GA Delegate Survey/Report 2015

The theme of this GA is “Building a New Way.”

“As faith entrepreneurs we will gather to imagine and to tell a new story for our religious community, one that responds to the needs of our time. We will explore how shared vision and story help us engage more with the wider world and how to build an inclusive community that supports justice and compassion. We must reach out beyond our immediate Unitarian Universalist communities to share the liberal religious values that transform lives.”

Overview:

The Building a New Way Theme was especially present in Rev. Marlin Lavanhar’s sermon during The Service of the Living Tradition – if we can all feel comfortable to come out of the spiritual closet, feel comfortable sharing with our UU siblings our spiritual truths, we will ALL be much better off and truly Building a New Way.

I feel blessed for the synchronicity to have the marriage equality law passed while we were at GA. Ever more poignant was that my shared housing accommodations were with LGBTQ sisters who I both admire and love, and while at dinner with our host at a beautiful restaurant an impromptu wedding took place to which we, along with dozens of UUAGA name tag wearing UUs, were blessed to witness. Strangers and Earth siblings at once cherishing this unknown couple and their union.

Activities at our UU Women and Religion and Women’s Federation tables abounded with divine feminine and sacred activist programming and merchandise. The UUWR bookstore is always a delight. I look forward to sharing more about this in its own report. Including debuting my Women of Spirit Volume 1 Anthology

One thing to note about cost of UUAGA – – There are examples of more inclusive religious gatherings that are financially accessible to all and sustainable to the denomination. ie: Jehovah’s Witnesses have “District Assemblies”  throughout the US and Canada (geography size of a JW district may be equivalent to the Mass Bay District, yet far more participants than even our UU General Assemblies).  At their District Assemblies they can count on 5000-7,000+ to attend.  Why?  Because there is no charge for the assembly.  Not that there are no costs associated with it, rather, they let the attendees know the costs associated with the event, and each attendee pays whatever amount they can to attend.  It is an honor-system.  One I believe UUs can learn alot from.  It creates real diversity and accessibility. I feel the cost of GA registration is more than fair when compared to corporate events, retreats and workshops.  Yet it is prohibitive to many.  Perhaps a more spiritual approach makes sense.  If, indeed, all are welcome.

Many attendees skip the closing worship and celebration.  They miss out!  It is a beautiful time to bring closure to all we experience at GA.  Perhaps a UU Celeb could host the closing next year so as to encourage more to attend?

I applaud the efforts to support our youth as seen with the proposals for the Actions of Immediate Witness.  Yet, I recommend that whomever is volunteering to be the Adult Mentors, do so much more carefully next time.  At one point during the voting sessions someone at the microphone urged delegates to stop discussing the details of the language of their proposal because the kids were up all night working on this and we should support them.  Mentors like that are not teaching our children what they need to understand about this kind of action.  Words matter.

AIWs are legal documents we are to take not only to our congregations, but out into the world – it needs to reflect maturity and wisdom.  Because the proposal brought forth by our youth was constructed in an immature way, we spent hours deliberating on language and the demands contained therein that would have not been needed had they been shepherded better.     

Also, after holding up the session for so long, as soon as they got the vote passed, they left.  Which seems disrespectful to all who still had yet to speak.  I know they were exuberant and wanted to celebrate, but if they want to participate in the Adult parts of GA, that includes listening to other people.  ((Perhaps all the reports could be front-loaded into the itinerary instead of slotted after AIW voting))

With respect in mind, I feel it important to state I was disappointed that these youth tried to crash the closing celebration with their BLM chant.  It was not gentle.  One of the volunteers at the back had to repeatedly tell their leader to move their foot they jammed in the doorway as they attempted to barge through and disrupt what was a healing service to many.  Thankfully they attempted to make the biggest show for themselves as possible and selected the door that was most heavily “guarded” with volunteers for they would have had immediate access through the side doors and would have succeeded in ruining the closing celebration.  Our children need to be taught respect.  And compassion.  Because without respect and compassion, social justice does not happen.

I feel it is important to echo what the 80-year-old black delegate said during the voting on Black Lives Matter.  ((edited to include: I believe his name is: Rev.Finley Campbell of  the UU Multiracial Unity Action Council))

Finley Campbell. – amendment con
Photo/Nancy Pierce

He began by stating “I stand here alone.”  He was frustrated and the essence of what he said was not heard because of his anger – often when we are upset, it is difficult to have people hear us. And by and large, not many in our room of “open-minded” justice seekers were in any frame of mind to listen to what he had to say.  Him – the very demographic BLM is supposed to support.  Yet his voice was silenced.  And deserves to be heard: 

He opposed the BLM campaign.  He said that as long as we are segregating one group, we are not part of the solution.  This was not heard.  And I feel it is a valuable message to include.  It is what I am sharing with my congregation and my family.  

An interracial family.

I am the mother of a son who is half Mexican.  When he first heard Black Lives Matter, he asked “Mom, do brown lives matter too?”

I told him yes.  All lives matter.  As he matures I will be able to explain why the BLM campaign is at the forefront rather than ALM, and how unity should be the focus to heal all oppressions in our congregations, in our communities, in our countries, in our world.

When we seek unity first, our UUA will be part of the True solution.

GA 2015 , Portland, OR
A Sacred Public Witness Commit2Respond to Climate Change
Photo/Nancy Pierce

What were the most outstanding programs at GA?

Marlin Lavanhar Service of Living Tradition

Sue Phillips – Congregational Polity

UUWR Booth

Public Witness

Closing Celebration 

What were the least satisfying programs at GA this year?

Voting on BLM

What was the most satisfying aspect of GA for you?

Being with so many UUs! 

Seeing familiar and new faces.

Inspirational and Encouraging sermons and workshops.

What was the least satisfying aspect of GA for you?

Witnessing our youth be uninformed, disrespectful and discompassionate, without needed mentorship from mature adults.  It felt very much like the blind leading the blind.  We want our youth to be courageous, not arrogant; justice seekers, not simply rebellious. 

If you could change one thing at GA, what would it be?

The schedule.  Many of the programs/workshops of like-kind, were scheduled at the same time. Would be wonderful to have more women’s spirituality programming at GA, as well as Earth Centered and Esoteric offerings. We gather for business, yes, but we also gather for spiritual nourishment. (Perhaps these should be two separate events?)

Please comment on this year’s site (including accommodations and meeting space)

It was acceptable.  I would ask that more food options be available.  If possible to have a convention center that has sunlight-filled rooms I think that would enhance us all physically and mentally. 

Please rate the time for discussion of items in plenary before votes were taken.

I am impressed with Jim Key’s patience.  The BLM voting in particular was grueling, and overall he did what he could to keep us on track.  I think if delegates were more informed of the rules and respectful of each other, that sessions would go more gently.

If we could do one thing to make the plenary sessions more meaningful for your congregation, what would it be?

Have all delegates participate in Compassionate (Non-violent) Communication classes prior to GA!

Summary:

GA was wonderful — and also challenging.  

The plenary/voting sessions were difficult to witness. 

The workshops and time mingling with everyone was amazing.  

The music inspiring.

Credentials:

I am an ordained minister, but not UUA credentialed, and am a spiritual leader in my Pittsfield, ME congregation + worship trustee.

GA 2015 , Portland, OR
A Sacred Public Witness Commit2Respond to Climate Change
North group. The pine tree will be planted in Washington State.
Photo/Nancy Pierce

#UUAGA2015 #UUAGA Submitted July 23rd, 2015 Rev. “Twinkle” Marie Manning, delegate