Tag Archives: uuaga06

What I did at General Assembly

The complete text of my General Assembly workshop, “Creating Great Content for UU Web Sites,” is now on my Web site, including written responses to questions asked by participants during the presentation — Link.

For my own reference, below are links to all GA events I reported for the UUA Web site. If you actually want to read some of them, the starred workshops were best.

  • Opening celebration: Link.
  • *1029 Capital Campaigns: If You Build it, They Will Come, But Will They Stay?: Link.
  • 2058 Why Here? Why Now? Why Us? The Urgency for White Ally Activism: Link.
  • 2084 Service of the Living Tradition: Link.
  • 3008 A Report on Youth Ministry in Our Association: Link.
  • *3062 Religious Naturalism: A New Theological Option (my report will be posted within a week, text of the presentation is up now): Link. Excellent, thought-provoking presentation.
  • *4012 Growing and Mid Size: Link. Excellent overview of growth issues.
  • 4044 Race, Youth, and General Assembly: What We’ve Learned: Link.
  • 4079 Defending Workers’ Rights: Innovations by Informal Worker Movements: Link.
  • 5002 Sunday Worship: Link.
  • 5011 Creating Great Content for Church Websites: Link.
  • 5048 Closing Ceremony: Link.


General Assembly, day five

Exhaustion is setting in.

Took a long walk today down to the Jefferson Expansion Memorial Park. I wanted to walk among some trees. While heavily used by human beings, but it’s home to something of an ecosystem.

As I walked past one grove of trees, a male Red-Winged Blackbird dove at me. I heard the flutter of angry wings as he pulled up about six inches from my hat, then saw him out of the corner of my eye. Clearly, I was too close to a nest, so I left quickly. The artificial pond had duck weed growing on it, and Barn Swallows swooping over it. As I got closer, I could see hundreds of water striders on the surface of the water.

All this relieved some exhaustion.


Had coffee with CK and her partner L this afternoon. It was fun to meet CK and L in person, after reading CK’s excellent scholarly blog. Of course, after a while CK and I started talking philosophy of religion. CK and I started discussing CK’s interesting questions about the commensurability of major world religious traditions. L’s eyes started glazing over.

Fortunately, just then Peacebang came along, and sat down to join us. Peacebang and I want to convince CK and L to move to Boston (Peacebang, too, lives south of Boston). Peacebang and I decided that CK will do her doctoral work at Boston University, and L will continue her work in neurology at one of the Boston hospitals. Not sure that CK and L were convinced by us.

Too soon, we all had to leave. Peacebang and I headed off to the hotel, saying: Wouldn’t it be fun if they really did decide to move to Boston? Wouldn’t that be a blast?


Fantastic sermon at the worship service this morning. I reported on it in depth for the UUA Web site [link] — the sermon was good enough that I was not able to maintain journalistic detachment.

General Assembly, day four

I just went over to the Ware lecture. I’d estimate there are 4,000 people in the hall listening to Mary Oliver read her poetry: a nice, intimate little reading. Not being particularly fond of crowds to begin with, I decided I’d be better off sitting here in the webworkers’ room watching the lecture on my laptop via streamed video. The reality is that I can see and hear better here than I could there.

Annabelle’s daughter just popped her head in to say “hi” from Anabelle. Annabelle is a webworker who couldn’t join us this year. We invited her daughter and her friend to watch and listen to Mary Oliver with us. So we’re having our own little poetry reading about three hundred yards from the real Ware lecture.


Went to a difficult and dramatic workshop today: “Race, Youth, and General Assembly: What We’ve Learned,” a presentation by the Special Review Commission that was appointed by the denomination’s Board of Trustees following the racial incidents at last year’s General Assembly. Since I’ve been assigned to write up this workshop for the Unitarian Universalist Association Web site, I’ll let you read my report once it is edited and placed online [Link to come]. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty — sort of like when you turn over a rock and all the creepy-crawlie things skitter away from the light. Yup, the Special Review Commission has turned over the big rock of racism within Unitarian Universalism, and it isn’t pretty to look at.


Dinner with Niko, the one other member of the New Bedford church besides me to be at General Assembly. He told me about the big outdoor solstice ritual that the pagan group held today. And how did they find a suitable outdoor space in downtown St. Louis within walking distance of the convention center? They used the satellite photos in Google Maps, and found a perfect little green space. There was even a grassy circle within a grove of trees.


Long talk with Craig late this afternoon. I had double-scheduled my first meeting with him and had to cancel, but we each managed to squeeze another hour out of our General Assembly schedules so we could sit and chat. He had me in stitches, laughing at stories of the Red Queen, the poker games, and other people and events that shall remain anonymous. It’s always fun to talk with Craig; my only disappointment was that Cheryl, Craig’s sweetie, couldn’t join us.

While we were talking, we each took two cell phone calls, final arrangements for other meetings we had with other people. The real problem with General Assembly is that there just isn’t enough time to talk with all the people you want to talk with.


