Midland Unitarian Association Executive Committee Key Messages – May 2018

1. Stronger Data Protection Act: The Data Protection Act is being strengthened, which will have implications for how all congregations hold personal data. It comes into force on 25th May 2018. Please could all congregations ensure that they have asked their members to complete the forms circulated by Sandy Ellis, and return a list of names for inclusion in the next MUA Annual Report to him.
2. Chaplain to Mayor of Kidderminster: Rev. Winnie Gordon is now Chaplain to the Mayor of Kidderminster.

MUA Annual General Meeting Report

More than 30 Unitarians from 11 congregations around the District assembled at Unitarian New Meeting Church in Birmingham for the District’s 152nd Annual General Meeting.

Following a commendably brief business meeting, followed by an even briefer AGM of the Midland Unitarian Association of  Lay Preachers & Service Leaders, both in the church itself, during which we welcome one new member to the Executive Committee, we adjourned to the Priestley Room and enjoyed a delicious cold buffet lunch, which had been laid on by the congregation of UNM. It was a chance to catch up with old friends, and to make new ones.

At 1.45, we moved back into the church for a short Presidential Service, led by MUA President, Ms. Diane Rutter. She took privilege and exclusion as her theme, and reminded us that until 1813, Unitarians were the “have-nots”, who were not allowed to meet together in worship. She then spoke of the need to support refugees – today’s “have-nots”.

She then introduced our Guest Speaker, Stephen Lingwood, pioneer minister of Cardiff Unitarians. He gave us a fascinating talk about his new post at Cardiff – which is 1/3 for the congregation, and 2/3 doing Unitarian evangelism – sharing the good news about our Unitarian faith. He stated that our mission is to address the current spiritual crisis, which is causing the climate crisis, by inviting people into relationship with self, neighbours, community, the Earth and God. And to encourage a deep connection with the interdependent web of all existence – we are all one.

He explained that as Unitarians are a liberal religious movement, we acknowledge that revelation is not sealed, and that there is always more truth to be discovered. Our practice should be dialogue, rather than monologue – not just about the individual spiritual journey. His current ministry is about building relationships and having conversations, about being alongside people where they are.

He argued that spirituality is about becoming more human, each in our own unique way, by making discoveries through faith and trust. He said that one part of the greater mission should be to make a more loving, just world which will enable us to work on the climate crisis. We need to combine activism and spirituality.

He concluded by saying that if we can build beloved community, we can build paradise. It is about entering into dialogue, respecting the dignity of the individual and their right to say no, building relationships over time, and also part of a larger mission to work towards justice and peace.

Unitarians Together In Diversity

Unitarians: Together in Diversity
A Survey of the Beliefs, Values, and Practices of Contemporary British Unitarians
by Sue Woolley
Published by the Lindsey Press, April 2018
£9.50

Dating back 450 years and still evolving, Unitarianism is a faith which imposes no creed or dogma on its followers. It is a community of individuals, each on their own spiritual journey, each guided by their own reason and conscience. So what, if anything, binds us together?

It sometimes seems easier for us to express what we don’t believe, rather than to positively affirm what we do believe. Sue Woolley, our District Minister, set out to discover what contemporary British Unitarians actually believe, and how they give expression to their faith in their daily lives. She conducted an in-depth survey in 2017, seeking answers to questions such as: How do you perceive ‘the Divine’ … What is your relationship with Christianity and other faith traditions? … Do you have a regular spiritual practice? … Should religion and politics be kept separate from each other? … What are your views on gender, sexuality, and marriage? … What is the basis of your personal morality? … What happens after we die? … and many more.

Maybe you yourself were one of the 257 Unitarians who responded to the survey? If so, you might find yourself quoted (anonymously) in this book, which presents a detailed assessment of the findings. In considering the range and depth of present-day Unitarian beliefs, values, and spiritual practices, Sue Woolley explores what it is that holds Unitarians ‘together in diversity’.

Copies (£9.50 each) may be bought at the General Assembly annual meetings in the first week of April, or ordered from the Unitarian Head Office at Essex Hall in London from 9 April onwards (Monday–Friday, 10 am–5 pm). You can pay over the phone (tel. 0207 240 2384) with a credit or debit card.

