UUA Board of Trustees hopes to attract congregational presidents to General Assembly with $100 subsidies.
At its meeting in January, the board voted to pay for a $100 rebate on the General Assembly registration fees for congregational presidents, presidents-elect, and chairs of governing boards. This year's General Assembly meets in Providence, R.I., June 25–29. Full-time adult registration for GA, which opens March 3, is $335 by April 30 and $385 after that.
UUA Moderator Jim Key said the board took this action because it wants as many presidents as possible to come to GA this year, where there will be important discussions "about the future of our faith and our association."
The board has been wrestling with how to transform GA so that it is more meaningful to congregational leaders, more economically accessible, and more useful as a way to discuss big questions about UUA governance and the UUA's mission.
Trustees have asked whether GA should be more of a business meeting than it is now, whether GA should be held only every other year, whether it should have fewer delegates, and whether the UUA is working on the right mission and social justice issues.
In an open letter last week, Key explained the purpose of the rebate. "The major impetus for this special invitation is the board's desire to have a conversation at this GA about how we can transform the work of the delegates at future GAs such that it will have real impact on the future of our faith and our association. The board has concluded that the structures and practices we currently use for the governance work done at General Assembly make having these conversations harder rather than easier.
"The board envisions our governance gathering as a place where delegates, accountable and engaged with their congregations, engage on the important issues that impact the success of our association. Are we working on the right mission together? What are the most important justice issues for us to work on together? How are we doing as an association to live into our dream to be an authentically antiracist, antioppressive institution? I am sure that you can think of other issues that we should discuss together. The outcome from these conversations would guide the work of the board and the staff."
In addition to sending presidents or board chairs to GA, the board is also asking congregations to elect people who will commit to serving as GA delegates for two years so there can be continuity in decision making.
Key said that the UUA administration will send more information to delegates before GA so they will be informed on the issues to be discussed.
This is the second time in recent memory that financial incentives have been used to encourage congregational presidents to attend GA. Between 2004 and 2008 the UUA paid a similar rebate to presidents as part of a plan to ensure that leaders of congregations were actively represented among delegates. In the first year about a quarter of all congregational presidents came to GA.
Critics of the status quo have expressed concern that GA delegates are primarily people who have both time and money to attend a five-day convention and that many others, including young people, are excluded by the cost and time commitment. GA can cost more than $1,000, including registration, hotel, and travel expenses.
The reimbursement program will be paid for by using half of a $100,000 fund that the board authorized last year to pay for a governance consultant to work with the board and administration. Congregations are also encouraged to help pay the way of GA delegates.
Photograph (above): Several hundred congregational presidents met in small groups at GA in 2007 (Nancy Pierce).
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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.