Welcome to what will (hopefully) be a daily blog from the UK Unitarian Annual Meetings at Keele University in Staffordshire. There will be plenty of micro-blogging going on over the next few days, under the Twitter Hashtag #GAUK. I’m going to try and concentrate on this blog, partly so not to annoy my (mostly non-Unitarian) Twitter followers with constant live tweets! As always, this blog is of my own views and does not represent those of the Unitarian General Assembly.
Tuesday’s proceedings kicked off with the John Relly Beard Lecture, this year with the Revd Peter Owen Jones (pictured), best known for his BBC Series Around the World in 80 Faiths. I was slightly suspicious about what a “media vicar” might have to say, but I was hugely impressed by his insights.
Owen-Jones’s travels had clearly changed him profoundly. He spoke of what he was sensing as a new creation-centred spirituality that is inspiring people, but institutional religion is failing to respond to. Owen-Jones observed that while religion has declined in Britain, spirituality is on the increase. He related this phenomenon with the environmental movement, which to Owen-Jones is “the first truly global movement” operating beyond the boundaries of nation and religion. Christianity, by contrast, was too anthropocentric – too egocentric – to really be able to deal with the the protection and care, the salvation, of our environment. The message was one at a lot of Unitarians, who come to the movement seeking healing from institutional Christianity, took well to. It made for an energising start to Annual Meetings.
The main object of the Annual Meetings in the business. The first session was mainly formalities, but did include the presentation of the national Executive Committee’s report. A fair bit of controversy has been brewing up about transparency in the EC and the way it conducts business. Revd Martin Whittel, the EC’s convenor, did his best to handle questions, but the mood in the meeting room was steely at times, with a fair amount of dissatisfaction expressed from the floor.
The main event this evening was the Opening Celebrations. It carries a bit of a reputation within the movement for being quite cheesy: on that basis, tonight was no exception(!), but it was all the better for it. It was the loudest, livliest Unitarian service I’ve been to: led by a rock band, framed by contemporary songs from the American Unitarian Universalist movement, woven between testimonies of 13 speakers (including myself). Looking down from the stage, for every steely stiff silver face, there was someone smiling, clapping dancing.
On Wednesday, the Assembly will debate motions on a form of (non-military) National Service, and compulsory voting, two motions that have already shown themselves to be rather contentious. The bulk of fringe meetings will be taking place and the Anniversary Service – the high point of the GA – will take place in the evening.
There’s a lot of energy at Keele tonight (the sound coming from the bar is still pretty lively!) and it looks like we’re in for some lively Annual Meetings.