Yesterday I attended the AGM of an association of which I’ve been a member for 25 years. For the past 15 years, it has been steadily going downhill. There has been no vision, no fresh input, no energy, no direction. Little things have been constantly argued over, and nothing gets done.
Although I was on the Exec Committee for most of the 1990s, I left when we went to Romania, although I continued to pay my subs. One by one, many of my friends and colleagues, disenchanted with the lack of movement and vision, left the association. New deacons are very wary, wanting to be involved and willing to be agents for change, but aware that the whole thing has been stuck for a very long time.
After the usual nonsense of an AGM – reports, minutes, etc etc which took 2 hours – we finally got on to the real meat of the agenda, which was to discuss the future of the association. Should we close it completely? Or something else?
I found it a very disappointing discussion. There was no long-term thinking at all about the future. Most people felt that, these days, things are done locally or regionally – it is part of our individualistic culture. And of course national organisations are by and large no longer trusted. But does that mean that our association is no longer needed?
However, nobody addressed some of the fundamental issues: why had membership plummeted? Why was there such a reluctance on the part of newer deacons to join? Attending to these questions would have shed some light on some very muddled thinking.
Privately, it’s been the opinion of the association members and most of the Exec that it is no longer fit for purpose, no longer addressing needs or providing practical support.
I have done a lot of thinking about this over the past few months, and had put together a few thoughts for the discussion which I felt were constructive and realistic and arose out of my present work as Warden of Deacons for my diocese. I made a number of practical suggestions as to how the association could become much more of a resource, not just for deacons, but for the whole church. But what became abundantly clear, and was voiced by several people, was ‘we are retired – we don’t have energy or time – (or inclination, clearly) and anyway, we’ve tried all this before.’
Really? I’ve been a member for 25 years and have never seen any indication that this was so. But I was not surprised. I realised long since that if I wanted to get anything done, then I could not expect any support from the association and I would have to get on with it alone. So the response, or lack of it, was what I expected and I felt relaxed about it.
What bothered me though was that God was not mentioned. Apart from some set prayers at the beginning, it was all about how we should organise ourselves, if at all. The president suggested providing some space before a decision was taken, and I agreed. I said that we all knew that the Holy Spirit was moving in different ways in different places, calling people to be deacons. It would be helpful to give ourselves a limited time for reflection, prayer, and canvassing the opinions of deacons we know, to see what is going on round the country. Is there a pattern? If so, what? It’s my opinion that our organisation, if any, should arise organically out of what we see God doing, not imposing a pre-set pattern from outside.
In the end a personality clash decided the outcome, and I was sorry about it. That’s not a way to make good decisions, especially not in a Christian organisation.
The vote was divided, but in the end, with everyone weary of the circular discussion, it was decided to start closure proceedings.
As I reflect on it today, I am not at all convinced the right decision was made. Sure, I was as fed up as most other people at the inadequacy and limpness of the association. But by getting rid of our only national organisation, I have the uneasy feeling that we may well have cut off our noses to spite our face. All because of a personality clash.
Meanwhile, I am getting in touch with young, lively deacons that I know, to see what their thoughts are on the necessity – or otherwise – of a national organisation. As Jesus said, while it is still day, we keep working.