It’s Annual General Meeting time again
It’s Annual General Meeting time again. Let’s be honest, very few of us would regard an AGM as the highlight of our social calendar, but I’d like to suggest that this annual gathering, this couple of hours of reflection and account-giving, is a really important anchor for membership organisations like OneBodyOneFaith. It’s not just an exercise in shuffling papers, it’s a reminder of who we are, where we’re going, and there our strength and identity likes.
In these days of instant networks, online gatherings, Twitter-based movements – demanding no more of us than the click of a ‘like’ and the brandishing of the latest hashtag – the responsibilities, challenges and opportunities of membership can sometimes seem outdated and pedestrian. But my time at OneBodyOneFaith has convinced me as never before of the need for organisations like ours, there our strength is our collective voices, and where we are required to be accountable and transparent about how we steward the gifts with which we’re entrusted – and I don’t just mean the money! Where we’re required to guard and honour the memory of those who have gone before us, who have handed us this movement, built on prayer and hard graft and sacrificial giving, at the same time as looking to the now and to the future.
Returning to St Botolph’s for our annual service on Saturday will remind me once again of the roots of our movement. I came into post with a strong sense of my obligation to those who founded our movement, and our 40th anniversary gave us an opportunity to honour that legacy. But that’s not the only sense of accountability I’ve felt over the past five years.
There’s also the sense of responsibility to our members, through the trustees with whom I’ve been so fortunate to have worked. Each May, members have the opportunity to be involved in choosing those who will guide and direct our work, sometimes making difficult choices. And at the same time, the trustees and I give an account of ourselves to our members. We account for the gifts and donations which resource our work – mindful that these include a significant sum of Gift Aid from the public purse – and we explain how we’ve chosen to further the aims of our movement. As your Chief Executive, I don’t take any of that for granted. I am responsible to you, and without you, we couldn’t do what we do.
When my appointment was announced, I was really taken aback by the friend requests, the invitations to speak, the interviews and the public platform which came along with the role – a privilege I had simply not ever experienced before. I have tried to share that platform wherever I can, but nevertheless it can be seductive. Relatively powerless in the church by virtue of being a lesbian laywoman, it was very, very tempting to pick and choose the things I fancied doing, to indulge my own whims, to tend to my own profile rather than to ask the really difficult question – why are you doing this? Is it the most effective way of achieving what we want to achieve? Who’s needs are being served here?
Now – I’m sure there have been times when I might have made better choices but here’s the thing: it’s our identity as a membership organisation which prompts me to ask those questions. We are, I believe, stronger, more effective and more authentic for the structures and disciplines which keep drawing us back to those questions.
What membership does is remind me, not just that our organisation is the gracious and generous gift of each of our members, but that it’s not all about me. I only have a place at the table because of the members who stand around me. You are not supporting some ministry of mine; rather, I am serving you.
It’s a huge privilege to be asked to represent you, and to speak for you, but it places demands on me too – the demand to listen, to keep having conversations, to keep in touch with all of you – with all the complexities that implies in a digital age. The AGM is one way of embodying and inhabiting that relationship between us – members, staff, trustees, and the wider public we serve, by working for the change which will contribute to more compassionate, thoughtful and Christ-like communities. We are stronger in that together. One body. One faith.