Unitarians from eleven congregations around the Midlands gathered at Kingswood Meeting House to learn about how to grow their congregations, from our Guest Speaker, Rev. Andy Pakula. Andy is minister of New Unity, two of the flourishing congregations in London, and is also the founder of 2020: Growing Unitarianism in Great Britain, an initiative which now includes no less than four Midlands Unitarians on its Board – our President, Ash James, our Vice-President, Jane Couper, Aleks Zglinska of Kidderminster, who is also President of the British Unitarian Young Adults Network (BUYAN), and Rev. Winnie Gordon, minister of Unitarian New Meeting in Birmingham.
And to enjoy a delicious lunch and fellowship with each other.
Proceedings started with some thoughtful devotions from Rev. Ant Howe, who remarked that once you’ve found a loving Unitarian home, the temptation is to set it in stone, and not to change. He reminded us to be thankful for what we have, but to dream of what could be. He quoted Dante: “Have you no yearning for a place more lofty, where you might make more friends, or see more widely?”
Andy started his presentation by telling us a little about 2020, which is a programme dedicated to growing Unitarianism through planting new congregations and/or rekindling dormant ones.
He then explained that the good news is, that “all” you need for your congregation to grow is a few capable people, a strong desire, some money, and the willingness to change.
But the bad news is: your congregation may actually not want to grow (much). But there is no growth without change – growth always means change. The sorts of change that come with growth were discussed. And so the question has to be addressed: just how important IS growth? What changes will you and your congregation accept in order to grow? Because you cannot both grow and stay the same.
A series of volunteers from those present then shared why they wanted their own congregations to grow. Then the question was thrown open to the whole meeting: what would you be unwilling to change for growth, and the answers were a fascinating mixture of practical (e.g. music, singing, social action, social events) and spiritual (e.g. the Unitarian ethos, freedom of belief, an act of worship, a time of prayer/stillness).
What everyone present took away was that we need to talk together as congregations about 1) why we want to grow and 2) what we are not willing to give up in order to grow. And that the space between is the space where change can happen and dreams can be realised.
We then adjourned to the School Room, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch provided by Jill Bowie, of Kingswood. All in all, it was a gorgeous, rich, Unitarian occasion.