Friday, April 06, 2012

Unitarian General Assembly Annual Meetings 2012

So the Annual Meetings have ended today. First I need to say that I wasn't there the whole time. Frankly it was very inconvenient and annoying that the meetings were in the week before Easter. We have a Maundy Thursday communion and this year we hosted the ecumenical Good Friday service (today), so there was no way I could be there the whole time. Frankly if I didn't have an official role in the being Chair of Ministry Strategy Group I wouldn't have gone at all. As it was I was there from Monday to Wednesday.

So Tim Moore (starting here) has got a lot more detail than I have this year. Since I've got back Twitter has also been a good place to keep in touch: #GAUK.

The meetings started, as always, with the John Relly Beard Lecture this year by Peter-Owen Jones off of the telly.


A lot of people seemed to like what he was saying, but to be honest to me it was a bit of preaching to the choir. It was the kind of talk I would hear at Greenbelt, a basically liberal religious message. It may just be where I am at the moment but I find it boring now, I'm not really interested in "ideas" about how to be religious, I want something more practical about actually how to live my life.

The only other thing I can really report on is the Business Meetings. I was only present at one motion: a rather illiberal motion calling for non-military national service. Even though an amendment changed it to "non-compulsary" the motion was still defeated. The issue of young people, social alienation and unemployment is a big one. But I think we need to think a lot more about the issue and do more before we rush to solutions like national service. Today apparently a similar motion calling for compulsary voting was also defeated.

One motion on the right to die was, apparently after a respectful debate, referred back. This seems like a very wise thing to do. We can spend some more quality time thinking about this issue rather than rushing to make a decision.

Most significantly, I think, we also passed the motion calling for full marriage equality. Perhaps this was the motion that should have been passed in 2008 rather than "civil partnerships in religious buildings" but now is a good time for us to take a stand while the government consultation is still happening.

Other highlights included the opening celebrations (including banner parade) with a rock band, favourite comment on Twitter about this: '"Sweet home Alabama" being played by 6th form rock band at close of opening celebrations. Not sure why- but who cares?!?'

Overall there was some disquiet expressed by the direction in which the Executive are going (or at least the way they're doing it). Having that debate is fine, but I still think we're doing it without a recognition that we're in a critical time. We're getting closer but overall there is still not enough urgency. The next ten years will be absolutely critical in determining whether Unitarianism survives, we're still not acting like this is the case.

What helps is this is the first GA, in my memory, when membership numbers have been discussed. The Executive have aimed for 20% growth in five years (starting last year) and as I've noted we have declined 3% in the last year. Frankly the 20% growth will not happen. No where near will it happen. If membership numbers stay the same and grow 0% that will be a significant achievement. You have to run very fast to stay still. The only way we could produce 20% growth would be if we were launching five new congregations a year (or at least one new congregation a year). Until that happens we will keep declining.

Luckily that is on the cards, with a project called 2020 Congregational Development. I wasn't there for any official reporting on this, but I'm very excited about it. It is the best news to come out of the GA. I'll be interested to see how that develops.