I’ve been to First Universalist Church in Providence a few times over the years, but never so long as over General Assembly, when the church hosted morning prayer and vespers, and the usual Sunday service with a special observance of Holy Communion.
Here are a mix of photos, taken after the services in the sanctuary, lounge and dining room, with a focus on interesing tidbits. You know I’m going to make something of that Universalist Comrades (men’s group) emblem.
It had been eight years since I had attended a General Assembly in person, and even though I have been careful to watch streamed video and keep up with GA in social media, I knew there would be someÂ surprises. Or moreÂ accurately, I expected to be surprised by some things.
The one thing I didn’t expect was how much the message boards — standing bulletin boards, divided alphabetically, where people would leave and collect messages — wereÂ diminished. In the pre-mobile-phone age, it is was how individuals and groups connected over the convention; accordingly, it was an important landmark for meetings. Today, not so much. I even heard from a friend how he missed an alumni event because it was only so announced.
But it does still have two important functions. Since it will still be some time before a General Assembly is likely to have good wifi — the costs andÂ technicalÂ demands are still too much for a large convention; can you imagine having to supply connections for 6,000 computers and mobile devices on a GA budget? — the message boards will be useful for people arranging ride shares. (A map of the U.S. or the immediate region would be helpful here, so people could post their requests and offers directly to theÂ destination. One college I attended did this, ages ago.)
And then others have made a social experiment/art project of the boards.
I liked this very much, and there were others I didn’t photograph. Fun.
I’ve noticed some changes in General Assembly since my last one in 2003. Something about it seems a bit more solid, more put together. For one thing, I approve of the schedule, which front-loads the workshop programming — but, alas put the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship communion service on Thursday! That leaves the weekend for the proper, legislative business of the Association. That’s never much interested me — the Assembly rarely bucks what’s proposed to it — but thus leaves time to conduct the over-lunch and hallway business that makes GA so valuable.
People, too, seem a bit more put together, reflecting perhaps a calm (or resignation) that, while not healthy over time, makes a nice institutional change. There seems to be less to fight for or fight over, in both the positive and negative senses of the word. Or perhaps it may be things as simple as less paper given (thus less to clutter arms) or even the tightened up honor ribbon desgined, that once made delegates look a bit like generals in a very strange banana-republic army.
I’ve been thinking about how to reduce my plastic use, if for no other reason than it doesn’t biodegrade in a lifetime. (Crumbling isn’t the same.)
Because the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly is coming up, I have to wonder again about the Banner Parade — a major feature of the opening plenary session — and the poles made of PVC pipe that banner carriers use in the parade.
Because they’re cheap but unwieldy, I’ve been guilty of bringing a pole set and discarding it almost immediately, which is a waste. But PVC isn’t a great product, and besides the pole sets dip and yaw unless they’re glued (like plumbing) ahead of time.
I wrote about it two years ago, but have neither the need to come up with a solution — but thanks to Dan Harper for chiming in — or the engineering chops to makes something, I let it go. Does anyone have an idea now, if not for this GA then next? (And do I recall a suggestion that the banner parade might go “virtual”? Not a good idea, methinks.)
As for the banners themselves, I have an opinion there, too. Mainly that the best ones are graphic and easy to read from a distance. Past, but still useful, posts here and here.