In Spokane and in online groups, Unitarian Universalists will engage with questions of their religion’s purpose and future.
When Unitarian Universalists gather for the annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association in Spokane, Washington, June 19–23, they’ll find many beloved elements of Assemblies past—but this will not be a typical GA.
With the theme “The Power of We,” GA 2019 has been created collaboratively by the UUA staff, the Board of Trustees, the General Assembly Planning Committee, and the Commission on Institutional Change to invite UUs to engage in discernment about the future of the faith.
GA will open with the traditional banner parade of congregations and organizations on Wednesday night, June 19. The next morning’s worship will introduce the theme and invite UUs into discernment about the faith, a focus that will continue in various ways throughout the conference, said Carey McDonald, the UUA’s executive vice president. The Commission on Institutional Change, created two years ago to analyze structural racism and white supremacy culture within Unitarian Universalism, will assist UUs in this discernment. The process will expand on the use of facilitated breakout groups at last year’s GA in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Having broad-based input on what is most important to us in Unitarian Universalism and how to shape the future of our faith is a big part of what we want to do at GA this year,” said McDonald.
Among the questions the board is asking participants to discuss are “What from our faith tradition helps guide your life?” and “What’s your personal and our collective commitment and stake to transforming and living out our values and benefits?”
The Commission on Institutional Change will invite participants to reflect on questions such as “What sustains you and your faith community in efforts towards inclusion, equity, and diversity?” and “What limits you from living out our faith’s promise towards liberation and transformation?”
In order to provide space for these conversations, GA 2019 will devote less time to business matters. There will be only four hours of general session, compared to eleven hours at GA 2018, McDonald said, and for the first time in many years no business will take place after Sunday morning’s worship service. Review the business agenda.
Spokane is a beautiful city with much natural beauty, McDonald emphasized. In addition to offering UUs an opportunity to explore that part of the country, GA 2019 will include more than 100 programs over the course of five days. This year, in addition to theme-based programming, there also will be fourteen “role-based tracks” to convene individuals or groups with common roles or interests, including “Combating Destructive Behavior and White Supremacy Culture,” “Transformational Worship,” and “How to Be a Good Employer and Supervisor.”
This year’s public witness event will focus on ending mass incarceration, which is one of the UUA’s four missional priorities. At a rally at noon on Thursday, June 20, UUs will call on the Spokane County Board of Commissioners to abandon their plans to expand the Spokane County Jail. Through Side With Love, UUs are working in support of the local organizing community, which includes Smart Justice Spokane, Peace & Justice Action League of Spokane, the Spokane NAACP, Spokane Community Against Racism, and the UU Church of Spokane, which have fought for over ten years to resist jail expansion and to press for restorative justice and other reforms, said Everette R. H. Thompson, campaign manager of Side With Love.
Prominent speakers will be Ware Lecturer Richard Blanco, who delivered the inaugural poem at President Obama’s 2013 inauguration, and Robin DiAngelo, author of Beacon Press’s best-selling White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. The Rev. Lindi Ramsden, director of Partnerships and Emerging Programs at Starr King School for the Ministry, will deliver the sermon at the Service of the Living Tradition. The Rev. Marta I. Valentín, minister of the UU Church of Medford, Massachusetts, will deliver the sermon at the Sunday morning worship. The Rev. Leslie Takahashi, chair of the Commission on Institutional Change, will deliver the Berry Street Lecture on Wednesday, June 19, as part of the UU Ministers Association’s Ministry Days conference.
Delegates voted to approve changes to the Actions of Immediate Witness process last year, so GA 2019 will use electronic voting to place up to three AIWs on the final agenda, a method that will replace the petition process used in the past. The Commission on Social Witness invites delegates to propose and gather support for AIWs.
“We don’t want to have our priorities and justice commitments competing with other,” said McDonald. “By allowing broader and more straightforward consideration of proposed AIWs, rather than using a double ballot to limit consideration to six, we hope for a more streamlined process with fuller democratic engagement for both onsite and offsite delegates.”
The new AIW process will no longer involve mini-assemblies, amendments, or debate. After the electronic voting process picks the top three AIWs, delegates will vote whether to affirm them in Saturday’s General Session.
In other business, delegates will vote on a proposed Statement of Conscience, drafted by the Commission on Social Witness with input from congregations over the past two years, entitled “Our Democracy Uncorrupted” (pages 67–70 in the program book). Delegates will also vote on a series of proposed bylaw changes, including changes to the UUA’s election processes and bylaws about the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.
UU World will provide coverage of GA on our Twitter account, with summaries on our General Assembly page. The UUA website will broadcast general session, theme presentations, and worship services.
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Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.
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