Reflections on General Assembly
Our President, Dave Lyon, could not attend General Assembly this year, but he has turned over his column space to those who could. Here are, briefly, some personal feelings and thoughts about their experience at GA. Next month, you may hear from a few more.
This is my third GA and each one seems to build on the last for me! The energy within the Convention Center seemed to mimic the energy of the city, powerful. Each of the workshops I attended gave me such innovative ideas about how we can help our membership and the world at large. The theme that I found running through the workshops I attended, as well as the magnificent Ware Lecture given by Bryan Stevenson, was “being proximate.” What we do on Sundays is critical for our base, but being wherever we are needed, whether that be Center of Hope, Laurel Community Center or at the Community Dinners, is where our true congregation lies and where we will find our heart. Oh, and did I mention the food??? Oh, my goodness, the food!
The main theme of the General Assembly was equality: political, economic, social. The only session I attended at the GA was the one where the three women candidates for the UUA presidency shared with the audience their respective views of the present and future goals of the UUA. I was extremely impressed with each candidate’s background and credentials and their dedication and commitment to what the UUA stands for and its goals in the present and for the future. There was little doubt in my mind that whoever won would do a good job as its standard bearer. (ed. note: UUA’s new President is Susan Frederick-Gray). I am a charter member of the WWII Museum and I finally got to see and like any other tourist to New Orleans, I toured the French Quarter and its famous Bourbon St.
I thought I’d have a sweet balance of GA and the French Quarter, but never made it away from the convention center except once, to have dinner with ‘our crowd’. Assemblies and workshops 8:45am til 9ish pm most days was the norm. As a delegate, even got to debate with others over exact, precise wording of 4 lines of a Statement of Conscience (loved it!) Key for me was finally ‘getting’ the white supremacy concept – not a personal affront to any of us (unless we deserve it) but a realization and acceptance that our culture is so white-oriented, the ‘superiority’ of whiteness is so institutionalized, that we Whites enjoy many advantages and privileges over other ethnic groups that we never even notice! And we don’t even think of ourselves as being part of a ‘white group’ that someone can make some generalization about. Stunning (and discomfiting) once I could see it.
New Orleans was nice. I went to General Assembly upset by news coming from UUA headquarters. The months and weeks before the meeting included accusations of racism against the sitting UUA president and senior UUA Staff and UUA-initiated group statements of conscience. I was disappointed that these issues were only indirectly discussed at GA; rather, people focused on the wonderful job an interim group of three ministers had done to keep things together and put new rules and practices into place so that problems would go away. I learned at GA that UUA was setting up a five million dollar plus trust fund for Black Lives to fix a broken promise from a previous UUA administration forty-nine years ago. The money will to go to BLUU, Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, a UU collective; their goal is to diversify UU, i.e. to bring more Blacks into our congregations. I was disappointed that there were no real requirements or structure in place governing the use of the money.
I came away with a feeling of pride to be involved in a religious community of such a strong, committed bunch of individuals. The highlights for me were, of course, the Bryan Stevenson talk: ("be willing to be uncomfortable "), singing in the choir, hearing the very moving performance of the cantata, Ruby Bridges"(the 6-yr.old Black girl who integrated New Orleans schools in 1960), and the trip to see the Lower 9th ward with a young ( UU! Of course) woman who had come down from D.C to volunteer after Katrina and stayed. She is working, for virtually no pay, to get (find) families to come back to their rightful homes. Very inspiring!
GA 2017 was inspirational as always and marked new beginnings for the UUA. We elected our first female President, heard thoughtful discussions of the three interim Co-Presidents, and saw black leaders conducting important sessions of the full assembly. Bryan Stephenson, author of Just Mercy, gave a compelling Ware Lecture, to raise awareness about the need to 1) get proximate to poor people, 2) change narratives, 3) be hopeful, and 4) do uncomfortable things. It was great that so many UUCOVers (14) could come to GA, and I hope many others will join us in coming years. Thanks to Pam McFarland, most of us were able to have dinner together one night, although we were off in many directions during the day. I was happy to be a panelist in the workshop “Taking Action to Make Democracy Work”, which was live-streamed and videotaped to encourage actions for the 2016-2020 CSAI (Congregational Study Action Issue) “The Corruption of Our Democracy.” https://www.uua.org/action/process/csais/corruption-of-our-democracy.
The 2017 GA was a conversation about how white UU’s have created a “normal” in our faith that is centered around white European spiritual practices and cultural experience, affecting the decisions we make on hiring, how we develop social justice programs, how we worship, and more. In more blunt terms, as white UU’s we practice white supremacy and indulge in white privilege, rarely stopping to think how that affects our brothers and sisters of color within our faith and wider community. Neither do we stop to think about all that we would gain if we opened ourselves to the cultural values and spiritual practices that our UU brothers and sisters of color bring to the table. Facing this issue honestly as white UU’s will be hard work and very uncomfortable at times, but it is an opportunity to learn what it truly means to bring justice and equity to this world and in the process flourish as a faith and as individuals.