UU General Assembly 2018 Experiences

This year’s General Assembly was in Kansas City, MO. The next one is June 19 – 23, 2019 in Spokane, WA. The following are the reflections of Treva Burger, Julie Rigano, Eric Foster and Crystal Penn. Four of the 7 from USG who attended GA this year (the others were Rev. Kent, Administrator Gloria Guldager, and Rev. John Gilmore.)

Here is access to videos all of the sessions that are available online.

Here is the program book.

Treva Burger:

There were 2814 attendees including 134 youth.
There were 1570 delegates including 199 offsite, representing 522 congregations.
$33,000 was raised for local charity, $95,000 for UUA funds

Being a delegate
Being a delegate was great. Reports were educational, interesting and inspiring, I learned so much about the work and running of the association. The shared leadership that was modeled from the stage was interesting and inspiring. The voting didn’t start til the 3rd day. There are worship elements and singing and no workshops are offered during general sessions. It was be helpful to have read UU World to stay up to date on with what was going on in the denomination and I read through the GA delegate info in the GA book and watched a video for prep before I went.

Bylaws changes: There were a number of bylaw changes with the common theme of being more inclusive: Delegate status for Religious Educators, creation of the Co-Moderator Role, Gender neutral pronouns throughout, Youth Trustee changes, Committee Terms and Social Witness Process timeline changes (allowing congregations a greater capacity to take effective action) and changing the 2nd source to read prophetic people rather than men and women. They all passed. The one that didn’t was about Congregation Linkage which would have put a requirement in the bylaws that the UUA Board create linkage for each congregation to the UUA Board. The concept was supported, but the majority felt this should be in the Board policies, not the bylaws. More information about the bylaws in the program book linked here:

Details on Proposed Bylaw changes

We were asked to choose three of six proposed Actions of Immediate Witness:   *Stop family separation and detention of asylum seekers and Abolish ICE, Support Youth in Gun Violence Prevention efforts, *End Predatory Prison Healthcare, *support Water protectors, stop Palestinian Child detention, Join the poor people’s campaign. Those with * were the ones chosen, that doesn’t mean people can not work on the others, but that is not where the Committee on Social Witness will focus.

Congregation Study Action Item (CSAI) choices: Undoing Intersectional White Supremacy*, Dismantling Intersectional Oppression. With * was chosen, full descriptions in the program book linked here:

Details on CSAIs

Definition of intersectionality: the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. (Google dictionary)

Topical guide: (These were all the different content areas of the workshops) Climate Justice, Commission on Social Witness, Congregational Life, History, Lay Leadership, Ministry and Professional Leadership, Outreach, Pastoral Care, Racial Justice, Religious Education and Faith Formation, Social Justice, Stewardship, UUA Governance, Worship and Theology, Youth/Young Adults
I attended six workshops, a mini assembly, and a worship service which featured the SJ sermon award. Here are some of my take aways:

Multicultural Leadership
Shift paradigm to collective/common good
Other cultures have we or other centered focus
What we do to someone else, we do to ourselves
Leadership is an honor someone gives you because of your work                    
A leader is one among equals
Leadership rotates, everyone leads, no one is above
Ask yourself each morning: How can I best serve?

Small Group Ministry                                                                                  
Should be a deep, spiritual experience
Need embodied spiritual practices. Possible embodied practice: everyone pick a note and blend and hold.  Also try breathing together.
Service work can be embodied spiritual practice.
For church attendance, look at group attendance instead of/in addition to Sunday am attendance
Help people go deep by focusing on feelings
Count to 5 after someone finishes speaking before you start.

Religious Professionals of Color panel during the general session
Allies need skills, not just willingness. Don’t wait for orders.
People of Color should be considered owners of UUism, not renters. Fully valued, not just having their gifts extracted.
People of Color are sometimes not given second chances when they make mistakes.

Lost Legacies
There is a UU archive at Meadville Lombard called Sankofa
for archival materials that tell the stories of UUs of Color. They noted that we need accurate storytelling, not just what we’re proud of. 
Ministers are 2% of the denomination and they come and go, the majority of UUism is people in congregations. They recommended we ask if the elders of color have documents in their homes.

