Memories of this year’s General Assembly Meetings: Joan Cook's Address

 Back row, l-r Ann Sinclair and Ann Peart. Front row, l-r Jane Aaronson and Joan Cook.

Back row, l-r Ann Sinclair and Ann Peart.
Front row, l-r Jane Aaronson and Joan Cook.

At the recent General Assembly Meetings in Daventry, Joan Cook, was appointed as President of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches for the year 2018-2019. Rev Celia Cartwright was appointed Vice-President for the year 2018-2019. Here follows Joan Cook’s address in support of Rev Dr Ann Peart‘s honorary membership of the GA. Thanks go to Kate Foggo for the photograph.

Rev Dr Ann Peart
Honorary Membership of the General Assembly
Proposer: President of the General Assembly
Seconder: Joan Cook, President Scottish Unitarian Association


At the General Assembly meetings, I had the privilege of seconding the SUA’s motion that Rev Dr Ann Peart to be given Honorary Membership of the General Assembly.


I first met Ann when she attended the Annual Meeting of the SUA in Dunblane, in her capacity of President of the Women’s League, and got to know her through working with her on various projects, and the Executive Committee. I know her as a helpful, encouraging, friend, with an ability to see humour in the everyday!


Ann was born into a family she describes as ‘nominally Unitarian’, her aunt introducing her to Unitarianism. At the age of eighteen, Ann became involved with junior chapel, pastoral visiting and started leading worship. For the next twenty years Ann became more involved in Unitarian life, both locally and nationally.


On leaving school, Ann went up to New Hall, Cambridge, to read Geography. While at Cambridge she was President of the University Women’s Boat Club, was twice in the winning boat against Oxford, the only woman to be awarded a full rowing blue in her year!


Becoming more involved with Unitarianism, Ann began to think about ministry, but felt she had insufficient ‘life experience’. On graduating, Ann trained as a teacher, and married a fortnight after her last exam.


Ann took a career break from teaching while her children were small and was soon to find her lack of life experience remedied by marriage, the arrival, and sadly losses of children, and finally divorce.


Ann returned to part time teaching, and embarked on ministry training, part time, at Manchester College, Oxford, becoming the first person to qualify as a minister, having undertaken training on a part time basis. She ministered to congregations in London and Manchester, before becoming Principal of Unitarian College in Manchester, the first woman, to do so.


Ann has been involved with many aspects of British and International Unitarianism, serving as Information Officer, on the Youth Committee, as Chair of the Ministry and Social Responsibility Committee, a founder member of the Unitarian Women’s Group, and Chair of the Inquirer board.


Ann completed her PhD on the history of Unitarian women, and continues to contribute to Unitarian scholarship, in raising awareness of the importance of women in our history, to Ann has been involved with many aspects of British and International Unitarianism, serving as Information Officer on the Youth Committee, as Chair of the Ministry and Social Responsibility Committee, a founder member of the Unitarian Women’s Group, and Chair of the Inquirer board.


Ann completed her PhD on the history of Unitarian women, and continues to contribute to Unitarian scholarship, in raising awareness of the importance of women in our history, to education, ministry training, to social justice, as well as LBTI issues. It shouldn’t be underestimated how much courage this required, we haven’t always been an inclusive society. Ann is currently writing a book on Unitarian women.


Ann was a member of the General Assembly Council, later being elected to the Executive Committee, where she proved to be a valued and respected member. Ann resigned from the EC on being appointed GA Vice President, going on to become President.


Presidential roles litter Ann’s biography, they include; The Women’s League, The Ministerial Fellowship, and the Unitarian Historical Society. Ann continues to serve the Unitarian movement, she serves on the executive committee of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association, as a trustee of Dr Williams’s Library, on the committee of Cross Street Chapel, and is President of the Harris Manchester College Ministerial Old Students’ Association.


In the wider world Ann has been particularly active in feminist, Gay and Lesbian and other social justice issues. Ann was a founder member of the Sexuality Orientation Equality Group, and is a regular participant in Gay Pride parades, one of the few times she would be seen wearing a clerical collar.


In her roles as principal, and tutor on the Worship Studies course, Ann tries to ensure the writings and thinking of women are included in course material. In rites of passage courses, she included material on same-sex blessings, well before same-sex couples had the possibility of being either married, or civilly partnered.


Ann continues to be supportive of others in the movement, as a tutor on the Worship Studies courses, as a mentor to ministers, students and lay preachers, and a positive role model for all women.


We were delighted that the meeting bestowed Honorary Membership of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches on the Rev Dr Ann Peart.


Joan Cook, our Lay Celebrant and Lay Preacher,
is a member of St Mark’s,
President of the General Assembly
of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
for the year 2018-2019 and
President of the Scottish Unitarian Association