue, shared a few words about how Starr King helped shape her:

“Starr King had figured out that there were a huge range of educational events that could happen in our lives that, in fact, more than counted toward ministry. They were definitive of ministry. And it was that attitude at Starr King that helped me understand that I was in fact called to ministry.”

Watch McTigue’s speech about what Starr King has meant to her, below:

President McNatt left our graduates with the following words: “I want to thank you for all that you’ve done in your own congregations and your own communities, for helping to be that bright light. To help people understand that the skills you bring you learned in Berkeley with us. And we want to encourage you to look to us in the coming months and years as we begin to figure out ways to empower you in your congregational ministries.”

Should you feel moved to make a financial gift to Starr King, please click here. Contributions of any level are deeply appreciated.

Fire of Love: Sheikh Ibrahim Abdulrahman Farajajé
Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé, often referred to as the “soul of Starr King,” is celebrated around the globe for his revolutionary spirit, brilliance, humor, and counter-oppressive activism. Baba, as he is known to many of us, educated generations of Unitarian Universalist ministers and progressive religious leaders. Having returned to divine splendor this year, our beloved community celebrated his visionary life and prophetic scholasticism.

“If any of you knew Baba,” began the Rev. Jeremiah Kalendae, “He wouldn’t want just lectures. He would want poetry and music and ceremony and song and prayer and praise and reflection, and we hope to do all of those things to allow us to sink into the ocean of oneness.”

We invite you to watch the full recording below, or shorter clips of the following reflections.

“I think one of the things that people forget sometimes about Baba is that his intersectionality is lived,” said the Rev. Sofia Betancourt. To watch the Rev. Betancourt reflect on “Ibrahim Baba as a mentor, friend, and colleague,” click here.

“One of the reasons I applied to teach at Starr King,” said the Rev. Dr. Gabriella Lettini, “was that Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé at that point was the Dean of Faculty. And I thought ‘I want to teach at a place where an intersectional scholar like him is teaching, but not only that, is in a position of authority.'” To watch the Rev. Dr. Lettini’s reflection on “Baba in the struggle,” click here.

“He said ‘Go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated,” said the Rev. Kalendae. “I would love to see all of our churches and our religious communities become places where the mantra is ‘this is a place where others are celebrated and not merely tolerated in their complexities.'” To watch the Rev. Kalendae’s reflection on “Baba as a sheikh,” click here.

“We are coming now tonight to one of the holiest moments of this month, which is the night of power, the night of destiny,” said Pir Issa Golitzen Farajajé Chishti, son of Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé. “Many of you who knew Baba or followed him on the internet know that this was one of the times in which he shared the most teachings, and was a truly joyous time.” To watch his Laylatul Qadr Sohbet, click here.

UU Prison Ministry and Justice Beginning Today!
Thursday, June 22, 2017

Over two million people inhabit America’s jails and prisons, and many of them struggle to find a community that encourages spiritual growth. Yesterday’s workshop — which was presented in part by 2017 Starr King graduate/Church of the Larger Fellowship’s Director of Prison Ministry Mandy Goheen — provided information on how to become a pen pal, CLF Prison Ambassador, or sponsor of a congregation.

To learn more about how you can support CLF’s prisoner members, please visit https://www.questformeaning.org/programs/prison-ministry/.

Starr King President’s Lecture: An Injury to All, by the Rev. Dr. Gabriella Lettini
Thursday, June 22, 2017

This year’s President’s Lecture was delivered by the Rev. Dr. Gabriella Lettini on the subject of “moral injury.” In addition to her current roles as Dean of Faculty and Aurelia Henry Reinhardt Director of Studies in Public Ministry, the Rev. Dr. Lettini is credited with founding Starr King’s Master of Arts in Social Change (MASC) degree program, one of the first master’s programs in the world to formalize a counter-oppressive pedagogical focus. Co-author of Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War, she is widely considered one of the most important scholars on this topic.

The Rev. Dr. Lettini’s lecture provided an introduction to the concept of moral injury and how it has been used to describe the “spiritual struggles many veterans face in the aftermath of war.”

Originally coined by clinical psychiatrist Jonathan Shay in the 1990s as a “betrayal of what is right by someone in a position of legitimate authority in a high-stake situation,” the Rev. Dr. Lettini expanded its interpretation to include “a negative self judgment” having recognized that one had also betrayed one’s conscience. Symptoms include “shame, survivor guilt, depression, despair, addiction, distrust, anger, a need to make amends, and the loss of a desire to live.”

She then addressed how the concept can be a helpful framework to address our own spiritual struggles, with a special intersectional focus on the violence of white supremacy.

We invite you to watch the President’s Lecture in full below.

Starr King Friendship Breakfast
Friday, June 23, 2017

What better way to start the day than breakfast with our beloveds? Akin to Thursday morning’s Graduate Association Breakfast, Friday at GA began with another breakfast at the Hilton Riverside Hotel. This time, we enjoyed the company of the larger Starr King community.