What to do with Archives: organize to who is creating. 
Keep Board, Ministers, SJ, RE, etc. stuff together. Don’t be minister centered. 
Replace staples with plastic paper clips, use Acid free folders

Truth and Reconciliation: Commission on Institutional Change
They recommended centering adult learning around Mark Morrison Reeds books. 
Be uncomfortable, but don’t be afraid to start. We need to face our inadequacies in order to change. We need to acknowledge that we are not who we say we are and we don’t want what we say we want.
If something happens that makes you want to leave your congregation, the Commission on Institutional Change wants to know about it.

Julie Rigano:

I would like everyone to know about the panel I went to discussing the cash bail industry linked here with my notes below:

Anatomy of a Bail Out Panel Discussion

The ACLU does training on courtroom sit ins which are powerful ways to protest the corrupt systems in our criminal justice system (and I am going to talk to Ryan and Kent about doing one or getting members to attend one.)

And that Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) and the child detention centers (even for profit ones) have so much power when it comes to sentencing as judges will take their recommendation.

We need to learn who our ADAs are as they wield so much power when it comes to the unjust bail system. Also (and I need to do more research on whether this is just true in some states or if this is federal law) if you pay bail you relinquish your right to a public defender. So the choice is to stay in prison and potentially lose your job, your car, your house, etc (all the while costing your family money for basic things like hygiene items you need to buy in jail that should be given to the inmates) and potentially for months before your trial or scrape together just enough cash for bail, some times using the corrupt bail bond system. And then you have to pay at least $2500 for a decent lawyer.

The first step in this process is building relationships and I think we can do that by going to the ACLU court room sit in training. Also if anyone wants to talk to me about Faithify, the crowd funding page for UUs, or the importance of the bylaw vote to allow credentialed religious educators to vote, I’d be happy to talk about it.

Also, Julie was a GA volunteer and would be a good one to ask about that experience.

Eric Foster: Notes and video from two sessions

Notes from Sarah Millspaugh and Tandi Rogers (from Pacific Region) “Outreach In-reach” linked here:

Outreach and In-Reach: Attracting, Integrating and Nourishing UUs

A discussion of membership and retention methods

Goals of outreach involves more than just counts.

It should include creating a sense of belonging, affecting people’s everyday lives, deepening spiritual lives, and fostering connections to UUism. This is accomplished by invitationally tending to the spiritual needs of the not-yet-involved.

What are those spiritual needs?

  • To lessen the feeling of being overwhelmed
  • Feeling that we matter
  • Clarifying purpose
  • Forming connections and interrelationships
  • Sensing something eternal to ground us
  • Orienting toward hope.

Repeated this graphic: the “spectrum of engagement”: curious individual, welcomed visitor, connected friend, engaged participant, integrated leader

When thinking of outreach, first ask who YOU are (i.e., USG) and what do YOU (we) have to offer?

Ask around the area – at the local coffee shop or library – what they know of us. What are we known for? What events have drawn the most people? When and how is this place really changing lives?

Choose a focus of outreach. Is it LGBTQ? Young activists? Retirees moved to the area? Multi-faith families? Etc. Then ask where these groups get their support, what are their values, needs, hopes and fears? Why might they be interested in UUism? In short, center outreach on the perspective of the outsider. What does USG have that can change their lives? [This is simply targeted marketing – no wheel reinvented here.]

Do things that attract them, and stop doing things that create a barrier. What events might be an easier first step than a Sunday service? [We’re not just sanctuary, service, & sermon.]

Are we unintentionally keeping them away? How can we clarify the invitation online, on social media, and in the building?

Outreach summary:

  1. Who are you and what do you have to offer?
  2. Choose focal group for the outreach.
  3. Get curious about THEM.
  4. Get clear about what YOU can offer to them.
  5. Do things that attract that group.

Why people come:

  • Life transition or crisis
  • Ready to serve to be part of something larger than themselves
  • A friend asked them
  • Children began questioning
  • They began questioning

Why people leave:

  • Lack of relevance and reverence
  • Conflict
  • Chaos
  • Token, tolerated
  • Shame, guilt, belittling, bullying

[Could double or triple the above two lists with some brainstorming?]

