Encourage first-time GAers with cash, support

The UU Congregation of Princeton, N.J., typically sends five to eight adults and several youth to General Assembly each year. Over the years most of them have tended to be “GA regulars,” folks who had attended several previous GAs.

Like many congregations, UUCP longed to interest new people in GA but hadn’t had much luck. This year the membership committee tried something new to do just that. Since cost is typically a major deterrent to attending GA, the committee raised $800 to pay much of the cost by soliciting donations at two Sunday brunches. It also promoted GA through the congregation’s website, newsletter, orders of service, and from the pulpit. It let it be known it wanted to send someone “new” with the money it had raised.

That person turned out to be Kevin Trayner, co-chair of the Religious Education Council at UUCP.  He and his wife, Lisa, began attending five years ago “for the kids” but quickly found their own places in the congregation. He was recruited as an RE teacher and both continue to teach, including OWL, the UUA’s sexuality education program.

“I think that the experience of attending GA will give me a better grounding in the overall UU experience,” said Traynor. “It will be valuable to me to connect with other UUs from different backgrounds, and to share that experience with others. Part of it, also, for me, is to educate myself so that when I talk to newcomers I can better speak to ‘who are we.’”

Several congregational leaders, including the Rev. Bill Neely, met with Trayner to fill him in on GA and help him register. He’ll attend GA sessions related to welcoming guests and integrating people into the life of the congregation.

“We plan to meet with him after GA to discuss what he learned that can help us with welcoming,” said Lisa Roche, co-chair of the membership committee. “We’re hoping that because he’s active in RE, this will also lead to closer ties between the RE council and the membership committee. And we want to work with him on welcoming in his role as RE co-chair.”

Roche offers the following tips toward encouraging GA attendance:

  • Start promoting GA in the fall.
  • Talk it up among other committees.
  • Raise a substantial amount of money.
  • Show videos of events at past GAs.

She said the committee hopes to try again in coming years to recruit others to attend GA.

Another option for help with GA costs is the Davidoff Fund for Lay Leadership. It offers grants to lay leaders whose congregations have not been represented at GA by non-clergy in the past three years or more. Two scholarships remain this year.