First impressions are important and, on my first visit to the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (the ‘GA’), I am pleased to report that I was not disappointed.
By the end of the opening day, I was really excited by the quality of the contributions and by the energy and vitality that I had seen displayed by our Unitarian movement. The opening ceremony, which told the history of Unitarians in Wales, was a wonderful, emotional mixture of drama, humour and song. To experience the power of traditional Welsh hymns, sung live and loud, was moving, and my feeling of pride at being signed up to ‘reason and freedom and fairness……with truth at (our) side’ must have been experienced by many others.
The whole atmosphere at the GA was positive and forward-looking. Perhaps that what happens when Unitarian brains, of whatever age, get to grips with these ever-recurring questions
- What do Unitarians believe in?
- What holds Unitarians together?
We may all have departed from the GA still engaged in our search for answers but surely most people must have felt that they had gained a little help, encouragement or, indeed, inspiration by attending.
The whole event can, I am sure, be overwhelming. We were warned on several occasions - you can’t do everything, so don’t try - and 300 people, whether delegates, ministers, friends or others, constitute a noisy gathering when all are in a room for lunch at the same time. A nearby Pizza Express provided a welcome change of scene at one point.
Amongst the many presentations, speeches and motions at the GA, there were two items which I feel motivated to follow up and monitor. The first was where Professor Kate Pickett gave a quite excellent presentation of the current research evidence concerning inequality in countries worldwide. In summary, big gap between rich and poor leads to poor social outcomes (eg USA), smaller gap leads to better social outcomes (eg Japan, Norway).
The other was the experience of ‘Derby Unity’. This is a project supported by Derby Unitarians and East Midlands Unitarians with the aim of inducing people who might reject the language and trappings of a traditional church, to attend a regular meeting with songs, poems, inspiring stories, etc.
If you enjoy coming to St Mark’s regularly, you would find much to interest you in the GA programme and so I would encourage you to try it at least once. For young people (under 40!), there is the added bonus of a subsidised place.