Saturday, June 25, 2011
This blog has always been a place where I have been critical of the Unitarian movement. I've always been acutely aware that the Unitarian movement is in deep trouble and has lost its way in many ways. It has been in decline, and many congregations have been devoid of the Spirit and very inward-looking.
So I always try to balance this out when I can when I think I can say something positive. There are in fact many positive things to say. I feel more optimistic about the state of Unitarianism today than I did five years ago. I hope this is not just the effect of me becoming more mainstream within the movement and less of an outsider. I do think real changes have happened, and there are reasons to be cheerful.
Here are some of them:
1. Some congregations are growing
There are in fact many of our congregations that are growing. Some of our healthiest congregations have grown much more. Some congregations have grown steadily. Some congregations have gone from a tiny number to a healthy sized congregation, growing at a huge rate. Transformations have happened. We have a handful of growing, vital congregations. This should show us that Unitarian congregations can grow in the 21st century. We can become relevant to a community and offer something that many people are looking for. This should fill us with hope.
2. Good new Ministers
It's hard to say this without sounding like I'm being big-headed. But I genuinely think that new Ministers that have come out in the last five years or so are of a high quality. "Quality" may not be the best word. But I think they "get it." I think they get that our life has to be rooted in a life of the spirit first and foremost. They get that change has to happen. This makes me very happy.
3. Real national leadership
It's far from perfect, but the Executive Committee is a much better form of leadership compared to what it replaced. It does enable some leadership, some visioning, and some pushing forward of change. I'm grateful for that.
4. We're getting better at living out our values
Our pursuit of an agenda around civil partnerships with the Quakers and Liberal Jews has showed that we can join together with other liberal religious groups to fight for our values. Equally joining the Accord Coalition on faith schools also showed us coalition building to fight for an agenda of equality and inclusiveness. We're getting better at this.
5. The new hymnbook
It may seem like a small thing, but our new hymnbook Sing Your Faith is inclusive, radical, spiritual and musically diverse. It offers a real change to renew our worship and make it spiritually vital and true to our values.
What still needs to be done
But there are still significant changes that need to happen. There are two major changes I have always pushed for and will continue to push for:
1. Enhance ministry
We need to make sure we train ministers as missionaries more than pastors, as leaders more than managers. We need to train ministers to be able to deal with the radically different circumstances we face in the twenty-first century. This will involve ministry training taking at least 3 years and usually involving gaining a bachelor's degree in theology.
2. Church planting
We need to create a fund that will enable and encourage church planting, of all kinds. We need to encourage church planting by ministers and non-ministers, and finding ways of resurrecting congregations that are almost dead (2 or 3 members). We need to encourage a risk-taking culture that encourages different types of church-planting.