General Assembly Impressions: What is the GA?

LIZ LUMSDEN has often been asked the question, what is the GA? In these reflections, Liz answers this question and reflects on some of the highlights of this year’s General Assembly meetings.

Every Unitarian congregation exists as an independent community, but there is a national umbrella organisation, based in London, called the General Assembly. It has many functions. For example, it is a point of contact when congregations want advice or assistance. It provides a national focus for development and campaigning; and it arranges the annual meetings. All Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists are welcome to attend these meetings, which are known as the GA.

This year, the annual meetings were held at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole; a four star conference hotel in the grounds of the National Exhibition Centre. The programme is a mixture of sessions where Unitarian business is discussed, where participants can voice their views, and where voting takes place on the range of motions submitted, in advance, by the congregations. Sessions can be uplifting, thought-provoking, sometimes fun and sometimes downright tedious, depending on your outlook.

There is a wide range of meetings and workshops over the four days. This year, I chose to attend among other things, the meditation fellowship which was a short introduction to meditation practice. I also attended the Women’s League AGM, followed by a talk by a speaker from the National Deaf Children’s Society which is the Women’s League Project for 2016. Another meeting I attended was the Unitarian Renewal Group that was advertised as ‘A Journey into Unitarianism’. The two speakers explained what had attracted them to Unitarianism and how the movement has shaped up to expectations. I went to the Unitarian Christian Association meeting. It was the book launch of Rev Sue Woolley’s book, ‘Gems for the Journey’. This meeting took place just before lunch and the free wine was an extra delight! The Penal Affairs Panel on the future of privacy also took my interest. The Government seeks more and more information about us. We heard about the threat to our privacy. This was connected to a motion from the Foy Society. The motion was passed. The last workshop that I attended was entitled ‘Simple Gifts, Food, Form and Faith’. We discovered creative ways to bring together people of different faiths and none, to create a rich community, through food, spirituality and the arts; something close to my heart.

For me there were two highlights of these meetings. The first was the opening celebration, organised by the Unitarian Peace Fellowship; hymns, readings, presentation slides, prayer, all came together in a thought-provoking service that made me cry. The second highlight was the Anniversary Service, entitled the ‘Feast of the Heart’. This was more lighthearted service. A mixture of traditional and modern. It included storytelling, dancing for all ages and free sweets, and the re-founded GA choir. Thank you choir! When it all gets too much there is a quiet room, or you can head off to the spa with free pool, gym and sauna.

This year the GA information encouraged us to ‘be inspired, be motivated, be there’. I was there, I was inspired. I was motivated.