Saturday, May 12, 2012

Open Source Church, continued . . .

Back in the summer and early fall I wrote about the concept of "the open source church."  This is a phrase to describe a new model of thinking about and "doing" church that seeks to take the best of the new ways of interrelating that have been developing in this Internet Age and apply them to the venerable institution of The Church.  It's pretty exciting stuff, I think.  Challenging, but exciting.

My own Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations is conducting what I see to be an experiment in this direction during our upcoming General Assembly in Phoenix, Arizona.  General Assembly is our annual business meeting and conclave -- Unitarian Universalists from all over the country, and the world, gather in one place for about a week of meetings, worship, workshops, reunions, and introductions.  A friend of mine likes to call it "the eight-day coffee hour," but I've always really loved going.

But here's the rub.  Those who attend GA are a rather self-selecting group.  There are a core of folks who attend General Assembly year after year after year -- GA Junkies we are called.  Then there are the folks who attend because this year GA is located geographically close to where they live and worship (and they've always wanted to be able to go).  One thing these two groups have in common is that they can afford to go -- the commitment of money and time is considerable.

Which puts the UUAofC into an interesting predicament.  On the one hand, we are committed to democratic principles.  In fact, it's one of the principles enshrined in the UUA's bylaws as one of the seven principles all Unitarian Universalist congregations covenant with one another to affirm and promote:  "The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large."

And yet, at the same time, the venue through which we can use the democratic process at our Associational level is itself only questionably democratic.  Many of our congregations have no representation at all because no one from these communities is able to attend.  And, so, our larger and more affluent congregations -- and the relatively more affluent members of these affluent congregations -- are generally the people who decide the Association's business.

But last year the General Assembly began an experiment, allowing some folks who could not physically attend the event to do so virtually.  Last year, as a couple of thousand of UUs descended on Charlotte, North Carolina, others went to their computer screens in their homes or congregations.  They watched live feeds of all of the plenary meetings; they were able to participate in discussions and debates; and they were able to vote.  Last year the experiment was aimed at shaking out the bugs -- last year's off-site delegates could vote but the votes weren't counted.  This year, though, we're doing it for real.

This year's General Assembly is June 20-24 in Phoenix, Arizona.  It is promised to be a GA like no other in our history, one in which we engage issues of social justice on the ground -- this is the land of SB1070, after all.  If you'd like to attend -- on-site or in-person -- you should probably do that soon.  (Details are at the UUA's website.) 

And if you're one of the folks from the congregation I serve -- Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist in Charlottesville, VA -- and are interested in being a delegate (again, on- or off-site) you can apply for delegate status by contacting the TJMC Board Executive Committee or sending a letter to the Board President  as soon as possible!

And if you're interested in learning more about being an off-site delegate, click here.  Plans are underway to have a location  at  TJMC for off-site delegates to view the proceedings, along with technical support.  Contact Bev Thierwechter  for details and BEFORE registering. Off-site delegate registration fee is $ 100; the deadline is June 8th.  If you require financial support for the off-site delegate registration fee, please contact the me.

It will be interesting to see where this experiment takes us.  What seems clear is that it will open up our process . . . and that seems to me an exciting thing.

In Gassho,

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