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:
- 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.
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.