Every summer, Unitarian Universalists from all around North America gather at General Assembly (GA), the annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association. GA is more than a business meeting: although business matters are discussed in daily general sessions, it’s a multi-day flurry of worship, workshops, and connection opportunities.
This year, GA was held from June 21-25 in Pittsburgh, PA, just a short 4-hour drive from where we are in Maryland. Because of its proximity — and because of the exciting items on the business agenda this year — many UUCC congregants took this opportunity to attend GA, many for the very first time. Staff members Sara Davidson, Valerie Hsu, and Hannah Nelson also attended. In total, we had 15 UUCC people registered to participate in this year’s GA, not counting the dozens more who tuned into public events like Sunday’s GA worship service that was streamed at OBIC as part of UUCC’s modified worship schedule on June 25.
Below, several GA attendees share personal reflections on one aspect of their experience in Pittsburgh.
Teaghan McLaughlin on serving as a youth delegate
Being a youth delegate at General Assembly brought exciting insight into the inner workings of Unitarian Universalism. I was one of eight delegates that UUCC was allotted to bring, but after Valerie reached out to me, I realized that I had no idea what being a delegate entailed. I quickly learned that I got to vote on different UUA elections, resolutions, and amendments, but I also had to sit through an overwhelming amount of General Sessions to learn about what I voted on. But as the weekend went on, I also learned that I enjoy hearing people discuss their thoughts and seeing how passionate people were about our shared religion.
I found it a somewhat hard year to be a youth delegate because of the conversations happening around the proposed business resolution on divestment and reparations. That being said, some of the conversations that stuck with me most after GA came from discussing this resolution. Youth, young adults, and adults alike all had interesting perspectives and I would love to continue to talk about it with people in our congregation.
Overall, being a delegate was a fulfilling and engaging experience and I hope I get to do it again. I was not only engaging in lots of thought-provoking conversations with other people but also with fellow congregation members. I valued having these conversations about how our religion is run, what that means for our future, and how it has worked in the past. I felt very confident that our congregational delegates were all great voices for UUCC.
Sara Davidson on keeping the flame of Unitarian Universalism lit
At GA I was struck by a workshop called “Disrupting Church” led by leaders from The Community Church of New York. In the workshop they discussed how we, as a faith, need a new collective narrative, and how we, as people on this planet, need a whole new human story.
Previously in history, they shared, our human story has been the story of the Subject. The Subject depends on a King, or ruling figure, to protect them from danger, from attackers. In exchange for the promise of protection and safety, the Subject offers obedience, has few choices, is cared for, and submits to the hierarchical structure. Over time, they shared, our human story shifted to that of the Consumer. We moved from dependent on the King as Subjects, to independent as Consumers — a liberating shift. As Consumers we now found ourselves in an intoxicating world of choices, with the Consumer feeling entitled to make their own choices and carrying a desire to be served and get their own needs met.
For our faith to survive, and for humans to survive at all, the workshop explored a third option for our human story. They shared that we must now become and view ourselves as Citizens. In the Citizen story we are neither dependent nor independent, but interdependent. As Citizens we ask, “what do we need?” rather than “what do I want?” The Citizen story recognizes that we are stronger together and invites us to trust one another; viewing ourselves as participants with purpose, thinking and acting collaboratively like a hive.
As people of faith, we are called — as congregants, as lay leaders, as staff members, as ministers — to, as I heard at one event at GA, “keep the flame of Unitarian Universalism lit.” And keeping the flame lit means stepping into a new story, beloveds. May we co-create the courage, hope, and loving strength to make it so.
Carla Gates on Article II and the UUA presidential election
This year (2023) I attended GA as a virtual delegate only. I didn’t get to attend workshops – but this was fine as I did not have time off to go. Richard and I coordinated where he would follow the conversation in General Assembly from 2:30–4:30PM and I would join after work. We were also connected to other Maryland Delegates via Facebook Messenger. This turned out to be a brilliant plan that worked wonderfully.
We were able to learn what was important to the Article II Study Commission when it came to amendments both from the microphone and from Messenger members. It was a time of intense conversation and deep thought. We had the opportunity to vote for the first Black female UUA president (The Reverend Doctor Sophia Betancourt), we had the opportunity to vote on important Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs), and we had the opportunity to move our denomination forward with a new vision of how Unitarian Universalism understands itself, centered around love. I was excited to be part of these changes, all of which help us see ourselves as Beloved Community more clearly! It took a lot of attention and intention to make these votes. There was a lot of discussion and even some disagreement (about the vote to disinvest from fossil fuels – which did not pass) but among us MD / DC UUs it was all done with love. I am so glad that I had a group to talk to and commiserate with as sometimes folks who spoke to the assembly espoused views that were unkind. They also helped inform my decisions and helped me to reflect on the ways I’d like to see our denomination move forward.
In this upcoming year, I hope to participate in educating UUCC folks about Article II and the AIWs. I will absolutely support our new president, as I’ve been acquainted with her for years and can attest to her excellent character. Overall, once again, going to General Assembly re-affirmed my commitment to being a Unitarian Universalist in these challenging modern times. Once again, I invite more people to attend – even if you don’t want to be a delegate, it gives one a holistic perspective on the denomination, and I think that’s a good thing.
Mike Hammett on feeling part of something bigger than himself
As a privileged white male, I grew up in a typical suburban middle-class setting ignorant of other ethnic groups. Our high school did not integrate until my 10th grade year in 1970, and I did not socialize or make friends with Black people except in athletics. I did not know gay people because at that time no one in my circles dared to come out of the closet.