Following the chalice lighting and blessing of the meal, friends of SKSM were treated to a healthy breakfast as well as a viewing of Starr King’s latest short film, which follows the story of 2017 graduate Mandy Goheen. To learn more about Mandy’s call to ministry and why SKSM was “the best place” for her, watch our new video.

Next came a passionate testimonial from Zebulon Green, former Student Body President and current student pursuing a dual program for a Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Social Change.

“Starr King School for the Ministry, its faculty, its staff, my colleagues, my classmates… every single person is committed to our success,” said Zeb. “Every single person has been there for me when I have needed them.”

“Shortly into the semester,” he continued, “I had to move from Berkeley to the East Coast and Starr King helped me make that transition, helped me stay in that semester and keep going. Everyone stepped up. Whenever I needed help I just looked to Starr King and someone was there with a helping hand.”

Then, Starr King’s new Chair of the Board of Trustees, Ted Fetter, spoke briefly on the importance of supporting the school.

“This is not just an investment in Starr King School for the Ministry, it’s an investment in the future of Unitarian Universalism. I believe it is one of the most important investments we can make.”

To make a contribution to Starr King, of whatever amount you are comfortable with, please click here. Your support makes all the difference in our day-to-day operations and is deeply appreciated.

Wake Now Our Vision
Friday, June 23, 2017

Later on Friday afternoon, leaders of the Wake Now Our Vision (WNOV) Collaborative Campaign thanked those who have supported its Legacy Challenge. Among them was Starr King President Rosemary Bray McNatt.

The WNOV Collaborative Campaign is a movement that strives to strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and congregations through the power of planned giving. Consisting of the six largest Unitarian Universalist organizations — the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the Church of the Larger Fellowship, Meadville Lombard Theological School, and Starr King School for the Ministry — our goal is to reach $50 million in planned gifts by 2020. The UU Congregation at Shelter Rock has generously contributed a $5 million grant, and new pledges are eligible for a 10% matching gift of up to $10,000.

To learn more about how you can support our efforts to secure the future of Unitarian Universalism, please visit www.wakenowourvision.org.

Seminary 101: Are You Called to Spiritual Leadership?
Friday, June 23, 2017

How do we respond more effectively to injustices and suffering? How do we best utilize our special gifts to be of service to the world? Is spiritual leadership right for me? These are some of the questions prospective seminarians may struggle with in the discernment process.

In an effort to help those exploring their call, Starr King held a Seminary 101 event at GA. Prospective students sat down with Starr King’s Admissions and Recruitment Director, the Rev. Jeremiah Kalendae, and Acting Dean of Students and Community Life, the Rev. Lindi Ramsden, to learn more about the school’s unique academic offerings.

“We’re not just a Unitarian Universalist school,” explained Kalendae. “We’re also a multireligious school. So we have about a third or so of our student body who are Buddhist abbots, Pagan priestesses, Hebrew priestesses, Christians, Hindu, Humanist, Atheist/Agnostic, indigenous practitioners… I’ve never been in a community that’s so diverse and so rich in life experiences and wisdom.”

To learn more about Starr King’s high/low residency options, degree programs, and commitment to Educating to Counter Oppressions (ECO), visit our Prospective Students webpage. There you can find an introductory video as well as a form to request an Admissions & Counseling appointment or campus visit.

We look forward to starting a conversation with you about your spiritual, educational, and professional aspirations.

Scrolling Through Time: An Exploration of Engaging Together in Prophetic Work
Friday, June 23, 2017

Starr King’s Balázs Scholar, the Rev. Tet Gallardo, facilitated a series of small group conversations exploring the notions of time in different cultures and religions. Drawing upon her unique perspective as Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bicutan in Manila, Philippines, and encouraging others to share their own perspectives, Gallardo and company collaborated to “uncover secrets, discover mysteries, and appreciate the wisdom piercing through our interconnected web of existence.”

We at Starr King have thoroughly enjoyed Tet’s upbeat presence at the school this year, and are sad to see her leave to return to the Philippines soon. We invite you to take a look back at our Balázs Scholar’s graduation speech from Starr King’s 2017 Commencement Ceremony.

Ramadan Iftar Dinner
Friday, June 23, 2017

As the sun set on Friday, our beloved community gathered for Starr King’s third annual Ramadan Iftar Dinner at GA. Observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, Ramadan is a time of purification, communal celebration, and intimacy with Allah.

“I think it’s important for Unitarian Universalists who are interested in dismantling white supremacy culture to create spaces where there are honorings like Ramadan,” said the Rev. Jeremiah Kalendae in welcoming our guests. “If you think about it, this whole General  Assembly we’re talking about white supremacy culture, yet there’s no acknowledgement that the second largest religion in the world, which is predominantly people of color, is honoring its most sacred month… So it’s really a counter-oppressive act just in being here to break bread together.”

You can watch both Kalendae’s welcome, as well as the Rev. Ranwa Hammamy’s Ramadan Khutbah, on Starr King’s GA YouTube playlist.

