Tips for Your First General Assembly – 2014 Edition

The following list of tips for attending your first General Assembly conference of the Unitarian Universalist Association was  made collaboratively by the UU Growth Lab. It was first published in 2011 and has since been updated annually.    The UUA’s 2014 General Assembly takes place this June in Providence, RI.

Before you go:

  • Plan your GA life assuming you will not be able to access wi-fi in the convention center.  Internet access is always and issue. Bring critical information and contact numbers with you. If access is good, enjoy! Otherwise, be prepared.
    GA Planning Committee member say there will be multiple free wi-fi locations in the convention center.  I’ve yet to attend a GA without internet access issues…
  • Order a Standing on the Side of Love yellow shirt if you want to join the crowds who will wear these shirts during our Public Witness event on Saturday night.  Order via UUA Bookstore here.
  • Convention centers, especially the main halls, are usually freezing! Bring a layer you can easily take on and off so you’re okay going from outside to hallways to the general session/plenary ice box…
  • Hydrate! Bring a water bottle. If you’re flying, bring an empty one to fill at a water fountain after you go through security.  You can also buy a reusable bottle in the Exhibit Hall.
  • If you’re representing your congregation and they have a budget, you might be able to get some good discounts on curricula, books, and marketing materials (banners, postcards, etc.) but remember you’ll have to have a way to get them back.
  • If you are a delegate, READ the stuff before you come.  You are deciding our future. Available here.
  • Bring business or personal cards so that you can give your information to others.
  • Be sure that someone from your congregation is bringing the banner.
  • Download & review the Program Guide ahead of time.
  • Plan out what workshops you want to go to, but don’t be wedded to the idea.  Pick a few you certainly want to go to, but be open because you’ll change your mind at least once while there.
  • Pick a 2nd workshop for each time slot. You may find that when you arrive at your first choice it’s not what you expected and it will be good to know exactly where to go to find your 2nd choice. (Also, at some GAs, the rooms were too small and you could find yourself unable to attend your 1st choice because it was full.)
  • Pack comfy shoes.
  • Bring a bag you can carry comfortably for days, like a backpack.
  • If you’re asked to carry your congregations banner, figure out how the poles/carrying PVC pipes go together before hand.  I still think my congregation was hazing me last year…
  • Last year I had a binder where on the back cover I had a map of the area in the plastic cover thing, the front with my delegate card and other really important info, and inside my travel info, the program book, the business resolutions, etc.  It really helped me stay organized throughout.  Put in paper to take notes on, bring pens, etc.  I had that with me in my laptop bag and it was great.
  • Talk to people in your congregation to find out about resources you can scout out and bring home and questions they might have, especially if your congregation has a very limited budget and will be under-represented by delegates. It is even nicer when you reach out to area congregations if your cluster is composed of smaller, less financially able congregations, and see how you can help.
  • If you can’t walk more than a mile easily, you will want to rent a scooter through GA Accessibility Services. If you often use hearing assistive devices in crowded settings, you will want to use GA Accessibility Services. Better to reserve equipment you turn out not to need than arrive & be blocked from participating because no extra equipment is available. GA Accessibility Services.
  • Download the official UUA GA 2014 Mobile App:
    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id874590675
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=me.doubledutch.uuaga
  • Don’t wait to download the app until GA, do it now and play with it so you’re oriented to this tool and ready to go come General Assembly.
  • If you have special dietary requirements, scout out the food vendors before departure and plan well ahead. Make reservations at places that will accept them. Pack extra food if you have really specific needs. It isn’t uncommon to have to wait at GA area restaurants for a long time, or to have relatively few places that can accommodate vegans, folk who need to eat gluten-free, or even offer acceptable fast alternatives for diabetics.
  • Plan a check-in breakfast/lunch/dinner with some people you know at some point.  Even if you’re the independent/introverted type, GA is really kinda overwhelming in the sheer mass of people and having a drink with some familiar faces can be really nice.
  • If you are the only one you know going to GA, start making friends with people in the UU Growth Lab at GA Facebook group and via the GA app.
  • If you really want to hang out with your former minister that you haven’t seen in ten years, email them now and ask them to breakfast.  They will either say “yes” or “I’d love to talk to you for a minute at some point, but my schedule is totally booked.”  If you wait until GA to ask, the answer will almost certainly be the second one.  Ministers are really busy during GA.  I’ve found that breakfast is the meal they are most likely to be free.
  • Prepare your elevator speech about what Unitarian Universalism is and why you are one. Folks ask questions; be prepared to answer.

UUA General Assembly 2014 in Providence, RI

While you’re there:

