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).