Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Are we part of a larger movement? GA Access

This post started out as a way to generate discussion around some way of providing recognition to organizations with UU values that identified them as part of a larger UU movement - whether or not they were an Independent Affiliate (former or not). That discussion still needs to take place, but I am finding much of the "Sturm und Drang" of this discussion centers around General Assembly, its delegates, and the meaning of congregational polity.

Do (the former) "Independent Affiliates carry the vision and the work of UUism into the world, and to a larger pool of UUs at GA, in ways that congregations cannot" as the Rev. Kurt Kuhwald points out in his response to an earlier post? Or do they have "the undesirable of effect of creating pseudo-congregations, groups who had influence on the governance of the Association without having a degree of accountability equal to the member congregations" as Keith Goheen asserts in a November 23 post to the UU Historical Society chat list.

Does the IA presence provide a valuable education service to GA attendees, or does it divert them from what should be their primary role in focusing on governing an association of congregations?

What we are talking about here is access to several thousand attendees at GA. In other circles this would be referred to as lobbying. Having been one on Capitol Hill in a previous life, I never identified with Jack Abramhoff, but rather thought of myself as being a valuable resource on a complicated topic that was not well understood by the senators, representatives, and staffers who were making legislative decisions about that topic - and that my presence helped prevent what could be some serious mistakes based on lack of information. Others viewed it as a not so subtle attempt on the part of special interest groups to influence legislation. And while I can already hear the cries of "we are not special interests, we are the embodiment of UU values!" I would point out that many (legislative) lobbyists feel exactly the same way.

Does the [special interest lobbying] presence provide a valuable education service to [Congress], or does it divert them from what should be their primary role in focusing on [policy making for the United States]?

Now imagine that taxpayer money was used to subsidize the workshop and meeting space for these lobbyists while Congress was in session and you may have a sense of the indignation expressed by some UUs over what Goheen described as "the World's Fair of Unitarian Universalism...[rather than] a council model wherein thoughtful church
leaders assemble to reflect on and devise means by which the congregations
improve their individual and collective health."

I empathize with both views. Delegation selection is a haphazard and apathetic process in far too many congregations. Given a choice between a plenary session and a great workshop, even some delegates vote with their feet. If we really think we are going to be governed by congregational representation, we need serious change. Perhaps shifting the focus at GA from special interests to thoughtful discourse will do that - but I doubt it. I think it means that even fewer people would attend GA, with fewer of us talking to ourselves.

This "World's Fair of Unitarian Universalism" has inspired more first time (and multi time) UUs than "thoughtful reflection" could dream of. Particularly for us "comer-inners", GA provides a cacophony of sounds, sights, joy, diversity, conflict, and meaning that opens up the world. If we are to survive, we have to walk the line between inspiring a larger community of UUs and what may feel to long-timers as a sacrilege of our historical roots.

1 comment:

uuKarin said...

Gentle PCD Friends,

Linda's posting have gotten me thing on this New Year's Eve about where did all this come from. Once, long ago GA and DA were short business meetings. OK, it is true that when the Universalists would get together more than 150 years ago it could turn into a 3 day revival meeting, but there wasn't much else going on at it besides prayer, meeting and food.

Fast forward to today and we have weekend DAs and a week of activities at GA (at least someone figured it ending on a Monday didn't work for many of us). A decade and a half ago when I showed an interest in how my own congregation, UUCB in Kensington, fit into the constalation of our denomination, I attended a District Assembly meeting as a Delegate. We had an extra spot and it wasn't too late to register if I zipped across town to give a check someone at the PCD office, located at that time in the basement of SKSM. I had no question then that I would be one of several representing us at the "business meeting", but I was unaware of all the other things that happen at such a gathering. Later I was kidnapped, er, volunteered for the DA planning committee, and was part of the group that considered proposals for workshops that were held at times when the business was not being conducted. We set our standards high by looking at GA and did not select every proposal because we took into consideration our theme or direction as a district, but also this was the best oppertunity for Western UUs to "gather the spirit" and exchange ideas since going to GA often involves expensive travel and the ability all do not have to take time off from work. My work on that planning committee gave me life long friends, and a view into how our District works. That led me to serving two terms on the PCD board. DA is a place of many things to me, but mostly it is a time of reconnecting with other UUs and ministers, a chance to look back at where we've come from, and a chance to consider where we might be headed.

GA is all that on a much bigger scale. If the 7th Principle Project wasn't affiliated and had a booth or presented a workshop, would I have checked them out, no matter how many time the Rev. Craig Scott urged me to? If the Partner Church group wasn't affiliated with a booth and had a meeting at GA, how would I connect with others who have gone on similar pilgramages to Transylvania (or India or the Philipines)? If the UUWomen's Federation were not affiliated, how would I hear their award winning sermon of the year or find resources to bring home. I could go on and on. I don't want to lose any of it, or most of it.

GA is different in I won't be going all the way to Florida, just as I didn't go to Boston, Nashvile, Cleveland or Phoenix. Distance and expense are certainly part of this (Summer heat and humidity is another). It is hard for many congregations to find volunteers willing to take such a chunk of time off of work, and personally fund the travel, hotel, meals, and registration fees. True, some congregations help with the fees, or offer a stipend, but is it enough?

Another thought for another day on Linda's Blog: If DA or GA is where we do the business of our governing, do we ask who we exclude by having attendance self funded?

Well, that's enough for now. I have other things to consider on this cold, crisp night.


PS: By now you know I live in a spell-free zone, so if I have caused you difficulty I do appologize. Such is the problems of responding to blogs.