Saturday, 31 July 2010

Difficult people

Yesterday I had a lovely moment. This was not with any Unitarians but with people on a board that I chair. Should I have written this in my governance blog? Perhaps but it seems more appropriate here because of what it reinforces for in me. I have to go back to give my lovely moment a context.

I was drafted into this board by the vice-chair some four years ago - her words were along the lines of, 'we need a bomb under us and I think that you could be that bomb'. I quickly grasped that they were not focused on everything that they needed to be focused on and set about upsetting things by setting out what I thought needed to be done - more meetings, more understanding of what was happening, with better reporting etc etc. We had no staff just a managing agent for a property that we owned and some admin and finance support from the local council.

At some point the chair in his late 70s decided he couldn't cope any longer so my friend became chair and I was elevated to vice-chair. I could see that one man on the board was not happy. I have had cordial relationships with this man but he has been a real conservative balking at many of the changes and not accepting majority board decisions. Earlier this year I was catapulted into the position of chair as my friend's husband was dying. This really cheered up this chap - the last phone call I had with him was to let him know about our AGM - he does email very sporadically despite being a local councillor - I was being helpful and I got a mouthful about him being unhappy with a number of things.

I spoke with the vice-chair who is focused on the developments and does not want anyone to stand in the way of these. I then wrote several angry letters and kept the last one - thinking that I would send it to this man if his negative attitude continued. At the AGM he turned up late, made a contribution of sorts and left after the meeting before lunch when we were schmoozing with potential local partners.

Yesterday was our first full board meeting after the AGM and I was ready. I was thinking how I would handle him if he started to kick-off about unnecessary changes. And lo and behold - he finally became engaged with the new changes. This didn't happen at the beginning of the meeting but as we ploughed through a mountain of business I think he finally saw what we were trying to do - to improve things for the local town and for people within it.

During the meeting we discussed getting some information about the history of the building - I thought to myself, all in cliches, 'in for a penny, in for a pound' and 'into the lion's den' as I suggested that I would be prepared to come round to his house to talk about this. Which he agreed to.

We are looking to buy a new property - in a previous existence this property had been a pub that his grandmother ran over 100 years ago. At the end he came up to me and apologised for not pulling his weight before because he had been so busy with the General Election. Now that this was over he would be devoting more time to the organisation. He said that he was very excited about the new developments. We have this man on board - this was my lovely moment. There will continue to be debate and perhaps some conflict but we are now all looking in the same direction.

Despite the letter still waiting to be posted (which I will root out and destroy) I believe that developing real personal relationships is the only way to do things. So I think when developing our local spiritual communities this is how we have to do things. We have to believe in the power of the group. We have to believe that everyone can be engaged with change - sometimes it takes time but being open to developing that relationship and trying to find the human being under all the difficulties has to be our first approach.

So when I read things which suggest that to get new people in we might have to get rid of existing people I am filled with dismay and disappointment. We should be bigger than this. Community development (or group develoment as with a board) is about trying to create right relationships with all. There may be a point when we have to give up but I think that if we do it right then people vote with their own feet when they find themselves unable to adapt to new circumstances - but this should be a long way down the line.

And just as it is suggested that we develop new ways of doing things to suit newcomers we need to be mindful of developing new things for the old stagers who may want something different perhaps reflecting how things used to be.

One of our hymns goes, 'All are welcome here' - we should perhaps have brackets after this with (including those people who are awkward, cantankerous and resistant to change).

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Growth and/ or development

Do growth and development mean the same thing? A brief surf of the Internet suggests that they don't. Here's one phrase that I found: Growth is related to increase in quantity of what we already have whereas development means both quantitative and qualitative improvement. That's the basic difference.

Within the UK Unitarian community there is talk of growth and the need to grow or die - growth is spoken about in terms of numbers and to a lesser extent in terms of our communities growing together. The EC has produced quite a lot of material in order to help congregations to grow which can be found here. This may or may not be helpful given the situation that your community finds itself in.

If we look at the more broader term of development then what is it that you want to develop? This will be unique to your community - who is a part of that, what they bring and where they want to be going. You have to develop trusting relationships and think about how to do things a little differently - easing yourselves into a new way of being.

In our local community we wanted to develop a loving community which supported its current members in their spiritual seeking and spiritual development. To focus on the quality of relationships within the community and to shape the community and its activities so that it enabled people to be authentic in their spirituality, enabling them to give as well as take and enabling them to be part of the co-creation of the community. The focus has not just been within the community but that was where we started.

For all communities it is about starting where you are - if what you do does not serve you well it is unlikely to serve anyone else well. But there is always something that you do that pleases you - what is that and how can you develop that more?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Back to community

I have strayed a little so now back to community development - well to the community bit.

Communities are communities because there share something. It is often about sharing geographic space as with a local neighbourhood but it may also be a sense of shared experience (as with people who have a certain disability) or a shared approach to life (as with faith communities).

We can be torn apart by focusing on those things that we don't share - by our differences. And we can be put back together again by focusing on those things that we do share.

One of the things that we did at our local Meeting House was to agree on some values - the ones that we hoped that we shared. First what do we mean by a value? I see values as describing words - like adjectives and adverbs. It's not who we are or what we do but how we are and how we do things. It is our principles which define the 'what' and the values which describe the 'how'.

We came up with six values

** Welcoming
** Friendly
** Open
** Respecting
** Caring
** Comfortable

We hope that all we do is done in the spirit of these values and do ask new people if their experience reflects our values. Values are for testing and reminding us of our commitments to each other and to the wider world.

