At All-Virtual GA, Unitarian Universalists Center Love and Pledge Bold Social and Climate Justice Action

At All-Virtual GA, Unitarian Universalists Center Love and Pledge Bold Social and Climate Justice Action

More than 3,400 Unitarian Universalists came together to explore the faith’s underpinnings, take consequential votes, and be in community with one another.

Elaine McArdle
A smiling group of people sit in a room together and pose for a photo to mark their getting together to experience the online Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly 2024.

Unitarian Universalists in Rochester, New York, spent time with each other during the fully online UUA General Assembly. The annual multi-day event connected UUs from all around the world.

© Unitarian Universalists of Rochester, NY


With love centered as a core value of the faith, more than 3,400 Unitarian Universalists from around the country and world gathered for an all-virtual Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly 2024, June 20–23.

The assembly’s theme, “Love Unites, Stories Ignite,” celebrated the profound impact of love as a binding force that transcends boundaries and divisions.

In that spirit, delegates decisively adopted a new statement of shared UU values that places love at the center. With 80 percent of voting delegates choosing to adopt changes to Article II of the UUA bylaws (see page 8), the new stated values of the faith are Equity, Generosity, Interdependence, Justice, Pluralism, and Transformation, centered around Love.

A two-thirds vote to change Article II was required under UUA bylaws; the new statement was approved by 80.2 percent of voting delegates (2,025 votes) to 19.8 percent (499 votes), with 21 delegates abstaining (0.8 percent).

The vote came after a multi-year process of discernment that involved thousands of UUs around the country, including a majority vote at GA 2023 to continue the process to a final vote at GA 2024.

Only one of four proposed amendments to the new statement of values passed, to amend the description of the shared value of Equity to read, “We declare that every person is inherently worthy and has the right to flourish with dignity, love, and compassion.”

Two proposed amendments to incorporate additional values—Peace, and Reason and the Responsible Search for Truth and Meaning—and a proposal for an alternative description of Equity, did not pass.

UUs Make Space for Difficult Conversations on Gender-Expansive Rights, Middle East

One of GA’s most powerful and moving moments came during a charged discussion of a proposed Business Resolution, “Embracing Transgender, Nonbinary, Intersex and Gender Diverse People is a Fundamental Expression of UU Religious Values.”

As the final speaker in favor of the resolution, the Rev. JeKaren Olaoya used her allotted 90 seconds to affirm repeatedly and emphatically to transgender, nonbinary, and gender diverse people: “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

Her heartfelt expression was quickly circulated widely online, as a way of reiterating the centrality of love as a core value of the faith.

The resolution passed overwhelmingly with a 91.8 percent vote in favor.

Facing a large projector screen, a group of people react to a live closing speech given during the 2024 Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly.

During a General Assembly viewing party held at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland, UUs watch as Rev. JeKaren Olaoya uses her final 90 seconds to affirm love for gender-expansive people. The annual gathering was all-virtual this year.

© Chris Northcross/UUA

The tragedy of the ongoing war in the Middle East loomed large over the General Assembly, from the president’s report by UUA President Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt, who expressed “the profound horror and loss of these latest rounds of violence in the Middle East,” to a Q&A with renowned Beacon Press author and Middle East expert Rashid Khalidi, whose latest book is The Hundred Years’ War on Palestinians.

An Action of Immediate Witness, “Solidarity with Palestinians,” passed with a 73.5 percent vote.

A Responsive Resolution, “UUA General Assembly Support for October 7 Hostages,” offered in response to the UUA President’s Report, called for the immediate release of all Hamas-held hostages and acknowledged “the real suffering of Jews within our Association and beyond.” It passed with 77 percent of votes in favor.

All-Virtual GA Connects UUs from Around the World

GA is the annual gathering of UUs, where, in addition to conducting official business of the UUA, they join in community, explore the faith’s theological underpinnings, and emphasize the Association’s mission, values, and principles. It is the largest gathering of UUs annually worldwide.

GA 2024 took place virtually, which increases accessibility and the number of UUs who can attend, promotes the core value of democracy by increasing attendance, and promotes environmental sustainability, since delegates aren’t required to travel and consume resources.

Many UU congregations across the country held “watch parties,” where they streamed the online GA together.

Photo Gallery (For Full Captions, View on Flickr.)

Next year, to continue to foster increased accessibility and enhance the democratic process, GA 2025 will be multiplatform, held both online and in person in Baltimore, Maryland.

In recognition that spending hours a day in front of a computer screen can be challenging, GA 2024 was a day shorter than usual, starting Thursday rather than Wednesday, and ending on Sunday.

For the second year in a row, GA 2024’s extensive programming of workshops and lectures were available on-demand starting a few weeks before GA and the full on-demand library will remain available to registrants through August 31.

