July 16, 2021

Recap: General Assembly 2021

The 2021 UUA General Assembly, originally planned for Milwaukee, 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. Just like last year, we opted out of those nightly emails in order to provide a more comprehensive recap post-GA.

Starr King would like to thank the staff, volunteers, musicians, worship leaders, workshop presenters, and everyone else who made this General Assembly a success. We can’t wait to see you in Portland next year!

Starr King President’s Lecture: Art in Search of Justice

A choreopoem in memory of UU minister James Reeb debuted at the 1990 General Assembly in Milwaukee – the 25th year after his murder. The piece was co-created by Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt (Starr King President) and Reeb’s daughter, Anne. Unfortunately, Anne was not able to make it to the 2021 GA presentation.

Rev. Rosemary began with a bit of history about James Reeb and the creation of the choreopoem. The piece took over two years to create and they missed every GA deadline. They were able to book another venue in Milwaukee and had to pass out flyers to get the word out. In the 90s, the UUA was at a pivotal point in transition about how it felt about racial justice. The piece was meant to compare what the world and UUism looked like at the time of Reeb’s murder (1965) and the year the piece debuted (1990).

Attendees watched the piece in its entirety before Rosemary returned to discuss what her and Anne would have done differently if creating the piece now. Among the many updates they noted, examples include honoring not only Reeb, but also Jimmie Lee Jackson and Viola Liuzzo, and adding more intersectionality/diversity in the casting. Watch the choreopoem below:

Berry Street Lecture

The Berry Street Lecture is the longest running ministerial conference in the world. This year marked the 201st session.

After a welcome and scribal remarks from Rev. Dr. Kate Walker (Scribe & 1997 Starr King graduate), outgoing Executive Committee member and 1995 Starr King graduate Rev. Bill Sinkford gave the opening prayer. This year’s subject was “From Bended Knee: A Theology of Shared Ministry.” Starr King graduates Rev. Rob (1975) and Rev. Janne (1986) Eller-Isaacs’ essay shared the joys and the struggles of both their marriage and shared ministry of 36 years. Watch the full recording at https://fb.watch/v/2WBC7FvDn/.

Rev. Jennifer Crow and Rev. Mykal Slack (Starr King Trustee) offered responses to the essay. Rev. Mykal Slack has been chosen as the 2022 Berry Street essayist.

Graduate Association Meeting

We had another successful Starr King Graduate Association meeting on Wednesday, June 23. Folks joined together on Zoom for fellowship/check-in time prior to the start of the business meeting. It was wonderful to see so many Starr King grads in one place! We watched a short video highlighting graduate milestones to move us into the official meeting.

After a welcome from Rev. Lyn Cox (outgoing Grad Association President), President Rosemary Bray McNatt gave an update on the school. Rev. Lyn went on to give an update on the state of the Graduate Association. The Association then proceeded to vote on the new slate of officers:

  • Nancy Reid-McKee: President (2-year term)
  • Zebulon Green: Vice President (2-year term)
  • Everett Howe: Secretary (halfway through a 2-year term)

There are still two openings for Membership/Program Officers (1- or 2-year terms available) and members of the Nominating Committee. Email us at gradassoc@sksm.edu if you’re interested in serving!

The Association also voted in favor of two bylaw updates – one to hold the annual business meeting at any time of year (previously restricted to the UUA General Assembly) and one to add clarity around the role of the Nominating Committee.

Opening Celebration

Although we missed being together, the virtual Opening Celebration certainly got us excited for GA 2021! Rev. Jennifer Nordstrom (2013 Starr King graduate) and Rev. Shari Halliday-Quan led the service and spoke to the difficulties and trauma of the last 16 months. In their homilies, they discussed the importance of processing grief and celebrating small victories to return us to our ethics of humanity, joy, and love.

The celebration included beautiful music from UU musicians across the country, including “Draw the Circle Wide” by Mark Miller performed by Chalice UU Fellowship of Conejo Valley, California, “Take What You Need” by Reena Esmail performed by UU BIPOC Community Choir, and more.

Service of the Living Tradition

The Service of the Living Tradition is the largest Unitarian Universalist worship service of the year. 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.

The Rev. Mr. Barb Greve (2007 Starr King graduate) told the story about his experience with the Living Tradition Fund. Between jobs, Barb had to undergo life-saving surgery and the fund paid for 1/3 of his medical bills, rent, and other financial obligations. Barb’s story is a perfect example of the Living Tradition Fund helping those who are honored during the Service of the Living Tradition.

The sermon was delivered by Rev. Dr. Natalie Fenimore, former Vice President of the the Starr King Board of Trustees. She discussed the difficulties of the last year and a half and the act of finding our center. Although we are all in the same storm, we are in different boats that weather the storm in different ways. BIPOC communities have suffered more during the pandemic – communal suffering and grief is another wound added to the collective BIPOC lives. She went on to discuss this fear and the courage that we all must have to move forward in the work of justice.

Our ministries cannot be free of fear, but that fear can motivate us…We do not have to be without fear to be courageous.” – Rev. Dr. Natalie Fenimore

Ware Lecture

Each year, the President of the UUA invites a distinguished guest to address the General Assembly as the Ware Lecturer. This year, we were lucky enough to have two lecturers: Stacey Abrams and Desmond Meade.

Stacey Abrams told her childhood story of growing up the daughter of two ministers. Growing up, her and her siblings had three jobs: go to church, go to school, and take care of each other. They were taught at an early age that no matter what they needed, there were other people that needed their help more. The family would volunteer together every Saturday morning and Abrams internalized how she was raised. It helps to explain who she is why she does what she does. She described her conversations with folks in Georgia from communities that have been hit the hardest with COVID, unemployment, and lack of resources, among other hardships. She discussed her 2018 campaign, how she dealt with the loss of the election, and what she is focused on now.

Not getting everything you thought you would get does not mean you lost. It may just be justice delayed, not justice denied. But my responsibility, our responsibility is constantly to imagine more.” – Stacey Abrams

Desmond Meade is a formerly homeless returning citizen who told the story of his journey through addiction, the prison system, attending law school, and eventually becoming President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) and Chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy. Meade authored Let My People Vote: My Battle to Restore the Rights of Returning Citizens, published by Beacon Press in October of 2020. His philosophy is that love is the leading force when you’re fighting for something, but when you’re fighting against something, anger is the leading force.

You have to allow love to be at the center of what you do.” – Desmond Meade

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