  • Now that you’ve arrived, remember to HYDRATE!  And take time to eat and pace yourself.  GA is a marathon.
  • You don’t have to go to everything.  And that’s ok.  I ended up skipping things last year, including the Ware Lecture, because I needed a breather.  And dinner.  Besides it will be online.
  • You do still need to eat.  You’ll need to schedule that in.
  • Attend the orientations, from GA for First Timers to your regional/district ones.  They help.
  • If you’re on a budget, check out the map for what part of the Exhibit Hall you need to avoid
  • Avoid picking up paper – use digital notes whenever possible (they’re tending toward less paper now any way)
  • Say “hi” to people & don’t be shy to tell them that you’re a first timer.
  • Whatever you do, go to the Service of the Living Tradition on Friday night (updated)  & the Sunday morning service.
  • Having a meal with other UUs from across the country can sometimes be more valuable than going to a workshop
  • I was told this by my congregation and it really made a difference for me.  During a general session (previously called plenary) , if you aren’t sure what you’re about to vote on, don’t hesitate to ask for a point of clarification from the procedure microphone.  Because if you don’t know what you’re voting on, at least 100 other people there don’t know either.
  • There’s this GA tradition that I don’t fully get – getting as many possible ribbons from booths to hang from the bottom of your nametags.  When you check in, at least last year, you even got some “coupons” to take to certain booths to get certain ribbons.  I just followed the crowd on that one.
  • Wear comfy shoes.
  • GA volunteers are often wearing specific shirts or pinnies that identify them easily. They’re there to help you. GA is really possible because of the kindness and support our volunteers give.
  • If you are in need of emotional or spiritual assistance, if you experience any kind of harassment, grab any shirted GA volunteer and ask them to help you be connected with either the Right Relations Team or the chaplains.
  • You are an ambassador of our faith. Many people in and around the convention center and downtown area will be meeting their first Unitarian Universalists. This is another chance to make a good impression, invite folks to check us out, and show what great community members we can be. Pick up trash. Be kind. Be generous. You are not a tourist. You are not a business conventioneer. You are an ambassador of and for our faith

Joining the GA Choir

  • If you love to sing, GA Choir is your cup of tea. Rarely do we belong to congregations that can boast so many great voices or musicians.
  • You need to register to sing in the choir. Plan to be there for registration as soon as possible, every year it is different but it does fill up. This year (2014) it says “GA Choir registration will be held Tuesday 2:00pm– 6:00 pm and Wednesday 12:00 pm – 2:45pm at the kiosk in the West Prefunction lobby on the fifth floor of the Rhode Island Convention Center. Singers may register and pick up their music (for a $10 music fee). There will be a waiting list kept at the first rehearsal for spaces that may open subsequently.” Note all the rehearsals in the schedule. You may miss something else you’d like to do. You can’t do it all. Choir is a commitment, but worth it. I’ve heard the same about being a volunteer.

Facebook UU Lab Directory as of 11/11/11

UU Growth Lab on FacebookThe following is a directory of topic focused UU labs on Facebook.  After I launched the UU Growth Lab in February 2011, lab members immediately started launching “spin-off” labs in an organic fashion.   For those not familiar with the UU Growth Lab, I like to think of it as a virtual lounge where UU leaders can discuss issues related to the healthy, growth and future of Unitarian Universalism 24/7.  The other labs are similar, just with focused topics.

Thanks to all who have worked to create, nurture and growth the various lab communities on Facebook!

Here are the labs listed in launch order.

Growth, Front Doors and Foyers in the Digital Age

In this post, a call to action for congregations wanting to grow but not fully realizing that their front door and first greeting space has moved online.

Plus information on related UU Labs on Facebook. And yes, I know this is a hard transition.  But it is necessary.  If you’re stuck, ask for help and get movin’ before you lose another potential member and they suffer as a result.  😉

It is November 2011, almost 2012!  Do you know where the front door to your congregation is?   Many don’t…

For years your front door was the street-side door to your physical sanctuary with small groups and other connecting experiences serving as side doors.  Today the  front door is your congregation’s website.  Nearly 100% of people visiting a church visit the website first, conduct research, engage with your social media, and “pre-qualify” themselves for membership before they attend. People arrive having had multiple virtual visits to your congregation.

Think of it this way…

You have a virtual front door, your website, connecting to an online foyer, your social media and our larger Unitarian Universalist online space.  People enter your front door and from there connect to information, social media and other related Unitarian Universalist resources and online communities.  After a time in this environment,  if people like what they see and if you engage with them, they will move to through to your physical entry way. Again, nearly everyone travels through your online front door first, that makes it your primary front door.

We need to care for our virtual front door and foyer with as much care as the rest of our congregations.  How does it look? How does it feel?  Do you have greeters in the foyer?  Remember, nearly 100% of visitors start there.

Websites and PR are not PR for your ministry, they are the front line of your ministry and education with newcomers.  Much of the process of educating people and their preparing to join is now happening in these virtual spaces.  All that work you’ve been doing with greeting and hospitality?  It has to start online.  Yes, thanks to technology, the first half of your welcoming and membership process has moved online.

Where does that leave us?  Your website is your most important publication, communication tool and, with associated social media, a critical part of your ministry if you want to grow.  Don’t undermine your ministry with an outdated website and reluctance to use the communication and relational  tools of our time.

Finding Help

I’m now guest preaching on “Friendship in the Digital Age”, a service designed to help people see this shift, and offer related trainings, coaching and consultations.  Contact me to discuss where you are and how I may be of assistance.

I also highly recommend that the people responsible for various aspects of your online ministry (website, social media, minister’s blog, etc…) connect with related UU labs on Facebook. See below.

UU Website and Social Media Labs

For those of you working with congregational websites and/or social media, two related labs on Facebook have spun-off from the UU Growth Lab, the brand new UU Website Lab and the UU Social Media Lab.  Both offer community, resources and inspiration  —  I highly recommend them.  More information below.

UU Website Lab
http://www.facebook.com/groups/uuwebsitelab/
UU community lab for web administrators, designers and developers, communications enthusiasts and anyone else working specifically on congregation or UU community sites (note that there’s a separate lab for those who doing social media stuff online). Join us for site reviews, tips and tools, and (the ever compelling) much, much, more!  (As of 11/8/11)

UU Social Media Lab
http://www.facebook.com/groups/uusocialmedialab/
UU Social Media Lab is a place to post social/new media projects, share ideas, and collaborate on ways Unitarian Universalists can develop and use social/new media in justice, service, education, and other practices of our institutional and individual religious lives. (As of 11/8/11)