Most of today I have spent writing. This is the real joy of General Assembly for me: going to events and workshops, making some kind of sense out of those events, and turning them into serviceable prose. But there’s not much I can tell you about that.

General Assembly, day three

Tonight I had dinner with Bette and Joan, two of my favorite lay leaders.* We went over to the “Bistro” in the basement of the Renaissance Suites hotel, where the food was good (but the service was erratic and untrained).

Bette is beginning her term as her congregation’s Board President, and she has been attending the series of events for congregational presidents. “It’s great,” she said. “It’s really good stuff.” Bette never pulls her punches when events are mediocre, so this is high praise indeed.

Not surprisingly, we wound up talking about congregational governance at the dinner table. John Carver’s Policy Governance model came up, and we all agreed that policy governance is not appropriate for small congregations. Joan has an excellent analogy to make this point.

When you have a condo association with only 2 to 6 units, says Joan, the condo board has to be involved in hands-on management of the building. The condo association is not big enough to hire a professional manager. But if you live in a condo association with, say, 60 units, there is simply no way the condo board can manage all the day-to-day complexities of maintenance and upkeep, and so the board is pretty much forced to hire a property manager or a management company. In the large condo association, the board should be keeping track of the big picture; and the large condo association has enough resources to be able to pay staff to manage the day-to-day matters.

So too with congregations. Small congregations, with fewer than 50 people in attendance at worship each week, are likely to have a managing board. Large congregations, with more than 350 people in attendance at worship each week, are big enough that they can afford to hire staff to run the day-to-day matters of the congregation, leaving the board free to deal with strategic planning, visioning, and the big picture in general. These large congregations are good candidates for the Carver Policy Governance model, or some equivalent governance model. Boards in congregations of between 100 and 350 in attendance each week will be somewhere betwixt and between — not ready for a full-fledged Carver Policy Governance model (or equivalent), but big enough that the board cannot afford to remain a managing board.

I pointed out that actually no board, even the board of the smallest congregation, can afford to spend all their time managing. I feel strongly that the boards of small congregations have to spend at least half their time dealing with the big picture. Joan agreed that was so.

I like Joan’s analogy because it’s concrete and easy to understand. Her analogy has been far and away the best thing I have learned or heard during this General Assembly — and it took place over an excellent dinner instead of sitting in those horribly uncomfortable chairs in the convention center.

(* This is why I missed the UU blogger’s dinner — sorry, fellow bloggers, I missed you all!)

Notes from the Service of the Living Tradition

In the 15 minutes before the Service of the Living Tradition tonight, we were led in “ingathering singing.” I understand that this is the trend in larger churches, especially those with music directors who are active in the Unitarian Universalist Musician’s Network. I had mixed feelings about this innovation. On the one hand, I like to sing, and it’s fun to have that extra opportunity to do so. On the other hand, I like the unstructured time before the worship service when you can greet old friends, talk to people you don’t yet know, or simply sit in contemplative silence.

On the whole, I decided I did not like the ingathering singing — it felt like more of an imposition than an opportunity. And alas, it did not feel particularly worshipful.


Two Credentialed Religious Educators, Master’s Level, were recognized in the Service of the Living Tradition. Mindy Whisenhunt wore an academic gown with a master’s hood, which I felt showed an nice appreciation for the subtleties of this new professional certification.

By wearing an academic gown, Mindy showed that she was at the same academic level as the ministers, while the master’s hood made it clear that she was not wearing a Geneva gown, but an academic robe. While she could have worn ordinary clothing, that can be problematic for female religious professionals, and more to the point Mindy’s gown makes it quite clear that she is not an ordinary layperson but a credentialed leader in her religious community.

Maybe Mindy will start a tradition for Credentialed Religious Educators.


Most people made the mistake of standing up and talking or wandering around or leaving at the end of the recessional hymn. I stayed and listened to Dennis Bergin, the organist for the service, as he played an amazing piece of music by Marcel Dupre (1886-1971), the Prelude and Fugue in B Major, Op. 7 No. 1, from 1912. Dupre was known in his lifetime as an organ virtuoso, and this composition shows his deep knwoledge of the organ.

Bergin played this difficult piece of music in spite of the fact that people were calling out to each other right within a few feet of him; that there was general chaos around him; and that the sound system was less than ideal. A few of us — a slowly increasing number — stood around in amazed appreciation at his concentration and musicianship. It was a bravura performance of a complex piece of music that required Bergin to have nearly as much agility in his footwork as in his hands. Wow.

At the end, those of us standing around broke into uproarious applause (if you can call twenty people applauding “uproarious”), with a few shouts of bravo. He turned around and grinned at us.

General Assembly, day two

A passing conversation:

Person A: “Did you notice there’s no big speakers this year?”

Person B: “Yes, it was a conscious decision to focus more on topics of interest to congregations.”

Me: “It’s kinda boring, though.”

Person C: “Well, the UU Christian group is washing feet in their booth [in the Exhibit Hall].”

Me: “Eww! Eww! Eww!”

Person B: “Wha–” (apparently not the response he expected from me)

Me: “Can you imagine the feet they’re going to be washing by the last day of GA?”


