When we think about the
state of the Unitarian community in Britain, as I have been doing in
recent posts here, our great temptation is to come up with a list of
all the things "they" should be doing.
What do we mean by
"they"? We tend to mean the General Assembly structures,
the Executive Committee and the small number of paid staff at Essex
I'm sure I have done
this before now. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. It is completely
unrealistic to expect that "they" can do something about
the health, vitality and growth of our movement. I've realised this now.
That's the truth of the
matter: they can't.
Let's be realistic
about what the Unitarian General Assembly structures can do. They
- Coordinate the training and qualification of ministers.
- Provide a few other
resources, and pieces of training, like hymn books, good governance,
children's work training etc.
- Provide some publicity
by maintaining a website, and providing a spokesperson when required
to respond to the press.
- Organise the Annual
And that folks, is
about it. We give them neither the power, the legitimacy, the
resources or the money for them to do anything more.
And then, entirely
unfairly, blame them for the (lack of) health and vitality of our
You may notice that the
above list of things has only an indirect effect on the health and
vitality of congregations.
To be fair, sometimes
"they" give the impression that they are capable of more.
The Executive Committee aiming for 20% growth in five years gave the
impression that they had the power to create that growth when in fact
they had no power at all to do that. It would, perhaps, have been
more meaningful for them to ask congregations to pro-actively sign up
to this growth aim. Then the congregations committed to this could
have come up with their plans to create this growth, and after five
years we could have compared what worked, and what didn't work, and
how this compared to congregations who didn't voluntarily sign up to
But that's the point.
It's congregations and the grassroots who need to do this work. Not the centralised
"General Assembly" structures.
Take one of this year's
motions at the Annual Meetings calling on the Executive Committee to
set up a "programme" to foster community cohesion. No no
no! This is not the responsibility of the Executive Committee. It is
the responsibility of individual congregations to work in their
communities and with local interfaith/community groups to do this
work. It's work we should already be doing. But instead of doing it,
we're asking our central structures to do a set up what will be
(let's face it) a committee and and few pieces of paper, that will
dissipate their energy from doing the work they actually are capable
If you want to do
something about the health, vitality and mission of the Unitarian
community, then you do it. Don't ask the centralised body to set up a
committee on it. Just do it, just get on with it. It's your
responsibility, not "theirs." If it's a good idea, it might
get off the ground, and work. Or it might not. But YOU do it. Stop
expecting others to do it for you. Stop passing the buck.
Here's the point. The
General Assembly structures, committees, Executive Committee, Essex
Hall do not represent the leadership of the Unitarian community.
means that which will create change. The General Assembly structures,
in that sense, are not capable of leadership. I don't mean that as a
criticism in any way. That's just the way it has been for a long
time. The General Assembly structures manage our national movement.
It's good stuff. It's important stuff. But it's management, not
believe leadership will come from the grassroots. From good folks
doing good practices and good congregations doing ministry well.
have it backwards. We think the General Assembly structures lead and
congregations follow. That's wrong. The congregations lead. The
General Assembly structures will follow.