A new way to do GA

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with General Assembly since I became a UU and started attending it.  I enjoy being around other UU’s and the opportunity to learn more about how to grow and revitalize my congregation.  I enjoy the opportunity for professional development offered by both Ministry Days before GA  and GA itself as well as the perspective gained by time spent with colleagues sharing and reflecting on our experiences.

I’ve been relieved to learn over the last few years that I’m not the only one who thinks plenaries are hard to endure and seem broken.  I wonder why (and I missed something obvious here so bear with me) that in a democratic movement only those rich enough with the luxury of being able to take a week of vacation could come be here, to vote on things? Why couldn’t all members of congregations vote at their congregations and results be sent in to be counted?

I attended a workshop yesterday presented by the Fifth Principle Task Force called The Status Quo is  Not an Option.  I was surprised to learn I knew two members of the Task Force -Esther Rosado, DRE of my friend Hank Peirce’s church in Medford, MA and Joe Sullivan, immediate past president of my own Southwest District.  An immediate learning/remembering was that all members of congregations don’t vote because we are an association of congregations so our delegates carry our congregation’s vote(s).  This raises the question – then why not have each congregation have one vote?  Why do bigger congregations get more say? AND why do ministers get to vote if we are an association of congregations? It seems to me we still have some fundamental democracy work to do, but I think a real, honest conversation has started about this.

The Fifth Principle Task Force’s charge:

Present two or more recommendations on the future configuration and content of General Assembly (GA). Areas to be examined include but are not limited to:

  1. off-site participation in GA, including voting
  2. reconfiguration of GA content to include current pre-GA functions, including leadership development and continuing education for laypersons and religious professionals
  3. GA frequency
  4. GA. duration

The task force’s deadlines:
interim report due April 09
final report due April 10

Task force had four tele-conferences and four in-person meetings. They
had interviews and feedback from the UUMA Exec, District presidents Association, District Staff, CSW, GA planning committee, Commission on Appraisal, UUA Board, Workshops at six district assemblies. It came out during discussion that the Task Force still has staekholders to talk to such as LREDA and others.

The task force had interiviews with other denominations including the UUC and Episcopalians.

Values that inform the Task Force’s work:
Economic accessibility and sustainability
Are delegates empowered and truly authorized?
Excellence in governance and shared ministry and leadership.

The task force is seeking a Governance Driven conference with high-powered team based learning that achieves accountability and transparency thorugh structed conversations among delegate teams and and the UUA Board of Trustees.  It is seeking a GA that hears questions and discuss assessment reports from the President on the execution and results of strategic plans. It is seeking a GA that offers  responsive resolutions in energized, focused plenary sessions and that elects association offices (off site voting technology will be used by duly authorized delegates who cannot attend).

It will be a UUA National Biennial Conference – GA will move to an every other year event.

GA will feed spirit with daily worship, feed imaginations with keynote addresses, feed bodies in fellowship with communal meals and
provide childcare so delegates with children can attend and take part. Change timing to August closer to church year start is being discussed, but that was met with arguments such as being to close to the start of  college and school year to lose youth participation, so maybe late July.

Whose meeting is this (GA)?

GA will be designed for delegate teams from congregations to meet with the UUA Board of Trustees to engage in effective governance of the association.  There will be no delegates from UUWF UUSC UU UUNO and no delegates from the UUA Board.

The national conference would be delegate teams – core teams of seven
seating in plenary arranged geographically, neighboring congregations seated together within districts and regions. Intentional space on floor for reams to meet and work together.
General Assembly would no longer be a financial burden. The UUA would fund all delegates  democratically chosen by the congregations, although the number of delegates would be drastically reduced.

1.8 – 2 million dollars would be spent by the UUA.  There would be no registration fee for all delegates from Fair Share congregations and regional delegates (these delegates sounded like Super Delegates at political party convention).  Non delegate observers could pay their own way to attend.  Settled ministers would also be invited. Questions were raised about credentialed religious educators and musicians.

Delegate Selection would work this way:

Congregagations of 1-250 members =  1 delegate
250-550 members =  2 delegates
5510-1000 members = 3 delegates
1000+ members = 4 delegates

Settled ministers  1 per congregations = 600 more delegates

The Schedule looks like this:
Two full days, come in the night before with dinner and celebration.  Right now the proposal is for a Thursday night  to Sunday morning.

