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New system announced for choosing GA workshops

Most General Assembly workshops will focus on congregational growth, new directions in ministry, and social justice.
By Jane Greer
10.19.09

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(UUA)

The General Assembly Planning Committee has announced a new system for choosing workshops for the annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Under the new system, announced October 16, three thematic program tracks will be offered, with a variety of workshops offered within each track. The new system will provide coherence and quality in GA workshop programming, organizers say.

The Planning Committee will select 100 workshops on three broad themes for the 2010 General Assembly—“Growing the Congregations We Want To Be,” “Embracing Evolving Ministries,” and “Building a More Just Community”—from proposals submitted by November 16. Sixty other workshops or events will round out the programming at the June 23-27, 2010, GA in Minneapolis.

In the past, a majority of the 160 GA workshop slots were assigned to UUA districts, UUA staff groups, Associate and Independent Affiliate organizations, and theological schools. These groups were free to produce whatever workshops they wanted on whatever subject they wanted. However, complaints had been received over the years about uneven workshop quality and random, sometimes repetitive content, said Elisabeth McGregor, GA Planning Committee chair.

Feedback about GA programs and special pre-GA programs that had been offered in recent years had also let planners know that UUs hungered for in-depth workshop programming, McGregor said. Three years ago, the UUA began offering “UU University,” a special lay leadership program just before GA, in which participants were invited to attend workshops devoted to a particular theme or “track.” At the 2009 GA, UU University programming was offered at the same time as regular GA programming. In a survey after the 2009 GA, participants indicated that they appreciated the opportunity for in-depth learning at UU University but were frustrated by having to commit to nine hours of workshop programming in one area.

UU University will not be offered next year although organizers hope to bring it back in the future.

GA planners have adapted UU University’s track system, and will offer sets of individual 75-minute workshops within each track. Attendance at the workshops is optional: People can choose to immerse themselves in multiple workshops in a particular track, McGregor said, or they can pick and choose from different tracks. In addition to the 100 workshops that will be devoted to the three tracks, around 60 workshops will be offered on a range of other subjects so that people can also choose not to follow a track.

The “Growing Congregations” track will look at ways of increasing attendance and vitality and incorporating best practices at UU congregations. The “Embracing Evolving Ministries” track will look at ways to shape UU ministry to prepare for America’s increasingly multicultural and multiethnic future. The “Just Community” track will examine ways that UUs can act for justice and work with other groups on social issues such as BGLT rights, racism, and immigration reform.

The three tracks were chosen by a Program Development Group, which consists of seven UUA staff members and two members of the GA Planning Committee: the Rev. Harlan Limpert, UUA Vice President for Ministries and Congregational Support; the Rev. Jory Agate, UUA Ministerial Development Director; the Rev. Alicia Forde, UUA Program Coordinator for Multicultural Congregations; Erik Kesting, UUA Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries; the Rev. Terasa Cooley, district executive of the UUA’s Massachusetts Bay District; the Rev. Nancy Bowen, district executive of the UUA’s Mountain Desert District; Rob Keithan, Director of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy and Witness; Elisabeth McGregor, GA Planning Committee chair; and Barbara Atlas, leader of the Planning Committee’s programs task group.

In a statement posted on their website on October 16, the Planning Committee said that proposed workshops would be evaluated using the criteria of “mission, congregational relevance, and excellence.” The Program Development Group will also be able to seek out key speakers and programs.

“Because all program applications will go through the PDG, a more strategic and intentional ‘assortment’ of GA programs will be allocated,” wrote Limpert in a UUA email announcement October 15. “A district, for example, which has historically been given two slots, might get more—or none—depending on what is proposed and how it fits into the larger need of congregational leaders.”

Jan Sneegas, the UUA’s director of General Assembly and Conference Services, said that she was pleased with this new direction for programming. “It’s really an intentional decision to improve the quality of programming,” she said. “Before, the Planning Committee had no quality assurance mechanism. It’s a way to say that we want programming that reflects the mission of the association and not any particular group’s agenda.”

People can file initial GA workshop proposals starting October 16.


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