The 2020 UUA General Assembly (June 24-28) was 100% virtual, but completely packed with programs, workshops, and speakers! Each year at General Assembly, we send out nightly newsletters that include recaps of the day’s programs and events. This year we opted out of those nightly emails in order to provide a more comprehensive recap post-GA.
Thank you to all of the staff, volunteers, and participants that made this year’s Virtual General Assembly a powerful and meaningful experience.
Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt (President, Starr King School for the Ministry) and Dr. Elías Ortega (President, Meadville Lombard Theological School) came together for the annual Starr King President’s Lecture. They discussed the histories of their respective schools and their excitement about the schools collaborating in the future. After discussing their own faith formation journeys, the presidents spent time reflecting on their unique roles, not only in preparing religious leaders but in shaping Unitarian Universalist thought and practice, and the challenges that face progressive faith in the 21st century.
Each year at General Assembly, Starr King hosts a catered Friendship & Graduate Breakfast. These events are an opportunity to bring new Unitarian Universalists into relationship with Starr King, as well as to reconnect with our friends and alumni. A virtual General Assembly didn’t stop us this year! We held two virtual “Bring Your Own Breakfast” events the week prior to GA.
In light of recent events, Starr King made the decision to reframe our annual breakfast as our virtual Revolutionary Hope Breakfast. We expanded the length of the two breakfast events to 90 minutes, which allowed for more time to hear from Starr King graduates working with protests in the streets and be in dialog with our President Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt and faculty member Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt. Visit www.sksm.edu/breakfastspeakers for bios of all the speakers.
Guests were treated to the premiere of our annual student profile video! This year, we featured Kiya Heartwood. Kiya is a recent Starr King M.Div. graduate, Director of The People’s Orchestra of Austin, Assistant Minister at Live Oak UU in Cedar Park, TX., singer-songwriter, and preacher’s wife. Watch the extended version below or click here for the short version.
The Annual Meeting began with Rev. Lyn Cox (President, Starr King Grad Association) reporting on the state of the Grad Association. She touched on the first Graduate Reunion and Mentorship weekend held in January 2020, efforts to help keep graduates in touch with one another, plans to encourage graduates to connect with current and prospective students, and the progress of the Grad Association’s strategic plan.
President Rosemary Bray McNatt reported on the status of SKSM’s accreditation process, on the move to Mills College, and on the school’s budget. She discussed upcoming changes to the school’s model of advising. The school will be hiring a chaplain to take on some of the emotional and spiritual support that had previously fallen to advisors. We also heard from Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt, who will serve as Acting President during President McNatt’s upcoming sabbatical.
Business included the creation of a Nominating Committee to help fill open officer positions, as well as voting Kevin Alan Mann to Co-Membership/Program Officer of the Graduate Association. The meeting concluded with a Q&A session. Full minutes and recap will be available on the SKSM Grad Association Facebook Group soon.
Each year, the Welcome Celebration is one of our favorite events. This year’s virtual celebration did not disappoint. A powerful indigenous-led worship brought ancestors to the forefront and served as a reminder that we are on stolen land. The main speaker/preacher, Jessie Little Doe Baird, is a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe located in Massachusetts. We also heard from Wampanoag Drummers, Rev. Dr. María Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa (SKSM Adjunct Faculty member), Rev. Sunshine Wolfe (SKSM Graduate), and more.
Led by Starr King Trustee Dr. Sylvester Johnson, this presentation showed that inequality is set to exceed anything the world has ever seen within the next decade. Dr. Johnson began with examples of patterns of exclusion. He went on to explain the difference between wealth and income and examined existing structural imbalances in regards to race, wealth, and technology and how they are interconnected. This program touched on many topics relevant in today’s world: mass incarceration, education, the policing of POC, reparations from slavery, wealth distribution, climate & green technology, and more.
Rev. Megan Visser (Assistant Professor of Ethics and Society), Rev. Kimberly Quinn Johnson, Denise Moorehead, and Diane Pansire led this interactive workshop that explored how class and classism shape our lives, congregations, organizations, and social justice work. After two exercises to start understanding our class backgrounds, attendees were broken into groups to discuss their personal class experiences. Presenters went on to define and differentiate class vs classism, class oppression, and how to move beyond being a class ally to a class accomplice.
With beautiful Opening Words from Starr King graduate, Rev. Sarah Lammert, the largest Unitarian Universalist worship service of the year started – the Service of the Living Tradition. As is tradition, we celebrated those that have attained preliminary fellowship, praised those that have attained full fellowship, thanked those concluding their ministry, and honored those that have passed away over the past year. We also gratefully acknowledged those that completed the Music Leadership Certification Program and those achieving Religious Education Credentialing. Rev. Daniella Di Bona gave the sermon titled “Revival of Relations, Revolution of Values”. She called us to be brave, to share “the good news that Unitarian Universalism is love and we will not back down from hatred and fear.” Music for this powerful service was directed by Dr. Zanaida Robles.
