My initial reaction to what I felt was a “demand” rather than a “call” to boycott Arizona for the UUA’s 2012 General Assembly of Congregations, was, frankly, quite vocal and visceral… and negative. As I reflect back, it wasn’t a thoughtful response, but my own kneejerk reaction to what I viewed as one more boomer kneejerk reaction. We don’t like what they are doing? Boycott ’em. And, quite frankly, the voices I heard were of older, white, men. And so, I found some really good reasons to say moving GA would be, well, in a word or two, self-aggrandizing and pointless. In some small ways, I still believe this to be true. But I’ve come to realize if we continue to approach General Assembly the way that we have, moving it out of Phoenix is necessary.
If you want a really clear round-up of all that has happened, go to Rev. Cyn’s blog this morning. Last night I read the statement by Rev. Morales as well as the response by Rev. Michael Tino (as well as the then 34 comments, only smokes!) and I’m not sure how I feel about either proposal. Further, I’m still not clear how I would vote were I a delegate for my congregation. I’ve also flipflopped on something else: I thought the Board of Trustees decision to have the delegates at GA vote in June was a cop out. I now see that the conversation has really lifted up a key issue that needs to be clarified as we as a denomination move forward: what is the purpose of the General Assembly?
Minnesota will be my 6th General Assembly in a row, but I come at them with a wholly different perspective, I think, than most: I have only gone on the dime of my employer. While I enjoy the ceremony and the worship, I’m not there to do the business of the Association, nor am I there to attend workshops and re-energize my commitment to our faith, nor am I there to make acquaintances with people from other congregations from around the continent. I’m there to work, which skews my perspective on the rest.
That said, I think this conversation provides all of us with an opportunity to step outside what we think GA is and start to address what it should and could be. I’ve heard a lot of grumblings about how this year’s GA is structured: with all the workshops during the week and all (most) of the plenary sessions during the weekend. It was done to save money and I think it wasn’t a bad idea, though I would suggest having some sort of programming opposite plenary for those attending who are not delegates — i.e., spouses and parents of delegates. But, by putting up a firewall between the business of the association and everything else, we might be able to untangle the many and honest expectations of what GA is and can be for those attending.
For many people, the business of the association is mixed with an opportunity to learn how Unitarian Universalism gets played out in other regions and in congregations of different sizes; I think that’s a valuable thing. For others, the business of the assoication is mixed with renewing and acquiring acquaintances; I think this is valuable, too. For still others, all of this is mixed in with an understanding of the change that can be made when a group of disparate yet unified people come together and decide to take action toward righting societal wrongs–and within all this is the practice of same; and I think this is of ultimate value. For still others, this is the opportunity to capture the greatest number of UUs in one place at any time in order to gather their support and understanding; and there is value in that. For some, it is simply an opportunity to know that there are more of us out there with ideas that work to spread the good news and good work of Unitarian Universalism; and there is value in that. For me, with my limited view of GA, the thing I find most valuable is the many opportunities to worship en masse. But is that the business of the association?
This is not easy work. There are not easy answers. It will all take work, thought, consideration, time and a committment to stay at the table, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the decision. Within it all is the ultimate opportunity: to live into our faith, faithfully and respectfully.
My knee has stopped jerking and my mind is more open. Funny how that happens.