The annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association is returning this summer to the home of Voodoo Doughnut, Powell’s Books, the Japanese Garden, and scores of locavore restaurants and microbreweries. Thousands of Unitarian Universalists will gather June 24–28, 2015, in Portland, Ore., to focus on climate justice and conduct the business of the UUA. The provocative and influential Cornel West will deliver the 2015 Ware Lecture, GA’s keynote address.
Organizers expect General Assembly 2015 to draw upwards of 6,000 registrants to Portland, according to Ken Wheeler, district GA coordinator, which would make it one of the largest gatherings of UUs ever.
Registration for GA 2015 begins on Monday, March 2 at 9:00 a.m. PST, said Janiece Sneegas, director of General Assembly and Conference Services. Hotel registration also will open at that time. Everyone who plans to attend GA must register, and while there is on-site registration, registration fees increase after April 30.
Volunteers who donate at least 24 hours of service (14 hours for youth) do not pay a registration fee, Wheeler noted. About 200 to 300 volunteers are needed, he said. Opportunities to sign up as a volunteer also begin on March 2.
While registrants may make their own housing arrangements for Portland, there are five hotels designated by the UUA for GA with blocks of rooms at special rates reserved for registrants. Most events will be held in the Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., next to four of the hotels. There are also other housing options, including dormitory rooms at Portland State University.
Some GA-affiliated housing options, including the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower and dormitory rooms at Portland State University, are across the river from the convention center, but the city’s transportation system is very good, Sneegas said. “It works, it’s accessible, and runs in a timely fashion.” All registrants will receive a free pass to ride the Portland transit system, TriMet.
“Part of the ‘Building a New Way’ theme of General Assembly will be about building a new way to save our Earth and ourselves in the face of climate change,” said Alex Kapitan, the UUA’s Congregational Advocacy and Witness program coordinator. “The new Commit2Respond campaign led by UU groups across our faith movement will have a strong presence at General Assembly.”
GA attendees will have incredible opportunities to delve into environmental justice, Kapitan said: a climate justice–focused public witness event, multiple environmental justice workshops in every workshop block, a pre-GA UU College of Social Justice youth program on climate justice, and a post-GA daylong environmental justice tour of Portland sponsored by UU Ministry for Earth.
The public witness event will be held in partnership with the Lummi Nation, who are on the frontlines of climate change and environmental degradation. Not only is the coastal ecosystem that provides their way of life already being dangerously affected by climate change, Kapitan said, but they are fighting to keep a massive coal port from being built on their sacred lands. “In a powerful and spiritual public witness event, we will join together to honor our interconnectedness, acknowledge the pain and injustice of climate change, and take action to join in solidarity with all First Nations people and other frontline communities and work for climate justice,” Kapitan said.
The GA service project will raise money for the Reentry Transition Center, which provides a wide range of reentry services for about 900 formerly incarcerated men and women each year in the Portland area. It has been very successful in reducing recidivism, Wheeler said.
The Rev. Alison Beth Miller, minister of the Morristown, N.J., Unitarian Fellowship, will lead the Sunday worship service. The Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, senior minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Okla., will preach at the Service of the Living Tradition.
This year’s GA will kick off the official commemoration of the 150th anniversary of First Unitarian Church of Portland. The church’s renowned choir, under the direction of Mark Slegers, minister of music, will provide a concert Thursday night, June 25.