Plenaries will be held on the weekend, workshops on Thursday and Friday.
Make sure to check the schedule before coming to General Assembly next June. Changes are in the works.
Regular attendees of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s annual convention have long been accustomed to a predictable pattern of events at GA. After the opening ceremony on Wednesday night, the week generally proceeds with both workshops and business sessions (plenaries) every day, right up to the closing ceremony on Sunday.
That’s no longer the case. This year no workshops will be held on the weekend. They have all been moved to Thursday and Friday. Saturday and Sunday have been given over primarily to plenaries, with two long ones each day, plus several worship services and other activities. The only other long plenary is on Friday.
Jan Sneegas, director of the UUA’s General Assembly and Conference Services Office, says that holding most plenaries on or near the weekend gives delegates from congregations a chance to participate in more of the Association’s business without having to take extra days off from work.
The scheduling move also saves the UUA anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 by not having to pay for room rental and audio-visual set-up for rooms that will not be used for workshops on the two weekend days.
Sneegas said the scheduling change will still result in just as much programming as in previous years—in fact, a bit more. “We will offer about 190 workshops and other programs in eight different time slots on Thursday and Friday, one more slot than last year.” There will be a variety of workshops and programs from 9 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Thursday and 1 to 5:45 p.m. Friday, with programs also following the evening worship services, including a concert by Peter Mayer and other musical, film, and dramatic offerings.
Some business will still be conducted on the weekdays. There will be a half-hour plenary on Thursday morning and another of three-and-a-half hours Friday morning, but the remaining four plenaries—nearly 13 hours—will be on the weekend, with the last one ending at 6:15 p.m. Sunday. The new schedule allows more time for meal breaks, a frequent request of GA attendees.
Other weekend events will include morning worship and a midday public witness event on Saturday, a concert by the UU children’s choir and the annual Ware Lecture Saturday evening, post-Ware evening activities, Sunday morning worship, and the closing celebration at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, again featuring the UU children’s choir.
Attendees will also have the opportunity to offer hands-on service in the neighborhood at Hope Community, a neighborhood revitalization center and this year’s GA service project. For the first time, the planning committee is also providing opportunities for GA participants to engage in organized but informal discussion and networking sessions on the weekend.
Sneegas said that moving workshops out of the weekend should not impact a lot of people. Last year 3,133 adults registered for the full five days of GA and 227 registered for just part of the week. “Ninety-three percent of people who come are full time,” she noted, adding that it remains to be seen whether the shift in the alignment of plenary sessions will increase the number of congregational delegates coming for the weekend.
Adult registration for the full five days of GA is $310 if done before April 30. The daily rate for early registration is $125 per day. Registration begins March 1.
Regular workshops have not been scheduled in the evenings for several years and that practice will continue. “People have demonstrated over and over that they have trouble with evening workshops that are not entertainment or activity-based,” Sneegas said. But there will be evening opportunities for worship, music, drama, and film, which change the pace after a day of intensive listening and learning,” she said. The exhibit hall will also be open for a major portion of each day.
For 2010 a program development group was created to ensure a comprehensive assortment of GA programming in three areas: Growing the Kinds of Congregations We Wish to Be, New Ministries for New Times, and Building Justice.
David May, chair of the UUA’s Commission on Social Witness, which is in charge of guiding GA delegates through the procedures involved in moving social justice issues through the General Assembly each year, said the schedule shift will help the CSW do its work more effectively.
The new schedule gives the CSW morning and early afternoon workshops on Thursday to develop its proposals in cooperation with delegates. May noted that the CSW needs more workshop time at this year’s GA because delegates last year took the unusual step of returning a statement of conscience on peacemaking to the CSW for refinement. That will have to be dealt with on Thursday at GA, along with probably five new proposed Congregational Study/Action Issues.
UU University, held before or during GA for the past several years, will not be held this year. The Rev. Harlan Limpert, the UUA’s vice president of ministries and congregational support, noted that while feedback on UU University was mostly positive, some respondents felt that having people devote nine hours to one of six topics—the practice last year—was “more intense than was desired.” He said UU University is “almost certain” to return as an every-other-year event. DVDs from the 2009 event are available at the UUA Bookstore.
Please note: newsletter on hiatus
Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.