Call and Response: Journeys in UU Lifespan Faith Development

Ready to Learn from New Orleans

By Gail Forsyth-Vail

Our first task in approaching another people,
another culture, another religion
is to take off our shoes,

for the place we are approaching is holy.
Else we find ourselves treading on [another's dream].
More serious still, we may forget that God was there before our arrival.

 Max Warren

What does New Orleans have to teach Unitarian Universalists? As congregational representatives, UU activists, and religious professionals coming to New Orleans for the 2017 General Assembly, in a time of national upheaval, we must bring that question to mind.

A red trolly against a yellow background, GA 2017 New Orleans

New Orleans and its people have been on the front lines confronting climate change, systemic racism, and economic inequity yet maintain a culture of hospitality, celebration, and joyful resistance. The place we are approaching is holy, and we must approach with humility.After our General Assembly, we hope to carry homewhat we learn and experiencethere, to help us form strong partnerships to resist and rejoice in the face of our own, local challenges.

Delegates will conduct the business of our association, elect a new UUA president, and join in worship, learning, and witnessing with all attendees. How can we center the experiences of those who have been most affected by social injustice, climate change, economic inequity, and systemic racism? How can we learn what New Orleans has to teach?

How to start:

  1. Come to New Orleans prepared, body, mind, and spirit, for a life-changing experience. Explore videos, readings, and activities that will give you a short introduction, not only to the city, but also to how race, class, and gender intersect. Explore key resources about white privilege and about the spiritual practice of centering the experiences of people of color. Discuss what you're learning with people you trust. Bringing kids? Here’s a list of children’s books about New Orleans. Attending virtually? Readings and videos will help you prepare.
    When you get to New Orleans, tell us how you prepared and earn a ribbon to wear on your badge.
  2. Come to General Assembly prepared to upend your usual ways of doing things. At this moment, Unitarian Universalists need new skills and new ways of gathering. Among other techniques, this GA will offer both mixing opportunities (for everybody) and huddling opportunities (for specific groups). We have a long practice of setting aside “huddling” space for youth and young adults, as well as spaces (such as the Synergy Bridging service) where people of all generations mix. This year, there will be “huddling” workshops for people of color, a track sponsored by DRUUMM (Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries). These workshops will allow UUs of color to connect, to heal, and to learn together with other people of color. If you are a white person, understand that you will not be welcome at DRUUMM workshops, which are people of color spaces. There will be many other mixing workshops, including chances to talk about racial justice issues with people of all races. There will also be some workshops about white privilege, intended for white people, including those offered by Fahs lecturer and noted scholar Robin DiAngelo.
  3. Come to New Orleans General Assembly early and deepen your experience. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the General Assembly Planning Committee (GAPC), and the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR) are partnering to provide a unique, custom pre-GA racial justice workshop on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 20 and 21, to be led by The People’s Institute, a New Orleans-based, national, multiracial, anti-racist network dedicated to ending racism and other forms of institutional oppression. Find details and register online.

We’d love to know how you prepare for this General Assembly and, afterward, how preparation affected your experience. Look for requests for your feedback following General Assembly.

Next Steps!

If you are coming to New Orleans for General Assembly 2017 (June 21-25), don’t forget to register. Rates increase May 1. If you cannot attend in person, consider joining GA virtually from home or wherever you happen to be.

Before attending GA, either in person or virtually, explore and share GA preparation resources. If you will be there in person, consider coming early for the pre-GA racial justice training.

About the Author

Gail Forsyth-Vail

Gail Forsyth-Vail, a credentialed religious educator, master level, is the author or developmental editor of several UU history curricula and resources. Before retiring, she served as interim director of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Lifespan Faith Engagement Office.


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