Reflections on the 2021 UUA General Assembly

The following is a transcript of the video.

General Assembly Rocks!

This year’s annual gathering of the Unitarian Universalist Association , its General Assembly (GA), was for the second time entirely virtual. Nine members and employees of the UUFA attended, and the consensus was that it was informative, innovative, inspiring, and invigorating.

The seven members who attended have put into words, as far as possible, their experiences at GA, both this year’s and in the past, in hopes that they can inspire more interest within the congregation in both GA and the UUA. You can also see them present this information in a podcast on the UUFA website.

I’m Vivian Preston Sellers and I attended GA as a delegate, which means that I could vote on the issues presented at the business meetings, as well as attend all the other events, such as worship, workshops, lectures, and exhibits. This was my 3rd GA, the other two having been in-person events. I like being able to add my voice, my vote, in determining the direction that the UUA takes over the next few years. (During succeeding podcasts and items in print, we’ll let you know what those votes concerned and the outcomes of the votes on each.) I also enjoyed the worship services, the Service of the Living Tradition, and the Ware Lecture, during which Georgia’s own Stacey Abrams spoke, along with Desmond Meade of Florida, about our democracy and the importance of voting in US elections. Each GA I attend reinforces my belief in Unitarian Universalism and its power to affect change in me, my congregation, and the world. I’m always prouder of the UUA after a General Assembly.

I am Kate Blane, and I have never before attended a General Assembly (GA), which is the annual gathering of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).  In my role as a Lay Minister, I decided to attend this year to better understand our spiritual tradition.  I was a little hazy about the role of the UUA, and I’ve been under the impression that GA was for super committed members. That is both true and not true. Yes, one can be a delegate  and attend the business meetings, vote on amendments, and so forth. However, one can simply go as an attendee and enjoy the GA offerings which include inspiring worship services, enchanting music, interesting workshops, and beautiful banner art created by fellowships nationwide. For one’s first GA, such as mine, it is definitely a plus to attend virtually both in time and cost. What I found particularly enriching is our UU deep commitment to involving people of color in leadership roles as well as young adults in leadership roles.  Overall I was inspired, informed and felt more connected with what it means to be a UU.

My name is Dan Everett, and this was my first GA, so I don’t miss the in-person version of GA because I’ve never seen it. What impressed me immediately was the high seriousness of the event, combined with a gentle and celebratory vibe. UUFA has always encouraged us to speak thoughtfully and respectfully to all people, but the folks at GA are taking it to a new level. Many UUs from different parts of America opened their remarks with a shout out to the indigenous people who once called their land home. Some speakers opened their remarks with a self-description of what they looked like, as in “I’m an old bearded  white guy wearing a colorful T-shirt”, for the benefit of viewers who can’t see well. UUA is very, very serious about confronting colonialism and white supremacy, but they are taking the time to study and learn deeply, and give everyone a chance to learn and develop at their own pace. Overall my takeaway from GA was to have my sense of pride in being a UU raised up a couple of notches.

Hello, I am Myrna Adams West, and since the turn of this century, I have attended 11 General Assemblies, either in-person or virtually, sometimes as an official delegate and sometimes just as a participant.

My favorite parts of GA are the worship services and the music. To sit in a room with thousands of other UUs and sing songs like “We Are a Gentle Angry People,” “Love Will Guide Us,” and “We’re Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table” is thrilling. To hear dynamic worship leaders from across the globe and to be challenged to think beyond my own comfort zone is uplifting and inspiring and moves me to share what I learn and experience in creative ways.

Each year, whether I am a delegate, a non-voting participant, whether I am in-person or virtual, I seek out workshops and activities that share music or unique worship styles, or that highlight women’s issues. And sometimes there are great storytellers and even comedians that share their talents and skills.

Through this year’s virtual GA, I especially enjoyed a program called “Journey of America through the American Negro Spiritual,” which literally traced the history of African Americans through slavery, Emancipation, Jim Crow, the fight for voting rights, and into the continuing struggle for equality—all through songs sung by amazingly talented African American soloists and ensembles. Through a workshop entitled “Old Testament Women with Elizabeth Cady Stanton Commentary,” I was inspired to further investigate Stanton’s compilation of The Woman’s Bible. By the way, these on-demand workshops and programs are currently available only to GA attendees but will eventually be available to all on Vimeo.

