First off, I would like to acknowledge that in the past I was not able to attend General Assembly because of the costs associated with traveling and lodging. So I am very grateful to be a recipient of the Davidoff Fund for GA 2013. My journey to Louisville involved carpooling with 3 other UU’s from Wisconsin. We hit some turbulent thunderstorms but as we trekked onward, it began to feel like a pilgrimage. Let me explain. We stopped in New Harmony, Indiana, which was originally founded to be a utopian city. There we went to Paul Tillich Memorial Park, walked a labyrinth, and marveled at the quaint historic buildings. But it was our pilgrim community in anticipation of something greater than ourselves that gave us the feeling of a religious quest. We anticipated connecting with the greater Unitarian Universalist movement, looked forward to experiencing democracy in action, and all with the hope that we could be transformed and bring back some of what we learned and to our local congregations.
While at GA in Louisville, I was enveloped in the national UU movement. Most of the time we are so focused on our congregations, the leaky roof and how we did not make budget, that we forget that we are part something much bigger than any one single church. Part of that is meeting lay and clergy leaders from around the country that might have the same issues we are having, which is cathartic in and of itself. Also, you learn that they may have brought significant change through an idea not yet tried out by our own congregation. One gets a sense of this by eating lunch in the exhibit hall with someone from North Carolina who is battling to make her congregation more multicultural or by attending a workshop where you meet a DRE from Utah who is incorporating new elements to Bridging Ceremonies. This sense of being part of a national movement is especially important to those of who live in areas where there are few UU churches.
One also gets a feel of the greater movement by participating in the plenary. You notice and respect the time and energy that goes into amending verbiage in our governance. You see honest debate on an issue, and on occasion you witness the miracle of something passing by 100% of the delegates. You also might laugh together. For example, when debating the next step in electronic voting, someone asked a more technical question and the person that could answer it was not there because he was counting the paper ballots. A plenary session is democracy in action. There is not much separation from you and actual change. Being there in the midst of it all puts a personal face on the UUA which at times seems like a distant institution. I am and we are the UUA.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that I will openly be encouraging my congregants to go to GA in the future. I especially want to see young adults and newer members because this is experiential learning that develops their faith and leadership. One way it does this is by providing excellent worship. The music was diverse and gave a good example of what a UU church could sound like on a Sunday morning. While it might be an understatement, the worship was powerful. The Reverends Southern and Schultz’s sermons are still resonating with me as I am writing this. Someone who has read about Paris can be very knowledgeable on the subject, but only someone who has climbed the Eiffel Tower and walked along the Seine can talk with the authority of the experience. As a future minister, having experienced GA will help me encourage more of my congregants to attend GA.
Connecting with others UU’s around the nation, celebrating our heritage and our future together and seeing democracy in action are just some of the highlights from GA. I plan to attend GA as often as I can and encourage many others to do so. Thank you for the opportunity to do this. My pilgrimage moving forward is now full of the energy and connection of religious community beyond that of my home congregation.