Regarding retention: What are the expectations of members?  What opportunities are there to foster relationships? Make clear what mini-communities we have to offer [SGM, villages]

Members belong; servers are interconnected; and leaders love.

What event, process, or program solidified your UU identity? [A good question for people who have been UUs a while; could be very helpful in framing communications.]

Summarizing the big ideas:

  • Outreach should center on the experience of the not-yet-involved;
  • Understand what we have to offer;
  • Growth is about purpose, depth, and relationship more than numbers;
  • People stay because the organization makes a positive difference in their lives and the lives of the community;
  • And remember: We have one another as partners along the journey.

Notes from “#UUWHITESUPREMACYTEACHIN Transforming Our Faith” presentation by Takiyah Nur Amin, Aisha Hauser, and Christina Rivera

Video linked here:

White Supremacy Teach In Follow Up (starts at around 1 minute)

A discussion about the genesis of the Teach-Ins in 2017

Rivera was not appointed to be a UUA Regional Director in 2017, despite evident qualifications for the position. Hauser, angry at the outcome, posted on Facebook a strong missive about how we are not exploring or facing multiculturalism at the heart of UUism. Then Rivera was asked to write an article for UUWorld, telling her truth, her lived experience. All her fears about doing so came to fruition: hate mail, death threats, vile things about her and her family. She said another consequence was that it blocked her ministerial path in the denomination (because, what congregation would want the controversy if she wasn’t hired? They fear what she might do if she doesn’t get the position).

Then she and Aisha and Kenny Wiley began to ask, what is all this REALLY about? It really ISN’T about person not getting a job. It’s about something much more ingrained in the denomination and society at large. It’s about white supremacy. So the question in the moment was, what are we going to do about it? And the Teach-In was born. It’s not about this individual hire; it’s about what People of Color are trying to get people to understand.

Hauser: when she broached the idea to her congregation, people told her she was destroying UUism. Huh? Two words? How anemic are we if that’s possible? Is this a house of cards? And if there were other words that would have liberated black and brown people, they would have been said already!

Nur Amin: People should know that the Teach-In was not the brainchild of BLUU (Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism.) BLUU was presented with it and basically said, “yeah, uh, that sounds necessary.” [!] A teach-in should be something that gives people some tools to do something with out in the world.  “Hey, our minister did a sermon on it.” Uh, nope, that’s not a teach-in! Blacks have been harmed, undermined, invisibilized in our faith. Sometimes it feels like the nice white people are happy to have us as guests and People of Color should be glad to be guests. So BLUU wanted to support the Teach-In. BLUU’s hope was that it would “put the conversation on the table.”

So there were about 700 congregations that had White Supremacy teach-ins in spring 2017 and over 200 did the Teach-In 2 in fall 2017. Rivera pointed out that the 2017 GA schedule of presentations (created before the 1st teach in) mentioned white supremacy 2 times; the 2018 schedule had 25 mentions.

Hauser: In Seattle, which is a very racist and segregated city, there were some very important white allies that helped us put it together there.

Rivera: We got a lot of excuses from congregations, mostly via email, that they didn’t have enough time to organize the teach in at their churches. Well, it took the originating team of Religious Educators just 27 days to put the whole thing together from the time of the conference call to decide to do it to the first date.

Nur Amin: Yes, part of the White Supremacy culture is that things have to be perfect. First we have to create a committee. Then there will be a report on the committee, and a task force… No. “Having grown up in a working class neighborhood in the Rust Belt, it is very hard to listen to people who have so many more resources than I ever did growing up tell me what they can’t do.” It’s frustrating and an insult.

Other faiths were watching us and telling us we should be so proud. And yet, we were getting threats, some of them coming from within our own UU congregations. So what was going on on the inside was often very different from the perception on the outside. We never said UUs were white supremacists. We did say white supremacy culture has impacted our faith community and we need to look at that. UUism can LEAD on this, and we can help other faith communities in this work.

