I opened the e-mail press release from NOW with some degree of pride on August 26th [2010] the anniversary of the date 90 years ago when women finally won the right to vote. It made me think of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who spent most of her adult life working for a woman's right to vote. She didn't live to see or experience women voting yet she continued to travel and work, speak on the issue for a full three fourths of her life.

Kids opening their history books as school starts this fall will actually be able to read that the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was signed into law 90 years ago. Still I don't think, however even some of the most savvy will understand what women had to do to win this simple and fundamental right and how much more must be done to truly secure equality.

I know. Women have come so far. Nancy Pelosi is the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives; Hillary Clinton came closer than any woman in history to winning her party's nomination for president; there are three sitting female US Supreme Court judges. Progress is too often clouded by the fact that women are still not equal, constitutionally. Opposition to the ERA continues. According to NOW President Terry O'Neill, "When history books and media celebrate women's successful fight for the right to vote, they often imply that women now have constitutional equality. In spite of these milestones women are astoundingly denied guaranteed equal protection under the law, which all men enjoy thanks to the 14th Amendment. The fact is, sex discrimination against women is not unconstitutional, and statutes prohibiting it have no Constitutional foundation. It is time to write women into the Constitution by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment."

Opposition to the ERA has been consistent and vehement since it was first drafted by suffragist, Alice Paul introduced it in Congress in 1923 to fix the deficiency of the 14th Amendment, by providing the Constitutional equality for women. In 1972 the ERA was passed by Congress, but failed to be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures. That is just three states short. I am ashamed to say that Illinois is one of those states.

Every year since 1982 the ERA has been reintroduced in Congress and repeatedly shot down. It never gets out of committee in Illinois. Seems there is always something pressing and more important to occupy our leaders' minds and ours. I hate to whine, but when will women get their turn? We're sorry to bother you, but we've been waiting since 1923. We've been good. Well maybe we were a little mouthy at times. I know. We burned a few bras back in 1960s, and raised some hell in the 1970s but otherwise we have been pretty agreeable. And if not that, we've been patient and hopeful.

As I toured Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, IL) recently with friend and fellow Connection Councilor and her grandchildren, I was privy to her whisperings in her three grand children's ears, when we watched the ticker of deaths during the Civil war go higher and higher, and viewed an actual uniform worn by a young soldier no older that her grandsons. Janice, a beautiful woman of color, who is raising her two grandsons and granddaughter whispered, "This is why we must never take our right to vote for granted."

Now when Louisville, Kentucky friend, MJ, sent a beautiful reminder of what Alice Paul and others of the latter and more radical suffragist movement had done in front of the Wilson White House to raise a stink with their protests and placards I was again inspired to speak up about the deficiency that still exists. Eventually in 1920 a vote in Congress gave women the right to vote but we are not equal yet.

If you have forgotten or don't know the history watch the video "Iron Jawed Angels" for a little booster shot. Like Janice said to her grandchildren that day at the Lincoln museum, "We must never take the vote for granted." At a time when the world is recognizing the brutality visited on women all around the world how can American feminists loose heart? We are only three states away from ratification of the ERA?

Vote, vote, vote and elect those who care about equality. We are 38 years into a fifty year cycle since the 2nd wave feminism. I am told that these things "flare up" every fifty years. If we don't lose the faith and keep working, this could be our time. I, unlike my idol, Stanton, could live to see it.

Unitarian Universalists were out in great numbers in Minneapolis, Minnesota in late June to meet, learn and celebrate being UU at the Annual General Assembly. It is where action issues of import to UUs are discussed, voted on in the several plenary sessions; workshops on many subjects of importance to congregations and leaders are presented; and long standing traditions are carried out. Of note: the opening banner parade of congregations begins the festivities.

Randy and I arrived in the city on Friday the 25th two days after the actual opening. We were a bit shell shocked because of the giant storm that passed through the Minneapolis area as we were negotiating the last few miles of freeway that would lead to our hotel. Quarter-size hail, winds, and blowing rain pummeled Randy as he dashed from the car to the hotel lobby. Then we parked in the underground bunker of a garage and went up the hotel elevator to our room. Sweet, never got wet or pummeled. We ordered a pizza as we frequently do on our first night, tired from driving and were pleasantly surprised that it had "veggie sausage" on it.