I encourage you to participate in General Assembly, whether you attend in-person or virtually. You will be inspired, entertained, and blessed by the experience.

I’m Herb West, and my pronouns are he/him/his.  I’ve been participating in General Assemblies since 2000.  Since then, I’ve attended eleven GA’s – five in person and six as an “off-site” or virtual delegate.  This year and last, everybody was “off-site” at the all-virtual GAs necessitated by the pandemic.  Hopefully next year GA will resume as an in-person event with the off-site option which may be more popular and enable more people to participate.

As much as I enjoyed the personal contact with UUs from around the world, and as invigorating as it is to be in a room with thousands of fellow UUs belting out our favorite hymns, I have enjoyed the off-site or virtual option.  Not having to travel across country to the host city and pay for lodging and meals makes attending GA much less expensive.  I enjoy being able to run out to my garden to harvest some vegetables before participating in virtual worship or fixing lunch in my kitchen before sitting down to business sessions.

I really enjoy doing the business of the Association even as it sometimes can be exasperating and messy.  For me, being a UU is being involved in our denomination beyond the local congregation.  General Assembly gives me the opportunity not only to participate in voting and helping make decisions for the Association, but also to see and hear inspiring messages and music from a growing diversity of UUs.

I encourage everyone to attend at least one General Assembly, whether in person or virtually.

My name is Susie Weller I go by she/her and I live on previous Creek Indian land adjacent to Linnentown. I am a newly middle-aged white woman with long dark brown hair and glasses and I think this was my 5th or 6th UU General Assembly. I love attending GA because I get to renew and nourish my spirit. GA offers cutting edge services, discussions, and workshops that put my social-justice-focused mind to work. I have learned so much over the years by attending GA and had many spiritual experiences. I have been brought to tears through worship and songs, forced to look at myself and my behavior related to systemic racism in a safe and loving environment, and have watched UUA as a whole wrestle with their racist history. Another great thing about GA is the access to frontline thinkers such as Stacey Abrams, Bryan Stevenson, Christa Tibbets, and Rev. William Barber, to name a few. Historically at general assembly I was unable to attend all events such as voting, worship, workshops, morning meditation, and networking. I was frustrated because I wanted to see and be a part of it all. Virtual GA allows me to listen to everything as my schedule permits. It is a great option for me.

I’m Michelle Leebens-Mack. My pronouns are she/her/hers.  I am a middle-aged white woman with shoulder-length blonde hair.  For the podcast, I am wearing a white T-shirt.

I, too, was one of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens’ delegates to this year’s Unitarian Universalist General Assembly — otherwise known as “GA.”

I am grateful to this congregation for supporting me in representing you at this annual gathering of congregations.

One thing that is unique about Unitarian Universalism is our polity, how we do the work of being a denomination.  Though each congregation is independent, we choose to be in covenant with other UU’s from all over the United States and abroad, believing that together our voices have greater meaning.

This was the tenth General Assembly that I have attended. These five days of celebration, learning, debate, and worship always leave me filled to overflowing. One thing that I always look forward to is the Ware Lecture. This year, I plugged my laptop into the TV at home,

And my whole family watched and were inspired and motivated regarding the importance of voting through the words of Stacy Abrams and Desmond Meade.

I love traveling.  When attending GA in person, I have an opportunity to visit cities that I haven’t yet explored. I am grateful for making connections with UU’s just up the road in Atlanta,

for example. It is also a chance for me to get together with old UU friends who live all over the country and I always make new UU friends.

I take being your representative to GA seriously.  All of us from the UUFA who attend GA have this tradition of divide and conquer.  We try to take advantage of all the opportunities that we can

and gather all the information to bring back to you, our fellowship. For example, when I started introducing myself to you, I began by sharing my pronouns and describing what I look like.

I learned this through the modeling by the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Board.  They began this virtual General Assembly by doing just this, demonstrating and role-modeling the UU commitment to being open and welcoming to all, showing us ways to walk the talk of our UU values.

Many people new to UUism think that we can believe whatever we want.  Truly, it is our shared values expressed through our principles that bind us together.  The 5th UU Principle holds that we covenant together to use the democratic process “within our congregations and in society at large.” Participating in GA is one way that we do this!