General Assembly Experience: Allegheny UU's Liz Dell
That is, until I went to General Assembly in 1996. I was 17 years old and my family and I drove from our home in Washington, DC to Indianapolis, IN to attend. My parents were adult delegates for our church and I was the youth delegate. The only time I had been at a gathering of UUs not of my church was at summer camp, so I had no idea what to expect from something that was programmed mostly for adults.
What I discovered was a common religious culture I had been unaware existed. I was in a convention center with 2,000 other people that had been through (or witnessed) the same things as I had. Flower Communion. Ingathering. A Coming of Age service. AYS (now OWL) training. They spoke the same religious language as me, told UU-specific jokes, and sold UU-themed merchandise. The same things that my friends of other religious traditions had, I now had as well. There are not words to describe the effect this had on me. I joked I had "found my people" - but really that's what it felt like. To a teenager especially, that is a deeply profound experience.
I attended plenary sessions and the keynote and understood (most of) them. I attended workshops and understood (most of) them. But the real joy for me was in the deep conversations I had with friends I made during those few days in Indianapolis, some of whom I still keep in touch with almost 20 years later. I had often heard Unitarian Universalism described as a "movement" - a coming together of people to change things for the better. But day-to-day church life, even in a big church, can feel disjointed from that sense of collective purpose. At General Assembly, Unitarian Universalism feels like a movement.