Went to a workshop presented by “white allies,” white people who are supportive of anti-racism efforts and who are willing to work closely with people of color. Important work. Work that I fully support.

But I noticed a phenomenon that may partner Carol first pointed out to me in the world of environmental activism. Carol refers to it as “shaking a finger at you.” That involves making you, the listener, feel terrible about how you are contributing to ecological problems. Yes, we should all feel terrible about being dependent on fossil fuels and over consumption and so on, but what Carol points out is that that kind of feeling cause many people to give up on trying solve ecological problems. Much of Carol’s work has been to help people to enjoy solving ecological problems, because that way, they might actually do the work. You might call this approach “social marketing.”

This came to mind in this white allies presentation. Everything they said was true, and everything they said made me feel terrible about racism, overwhelmed by racism, shamed by racism. I’m enough of a Puritan to believe that it is wholesome for white people to feel terrible, overwhelmed, and shamed by consciousness of the sin of racism; but I’m also honest enough with myself to admit that feeling that way makes me less likely to engage in anti-racist work.

Speaking as a former salesman, we religious liberals could stand to do a little more in the way of social marketing. We might get more done.


Another visit to the Exhibit Hall, mostly to drop in and see the folks at Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) booth — I used to work at CLF, and I wanted to catch up with them. Long talk with Lorraine, who is heading off on a well-deserved sabbatical, traveling up and down the West coast with her husband. Jane was not at the booth, so I didn’t get a chance to say hi to her — but then, that’s what happens at General Assembly, you don’t see half the people you hoped to see.

On the way to the CLF booth, I unexpectedly ran into Megan. She has just graduated from college, and is heading off to teach elementary school in New York City. She’ll be living and working in Brooklyn. Public education has long been a central concern for Unitarian Universalists, so I’m always excited when young adult Unitarian Universalists become teachers.

And I talked to several other people, until I felt refreshed enough to come back to the webworkers room and finish writing up the stories I covered this morning.

Lotsa blogs

I’m sitting here in the Benton Room of the Renaissance Hotel, for the Unitarian Universalist Blogger’s Reception. We have several well known UU blogs sitting around the table: Philocrites, Jess and John, Ministrare, and several others. There are two laptops and a PDA out, live blogging is happening even as we speak.

As one person just said, “How self-referential can you get?”

A bit of conversation about what topics people write about on their blogs. Many of the bloggers here wrote about Hurricane Katrina, but no one wrote about the tsunami that happened just before that (although many of the bloggers here hadn’t started their blogs at the time of the tsunami).

More conversation about who we write for: friends, family, the people who comment on the blog, people who are new to unitarian universalism, for ourselves, lots of different reasons. (But you know, dear reader, that I write just for you.)

General Assembly, first day

I spent the afternoon wandering through the Exhibit Hall, having learned that the best time to go there is before the crowds descend. Of course I stopped at the UUA Bookstore’s booth and bought too many books. I walked past the exhibits for all the advocacy groups, and I have to admit that I wasn’t even tempted to stop.

Part way down one of the aisles, I saw Anne, who lives not far from New Bedford. We said hello. “Lots of people,” I said. “Tough on introverts.” Anne and I are both introverts.

“I’ve stopped talking to anyone except people I know,” said Anne.

“In another two days, I’ll just stop recognizing people,” I said. You extroverts won’t understand this, but at a certain point we introverts just stop processing information like that.

Anne nodded. “You have to, out of self-defense,” she said.

I had just about finished walking through the exhibits when I ran into Jeff. He’s starting seminary in January. We had a long talk about denominational politics. We both agreed that one big problem that we’re facing is that the denomination is advocating entirely different (and, we felt, incompatible) approaches to anti-racism work.

Then it was time for the Webworker’s reception and meeting. Long talk with Lance and Casey and Donald — Casey and Lance play the same online role-playing game together (yes, many of the Webworkers are confirmed geeks) and it was fascinating to hear about that subculture.

And then rush off to the Opening Celebration. On the way there, I ran into Deanne, and then later Bette, two of the finest lay leaders I have ever had the pleasure knowing; both of them work harder in their respective congregations than anyone else I’ve seen, and they do it quietly and without much fuss. It was good to see both of them, if only in passing.

The opening celebration was interesting — less celebratory and more serious than usual. I’m writing a story about it for the UUA Web site [when the story goes up I’ll link to it here]. The highlight of the celebration, as always, was the parade of banners from congregations and affiliated organizations — and sure enough, there was Heather from the train walking with the UU Young Adults banner. I waved, but she didn’t see me.

Tardis needed

Electronic communications room

A bunch of us are sitting around staring intently at computer screens, tapping at keyboards, when Julie, one of the webmistresses, breaks the silence with laughter.

“I just got an email from someone saying that the link to streamed video for one of the events isn’t working,” says Julie.

We all start giggling. Of course the streamed video isn’t working — General Assembly hasn’t begun yet — you can’t stream live video of events that haven’t happened yet. Unless maybe you have a Tardis.

Having said that, live coverage will be available here.