How we work
The Object of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches is “to promote a free and inquiring religion through the worship of God and the celebration of life; the service of humanity and respect for all creation; and the upholding of the liberal Christian tradition.”
Our congregations are autonomous, democratic organisations, led by the members. Each elects its own leadership annually and decide their own vision and plans. The culture and ethos of each congregation is unique, while belonging to our larger family. Some congregations are led by a minister appointed by the congregation, and others are led directly by the community.
As well as individual congregations, there are District Associations that connect and support congregations in a local region, and many societies, from the Peace Fellowship and the Earth Spirit Network to the Women’s Group and the Music Society – plus many more. You can find a full list of our Districts and Societies here.
Leadership & Governance
The Unitarian movement is a democratic, grass-roots organisation. Our central hub is the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, a registered charity, whose Executive Committee is elected by members. The movement makes collective decisions at our Annual Meetings, where each congregation sends its delegates. You can read about the resolutions we have passed here – these show the issues that our community has stood up for since the General Assembly’s inception in 1929.
The General Assembly is funded by a mixture of membership payments from congregations, donations, grants, and income from our investments. Find out more about how you can support our work.
Our Chief Officer, Liz Slade, works with the Executive Committee and leads the staff team. She joined us in March 2019 after a senior career in the healthcare industry. Originally from Dorset, Liz joined our New Unity congregation in north London, starting her on a spiritual journey which led her through leadership in the Sunday Assembly movement to leading pilgrimages treating works of literature as sacred texts, before becoming our Chief Officer. She is excited by the role that Unitarians can play in bringing a cultural shift to make it easy for everyone to participate in a spiritually healthy community, and sees this as a necessary part of creating a society that is more equal and in balance with the natural world.
Meet the rest of the General Assembly staff team here.
The Presidential team travel the length and breadth of the UK (in person and via Zoom!), connecting with our congregations and sharing their vision for the future. They also represents us at official events like Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph and on official bodies. The President and Vice President are elected annually, serving a 12 month term.
Vince McCully (President) has been a Unitarian since attending a service in 1996, at Rivington Unitarian Chapel in Lancashire, and instantly finding a strong spiritual bond with the faith. Vince, brought up as Roman Catholic, spent six years as a seminarian, however, in search of answers he left there to study comparative religion and politics at Manchester University.
These days Vince divides his time between being the Lay Person in Charge at Rivington chapel, treasurer of the Manchester District Association, taking services around the north-west of England, being a parish councillor, and running an electronics company he formed in 1989. There’s not much time for his hobbies, what with organizing the annual village festival and helping with the triennial Rivington Pilgrimage to Civil and Religious Liberties, but when he does it’s over to repairing tools and furniture.
Vince says: “I am deeply honoured by being appointed as GA President for 2023-2024 and hope to fulfil this role in a way that fully reflects the freedoms tolerance and inclusivity I find to be the back-bone of our faith. I earnestly want Unitarianism to be fully accessible to all on their faith journey. As it says on the President’s jewel: “Freedom, Tolerance, Reason”.
Geoff Levermore (Vice President) studied physics in London and in 1992 started researching into building services and climate change at UMIST (now Manchester University). He was a Lead Author of the IPCC 4th Assessment Report, contributing to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC, along with Al Gore. Geoff is semi-retired.
In London he and his late wife, Carolyn, took the children to an Anglican church. Up North they went to Norcliffe Chapel Styal and heard the Rev Pat Shaw preach and they became hooked on Unitarianism. He now takes services occasionally at Norcliffe, Shrewsbury and other chapels.
He describes himself as a Unitarian agnostic Christian who tries to grapple with philosophy. He recently found the theology of Gordon Kaufman, who describes God as the Mystery of Creation. This idea sits well with current science and usefully gives a theology for climate change. Geoff recently married Margaret adding three stepchildren to the family.
He was honoured to be nominated for the Presidency as he feels the Unitarian message is a good one that needs more exposure. He also feels that Unitarianism is a good home for all who wonder what the purpose of life is and a good life at that, with deeds unfettered by creeds.
Our Executive Committee is elected directly by our members. Their work is open and transparent. You can read the minutes from their meetings in our Resources section.
Our Executive Committee:
John Bates is a retired Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School, with forty years’ experience in business and education. He joined Cambridge Unitarians in 1991 and later was a member of Islington Unitarians. John became Chair of New Unity when it was formed in 2015, before stepping down in 2022.
Sarah Benfield lives in Berkshire and is a retired solicitor specialising in family law. She is a member of Reading Unitarian fellowship. The daughter of a Unitarian minister, Sarah has been involved in the denomination all of her life, including in Sheffield, Reading, and as Chair of the Send A Child To Hucklow charity which helps children from deprived areas experience the natural world. Sarah enjoys travelling with her family, volunteering in her local park and as a National Trust guide, singing in a choir and dance exercise classes.
Rev. Celia Cartwright is a retired minister, having served six Unitarian congregations. Throughout her life, her Unitarian faith has guided, supported and enabled her and in retirement she has served as President of the General Assembly and the Women’s League. Celia lives in Cumbria surrounded by stunning scenery, close to her daughter and son, and is kept on her toes by a gorgeous granddaughter.
Simon Hall has worked in IT for the public sector for many years and is now studying a BA in Theology. He is active in both Northampton and Leicester Unitarians.
Jenny Jacobs lives in Harrogate and is Secretary and an occasional worship leader at York Unitarians. She only discovered the Unitarians relatively recently, and wishes she’d known about them sooner. This helps explain why Jenny is passionate about raising the profile and public presence of Unitarianism. She’s convinced there are a whole lot more people out there who want what we offer, but probably don’t know we exist. Recently retired from her main job in housing, Jenny still works part time for the Ministry of Justice as a Valuer Member of the First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber).
Rev. Jo James is Minister of Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds, where he has had a particular interest in fostering conversation projects with refugees, other faith groups, mental health and wellbeing groups and theological reflection within the congregation and denomination. Before training for the ministry he worked in the theatre for over twenty years as an actor. Jo is married to Ann, a ceramic artist, they have two young children.
Sue Morrison lives in London and is a former GP, medical educator and life coach. Her health education work has taken her around the world, including to Bangladesh and Kenya. Sue began her Unitarian journey at Monton Unitarians, Lancashire, attending as a child with her grandmother – memories which she cherishes. She is now a leader at New Unity in north London, but remains a proud Northerner. Sue loves being an active grandmother, making patchwork quilts and choral singing.
Rev. Wyn Thomas is a Unitarian minister based in Ceredigion and is Chair of Unitarians Wales. He works as a Complex Case Officer and Engagement Project Leader for Tir Dewi, a Welsh rural support charity.
Rev. Dr Rob Whiteman is Minister with Dundee Unitarians, having previously served in the Cotswolds. Before ministry, Rob worked in church administration and is the Honorary Treasurer of the General Assembly. His interests include golf and cricket.