Eleven Unitarians from across the District met at Unitarian New Meeting Church in Birmingham, to hear Rev Andy Phillips of Upper Chapel Sheffield and Diane Rutter, Lay Assistant at Kingswood, share their ideas about running a thriving congregation.
Andy was drawing on his experiences of being an active lay leader at Belper Unitarians. He explained that a clear, warm, heartfelt and explicit welcome was a vital part of encouraging newcomers to stay. He said that the statement “All are welcome here” wasn’t enough – we have to say “people of all classes, genders, sexualities and races” are welcome here – spell it out. Otherwise, the newcomer may look around the congregation, and see mainly white, middle-class, straight people and think “They don’t mean me.”
When running a congregation without a minister, it is important to identify individual strengths and talents of members and encourage them to run with them. An infrastructure of regular other-than-Sunday worship events is important. But the most important thing I took away from his presentation is the idea of “the ministry of being there”. In other words, turning up and supporting activities put on by others is vital to those activities’ success.
Diane’s message was simple: social interaction is key. Get out into your community and talk to people. Get involved in activities in your local community and offer activities to your local community. She shared some of the many activities which the Kingswood congregation runs, from coffee morning, knit and natter afternoons, to a regular Sunday lunch date for widows. She reminded us that these things take time, and recommended having a Five Year Plan.
Other participants shared what they are doing to help their congregations to grow – being open as often as possible, making sure that the information they provide about the congregation is attractive and up-to-date.
It was a rich day, and I am sure everyone took some good ideas away from it.