IDA SILKENAT, who was recently elected to Council and is the Children’s Programme Co-ordinator, reports
On Sunday 8 May, after morning service and coffee and conversation, a sizeable contingent of the membership settled into the upper hall for St Mark’s Annual General Meeting. While, as the name suggests, this is a yearly event, and always of importance and consequence, there was a sense that this one held special significance, as it was the first large official gathering since our beloved minister, Maud Robinson, announced she will be moving on to new opportunities at the end of July. The meeting was held in two parts, the first consisting of the official business we are required to carry out as a charitable organisation, and the second, a discussion of how the congregation wishes to move forward in light of Maud’s impending departure.
As for the official business, the minutes of last year’s meeting were formally adopted swiftly and without much ado. Council presented the annual report, and shared that progress had been made on many previously identified priorities, including the hiring of a children’s programme coordinator; investigation into what new technology might enhance the worship experience at St Mark’s; and becoming more aware of the church’s environmental impact. Brian Robertson presented the treasurer’s report, explaining that formal statements are done by an accountant to be in line with charity law. In consulting with the accountant, he had queried items which did not make sense to him and was satisfied with the answers he received. His conclusion was that, ‘We seem broadly to be breaking even . . . over the past few years.’ Money is often an area in which these kinds of meetings can get hung up on nit picking, but all seemed to trust the competency of our elected leaders, and the annual report was adopted.
The next order of business was electing Council members. Brian Robertson announced his intention to step down as treasurer some time ago, but has graciously agreed to stay on for the time being, as no one has come forward to replace him, and we are going into a period of transition which will affect the work of the treasurer. Rob Whiteman will be stepping down from Council. Other current members, Mary McKenna, Margery MacKay, Ann Sinclair, David Wood, John Bagust and Kate Foggo agreed to stay on for another term, and Jane Aaronson and Ida Silkenat joined them as new Council members. The proposed Council was unanimously approved.
In other matters, one member asked if it might be appropriate for the congregation to take an active role in the current refugee crisis, especially of the plight of orphaned and unaccompanied refugee children. The suggestion was that we might do more than just raise money, but potentially taking up a lobbying position as was done on the issue of same sex-marriage. After some discussion about how best to choose an organisation to affiliate ourselves with for this cause, it was agreed that an open evening should be arranged at which interested members could discuss ideas about the issue, and how we, as a congregation, might have the most positive impact. James MacDonald Reid volunteered to organise such an event. This concluded the ‘official business’ portion of the meeting, and while my retelling of it makes it sound like a long and drawn-out process, all of this was accomplished within half an hour, proving that inefficiency is not the inevitable result of a large gathering of strong minds.
And thus the time had arrived to move on to the matter which seemed to lie at the heart of what had brought us together.
Mary began with a full acknowledgement of the ‘immense loss’ that the congregation will experience when Maud leaves us this summer. She also pointed out that change can bring with it new opportunities. Realistically we could be without a minister for some time as there are currently many more vacancies for Unitarian ministers in the UK than there are people qualified to fill them. Council has appointed a ministerial search committee which had met once at the time of the AGM. While the committee is tasked with finding suitable candidates to bring forward, it will ultimately be the members of the congregation who make the final decision about hiring a new minister.
Brian spent some time going over the financial implications of hiring a new full time minister. He explained that, to cover the projected expenses of paying the salary and other associated costs, the congregation needs to bring in an additional £1000 per month This could be accomplished by more members contributing by standing order, and, by those in a position to do so, giving just a bit more. As always, it is understood that some members are unable to donate monetarily, but they contribute to the life and well-being of the church in other ways. As an employer, the congregation must be confident that we can make a long term commitment to a full time minister if we chose to hire one.
At this point the members present broke into small group discussions to consider the following three questions: Are you sufficiently confident that we will address our future income shortfall to commit to appoint a full-time minister? Do you think we should explore any part-time or shared ministerial arrangement? As we anticipate it may take some time to secure our next minister, should we seek to appoint an interim minister? Lively and engaged conversation ensued and, many were still considering these questions when it was time to draw the meeting to a close. Council collected the feedback generated from the questions. Mary assured everyone that, while these issues may have seemed to be rushed through on this particular occasion, this was only the beginning of what will be an ongoing conversation. The concluding vibe was that we, as a congregation, have the collective capacity to carry our beloved community forward lovingly and responsibly through this time of transition.