Winchester Unitarian Society

Highlights from the UUA General Assembly 2011

From June 22nd through 26th, over four thousand Unitarian Universalists from across the country and around the world gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina for the 51st annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. It was the 50th anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist Association—the Universalists and Unitarians merged in May of 1961. Five of those four thousand were from our congregation: Janet Parsons, Patty Cameron, summer minister Catie Scudera, and co-ministers Sarah and John Millspaugh. We were treated to rousing and meaningful worships, lectures by such luminaries as Karen Armstrong and Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, and a host of workshops from which we bring inspiration and practical skills back to Winchester Unitarian Society.

General Assembly consists of workshops, events, worships, and business. Because we are an association of congregations based in democratic principles, delegates from congregations are empowered to direct the business of our denomination in a series of GA Plenary meetings. Imagine thousands of delegates seated in a huge convention hall, using Robert’s Rules to discuss and vote upon such questions as:

·         Do our food choices matter enough to the environment, animals, and oppressed people that we want to take a stand on “ethical eating?” (The plenary answered with a resounding YES!)

·         Is it worth the time and energy of future General Assemblies to pass resolutions (called “Actions of Immediate Witness”) which take a stand on time-sensitive social justice issues? (YES! But there will be fewer than before.)

·         How big should our national Board of Trustees be? And should they continue to represent geographical areas, or be voted in at-large? (Delegates followed the Board’s recommendation to shrink and become at-large.)

Imagine too, marching with 4000 other Unitarian Universalists to a local park to rally with local gay rights organizations as they oppose an effort to ban same-sex marriage in North Carolina… and imagine seeing news crews everywhere… and imagine getting soaked when a downpour abruptly dispersed the rally! (You can watch it here.)

Imagine each of the 4000 UUs having an individual experience participating in a variety of highly engaging programs throughout the week. Here’s a bit more about what each of us did at GA, and what each of us bring back:

Patty served as the General Assembly’s Accessibility Services Coordinator, helping ensure that participants who needed scooters or other assistive devices were able to participate in GA fully. This was her 9th GA serving in this role – this year she served 75 people needing assistance. You can also read more here about the above mentioned Rally and the accessibilities issues Patty had to address (because the planners didn’t.)

John had a very busy GA as well, leading or co-leading five workshops, and as the chair of the Core Team that led congregations to study and act upon the UUA’s 2008-2011 Study Action Issue, Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice. You can see a video of John speaking before delegates and learn more about the enthusiastic, almost unanimous passage of the Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience here (debate begins at 51:45). John’s two-minute statement is the culmination of a great deal of his painstaking work to national coalitions and inform the UUA’s Commission on Social Witness, which guides the statement-making process. Additionally John co-led two lively and well-attended workshops on Adaptive Leadership plus a workshop on “getting beyond either/or,” versions of which he piloted in our congregation in 2010-11. Videos of these workshops are not available online, however a workshop that John hosted, featuring nationally prominent UU minister Rev. Dr. Michael Schuler sharing a dynamic presentation on ethical eating, is available here. In addition to these, John was also invited to be a narrator for the GA’s Closing Celebration. It was an incredibly full GA for John in which he was highly visible – and so were we as a congregation, by association!

Sarah planned for a learning-focused GA this time around, , and went to several inspirational and practical workshops, including “FORTH: Growth, Stewardship, and Leadership,” which unveiled useful new networking and fundraising tools for UU congregations, and “Reimagining Social Justice” which engaged participants’ moral imaginations in visioning new ways of reaching out across traditional divides. At the pre-GA conference for ministers and seminarians, UUMA Ministry Days, Sarah assumed her new role as Secretary of CENTER, the UU Ministers Association’s national committee responsible for ministers’ continuing education. As such, she participated in collegial conversations about ministerial sexual ethics: the UUMA is currently in the process of revising the language in its Code of Professional Practice regarding the permissibility of single ministers’ relationships with congregants. (The current language, it is widely felt, is not restrictive enough.) Sarah also asked an important question during the plenary discussion about eliminating Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs), asking what the impact of such elimination would be on the UUA’s ability to take a stand on timely social issues. The motion to eliminate AIWs failed – without the delegates learning about the impact, it would have likely passed. Sarah and John participated in another pre-GA conference as well: the annual gathering of UU Clergy Couples, a growing group of ministers who are in committed relationships with other ministers.

Janet had a busy and stimulating time at GA, and loved every minute of it! She carried the church’s banner in the banner parade during the Opening Celebration, and served as the church’s delegate, which enabled her to vote on the issues presented at the plenary sessions. Plenary was interesting not only because of the issues before the delegates, but also because of the numerous reports and presentations which offered a glimpse of the great breadth and scope of Unitarian Universalism. Janet was particularly struck by the report of the UU’s United Nations Office, which is a strong voice for justice in the world. The hardest thing to do at GA is to choose from the wide variety of interesting lectures and workshops, often offered at the same time. Janet attended several workshops on topics ranging from creating a congregational focus for social justice, engaging congregations in discussing immigration issues, UU evangelism, and creating space for a multigenerational community. She also attended several inspiring lectures and worship services, and is still pondering topics like compassion, gratitude, universalism, and what Unitarian Universalism will look like in the new millennium. In her spare time she also connected with fellow seminarians and learned more about the ministerial fellowship process.

Catie enjoyed networking with other seminarians, as well as participating in workshops on Universalism’s message for today, young UU ministers’ views of evil post 9/11/01, and our social justice history (watch here). When she returns from vacation she would love to discuss them with you during time as our summer minister.

Attending General Assembly can be transforming: first, to be in the presence of over 4000 other UU's is an amazing experience in itself, and engaging with others from all over the country about issues affecting our churches, considering social justice issues, worshipping and singing together, and attending a demonstration helps participants connect to something much larger than their individual congregations. Please consider attending GA next year; you'll have a wonderful time!

General Assembly 2012 is going to be different from any GA we’ve ever experienced before: it will focus on justice for immigrants in Arizona. Delegates to GA 2010 considered changing GA 2012’s venue from Phoenix to elsewhere after Arizona passed highly discriminatory anti-immigrant legislation. Delegates voted not to boycott Phoenix, but to change GA instead, so that participants at GA 2012 could stand in solidarity with the groups and coalitions who are trying to bring more sensible, more compassionate, and less racist legislation to Arizona. Our congregation’s former student minister, Susan Gray (now Susan Frederick-Gray) is minister of the Phoenix UU church and is a leader in interfaith efforts to oppose Arizona’s unduly discriminatory laws. Want to join us next year to make a difference at Justice GA? Learn more here!

Each of us would be happy to talk with you more about GA 2011 or 2012 – please don’t hesitate to be in touch!

For more information on GA 2011:
 See the table in the Symmes Room, which is full of information that Janet collected at GA to share with the congregation. It offers a taste of the variety of programs, organizations, and activities which together make up Unitarian Universalism.

·         A summary of General Assembly business.

·         Links to videos of General Assembly plenaries, events, worships, and workshops.

And save these dates for future GAs:
·         June 20-24: 2012 Phoenix, AZ
·         June 19-23: 2013 Louisville, KY
·         June 25-29: 2014 Providence, RI
·         June 24-28: 2015 Portland, OR 

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