First, I’d like to express my gratitude to the Davidoff Foundation for providing seminarians like me the opportunity to attend General Assembly (GA). Personally, the Foundation’s financial assistance enabled me to attend both the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) Ministry Days and the General Assembly. Otherwise I would have had to choose between the two events due to the costs involved. Being able to attend both enriched my ministerial formation. To keep costs down, I drove from my home in Virginia and stayed at a campground 18 miles away from the Convention Center. I left my tent each day at 7am and didn’t return until 11pm. As a result, I was a captive audience, fully absorbed into the convention experience.
This year’s GA was by far the most fulfilling and gratifying of all the previous four GA’s that I had attended because of all the relationships in overlapping professional and volunteer UU networks that I have developed at this stage of my ministerial formation. At GA, I was able to connect with all of them in one place and develop new ones that deepened my commitment to my faith and ministry. This year I was a voting delegate from my home church – Accotink UU Church, the banner carrier for my teaching congregation- River Road UU Congregation, a UU seminarian, a student of Meadville Lombard Theological School (MLTS), a member of the Chesapeake Chapter of the UUMA and long-time youth advisor at the district and continental levels. I was invited to many receptions, luncheons and breakfasts and shared meals with friends and colleagues.
As a voting delegate, I attended every plenary session. I witnessed the broad scope of UUA business and participated in the internal workings of polity at the denominational level. It felt like being at a very long annual church meeting that stretched over 4 days. I tweeted during the sessions and was the designated tweeter during the brainstorming workshop regarding the future of General Assembly. As a former church president, I was in awe at the calm, respectful and affirming way that Gini Courtier presided over the meetings. I felt the emotion and deep gratitude as she handed the gavel over to the new moderator. The moderator election was a fun process and the results were mildly surprising. From a polity perspective, it was historical to be a part of the final transition to a new smaller Board and the re-emergence of regions as an official entity. As we were in the middle of the Study Action process, the Actions of Immediate Witness were the highlight for me regarding social justice. I enjoyed the thoughtful debates and diligent work of the delegates. I’m totally in favor of finding ways for people to remotely attend GA, but I think we are still in the primitive beginning. I think we made great strides in technically welcoming offsite delegates into the process, but I am glad that I was there in person to be a part of the energy in the hall and to see the proceedings even if I had to look at the video screen.
The worship experiences were outstanding. This year several of the people with whom I started seminary walked on-stage during the Service of the Living Experience. I felt extremely proud of them and hopeful for the day when it will be my turn. I’m a big fan of bridging ceremonies and this year’s was very moving. Unfortunately it conflicted with the MLTS Faculty reception so I had to make a choice between the two. That happened many times at GA as there were too many things that I wanted to attend but so little time.
This year because of my obligations to work at the MLTS booth, I wasn’t able to attend as many workshops as in the past, but the ones I attended were extremely enlightening. I mixed it up with some being worship in nature like the Festival Ruah and some being instructive like the Who Are Our Neighbors. I also marched in the Social Witness rally against the environmental degradation of coal mining. The latter felt a little hypocritical as we were holding a convention in a facility that was using massive amounts of energy fueled by coal. However, the most exciting workshop for me was the Building the Movement to End the New Jim Crow. During the Question and Answer portion, someone asked if anyone in the room was working with inmates to facilitate their re-entry into society. Well, this is the mission of my Focused Initiative at my teaching congregation as part of my Leadership Studies at MLTS. So I went to the microphone and described the work that I am doing. The moderator of the panel discussion said she wanted to talk to me after the meeting. Next thing I know, I’m being invited to a lunch meeting the next day with the panelists and other people involved in the fight against the New Jim Crow. I attended the meeting the next day in a hotel suite and became part of the ground floor of a social justice movement about which I feel very strongly. The video of the workshop has been making the rounds since GA and I have received several emails from people in my area looking to partner with my prison ministry.
Because I was staying so far away from the Convention Center, the MLTS booth became my home base during the week. I enjoyed meeting all the alumna and prospective students. I especially enjoyed speaking at the MLTS Prospective Students luncheon. It was an honor to be asked to share my seminary experience with prospective students. I also enjoyed the breakfast for the Davidoff Scholarship winners. We had a little school rivalry fun between the Meadville and Starr King students. However, the highlight was listening to Denny Davidoff recount the highly charged atmosphere of the 1969 GA in Boston. I’d read about it in my UU History course, but to listen to her stories made it come alive and reminded me about the significance for years to come of our actions in plenary.
Every GA experience is unique because it reflects where we are in our religious journies at that time. For me as a seminarian and ministerial candidate, I gained so much from the networking and practical knowledge that I can apply in my evolving ministerial formation. I urge every seminarian to attend GA at some point while they are in school. Knowing first-hand how difficult it can be to financially juggle the cost of GA with tuition, I plan to let my classmates know about the Davidoff Scholarships and encourage them to apply.