Teach-In website reviewed at length. Teach In Resources/Worship Track was especially remarked on by Rivera. For children’s education, there are also excellent YouTube resources curated. Users have to do a lot of work first, however. The site and materials are not perfect, but allow users to engage with them, not just read them.

Hauser: UUs are attached to their good intentions, but these will not change anything, ever.

Nur Amin: When my heart is broken, I don’t reach for a journal article. When I’m in tears, I don’t pull up a TED talk.

Rivera: There are links on the site that talk about how white people will feel uncomfortable about doing this work. If you feel it in the pit of your stomach, you’re doing it right.

Do your own Teach In. The site has enough material to do many teach-ins from it.

Nur Amin: It’s been frustrating to hear and overhear people even at GA who say things like, “This just isn’t a country that I recognize anymore.” Well, I DO! My momma recognizes it, my grandmom recognizes it. The negative things, the violent rhetoric, that exist in our country also exist in this denomination. If you don’t see it, you’re not looking.

Rivera: Teach-ins have released a lot of feelings. Religious Educators of color are paying a price for that. They are under attack. There is backlash. So care for these Religious Educators, and all religious professionals. Do a study group on “Centering.”

Q&A session

Issue of caucussing came up. What’s wrong with having a People of Color caucus? Some say this is divisive. But we have a grief group, a Parkinson’s group, a men’s group, a women’s group. There are cancer survivors groups. These groups are “not called to account for exclusivity.” So what’s the problem with a People of Color group? Where does the suspicion come from? (Especially when everything is really transparent, and they ask only for the same level of confidentiality that any small group asks for.)

Don’t try to turn the Titanic. If there are only a few people who are like-minded, work with them. One attendee mentioned that it’s the oldest people who stand up and walk out when White Supremacy is being discussed. Let them walk out, but keep talking to those who stay in the room.


Crystal Penn:

2018 was my first GA.  What a life-changing week! I arrived a day early because I had friends in Kansas City and wanted to spend time with them, while not missing out on the GA workshops and social activities.  I have known Ken and Chris a combined total of 86 years, making them practically family.  They joined me at the Sunday service and enjoyed fellowship with several USG members.


I was so glad I attended the orientation which introduced the format of the conference to newcomers, as well as to new delegates.  We were introduced to the Moderators, the Safety Team, the Right Relationships Team, the latter of which was quite puzzling to me, until later in the week when I found their services personally beneficial.  Acronyms I had not heard before were introduced and explained: CSAI (Congregational Study / Action Issue) and AIW (Action of Immediate Witness).  We were informed of the several “safe spaces”: a room set up by BLUU (Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism) designated to be used exclusively for congregants who identified as black and an LGBTQ gathering space.  DRUUMM (Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalists of Multicultural Ministries) also had a healing space which was additionally used for programming open to non-identifying, interested congregants.  I would strongly encourage other first-timers to attend the orientation.  Even though much of the information was repeated during the General Sessions, the many acronyms seemed like a foreign language to me and I found it helpful to be exposed to these concepts multiple times.

General Sessions

Even though I was not a delegate, I attended most of the General Sessions.  I was particularly interested in the voting on CSAIs, AIWs, and bylaw changes, to understand how the UUA sets strategy, allows discussion of competing viewpoints, and arrives at a decision.  Early in the week, we were informed that the Westboro Baptist Church would be demonstrating outside of the convention center.  UUA leadership encouraged us to not engage with them.  Instead, a small group of UUers faced them and sang songs of peace and love in response to the protestors’ hate-filled chants.  Beacon Press gave a short presentation and highlighted a few current books that they published.  I was particularly interested in Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility which was published a few days after the conference ended.  Space does not permit a review here, but I listened to the book on audio and highly recommend that the entire USG congregation read or listen to it, as it addresses the difficulties many Americans have in discussing race.

I attended five workshops, a BLUU program on the proposed 8th principle, and a UU Humanist Awards program, but I will review two workshops which stood out as especially meaningful.

