I certainly didn't join a faith community to get involved in social action - this was one area of my life which was well developed. I have been volunteering since I was 12 and I'm now 57. Apart from maybe three years I have been actively volunteering my whole adult life. I have been a Unitarian for 12 of those years. This is not to say that we shouldn't participate in social action as a community but for me my personal choices about where I give my time volunteering are already well-established and currently difficult to change.
The question then might be, 'What do we define as social action?' Is it always about what we do outside of our communities or is it also about what we do within our communities? We have had a difficult few years with many people experiencing significant bereavements and health and disability issues. Much of our attention has been within rather than without. We have been living out the tenet that charity (love) begins at home. Although 2012 looks a bit brighter there are still some issues - and some of these can be dealt with by working on the building to make it more accessible. But more of this later.
So social action/witness can include to my mind how we help each other. It may include how we use our non-human resources - our building and our money. It can also be about how we use our human resources - our skills, our time and our compassion.
I then want to ask the question, 'What does our community have to offer which is particular to a faith community, to our faith community?' We did find our way to this and came up with
- Our building
- Our open faith and belief in religious tolerance
- Our willingness to make alliances with other, like-minded organisations - we have already had an approach from the regional worker for Friends of the Earth via Facebook
- Our connections which already exist for example with the inter-faith forum and the IARF
- Our ability to influence our district and the General Assembly
- Our connections with other Unitarians elsewhere in the country
- Our skills, abilities and experience for example we have a registrar within our community who is going to find out about registering our building for civil partnerships; and we would like to start offering healing services
- Our existing approach to charitable giving
- Our goodwill
Driving home I reflected that we had drifted into a solutions focused approach. Whilst I felt that I needed to put a marker down to say that I was unable to commit much new time to anything. As one of the people who lives closest, who handles the lettings as well as all the secretarial duties, I am aware of the work that goes into just keeping us going let alone taking on something new. I am also aware that if we commit to something we have to do it which often takes more time than we at first estimate.
So focusing on what we have and being honest about what we don't, we have come up with some suggestions. Perhaps we have not come up with something as big and as bold as some of our local faith communities but we have continued a debate that we started last year and come up with some real actions. We will also keep talking about this.
So to our building - we are hoping to make it more accessible and to make a second lettable space. This will impact on the lives of those who use our building as a member of our faith community and those who just want a cheap place to hold meetings. It may be seen as a distraction but our physical space is a key element to our community. it reflects us and our values. It always takes much longer than anticipated to get these things done.
I am glad that we started 2012 looking out but recognise the reality that the sum total of what we do in 2012 will be very similar to what we did in 2011.
May 2012 bring us renewed commitment and patience to achieve our goals; the will to achieve these goals together; the will to achieve these goals together in good faith with good will; and a renewed commitment to a life serving others - our loved ones and strangers, who as they say, are just friends we've yet to meet.