38 members from 13 of the MUA’s 18 congregations met at Unitarian New Meeting Church, Birmingham for the 144th Annual General Meeting, our first as the Midland Unitarian Association. Rev. Andy Pakula, minister at Newington Green & Islington, our link on the Executive Committee, and our Guest Speaker was also present. The business meeting was over in record time. We welcomed three new members to the Executive Committee (Mrs. Jane Couper of Evesham, Mr. Ash James of Kidderminster, and Ms. Angela Maher of Birmingham) and thanked two retiring members (Rev. Don Phillips and Rev. Simon Ramsay) for their past services.
Following a delicious shared lunch, we adjourned to the church to enjoy MUA President Rev. Peter Hewis’s short service on the theme of valuing things that bring you happiness. Using the example of 19th century Universalist Carolyn Sewell, Rev. Hewis pointed to four things that had brought her happiness: lifelong friendships, using her creative skills in writing, working for a cause (education for women) and her decision to spread her Universalist faith in Scotland. She was ordained in 1880 as a Universalist minister, thus becoming the first woman minister in the world. Rev. Hewis exhorted us to go home and write down four things that bring us happiness.
The highlight of the day for most people was Rev. Andy Pakula’s presentation, entitled It’s Not About Us, which was about the process of congregational growth. His article with Rev. Ant Howe in the latest issue of The Inquirerincluded seven “commandments” for growth. Using the example of lighting a candle from another candle, Rev. Pakula argued that we need to give our church away in order for it to grow. Unitarianism is a religion in motion, and has changed in our times. He invited us to consider what is transient and what is permanent about Unitarianism, and suggested that our task was to give Unitarianism to the world, not just to preserve it for ourselves. He pointed out that if we are faithful, Unitarianism will change in ways that make us uncomfortable.
There are many different potential audiences for the Unitarian message: young adults, disenchanted Christians, lonely singles, the recently retired, humanists seeking community, earth/nature oriented spiritual seekers and those who are “spiritual but not religious”. Congregations need to consider carefully who they are reaching out to, and tailor their publicity accordingly. We need to get the balance between control and freedom right, and become a “Permission Giving Church”, which has the mission and values of the congregation as its boundaries, and in which the committee’s main role is to manage money, maintain the boundaries, and say “how can we help?” Congregational leaders and members need to work together in faith.
He finished by outlining a growth scheme for every congregation, with four different levels: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Each level had a list of things the congregation ought to be doing to achieve growth. We all left feeling energised and enthusiastic about the future of our beloved movement.