Black Humanism in Unitarian Universalist Context and Beyond

I was particularly interested in hearing Mandisa Thomas, founder and president of Black Non-Believers, and author of one of the Twitter feeds I follow.  The UU Humanist Association selected her as “2018 Humanist of the Year” and held an awards program for her at one of the conference hotels.  She gave an excellent overview of black humanism in the U.S. and was followed by Rev. Dr. Nicole Kirk, Professor of UU History at Meadville Lombard.  Rev. Dr. Kirk also gave the uplifting sermon at Connie Simon’s ordination in June and I was very interested to meet her.  She presented a review of black UU humanists, including a biography of Lewis McGee and spoke of his work to create an interracial congregation in the 1940’s after his service in World War II.

Gathering Our Selves: Resources for People of Color

This workshop was led by Dr. Mark Hicks, Professor and Director of the Fahs Collaborative at Meadville Lombard, where he develops curricula and explores the impact of racism on faith development.  He authored Beloved Conversations, which is designed to explore the role of race and ethnicity in individual and congregational lives. As well as the new Gathering Our Selves Program, which consists of exercises, video, and a private website for workshop participants to post essays, photos, etc. The purpose of this program is for People of Color to work on spiritual self-care, explore the impact of race on their lives and spirits, develop resilience, encourage healthy racial identities, and build stronger cross-racial relationships.  The program consisted of a panel of recently ordained ministers who had completed the program and presented their self-discoveries. 


The personal account that impacted me the most in this workshop was a Latina minister’s description of an incident in seminary where her ministerial team advisor warned her not to be so emotional in her sermons.  Concerned that she needed to heed their direction in order to graduate, but reluctant to deviate from her comfortable style, she ultimately dialed back her emotion, and passed the test to the satisfaction of her advisory team.  However, her fellow students who heard the sermon were alarmed with the change.  They approached her after the sermon, asked what was wrong and that she seemed “off her game.” They lovingly told her that it was her emotion that appealed to their hearts and souls and that quality was what made her unique.  Upon reflection, I couldn’t help but recall the times I had stifled myself in one way or another in a predominantly white space in order to satisfy expectations or placate feelings.  In an ideal world, I would be able to bring my full self to the table, which would result in a richer experience for all.  It doesn’t feel safe to co-create that world today; I feel bound by the seductive pull of the path of approval and conformity over the path of soulful integrity.  Having spent much of my 57 years conforming, thus enduring the stress of unconscious psychic weariness, any deviation feels strangely and dangerously revolutionary.

The Ware Lecture

Brittany Packnett was powerhouse of a speaker and anything I write about her inspiring message will be profoundly deficient.  All are encouraged to view and study her lecture available on the 2018 UUA GA channel on YouTube linked above.

Here are some snippets from her talk (punctuation is mine; I do not have access to her written speech, and quotes are not in any particular order.)  These messages most touched my soul and made me contemplate my own complicity in tolerating our culture of white supremacy:

  • “The more you benefit from supremacy the more you have to be responsible to dismantle it.”
  • Packnett identified white moderates as the more dangerous group for upholding a white supremacy culture. They benefit without having to practice outright racism or risking anything to stop it.  “Moderation isn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican.  It’s about wanting to keep what you have even if you didn’t really earn it.”
  • “I am not here to tell you that you do not have to be an active white supremacist to benefit from white supremacy any more than you have to be a misogynist to still benefit from the patriarchy or be a homophobe to still benefit from straight privilege.”
  • “Have you listened to black and brown UUers expectations for exactly how to show up? Do you know how they want you to fight this thing called white supremacy?  Do you know that they expect to be able to show up as their full selves?  Do you even know that they weren’t?”
  • “Do you love People of Color or do you tolerate us as long as we aren’t too disruptive to your agenda? … Ask yourself: Did I just uphold white supremacy or did I do my part in its destruction?”
  • “I’m not calling you out; I’m calling you in… to the divine Love and Power.”


In summary, I felt GA was a very well-organized conference, with superb speakers, many interesting and thought-provoking workshops, and ample opportunity for networking and socializing.  For me, the Ware Lecture was the highlight of the week.  I was disappointed that USG did not have its full complement of delegates.  Our congregation is one of the more diverse, large congregations in the country and I would like our voice to be heard and counted.

Additional note

Book recommendations from Mandisa Thomas’ “Humanist of the Year” award program: