The move is part of a larger plan by the UUA Board to increase congregational participation at General Assembly. Congregational delegate attendance has declined from 2,521 in 2001 to 1,816 in 2005, according to statistics provided by the General Assembly and Conference Services office. Since much of the denomination’s business—affecting congregations—takes place at GA, congregations have not been adequately represented. “The result,” Courter wrote in a letter to congregational leaders, was that “General Assembly has become a meeting of individuals more than a meeting of congregations.”
Congregational polity is an important part of Unitarian Universalism. UU congregations, of which there are more than 1,000, govern themselves by democratic means without control from an overarching organization. Congregations, through their delegates to the General Assembly, make decisions for the denomination as a whole.
To help congregations choose topics of importance for the plenary sessions at GA, Courter sent out a list of potential subjects and asked congregations to choose those of most importance to them. Forty-one congregations had responded as of the beginning of April. Courter said the leading topic so far was the traits of both growing and stagnant or declining congregations. When the final two to four choices are announced April 25, congregations will be asked to discuss the topic so that their delegate can represent them. Congregations can respond to the survey through April 17; see link below for details.
The UUA Board and the 10-member General Assembly Planning Committee have been encouraging congregational participation in other ways. In 2004 and 2005, the GA registration fee was fully reimbursed for all congregational presidents serving as delegates. In 2006, congregational presidents serving as delegates will be reimbursed 75 percent and in 2007, 50 percent. At that point, churches are expected to budget the money to fund their own presidential delegates.
The Planning Committee has also focused GA more tightly on congregations and congregational leadership, Courter says. In addition, a special two-day pre-GA conference for congregational leaders will be held for the first time. Called UU University, it will cover such topics as stewardship, conflict management, welcoming visitors, and member retention. The conference will be offered every two years.
Courter expressed satisfaction with the initial plenary session survey results. “I’m feeling very positive and hopeful,” she said. “Even if we had only 50 congregations responding this year, there would definitely be more the next year.”
See below for related links.
- General Assembly 2006 Information on 2006 annual UUA gathering in St. Louis. (UUA.org)
- General Assembly plenary survey Congregations can choose topics for discussion at GA plenary sessions. (UUA.org)
- UU University New pre-GA conference offers workshops and support for congregational leaders. (UUA.org)