Reflections on the GA

The Annual Meeting of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches was held this year from 16 to 18 April in Birmingham. Nine members from St Mark’s attended, including our minister Rev Peter Fairbrother. Jane Aaronson, Kate Foggo, Lesley Hartley and Rodger Hartley reflect on what they found when they went to Birmingham...

The Annual Meeting of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches was held this year from 16 to 18 April in Birmingham. Nine members from St Mark’s attended, including our minister Rev Peter Fairbrother. Jane Aaronson, Kate Foggo, Lesley Hartley and Rodger Hartley reflect on what they found when they went to Birmingham...

Jane Aaronson

Last year’s decision to reduce the meeting time at the GA from 4 days to 3, was made with the hope that this might encourage wider attendance. Conference Organiser, Andrew Mason, reported that 356 people attended this year and of those, 70 people came for the first time. A positive result.

Women led our opening reflections every day. Terri Quaye, a Unitarian lay preacher, offered hers on the theme of music. Quaye is a singer, songwriter, pianist and percussionist and her reflections were an amazing experience, full of energy, which set the tone for the opening plenary session. Stephanie Bisby, a ministry student, gave reflections on Wednesday and Rev Maria Pap, minister of the Mansfield church, led the reflections on Thursday.

Rev Dr Ann Peart and Rev Claire MacDonald

Rev Dr Ann Peart and Rev Claire MacDonald

The Lyndsey Press book launch session stood out for me, particularly the interview (pictured right) of Rev Dr Ann Peart, the editor of Unitarian Women: A Legacy of Dissent, by Rev Claire MacDonald.

As a 7th generation Unitarian, Helen Mason is an ideal Director to launch the new Unitarian College. Mason and Rev Ant Howe, the college ministry tutor, talked about their ambitions for the college.

Along with ministry training there will be opportunities for much-needed lay leadership training too. There is a link to St Mark’s as our own Joan Cook, a former GA president, will be one of the Trustees.

Each year I ask myself whether, as a physically disabled woman, I really want to go through the increasing physical strain of attending the meetings. The answer is still a resounding ‘yes’. Furthermore, my hope is that some of you will join me next year from 7 to 9 April in Birmingham.

Kate Foggo

St Mark’s member Kate Foggo was St Mark’s
‘GA Zette’ link at the meetings. Kate attended many
sessions and still found time to be part of GA Zette team, producing and contributing to issues. Kate was inspired by a workshop that took place to write the following piece, as published in the Zette.

Annual Meetings Prayer

Kate Foggo

Kate Foggo

Our Community, who art in the Hilton, hallowed be thy Annual Meetings.
Thy delegates come, their will be done, having read all of the report. (No?)
Give us each day our daily Zette, and forgive us mishearing, as we forgive those who can’t use microphones properly.
And lead us out of temptation, by being late for the evening event so we have to miss out on dessert (and coffee!)
For thine is the workshops, the worship and the expensive bar bill which puts us into debt forever and ever.
Amen.

Lesley Hartley

On the opening day of the 2019 General Assembly there is no Edinburgh banner being paraded. Perhaps we’ll do something about that for next year.

The John Relly Beard lecture was combined with the keynote speaker this year, Lord Mark Price, currently chair of Fairtrade. He was a government trade and development minister for a couple of years with David Cameron but made his name from work with John Lewis about achieving workplace happiness. “Nobody knows how much you know until they know how much you care” Price said.

I was delighted to find out at the Women’s League meeting that a grand total of £8,600 had been raised for the Sepsis Trust UK charity. As one of 170 Unitarian churches, St. Mark’s played a part in that.

I think the best speaker of all the meetings was Patrick Hall who was invited by the Penal and Social Affairs group to speak about the problems of social care. Patrick delivered a seamless presentation about a sustainable care policy to incorporate statutory care leave. He looked in particular at care leave provision in other countries. It does work.

There were some exciting presentations about the new Unitarian College. What a coincidence that Helen Mason, who is the College Director, is the many-time great-granddaughter of John Relly Beard who was a co-founder of the first Unitarian college in the 1860s. The New Unitarian College has a very flexible approach to ministry, based on 32 competencies. For instance, it enables the single mum who works part-time to train alongside full-time students.

One of the last workshops I attended was about Communications and how social media can help churches. Rory Castle Jones is the Unitarian Communications Officer based at Essex Hall and he very kindly helped the ageing meeting members through the intricacies of setting up websites, Twitter and Instagram. I liked his comment that if a congregation decides that social media is at the top of their priority list then the work will get done. When Rev Andy Pakula arrived at New Unity church 12 years ago, there was a congregation of six. Now with hard work and excellent use of social media his congregation is the largest in the UK.

So how did I find this year’s GA - a little short on controversy and good debate, but there were well- attended meetings and workshops, excellent networking and I was very encouraged by the New College. Was it worth it? Of course it was.