Detroit-area choirs gather for music, community

Every other year since 2003, the choirs of many Unitarian Universalist congregations in the Detroit, Michigan, area have come together for a music festival. The latest was March 9 at First UU Church of Detroit.

At the first festival there were eight choirs; this year there were choristers from ten congregations, with a total of about 130 singers.

“This is just an amazing experience every time we do it,” said Al Acker, a longtime choir member with First UU. “The thing I like most is that my own choir on a good Sunday will have only twelve or thirteen members. To sing with a group of more than 100 is just such a wonderful experience. Also, we get to work with the music directors of other congregations. And once we’ve learned these songs we can sing them at other services throughout the year.”

It’s a lot of music to learn, he acknowledged. “That’s why we only do this every other year.” The choirs practice the numbers at home then gather Saturday for practices and lunch. They come back Sunday for the performance.

Acker said most of the 80 to 90 members of First Unitarian contributed to the concert by singing, providing and serving the lunch, helping with parking, or ushering. The concert is held in a different location every year.

In addition to First Unitarian, the congregations that participated are First UU Church of Ann Arbor, Birmingham Unitarian Church, Emerson Church UU, New Hope UU Congregation, Northwest UU Church, Paint Creek UU Congregation, Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church, UU Church of Farmington, and the UU Church of Olinda, at Ruthven, Ontario.

The original idea for the concert came from Todd Ballou, music director at the Detroit congregation and Anna Speck, the then-music director at Grosse Pointe. “It’s become one of the rare opportunities to get people together from all the area congregations,” said Ballou.

Special guests sometimes appear. This year Naomi Long Madgett, the poet laureate of Detroit, read some of her poems. UU songwriter Carolyn McDade led some of the songs several years ago. “Sometimes we can’t decide if this is a church service with tons of music or a choir concert with some speaking parts. This year it was more of a concert,” said Ballou.

Encourage first-time GAers with cash, support

The UU Congregation of Princeton, N.J., typically sends five to eight adults and several youth to General Assembly each year. Over the years most of them have tended to be “GA regulars,” folks who had attended several previous GAs.

Like many congregations, UUCP longed to interest new people in GA but hadn’t had much luck. This year the membership committee tried something new to do just that. Since cost is typically a major deterrent to attending GA, the committee raised $800 to pay much of the cost by soliciting donations at two Sunday brunches. It also promoted GA through the congregation’s website, newsletter, orders of service, and from the pulpit. It let it be known it wanted to send someone “new” with the money it had raised.

That person turned out to be Kevin Trayner, co-chair of the Religious Education Council at UUCP.  He and his wife, Lisa, began attending five years ago “for the kids” but quickly found their own places in the congregation. He was recruited as an RE teacher and both continue to teach, including OWL, the UUA’s sexuality education program.

“I think that the experience of attending GA will give me a better grounding in the overall UU experience,” said Traynor. “It will be valuable to me to connect with other UUs from different backgrounds, and to share that experience with others. Part of it, also, for me, is to educate myself so that when I talk to newcomers I can better speak to ‘who are we.’”

Several congregational leaders, including the Rev. Bill Neely, met with Trayner to fill him in on GA and help him register. He’ll attend GA sessions related to welcoming guests and integrating people into the life of the congregation.

“We plan to meet with him after GA to discuss what he learned that can help us with welcoming,” said Lisa Roche, co-chair of the membership committee. “We’re hoping that because he’s active in RE, this will also lead to closer ties between the RE council and the membership committee. And we want to work with him on welcoming in his role as RE co-chair.”

Roche offers the following tips toward encouraging GA attendance:

  • Start promoting GA in the fall.
  • Talk it up among other committees.
  • Raise a substantial amount of money.
  • Show videos of events at past GAs.

She said the committee hopes to try again in coming years to recruit others to attend GA.

UUA moderator candidate forum June 6 online

Delegates to this year’s General Assembly in Louisville, Ky., will be electing a new UUA moderator to serve a six-year term as the Association’s chief governance officer. The two candidates are Jim Key and Tamara Payne-Alex. So that UUs can learn more about the candidates and the issues, the UUA is sponsoring an online moderator candidates’ forum on Thursday, June 6 at 7:30 p.m. EST. The forum will be moderated by the Rev. Ken Sawyer, minister emeritus of First Parish in Wayland, Mass., and chair of the UUA’s Election Campaign Practices Committee.

You are invited to view the forum at forum2013.uua.org. Each candidate will present an opening statement and then respond to questions presented by Sawyer. If you would like to submit questions to be considered for use in the forum, please send them to forum2013@uua.org. The deadline for submitting proposed questions is 12 p.m. EST on Monday, June 3.

Following the live forum, the video will be posted as soon as possible on UUA.org.

‘Bidder 70′ environmental film available to congregations

Bidder 70, the documentary film about Utah Unitarian Universalist Tim DeChristopher and his arrest for disrupting a federal oil and gas lease auction in 2008, is available for viewing by congregations. DeChristopher served two years in federal prisons and a halfway house for disrupting the auction, an act of civil disobedience that drew international attention to the climate change crisis. He was released April 21 and is now speaking out about the need for climate change activism. He will be enrolling in Harvard Divinity School this fall.

The 72-minute film, by Gage and Gage Productions, is available to congregations from UU Ministry for Earth. Congregations with fewer than 150 members pay $75 for rights to show the film. Those with more than 150 members pay $100. Congregations that wish to partner with other groups to show the film in a more public setting will be required to pay a higher fee.