Okay so we weren't actually registered for the GA -- but we had arrived and meant to get in, as we had a few years ago when we vacationed in Boston the same year the General Assembly was there.

Our judgment of the sophistication and forward thinking of a city centers on the availability of vegetarian food, independent bookstores, music scene, and diversity of political ideas. Not only would we check out the GA but Minneapolis, We weren't disappointed as we saw Minneapolis' 30th Annual Gay pride parade, sampled the best of their food offerings, visited the anarchist bookstore and met Peter Mayer, UU musician.

We had no problem walking into the vendor's room in Boston, but this year we had to wait until Sunday, when the vending area, as well as the Sunday service is open to the public. There were some 3400 people at service to sing with the choir, participate in the ritual and hear the newly elected UUA president Rev. Peter Morales speak. Here are a couple of quotes from Morales that I wrote in my little notebook: We must explore "letting go of past successes; pay attention to and let go of what no longer serves us" and "reach out in love," because "that is what love does." (More Morales quotes.)

Where could I begin? I guess that was up to me. I am really about living up to our ideals of plurality and like Rev. Shirley Ranck says in her Statement of Feminist Thealogy, "It is our faith's greatest ideal and challenge." We have been seeking racial diversity and religious and cultural diversity for a long time, but sometimes we don't do so well in living up to the challenges of recognizing that "everyone is hungry for love and connection" and "that love reaches out" with enthusiastic welcome.

Walking through the vending area gives one an idea of where so many UUs are working: GLBT, Christian, feminist, polyamorous booths: every earth mother and father bumper sticker, button or tee shirt; jewelry, books galore, massage therapists, the UUSC, petitions to sign, Buddhist UUs and witches and wiccans to commune with. I bought our grandson a colorful stuffed dragon and me, a autographed CD by Peter Mayer -- one of my favorite recently discovered (by me) singer-songwriters whose performance I had missed on Wednesday night. He wrote the words for "Blue Boat Home" in the new UU hymnal supplement. But the song that I listened to at least a hundred times when I discovered it on YouTube was "(Everything is) Holy Now." It seems that love might think that.

As we were leaving the vending area for our hotel to pack our belongings to go, we went past our minister's booth a final time. He was working to raise money to cover his trip with various wares including: mugs and ALUUC tees, a poster of famous UU's that you could actually put your own photo on, Mike Haynes' wonderful handmade native American flutes and Bonnie Ettinger's melodic piano CD's. Both Mike and Bonnie are members of our Springfield congregation. As we passed, "The Old Rugged Cross" played as only Bonnie could play it. We observed as a middle-aged woman wandered up to Rev. Martin's booth and said, "That is the kind of stuff I became a UU to get away from." Martin -- ever patient and reaching out in love -- said quietly, "It's in the (UU) hymnal." Didn't know that; it should be because we are UU, "standing on the side of love."

It is always so fulfilling and revealing when the Connection Council visits various congregations at quarterly meeting time. It is also one of the lures for me to volunteer with the Connection.

On a weekend visit to the smallish and third congregation in the Madison area I am full of admiration. Madison, bastion of forward thinking, mostly liberal politics supports the largest congregation in the UUA, I am told. That would be First UU Society, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright designed meeting house has close to 2000 members. (Unofficial guess)

We wanted to visit Prairie, though, because an established connection and welcoming attitude. I met Dorothy and took a liking to her at 2009's District Assembly when we both served as volunteers on the media team. (Another edge pusher for me.) Thanks to Dorothy and other members, we had the Prairie experience of genuine hospitality in this little but mighty congregation.

I must say I am so impressed with this little fellowship. Though they have been established for around 50 years their membership stands around 100. They have a consulting minister who with members decide together what worship, programs and facility looks like. The front lawn aptly showed late spring growth of prairie grasses and flowers, the kitchen sported recycle bins and neatly named drawers and cabinet doors, the RE area brightly colored banners, drawings of what it meant to be UU. Age group rooms were oddly familiar as others I had seen but with a special twist only an active, live RE program can express.

