Please support the GA Weekend Appeal!
With your financial support, the General Assembly will: progress the agreed “Next Steps” priorities, develop ministry and local leadership education and training, raise our profile nationally, organise the Annual Meetings, promote religious education and develop the national youth programme, provide resources and advice for congregations, support The Inquirer, support the 2020 Derby Unity growth project, assist congregations in improving Safeguarding, promote social justice and a sustainable and fairer world.
Please send cheques to ‘GA of Unitarian & FCC’ at Unitarian HQ, Essex Hall, 1 Essex St, London, WC2R 3HY.
Message from Rev Celia Cartwright, President
What does supporting the General Assembly mean to you? I hope it means a celebration of the mutual support we are able to offer our Unitarian and Free Christian Movement. I hope it is not just grudgingly the idea that we are supporting an office in London that we are not sure does much! The Assembly is us, all of us, every participating congregation, every member of those congregations, every minister to those congregations, every flower arranger, treasurer, chair of committees and the members, every trustee, tea and coffee maker, garden tender, cleaner of pews, welcomer at the door and chalice lighter. We are the Assembly and never is this so vividly experienced than at the General Assembly Meetings where business is discussed - our business, our financial status, our technological status, our status in the world in general and in particular. Where we can experience the many and beautifully varied things our Movement gets up to: RE Summer School, Peace Fellowship, Psychical Society, Earth Spirit, Unitarian Christian Association, Women’s League and Women’s Group, Historical Society, Penal Reform Group, Executive Committee, and much more.
One of the things that has long bothered me about our Unitarian and Free Christian Movement is that many members of our congregations often view their congregational autonomy. They see themselves as separate, not connected to anything other than their own congregation and perhaps to a sense of their own heritage and history. What they don’t feel is connected to a wider web of Unitarian congregations. This saddens me, for without our connections we lose much of our identity.
In my life I have been a member or attender of, and a Minister or Lay Leader of, eleven congregations and Fellowship Groups, and have been preacher at many, many more. And I can tell you that there is a very definite connection. We are not substantially different from one another. We all care, we nurture, we love, we sing, we share, we seek to make a difference, we welcome seekers after their own truth, and we give. We give of our time and our experience. We give of our skills and our ideas. We give of our selves. As in all life, we have our troubles, our trouble-makers, our stick-in-the-muds and out-of-the-box thinkers, our difficulties and those who find ways out of such troubles, but with compassion and understanding these experiences of such things will make us stronger not weaker.
During this weekend I hope you will look outwards to the whole of this Assembly, and know yourselves as part of a something truly worth being part of. I hope you will be able to see this wonderful Assembly with its many voices, its many colours, its many ideas, its many views as something to be proud of, as something to be shared in. Together our voice will be a voice that continues to bring rational, liberal, tolerant and loving change in our society.
Message from Elizabeth Slade, Chief Officer
'Leadership is listening to what is most precious in other people.'
Jean Vanier, theologian and founder of L’Arche communities for people with and without learning disabilities
September 10, 1928 – May 7, 2019
This quote from Jean Vanier, who sadly died this week, jumped out at me as being very fitting to the role of the General Assembly. We provide leadership as a central organisation to our movement, by listening to what is most precious in our congregations and members. To me, it seems clear that we must also be listening to those who are not yet members, and have not yet entered our doors if our denomination is to thrive.
Before this year’s annual meetings – my first – I hadn’t heard of the GA Weekend. I suppose I must have come across it when I was Secretary at my congregation, but I know at that point my focus was much more about the community directly around me, rather than the communities across the country, and the mysterious General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.
It’s interesting to reflect on how my perspective has broadened since then, seeing beyond to the wider movement as my engagement has deepened.
My connection with my own congregation remains strong. It feels like a sort of home – turning up to friendly faces, feeling instant belonging, and being able to offer welcome to new faces, to share that sense of belonging with others.
When I think about the national movement, the feeling is different. There is still a sense of wanting to offer that sense of home to new people – I know that it is something that many people are missing. Beyond that there is also the feeling of wanting to know one’s neighbours – that in all our congregations we are collectively doing the same thing, even if the precise way we do it might differ between church and chapel and meeting house across the districts. That sense of being a collective feels all the more important knowing that showing up to be part of a congregation is something of a niche interest in Britain today.
And there is a feeling of life in being part of something larger than ourselves – individually or as a congregation. This is felt very tangibly at the Annual Meetings of course – not just in the experience of having over 350 people in worship together, but also seeing the threads that cross and link between all the individuals and congregations and societies, whether the stitches have been there for decades or are freshly made. The strength in our movement is made up of these individual connections that we are all part of forming.
And that’s what brought me to be doing this role – I feel the benefits of an individual belonging to a congregation; I know the strength in us being part of a wider collective; and I can see the possibilities for our culture overall if our movement grows, if we get our message out to more people, and share that sense of home.
So for this year’s GA Weekend, I invite you to consider those different levels of engagement with our denomination – the personal, the collective, and the societal. During my induction, and handover from Derek McAuley I’ve been learning just how much the GA does at each of those levels. This is of course through the work of the talented and committed GA staff, but also through the formidable committees and panels and individual volunteers who keep all the cogs turning. I see the GA’s role as listening to what is most precious in all those people, to use Vanier’s phrase, in order to provide the support and leadership that will enable us all to thrive individually, collectively, and societally.