The 2020 Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, which was to be held in Providence, Rhode Island, June 24–28, will instead be held entirely online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The UUA Board of Trustees voted on April 13 to approve the plan, which the administration has been negotiating and which the UUA announced publicly on April 16.
In making the shift to a virtual event, association leaders weighed options for conducting the required business of GA and allowing UUs to connect with one another while honoring the UUA’s contractual, legal, and fiduciary obligations, said LaTonya Richardson, UUA General Assembly and Conference Services Director. Even if travel and other restrictions are lifted by late June, Richardson noted, 70 percent of GA attendees are typically over 55 years old, an age group more susceptible to COVID-19. Given travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders, restrictions on the size of gatherings of people, and limits on public transportation, in Rhode Island and in so much of the country, UUA leaders were clear that a virtual GA was the best decision.
“The accessibility, safety and well-being of people was also critical throughout this whole analysis,” said Richardson.
Registration for virtual GA 2020 is $150. In-person registrations, which cost $400, have been converted to virtual registrations. The UUA is offering registrants options for handling the $250 cost difference, including a refund. Visit UUA.org/ga/registration.
Richardson said she hopes that the nearly 2,000 people who have registered for in-person GA will choose to attend online and that thousands more also will attend. Virtual GA removes the barriers of travel costs, time, and accessibility concerns, she said, and reduces the event’s carbon footprint. “We have the potential to make this our highest-attendance GA ever, and I would very much like it to be,” she said.
While many details are still being worked out, virtual GA 2020 will be a streamlined version of a full General Assembly. “We definitely want everyone to feel good about their investment in attending virtually,” Richardson said. Virtual GA will include popular programs such as the Ware Lecture, featuring Naomi Klein this year, and worship services, including the Service of the Living Tradition, with a sermon by the Rev. Danielle Di Bona.
GA will acknowledge the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival in what is now Massachusetts with programs highlighting the ongoing violence of colonization and the powerful legacy of 400 years of Indigenous resistance. Native scholars, leaders, and activists will be major presenters.
And the Commission on Institutional Change will present its final report on systemic racism in Unitarian Universalism, including recommendations for countering white supremacy.
“It’s all a big experiment,” said Richardson. “We are a living tradition, we are a revolutionary faith, we like to live out our mission in innovative ways, we like to honor the earth, and to the extent that is true we have opportunity here.”