Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Singing hymns

Second in a series about General Assembly 2011 and the UUA Board meeting

Forty-nine fully credentialed off-site delegates from 39 congregations were part of this year’s General Assembly. It was a total thrill to watch their virtual banners in the opening banner parade (Susan Lankford from the UU Church of Berkeley is to the right), see the chart with their votes, hear their voices in the plenary hall. On Sunday, delegates overwhelmingly voted to allow offsite voting and electronic signatures.

I have been part of a “virtual team” that met by phone every week this year, and every other week between September and December of 2010. Including members from the General Assembly Planning Committee, GA Staff, UUA IT department, the UUA Board and the user community, this team has been a joy to work with even though we did not meet face to face until GA. Five more technical support volunteers joined the effort for GA, and brought the same spirit of fun, cooperation, and dedication to the effort.

A similar dynamic was going on with the virtual delegates. The Virtual Plenary Hall included a chat site – old friends were becoming reacquainted during training sessions, and a vibrant community sprang up during the plenary sessions. Said one virtual delegate when GA closed: “I really choked up when it was all over and felt the loss of a neat community.”

Acknowledging the limitations of the electronic world, I often say that nothing can replace the experience of being in a hall with thousands of other Unitarian Universalists, singing “Spirit of Life”, so I was struck by one of the stories from the plenary sessions.

Off-site delegates were encouraged to call into an audio bridge and mute their phones during votes to insure that any time delays in the streaming video would not confound the vote. Hearing some background sounds from one delegate’s line, tech support Laura Randall moved to mute it – then realized what she was hearing.

It was one of our octogenarian delegates, singing the hymn along with the plenary body. She had applied to be an off-site delegate because at 87, she could no longer travel, but really missed being part of GA. This year, she still was.

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