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This year, in an historic first, the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) will be fully multiplatform, so people can choose to attend online or onsite and enjoy as close to an equitable experience as possible.
GA is the annual meeting of the UUA, where participants worship, witness, connect, and make policy for the Association. GA 2022 will be held June 22–26, with onsite attendees gathering at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. This year’s theme is “Meet the Moment: Reimagining Radical Faith Community,” and one expression of that theme is reimagining GA itself to be more inclusive and equitable, including through a multiplatform approach.
UUA leaders are focused on making the multiplatform GA as equitable as possible. One of the UUA’s two co-moderators, the Rev. Meg Riley, will attend online, while the other, Charles Du Mond, will be onsite in Portland. They will alternate their co-moderator duties throughout GA.
Some UUA Board of Trustee members will be onsite, others online, and their duties, including leading GA discussion, will alternate between the two modes. There will be six multiplatform workshops happening in Portland that will be livestreamed for online attendees; nine live webinar workshops, three of which will be shown in a screening room in Portland; and nine workshops that will be in-person in Portland online. As well, there will be more than sixty on-demand workshops that are pre-recorded, which people can access online.
“It is amazing to be living into so much innovation and experimentation with General Assembly,” said UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray. “Our goal from the beginning was a multiplatform GA that created equitable, although not identical, experiences for both virtual and in-person attendees.”
There will be two highly anticipated GA speakers this year, one onsite and the other virtual. Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, one of the nation’s
foremost historians and antiracist scholars and the author of five New York Times #1 bestsellers, including How to Be an Antiracist, will present this year’s Ware Lecture onsite in Portland. In addition, adrienne maree brown, writer-in-residence at the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute, author of Grievers (the first novella in a trilogy on the Black Dawn imprint) and other books, and cohost of the How to Survive the End of the World, Octavia’s Parables and Emergent Strategy podcasts, will speak online and be livestreamed onsite in the convention center.
“This is another way we are trying to create equitable, though not identical, experience across platforms,” Frederick-Gray said, noting that online and onsite attendees will have access to both presentations.
The Ware Lecture will be available to GA registrants only. In-person registration is required to attend the Ware Lecture onsite. In-person or full virtual registration is required to live-stream the lecture, which is on June 25, or to access the video on-demand, where it will be posted for a limited time after GA, said Don Plante, UUA meeting planner.
For many years, Unitarian Universalists have discussed how to make GA more accessible, both physically and financially. The Commission on Institutional Change, in its report—Widening the Circle of Concern—recommended that the UUA Board of Trustees consider a wide array of changes to make GA and UUA governance more inclusive and accessible.
Offering a multiplatform GA and focusing on making the experience equitable for online and onsite participants is an exciting move in this direction, said UUA Executive Vice President Carey McDonald. Online participants not only save the cost of travel and hotels, but their registration cost is lower than for onsite participants.
If local health and safety protocols permit, UU congregations and groups across the globe are encouraged to host “watch parties” for GA events open to the public.
All registrants will be able to watch and ask questions in live sessions, including workshops, business sessions, and mini-assemblies. Video of GA’s public events—including the General Sessions, Service of the Living Tradition, Synergy Bridging Worship, and Sunday Morning Worship—will be live-streamed with no registration required. (If local health and safety protocols permit, UU congregations and groups across the globe are encouraged to host “watch parties” for GA events open to the public.)
Some aspects of GA have been available online since 2012 but without a true sense of equity between the online and onsite experience. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both GA 2020 and GA 2021 were virtual only and resulted in a “significant bump” in attendance and participation, said LaTonya Richardson, the UUA’s General Assembly and Conference Services director.
“The flexibility afforded with the multiplatform approach means it is accessible to more people, and you can tweak that in whatever way works for you, so even if you come to Portland but have, say, safety concerns about being in General Session, you can attend from your hotel room or on your phone,” said Richardson.
GA will continue to offer a one-day option for folks who want to come just for Sunday worship or for the Service of the Living Tradition on Thursday. “Our goal is to increase overall attendance,” Richardson explained.
McDonald said, “It’s important to the board to signal that onsite and online participation are equally valid and there are a lot of reasons someone might choose to join online” instead of onsite, including health or family reasons, “or just personal preference.”
Since there will be online attendees from across the country, the schedule is shorter each day in order to accommodate various time zones, as it was the past two years. This has the benefit of making GA less intense and exhausting, and more accessible for more people. “It’s a whole different way of thinking about our gathering,” said Riley.
“I think COVID forced us to learn a lot of lessons of how we could do things online,” added Du Mond. “Now we’re learning how to integrate online with people [attending] in person.”
To promote safety and well-being, onsite attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination and to wear masks indoors.
To promote safety and well-being, onsite attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination and to wear masks indoors, Richardson said, although she added that UUA leadership is constantly reevaluating the safety guidelines.
