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Report from GA Annual Meetings Birmingham April 2017 ~ Val Chamberlain, Abi Elliott- McGuffie and Susan Mitchell 

The overall theme for the Meetings was ‘Be Inspired’, and the opening ceremony with the parade of colourful banners from churches, chapels and affiliated societies from around the country embodied this from the outset.

            

 Introduction. This report is a summary of the feedback of Abi Elliot-McGuffie, Val Chamberlain and Susan Mitchell, official delegates from Bury Unitarian Church to the GA Meetings 10th -13th April 2017 in Birmingham. Each delegate has provided a detailed personal report which will be displayed on the noticeboard.  The delegates were supported at the conference by Susan Holt, Betty and Neville Kenyon and were proud to see our minister, Rev Kate McKenna, formally welcomed onto the GA Roll.

The report aims to give a record of business conducted on behalf of the Church, a flavour of our collective experience and points for consideration by the congregation, committees or Council as appropriate (highlighted in bold). 

Proceedings

All three delegates enjoyed the experience of the week and the privilege of representing the Church. In a helpful introductory briefing, Betty Kenyon advised the group that the event could be a stimulating yet exhausting experience; she was proved right: all three delegates ‘peaked’ at different stages through the week as they attended the full range of services, lectures, plenary (business) sessions and engaged with a total of 18 workshops.

The overall theme for the Meetings was ‘Be Inspired’, and the opening ceremony with the parade of colourful banners from churches, chapels and affiliated societies from around the country together with the moving and rousing enactment of highlights of Welsh Unitarian heritage, embodied this from the outset.

Plenary Sessions

The continual interweaving of worship with the ‘business’ of the Meetings through separate services and devotional elements at the beginning of each Plenary session also inspired reflection on how our faith should inform all our relations and transactions.

Motions and reports were presented at the Plenary sessions and unless otherwise stated, the motions were passed and reports accepted with the Bury delegates voting in favour. The following resolutions were passed:

Resolution 1 The GA extended deepest sympathy to families and friends of the 41  Coptic Christians who died on 9th April as a result of the bombings of 2 Coptic Churches in Egypt.

Resolution 2 The GA supported changes to the length and format of the Annual meetings (in effect to make them shorter) with detailed proposals to be presented at the next annual meeting.

Resolution 3 To make the Rev Cliff Reed an honorary member of the GA in recognition of his considerable contribution to the Unitarian cause worldwide.

Resolution 4 The GA deplored the treatment of Irene Clennell as she was removed from her family in the UK and deported to Singapore. The GA called upon the UK Government to reinstate her indefinite leave to remain in the UK, to cease the practice of using obscure technical issues to deport people who have long been integrated into British families and to instruct the Border Agency to treat persons subject to deportation with the utmost care, dignity and respect.

The discussions leading to the passing of the resolutions, particularly those related to current events, served as a reminder of the Unitarian tradition of supporting freedom and tolerance. During the closing ceremony we subsequently heard that the message to the Coptic Christians had been read by thousands on social media and had been widely appreciated. An update in the latest edition of the Inquirer also reports that Irene Clennell is to have a meeting with the British High Commission for a new application and again has been much comforted by messages of support. 

Similarly, it was heartening to hear a report on the progress of previous resolutions, including from charities which Bury Unitarian Church has supported and one which was considered in detail two years ago at a congregational meeting when Anne Mills and Betty Kenyon carried out research prior to their attendance at the GA Meetings in 2015.

·    The Unitarian Clara Barton Appeal fund had raised £95,000 for The Red Cross, ahead of any other faith group in the UK. Hugh Fenton, Head of Middle East and North Africa for the British Red Cross thanked the movement and reported that the money raised had helped to support those affected by: the Syria Crisis, Typhoon Haiyan, Nepal Earthquake , European Refugee Crisis, Hurricane Matthew, Yemen and East African Crisis.

·    Gold Mining in Transylvania – A report was received of the successful campaign against the mining proposal which, if carried out, would have resulted in the removal of countless villages in Transylvania.   The resolution called upon the Rumanian Government to reject the plans which they did in 2014. The company concerned are still making claims for compensation for losses. There was however promising news that a bid has been made to UNESCO Heritage Status for the area which might afford more protection for the future. 

·    A report from the Dr Hadwen Trust ( now renamed Animal Free Research UK) outlined a number projects which had moved to non- animal research methods and will make a significant contribution to medical practice including: treatment of brain tumours, simulation practices for doctors in training and chronic kidney disease.

It was inspiring to learn that there are really positive outcomes from the efforts being taken by the movement itself and by those it supports, which affect real people’s lives both in this country and worldwide.  Things DO happen as a result of voices raised in protest. In the face of so much suffering in the world it is often tempting to think that we as individuals can’t do anything to make a difference. However, in our own church, every time we attend a meeting, respond to a request for feedback or support a charity event we are making a contribution and a difference.  We can appreciate that others, on our behalf are taking the work forward and making it count. One of the overriding feelings that all three delegates shared was gratitude for the work done in our name and a feeling of connection. 

