UK Unitarians Annual General Meetings report


This AGM, usually referred to as ‘The GA’ is held around Easter each year taking place over 2 or 3 days at a conference centre. It did not take place in 2020 due to the pandemic. With more time for planning, a virtual meeting was set up this year and was very successful. We ‘attended’ along with about 220 other Unitarians of whom 115 were voting delegates from congregations and societies.

Electronic voting was installed and with one or two glitches worked well throughout the meeting. Peter was UMB voting representative. To see details of the motions discussed and voted on at various times during the meeting please go to the end of this report. 

In her opening remarks Liz Slade the Chief Officer noted that there were now fewer than 3,000 Unitarians in the UK, a drop of one third in the last ten years. Amongst other factors, this was a demonstration she said, of the increasing secularisation of British society and one reason for the new GA website. This has not been universally well received within the Unitarian community. It recognises the reduced level of religious literacy implied by secularisation. It aims to be more ‘accessible’ to enquirers not necessarily coming from Christian denominations. New skills were needed to honour diversity, ensure that we remain true to our radical roots and to communicate with new enquirers. 

Liz reported that the movement’s finances had survived the privations of the pandemic, helped by a loan of £400,000 fo the Essex Hall Trust. Minister’s stipends will rise by 1.5%. The Treasurer, Peter Hanley, is standing down after 6 year’s service and was thanked by Liz and more formally in one of the administrative options. 

The outgoing President, Rev Celia Cartwright, thanked Ministers and all who had maintained Unitarian life during the pandemic. She gave her reflections on her time as President, which extended into a second year because of the pandemic. She had greatly enjoyed her first, very busy ’normal’ year when she visited many congregations. In this, her second year she had worked with Rev. Sue Woolley and Anne Mills the incoming President, to form a working group on Zoom. Celia then relinquished her badge of office and will hand it in person to Anne Mills who will be GA President for 2021/22. Anne is a long time member of the Bury congregation. 

To close the AGM Anne led a beautiful Mini-Service from her living room. Sympathetic to the suffering caused by the pandemic, she gave hope and played some of ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart. Anne read some of the closing passages from ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus, which reflect on how, as the plague passes its peak and diminishes the city celebrates and forgets the bereaved, those still suffering and those yet to suffer.


Below are the 6 motions proposed by several congregates and societies for debate by AGM with the aim of defining our stance on various issues and requesting that action of some kind be taken. Early in the meeting we voted to select 4 of these 6 motions for debate. Motions 1 and 4 were not selected. 


This General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian churches has deep concerns regarding the misuse of alcohol in society and the consequent diminution in the quality of life for all of those affected. We request the Executive Committee of the General Assembly to itemise this as a priority for our national movement and to take measures to advise congregations on viable ways by which they may offer support to affected individuals known to them, and/or co-operate with specialist organisations dedicated to helping reduce the problem of alcohol addiction in the UK. 


That this General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, mindful of the climate crisis, and of its object to “promote... the service of humanity and respect for all creation” requests that the Executive Committee: 

a) not invest General Assembly funds in companies whose total turnover is more than 10% derived from the extraction and/or supply of fossil fuels, including thermal coal, natural gas and oil;
b) complete the divestment required to fulfil this decision by the time of the General Assembly Annual Meetings in 2025 at the latest; 
c) strongly encourage and support all Unitarian congregations and funds to do the same. 

PASSED. - (91 to 3, 10 abstentions) 

It was recognised that this will take several years to implement.


This General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches 

• a) Reaffirms its strong support for an inspiring and innovative Unitarian Youth Programme for young Unitarians in the United Kingdom. 
• b) Recognises that a thorough review of the Programme will be necessary ‘postpandemic’, in full consultation with churches, districts, previous participants and other interested parties. 
• c) Commends the work the Youth Officer, Gavin Howell, is already carrying out to explore new ways of linking Young Unitarians together in the modern world. 
• d) Urges the Executive Committee to ensure that a programme of Youth events at the Nightingale Centre is put in place as soon as permitted by Covid-19 regulations, with particular emphasis on provision for 7 to 11 year olds, which has been the much-valued bedrock of the Unitarian Youth programme for over 50 years. 

PASSED - (52 to 27, 31 abstentions) 

Although there was some unhappiness was expressed about d) which appeared to override the autonomy of the Youth Officer in programme planning. 


The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches: 

a) Affirms with joy that each person’s understanding and statement of their own gender identity is a matter of conscience; 
b) Affirms that transgender rights are human rights; 
c) Joins the British Medical Association, the Trades Union Congress and others in civil society in urging the adoption of a self-declaration model for gender recognition by the UK and devolved governments; and 
d) Requests that the Chief Officer lobby for this model in response to UK or devolved government consultations and on any other suitable occasion. 


That this General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches requests the Executive Committee (EC) to prepare and present a Code of Ethics for consideration by the 2022 Annual Meetings. This Code would be applicable to all who are recognised on the Roll of Ministers and Lay Pastors; to the GA Roll of Lay Leaders; and to those employed by the General Assembly. Once the code is adopted, the EC is further asked to consider recommending adoption of the Code by all Congregations, Affiliated Societies and Districts. To enable this outcome, the EC is asked to: 

a) appoint an ad hoc committee to prepare a Code of Ethics; 
b) call for submissions from member congregations, affiliated societies, districts, Ministers, Lay Leaders and others employed or engaged in the Unitarian movement to support this work; and 
c) ensure the Code contains appropriate mechanisms for addressing complaints, grievances and disciplinary matters. 

Further, as the adoption and implementation of a Code of Ethics with a disciplinary mechanism will need to be consistent with established employment practices, the EC is asked to obtain a legal review to this end before presenting the Code of Ethics for adoption by the General Assembly. 

PASSED - (73 to 25, 17 abstentions)

There was discussion as to whether such a code is needed since we already have a Code of Conduct. It was pointed out that this has only limited application and that some form of code is required extending to all Ministers, officers, staff and members of congregations. Also uncertainty about use of the word Ethics in this context 


That this General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches: welcomes the foundation of the interfaith Red Cross Memorial Peace Appeal in aid of the Global Coronavirus Emergency Appeal, the Yemen Crisis Appeal and other urgent humanitarian and medical appeals in the spirit of the Charter for Compassion and relevant GA resolutions; and, as one immediate and direct way to be a force for good in the world, urges Unitarian congregations, Districts and individuals to support this interfaith initiative and so work with the Religious Society of Friends and other faith communities in taking timely action to aid victims of this global Covid-19 pandemic and of wars, conflicts and natural disasters and to act decisively to help save human lives worldwide. 

PASSED - (92 to 11, 11 abstentions)