I go to a lot of conferences — maybe half a dozen a year — as part of my job. There are a couple of things about GA that are absolutely unique.
The first is the sheer openness of people. You can just plop down anywhere — in the sessions, in the halls, in the restaurants, elevators, bathrooms (which can be disconcerting, yes) — and people will just start talking. And the first question is usually: Where are you from?
Which brings us to the second part, which is the playing of a game I think of as “UU Geography.” It’s always striking how many of these conversations end up very quickly locating people and places you and your new acquaintance have in common. A couple of examples:
At the first night’s opening worship, my friend and I (the only two delegates from our church, and perhaps the only two from Canada) found ourselves sitting directly behind folks from First UU in Dallas — where our recently-called minister interned just three years ago. Of course they knew him — and gave us a note to take home to him.
Last night, I hopped into the hot tub at the Marriott, and struck up a conversation with a guy who was already there. He’s from New Jersey. I’m (originally) from a tiny town in eastern California that’s so remote that most of the rest of the state (including the state government) doesn’t even know we exist. So I was pretty surprised to learn that not only did he know where it was — he’d been there just last week.
Life at GA can be seen as sort of skittering through the day like this, discovering the vast universe of connections that bind together all these strangers. Which means we’re not really strangers. Which is why it feels like home.