Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Unitarian Annual Meetings: Nottingham 2010

So I used to say that Reignite was the only live news source for the British Unitarian Annual Meetings. I'm afraid I can no longer make that claim. Not only was I not able to blog "live" I have been over-taken by Twitter. The Twitter hashtag was #GAUK. This is what you should have been following if you wanted the most up-to-date coverage and comment.

(Before you ask, no, I'm not on Twitter, I've not seen the point of it yet).

Neither am I the only blogger. Brian Keily of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists has already blogged about the meetings here.

But I still want to blog about my experiences at GA. Overall it was a pretty middle of the road GA. Not spectacularly exciting, or terribly difficult. I thought it might have a weird atmosphere, as there had already been conflict over the planning of the meetings. If you don't know the Annual Meetings Panel proposed some radical changes, this upset some people, and the Executive Committee rejected all the changes, so the Annual Meetings Panel resigned on mass. So there could have been a weird atmosphere, but in fact it felt like an OK atmosphere.

I think it was helped that the Opening Celebrations were led and planned entirely by the youth. That gave the meetings a good energy to begin with. I was with the youth group at the Nightingale Centre in Great Hucklow helping them plan for two days before the conference. It was really well done, and much more of a celebration than this worship has been in previous years. Samba drums for the banner parade worked really well. Music was great, drama was excellent, words were thoughtful. In recent years the Opening Celebrations have become too similar to the Anniversary Service, a pretty standard format, when they really should have a different energy, and an alternative format. This year they did.

The John Relly Beard Lecture by Brian Kiely described U*U groups all over the world, with particular reference to ministry. It raised the challenge of old institutions like Unitarian groups in the West dealing with emerging movements in places like Africa, which (almost by definition) are led by charismatic leaders. How do we recognise who is a legitimate "minister" internationally?

To Business! The business sessions were sandwiched in the first and last session by a conversation with the Executive Committee about how we should spend our money. There are a lot of proposals about what we should be doing in the future, and not all of them can be done. Indeed very few of them can be done without considerable expenditure. So the EC are consuling about what to prioritise.

Now although I think its a good move to be honest with the wider movement about what is possible with the current budget, and how much the budget would have to increase to do new things, I do get a bit fed up with constant consultation. If we vote on mass on every decision, then what's the point in having an Exectutive? We elect the Executive to make decisions on our behalf, giving time and expertise to study things in detail. Can't we trust them to make those decisions? Can't we let them lead rather than constantly being consulted?

But if you want my opinion the priorty needs to be recruiting, training and deploying excellent ministers in as many congregations as possible, while sending out a proportion to do church-planting.

In general I found the Business Meetings a bit chaotic. We seem to have got into bad habits like counting votes when there's a clear majority, and failing to call for against votes. One day I will study the Standing Orders. It seems to me a small bit of knowledge could lead to quite a lot of power in the meetings at the moment.

So Motions: Two motions basically saying we like the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. Horay! One motion saying we like David Dawson. Horay!

One really weird motion saying we like the Enlightenment. Hmm. Apparently Prince Charles criticised the principles of the eighteenth century Enlightenment. So the motions was saying we sort of like the Enlightenment. Here's my take on it: it would be really good to have a conversation about how we relate to the Enlightenment as a religious movement. It would be really good to get historians, philosophers and theologians to talk to us about it. But a motion is a really really really bad forum to have the discussion. It seemed most other people agreed as the the vast majority abstained. From memory it was something like 28 for, 30 against and 130 abstentions. Weird.

The only motions with anything to them were two emergency motions (not really sure what counts as an emergency now). One calling for us to disinvest in Vedanta, following the lead of the Anglican Church of England, even though we weren't sure if we had any shares or not, or if we did how we could disinvest them due to the way we invest. This brings up for me how ethical our investments are. I had assumed the General Assembly had some kind of ethical investment policy, but with all this debate, now I'm not so sure. This needs looking into.

The other motion was supporting the Robin Hood Tax:

Of course both passed.

To be honest with the youth leading and with me leading the Anniversary Service, I didn't have much time and energy for many fringe meetings.

As I say, nothing spectacular.


Blogger Yewtree said...

I think the open and democratic nature of Unitarianism is something to be celebrated though. It's good that discussions take place. Yes, I think we should discuss the place of the Enlightenment and what it means to us. That was the avowed intention of the author of the motion, who was sitting in front of me.

I also thought that it was incorrect that amendments were not voted on (they'd never get away with that at a union congress!) The correct procedure is to vote on the amendment and then on the substantive motion.

11:07 am  
Blogger Yewtree said...

Also: happy birthday!

11:08 am  
Anonymous NUFer said...

I agree with your reaction to the Enlightenment motion ; important matter but not for a motion in that particular forum.
I was rather disappointed that there were no other motions on particular issues ; nothing about the position of faith schools which I know is a topic you have particular views about.On the following Sunday programme there were about 7 minutes devoted to the opening of the latest of 60 Accelerated Christian Education private schools in Hull ; a fundamentalist creationist school which nevertheless gets OFSTED approval ; now there is a topic about which Unitarians should be exercised.

11:46 am  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

Yewtree - that is the procedure for voting on amendments. What exactly are you referring to?

NUFer - we have passed a motion a few years ago saying we oppose the expansion of the faith school system. One of the problems is not that we don't pass motions, it's that we forget them as soon as we pass them.

11:56 am  
Anonymous Angela said...

I guess, if people want more interesting motions, then they need to propose them. At least, that's what I thought as I mithered about the motions.

I has assumed that we would have an ethical investment policy, and was going to speak against the motion on the basis that stuff like this is what the policy is for. Then it occurred to me that we might not have a policy, and that stuff like this is what we use to get people thinking about an ethical investment policy. A motion for next year perhaps?

8:40 pm  
Blogger Andrew Bethune said...

As this was my first GA, I'm not in a position to say whether it was good, bad or middling. But I came away from Nottingham feeling quite cheered up about the Unitarian movement. The 'fringe' events I attended were stimulating, and I made sure I went to some events that were outside of my normal range e.g the talk about paganism. I felt there wasn't enough time to do justice to the range of events and activities ( e.g. choir practice was basically the breathing space between two other events!). Some things I'd like to have attended clashed with others, and I had to decide between them. One interesting suggestion I heard someone make was that the GA could become more of a 'festival' with an even bigger range of events to choose from. If we went down that route, I'd like to see more creative activities, experimental worship, small discussion groups, optional outings to places of interest ( e.g local unitarian churches or other religious sites). The possibilities are endless. Of course, we need to bring the cost down if we want more people to attend.

Finally, just to say 'well done' to Stephen for organising the main service, and leading the young people in preparing the opening event. No wonder you ran out of energy for going to the other stuff.

9:49 pm  
Blogger Rev. Andy said...

I'm very late to comment on this blog but I just want to 'amen!' to Stephen's comments about leadership... Good leadership doesn't take a poll on every decision - it does the really hard work of looking into the future, setting a course, and doing what it takes to lead people there.

And another 'amen' about ministers. This is a minister-dependent movement. Ministers provide spiritual leadership and bring pretty much all the professional leadership. Our congregations will die without more excellent ministers in our congregations. How can that not be the obvious priority?


4:11 pm  

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