Fast forward to Pittsburgh General Assembly in 2023 — there were over 2,500 UU attendees from all segments of society from all over the US. Probably the entire LBGTQ+ spectrum was represented. Better yet, all were welcomed.
I felt joy at being part of something much bigger than myself and found myself wishing that our society would become just as welcoming as the GA in Pittsburgh.
Kathy Parker on Sunday’s worship service
My experience at our 2023 GA in Pittsburgh was particularly special for me because I got to see many of my Pittsburgh friends. I was also able to sell copies of our journal (Journal of UU Studies) as well as copies of my book on the history of UUs in Western Pennsylvania (2010).
Beyond all that, I was able to spend time with our contingent of UUs from UUCC and get to know them better. It was a joy when Hannah or Mary spotted me through the vast crowd of strangers and led me to where I could join our group!
On Sunday morning we participated in the GA Worship Service, in which the minister/speaker, Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti, reminded us that even as we UUs have faced some recent times of uncertainty in our ourselves and in our congregations, we can learn from Unitarians and Universalists in our past who overcame uncertainties of their own. I paraphrase parts of his message below:
The key to our recovery has been rooted in our shared awareness of freedom of conscience. Michael Servetus could have held to his beliefs on his own, but he chose instead to share them with others. While he was imprisoned in Concord for refusing to pay taxes to a government that supported slavery and war, Henry David Thoreau expressed his love of shared humanity. Susan B. Anthony campaigned with and for women to obtain the vote. Francis Ellen Watkins Harper joined with others to help form the NAACP.
These people reveal the history from which we draw our core values. Their stories tell us much about how we can define ourselves today, regardless of the uncertainties we face or the questions of wording in our modern-day principles. The time we are in today calls us to wake up to the values our forebears expressed. We must not forget that we are to be what the world needs, and that we are none of us alone in fulfilling the needs of others. We may know some uncertainties, but we can see in our history the flame that has continued to keep us alive.
The service featured some great hymns, two of which I recommend that we sing at UUCC:
- Here We Have Gathered by Alicia Carpenter
- Open and Willing by Holly Near
I was inspired by this service, and especially by the sermon, as I think it captured very well a message that we need now and in our future.
Marti McKenzie on volunteering at General Assembly
I remember my first General Assembly: Portland, Oregon, 2015. I had finally retired with the time and energy to support and be involved in things near to my heart. Expanding my UU involvement took forefront. Unfortunately, registration fees, plane fares, and motel rooms can draw down funds quickly. My solution was to stay in the least expensive place (a college dorm room) and to volunteer for 20 hours, earning free registration.
Luckily I was assigned the registration desks and I quickly learned the ropes of checking folks in, helping credential delegates, and, my favorite — the “special circumstances” where diplomacy and problem solving converged.
So, for the sixth time in Pittsburgh I was on hand to greet attendees, quickly access their information, and print their all-inclusive name badge. It brings me great satisfaction to make the first GA experience of my fellow UUs a pleasant one and to send them off to make the most of assemblies, exhibits, and workshops.
I have already volunteered to help when General Assembly comes to Baltimore in 2025. I hope you will, too!
Mary Rodgers & Phil Webster on the Side with Love rally
We were asked by Rachel Myslivy, the Climate Justice Organizer for Side with Love, to share at a rally what we at UUCC are doing through the Green Sanctuary climate justice work to inspire fellow UUs. With intervals of music and singing, three others also shared very inspirational stories about their justice work in the areas of democracy/electoral justice, bodily autonomy, and decriminalization. By the end of the rally, we were all fired up to side with love in our work for justice!
Here’s what we shared after introducing ourselves to the rally crowd:
After retiring from science-related careers in 2017, we were compelled by our UU values to establish a climate crisis team within our congregation. This great team of climate’ers has met monthly since 2018. For those interested, we shared our process in a presentation called Blueprint for Successful Climate & Justice Teams at GA and at a Green Sanctuary Community Meeting last year. It is available at SideWithLove.org/ClimateJustice in the Webinars and Training section.
We initially thought that combating climate change was all about reducing greenhouse gases, looking at the “science side” or the 7th Principle, and operated with that mindset for the first year or so. We started out with several projects that ranked high on the “Drawdown” list of 100 greatest sources of greenhouse gases. Things like encouraging members to switch to renewable energy, reduce their food waste, reduce use of single use plastics, and adopt a more plant based diet.
As we investigated the Green Sanctuary 2030: Mobilizing for Climate Justice process, it became clear that environmental justice, or the 2nd Principle, were equally, if not more, important to us, a people of faith. It took a while to adjust our mindset and pivot our climate work to focus on justice.
We partner with several local organizations that focus on communities most impacted by climate change. We stand with signs at a busy intersection in Columbia every month in a Black Lives Matter vigil. We established a nourishing garden that provides produce and education and builds community resilience through our partnership with the Community Ecology Institute.
We advocate for affordable housing, harm reduction from methane gas, and electrification to move away from fossil fuels through our partnership with PATH (People Acting Together in Howard). We advocate for climate justice related legislation through UU the Vote, letter writing, and advocacy rallies. Phil is also the Lead Advocate – Climate Change for the UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland. UULM-MD advocates for climate affirming legislation to the Maryland General Assembly.
Working for climate justice is how we are living our UU values. Thank you!