Thousands could not gather in Providence, Rhode Island, for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly in June, due to the pandemic. But adapting GA into an online-only conference created newly accessible ways for UUs to connect—and drew more participants than the 2014 GA in Providence.
With 4,925 registered, 2020’s “Virtual GA” surpassed the attendance at all but the 2003 Boston and 2007 Portland, Oregon, General Assemblies. Lower registration fees—$150 for the June 24–28 conference—and no travel costs helped boost attendance. Instead of paying for hotels and restaurants, people donated more to GA’s four fundraisers as they watched the worship services, attended workshops, and called Texas voters from their own homes as part of UU the Vote’s phonebank initiative.
“It is, by far, the most generous General Assembly in at least the last five years,” said Christopher Hartley, deputy director of Stewardship and Development. GA raised $218,479 through June 30.
The largest number of gifts was directed to the Tomaquag Museum in Rhode Island—one of several Native American groups in southern New England that the UUA partnered with in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Pilgrim settlers and as an investment in Indigenous leaders today. Pilgrim and Puritan settlers are direct religious ancestors of the oldest UU congregations.
Workshops, worship services, and business items focused on the impact of colonization on native peoples. Ninety-four percent of delegates affirmed an Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) that calls on UUs to “address 400 years of white supremacist colonialism” through solidarity with “all Indigenous peoples struggling to preserve their lands, waters, peoples, sacred sites, and sovereignty.”
Delegates also responded to the uprising against police violence, with 82 percent affirming another AIW that pledges support for the uprising and calls for immediately defunding police departments. “This moment calls us to be prophetic and to imagine a world without policing,” UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray said after the vote.
In other business, delegates passed a resolution that provides additional guidance for the UUA’s socially responsible investing practices. They approved bylaw changes that shift the schedule for nominations and that clarify the process for handling vacancies in the moderator role. They also affirmed responsive resolutions that ask for the creation of an accountability commission to monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on Institutional Change; that urge investments in youth and young adult programs; and that encourage UUs to respond to the pandemic by promoting just and equitable healthcare.
GA welcomed a new team of co-moderators, the Rev. Meg Riley and Charles Du Mond, to succeed the Rev. Mr. Barb Greve and Elandria Williams. Riley and Du Mond will serve a five-year term.
The Board of Trustees introduced a study commission that will consider changes to Article II of the UUA Bylaws (the “Principles and Purposes”), which will be presented to the 2022 General Assembly.
Throughout GA, UU the Vote partnered with Reclaim Our Vote to mobilize UUs to call potential voters in Texas ahead of the state’s primaries. Volunteers placed more than 117,000 calls.
This story has been updated with corrected registration figures and updated numbers of calls placed by UU the Vote volunteers.