Opening worship

9:55 p.m. MDT

After a powerful homily by Angela Herrara, Ysaye Maria Barnwell is bringing to yet a deeper level of contemplation us with her song “We Are.” A few people are singing along quietly, but most of the people around me are simply moving to the music, letting this worship service sink in.

9:37 p.m. MDT

Clifford Duncan, an elder in the Ute nation, just offered a prayer in the Ute language. “In my prayer was my ancestors of yesterday, today, and those that’s yet to come,” he says upon concluding. People behind me are rapt, some leaning forward to hear.

9:24 p.m. MDT

Bill Sinkford is telling how the American Unitarian Association was given charge of the Northern Utes by the Grant administration in 1870. If you’re not watching live video of this, go now and listen to his talk. This is big stuff….

9:14 p.m.

We’re singing a song, and near me a couple of boys, about 7 and 9 years old, are dancing with a woman who might be their mother.

9:11 p.m. MDT

Eric Cherry introduces the “passing of the peace” as something that was done during Bill Sinkford’s trip to Africa, to meet the Unitarian Unviersalist congregations there. And now everyone in the congregation gets up to greet those around them, saying everything from “Peace be with you,” to “Hi, how are you?” to nothing at all. I’m seeing people hug, shake hands, or just talk to each other.

8:55 p.m. MDT

We’re singing the hymn “Spirit of Life” in four different languages: Spanish first, then Hungarian, then Khasi (a language of northeast India). I’m surrounded by people singing a little out of tune, and with a great variety of pronunciations of Spanish, but it’s still a profoundly moving experience.

Now a representative of the Unitarian church in Transylvania is singing “Spirit of Life” in Hungarian — and believe it or not, there are quite a few people singing along. I can hear what seems to be dozens of people singing along. When the representative from the Khasi Hills Unitarians of India sings, not so many people try to sing along.

8:35 p.m.

Lots of people leaving the hall, maybe for a bathroom break. Which is too bad, because Rev. Eric Cherry, director of International Relations at the UUA is introducing Rev. Mark Kiyimba, the leader of the Uganda Unitarian Universalists. Kiyimba is greeted with cheers, whistles, and applause.

Anticipation: Voting and UU University

In my head I’ve been at General Assembly for almost a week. It started last Tuesday when my church’s delegation (from Bedford, MA) had a lunch meeting to scan the GA program. Our first priority was to find a common hole in our schedules that we could fill with a meal or drink together, but the conversation quickly shifted to the same two topics I’ll bet all the other GA-bound folks are talking about: the UUA presidential election and UU University.

This is the first year I’ve been a delegate and I’ve never paid much attention to the plenaries before, so I expect to be fascinated in a process-geek sort of way. (The policy of this blog — which I support — prohibits any electioneering. So even as I cover the process, I intend to leave you guessing about how I’ll vote.)

Our delegation is split, but we had the kind of conversation you’d hope UUs would have. Everyone seemed to appreciate the arguments of both sides, and no one pinned unrealistic hopes on one candidate or suggested that the other’s supporters need therapy. Several of us had changed our minds in the last few months, some more than once. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of us change again before the vote.

For the non-delegate, the big difference in this year’s GA is that UU University is now part of the regular program. In previous years you had to arrive early and spring for another couple nights at a hotel.

I never did, but I’ve talked to people who are very enthusiastic about UUU. Its six tracks are each nine hours long — five on Thursday afternoon and four on Friday morning. Done right, a UUU track has a chance to go deeper and be more transformative than the typical 75-minute GA workshop. I’m told that people came out of previous UUUs wishing that the experience could be made available to everybody who comes to GA. This year it is.

But there’s a price: Nothing is programmed to compete with UUU, so the amount of workshop-hopping you can do is considerably diminished. The 2007 schedule (I misplaced my 2008 program) had 12 event periods. This year’s non-UUU programming is down to seven periods.

If you don’t know much about UUU — none of my fellow Bedfordites seemed to — you feel the loss as soon as you pick up your program. But the gain won’t be apparent until UUU starts on Thursday. In the meantime, we’re all just trying to keep a leash on our characteristic UU skepticism.

So as GA goes on, I’ll have my ears open for hints of the overall mood: Are people missing the 12-period smorgasbord of past GAs? Or are they enjoying the more focused opportunities that UUU offers? Or both?