I attended General Assembly in Louisville last week, and I’m still high off the buzz. (Those who follow me on Twitter or are Facebook friends got quite an eyeful, as I joined many of my fellow attendees live-blogging our experiences.) In a nutshell, it is a transformative experience; I was an offsite delegate two years ago, but nothing beats being in the same space as over 3000 fellow Unitarian Universalists, seeing familiar and unfamiliar faces, hearing amazing lectures and sermons, listening to and singing tremendous music, being inspired by casual interactions and intentional conversations. Oh, and the shopping; there is nothing like walking into the Exhibit Hall the first time – I wanted to buy all the things! (I limited my purchases to a few t-shirts, some books, and a nice pin, but it was difficult at best!) While I am still processing some of the things I experienced and lessons I learned, I do wish to share some of what I gleaned with you (in no particular order):
- Ellen Cooper-Davis’s workshop called “Occupy Your Faith” was one of the single most inspiring events I attended. In this session, she talked about ways to make our faith real and active and welcoming. Like Occupy, she said, our faith isn’t anarchical; rather, it is immediate and active, not an idea with manifestos and declarations. To help us get out there just DOING our faith, she gave us some great advice, using the acronym EAST(e)R:
- E – Educate; we should know our history and our theology, and we should be religiously and Biblically literate so that we can talk to others but also within our communities.
- A – Articulation; we must talk about our faith, but talk about them in the language of the culture we find ourselves in – in other words, we don’t automatically have a universal translator, so we must consider what our common phrases mean to others.
- S – Service; not just ‘write another check’ service, but on the ground, present service to those around us. Who is next door? How are they hurting, and can we help?
- T – Transformation; we are a transformative faith, and we cannot continue to be complacent.
- R – Relocation, Redistribution, Reconciliation; it is actually inconvenient to live out our faith fully. It requires stepping out of our comfort zone, going places that are uncomfortable, living out our faith moment by moment.
- Friday. Eboo Patel. Inspiring, brilliant, thought-provoking. Just watch.
- Saturday’s Service of the Living Tradition was amazing; the music was led by the gospel ensemble at All Souls Church in Tulsa, and I can tell you the place was on fire. Add to that Rev. Vanessa Southern’s inspiring sermon. Add to that the experience of sitting in the audience and watching people around me being ‘called forth from the congregation’ in recognition of achieving ministerial fellowship or credentialing as a religious educator or music leader. Three of my friends from Union Theological Seminary walked, as did Schenectady’s Director of Religious Education, Melissa MacKinnon. What joy to see these leaders emerge from our ranks!
- Sunday’s service was equally amazing; Rev. Dr. Bill Schultz preached an extraordinary sermon. He reminded us that we are fragile, but out of our fragility comes gratitude and trust – and we must thus act morally. I can’t do his words justice (they brought many of us to tears); go and listen. (Also, Meredith Lukow tweeted this:
“Blue Boat Home is like the Freebird of Unitarian Universalism.” – H. Roberts
…which led to a Twitter explosion of “FREEBIRD!” when we sang it during the service (and there is nothing like thousands singing with one voice a beloved song like that).
- Youth! So many young people were there, so excited about being at GA but more importantly, about being Unitarian Universalist. These young people love our faith – we’re in good hands. I encourage you to look at the work the youth caucuses are doing, including campus ministry; I wasn’t able to attend the session on campus ministry, as it was during my own presentation, but there’s a real opportunity for us right up the street, and there are good materials to help make it happen.
- Because I wasn’t sent as a delegate on behalf of my congregation, I didn’t attend many of the plenary sessions (where the business of the Association is conducted). However, that time was spent talking to people, hearing stories, learning about organizations like ARE (Allies for Racial Equity) and the Ministry for Earth. I ran into Rev. Sam Trumbore from FUUSA about a dozen times (who signed my copy of his new book during one of our encounters), but also had the opportunity to finally meet in person Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom, who – in addition to having written the beautiful book Simply Pray – was my spiritual director the year I decided to attend seminary. It was nice to finally give him a hug of thanks for being part of my journey.
- Though personally disappointed in the outcome of the moderator election, I know Jim Key will do a fine job. Meanwhile, outgoing moderator Gini Courter absolutely WOWED the crowd with her final report. It’s worth the watch.
I have so many more memories and lessons learned – from the Murray Lecture (sponsored by NYSCU) to the various worship services I attended – from seeing old friends from my UU Musicians Network days to the crowd of Union students/alumnae closing down a bar. I got to see good friend Reggie Harris, and emma’s revolution, and Brother Sun perform. I got to make new friends, like KC Slack, Nicki Drumb, Craig Rubano, and Elie Kirkpatrick. And I got to hang out with Union friends Emily DeTar, Valerie Freseman, Ranwa Hammamy, Sara Goodman, and Annie Gonzalez. And and and and….the memories and lessons are countless, but since this is already long, I will close simply with this:
Go to a General Assembly before too long. Next year, it’s in Providence, RI. It’s transformative and amazing and exciting and eye-opening and exhausting. It is worth it.