Bloggin General Assembly: First Installment

June 26, 2014

With General Assembly coming to Portland, OR next year, we are hoping to bring a large group from the UUCP. Of course, a lot of people have no idea what general assembly is! And so, I will blog several times to give you a window. You can also download the free GA app (go to the app store and search for “UUA General Assembly 2014”) or catch some of the highlights, which will be livestreamed.

Let’s begin with the basics: General Assembly is a national gathering of Unitarian Universalists from all over the world. There are literally thousands of UU’s here, which is a big part of the experience. We can often feel as is we are small, almost insignificant. But the tangible power of being in a huge stadium that is filled with people who are grounded in our values and fired up by our faith gives me a giant infusion of hope.

Before the thousands descend, the religious professionals gather. For me, that means the UUMA…the UU Ministers’ Association. The UU Musician’s Network, the Association of UU Administrators, and LREDA (Liberal Religious Educator’s Association) meet concurrently. Because of my doctoral work, I haven’t been able to attend GA for the past few years. Ministry days, then, offered me a chance to reconnect with friends from seminar days and beyond. We all have a lot more gray hair than we used to. As one colleague put it, “We are not the young turks anymore.”

I arrived at ministry days early in order to attend a training for Good Office Persons. GOP’s work with UUMA members who are in conflict with their congregation or the organization they serve, with one another, or with the staff members of the UUA. We accompany, advise, and, if the worst comes to pass, help to negotiate a separation. The training focused on NVC, intercultural conflict styles, and covenanting. However, for me, the most interesting part was a conversation with UUA leaders.

The director of ministry, the director of congregational life, the settlement director, and others generously gave us a good chunk of time and brought us up to speed about some pretty big changes at the UUA. The biggest is regionalization. For years, we’ve been organized into districts. However, scarce resources mean that each district has a limited capacity to support staff. By combining districts into regions, teams are formed, and members of these teams have a greater ability to specialize.

This sounds very logical…in theory. In reality, though, as part of the “Western Region,” our team is expected to cover everything West of the Rockies. The boundaries for the regions were based on number of congregations rather than geographical distance. I imagine it will be very hard on Western Regional team members to travel such huge distances, and so they’ll be forced to conduct most of their business via Skype, phone, etc. And personally, I think nothing takes the place of face to face interactions.

It feels like unequal distribution of resources, and suddenly, I understand where the Canadians were coming from when they broke off from the UUA. Meanwhile, it also had me wondering why there are comaratively few congregations on the Western side of the country. One colleague offered an explanation: many of our Western congregations were planted at a time when there were limited numbers of Unitarian or Universalist clergy willing to move to the “wild west.” Apparently, there used to be far more, but when the original clergy person moved on, no one was available to take their place, and so the Methodists quite helpfully stepped in. Huh.

On Tuesday, we typically have a keynote speaker followed by collegial conversations. Our keynote this year was Marshall Ganz, a community organizer and social scientist from the Harvard Kennedy School. He was fabulous, and gave us some tips on more effective advocacy. On Wednesday, we begin with the “25/50 Service,” which celebrates ministers who have completed 25 or 50 years of service. Each “class” chooses a speaker. The 25-year speaker was Victoria Safford; the 50-year speaker was Judith Walker-Riggs. This was the first year both speakers were women. And both speakers brought me to tears.

Wednesday afternoon brings the Berry Street lecture. This year’s lecturer was Lindi Ramsden, the minister who founded the California Legislative Advocacy Network. She also gave us some incredibly helpful ideas on how to be more effective in our social justice work. Weekend long trainings for activists on specific issues? What a great idea! A youth corps, like AmeriCorps, but just for UU’s? Even better! With a child considering options for a gap year, I thought that suggestion was particularly brilliant.

And then…the crowds arrived, including my family. I’ll share more in my next post.


One Response to “Bloggin General Assembly: First Installment”

  1. Thanks so much for the update — I can almost imagine being there. It’s very easy to feel like an island here out west — it must feel very different when you’re in a congregation that is part of the mainland.
    I’m looking forward, onward to Portland!

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