3,200 UUs expected at 2009 General Assembly

3,200 UUs expected at 2009 General Assembly

Delegates in Salt Lake City will elect new president, discuss plan to hold GA every other year.
Donald E. Skinner


More than 3,000 Unitarian Universalists are expected to gather June 24–28 in Salt Lake City for the annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

High on the agenda will be the election of a new UUA president and bidding farewell to the Rev. William G. Sinkford, who has held the post for eight years. UUs will also consider revising the UUA’s Principles and Purposes and will talk about whether they want to make changes to General Assembly itself.

Jan Sneegas, director of general assembly and conference services, said she expects about 3,200 UUs to attend this year’s GA. That’s an increase from the 2,950 who attended last year in Fort Lauderdale, but substantially less than the 5,800 who came to Portland, Ore., in 2007.

Sneegas said the current economic downturn is probably responsible for a reduction of around 600 in attendance this year. “I think without that we’d be closer to 3,800 or 4,000,” she said. “The meetings industry as a whole is noting decreased attendance at events like this. Not as many people have discretionary income.”

She said there was increased demand this year for low cost housing at GA. “We had 75 people take advantage of dormitory rooms at the University of Utah at $45 a night.” Although the official deadline for GA-discounted room rates has passed, rooms are still available at these rates, Sneegas said.

Sneegas said registration numbers are still highly changeable in the next few weeks and she is hopeful the UUA will break even on GA.

At the last General Assembly at which there was a contested race for president—Cleveland in 2001, when Sinkford was elected—attendance was 4,318, she said.

The election for president and other UUA offices will take place Saturday, June 27, the next-to-last day of GA. Presidential candidates are the Rev. Peter Morales, senior minister of Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colo., and the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, former senior minister and now minister-at-large of First Unitarian Church in Dallas. The president is elected for a four-year term and may run for a second term. (For election resources, visit UUA.org/elections. see below for links to other General Assembly resources.)

Many GA events will give delegates opportunities to meet the candidates and hear their views. Candidates for other offices, including UUA Moderator Gini Courter and Financial Advisor Dan Brody, are running unopposed. Courter has served six years, including part of the unexpired term of a previous moderator, and is running for her second four-year term. Brody has served four years.

Delegates will also approve nominees to the UUA Board of Trustees, Commission on Appraisal, Commission on Social Witness, Nominating Committee, Board of Review, and the General Assembly Planning Committee.

This General Assembly will also vote on a revision of the UUA Principles and Purposes (Article II of the UUA bylaws). A review is required every 15 years, but one hasn’t been done since 1985. The UUA Commission on Appraisal began reviewing Article II in 2006 and has recommended a number of changes. The UUA Board made one change itself to the Commission’s proposal and sent it to the GA Planning Committee for placement on the 2009 agenda.

The revised Article II must be approved without further amendment at two consecutive General Assemblies to become part of the bylaws. The intervening year allows time for congregations to actively debate the changes.

The Rev. Barbara Child, a member of the commission, said the commission has received well over 3,000 responses since comments were invited. “It was a fabulous process to be part of,” she said. “It was probably the greatest challenge I’ve ever taken on, partly because it involved so many opinions. And I can’t think of anything that is more important to devote my energy and my heart to.”

There will also be discussion this year about GA itself. The Fifth Principle Task Force was created in 2008 to examine issues around GA, including its frequency and duration. The task force made a brief presentation to the Board of Trustees in April and will make its final report to the board by April 2010. One topic under consideration is whether General Assembly should only be held every other year. Other meetings, possibly regional assemblies, would be held in the alternate years.

On the social justice front, delegates will vote on a draft Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking and will be invited to attend an interfaith public witness rally on immigration in downtown Salt Lake City on Friday at rush hour. There will also be a workshop on immigration reform. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, both Unitarian Universalists, will present a workshop on “Strengthening Democracy Now.”

The speaker at the annual Ware Lecture, GA’s keynote address, will be Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University. She will speak on “Faith and Reason: Race, Justice, and American Political Life.”

Others GA presenters include Dr. Ysaye Barnwell of the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock; political humorist Kate Clinton; diversity consultant Jorge Zeballos; the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, author of In-Between: Memoir of an Integration Baby; and social justice activists Riane Eisler, David Korten, and Chuck Collins.

The Rev. Dr. Mary J. Harrington, minister emerita of the Unitarian Society in Winchester, Mass., will preach on Friday at the Service of the Living Tradition, which honors religious leaders, including those who have died, retired, or recently entered into the ministry. The Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, minister of Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, Fla., and an advocate for immigrant, transgender, and other rights, will preach at the Sunday morning worship service.

UU University, a congregational leadership training event customarily held before GA, will run this year during GA on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning with six programming tracks: Stewardship, Multigenerational Ministry, Creating Multicultural Communities, Governance, Justice Work, and Theology for a Secular Age. It is free to all GA participants.

Membership professionals and committee chairs are invited to come early to GA to attend a workshop on the special needs of membership volunteers and staff. Keynote speakers will be Hallman and Morales, candidates for president. The session will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, June 24. Cost is $100. Registration deadline is June 10.

The full GA program schedule is online in a searchable format, and is also available as a pdf that can be printed at home. Printed program books will be available at GA, but will not be mailed to delegates.

Credentials for delegates were mailed to congregations in early May in bright pink envelopes.

The last time GA was held in Salt Lake City, in 1999, was also the occasion of the first “Prom You Never Had,” a dance for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer community and friends. This year GA will host a second prom, on Friday night, called, “A Prom For All.” The Salt Lake GLBTQ community has been invited.

The service project this year supports the Utah Pride Center. A collection will be taken at the Sunday morning worship on behalf of the center, which provides support, education, outreach, and advocacy for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and their allies.

Salt Lake City has changed since 1999. Thanks to the 2004 Winter Olympics, the city now has a light rail system, making it easier to get around. The light rail does not yet extend to the airport, however.

“As convention planners, we love this place,” said Sneegas. “It has an elegant convention center, and the city has lots of food and beverage options. Food costs will be significantly lower than in Fort Lauderdale. And if people have time, the natural surroundings are spectacular.”

The GA Planning Committee has organized several pre-GA tours June 23 and 24 on local history, nature, and mountain scenery.

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