UUA Co-Presidents’ Reception
Friday, June 23, 2017

In a kind gesture, the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees hosted a reception Friday night thanking the interim co-presidents for their service to the UUA this year.

Starr King School for the Ministry would like to take this opportunity to join the UUA in thanking our leaders during this time of transition. We are grateful to Dr. Leon Spencer, as well as the Starr King graduates who have agreed to serve as co-presidents of the association, the Revs. Sofia Betancourt (2003) and Bill Sinkford (1995).

Big Easy/Real Life Immersion Experience
Saturday, June 24, 2017

Starr King School for the Ministry and Gulf Coast Volunteers for the Long Haul (affectionately referred to as “Long Haul”) teamed up for a volunteer project on Saturday. Integrating Starr King’s counter-oppressive focus with Long Haul’s hands-on approach, participants helped rebuild homes in the lower 9th Ward and 7th Ward of New Orleans, where major flooding from Hurricane Katrina killed and displaced thousands of families and caused over $100 billion in damages. The project was a tribute to both the New Orleans community and the late Rev. Mary Harrington, Starr King graduate and founder of Long Haul.

“Open minds, open hearts, and closed mouths” was a motto adopted by volunteers in an effort to respond effectively and respectfully to the wishes of local residents. In a workshop two days prior, participants were briefed on the historical and cultural context of the communities they entered, as well as local movements for racial, economic and climate justice.

“We were on the crew that worked at the Franklin Avenue house,” explained the Rev. Elaine Gehrmann, volunteer and Executive Board of the SKSM Graduate Association, “which is opportunity housing allowing New Orleans residents to purchase homes and lots for just the price of the materials. They then make a commitment to stay there for the next five years. It felt really important to leave the convention center site and experience life in the New Orleans neighborhoods that are still rebuilding. A woman stopped by while we were outside on the porch touching up paint, saying she was thinking of buying this house and she was so glad that God had put it in our hearts to come and help. She said that love has no color and we are all one. We agreed – and it felt great to embody our love in our labors!” 

To learn more about how you can get involved with the Gulf Coast Volunteers for the Long Haul’s rebuilding efforts, visit www.longhaulvolunteers.org and/or contact gulfhelp@gmail.com.

Students of the Rev. Dr. Meg Richardson Observe UU Polity in Action
Saturday, June 24, 2017

There is perhaps no better place to learn about the form and process of Unitarian Universalist governance than GA, especially with this year’s presidential election. Starr King’s Visiting Assistant Professor of Unitarian Universalist History, the Rev. Dr. Meg Richardson, took full advantage of this unique opportunity in her Polity Intensive course.

This year’s theme, “Resist and Rejoice,” allowed for a new interpretation of UU polity in the light of intersections with justice-oriented prophetic witness. Students attended plenary sessions, business mini-assemblies and worship services, and met as a class to process their observations.

To learn more about Starr King’s course offerings, click here.

Congratulations to UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray!
Saturday, June 24, 2017

Starr King School for the Ministry congratulates the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray on being elected President of the Unitarian Universalist Association!

Frederick-Gray edged out fellow candidates the Revs. Jeanne Pupke and Alison Miller in the instant run-off election by winning 40 percent of the first round votes, and 57 percent after the second place votes were apportioned. It was the UUA’s first presidential election to feature all female candidates, online voting, and the first since 1977 to use the UUA’s instant runoff voting provision. To watch the announcement of the presidential election results, click here.

We are confident in Susan’s abilities and look forward to working with her in the years to come.

Starr King Gala
Saturday, June 24, 2017

The final evening of the 2017 General Assembly concluded in celebratory fashion with the Starr King Gala. After a busy week of workshops and meetings, it was a welcomed opportunity to celebrate as a community all that we love about Starr King and GA.

Guests enjoyed a delicious catered meal, bar, live jazz band, and dancing. Before the night concluded, SKSM Vice President of Advancement Jessica Cloud expressed deep gratitude for the generosity of Starr King’s donors, who contributed an impressive $108,213 over the course of GA!

“I’m humbled by the overwhelming generosity of our donors and volunteers, who believe deeply in our mission,” said Cloud. “And I’m beyond grateful for our faithful staff that helped this kind of fundraising become a reality for the school. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

If you have not yet made a gift to Starr King, and wish to support our efforts to educate progressive religious leaders, we invite you to make a gift today. Your generosity truly makes a difference in our day-to-day operations and is appreciated more than you know.

Thank you for your interest in following Starr King School for the Ministry at GA! For more, visit our GA YouTube playlist and photo album on Facebook. Until next year!

GA attendees gather for the annual Service of the Living Tradition.

This year’s booth provided a multimedia experience and plenty of free Starr King swag. Thanks to everyone who stopped by!

Graduates of SKSM’s entering class of 2005 gather after the Berry Street Lecture.

Your 2017 “SKSM Presidents Club”: Sofia Betancourt (former UUA Interim Co-President), Ariel Aaronson-Eves (SKSM Student Body President), and Rosemary Bray McNatt (SKSM President)

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