Sunday, July 10, 2011

GA 2011: Tending the Flame

After the St. Louis General Assembly the Council on Cross-Cultural Engagement (Unitarian Universalist leaders talking about how we can be more amazingly adept at noticing and courageously crossing borders) brainstormed a list of ways we could use the skills we already have to make General Assembly (GA) a kinder experience more in keeping with our values. The GA Right Relationship Team was formed as a result of this Council conversation, as were the replacement of "energy breaks" with songs, and the notion that we might want to light a chalice (novel idea!) at the beginning of each plenary (business) session.
Part of planning the plenary agenda is selecting chalice lighters for each plenary. The Southeast district was our host for GA 2011, and so I asked the leadership of the Southeast district to light the chalice for our last plenary. They sent board member Nathan Hollister, whose chalice lighting gave me goosebumps. Here's my introduction and Nathan's chalice lighting from the live captioning feed. You can watch it at:

Gini: I now call to order the final plenary session for this 50th General Assembly. It is my pleasure to ask an old friend who has served as a teller, and as a moderator at some of our mini assemblies here.
You know, sometimes Unitarian Universalism is a story about how you meet a new friend and then you realize that you knew them 20 years ago and where have they been? This is one of those kinds of stories. This is Nathan Hollister, and his father, who I only know as “Nathan's dad”. They're here to light the chalice this afternoon.

Nathan Hollister:
About 50 years ago, after helping to found congregations in Texas, Georgia, and Maryland, my grandparents, Fran and Bill Hollister, moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There in the 60s, my grandparents worked with others to create a liberal religious home for those committed to racial justice, a home that came to be known as Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
In 2006, my wife Robin and I moved to Chapel Hill to spend some time with Fran in her last few years. We began our tenure as youth group advisors on our second Sunday. And because of this, it wasn't until I found myself in a workshop on membership led by Reverend Morales that it occurred to me that although I'd been around for about eight months, I hadn't yet signed the membership book.
For whatever reason, I spoke up about this in the meeting. And to my great surprise and greater embarrassment, my minister, Don Southworth, upon hearing this, jumped out of his chair and took off out of the room. Moments later, he returned with the membership book in tow and asked me, in front of the other 30 or so participants of the workshop, if I would join the fellowship. So of course I said “Yes” and I was hauled up to the front of the room.
So there I stood, in front of my congregational leaders, future [UUA] President Morales, future UUMA Director Southworth, and amid much fanfare, prepared to sign the book. It was at that moment that my grandmother called out, “Wait - that's my grandson.” And everything in the room stopped.
My grandmother made her way slowly from the back of the room to stand next to me at the podium. She put her hand on my shoulder. She looked at me, and she said, "I want to be here for this." And I signed the book and I joined the fellowship that my grandparents helped to build for almost 50 years.
Today, as we open the last plenary session of our 50th anniversary, I'm carrying this story in my heart, and it's my wish that 50 years from now, I can stand where my grandmother stood, while future grandchildren make commitments to a vibrant, powerful, and liberating faith.
So in this spirit, here’s my dad, Allan Hollister, who was raised Unitarian Universalist by Fran and Bill, and has finally, finally made it to his first General Assembly ever. I'll ask him to light the chalice.
The warmth of our gathering here kindles a claim whose light can embrace the world.
Its spark lives in all of us and in the loving work that we do here.
This sacred fire ignites our passion for justice and warms our hearts to compassion.
It lights our way not clearly, not with a blinding and unyielding light, but with a flickering, dancing, and varied light. It's a light that warms us when we need it and one that burns us if that's what we need.
May it serve to strengthen our enduring covenants and, if I may say so, may it also serve to set fire to oppression and injustice.
Let us celebrate our past 50 years and the promise of the next 50.


  1. Yeah! A video of just your report! I will spread the news! Love it!

    I also heard you'll be doing a tweetchat on July 30 7PM at #uualtoaz - learning about noncompliance #sideoflove use (not sure what that means). Will that be available elsewhere for people who don't use Twitter? I'd like to spread the word about that, too. None tweeters can at least read it in a web browser, I think.