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 Hall.
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 can:
- 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 Meetings.
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 congregations.
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 the commitment.
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 of doing.
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.
Leadership 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 leadership.
I believe leadership will come from the grassroots. From good folks doing good practices and good congregations doing ministry well.
We 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.