Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Learning to say, 'No'

I had a phone call yesterday from a member of our community asking me if I'd booked him a place at the Annual Meetings.  I hadn't.  The last discussion at a meeting at the end of January was for him to discuss with someone else about sharing our delegate allocation and for them to get on with it. A previous treasurer had done Annual Meetings bookings some years ago - but I am not the Treasurer.  He asked if I would now do the booking if the days were sorted out with this other man - I said that I wouldn't as they were perfectly capable of doing this themselves. The conversation then went onto general things - how was I? - tired - you always look tired, you do too much, you have to learn to say 'no' - well I have done that in this conversation haven't I?  The irony was not lost.

The previous week I had been at a sub-committee meeting as a visitor - it focuses on the building and I have avoided full-time involvement (because I do too much!). Anyway I had found it quite difficult to follow what works needed doing, which needed planning permission and which pots of funding could be used for what.  So prior to the meeting I had put my understanding of the work to be done in tables and emailed these to people asking people to amend them to accurately reflect the situation. One person printed them off, wrote his comments and sent the documents to me. At the meeting I said that this really wasn't very helpful as the expectation seemed to be that I would have to type this person's comments in.  I have already had similar conversations when I get handwritten stuff for the newsletter. The best bit was when I was told that I was now the only person who had these tables with these comments as if somehow I had engineered this.

Last year we had a meeting when someone suggested that we send a letter to support a campaign.  I then asked who would do this. Someone said that as I was secretary that I should do this.  I responded that just because I was secretary did not mean that everything that needed writing was my job and that I already had enough to do. No-one else came forward so the letter wasn't written.

On Sunday at a brief after-service meeting we had an issue with minutes. Although I am the secretary I am not the minute secretary and she was away. No-one said that they would do them so the chair agreed to note agreed actions. In the longer term we said that we would get a minute book.  Someone volunteered to take notes during the meeting if the minutes secretary was not there. I volunteered to scan the notes in and send them round. Someone else suggested that we do this for three months to see if it works better (including being quicker) than our current system. This might not be ideal but it might actually work for us.

And the point of all this? If there is someone(s) in your congregation that you are concerned about because you think that they do too much - don't expect them to give up something that doesn't impact on you to make their life easier. Encourage them to give up something that does impact on you. Take some of their burden away or at the very least don't add to it. And if you are the one who does a lot do try very kindly but firmly to tell people that you won't do whatever it is, that either they can do it, someone else has to do it, you pay someone to do it or it doesn't get done.

At some point I want to identify the work that needs doing to run our community and to detail who does what and when. It is difficult in small communities which have no paid administrative staff. At some point this may become a problem and if it does it needs working through - like our minute book.  We need to find solutions, which may not be ideal, but have a chance of working and of saving someone a job.

Ultimately if we are building community then we all have our overalls on at times - we all have to put some time and effort in. We also have to appreciate that somethings might not happen because although we may have the will, we don't have the wherewithal - not enough time, energy or ability. As ever we have to recognise that we are all in this together. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


It just so happens that it is St Valentine's Day today - whatever that may mean. I am a cautious supporter of commercialism as it provides jobs for many people. However commercialism can over-shadow thought and reflection about different seasons and special days. I have been mulling over this post for some time it just so happens that I am writing it today.

There has been some talk on national forums about the rights of existing congregation/community members and those of new people as if a rights-based approach is what guides our actions. Even if it did I am not sure who could define the rights of anyone within a congregation without also talking about people's responsibilities. New people coming into any group cannot have the same 'rights' as those who have been here a long time - what have they invested in the community? Our 'old timers' have spent years in service to their community washing dishes, cutting lawns, doing the accounts, attending hours of meetings, donating money, visiting sick people, writing newsletters etc etc. It is because of them that we are here, now with a spiritual community to belong to.

But this really is not the point - the point is love.  When we are in spiritual community with people we are creating right relationship with all of those we find ourselves with.  We are moving in the direction of love - sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is harder - but it is always the right thing to do. Can we say that we love people who we have known briefly or those we do know not at all (the closet Unitarians located somewhere near our building) as much as those people we have committed to loving over some/many years? If we truly love people then we want the best for them not just the sub-set of people who believe what we believe.

If we want to change and modernise and if we want to reach out as well as in then we must surely decide to do this together.  If we decide that the majority has it and we are going to make significant changes without taking people along with us, then are we really prepared to wound those people that we love, who love us and who love our community? There are ways to gently challenge, there are ways to ensure that we provide a range of spiritual and social offerings, there are ways to make our love real.  These things may slow down any process for change but they are fundamental - because love is fundamental.  I would not want to join a community which behaved otherwise.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Love, understanding and a supportive hand

The Unitarian spiritual community extends beyond our own congregational or local boundaries.  All local communities are part of a wider district and are all members of the General Assembly.  We take our place within international networks like the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists.  What allegiance do we owe to any of these? Should we be compassionate in our actions and our words towards those we would call our spiritual bedfellows (or such like!). 

Facebook is a means of discussing issues with fellow Unitarians and those who are interested in it.  You might be forgiven for thinking that what goes on in the UK Unitarian Facebook group is a reflection of UK Unitarianism as it has 315 members but there are probably no more than 30 active, regular commentators.

In recent months we have lost some contributors because of the way that discussions have gone or what particular people have written.  Sometimes it is difficult to keep the faith when people make quite pointed or judgemental comments towards individuals - in particular if that individual is you.

I awoke this morning to find one particular post entitled 'This is the *rubbish* Unitarians say' thread. What should be in it?'  The word wasn't rubbish but let's gloss over that.  A fairly high profile Unitarian was inviting others to be critical of their fellow Unitarians. What was the purpose to this?  Was it to build community?  Was it to express compassion to our fellow Unitarians? Was it to explore what people think, to try to understand?  Was it a marketing ploy to increase the number of people attracted to Unitarianism?

It appears that what a question like this does is create a Unitarian universe where there are us and them.  Us - we - are good, forward- thinking, the saviours of Unitarianism in the UK today.  Them - they - are the ones who have questionable ideas, say bad things and are driving Unitarianism into oblivion.  This is a dualistic world.  This is a world of conflict.  This is a world where we look at the mote in everyone else's eyes but do not look at the mote in our own.

Thankfully only six people participated in this thread. One actually said, 'Every point of view is valid in its own way, whatever size.'  However this is an open group - anyone who has a Facebook account can see it.  Is this really what we want to be showing to the world - is this how we want to be 'marketing' Unitarianism?  'Hey, come join this group of people - some of whom talk rubbish and others who like to think that they don't and point the finger at those who they think do.'

I believe that I have said some startlingly daft things in the past and continue to do so.  I believe that I am full of contradictions and prejudice.  I believe that working in community I can become a better person.  Because I believe that about myself then I believe that about other people.  I do not grow by being sniped at or put down.  I do not grow by people picking on one thing that I have said and rubbishing that.  I do not grow by having those who consider themselves better than me lecturing me.  I grow when people show me love, understanding and a supportive hand.