Since 2017, GA has shifted away from the UUA moderator as the sole leader of GA to instead having a team of board members facilitating discussion and voting. Known as the “Mod Squad,” the members of the team take turns leading discussion and making sure the agenda and other aspects of GA are in order.
This year, some of the Mod Squad will be online and some will be onsite, and the plan is to alternate between them. The UUA’s IT department and production team are working to create a comparable experience of GA for those online and those onsite.
A new registration type was also introduced this year. Delegates who want to participate only in General Sessions can register as online business-only attendees and pay a donation instead of the full registration fee.
Voting—including for two business resolutions, a rules change to correct a typo, and for contested elections—will be different this year, too: All delegates, onsite or online, will vote via electronic ballot on their phones, computers, or at special voting terminals at the convention center. Voting will take place over hours instead of minutes, so delegates have time to confer with the congregations they represent before casting their votes.
“From a governance perspective, the move to multiplatform participation allows all congregations to have their full slate of delegates participate in GA, especially as online participation in the business has no registration fee,” said Frederick-Gray.
Riley said, “This gives us a chance to implement things we’ve wanted to implement for decades to make GA financially and physically accessible and available to people who can’t travel—and now it is.”
“I love that anybody can go free for the business sessions, and you don’t have to pay to vote. That feels like a basic tenet of democracy." Meg Riley, UUA co-moderator
“I love that anybody can go free for the business sessions, and you don’t have to pay to vote. That feels like a basic tenet of democracy,” Riley said, adding, “I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
McDonald said, “We are creating new types of spaces and a wonderful mix of opportunities that will provide for equitable engagement for both online and onsite participation. We are hoping this helps us all imagine a way forward that holds onto the accessibility we gained during the pandemic and also allows us to have some safe ways to gather in person, for those who want and are able to, because that’s a really meaningful aspect of faith community.”
So far, GA 2022 has a total of 2,515 registrants: 1,373 in-person and 1,142 virtual. It is typical for people to continue to register right up until GA begins, said Richardson. GA 2020 had 4,924 virtual attendees and GA 2021 had 4,227.
The opening celebration banner parade is a GA institution, and this year it has been reimagined for a multiplatform audience. Instead of a parade, there will be a presentation of both onsite and virtual banners, which will be highlighted during GA’s opening ceremony and livestreamed. Onsite delegates will register their banners when they arrive in Portland; any congregation wishing to have their banner participate online can submit a high-resolution photo of their banner by Friday, June 10.
Two UUA initiatives will have a major presence at GA this year: UU the Vote, which is organizing for the upcoming midterm elections to support fair elections, advance voting rights, protect abortion access, and resist the targeting and criminalization of Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities; and publicizing the efforts of the Article II Study Commission, which will make recommendations on changes to bylaws, principles, and purposes to be voted on next year, at GA 2023, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
"I continue to be very well-connected with other faith-based organization, and I’m convinced we are still trailblazing with the innovations we’ve made so far." LaTonya Richardson, UUA GA and Conference Services director
Richardson believes GA 2023 will likely be multiplatform, too. “Going forward there is a lot of potential” for reimagining GA, she said, adding that leadership has been intentional in not planning for 2024 and 2025 until they evaluate how GA goes this year. “I continue to be very well-connected with other faith-based organization,” said Richardson, “and I’m convinced we are still trailblazing with the innovations we’ve made so far.”
McDonald said, “I hope people will leave inspired and equipped and will have met new people and have a sense of the possibilities and be carrying that back to their home congregations and communities and feeling the presence of the wider community. That’s what makes GA so inspiring—it will be exciting to see what that looks in the multiplatform context.”
More to Know about GA 2022
- There are more than seventy exhibitors registered for GA, with fity-five exhibitors onsite in Portland and others participating online.
- An app for GA 2022 will be offered to all GA registrants through WHOVA. The app offers community building, up-to-date information about GA, and access to all of the virtual GA content.
- Among other efforts to make GA more accessible, all events in the General Sessions will include in-person American Sign Language interpretation as well as live captioning.
- The Rev. William G. Sinkford, who served as president of the UUA from 2001 to 2009 and as interim co-president of the UUA in 2017, will receive the 2022 Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism.
- There will be a small public witness event with Sunrise Movement PDX on Friday, June 24. It will be a rally on the steps of the convention center with a few local and UUA speakers. Click here for more information on the Sunrise Movement's Youth v. ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation campaign.
- The recipient of the Sunday Service offering at GA 2022 is East County Rising Community Projects (ECRCP), which builds grassroots leadership within East Multnomah County to create an equitable, inclusive, and livable community centered on the needs of the most underrepresented and marginalized residents.
- The last time GA was in-person, in 2019, in Spokane, Washington, the gathering reached two sustainability milestones: it was a zero-waste event and carbon-neutral. UUA leadership is working to ensure that GA continues to be a zero-waste event and that it maintains carbon neutrality in 2022 and beyond.