The delegates abstained on Further Motion 4, concerning the appointment of the Honorary Treasurer for the year 2017-18 

Annual Reports A full record of Annual Reports received is available from any of the delegates.

Those that might have relevance for Bury Unitarian Church committees and Council include:

·    The Stipend Review Report – New scales and allowances were passed and will apply from Jan 1st 2018. A minimum of £50 plus expenses for pulpit supply should always be offered and claimed in full.

·    Youth Panel – we are urged to familiarise ourselves with and publicise the Youth Programme. We should be aware of the potential interest of visitors to the church on all occasions, including rentals and social events by ensuring publicity material is on display. Videos are also available to show to young people and indeed ourselves to raise awareness of the rich programme on offer.

·    The Send a Child to Hucklow Campaign – A raincoat and wellies cost £20 per set if anyone wishes to make a donation.

·    Congregational Support - Simon Bland advised that a 20% discount is available for a financial software package which is designed to manage the accounts for churches and charities as required by the Charity Commission. Payment would be once off payment and so whilst it is a significant sum, there are no ongoing costs and importantly Simon considers it may mean finding a new treasurer/finance officer should be a little easier in the future. Further details from http://www.datadevelopments.co.uk/store/products/finance-co-ordinator-2/

Workshops

The workshops provided a wealth of inspirational talks, practical demonstrations, and discussions. Some were helpful in articulating a sense of shared meaning and purpose whilst others were of a more practical nature, with stimulating ideas for growth and renewal at individual and church/chapel level. Without fail each one left the audience with an appreciation of just how much creativity, commitment to ‘good causes’ of all descriptions and sheer hard work is going on in our movement.

Highlights and reflections included:

For Abi: 2020 Group presentation- Christine Smith of Derby Unity. “She talked us through a ‘typical service’ which actually they don’t call a service but simply a gathering in order to make it relevant to how people want to engage with spirituality now, without the baggage or even the perceived negativity associated with the religion of their parents and grandparents. They seek to be a place for people who wouldn’t normally engage with a religious community to find purpose and meaning for their lives. Hymns have been replaced with songs and after service coffee has become the grab your coffee, and a fair trade/gluten-free/vegan bite (inclusivity on all levels!) gathering, café style…I wonder how bold we could be in order to welcome the spiritually homeless of Bury? That doesn’t mean throwing out the old to make way for the new, but perhaps they could work side by side?

For Val: the presentation from the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) to the Unitarian Women’s Group.  “Initially I wondered why, when the environment impacts all lives and living things, environmental concerns needed to be considered from a gender perspective. Connections between women and the environment are quite obvious in less industrialised countries where women grow most of the food and are responsible for fuel and water collection. However, even in more industrial societies it is claimed that women make up over 80% of consumer decisions in the home. When you consider that these decisions include ones about recycling, reducing carbo emissions generated from household actives, food, clothing and household goods it is clear that individual women have an opportunity to make an important contribution to reducing the negative effect on the environment on a daily basis. One way that WEM was making a practical difference was through developing community food growing gardens in urban housing estates in London, providing residents with the space, the knowledge and the support to grow their own food. 

One point that came across was that whilst global climate change may seem such a big problem to tackle and beyond the scope of any individual, small changes can and do make a difference. We can make a difference through the choices we make at home, and of course make our everyday choices count in our church affairs. We’ve already seen the impact of our heightened awareness of Fair Trade goods in our own congregation, and many of us have made small but significant changes in our personal shopping habits.  Similarly, could decisions taken in committees and Council have as a matter of course an ‘environmental consideration’ such as how we can reduce waste and energy consumption, use greener products and support greener businesses?

For Susan: The update on the global Unitarian/Universalist family was enlightening. “International connections and collaboration strengthens and grows our faith around the world. 27 groups make up the Council of Unitarian/Universalists with communities in Hungary, Transylvania, Czech, Kenya Barundi Rwanda Nigeria Indonesia Cape Town Durban USA Canada and recently small group in Central and South America, all working to change the world for the better. Rev. Sara Ascher, their Executive Director’s message was powerful – we have the power as a community. Their next conference is in the Khasi Hills in India. As a congregation how can we be more aware, more connected and more supportive of other Unitarians at regional, national and international levels?  

Summary of Workshops

The following is a brief summary of the workshops attended. Further details can be obtained in the individual reports and from the appropriate delegate. (Initials indicate which delegate attended each workshop.)

2020 Group (Christina Smith, Chief Community Cultivator, Derby Unity), “Life, Love and Letting Go” (A & V – see highlights section above). 

