Sunday, June 29, 2014

UU General Assembly... my own experience

I enjoy writing brief summaries of my UU General Assembly experiences on this blog... In part, posting here helps me share with others. But in part, it helps me to remember! As much as I love GA, you do so many things packed into a few days that it's hard to remember just what you did (and all that happened) when it's over! Blogging here helps me to remember GA better, in addition to sharing my experiences.

What a GA this was, 2014 in Providence! My only regret is that, as a commuter, I didn't have the "total immersion" that I usually have. Still, the things I got to participate in were quite wonderful.

It's always so hard to decide what things to attend at GA -- so many great things are happening at once! In the past, I sometimes went to the beginning part of one workshop, and then walked over to catch the end of a different workshop! I tried to be more kind to myself this year. Here are some highlights of the workshops I attended: I am very glad that I went to "Just Good Food" with Frances Moore Lappe (Diet for a Small Planet), Melanie Joy (Why We Love Dogs & Eat Pigs), Marisa Miller Wolfson, and facilitated by Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh. It was a very good overview of ethical eating, though I wish climate change had been discussed more. What an incredible line-up of speakers! One thing I learned about that I was very glad to be acquainted with is Carnism.org. I was left thinking the words of Frances Moore Lappe: "Shift from scarcity mind to ecomind".

Another very good workshop was "When Everything You Thought You Knew Isn't Enough" with Rev. Stefan Jonasson and Rev. Tandi Rogers. They talked about UU growth strategies and learnings. Some highlights for me were Jonasson reminding us to "fail boldly" and "more frequently"; this isn't a time to be timid.  He also told us to "get over" our "obsession with governance and organizational structure". Jonasson and Rogers reminded us that mission matters; "congregations must discern and embrace their distinctive mission"; "our mission is almost always thrust upon us rather than chosen by us"; and "congregations must be aware of their specific context and strive to make their mission relevant in that context". They asked us to consider where we are called to serve with these questions: "what are the three most exciting places in your community?" "What three places break your heart?" and "Is your congregation present in these places? If not, why not? If so, what difference are you making?"

I also attended "#UUsGetSocial: Digging into Facebook, Twitter, and Video-Making/Sharing" with Rev. Dr. Andrew Pakula, Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford, Rev. Dr. Daniel O'Connell, and Peter Bowden. It was reassuring that my Facebook and Twitter skills are actually already strong, but I did learn a few new good tricks of the trade. The Video Making/Sharing is the new area for me, the place where I have the most to learn. This is something I want to work on in the coming year. I did learn that the hashtag most often associated with UU is #hot. Go figure!

I went to a great play created by friends from UU Mass Action: "Be the Change: Activist Worship Theater". The dinner party play was written by the Rev. Steve Wilson. Lots of friends acted it all out. It was a ton of fun! I particularly enjoyed seeing Rev. Hank Peirce play Jesus in a Vegas-era Elvis jumpsuit! I would like to try this play at the UUCiA sometime... (I had the special offstage role of calling Rev. Alice Anacheka-Nasemann's cell phone at a certain point early on in the play. That was fun.)

Friday's General Session (formerly known as Plenary) was an exciting one.  We voted on a Congregational Study Action Issue (CSAI), and selected "Escalating Inequality". They were all excellent possible CSAIs, but I think we chose the right one. Saturday's General Session was possibly even more exciting as we delegates voted that the UUA should divest from fossil fuels! (Here I am at the General Session with my "divest" button from the UU Ministry for Earth booth.)

Saturday night's Ware Lecture was given by Sister Simone Campbell, one of the "nuns on a bus". She was really wonderful. I heard her speak once before, at the 2013 UU Mass Action Advocacy Day, but I think her Ware Lecture was even more wonderful.  She spoke about "walking toward trouble", which I think is a great way to frame justice work. She said that when you walk toward trouble, you encounter uncomfortable truths.  But also, when you walk toward trouble, you find hope. (In some ways, this was one of the themes of this GA in general: the need to get out there and engage with the world, something I thought and spoke about a lot this past year... it certainly resonates for me.)  Sr. Simone noted that the first three words of the Constitution are "we the people", and she said that "individualism is an unpatriotic lie".
Sr. Simone Campbell speaks, with P-Bruins banners above.

Quick final thoughts: All in all, this was another great GA, but it went too fast. Sadly, I had to watch the "Service of the Living Tradition" and the "WaterFire" event from livestream at home, because of constraints related to my commute. I saw some old friends, which is always a GA highlight, and I made a few new ones. It was a time, as always, to get a better sense of what the UUA headquarters folks are thinking about, and to learn what exciting things some congregations out there are doing.

A real highlight for me this year was being joined by several members of the UUCiA this weekend at GA! That's the first time I was able to meet up with so many congregants at GA, and it felt just great.

And a bit of nostalgia: Here's a picture of the message board at UU GA this year. At my first GA (1995), message boards were THE thing. There were no cell phones and no texting in those days. If you wanted to connect with someone, you had to leave a note on the boards, alphabetically by last name. You'd walk by the boards compulsively throughout GA, checking for notes. Wow, it was a different time! Last time I went to GA (2012) I put a note on the board for a friend, as a nostalgic joke. Three days later, the note was still there. I had to text her to tell her to check the message board! And there used to be many boards to hold all the messages -- this year, one side of one board was plenty.