Sunday, March 30, 2008

GA 08 Day Three: Growth Day (Friday)

(Not exactly live anymore but still faster than any other news source)

This is my continuing coverage of the Annual Meetings, I only report on events I attended.

Morning worship

Another friend of mine, Csaba Todor, the Sharpe Scholar from Transylvania at Unitarian College, led this worship. He asked me to do a reading, so I had to be there by 7.30. It was good though, he was a very hypnotic way of preaching without notes, really draws you in.

Business meetings

Reports from Commisions, celebrating our congregations, Motion that Mike Tomlin (former GA Treasurer) be given Honorary Membership.

Growth Process

This was a sort-of open space technology process in which the whole assembly talked about what we meant by growth and what priorites we wanted to have as a national community to bring about growth and renewal. I think this was a useful process and I hope it got people excited about working for growth, and a lot of people worked hard to organise this process (including myself as I was scribbing onto the big screen in the feedback process, which is quite stressful considering what I said about grammar and Unitarians below), but I do have some criticism of the process.

First in break-out sessions we were asked the questions "what is growth?" and "what is renewal?" In some ways I wasn't happy with this as we were seeking to broaden the definition of "growth" whereas I would want to continue to understand growth as numerical growth and seek to include that as one area of what I would call "mission." So we talked about numerical growth and how that comes from internal health etc etc.

This was then collatted into a number of categories like "numerical" "spiritual" etc etc. We were then asked which area we would like to look at in a further break out session. But I'm sure some things got missed in the process. For example I wanted to talk about church planting but that didn't come up in the group I was in because we were told that answering the question "what is growth" not "how do we grow" so I didn't talk about church planting because I thought that was a "how" issue more than a "what" issue. Luckily someone else had mentioned it so it did become one break-out session that I attended.

We did have quite a few people to talk about starting new congregations and did have a good conversation and made some demands of the Exectutive Committee to look at.

But honestly I do not want the EC's priorities to be shaped by what came out of this process. The EC should not do what 200 Unitarians think will lead to growth, because, honestly, what do we know about it? If we knew how to grow, we would be growing. Priorities should be set by what actually will lead to growth. And we find that out, not by talking to ourselves, but talking to those communities that are growing. We do that by looking at empirical research and theological reflection on growth, evangelism and mission. I don't want the EC to do what we tell them, I want them to lead.

Anniversary Service

This was excellent. Choir was very good, and the preacher was great. It was Art Lester from Croydon. Guess what he said? He said we should pray. He said it very well, but that was the gist of it. We have these symptoms: our decline, our struggles; but the real issue was that we have lost our soul. That is the cause of all our symptoms. We will never grow unless we find a spiritual core to our religious life. I take this to be a "practice of reverence" sermon that I hope will become symbolic of a turning point as William Sinkford's "language of reverence" sermon was. It was the perfect thing to say at the end of the "growth day." Before all our strategic planning we need to seek the presence of the Living God, and let that guide us. Amen.

A bad photo of Art Lester


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