Wanting to try the special flavors of Madison with a trip to the Saturday morning farmer's market that circles the Capitol building and demands one way traffic, we opted to meet for business after lunch down town on Saturday. It's okay. We were given a key to the church. Plenty of time for wandering and adventuring: bicycle lanes and respect everywhere...Organic this and that...bakers and makers of every kind of earth mother treat in the market and craft booths on perimeter.

Connection Business meeting completed with preparation for a Margaret Fuller Conversation with the women of Prairie in the evening. We had time to catch the Saturday afternoon service at First Society, a flower communion. Then a quick "look see" at the congregation's new digs. It is a beautiful and green and is so "Wright-looking" in compliment to the Frank Lloyd Wright meeting house design.

Saturday evening had us back at Prairie for a Margaret Fuller conversation salon on the eve of the anniversary of fore mother, Margaret Fuller's, 200th birth. Sunday morning we joined the congregation for service, a special speaker, Margaret Fuller, aka Robin Proud, who compared concerns and joys of both Margaret's time and ours with the use of actual Fuller quotes and some from the UU World about issues still concerning us 200 years later.

Prairie is so blessed with not only theatrical talent, but musical talent as well. A new song, inspired by Margaret Fuller's words, had people in the congregation humming along with the intro, even though they had never heard it before. My mouth dropped as UU hymns were sung out in a place dedicated to its music programs. Congregational hymns were sung in a way that didn't seem to matter if one hit a sour note once in a while. (BTW: I didn't hear one off note!) Discussion after the speaker was full of questions about Margaret Fuller, her life and work, and then came Joys and Concerns. The microphone was handed off to one person after another, with good humored jousting and serious questions and even tears -- a sure sign of loving acceptance, a place where one finds one's friends.

Spring Conference was planned this year [2010] by the women of ALUUC, Springfield, Illinois. Meg at first seemed reluctant to head the planning only because as a senior youth leader at our congregation, she was busy already helping senior youth at ALUUC plan the district youth CON that would take place just a couple of weeks before the Connection's spring conference.

She gave me hope however, with her response to my first e-mail. She thought that it might be a good direction for her volunteering to take now that she has begun to step away from her serious longtime involvement with the RE program. It could actually be planned for women like her. Unconsciously or not, I thought, the program might even help to "fill her own cup."

Now I admire the young people of UU who are graduated from the RE program each year and the leaders who guide them. They seem so ready and able to embrace their lives. They are full of ideas and hope and fun. And they are upstanding, engaged and aware of more than their teen navels.

I trusted Meg when she and her newly enlisted Co-chair, Brenda, another RE veteran, wanted to make small adjustments with the help of Teri Freesmeyer, our keynote, that would make the program planned for high school-aged youth work for women looking for a relaxing, revitalizing, spa-like weekend for women. Actually, I was so completely grateful that they were willing to guide the planning for the 52nd year of the spring conference that I told them it didn't matter that they had never been there. It was a relief to "let go" and allow these busy volunteers to create a weekend that they themselves would love. Never mind that they had never been there to experience the retreat and had no idea of what to expect.

Hadn't councilors tried since the move to Pilgrim Park a few years ago to build a spring conference that would inspire women to be there, provide some coping skills for their daily lives, give a little vacation from the concerns of their lives, become revived and de-stressed. Many women who attended the previous year had promised to come back with a friend in 2010, so we could simply break even financially.

Friday afternoon check in, a browse through the silent auction items and book exchange through pre-dinner rehearsal of the songs and chants we would be singing over the weekend and a preview of the weekend schedule was our beginning. Meg asked that at dinner we sit with someone we don't know and be prepared to introduce that person to the entire group later. After our introductions we sang a welcoming song to each using their name, so they might feel welcome. E.G. "Pat is here, Pat is here, all manner of good things will come to her now."

Now I see that all manner of good things came that weekend, but I want to recognize that what Springfield women created and prepared to share with their sisters at a weekend such as this is about what those preparers need in their lives as well as the rest of us. This is what I have been referring to as "radical hospitality", where closeness of a depth that allows friendships to form and guards to be let down happened. Stories were told and songs were learned and sung, prose and poetry of heart and soul was read. "Speed friending" and our commonality of purpose gave depth to our new and renewed friendships and a trust that allowed us to sing later about vajayjays, dance in ecstatic frenzy, giggle and joke and reveal ourselves fully to one another as friends and sojourners.