“When we, as religious professionals choose not to lead our congregations in justice-making, we deny them the opportunity to expand their understanding of ‘we’.” – Rev. Daniella Di Bona
Rev. Előd Szabó, our 2019-2020 Balázs Scholar, gave one of the homilies for the Friday Morning Worship service celebrating the youth of our faith. Előd comes from a long line of ministers and spent time reflecting on his own childhood. Voices of our youth were centered and celebrated throughout the program, including the Chalice Lighting, music, and second homily by ‘Imiloa Borland (Senior GA Youth of Color Coordinator).
“God’s blessing is an absolute good that happens to an individual or a community and the blessing is like a seed that has all the characteristics of the kingdom of God: The perfect word of love and justice in it.” – Rev. Előd Szabó
Rob Kinslow (M.Div., Class of 2020), aka “The Minister Who Does Magic,” both preached and entertained in this workshop! Rob began with multiple magic tricks and helped attendees connect them to the 7 Principles of the Unitarian Universalist faith. He taught the group how to turn a trick into a lesson that is meaningful and fun for all. For example, one can use the “floating finger” to teach the 4th Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Finally, Rob called attendees to, “remember that magic makes our congregations and our spirits grow – so go forth, do magic, and have fun before it all disappears.”
Dr. Elias Ortega (President, Meadville Lombard Theological School) moderated this panel discussion featuring Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt (SKSM Associate Professor of Unitarian Universalist Theologies and Ethics), Rev. Mykal Slack, and Ranwa Hammamy. Over the course of the discussion, panelists considered three questions:
Overarching themes included recognizing and knowing that we are not always living up to our values every single day, building relationships with intentionality and care, finding wisdom in multigenerational groups including youth, and constantly asking ourselves how our UU values align with our UU culture and making the necessary shifts to better align the two.
Over the past three years, the Commission of Institutional Change has collected interviews, stories, and data about the ways in which Unitarian Universalism has and has not lived up to its highest values and principles, especially in regards to religious professionals of color. Rev. Dr. Natalie Fenimore (Trustee, SKSM), joined by Aisha Hauser (Research Scholar, SKSM), Sarah Dan Jones, and Rev. Darrick Jackson, used this workshop time to discuss the Commission’s findings and recommendations on education and transformation in UU communities and congregations.
“Our Unitarian Universalist spaces, whether they are brick and mortar congregations or online, are where we can engage in conversations and put into practice transformation in ways that aren’t happening anywhere else.” – Aisha Hauser, MSW
Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward (SKSM Assistant Professor of Transformative Leadership) led this interactive workshop along with Gregory Boyd, Elandria Williams, and Kari Gottfried. They began by breaking attendees into small groups. These small groups were tasked to discuss why they attended the workshop, paying special attention and lifting up the voices of youth participants. When the group reconvened, the presenters reflected on the history, creation, and importance of the UUA Youth and Young Adult Caucus. As programs continue to be defunded and dismantled, the presenters urged attendees to support their youth and young adult groups. Strong support and investing in youth and young adults promotes skill building and makes the work they do in the world stronger.
Our Transcendentalist forebears had an intentional practice of developing and maintaining spiritual friendships that transcended differences in gender, theology, age, social class, and race. Rev. Dr. John Buehrens led this discussion with Dr. Phyllis Cole, Rochelle Fortier Nwadibia, and Rev. Lisa Garcia-Sampson about developing and maintaining these spiritual friendships now, despite these differences.
“We need to transform one another in conversation like this in order to be empowered and inspired by those who came before us. Not that they are perfect models, but because they had the courage – the soul force – to stick with one another, to correct one another, to bring out the best in one another for that greater cause of preparing for the next wave of progressive transformation.” – Rev. Dr. John Buehrens
The Ware Lecture is an annual UUA lecture that includes a distinguished guest that is chosen by the GA Planning Committee to address the General Assembly. Naomi Klein, a Canadian writer, social activist, and filmmaker, gave this year’s lecture. Naomi’s work has focused on the intersection of climate change, racism, and inequality. Klein spoke both about the reality that in the midst of a global pandemic, we are living a life that, “is more connected than ever…in addition to the massive and inspiring uprisings in defense of black lives,” all while the clock is “striking midnight on the climate crisis.” Klein invited us all to do the work to make amends and set things right.
She offered the grain of truth that now is a moment when many are finally understanding the interconnected web of all existence of which we are a part, and now is the time that many are realizing the consequences of our history. “We are living in a time that makes the impossible, possible.” Klein charges us to realize that, “what is being offered to us by capitalism right now is not a return to normal but a return to way, way worse than what we had.” She concluded by asking us to “walk through the portal” and join our beloveds that have imagined another radically different world – one that they are already fighting for.
This year, Starr King wanted to honor the role that celebration can play in creating sacred social change by hosting our first-ever virtual Revolutionary Joy Gala! We welcomed DJ Reggie Beas from Atlanta, who hosted a Zoom room dance party that was also livestreamed on the Starr King YouTube page. We heard an update on the school from President Rosemary Bray McNatt and enjoyed two hours of joyful revolutionary celebration and fellowship!