When we go to a movie together as a family, somewhere along the line someone will ask “what was your favorite part?” I’m not sure where the tradition came from, but it stuck. As we made the 8 hour drive home together from Minneapolis, I asked my daughters the question about the UUA’s General Assembly: what was your favorite part?
It was a new experience for all of us this year. My youngest went to Young Fun, the overnight camp for kids 8 to 14. There were four other girls in her age range and they became, as I was told and as I witnessed when they descended upon the convention center, a force unto themselves. That phone we HAD to get fixed so she could reach us? Hardly used at all.
Eldest and middlest daughters were youth-caucus age and were excited to be a part of that experience … however, while they enjoyed it, the experience was perhaps less than it could have been. Part of that was that they lost a lot of time with the youth caucus by volunteering at Young Fun. While this gave them a way to “give back” (and pay their GA registration), it also got in the way of what may have been key bonding time… though this is still not quite certain. Most of the youth were there with their youth groups… hence, they already had bonded with many of the others there. My girls realized shortly that they WERE their own youth group and because they aren’t the “go out and meet ya” kind of kids, they spent a lot of time together with one other girl that Middlest child had met and maintained Facebook contact with from their times at Young Fun.
My husband laughed at one point as he and the girls entered the exhibit hall and one headed to the Cyber cafe to check facebook while the other stayed back with him. “Aren’t you going, too?” he asked. “Nah,” she responded. “We decided that the youth group needed a little “apart” time.”
All this is not to say that their experience was bad. I think it was what it is for most 15 and 16 year olds at their first YC @ GA. They got some bold ideas out of it about changing how we do youth group at our church and if they are invested in making the changes, I say, go for it. But they blamed their lack of connection to the rest of the group on their mother’s social awkwardness and all I could do is shrug my shoulders and say, “you got some good things from me, too, I think.”
My husband’s favorite part was the Peter Mayer concert. I had not yet eaten when the concert was about to start so I gave up my third-row saved seat in order to eat a ridiculously expensive hamburger in my room with my feet up. About an hour into the concert, I walked in (for those of you there, I walked in at “Freebird”). This is not our first go-round with Peter. He comes each year to a small venue in our town and we are religious about attending. One year, our then-DRE managed to have him join us for our pre-worship discussion group and our worship service. He truly is the most loveable man on earth, in my humble opinion. I cannot remember ever being in the presence of someone so grounded and flighty at the exact same moment.
And, while I love Peter and his music, as I stood in the back of the hall for the last 45 minutes of the concert, I couldn’t help feeling that this most likely the whitest gathering at GA. Thoughts confirmed as I watched the crowd stream out (of course, the confirmation is based solely on appearances which can be misleading and without asking others to self-identify). I do not say this as judgment; I simply note this as I segue into my take on GA as I experienced it.
Because I go to GA for work, my experience is quite a bit different from others. I don’t get to workshops and rarely have an opportunity to view the goings-on in plenary, which I understand this year were, in and of themselves, quite spiritual. I did attend two workshops, though; both of which I attended because they were work-related. The Rev. Dr. Qiyamah Rahman presided over a panel of distinguished ministers/lay leaders on “Building the World We Dream About” on building multicultural communities. I’ll miss somebody if I start to name names on the panel, so I won’t, but do try to get the recording on CD. Yes, this was work for me, but I will tell you when I asked people about it (and sometimes before I had a chance to), they said this was the single best workshop they had ever attended. It was an incredible mix of “how-to”s and “why-to”s. The other one I attended for work was Qiyamah’s presentation on UU Black Women. As a friend of mine said when I asked him about the workshop, “it was worship.” We learned not only of the lives of black UU women, but we heard Qiyamah put her research in the context of her life–and the life we share as UUs. It was an incredible journey–and one she is continuing on as several people gave her names of women she had not yet included.
The rest of my time was spent in the exhibit hall (which can be a spiritual experience as well, but that’s another story) or at the big evening events. And this is where I find myself less than enthusiastic about this particular GA. I will admit, I skipped out on the Ware lecture (but stayed for the Children’s Choir–something everyone should do!), in order to have dinner with my family and a member of our congregation. But here’s my main concern (??? gripe seems a bit strong, perhaps it was just a letdown): the music. It was very beautiful (with the exception of one song of which a colleague saw who it was written by and said “he usually writes such beautiful music”). It was also very … controlled. It was very reminiscent of all the music we typically sing in our own Sunday worship (though done much better, of course). But it lacked the vibrancy of the music I have experienced in GAs past. There weren’t any pieces that I thought: oh, we need to take this back to our congregation. It was all very well done and I’m not carping on the quality; I’m carping on the feel. It felt like while we had been moving toward using music as an invitation to people of non-anglo ethnic backgrounds in years past, that this year we were moving back toward a mono-cultural expression. I may be wrong. I often am. But this is my visceral response to this GA.
My favorite part? I really liked the chalice lighting by Chalice Spark (Kari Kopnick) and her son. The image of running fast toward a cliff did not leave me the whole rest of the GA and did, then, mesh with another comment made by a prospective student at our brunch on Saturday: “it sounds like jumping off the short board into the deep end.” To which, one of our current students responded, “that’s ministry.”
I plan on viewing some of the things I missed, but as I typed this last exchange I realized what it is that I enjoy most about my GA experience: I get to be in the presence of some of the most amazing people. Our students, our alums, our staff, our faculty, our Board of Trustees … and the people they introduce me to. I am enriched each year by the presence and understanding of these people and for that, I am grateful.