“It’s a spiritual practice for me. I love the worships at GA,” Frost said. “It is the business meeting of our faith, that’s according to our bylaws, and that’s a really big part of it. But it’s also meeting people, networking, the chance to worship, to educate about justice, ARAO [anti-racism and anti-oppression work], to sing, to help build congregations and congregational leaders. General Assembly does a lot for Unitarian Universalism, and that’s one reason I like being a part of it.”
Frost is more than just a part of it, though. He has served on the General Assembly Planning Committee since 2009, and has been the chair since 2013. The General Assembly Planning Committee (GAPC) is tasked with organizing and running the event in cooperation with the General Assembly and Conference Services staff of the UUA and other groups. The 2014 General Assembly will be held June 25-29 in Providence, R.I., and the theme is “Love Reaches Out.” Registration for the event opened March 3.
At 27 years old, Frost is an influential young leader in the UUA, but he’s been doing leadership work in UU circles for a long time already. Jan Sneegas, the UUA’s director of General Assembly and Conference Services, first met him when he was a youth caucus member who attended GAPC meetings.
“From the beginning, Bart presented as somebody who was very smart, very thoughtful, and extremely knowledgeable about the way UU systems work,” Sneegas said. “And did I say that he’s wicked funny, too? He knows how to use humor to defuse tension and can see the ridiculous as well as the sublime, which is helpful in this work.”
Frost’s grandfather is a UU minister, and his mother is a director of religious education. In a part-time capacity, Frost is following in the family footsteps–he says it “runs in the blood”–as the director of religious education of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans. His day job at Costco, where he is a wine specialist, also keeps him busy, he said.
Frost has been a leader in UU work for many years, despite his young age. He grew up attending “cons,” weekend gatherings for youth in Massachusetts and later in North Carolina, and soon became involved in youth leadership. At GA, he served as a staff member on the youth caucus and later as youth dean, and also as a youth chaplain and chaplain trainer. After a break during college, he came back to leadership when he was asked to serve on the GAPC.
Frost agreed to serve because he is a huge believer in the power of General Assembly and its effect on those who attend, calling it a “transformative experience.”
“I can honestly say that GA is the reason why I’m still a Unitarian, as someone who grew up in Unitarian Universalism and as a young adult,” Frost said. “GA was a place I could come back to when there weren’t congregations available or attractive to a college kid, or to someone who had to work on Sundays to pay his bills.”
As chair of the GAPC, achieving consensus about ideas and policies is a big part of the job, and it takes a lot of time. The GAPC works with the UUA board; with the GA Program Development Group, which selects workshops and other programs for GA; and with the new Worship Arts Team, which is coordinating worship services at GA. Frost and the rest of the GAPC spend many hours each year working with those groups and local groups in the area GA will be held; the event moves around the country from year to year.
The GAPC, which has eight members elected by the General Assembly and two appointed by the UUA Appointments Committee, used to do even more work putting on GA, but has gotten others involved for a number of years. Members of the committee are still closely involved with almost every aspect of GA.
In coming years, the role of the GAPC may change even more. For a long time, there has been discussion about how best to conduct General Assemblies, most clearly seen in the work of the Fifth Principle Task Force, which investigated how to make GA truly representative of Unitarian Universalism. Frost said that he and the GAPC are keeping tabs on the conversation and staying in touch with moderator Jim Key and the UUA board about what might happen in the future. Frost pointed out the work the GAPC has done in keeping GA affordable. This year, the UUA board has offered a $100 discount to any congregational president who attends.
“We’ve tried to make it an accessible event, and it’s cheaper than other conferences like it. I work two jobs, 60 hours a week, so I get it,” Frost said. “I understand and I wouldn’t be able to attend probably if I wasn’t in a leadership role [for which much of his costs are covered].”
Frost is looking forward to this year’s GA, especially given the theme that was selected: “Love Reaches Out.”
“It’s a chance for folks to really find out it’s not just their congregation, their cluster, their country. This goes across the world,” Frost said. “It shows how big our small faith is, and that’s one of the things I love about [GA].”
Photograph (above): General Assembly Planning Committee Chair Bart Frost, seen here at the 2011 GA in Charlotte, N.C. (Nancy Pierce).