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Big changes announced for UUA's General Assembly

Denomination's annual meeting reschedules Sunday worship service, will reexamine Association's purposes.
By Donald E. Skinner
10.13.06

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2005 General Assembly

The UUA’s 2004 General Assembly introduced a “seeker-friendly” Sunday morning worship service. The 2005 Sunday service, shown here, was led by the Rev. Barbara Wells ten Hove, UUA President William G. Sinkford, and the Rev. Rob Hardies. Next year, the GA worship service will move to 4 p.m. on Sunday. (Nancy Pierce)

Big changes are in the works for the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, the annual gathering of UU congregants, lay leaders, clergy, and professional staff. And not everybody’s happy.

GA 2007 will take place Wednesday, June 20, through Sunday, June 24, in Portland, Ore. Several changes will make it significantly different from recent GAs.

One of the biggest changes is that the Sunday morning worship service, traditionally one of GA’s biggest events, will be moved to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The worship service will also take the place of the closing celebration, another GA high point. Moving the Sunday worship service to the afternoon “permits GA to end with a powerful communal worship experience, an appropriate ending for the annual meeting of our religious communities,” said Beth McGregor of the GA Planning Committee, which is elected by the General Assembly. The decision was based in part on evaluations from previous GAs, McGregor said.

[Update 10.20.06: The Planning Committee’s announcement can be found under the heading "Changes to the GA Schedule for 2007" on this page.]

Some of the other changes:

  • Time will be set aside in each day’s schedule for meetings in which delegates will discuss the purposes of the Association. Delegates will use “Open Space Technology,” a method of holding meetings for groups ranging from 7 to 1,000 over a period of several days. To accomplish this there will be fewer hours of plenary sessions (business meetings) and fewer reports to delegates. Related workshops will give people the opportunity to discuss issues raised in the Open Space process.
  • The GA choir, which typically performs at the closing ceremony, will instead present a concert at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

The changes are being made in the schedule in part to accommodate the Open Space process, a candidate’s forum, and meetings of “covenant groups.” The schedule also makes room for a new Social Witness resolutions process, which delegates approved at the 2006 GA.

The Planning Committee made the changes in the schedule in collaboration with UUA Moderator Gini Courter, UUA President William G. Sinkford, the Commission on Social Witness, and youth and UUA Board representatives.

The changes announced for GA 2007 come on top of changes implemented at recent General Assemblies.*

For many years Sunday morning was set aside for the Service of the Living Tradition, a worship service honoring ordained ministers. In 2004 this service was moved to Friday night. Sunday morning was then dedicated to a big “seeker-friendly” service, which members of the larger community were invited to attend. This is the service being moved to Sunday afternoon.

The 2006 GA introduced a new schedule, beginning Wednesday and concluding Sunday evening. Since 1988, GA had started on a Thursday and concluded Monday night. Delegates had requested the change because it fit better with personal schedules.

Some Unitarian Universalists have raised concerns about having no worship on Sunday morning. Participants on UUA-GA (an email forum for discussions about General Assembly sponsored by the UUA) and individuals writing on UU-focused blogs began challenging the schedule change shortly after the Planning Committee finalized the schedule in late September.

One Massachusetts minister questioned the desirability of moving the service to the afternoon and combining it with the closing ceremony. Writing under a pseudonym at his blog, “The Lively Tradition,” he wrote: “The closing ceremony is not when you invite guests. And an Association of Congregations, almost every one of which worships on Sunday morning, ought to worship on Sunday morning as well.”

Another UU minister-blogger, writing as “PeaceBang,” added, “A religious body should worship together on a Sunday BEFORE doing their work, not after, as a kind of parting shot before taking off.”

On UUA-GA, Yvonne Schumacher Strejcek, of the UU Church of Berkeley, in Kensington, Calif., and the UU Community of the Mountains in Grass Valley, Calif., wrote, “Since Sunday morning worship is typically one of the high points of the General Assembly experience, my prediction is that consolidating that event into the afternoon's closing ceremony will not only result in a significant portion of the GA attendees not staying for it because they have to get back for work on Monday, but could also result in many deciding not to attend GA at all.”

McGregor, of the Planning Committee, posted responses on the blogs and answered questions about the changes on the UUA-GA email list. She said that the changes “are part of an ongoing multi-year effort to gently evolve the GA and shift its focus” toward “a meeting of congregations, where congregational representatives interact and learn, and delegates discuss and act on denominational issues and directions.”

“We're in the midst of a subtle but intentional cultural shift, with attendant discomforts,” she said.

“It's an experiment,” she added. “We're going to try it and see how it works, but we're excited about the possibilities.”


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Correction 10.17.06: An earlier version of this story and the caption to the accompanying photograph incorrectly stated that the Service of the Living Tradition was moved from its Sunday morning time to Friday evening for the 2005 General Assembly. That change was in fact introduced in 2004. Click here to return to the corrected paragraph.

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