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

Sue Woolley, District Minister e-mail:

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.


And Nobody Dropped the Baby …

Seven Unitarian lay worship leaders and trainee celebrants gathered at Kingswood Meeting House on Saturday 6th May, to learn the do’s and don’ts about conducting Naming Ceremonies and Baptisms. Following two sessions in the morning, about the practicalities, and how to put a service together, led by Rev. Sue Woolley, and the early afternoon session, on Unitarian Baptisms, led by Rev. Ant Howe, the group proceeded to the practical – and got the chance to go through the central part of a naming / baptism, complete with “baby”, kindly loaned for the occasion by Cressida Pryor of Cheltenham & Gloucester Unitarians.

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Participants took it in turns to be celebrant, parents, and godparents, and a good time was had by all. And nobody dropped the baby …

In a month’s time, we will be back at Kingswood for the session on Funerals, and will then have our final meeting on 1st July, when each participant will deliver their own rite of passage, for assessment.

Wonderfully enjoyable Training Day on Weddings

On Saturday 1st April, eight participants came together from the Midlands and farther afield, to learn how to conduct a Unitarian Wedding. The day was led by Rev. Martin Whitell, District Minister of the London & South East District & Provincial Assembly. The handouts were marvellous – so very useful for the future – but the best bit came in the afternoon, when we all got to practice “marrying” each other, both as men and women, and as same-sex couples. Martin took the photo below, in which Gavin Lloyd is “marrying” Rev. Sue Woolley to Debra Burbery of Shrewsbury. By the time we had all had a go at being celebrant, we felt much more confident about the whole process.

Our hearty thanks to Martin for a splendid and informative day.

Celebrating High Tides and Low Tides at the District AGM

Saturday 25th March saw nearly 40 Unitarians from across the District meeting at Kingswood Meeting House to take part in the 151st Annual General Meeting of the Midland Unitarian Association.

The business meeting was over in just under an hour, and included a special presentation to our dedicated Treasurer, Mr. Sandy Ellis, to mark his 34 years of service to the District. Our new President is Ms. Diane Rutter, of Kingswood, and our new Vice-President is Ms. Angela Maher, of Birmingham UNM. We also gave thanks to outgoing President, Mrs. Jane Couper of Evesham.

Business over, we came together in the Kingswood schoolroom to enjoy an excellent buffet lunch, laid on by Jill Bowie and her helpers. Then it was time to re-convene, for the new President’s service, and to listen to our Guest Speaker, Rev. Danny Crosby, minister of the Altrincham and Urmston congregations in the North West.

Diane spoke about life in terms of high tides and low tides, varying between times of activity and involvement, and times of quietness and reflection. Life and ministry are sometimes brilliant, sometimes the reverse, but mostly about getting through the ordinary days every day. She shared a time of stillness and reflection by Simon John Barlow, which was about the holiness of ordinary days, and concluded with a hymn which she said could be the anthem for Unitarianism in the Midlands: no. 42 in the purple book Remember the past, work in the present to ensure the future.

Danny’s talk was about how Love changes everything, and will be published in full in the May issue of MU Now.  His theme was that impermanence is the energy and beauty of life, and that the spiritual life is about being awake to the wonders of life. There are both wonderful and painful moments, and everything is in change.

He commented that we seem to be living in more fearful times at present, to have lost faith with each other. But lots of people still look at life with loving eyes. He said that Love was equally as strong as fear. Taking up Diane’s metaphor of tides, he explained that love and fear are like two forces pushing and pulling at our lives, and that we as Unitarians need to have faith in life, and try to live it in love. He concluded by asking those present to keep journeying on to new awakenings, and to live out of love, rather than fear.

All in all, it was a rich and enjoyable day.

Participants discover How Unitarians Do Communion

Seventeen participants from seven MUA congregations enjoyed a rich day of sharing and learning at Kingswood Meeting House on Saturday 4th March. In the four sessions, led respectively by Sue Woolley, Cressida Pryor, Diane Rutter, and Simon Hall, we learned about Flower Communion, Earth Spirit Communion, Free Christian Communion, and Water Communion.

What made the day so special was that not only did the session leaders explain the background to each type of communion ritual, we also had the chance to participate in them. The weather was kind, and the Earth Spirit Communion session could take place outside, which added a whole extra dimension to it.

There was also time for questions and comments, and everyone learned something new. Grateful thanks to all the session leaders, and to the participants, for being so open-minded and open-hearted.