There are a number of changes in the Portland General Assembly schedule that people may be interested in.
First, we’re creating space in the schedule on each day for a highly interactive process called Open Space Technology, designed to gather input to help steer our Association in the future.
To make room for this process, we are cutting back on the hours of plenary, reducing the number of reports, and we will have 12 regular workshop time blocks, with a reduction from last year in the number of workshops led by Independent Affiliates, Associate organizations, and staff.
To allow people time to travel home for work on Monday, we are ending the GA at 6 PM Sunday, with Closing Worship from 4-6.
Sunday’s schedule reflects the most changes. Here’s the way the grid looks:
7-7:30 AM: Morning Spiritual Practices
8-8:25 AM: Hymn Sing (led by GA choir members)
8:30-11 AM: Plenary 7 (including SOC, AIW’s)
11:30-12:45: Program slot 12
1:00-1:30 PM: GA Choir Concert
1:30-3:30 PM: Plenary 8 (including votes emerging from the Open Space process and the Moderator’s Report)
4-6 PM: Closing Worship, with sermon by the Rev. Josh Pawalek and music by the choir of First UU Church Portland. This worship service will welcome public attendance. The exhibit hall will also be open to the public on Sunday.
These changes were worked out by collaboration of the Planning Committee, Moderator, President, and Youth and UUA Board reps. It’s an experiment–we’ll see how it works, but we’re excited about the possibilities.
GA Planning Committee
I didn’t want to comment when it was only a rumor, but this confirmation leads to a few thoughts.
1. It’s a new day in information management. Blogs are breaking more and more stories and this is problematic when change is in the air. Almost everyone’s first response to change is resistance. So the Planning Committee needs to learn to be proactive and control the “frame” within which the story gets out. That’s why, when the UU blogosphere lit up with speculation, I sent a quiet email to the Planning Committee. Better to have the truth than only rumor; better to know why decisions were made (and who made them) than to tear apart “terrible ideas” out of context. The UUA should have someone whose job it is to monitor UU blogs. If they don’t, they’ll be spending a lot of time cleaning up messes.
2. I have to agree with Jess that moving closing worship later in the day does nothing for the folks who need to get back to work by Monday morning. Especially with G.A. in Portland this year, many delegates will face cross-continental travel to get home. They may have been able to wait until noon to begin their travels, but they surely cannot wait until 6 p.m. I feel sad that we will miss the opportunity to worship with them.
3. I am excited to learn that G.A. will make use of Open Space Technology. I’ve had great experiences with it at our District’s Russell Lockwood Leadership School and in my congregation. I think it is a great match for Unitarian Universalism’s commitment to democracy. Open Space is a great tool that I’ve seen infuse a gathering with energy, brilliant ideas, and a new passion for participation. I’m willing to make sacrifices for this to happen.
4. The last thing I’d sacrifice is Sunday morning worship. (I have to admit that part of me is thinking ahead, since GA 2009 will be here in Salt Lake City.) I think we need to take to heart a lesson that many of our congregations have learned: Sunday morning is the best time for worship. It’s not the only time, but if we view our Services as something more than just a “pep rally” for those who are already UU, we need to have our services at a time when people are looking for them. I love the idea of inviting the larger community to come to our service and experience the central act of our religious community. I am hopeful that we still intend to offer this invitation. But we’ve probably made it harder to accept. It’s hard enough going to something new. Now we’ve added another level of unfamiliarity. And since it’s the very last thing, our visitors will have no other opportunity to get to know us.
4. I feel bad for the GA choir, which I know is the highlight of GA for a good number of people. Singing a concert just isn’t the same as being part of our corporate worship. I can’t imagine they will get anywhere near as many people attending and I know it won’t feel the same. Being part of the energy and “magic” of good worship is completely different than offering a concert, no matter how beautiful. Ask any of our musicians…
5. I would much rather start the final day of our work together with worship. I think beginning with worship has energized us to do good work, and has enabled us to face hard truths together, right up to our final hours together. I also fear our final worship will be more about saying “good-bye” to the week and each other than focused on our highest ideals and aspirations. Perhaps I’ve been to too many camps and cons, but I do not want our worship together to be all about these “Dear Friends” or blessing us as we go home. I want it to be the challenging, inspirational, and fiery call to action we’ve had the past few years.
6. Fewer reports is a GOOD thing. Fewer workshops may be a good thing. Using Open Space Technology will be a good thing. But Sunday morning worship has been the BEST part of General Assembly for me in the past two years. The power of that experience is what I find myself drawing upon when I need a reminder of the beauty, importance, and relevance of our faith. It matters to me that it’s a room full of thousands of UUs. It matters to me that a group of people who met only five days before manage to become a hundred-voice choir. It matters to me that we “take time” from the business to worship together. I’m afraid that combining the worship and closing ceremony will mean I miss out on these things. Perhaps I would gain more than I know, but I can’t imagine that right now.
Change is hard. I am trying to own my resistance. I am also trying to imagine as many of the consequences of this change as I can, both good and bad. Something in me says this isn’t a good move, but I admit that could just be my discomfort with change. We’ll know once we try it…