Thursday:

Registration
Dinner

Friday:

Team-based governance training
Conversations with trustees on issues
Ware Lecture

Saturday:

UUA Administrative Reports
Resolutions
Elections
Banquet
Service of the Living Tradition
Sunday:

Closing Worship

In even numbered years, years without GA, – various options exist for getting together, a big tent meeting, thematically aligned regional gatherings , a UU NAtional Week of Service, a year off, etc.

I was excited by this.  After the presentation, the Task Force took a look at FAAQ – frequently asked anxious questions (I love it) – including, “You’re taking away my GA!”  “What about the Vendors and bookstore?”,  and others, all of which I think they handled well.  The big question is – why are we here. At GA, like in our congregations, it should be about good governance and sharing spiritual grounding time together, not talking around and around a secular politcal issue until we’re red in the face.  I’m all for the streamlining.  Heck, I’m sitting here trying to drag myself off to Sunday morning worship with a bad case of GA fatigue, having been here for a week of Ministry Days and GA and having sat through more down time during plenaries than I care to recount.  There has to be a better way. The status quo is not an option.  Kudos to the Fifth Principle Task Force.

Fifth Principle Task Force preliminary report (not exactly what they presented at GA – this is a prior version, but most of what is here is the same as what they presented at GA).

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5 thoughts on “A new way to do GA

  1. Tony, I can’t imagine why any large congregation would agree to have their proportional representation reduced so drastically. My previous settlement would have its representation relative to a tiny congregation reduced from 15:1 to 4:1. Honestly, large congregations are already constantly in danger of seeing themselves as self-sufficient and not needing the larger movement for anything… I don’t think that exacerbating this does our movement any good.

  2. I too attended the workshop. I left thinking here is another bylaw amendment that will go down to defeat with recriminations about how delegates are not paying attention or not democratic enough, when the real problem is the proposers are NOT laying a groundwork to gain acceptance.

    Denny’s use of FAAQ was a case in point. Not all questions are anxious questions and putting that up on the screen smaked of elitism. Further, directing that any questions or comments had to refer to one of these FAAQs left the task force with a self-reinforcing view that will get burst when this is brought to a vote. They had an opportunity to get real questions and feedback from the delegates and chose instead to steer the conversation. That is fine, but when you need two thirds of the delegates as allies maybe a better strategy is to listen to what people say.

    I for one think that this discussion is premature, given the UUA has yet to implement policy governance or reduce the size of the Board. Perhaps we should see how those changes are working before we alter GA? This set of proposals will be easilly defeated because it goes too far without a whole lot of real explanation. There are real issues to me in asserting we will be more democratic if we accept a proposal from an unelected task force that proposes to reduce participation substantially, especially lay, and increse the voting power of clergy and DREs. But the workshop was set-up so you could not even offer that observation.

  3. The task force should review the movie: A Bridge To Far. The fact is that GA has evolved to what it is in response to the wishes of those attending-the delgates. Suggesting that a top-down change from UUA will change how congregations govern themselves is not only unsound, it violates the very essence of our polity. Fundementally, how a congregation governs itself is not the UUAs business. How the UUA does its business is a matter of concern to congregations.

    The UUA Board of Trustees elected at district level. Yet we all know that some districts are much larger numerically than others. Is that democratic? No. Are uncontested elections for every UUA-level position except president democratic? No. Is having a system where Trustees can endorse a candidate for President ethical? I leave that to each individual to decide. Bottom line, there are plenty of governance isues that the BoT could help fix that are far more important than whether GA is representative. You know, most delegates may be self-selecting, but so are most leaders in our congregations, districts, and UUA committees. Its in the nature of church life. If you want to propose a change to GA, you first need to make a real case that its broken. I submit that it isnt, except to small number of of folks. I watched the votes on our Bylaws and Statement of Conscience to represent our democratic process at its best in representing the actual will of members across our congregations, not a corrupt system in need of radical change. If we want to go to every other year, just propose that. therwise, I dont think there is a need for a radical leap into this theory of governance.

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