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General Assembly 2014 Public Witness FAQ

Read answers to these frequently asked questions about the forthcoming public witness event at General Assembly 2014.

What will the General Assembly public witness event be this year?
This year the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) will bring our values of compassionate love and justice into the public sphere through our sponsorship and participation in a local Providence festival called WaterFire.

What is WaterFire?
WaterFire is a non-profit riverfront community arts festival that takes place many times over the course of the summer and fall. Its mission is to foster community engagement and creatively transform the city. The festival includes music, art, ritual, and the signature feature of lighting braziers of wood on the river. It is a celebration of community, the arts, and the natural world.

Learn more by watching a highlight video from last year, checking out beautiful photo albums from the festival, or visiting WaterFire’s home page.

What is our message? How are we trying to effect change?
As a sponsor for WaterFire the evening of June 28, the UUA gets to impact the activities and theme of WaterFire that evening, and we will imbue the festival with our General Assembly theme of “love reaches out.” Our message is that love—for each other, for the earth, and for human dignity—is the foundation of working for social justice and a better world. Through this public witness event we are striving to create an experience of love in the public square that inspires the tens of thousands of people present to take action for love and justice in their own lives—creating ripple effects far beyond a single evening.   

How is “love” a justice issue?
Love is far bigger than a single justice issue; it is the overarching framework for all of the justice work we do as Unitarian Universalists. As Dr. Cornel West says, “justice is what love looks like in public.” Our Standing on the Side of Love campaign, which celebrates its fifth anniversary at General Assembly 2014, is a testament to the power of love to unite us and to inform our justice work. 

Whatever calls our hearts—our historical role of prophetic witness, our conscience, the voices of the oppressed, or our own survival—love is the common element calling our faith community to take action. When we are grounded in love, that is when our justice work is truly faith-filled and transformative. 

How is this a public witness event? It seems so different from past public witness events.
It might seem different, but all of our General Assembly public witness events are grounded in love: in the past we have stood on the side of love with communities disproportionately impacted by mountaintop removal (2013), with people whose human rights are being violated through the United States’ unjust immigration laws (2012), and with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their right to live lives of dignity (2011).

This year we are witnessing for love itself as a force that transforms our world and creates Beloved Community. Love calls us to organize. Love calls us to act in solidarity with the oppressed. Love crosses borders. Love calls us to be faithful and compassionate in the face of challenge and opposition.

This public witness event will also give us a unique way to share the “good news” of Unitarian Universalism and give voice to our religion as one that believes in love and justice.

What will we be doing?
We will process to the WaterFire riverfront together from a “Make Way for Love” worship service in the Convention Center, wearing our “Love” shirts. When we arrive at the riverfront we will experience the lighting of the fires on the river, and then we will join the Providence community and have opportunities to “spread the love” through our interactions with each other, our experience of this spiritual festival, and our participation in activities along the riverfront.

These opportunities will include:

  • a “community sing” where we can sing along with familiar songs about love
  • reflection sites where we can light candles for love
  • a Standing on the Side of Love tent that will showcase photos of Unitarian Universalists acting in love
  • a stage where performances will feature love, justice, and spirituality
  • an invitation to play “love bingo,” which will offer ideas for engagement with love throughout the evening

How can I prepare for this event?
Consider and discuss with others what "love reaching out" looks like for you. How do you stand on the side of love? In what ways does your heart call you to be an agent of change in the world?

Also reflect on what you might say if someone asks you what all these "love shirts" mean, or what Unitarian Universalism is. What does it mean to you to be a UU, and how does it relate to love?

And of course, prepare to wear your Standing on the Side of Love gear--you can buy gear from the UUA Bookstore or make it yourself!

Where can I find out more at General Assembly?
There will be a number of opportunities to learn more and prepare for this exciting public witness event at General Assembly. Here are a few:

  • “Let’s Talk” session Thursday, 5:30pm: Meet other GA attendees and participate in conversations about what stirs our hearts as UUs, how our faith sustains us, and what “reaching out in love” means to us.
  • Workshop: “What’s Love Got to Do with It?: SSL@5!” Friday, 5:00pm.
  • Workshop: “Good News: Sharing Your UU Faith through Storytelling,” Saturday, 12:30pm.
  • “GA Talk: Living Our Witness @ WaterFire” during General Session IV, Saturday, approx. 4:10pm.
  • UUA Expressway: More information about the public witness event will be available at the UUA Expressway directly outside the Exhibit Hall.

Have we been invited or are we crashing a local party?
We have been invited to sponsor this festival by the community nonprofit that runs WaterFire and by our local area Unitarian Universalist leaders. The Ballou Channing District generously contributed a portion of the funds for our sponsorship. 

What accessibility issues should I be aware of?

  • Wheelchair accessibility: The riverfront is wheelchair-accessible in many areas but not everywhere. Information will be available at the General Assembly accessibility table about what the best paths are for you if you use a wheelchair or scooter. Wheelchair and scooter users will be invited to lead our procession from the Convention Center to the riverfront, and the entrance to the festival grounds is fully accessible. In addition, WaterFire offers a special “water-taxi service” for adults and children with disabilities.
  • Air quality: Depending on the direction of the wind, please be advised that if you have breathing difficulties, you may want to keep your distance from the edge of the river, as the wood-burning braziers on the water can sometimes produce smoke. People with minor to moderate asthma should not experience a problem, but people with severe asthma or other breathing difficulties will want to exercise caution.
  • Visibility: This festival occurs outside during the evening, and the lighting is dim. If you have visual limitations you may want to partner up with a friend for the experience.
  • Crowded spaces: If being in crowded spaces is difficult for you, please be advised that the riverfront can become quite crowded depending on how nice the night is and how many people turn out from the community. Feel free to make use of both sides of the river. The park at the far end of the festival route is generally quieter and less crowded.

Can I volunteer for a special role?
Yes! This public witness event will depend on many volunteers to fill a variety of roles. We are seeking people of all ages, identities, and geographies to be involved the night of. Please fill out our volunteer interest form to express your interest! 

How can I participate if I’m not attending General Assembly?
If you live locally, you are warmly invited to attend WaterFire and join in our celebration of love! You do not need to be registered for General Assembly in order to attend this public witness event. In addition, the worship service at the Convention Center directly preceding WaterFire will be open to all, as is the Sunday morning worship service. 

If you do not live locally, you are warmly invited to set time aside and light your own fire for love. Reflect on what “love reaching out” looks like for you, and what it means to you to be one of the “love people.” Consider what it means to you to be a Unitarian Universalist, and how your UU identity relates to love. Take action for love in some way—small or large—that resonates with how you are called to be an agent of love in the world.

For more information contact

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, May 30, 2014.

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