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.