UUA’s second all-virtual General Assembly is focused on improving user experience and providing more opportunities for interaction.
Illustration © mikimad/iStock; UUA
With two weeks to go until the Unitarian Universalist Association’s annual General Assembly convenes online June 23–27, 2021, anticipation is building among the thousands of UUs already registered.
General Assembly is the annual opportunity for delegates to engage in the governance of the UUA. This year they will elect nine people to volunteer leadership positions and will vote on six proposed UUA bylaw amendments. But there’s a lot more to GA than business. “It is also an opportunity to be in community, learn, and be inspired by one another,” says LaTonya Richardson, the UUA’s director of GA and Conference Services.
This will be the first General Assembly led by the UUA’s new co-moderators, Charles Du Mond and the Rev. Meg Riley. It will offer networking, meetup, and caucusing events; appearances by special guests Stacey Abrams and Desmond Meade; ceremonies that honor ministers and bridging youth; an opening celebration with a virtual banner parade; a night of fun activities; progress reports from the UUA president and other UUA officers and commissions; opportunities to engage with the Article II Study Commission; programming for attendees of color, LGBTQ attendees, youth, and young adults; and a wide assortment of worship services. A bevy of workshop offerings will focus on activism, identity, theology, race, healing, community building, social justice, and the environment from a diverse group of presenters, including UUA staff, partner organizations, affinity groups, congregations, UU theological schools, and individuals.
“This year at General Assembly we’re offering over 100 hours of workshops that will be available in the on-demand library at the end of GA,” says Larry Stritof, the UUA’s director of Information Technology Services. “Before GA starts, there will already be over 70 on-demand workshops available to registrants, as well as content from the 2020 GA.”
The on-demand library doesn’t just include workshops. “There will be daily grounding worships available, along with the major worship events: the Service of the Living Tradition, the Synergy worship service, and the Sunday morning service,” he says.
The 2021 GA Program Book (PDF) is now available online, so people can begin browsing the schedule, program listings, orders of service, and other helpful information about GA.
Building on feedback gathered after 2020’s successful all-virtual GA, the team focused this year on enhancing the user experience and on increasing opportunities for attendees to interact.
“We’ll once again have the five tree-named chat rooms in the main GA portal, where people can interact in a large group while watching primary programming,” says Stritof. “The exciting thing we noticed last year was that each chat room really developed its own personality over the five days. For example, the youth found themselves leading a lot of the conversation in Maple and bringing a special energy to the chat there. It will be interesting to see how that evolves this year, but we also recognize that people wanted other ways and spaces to connect, so we’ve included the GA app by Whova, which allows attendees to direct message each other, form group chats, and interact in other ways.”
Attendees can look forward to seeing two high-profile guests—Stacey Abrams and Desmond Meade—Saturday, June 26, as part of the Ware Lecture. Each year the UUA president, in consultation with the GA Planning Committee, invites a distinguished guest to address the General Assembly as the Ware Lecturer, but this year planners are excited to have two guests. Abrams and Meade are both deeply involved in protecting the right to vote and in fighting voter suppression.
Entertainment Night returns for a second year on Friday, June 25, with a variety of fun activities, including an all-new edition of the GA Pride Drag Show; a concert with Kendra and Zack Harding, members of the folk band Brown Mountain Lightning Bugs; and an intergenerational game night using the Kahoot! app.
GA 2021’s theme is “Circle ’Round for Justice, Healing, Courage.” Programming will incorporate recommendations from the Commission on Institutional Change report, Widening the Circle of Concern, and dialogue with the Article II Commission about the UUA’s Principles and Purposes. “After this unimaginably difficult year, it will be good to come together—to circle ’round in community and care, to circle ’round for healing, justice, and courage,” said UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray in a video to congregational leaders. “We will do so online again this year, with a new app and exciting improvements to how we connect!”
This year's Sunday Morning Worship will be led by First Universalist Church of Minneapolis and will be streamed in the GA participation portal as well as on UUA.org and the UUA's YouTube channel at noon EDT. This worship service is open to everyone. Congregations that want to stream the service for their congregation's Sunday service but at a different time may submit a request for a private web link to the service.
Four special collections at GA will benefit the Living Tradition Fund, the Katie Tyson Fund for Youth and Young Adult Ministries, Side with Love, and this year’s local beneficiary, MICAH: Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope, a multiracial, interfaith organization committed to justice issues of importance to residents of Milwaukee, the originally scheduled host city for GA 2021.
The GA team has also worked to further improve accessibilities this year. All events on the main stage will include open captions and live sign language interpretation. This includes the Service of the Living Tradition, the Synergy Bridging Service, the Ware Lecture, Sunday morning worship, all general sessions, and the opening and closing celebrations. All workshops will have closed captions and transcripts available.
Richardson hopes the lure of engaging programming and increased networking opportunities will help the UUA build on the success of GA 2020, which had the third largest attendance of any General Assembly.
“We’ve consistently had about 200 new registrations a week for GA,” says Richardson. “Our goal is 5,129 attendees and we’re at the halfway mark. Last year about 40 percent of attendees waited until now to register, so the million-dollar question is whether we’ll see a repeat of that or are folks vaccinated and enjoying the outdoors too much to commit to our virtual gathering? We’re hoping the former!”
GA registration is $200 per person, with both financial support and a payment plan available. Registrants will receive access to the 2021 GA Participation Portal, including live and on-demand video content; a virtual exhibit hall; interactive chat rooms; pastoral care and tech support; and the GA mobile app. Visit UUA.org/ga for more.
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