Wednesday’s UU Trivia Question of the day was “What is the GA theme for 2009?” No one was able to guess, but it’s a very important issue, because it marks a permanent change. The answer is “A Meeting of Congregations.” This theme has already appeared in the 2008 GA publicity. Unitarian-Universalists should pay attention to this.
First, we see here the continued re-branding of the Unitarian Universalist Association. In fact, its full name nowadays is the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, and the UUAoC means to fulfill that identity. A whole host of actions have been taken that clarify the mission of the UUAoC as serving congregations and being an organization of congregations, not of individual religious believers, nor of serving as some sort of Vatican or final authority of UUism. For example, the jettisoning of most of the Independent Affiliates was essentially a move to reorient the focus of the UUA onto congregations, rather than being involved in all sorts of non-congregational UU interest groups. Likewise, the defunding of independent young UU organizations was part of consolidating the UUA’s focus onto congregations alone. Put another way: many of the most controversial events in recent UUA history (and more sure to come) are a direct result of this philosophical reconceptualization of what the UUA is and does.
This GA theme is very clear: General Assembly is not a meeting of individual UUs, or some sort of party for UUs, or whatever. It is a meeting of congregations, perhaps rather business-oriented. And there is something even more significant that GA junkies need to be aware of. “A Meeting of Congregations” is the new permanent theme of GA.
That’s right–beginning in 2009 all future General Assemblies of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations will have the same theme: “A Meeting of Congregations.” This was passed as a motion by the General Assembly Planning Committee in their January 2008 session.
Unitarian Universalists need to come to grips with the diminishing role of the UUA. For many years UUs outside of Boston have existed in a love-hate relationship with the UUA. Their natural anti-authority tendencies have caused people to project all sorts of nefarious agendas onto the UUA, which is partly why the UUA is reducing its role as leader of UUism. At the same time, the need for programming, ministers, money, and all sorts of other resources, as well as the wish to be part of a larger movement than one’s local congregation, has caused UUs to look to the UUA for help, legitimation, and leadership.
The UUA is not going to dry up and blow away any time soon. UUism isn’t going to die because GA gets a permanent, congregation-oriented theme. Even cutting off the Independent Affiliates and YRUU and CUUYAN and a whole host of other things that don’t meet the new mandate still won’t be the death of UUism. But the denomination will surely be dramatically affected by the cumulative effect of all these changes. Unitarian Universalists no longer have the luxury of griping about the UUA and demanding that it give them what they want. The UUA is fundamentally here to serve congregations–that is, specific types of corporate bodies of UUs–not individuals or special interests, be they young adults, Christians, Buddhists, or whatever. Therefore, if Unitarian Universalists actually wish for either individuals or such groups to be served in ways that the UUA is no longer willing to do, they need to step up and start thinking about (and fundraising for) ways outside the UUA to get such services provided.
UUism has always been radically decentered, and no central authority has ever had the power or the right to tell them what to think, believe, or how to worship. That includes the UUAoC, and it is now forcing UUs to acknowledge the prices and responsibilities of that freedom. If UUs want a different vision of either the UUA or UUism, they’re going to have to roll up their sleeves and get to work. On the other hand, if this is the direction people want to go in, this should come as a breath of fresh air. All changes are always moments of opportunity, and something new may come from this de facto reboot of how the denomination does its business.