Wednesday, April 11, 2007

GA: Day One and Two

Early afternoon and it's the first time I've got to a computer. There's not a computer room for the GA Zette Office this year so they're using a kitchen. I've managed to get to a computer though so here we are.

Minister's Pre-Conference

My first! Yay. Hmm. This year the campus (University of Hertforshire, Hatfield) was closed for the Bank Holiday on Monday so the conference had to be at a neighbouring hotel. This increased the expense. Last year I think there were about 100 people at the minister's conference but this year there wasn't more than 40. The most fruitful conversation was about the project now being called 'Future Ministry.' This is partly being implemented because of a sense of 'oh crap, we don't have enough ministers' and 'oh crap, a lot of congregations can't afford ministers and are in decline.' But now the conversation has been widened to include all future issues of ministry. Should we have a system of having a minister serving 10 churches? Is that a necessisty or desirable? I don't think that's the way to go myself and it may be better to let some congregations close and concentrate resources on creating fewer but healthier churches, and then start planting new churches. I feel these conversation are very positive and I'm hoping that these conversations may be widened to include ministries like chaplains and missionaries. More than hoping I'm pushing the conversation in that direction. The John Relly Beard lecture was on this topic and was delivered by retiring General Secretary Jeff Teagle.

I didn't go to the Annual Meeting feedback session, but it seems pretty obvious to me that this should be at the end of the conference not on the first day. Surely?

I also didn't go to the Communication's Commission, but it's worth noting that a new chalice image was launched. It's more curvy. It's in the background of this picture.

Opening celebrations, which were quite enjoyable last year, were quite traditional this year; though the space meant that there couldn't be a banner parade. Just like the worship at the minister's conference we had a pretty traditional hymn sandwich. The worships were fine for what they were, but I don't really have the energy for a hymn sandwich at nine at night. Can't we be a little bit more adventurous at GA?

BUYAN, joined by a good number of youths had a small worship in the evening out on the grass outside with candles and singing. It spoke to me infinitely more than the official worships.

The Queer Unitarians got together and a more formal organisation might be able to emerge from that.

Day Two

Today the Executive Committee reported on its first year in existence. They are a good set of people that work hard. There was some friction as previously the old Council let a reporter from the Inquirer observe meetings but the EC won't let a reporter come to its meetings. I tend to think that's fair enough as it's the difference between a Parliament and a Cabinet, Parliament is observed but you can't expect public observance for every Cabinet meeting.

The Youth Panel session had some sharing of stories of success with youth projects, then a ritual designed by the Senior group. Though the group was too big for this to feel like intimate worship, I did enjoy the ritual play.

I don't know when I'll next report on here, it may not be until the end of GA, but I will do it as soon as I can.

The Unitarian Christian Association session was a presentation from Andrew Brown about the book of prayer that he has written with John Morgan. Unfortunately the book isn't available yet, as I thought they said it was going to be. We're promised it soon. I'm quite excited about the book. I was sitting in the prayer room at college the other day as I was waiting for my laundry and I picked up a book of Compline that was there, and read through it. I got something out of it. I've never really prayed with structured written prayers, but my mind wanders so much. I think it might help. I'll let you know what I think of it when I get a copy.

The Penal Affairs Panel had a presentation on the treatment of failed asylum seekers in 'detention centres' - effectively prisons run by private security companies. We watched a BBC documentary that showed systematic racism, bullying and abuse in British detention centres. Really horrible stuff. You can watch it here. Feel kind of powerless to do anything about such things.

In the evening I went to the Earth Spirit Network which was a chat with Mary Bennett, Executive Director of the Canadian Unitarian Council about Pagan Unitarians in Canada. The discussion got around to why the British group is 'Earth Spirit' not 'Pagan.' I began to ruminate on this and I began to think it was perhaps telling about how we deal with our beliefs in Unitarianism. Is the lukewarm 'Earth Spirit' characteristic of a lack of commitment to our faiths? Why not be a Pagan? Why not be a committed proud Pagan that follows that path while relating it to your Unitarian heritage? Why not go as deep as you can into Paganism, see where it gets you as a committed holistic way of life, something that guides your living? I want people to go deeper into their faith, as deep as they can, whatever faith that is. Don't be a lukewarm, 'I'm sort of interested in Earth Spirit stuff' be a committed Unitarian Pagan, go deep into your faith.

The evening there was a party for Jeff Teagle's retirement. There was free wine. Here's a picture:


Blogger Andrewjb said...

Thanks for your update on the GA. You are well ahead of the official UK Unitarian website.

1 minister to 10 congregations is not a good idea. It's not desirable, and it's not necessary. There has to be a better way.

I'm not sure is simply letting some congregations close is the right way forward either. Maybe there are other possibilities.

Small congregations need to learn that they can be strong, viable and active even though they may be small. Does every congregation need a church building? a minister? a formal sermon? a hymn sandwich every week?

Maybe we need to learn from the Quakers ( no minister, so formal liturgy, anyone may address the meeting). Maybe we should look at the Scottish Episcopal Church who have loads of non-stipendiary minsiters. What about informal house groups and study groups taht exist in some churches. Do they offer some viable models for small congregations? Maybe we should look at churches and groups who had explored alternative and creative ways of worship (Greenbelt again?). I'd also find it interesting to know how the Unitarian fellowships which already exist organise themselves. Maybe they have some sound advice to offer.

12:19 pm  

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