Is GA worth it?

I’ve been following the online coverage of GA, and like a good trooper, looked to see what events on the docket I would have attended. Let’s just say I think I chose the better part by staying at home. The entertainment to business ratio is disturbing.

But, even I’ve been one to say that the real work of the General Assembly is in the establishment and re-establishment of relationships. But I note how a lot of my friends have opted out of this one.

So, a question: how much does it cost the UUA to hold a General Assembly? How much does it cost churches? ministers and others with professional expenses? Those that don’t, whether ordained or not, and including the lay delegates?

I’m not going to drift off into a classism discussion since that seems to go nowhere. But it does seem to be a huge expense, and I’m not getting the sense there’s the payoff.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. I agree. The payoff is often below expectation. I attended GA last year, and given the expense and herculean effort, I wouldn’t consider trying to do it every year. Some of us might prefer to save our time and money for smaller UU or universalist gatherings that could turn out to be more meaningful.


  2. — I did not go to GA this year. The cost would be too much (airfare, meals, registration, hotel). Plus, as a bi-vocational minister, I would need to use up precious vacation time from my secular job. In the past I’ve gone to the recent GA’s in Salt Lake City, Cleveland, and Boston. I got to go to Salt Lake and Boston, only because the UU entities I worked for subsidized the cost. Note that they did not pay for the whole cost of attendance. The District I worked for only paid for hotel and airfare. The church I worked for only paid the airfare. Both expected me to attend as part of my duties to each entity.

    I do miss the professional networking and friendships that take place at GA. But as a whole the cost is not often worth the benefit. The business sessions are not very substantive, and most of the energy flows around the resolution process. Substantive decisions about ministeiral credentialing, church planting, extension programs, and budget are made at the UUA headquarters between GA’s. With regards to the vaunted resolution process, I see many of the GA resolutions as pointless, toothless, and too distanced from congregational life. I’ve come to think that we make many resolutions, because we like the righteous sound of our own voices. We speak every year, regardless of the level of passion behind each of the resolutions. As for the workshops, they are often a mixed bag. Sometimes they are quite good, and other times they seem stale. And around social justice issues, many GA programs are stuck in the 1960’s before I was even born.

    So I am also glad I saved my limited income and vacation time and stayed home.

  3. I was going to go to GA this year (had to ditch out at the last minute) and I was cobbling together $ via frequent flyer miles, sharing a room, etc. It was supposed to be my first GA – so I don’t have a context to compare it to. But it is really expensive, and many denominations have once every other year gatherings, and that, combined with the regional gatherings might be a better bet.

  4. I would say that my local District Assembly compares well to the General Assembly, just on a smaller scale. As someone who has gone from CLF to a small lay fellowship, I’m not sure you can understand exactly the impact on our members to go to GA. Our folks won’t go until they can drive to Portland in two years, I suspect I will only go to St. Louis if I go to professional days.

    The workshops I went to in Fort Worth were all excellent. Unfortunately, I fould that most of the workshops that I most wanted to attend were scheduled against each other. I tried to attend a balance o fsessions on social justice (I attended one session on stopping torture), theology (I atttended the process theology network session but missed Paul Rasor and the session on James Luther Adams), and more practical issues (most DRE oriented workshops on incuding families and lifespan faith development).

  5. Last year, I would have been complainign along with you, Scott. This year, I attended enough good events that more than paid for GA. Elaine Pagels was *outstanding* — even better yet, there were maybe 2,000 UU’s sitting there in rapt attention, and almost none of them walked out of a lecture on Jesus — just seeing that was worth the price of admission. Paul Rasor’s talk was excellent. The workshop on Electronic Frontiers was excellent. The “Small Group Ministries: Beyond the Basic” workshop was excellent. Rob Hardies’s sermon on Universalism on Sunday morning was really good — and from the talk later on that day, he may have converted some lay leaders to Universalism. Gini Courter’s whap-upside-the-head in her report on Monday, telling us to get some good manners and welcome newcomers into our congregations, was a well-done bit of oratory. Chris Walton, at the bloggers meet-up, was downright prophetic in his calls for better use of blogs and other technology. And I got to meet up with some cherished friends and colleagues who now live far away.

    On the other hand, Professional Days was an embarrassment. I attended two-waste-of-time workshops, and skipped out of the keynote (just didn’t want to listen to someone telling me how bad I am).

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