GA 2008: the one to miss?

Oh dear, I really did intend on going to the Unitarian Universalist Assembly General Assembly (GA) last year. I haven’t been to one since 2003 and, with the new church plant very slowly developing, I though it would be a good place to meet and consult. But perhaps not.

  • Last year, before GA 2007, I noticed the convention center is very convenient to a port and petroleum tanks and less convenient to hotels and restaurants, which never bodes well.
  • Then the Great Scraping Off of Affiliates means that many of the stakeholders I’d be going to visit might no longer have a presence.
  • Then the notoriously anti-gay preachments of the mayor of Ft. Lauderdale caused a stir about what the appropriate and ethical response may be.
  • And recently and most potently, there has been a huge furore about having to show identification — which I don’t mind, but that’s the subject of another post — because the convention center is in a port security area. This has led to calls to action ranging from financially ruinous to politically laughable. Some have called for a boycott of GA, which reminds me of the “liberals and their circular firing squad” joke.

I’m worried that the factors will lead a good number of people to make GA 2008 a miss: a kind of soft boycott, if you will. I think I might be one of them, because it hardly sounds conductive to getting any real business done. Not that GA’s been great for that at the best of times.

What do you think? Or intend to do? I don’t see much of a public space for the laity to share thoughts, so the non-ordained are especially welcome to comment.

Note, I may, if I feel inspired, share some thoughts on the latest controversy, so save those comments for later.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. On the other hand, says this layperson, how many of the boycotters do you suspect would have lots of wisdom to impart about new church development? How many of your clergy colleagues are going to withdraw from workshops or lectures they were planning to offer? Finally, just think of the disproportionate self-marginalization of some factions of the UUA during plenary votes: Those who do attend might end up having more clout than usual.

  2. That’s why I wanted to distinguish between a hard and a soft boycott. A lot of good people alternate years (or some such) with GA. This year might scream “pass.” It’s going that way for me.

  3. I do love the circular firing squad. Pointing at feet, no doubt.

    Here’s something not financially ruinous or politically laughable, and it even has spiritual overtones. Let’s go to GA and fast from expensive meals in restaurants. Let’s not order catering. Let’s bring apples and granola bars and instant oatmeal and lament all that is lamentable that way. Now, there’s a real sacrifice!

  4. Scott, I don’t believe the GA Planning Committee has impeded these stakeholders from having a presence.

    Former Independent Affiliates will have the same booth discounts for GA 2008 that they had with their IA status for GA 2007.

    Also, the Planning Committee increased the number of its sponsored workshop slots, and specifically invited former IA’s to apply for them. This is a boost, actually, because these Planning Committee slots are eligible for a financial subsidy, which is not available to IA’s sponsoring their own workshops.

  5. I’ll be there. I’m recieving Final Fellowship (assuming the last evaluation goes as smoothly as the first two, of course), and my cantata, Sources, will be performed in the Opening Ceremony. Unfortunately for those who have to plan their major life events well ahead of time, we don’t have the luxury of the “maybe” status.

    Colleagues choose not to attend GA every year, so the fact that a significant percentage won’t be there yet again doesn’t really bother me. But if those absences stem from a boycott whose grounding seems, a best, a little shaky, then I’m more inclined to be peeved. There are plenty of issues within the GA structure which merit our best focus and attention (the economics of access being highest on my list; Christine makes some good points, too), and I’m afraid those get ignored year after year because of what I percieve as piddly complaints. We can’t get to the bigger problems if people don’t show up – if only to change the structure so that our being together might actually bring about change once in a while. If we leave it to the “GA junkies” then the problems will continue ad infinitum, ’cause they’re not skipping GAs for any reason, and it seems like they will do everything they can to keep the status quo no matter what the cost in terms of associational resources and credibility.

    I just wish UU’s would get over their “special” complex. Look at us, standing up for the undocumented workers. Wow. Too bad GA is so outrageously expensive (both in terms of actual cost and lost work time for those of us who can’t write it off as a professional expense/expectation) that the liklihood of folks attending GA who fit that description is incredibly remote. And yes, there are some restrictions which come with meeting in a publicly owned and facilitaed space, even if it’s for worship. Sorry, but renting the space for a few days does not give us license to do or say whatever we want. That this sentiment still thrives in many of our congregations is a major reason for the continuing disconnect between the way we market ourselves (i.e. principles/sources) and the reality of the behavioral patterns in our churches. We do well to quash the expectation that this will be so at GA.

    And it’s not like we’re the first group with GLBT folks in our numbers ever to meet in Ft. Lauderdale. Do you know how many GLBT-themed/oriented cruises leave from this same port every year? I’m guessing this won’t be the port authority’s first time at this party. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if their training left them better prepared to be welcoming than most of our congregations.

    Sorry if I’m whining. My (non-UU) family is coming from all across the country for this GA to celebrate some pretty big moments in my life. I’d like for them to feel like they’re welcome, too, and not be so turned off by our living up to the modern liberal caricature that they embarrassed to tell their friends where they spent the week.

  6. I won’t be going to GA, but it has less to do with politics, and much to do with finances. Normally I can only afford to go to one denominational meeting per year (district assembly, GA, or Universalist Convocation). GA this year does not really fit into my financial plans.

  7. GA is just getting too expensive and too bloated with group-think for me. The few highlights last year were wonderful but there were such terrible disappointments in programming (including some atrociously bad worship)that my spirit will need a year off to recover. Seeing our dysfunctions and hypocrisies on such a grand scale is something I can only stomach when I’m in the best of spirits and am flush with professional expenses.

    I’ll miss seeing everyone, but that’s not the point of GA.

  8. I want to go mostly because of Jason Shelton (see above) and because I love working on the web team. However, like many in my congregation, I feel disenfranchised by the UUA around their handling of clergy misconduct. If I were willing to boycott over anything, it would be that.

  9. I won’t be at GA for a few reasons:

    1. If I never see the state of Florida again it will be too soon.
    2. I will (hopefully) be doing my CPE unit.
    3. I’m still getting over what has happened to the theological Independent Affiliates.

    And while to many this will seem to be harping for harpings sake, I just don’t like the idea of having to show my ID to get into a church’s worship service. That seems, to me at least, to be antithetical to the whole idea of “Enter, Rejoice and Come In”. I’ve never heard of a church asking people to submit to a security check to go to worship, so that idea still irritates me.

  10. I honestly don’t know if I’ll be there next year. It’s really far from me (Oregon), I’ll already have been traveling around the district for district young adult stuff, and I’m planning a wedding for August. I’ll also be in school for the summer, and do I want to spend a week away from the sig-o (no reason for him to go; he’s not even a UU)? Plus, it’s really, really hot. But we’ll see.

  11. I’ll be there. I am the current president of CUUPS and I am definitely seeing attendance at this year’s GA as some kind of representation that CUUPS and the other theologically-based former IA’s have not been completely disenfranchised by our change of status. I also find it wryly ironic that most of the people whom the ID requirement would directly impact would be unable to afford the cost of even a single-day pass to GA even if they were directly invited. I suppose my reasons for wanting to attend are about equally divided between the need to make a positive statement for Pagan UU’s, and the desire to see whether the UUA is still what I always thought it was, or is being subsumed by the unspoken agenda of homogeneity and right-wing exclusivity that is currently lapping up the rest of the country’s religious bodies.

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