GA 2024 had 2,757 credentialed delegates from 734 congregations in fifty states; Washington, D.C.; Canada; the U.S. Virgin Islands; Mexico, France, and the Philippines.

Almost 200 delegates queued up online to speak during the four-day event, and more than half of them ultimately got to address the Assembly, according to the UUA’s Business Team.

“This is the most votes we’ve seen in a single general session since we started using electronic ballots,” Larry Stritof, the UUA’s director of Information and Technology Services, said of Saturday’s business participation, which included final discussion of Article II, the AIWs, and the Responsive Resolution.

In a reflection of the UUA’s commitment to democracy and anti-oppressive work, this year’s GA implemented for the first time a technique during business sessions called “progressive stack,” to give marginalized groups a greater chance to speak. Tellers also prioritized voices that hadn’t already spoken.

Also new was a team of process observers whose role was to help ensure business discussions remained constructive and respectful.

Another innovation this year: daily cohort gatherings—groups of like-minded peers such as religious educators, lay leaders, and UUs interested in climate justice—who met to foster a supportive community and share common goals and interests.

In her President’s Report, Rev. Dr. Betancourt, who was elected UUA president at GA 2023, acknowledged the challenges that many UU congregations face post-pandemic, including budget deficits, while noting that in the past year, 418 of the faith’s 1,000 congregations grew in membership, 278 congregations saw increases in religious education enrollment, and 341 congregations reported increases to non-member friends.

“Growth,” she said, “is not the only indicator of health and vitality. And this is a time to learn from congregations and communities that are successfully trying new approaches to worship, to faith formation, to organizing, to making our faith accessible and relevant to as many people as possible. We have the power to innovate in this liminal moment if we are able to be responsive and creative in meeting the most urgent needs of the moment.”

From the Ware Lecture to Service Awards: More General Assembly Highlights

In addition to “Solidarity with Palestinians,” delegates affirmed two other Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs): “World on Fire: Humanitarian Work and Climate Change” (95.6 percent of votes), and “Centering Love Amidst the Ongoing Impact of COVID-19” (86.1 percent).

AIWs are statements about a significant action, event, or development in the world that necessitates immediate engagement and action among UU congregations and affiliated groups.

“We live in a vast and shining web of organizing relationships, where we stay connected, where we prize our interdependence, where we turn toward each other, and yes we are heartbroken together, and there we find our power.”

Sunday worship, led by Rev. Dr. Molly Housh Gordon, minister of the UU Church of Columbia, Missouri, and others, also centered love and interdependence.

“We live in a vast and shining web of organizing relationships, where we stay connected, where we prize our interdependence, where we turn toward each other, and yes we are heartbroken together, and there we find our power,” she said in her sermon, “Weaving our Lives.”

The annual Ware Lecture was given by Julia Watts Belser, a graduate of Starr King School for the Ministry, and a professor of Jewish Studies at Georgetown University and core faculty in its Disability Studies Program. Her latest book is Loving Our Own Bones: Disability Wisdom and the Spiritual Subversiveness of Knowing Ourselves Whole.

“Ableism hurts all of us,” she said, adding, “Disability politics can be a catalyst for radical cultural transformation.”

Rev. Dr. Betancourt presented the 2024 President’s Award for Volunteer Service to the UUA to the Pink Haven Coalition, a project of frontline trans organizers working with progressive faith groups and mutual aid networks to create a network to house and provide welcoming communities to those directly impacted by anti-trans legislation, including those needing to permanently relocate or travel to access gender-affirming care.

“Their work exemplifies the commitments Unitarian Universalism has made to manifesting our values in this life-saving work,” she said.

Jacqui C. Williams, a longtime UU who dedicated her life to combating racism as an educator, trainer, and community activist, and who died in 2023, posthumously received the 2024 Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism, the UUA’s highest honor.

Rev. Mykal O'Neal Slack, community minister for worship and spiritual care for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, praised Williams as “an incredible Black woman elder who did marvelous and unconscionably hard work to help make our Unitarian Universalist faith better for more of us more of the time.”

In other business, delegates:

  • Approved a bylaw amendment to Section 7.13 allowing the Religious Education Credentialing Committee to increase the number of members of its committee, if needed, making the language consistent with that of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.
  • Elected to the UUA Board of Trustees for three-year terms Emily Jaworski Koriath, John Simmonds, and Rev. Sam Trumbore.
  • Elected to the Commission on Appraisal for a one-year term Rachel A. Feltner.

Elected to the Nominating Committee for three-year terms cristy cardinal and Andreas Rivera Young.

Additional reporting from Kristen Cox Roby, Sonja Cohen, and Maryann Batlle.