Perhaps if you are stuck and want to move forwards but feel perhaps like an un-community, it would be worth taking time to focus on the very real and very valuable things that you share together. Then as mentioned in the Solutions Focused posting you build on those good things that you share to develop your community.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Web presence

Most Unitarian communities now have a website - if you don't then you must.

Locally many of our new people come through our website. If you don't have a website then you won't have this opportunity to attract people - this is not about selling ourselves but about letting people know that we exist. I, like many people, would have been a Unitarian many years before I did if I had heard about Unitarianism earlier.

Getting a website is easy now as the DUWIT (Design of Unitarian Websites & IT) team have set up an easy website process.

Having a web presence (a website) shows the world that you are there - it is an important message - to be open to the world.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Solutions focused

Much of organisational development work takes on a deficit tackling approach - it asks people to think of the problems that they and the organisation experience and then seeks ways to overcome those problems. The difficulty with this approach is that you focus a lot of energy on what doesn't work and forget to look at what does.

A solutions focused approach suggests that we

* Don’t fix what isn’t broken
* Find what works, and do more of it.
* Stop doing what doesn’t work, and do something else.

Taken from the Solutions Focus website.

Which sounds easy enough but what does that mean in practice? For example you are really worried about the number of people coming to services - it is dwindling. What to do - should you do more posters and fliers, should you put a bright poster on you external notice board, should you put an advert in the paper? None of these things - at least not in the first instance.

First think about when you do get a few more people - it may be at baby-naming ceremonies, for harvest or at Christmas. Think about why those events work - and then ask can we do more? So they might work because people invite friends and family to special events - so

** have a few more special events. Do not overstretch yourselves - special events cannot happen all the time or they are no longer special.
** invite people to your usual services. Perhaps you could extend your ideas on whom to ask along. Do you talk about your faith to others? I was chatting to my reflexologist and kept mentioning (probably most weeks as we discussed spirituality quite a bit) our services and one that I was planning. She decided to give us a try and now she, her daughter and her mother are active members.
** invite another congregation to share a service either another Unitarian one nearby or with another faith community - there may be friends and family of people in the other Unitarian congregation who live nearby who could be invited or you may find people in another local congregation who have never been to you and having been once may come again;
** most importantly think what works for you and do more of that - you identify the problem and then ask when does this problem not happen? Focus on those exceptions and do more to make those exceptions happen more frequently.

It is also useful to ask yourself what skills and interests there are in the community. At our local meeting house we had lots of people who liked to walk so we started a monthly walking group - which has now been going for nearly three years. Other people (family and friends) will come along to walks when you can talk with them and find out what they may be looking for in a faith community and you might get some pointers about what would attract them.

I hope that this posting shows that developing your faith community is about focusing on what you can do - alone or with help - and not about focusing on the problems. It is also about doing what works for you rather than following a list of actions which do not necessarily relate to what works well for you and yours. And always keep smiling! What we have is precious.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

A starting point?

From the outset I think that we all have to start from where we are – the communities that we cherish are all very different, with different strengths and different visions. We are different sizes and at different stages. Some have full-time ministers, one or two may have other paid people e.g. lay leaders, some have a part-time minister, some have support from a district worker and some are wholly run by community members. Some communities are vibrant and eagerly look for development, some appear less energised and perhaps less keen to develop different ways of being.

Whatever you experience in your local community there are some decisions that you have to make if you are committed to working with others to develop your faith community. If this were a workplace you may have away-days with a paid consultant to find out how people think and feel and work on discovering a way to move forward. This can happen for local faith communities but it is more often over a cuppa after a service during conversations that we get a feeling for how people are thinking and feeling. It is a much less formal approach, more subtle and takes longer.

Sometimes communities are up for significant change and sometimes you get the feeling that the time for change may be a year or two off. So what do you do then? You build relationships – you have the vision in your mind about how you think things should be and seek out others who think like you – you gauge how others feel and you find ways to build up the internal relationships within your community.

I also think that if you can you ensure that people who come along to services or walks or craft groups take some responsibility for something – be it bringing the biscuits, washing up or leading a service. People are more committed to something if they have invested and continue to invest their personal time and effort into it.

But most importantly you need to focus on what you do well. Don’t linger on what doesn’t work unless if you don’t tackle it you will be in trouble. Focus on what you do well and do more of that – it is easier and you are more likely to experience success.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Community or congregation?

Some may have seen this before as I put it into the last Associate Newsletter. I have also let others see it. It is important that the language that we use to describe our spiritual communities reflects what they truly are and to do this we need to reflect on our language and use it mindfully.

In faith or religious organisations we may refer to a congregation which literally means to herd or to flock together. This suggests that those people being referred to are those who ‘herd together’ at a service. The word community means (from its Latin root) ‘sharing in common’ and from its Greek it means ‘fellowship’. This suggests a broader definition and includes people who may not be there at services but sharing something else in common and suggests a meaningful link between individuals rather than just sharing a worship space.

This blog is about community development rather than just congregation development. A faith community may hold a congregation within in it but it may also contain broader connections outside of the congregation and want to develop the connections within - that is between community members. The members of the General Assembly (of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches) are also a community and therefore open to being developed.

Essentially the development of spiritual communities is about the development of individual relationships where the reason for developing these relationships is the desire to enhance spiritual connectedness.

Developing Spiritual Community - what this blog is about

This blog has started from my desire to see the development of Unitarian communities in the UK. Many of the approaches that have been suggested recently take a marketing approach where Unitarianism is a product and if we only marketed it differently we would 'sell' more of it. The model adopted in this blog is one which sees local Unitarian communities as just that - communities - which most community members are committed to developing.

I shall look at a number of community development ideas and approaches from other disciplines to help people see beyond ideas such as the distribution of leaflets and market analysis which are currently being offered as a way forward. I hope that this will be of help to some.