1. General Assembly President’s Christmas Message 2018
My very best wishes and Christmas greetings to all our congregations, districts, and individual members of this our General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.
Usually, as Christmas approaches we are encouraged to look beyond the boundaries of our immediate environment, to consider others less fortunate; those whose lives are made more difficult by conflict, statelessness, homelessness, or ill health; those dealing with loss, of loved ones, jobs, or home; but this year, I should like us to look closer to home, to look at our own families; to acknowledge and recognise all that they mean to us.
But what do we mean by family?
I remember as a student, the Professor of Social Policy standing in front of us declaring “I am a family of one!” At the time I found that difficult to grasp, actually I found Social Policy difficult to grasp! But as time went on, I came to understand what she meant, she was looking at the family as a unit of society, as a contributing and productive unit, and so she was right, she was a family of one.
What we describe as ‘a family’ has changed through time, we have moved from the basic survival units of early man, through to units bound by ties of blood, from extended families to the more strictly defined nuclear units of the post-industrial age, and society has as a result changed its expectations accordingly. We no longer expect housing, education, health, social or child care needs to be met solely by the family, but what continues is the expectation of responsibility. Every member of a family has a responsibility to the other members, depending on their ability, and their own needs.
Families can be supportive, encouraging, and nurturing, but this is not always the case, in which case it may be others who provide this support, close friends, colleagues, members of communities such as our Church, it may be social, or neighbourhood groups where we form our closest relationships.
What we want and need from family is a feeling of being safe, of being held, of being loved.
For many of us, that is what we get from our families, we are held safely in love, within our family. Whatever the make-up of the group which provides this, if that is what we get from them, then they are our family.
We have a responsibility to them, and they to us.
For some people Christmas can be a difficult time, while we are celebrating families, family life, they are being reminded that their families are not providing the nurturing environment we would wish for.
Or it may be that this Christmas they are incomplete, that one, or more, of their family is no longer amongst them, perhaps because of geography, divorce or death. Just as the concept of family changes over time, so too does the make-up of a family; members come and go, new people join our family, and people leave. It is the same regardless of the type of family we belong to, members join and leave our Church family, for various reasons. And it is at this time of year we feel their loss most acutely.
We can’t make everything right for everyone, but what we can do is as congregations, and individuals, try to reach out to those whose family situation is not supporting them, or providing them with the security, help and love we all need, in whatever way we can.
As we remember that Christmas image, of a family, it brings to mind our own families, and sometimes the feelings that inspires, are warm, comfortable, loving, and sometimes less so. But every Christmas brings a message of hope, hope that what has gone before need not continue or be repeated, that we can, by experiencing the love and hope that are the Christmas message build our own families, be they families defined by consanguinity or community, and provide for others, as well as ourselves, places of encouragement, safety and love.
Somehow last year our nativity crèche at St Mark’s acquired an extra Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, which along with our rather eclectic stable menagerie, gave a rather different slant on the traditional nativity scene!
But on reflection, many children today are born into single parent, or ‘composite’ families, some into families where there are two mummies, or two daddies. And given Mary’s youth, she was at increased risk of a multiple birth, so there may well have been a twin! So perhaps our crèche truly was a nativity for the 21st century?
So whatever the shape of your family, be it a family made up of one individual, a nuclear, or composite family, a close group of special friends, or an extended clan, may you find the hope, joy, love and peace that are the message of Christmas.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy, New Year!
President, General Assembly of Unitarian & Free Christian Churches
2. Executive Committee Key Messages, 16 November 2018
1. Youth Programme
Gavin Howell, Youth Co-ordinator, gave a presentation to the Executive Committee following a recent weekend strategy event on the national youth programme. He highlighted that the programme would be looking to build partnerships across the Unitarian and Free Christian movement. There was scope for a more co-ordinated curriculum across the age groups so he would be working with the Youth Panel to draw up an improvement and development plan. Opportunities exist to share the thinking about future direction and how support could be offered across the country on work with children and young people. Gavin and all those volunteering with the national youth programme were thanked for their contributions and commitment.
2. Investment Policy
The Executive Committee considered the “Investment Guide” that has been issued to all congregations and district associations and the implications of its recommendations for investments held by the General Assembly. Discussion explored the relationship between projected income and expenditure in the short, medium and long term and how this projected differential should affect the approach to GA investments, with a view to setting these out in an updated Investment Policy. This work will include how the ethical values of the Unitarian movement can form a clearer part of the Investment Policy, and further discussion is planned for the January 2019 meeting.
3. Ministerial Training
The granting of Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) status to Unitarian College was welcomed as a further step forward in establishing the new college.
The Executive Committee reaffirmed its commitment to the agreed ministerial competencies framework as the basis for the assessment of those completing their training and seeking inclusion on the Roll of Ministers. It looked forward to working with the Ministry Strategy Group, the Interview Panel and all training institutions to ensure that the highest quality of training is provided.
4. Worship Studies Course Advanced Level
The Executive Committee accepted the recommendation of the Worship Studies Course Group that Graham Phoenix be included on the central Roll of Lay Preachers and congratulated him on his completion of the Worship Studies Course at Advanced level.
