Saturday, January 28, 2012

Consistent priorities

I have been waiting for inspiration - sometimes it's a long wait.

Having been at a Unitarian district meeting on Wednesday and heard people expressing dismay at the significant focus and financial investment that the Executive Committee is giving to establishing new Unitarian congregations I was nudged into looking again at the strategic priorities presentation given at last year's (2011) annual meetings.  Nowhere in this document, which was the sum total of the General Assembly's strategic priorities, was there any mention of starting new congregations.

Let's look first at this presentation - it starts with

Economics and Ideals

• The Annual Meetings in 2009 proposed developments which proved unaffordable
• The EC referred the difficulty back to the Annual Meetings in 2010 through the
‘Difficult Choices’ presentation
• UK Unitarians and Free Christians were able to prioritise our needs for the future

These proposed developments in 2009 were (from two separate motions) to have two workers focusing on information and social justice. Certainly if they were part-time workers it would have cost about £50,000 or perhaps a little less.

We were also told in the 2011 presentation that the General Assembly would 

... ensure that all Unitarian congregations can have access to professional Ministerial or recognised lay leadership and support.

Now we are being told that we will be having a 2020 Congregational DevelopmentProgramme.  This has come out of the blue and has no business plan to support its prioritisation. This is what this programme will do.

The 2020 Congregational Development Programme was given the go-ahead along with the establishment of a 2020 Board. It includes a range of possible models with lots of room for creativity locally; new planting, restart, side-by-side (parallel congregation in the same location to existing one), satellites and spin-offs and social responsibility starts. 

The report on finances was considered which looked at the likely costs and possible funding opportunities to start and grow the programme. The financial modelling indicated that to establish a total of seventeen new congregations the net cost would be approximately £1.3million. There were several options outlined for raising this considerable sum. The programme would work alongside current initiatives such as the Future Ministry pilot in Scotland. 

It was also recognised that in the eleven year time period it is likely that some current congregations may close and that the support to the General Assembly from the Bowland Trust will then be at an end. This was therefore a "window of opportunity" to promote growth to arrest the serious numerical decline of the Unitarian Movement.

We are also told that from a £45,000 legacy, matched with Bowland Trust monies bringing the amount to £90,000, the Executive Committee agreed to allocate  £50,000 to the Congregational Development Programme (as start-up grant).  It just so happens that this amount matches what it would have cost to implement the motion that was passed in 2009. This latter was actually agreed by us, the former has not been.

What are we to make of this?  First we are told there is no money to support the implementation of motions which were adopted democratically; we are then told that following consultation these are the GA's priorities; we are told that existing congregations will be prioritised so that they will have access to professional Ministerial or recognised lay leadership and support; and then not twelve month's later we have something not identified in the priorities being allocated significant amounts of money - seemingly given much more significance over those priorities which were presented to us in April 2011.

I am not sure what to think but fundamentally this feels all wrong.