Wednesday, October 12, 2016

We are now too small to be a denomination

There's a thought that I keep coming back to: Unitarians in Britain are now too small to be considered "a denomination."

Now, I've not gone out of my way to research what sociologists of religion consider to be the definition of "a denomination" so I'm not trying to make a claim with a lot of research to back it up.

But it seems to me that a denomination is "an organisation of organisations" it is a series of organisations that have enough left-over energy and personnel to donate "upwards" to the organisation of a structure that is an umbrella to those local organisations.

I just don't see that being possible any more.

And I think that changes things.

Many times I have said of Unitarianism "someone should do something" and imagined money, people and structures who's job it is to do those things. But that's just an illusion. Those people and structures don't exist, or at least are really struggling to function.

I need to repent of those times when I've imagined that we were a denomination that should be doing things and asked for things to be done. It's simply not realistic.

We need to stop doing it. We think of various projects that we think a denomination should be doing. We have meetings and argue about such projects. We want order and organisation and functionality. I want those things too! I'm frustrated when things don't seem to be happening properly. But I (and all of us) need to get over that.

We are still thinking as if we were a denomination of 50,000 people. Now a denomination of 50,000 people would still be a tiny denomination. But it would be big enough to function. We are no where near that. There are less than 3000 of us. We are below the level where it is possible to function as a denomination.

Our expectations need to change dramatically.

Is it possible to have a new President every year? I don't believe that it is.

Is it possible to fill all of our current committees? I don't believe that it is.

It is possible to have different grand plans and projects every five years? I don't believe that it is.

There is a certain amount of busyness that we get up that assumes we are a denomination and that such busyness will generate results. It hasn't for decades.

We need to be liberated from such busyness, liberated from trying and failing to be a denomination of 50,000 people.

And get down to what matters most...

Monday, October 10, 2016

165 Congregations in 2016

Here is a record of the number of Unitarian congregations in Britain in the past few years, from looking at directories that I have.

2007: 182
2008: 177
2009: 175
2010: 173
2011: 172
2012:
2013: 170
2014: 169
2015: 166
2016: 165

Sunday, October 09, 2016

A parable

There were once some people who decided to throw a party.

They decided to invite as many people as they could. They put up a big sign outside their house which said, "Party here, all welcome." They sent out invitations which said, "Everyone is welcome at our party, whether you're black or white, gay or straight, young or old, you're welcome at our party." They invited friends. They advertised their party on the internet.

When the day of the party came around a few guests arrived and came into the party. They stood around and wondered whether anything was going to happen. There were big signs all over the party that said, "All are welcome here. Whoever you are, you are welcome at our party."

But there was no music playing, and there was no sign of any food or drink.

One of the guests eventually asked one of the party organisers, "Is there going to be any music playing?"

The party organiser said, "You're welcome at our party whatever music you like. Whether you like rock'n'roll or dance music, classical or pop music we affirm your choice to enjoy whatever music you like. You're welcome here. We're inclusive of all musical tastes."

The guest noticed that her question wasn't actually answered, but didn't ask any other questions.

Another guest asked another of the party organisers, "Is there going to be any food or drink at this party?"

This party organiser said, "You're welcome at our party whatever food and drink you like. Whether you like crisps and pop, or a roast dinner, whether you're vegetarian or meat eater, whether you enjoy wine or are a teetotaller we affirm your choice to enjoy whatever food and drink you like. You're welcome here. We're inclusive of whatever kind of food and drink you enjoy."

The guest noticed that his question wasn't actually answered, but didn't ask any other questions.

Eventually one of the party organisers stood up and gave a speech. The guests looked interested as they thought this might be the moment when the party was really going to start.

The party organiser stood up and said, "Welcome to our party. This is an inclusive party. Whether you are gay or straight, black or white, young or old, whether you like rock'n'roll or classical music, whether you like wine or fruit juice, whether you like pasta or sandwiches, you are welcome at our party."

Then they sat down.

No music played.

No food came out.

No drink was offered.

Eventually the party guests began to get hungry and thirsty. There was no food or drink at this party. There was no music. There wasn't even any scintillating conversation. One by one the party guests slipped away.

Occasionally one of the party organisers would stand up and give another speech about how this was an inclusive party.

Some guests hung around a bit longer, because they thought it was a really noble effort to throw an inclusive party. And they thought, maybe if they waited long enough the party would get going. But eventually they too were just too hungry to stay.

Every guest left. The party organisers were left scratching their heads.

"What went wrong?" they asked, "We were very inclusive. We said that people could stay whatever music they liked, whatever food they liked. We should have been a really popular party, because we included everyone. I don't understand why this wasn't the most popular party in town."

Monday, October 03, 2016

Growing Unitarian Congregations 2010-2015

In this blog I have repeatedly called attention to shrinking Unitarian numbers. However it is worth realising that not all Unitarian congregations are in decline. The picture is of course more complicated than that. Some decline, some stay static, some grow.

Membership numbers have now been reported in the Annual Report for enough years that it is meaningful to look at growth across this time. 

If we look at the five years 2010-2015 we can see that in fact 32 Unitarian congregations grew in this period, though many of them by only one or two and so really within the margin of error for these kinds of numbers. Nevertheless some grew more substantially. 

So the most growing Unitarian congregations 2010-2015 were:

Congregation
2010
2015
Change
Norwich
37
55
18
Hollywood
48
65
17
Golders Green
41
54
14
New Unity
70
83
13
Bangor*
0
10
10
Belper
4
13
9
Brighton
38
45
7
Doncaster
16
23
7
Leicester
26
33
7
Mansfield
50
57
7
Portsmouth
47
53
6
Sevenoaks
20
26
6
Wirral
20
26
6
Denton
5
10
5
Oxford
37
42
5
*Bangor is a new congregation and wasn't registered in 2010