5. Chief Officer Appointment
A report was received on the Chief Officer recruitment process which was being progressed by the Interview Panel.
6. Facebook Page
A “Unitarians UK” Facebook page had been set up as an official page of the General Assembly. Rory Castle Jones, who attended the meeting as an observer as part of his staff induction, was congratulated for the early initiatives he had taken to improve the Unitarian social media presence.
3. Religious Leaders Hebron Forum - Appeal
The Religious Leaders Hebron Forum brings together Jews and Muslims to create a uniquely effective path toward harmonious co-existence. The project is co-ordinated and co-sponsored by the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) and the Interfaith Encounter Association.
The project recently lost its funding from the United States government and its backers, including IARF President Robert Ince (former convenor of the Unitarian and Free Christian General Assembly), are appealing for donations.
You can read more about the project and make a donation here.
4. Facebook Page reaches 450 followers
The ‘Unitarians UK’ Facebook page is helping us to share our message with the public in new and exciting ways. Help us reach 500 followers by Christmas by clicking ‘like’ on the page, inviting friends and family to do the same, and sharing posts on your personal, congregational and district Facebook pages.
Find the page here.
5. Summer School
Our annual Summer School at The Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow, Derbyshire, will be held on 17-24 August 2019 with the theme ‘Theology in the Flesh’.
More information and an application form are available here.
6. FUSE Festival 2019
Registration for the FUSE Festival is now open! A weekend of Unitarian fun and fulfilment by the seaside. FUSE will be returning to the cosy family-run Chatsworth Hotel in Worthing next year, with guest speaker Jennifer Kavanagh. For more information about the wide variety of workshops and other activities, please visit www.fusefest.org.uk where you can find a video which gives a taste of what to expect.
7. Youth Events
Youth Sunday 2019 will take place on 3 February with the theme ‘Unitarians Promoting Equality’. You can download your Youth Sunday pack and adaptable Order of Service here.
Junior Weekend (ages 7-11) will take place on 1-3 March 2019 at The Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow.
Inter/Senior Weekend (ages 11-14 and 14-17) will take place on 15-17 March 2019 at The Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow.
Information about both weekends here.
8. Send A Child To Hucklow
The ‘Send a Child to Hucklow’ Fund is a Trust to arrange and administer holidays at the Unitarian Holiday Centre, Great Hucklow, Derbyshire for groups of disadvantaged children, having no regard to religious, political, racial and other considerations.
The 2018 Annual Report and “Send a Child to Hucklow” Appeal 2019 are now available to download here or by post by from:
Hon. Sec. Rev Ernest Baker, 145 Tullibardine Road, Sheffield S11 7GN,
Tel: 0114 266 1070 or email.
9. Meditation Fellowship Retreats
The Meditation Fellowship runs short retreats three times each year, which are open to all. Learn more about meditation or deepen your practice. Dates for 2019 are:
Midweek: 24th - 26th April 2019 (Salisbury)
Weekend: 12th - 14th July 2019 (Grasmere)
Weekend: 1st - 3rd November 2019 (Salisbury)
For more info about The Meditation Fellowship (TMF) click here.
10. Essex Hall – Holiday Closure
The General Assembly Offices will be closed for the Christmas and New Year holiday from 4.00pm on Friday 21 December 2018 until 10.00am on Wednesday 2 January 2019. Messages will not be retrieved from the voicemail service on the GA telephone number until our return. For messages that are of an urgent nature please ring, or preferably send a text message to, the mobile number 0750 763 1285. Please note this is an emergency number only and will only be checked periodically.
11. In The News
'Chapel launches appeal to find families of service men named on war memorial' – Warrington Guardian (08.10.2018)
‘Jogendra Sen: An unlikely pal’ - ITV News (01.11.2018)
‘Web needs more love, says its creator’ – BBC News (02.11.2018)
'Multi-faith service held at church' – Lancashire Telegraph (05.11.2018)
‘Remembrance in Hampstead: Silence falls at interfaith service marking centenary of Armistice Day’ – Ham & High (09.11.2018)
‘Each person's spiritual or intuitive experience deserves respect’ – The Westmorland Gazette (18.11.2018)
‘Kendal friends celebrate Inter Faith Week 2018’ – The Westmorland Gazette (19.11.2018)
‘UKEFF to reach out on Christmas Day again’ – The Oldham Chronicle (28.11.2018)
‘On this day in history: December 4’ – The Swindon Advertiser (04.12.2018)
‘Theatre interview: Jo Clifford on Jesus, Queen Of Heaven and fighting bigotry in Brazil’ – The Scotsman (5.12.2018)
‘Experts call on SNP Government to back £5 child benefit rise in Budget’ – The Herald (09.12.2018)
‘Church backs call for Scottish Budget to 'Give Me Five'’ – Church of Scotland News (09.12.2018)
‘Celebration remembers those who died in First World War’ – Messenger (10.12.2018)
‘Service to mark the 200th anniversary of Silent Night’ – Warrington Guardian (11.12.2018)