Email UUMFE Office Manager Sabrina Louise Harle, or call (503) 595-9392 for more information.

Youth, young adults encouraged to attend UUA General Assembly

Youth and young adults planning on attending General Assembly 2013 can find helpful information on the Blue Boat blog of the UUA’s Youth and Young Adult Ministries office. GA will be June 19-23 in Louisville, Ky.

The blog includes information on programming,  the Youth Caucus, and travel and housing. There is also a section on raising funds to pay for a trip to GA or to fund service trips. See the online guide: Young Adult Service Trip Fundraising ManualGrants and scholarships are also available.  In addition, check to see if your congregation will pay part of the expense to send youth and young adults to GA. Unlike conferences, youth must make their own arrangements for housing at GA. There is no single “youth hotel” this year. Registration for youth is $80 if paid by April 30 and $95 thereafter. Adults pay $330/$380.

Youth are encouraged to attend programming at GA in addition to that specifically provided for youth. Check the program schedule for workshops of interest. Each youth under 18 must have an adult sponsor.

CLF offers online worship, other services

The Church of the Larger Fellowship presents an online worship service three times a week, not only for the benefit of its members but also for members of other congregations who can’t make it to church because of distance, illness, disability, or other reasons. The services are Sundays at 8 p.m. and Mondays at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. All times are Eastern. Go to questformeaning.org and click on the Live Worship link at the top of the page.

The CLF is also having a 20 percent off sale through December on all of its pewter and enamel pendants and lapel pins. Go to questformeaning.org/page/sale for a flyer describing the sale.

The CLF offers ways to connect with others, including joining a small group online, meeting other members locally, and participating in classes and in social justice work.

Watch General Assembly 2012 live at home

Around fifteen events of General Assembly 2012, to be held in Phoenix in June 20-24, will be live-streamed—made available for viewing by Unitarian Universalists at home as each event happens. These will include opening and closing ceremonies, worship and business sessions, the Ware Lecture by Maria Hinojosa, and a forum for candidates for UUA moderator. A moderator will be elected at GA 2013.

Congregations across the country are invited to gather to watch GA coverage as it happens, including worship. Last year several congregations watched—and participated in—the GA Sunday worship in place of locally organized worship.

A list of events to be live-streamed is on UUA.org. Instructions and technical notes on how to receive these live-streams are also there. Read that information before determining if you can use a GA worship in place of a locally-organized worship.

Margy Levine Young, Web Team Manager for the UUA’s Information Technology Services, encourages congregations to test their systems in advance if they want to watch GA events live. She suggests using a video from GA 2011, available on UUA.org as a test. Congregations should also have a backup plan, she notes, in case the technology on either end fails. If you have questions before GA, write to web@uua.org.

If it’s not convenient for you to watch events live, you can go to UUA.org after an event and watch it anytime. The full video of a GA event will be posted online anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours after an event.

Young said the programming will also be useful to individual UUs and leadership groups. “We hope that groups of leaders who cannot attend GA will find it useful to gather during the assembly to watch some of this programming so they can learn along with the rest of us.”

Seven principles for UU vitality

One document that was developed by participants at the UUA Growth Consultation, held May 5–7 in Colorado, was a list called “The Seven Principles for UU Vitality.” The Rev. Thom Belote, a participant and minister of Shawnee Mission UU Church in Overland Park, Kans., notes, “This document was produced using a process of brainstorming, the grouping of emerging themes, and reflection on our own experiences.”

Here are the Seven Principles for UU Congregational Vitality. More description of each is on Belote’s blog, RevThom.

• The congregation has a clear and powerful purpose and mission.

• The congregation is aware of and responsive to the world around it.

• There is vital worship and a vital Sunday experience for all ages.

• Church is done well.

• The congregation cultivates religious community.

• The congregation builds skills to lead and nurtures gifts to serve.

• Strong ministerial leadership supports the fulfillment of the previous six principles.

There were 17 participants in the consultation, including nine parish ministers, plus religious educators and UUA staff. The consultation was charged with developing a growth plan for the UUA. A list of the participants, a description of what the group attempted to do, and commentary about the process, is all available on RevThom. A program called Leap of Faith is being developed as a result of the conference. More information on it will be available this fall.

Congregations do transgender outreach

Eleven UU congregations from the District of Columbia to northern New Jersey reached out to the transgender community in early June with a presence at the Mazzoni Center’s Trans-Health Conference in Philadelphia. The congregations placed a two-page ad in the event program and staffed an information table. They also contributed $500 to the Mazzoni Center, which provides a range of services for the lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender community.

Ken Goldberg, chair of the social justice committee at the UU Church in Cherry Hill, N.J., said, “we shared our compelling message—you are welcomed to our churches, at all levels of congregational life; please share your personal journey with our loving, spiritual communities; ours is a place where you can be your real self.”

He said five people who attended the event came to services the following Sunday at First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, the closest congregation to the event.

He also noted Unitarian Universalism was the only faith group represented at this event. “We became more aware of transgender issues, trans folks became more aware of us, and we developed contacts with other groups supporting this community,” he said. For information in organizing similar events email Goldberg.

Last-minute GA information

Last-minute information about General Assembly 2010, to be held June 23–27 in Minneapolis, can be found here. It includes information about the GA schedule, business agenda, the convention center, nearby restaurants, public transportation options, and travel from the airport.

Follow GA on Twitter and Facebook. UU World’s GA Blog will follow developments in GA business, social justice, and other issues daily.

For information on how your congregation can watch GA events live at home, read this InterConnections article.