Associate Members’ Reception (Alan Ruston) – a brief but enjoyable history of the Unitarian and Free Christian movement (S)

Executive Committee Identity Project  - news of an exciting development to promote and advertise our Unitarian movement. Implications for our web site and social media. (S)

Findhorn Unitarian Network (FUN)  – feedback by members who attended the first Unitarian Experience Week in January. The Network has now been formally set up and will work to support Unitarians who wish to benefit from the Findhorn experience to develop ideas about growth and renewal for themselves and their Unitarian communities. Val Chamberlain has been elected as the convenor of the trustees and will be helping to organise an Experience Week in January 2018. (V)

International Council of Unitarians & Universalists – (Rev Sarah Ashcer)  27 groups make up the international community, all working to change the world for the better. International empowerment for growth globally - An invitation for greater connectivity worldwide through supporting and working with new communities in places such as Rwanda. Being in community helps us find true meaning better than being alone. Partnering communities is a great encouragement for growth, but it must be handled sensitively with respect to cultural relevance. Should partnering be of interest the contact is Roger Bertschausen on the Partnership Council (roger@uupcc.org). (S and A) See highlights section above.

Leading Enabling Affirming People (LEAP) – an outline of an interesting new training course for potential leaders of Religious Education for all ages. (V)

Lifelong Learning and Development for All (A)

Lindsey Press, “How to Publish Your Work”  – an introduction to a resource to support the publication of items such as a recipe book or an aspect of church history which can now be downloaded https://www.unitarian.org.uk/resources/document-library/how-to-publish-your-work (V)

Motions Workshop – background and clarification of the motions and emergency motions– see motions discussion (V)

The Peace Fellowship (Patricia Earle) “People Power, Collective Goodness and my Journey of Faith’ (S & A) – the over-riding message was that there is power in working together and working from personal experience. In bridging the gaps of race and religion we free our own hearts.

Penal Affairs Panel (Kate Pickett), “Why Aren’t We Dong More About Inequality?” Statistics and information about how problems of stress related illness and life expectancy are related to poor social conditions - “if you take a tube journey from Westminster going east, your life expectancy will decrease on each stop you travel through.’ Perceptions of inequality can have a huge bearing on the social and emotional health of communities. (S)

Simple Gifts: Unitarian Centre for Social Action in Bethnal Green – how a flourishing food-centred project has been making a difference through material, physical and emotional support, in a multicultural community (S)

Unitarian Association for Lay Ministry – a most sensitive and helpful session,  giving advice on how to support those who may be bereaved , suffering a tragedy or facing serious illness. (S & A)

Unitarian Women’s Group (Kate Metcalf) “Women’s Environmental Network: 28 Years of Ecofeminism in Action”. (V) See highlights section above. 

Worship Studies Course (Celia Cartwright and Sue Woolley), “From Pew to Pulpit.” Celia & Sue spoke about their journeys into ministry, which were both interesting and inspirational.
 (A)

Key note addresses

John Relly Baird Lecture Carla Grosch Miller “Fifty Shades of Grace: Sex and Progressive Christianity” for a full copy of the lecture see The Inquirer issues 22. 4. 17 / 6.5.17 (All)

Key note address – Rev Dr Ralph Waller, Principal of Manchester College Oxford, “Muddling through: Leading organisations in today’s world”.  (All)

Inspirational addresses from Rev Sarah Tinker at the closing ceremony, the outgoing President, Dot Hewardine and the new President, Rev Charles Van Den Broeder all held messages of hope and vision. Sarah reminded us that ‘for each of us and for each of our communities there are tasks with which we can engage, there are groups of people who share similar concerns and commitments with whom we can join’ and Charles urged us to  ‘to be a welcoming spiritual home for all..reach(ing) out to your local community”.

‘Joining’ and ‘reaching out’  are certainly themes we would like to explore further with others in our church. Suggestions in addition to those made elsewhere in this report include:  

·       extending  our awareness of and connection with the range of Unitarian societies, in our community at Bury

·       the possibility of partnering with another church. Abi is happy to be the contact for this if it is an idea supported by the congregation.

We all left with a much greater sense of connection with the wider Unitarian movement, past and present, near and far which will enrich us personally but also we hope in turn be of value to our own church community. We have developed a greater appreciation of being part of a movement which is totally relevant to life today and are proud of the action taken in relation to social, moral and environmental issues in the UK and worldwide where our Unitarian voice counts and is being heard. We felt welcome and included and would encourage any other members who may be the slightest bit interested to give it a go.

We would all like to thank the church for the financial support and encouragement which enabled us to take advantage of this opportunity.

 

 

INTRODUCTORY BOOKLET:


A FAITH WORTH THINKING ABOUT



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Bury Unitarian Church
1 Bank Street
Bury
Lancashire
BL9 0DN

0161 761 3785

 

 

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© Bury Unitarian Church 2017