Updated: Aug 30, 2019
I welcome you on behalf of the ANZUUA Management Committee and our hosts. the
Brisbane UU Fellowship, to our 2019 Biennial General Meeting.
Much has happened since our last gathering in Adelaide. By far the biggest change was the decision by the Adelaide congregation, one of our largest, to disassociate from ANZUUA.
The given reason had to do with questions about what happened to the monies in the
Bottomley Fund. Our treasurer will address this issue later. Their decision had several
implications for us as an organisation.
First, their minister, Rob MacPherson, was our president. In light of his congregation’s
decision he resigned. Based on a letter in Quest shortly after our last biennial it was clear that he had little confidence that ANZUUA had a future worth pursuing and was not eager to serve as president. As I was the vice president, I assumed his duties.
Second, our finances have been impacted by their departure. The good news is that a
review of our income and expenses showed we were still financially viable.
Third, Adelaide’s departure became an opportunity for us to re-examine our mission and purpose in light of our resources. This led to using this biennial to ask who are we now and where are we going? This beautiful, primal setting is the perfect place for such ruminations as it invites us to consider our connections and commitments to one another to further Unitarian Universalism in Australasia.
Adelaide is not the only loss of a member congregation. The UU Fellowship of Christchurch is no longer sustainable. The Blenheim fellowship is small but gives a foothold in the South Island. In the North Island, a group of Wellington UUs strive to meet on a monthly basis. Auckland Unitarians are now the most viable UU presence in New Zealand. While they are flourishing now, they are struggling with what happens after health or aging requires my stepping down.
In Australia we have six congregations, two in Melbourne, two in Sydney, one in Perth and one in Brisbane. Three of the six are fellowships that meet once or twice a month.
I am painting this picture of who we are now to give us sense of our starting point as an
organisation. We were founded in 1974 with three purposes: To be a networking
organisation whose prime purpose has been to facilitate communication and coordination among its member churches and fellowships. This has been achieved, to whatever extent, through the Biennial Conference, the Quest journal and the website. We do face a challenge as to the continuation of Quest. Michael McPhee has done an extraordinary job of producing a high quality quarterly journal for many years, but he has made clear that he will need assistance if he is to continue to do so.
Another stated purpose has been to found new groups. In the last 20 years ANZUUA has started 'from scratch' only one new group – the Perth Unitarians. New groups have
emerged in Sydney and Melbourne, but organically rather than through ANZUUA’s efforts .
So, achieving this purpose would seem to be largely eluding us as an organisation.
A third purpose has been to help grow existing groups. This would be, I suppose, an
especially urgent aim as it relates to small and emerging groups. Sadly, we have not had the resources to achieve this goal in any meaningful way. One question to consider this weekend is how we might better meet this expectation.
Growth in general has also been eluding us. Our total numbers of members have fallen
below 400. Relative to regional population growth, this means we’re shrinking.
I am not much of an artist but the picture I’ve painted for UUism in Australasia and
ANZUUA, in particular, is somewhat dire, yet this is the reality facing us. However, I don’t despair. I am filled with hope by the work of our individual congregations and fellowships.
I am reminded of a motif that runs through Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of the God of History working through a remnant of the faithful to accomplish the divine mission. This was not always something that happened quickly. I think of the early church where Jesus supposedly appointed twelve apostles to carry forth his mission to establish the kingdom of heaven now on earth. They didn’t do it overnight. It would take over two hundred years before there was a significant number of people who called themselves Christian and sought to follow his Way.
Then there is the remnant of Transcendentalists who challenged Arian and Socinian
Unitarians ideas about God, miracles, the authority of Scripture, and the divinity of Jesus. Thanks to Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller and especially Theodore Parker, Unitarian ideas we take for granted today were first articulated. But those ideas were soundly rejected at first. It would take nearly a hundred years before they were accepted by most Unitarians. I believe we are the remnant promoting progressive religion in Australasia. Our presence is small now, but the world will increasingly need to hear our voice of reason to find the hope we offer through our member congregations. We are called to be patient. We need to remember that if we no longer existed who in the religious world would replace our advocating for immigrants, the first peoples of the land, the Rainbow community, human
rights and the work of the UN, the poor, gender equality, world peace and most importantly the protection of mother earth? Who would there be to challenge life stifling patriarchy, neo-liberalism, income inequality, homelessness, colonialism and white nationalism? Who would offer a spirituality not based on dogma and doctrine, but on the divine spark within each of us calling us to trust we can make a difference individually and collectively against all the odds.
We are here in this idyllic setting to remind each other to stand fast in the face of the many obstacles before us. They cannot defeat us, unless we let them. It is not in our nature to let that happen for there is much work to be done.