Building Resilient Congregations

13 participants from eight congregations met at Kingswood on Saturday 17th February, for a training day on Building Resilient Congregations. The main guest speaker was Mr Simon Bland, the General Assembly’s Ministry and Congregational Support Officer. He explained what resilience is – the ability to bounce back in adversity, and spoke about it in relation to both individuals and congregations.

He suggested that healthy congregations have three elements: a clear sense of purpose and mission; clear policies on acceptable behaviour; and knowing when to ask for help. He also spoke about constitutions and policies, and the implications of the new Data Protection Act, which the District is currently studying.

Rev Ant Howe, Kingswood’s minister, contributed an inspiring session on how to build good relationships with the wider community, and challenged those present to come up with a concrete plan of action for one way to reach out to their own communities.

All in all, it was a most interesting day.

Key Messages from the January 2018 Executive Committee meeting

  1. Stronger Data Protection Act: The Data Protection Act is being strengthened, which will have implications for how all congregations hold personal data. It comes into force on 25th May 2018. Further information to follow shortly.
  2. Unitarians Together In Diversity: following her survey in 2017, the District Minister’s book will be published by the Lindsey Press, and launched at the GA Meetings in April.
  3. Heritage Open Day 2018: will have a special theme ‘Women in History’. For consideration by all congregations taking part.

Key Messages from MUA Executive Committee meeting, 11th November 2017

  1. The MUA Annual General Meeting will be taking place at Unitarian New Meeting Church in Birmingham, on Saturday 24th March 2018. Further details to follow shortly.
  2. The Spring Training Day will be on the theme ‘Building Resilient Congregations’. Further details to follow shortly.

Diane Rutter, President e-mail dianerutter2004@yahoo.co.uk

Sue Woolley, District Minister e-mail: revsuewoolley@gmail.com

Keeping our congregations safe

On Saturday 4th November, Unitarian New Meeting Church in Birmingham played host to a Local Leadership Strategy Group training day on Safeguarding, led by Rev. John Harley, the General Assembly’s Safeguarding Officer, and Liz Hills, of Lewisham Unitarians.

It was a fascinating and insightful day. 25 Unitarians from around the District, and further afield, worked together on various aspects of safeguarding. Perhaps the most fascinating part was when we were divided up into small groups, and each group was given a scenario to consider, and asked: If this happened in your congregation, what would you think? what would you do? and what would you record? The scenarios were very cunningly written, and one of the main learnings I took from the day, is not to judge from partial information, but to ask open questions in order to get the full story. The other was how important it is to have good safeguarding practices in place, so that risks are minimised, and to keep a logbook to record any incidents.

The MUA of Lay Preachers and Service Leaders is very grateful to John and Liz for taking the time to share their wisdom with us.

Key Messages from the July & September Meetings of the Executive Committee

1. MUA Lunch: This will be taking place on Saturday 28th October, at Kingswood. Guest speaker will be Rev. Feargus O’Connor, minister of Golders Green & St. Albans. Please send in your bookings soon!

2. Safeguarding Training: This will be taking place on Saturday 4th November, at Unitarian New Meeting Birmingham, from 12 noon. It will be led by Rev. John Harley and Liz Hills. It is important that someone from every congregation is present.

3. Tamworth Chapel: the lease of this building to the Royal Naval Association will be renewed on 1st January 2019, at a much higher rental, bringing in some welcome income.

4. Change of date for November meeting: the date of the November meeting of the Committee has been changed from 18th November to 11th November.

MUA Lunch focuses on Compassion

Unitarians from round the Midlands enjoyed an interesting talk by our Guest Speaker, Rev. Feargus O’Connor, minister of Golders Green and St. Alban’s Unitarians. Feargus chose to talk about the Charter for Compassion, an initiative launched by Karen Armstrong in 2010, which believes that the world could be made a better, more sustainable place for human beings and all other living beings, by following the Golden Rule, which is at the heart of all religious faith traditions. The General Assembly of Unitarian & Free Christian Churches is a partner organisation of the Charter for Compassion. One practical application of this was the setting up in 2012 of the Clara Barton Emergency Appeal, with a vision of responding rapidly and effectively to the needs of victims, not only of war and conflict, but also of natural disasters, in conjunction with the Red Cross. To date, Unitarians have donated more that £98.000 to it.

Following his speech, those present enjoyed a delicious lunch, prepared by Jill Bowie and her team. It was a joyful Unitarian occasion.