What we do, where we go, and how we do whatever comes next is the purpose of these vision papers and we need both leaders and followers as we prepare for the future.
If we decide on anything worthwhile it will seem, almost certainly at first, beyond our ability and beyond our resources. This purpose of this short piece is to help us to look again at the resources we have. It is about money - but not just that.
The theological thinking that faith communities are about people and not buildings is beyond dispute; but our buildings are part of our resource package. If we have historic buildings we are probably better placed now than ever before to obtain grants and raise money to preserve them. As well as being the focus of most of what we do, they can also provide places to celebrate a variety of life milestones and be used as venues for musical concerts and events of many kinds. If our buildings are more modern and maybe modest, we can emphasise the beauty of the simplicity of the space they offer. With a little effort we can create a venue which people will want to use and be associated with.
The Church in Portsmouth where I have worked is a simple post-war building, but it offers an uncluttered and light space and makes an impact on almost everyone who visits it. Obviously our buildings are a resource for supplementing our income, but in addition they can speak to our purpose as well. For too long we have treated our buildings as a constricting noose around our neck when in fact they can be a beautiful necklace to attract both visitors and income.
As a movement and as individual congregations we have significant financial investments. For many years these have served us well and paid sufficient dividends to provide for a relatively easily funded operation. Recent global events have significantly altered this scenario and the likelihood is that we will not return to investment returns at the level they were for a long time if ever.
This will not be easy of course, but there examples of congregations which have grappled with these issues and have made brave decisions. The result is that these visionaries are funding the human resource of Ministers and spiritual and skilled development leaders before it is too late.
Then of course there is the financial resource which we all have and which is still in our pockets. It has been said many times that if we could all give the cost of a couple of cups of decent coffee a week it would make a huge difference. In fact it would bring in over £710,000 a year that pretty well matches the annual income of the general Assembly (and it would also mean we could maximise the generous Bowland funding as well).
If the same number of people as our quota contributors gave an extra £5 a week it would raise over £825,000 and that could support another 24 full-time Ministers. Just suppose we make it three fewer glasses of wine a week at your local wine bar that's about £10 a week. That would provide £1.65 million and provide the income to run the General Assembly and fund those two dozen full time Ministers. - And I'm sure my GP would be happy too!
But it isn't all about money. The most precious resource we have is us - Unitarian people. People who are prepared to make a difference, by showing acts of kindness, getting involved in social action and social justice and by engaging with neighbours and friends about what we can do to make our world a better place.
Whatever we agree to make our vision for the future, it will need to be resourced. Can we can find these resources by making better use of the buildings and funds we already have, by looking afresh at our 'live' giving and showing our commitment to our faith community with a new financial vigour.
Ralph Waldo Emerson in his book 'The Conduct of Life' said,
"Money often costs too much!"
Wouldn't it be good to show that we have moved beyond that?
And, we all can place some more of our time, our energy and ourselves at the service of a new vision. This may mean re-directing what we do to what is really important for our congregations and our Movement.
Resources? Whatever we decide that vision to be, as we stand at the crossroads, resources need not be our problem.
Rev. Martin Whitell