by Russ Araujo
Around Heritage Church, you might hear people refer to “G.A.” That stands for General Assembly, the yearly gathering of UUs from across the United States, and beyond, for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). This year, G.A. runs from Wednesday through Sunday, June 21 through 25, in New Orleans. People come to G.A. for governance, learning, worship, and social justice. There is so much that goes on that attending G.A. is a challenging experience to describe.
Governance is the initiating factor that brings UUs together. We are a denomination without pope or bishops; what we decide to do is “up to us.” Delegates raise their voting cards in the assembly hall, or vote electronically online, to apply our Fifth Principle, the use of the democratic process. Things voted upon include UUA bylaw changes, elections of people to key positions, and stances on social justice and other issues of the day. Debates follow a strict procedure, with specific time limits and alternating between speakers at the “Pro” and “Con” microphones.
This year, delegates will be voting for the next president of the UUA, which will be for one six-year term. While only men have been elected to the position in the past (some women have run), this year all three candidates are women. Two are Gen-Xers and one is a Baby Boomer.
The Heritage Church Board of Trustees has designated Rae Jane Araujo, Russ Araujo, Bob Lamb, and Ellie Lamb, as the delegates this year. All of our ministers—Rev. Bill Gupton, Rev. Leslie Woodward, and Minister Emeritus Rev. Doak Mansfield—are also automatically delegates by virtue of being a minister associated with a congregation.
Learning is another big factor of G.A. A former UUA Moderator (the highest-ranking volunteer position in the UUA), Gini Courter, once described G.A. as a business meeting combined with a summer conference. This “conference” part is extensive, with special talks, a huge assortment of workshops, and an exhibit hall. The Ware Lecture is the highlight, and in the past has included people such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nobel Prize laureate Linus Pauling. Like any good conference, there is evening entertainment, the availability of special awards dinners, and the opportunity to have long talks with old friends.
Worship is a spirit that runs throughout G.A. There are the early morning Spiritual Practice sessions attended by a few, and the morning worship services of about half an hour attended by most. The Synergy Bridging and Worship led by the youth is always very moving. The Service of the Living Tradition, held in the evening, is somber, recognizing new ministers and new credentialed religious educators, honoring the contributions of retiring ministers, and mourning the passing of ministers who have died during the prior year. (I remember the year that Heritage’s Minister Emerita, the Rev. Elinor Artman, was so mourned.)
The Sunday Morning worship service is amazing, a full service open to the public, and always featuring a wonderful, moving reflection. The G.A. Choir sings at this and other events. This year, everyone at Heritage can partake of the Sunday Worship by coming to Heritage on Sunday, June 25, at 9:30 a.m., to view the worship service via live streaming.
Social Justice Witnessing is the latest component added to G.A. General Assembly had always concerned itself with resolutions concerning social justice, but in 2012 a Public Witness component was added. This year, the public witness rally will be on the theme “#LoveResists: Rejoicing for Sanctuary & Solidarity.”
There is one more component. G.A. is more than the sum of its parts, more than just governance plus learning plus worship plus social justice. Being surrounded by thousands of Unitarian Universalists, watching the banner parade with representations from hundreds of congregations, and the special ways UUs do things to try to honor their principles, all make for an experience I call UUdom. In the Middle Ages there was Christendom, the overarching creation of a certain religious culture across Europe. For these times, for just a few days each year, for an area no bigger than a square mile, there is the experience of what a world looks like and sounds like and feels like when people make an honest attempt to run it according to UU principles. There is radical concern for the environment (such as the UUA’s insistence that convention food vendors use plasticware that is actually compostable), there is gender inclusion (such as the designation of some restrooms as “gender-neutral,” allowing anyone to feel welcome regardless of their gender presentation), there is the concern for people with disabilities (such as letting people on scooters enter and leave areas first, because “that’s how we roll!”), there is the Right Relations Team (which is ready to assist if the parties of a conflict cannot work it out themselves), and again, there is being surrounded by thousands of people who hold the same principles. It is an amazing experience.
For more information on G.A., visit www.uua.org/ga.