The idea of an “open town hall” evokes for me an image of a gathering of residents in a small community, perhaps farmers and townspeople in rural New England. The idea harks back to the way villages have governed themselves over millennia, and it’s taken on new meanings in our modern, connected world – the Prime Minister of Canada recently held a national, online “open town hall” meeting.
EUU’s first open town hall meeting took place via Zoom on Saturday, 21 November. Our meeting was open to all members and friends of our community, spread across Europe and North America, and gathered in an online hall. It followed the Annual General Meeting, where we went through the formal business of elections and budgets, and it provided time to discuss key issues for our community.
We covered three main topics: EUU amidst the pandemic, the meaning of membership, and the upcoming changes to the ICUU (the International Council for Unitarians and Universalists, of which EUU is a member). We discussed via the written chat function, which allowed everyone to provide input in a short time, and also via a traditional method, our voices.
On the pandemic, members wrote that EUU and the fellowships have done a good job maintaining connections when we can’t meet in person – joint services between fellowships and the EUU’s informal coffee hours were among the highlights mentioned. While some people felt that participation has widened, there were concerns that members who can’t or don’t like to use online tools are being lost. We also considered what we should do as the pandemic ends: several comments said that we should continue online events, which may help to bring in new people as well, alongside our old, in-person meetings and try to mix the two. While some members may prefer to meet in person, online meetings can bring in those who have difficulty traveling to retreats and other events.
Karen Kyker, our Vice President, introduced the topic of membership. She showed a “word cloud” of the comments people made in the chat discussion during the new member ceremony at the online retreat, held one week before the open town hall. She noted that many of the comments in the word cloud focused on participation.
Karen asked participants in the open town hall meeting what becoming a member meant to them. People wrote that membership involved greater commitment to EUU and greater responsibility. Other comments highlighted that membership reflected their personal values and was a question of identity. The discussion also considered whether we should develop a pathway to membership to help guide those who are interested: several written and oral comments said that this would be valuable, especially as we will continue to have online meetings, and some prospective members won’t come to future in-person retreats. One conclusion is that the CC should form a working group to explore this idea. Several people volunteered for the working group, and it’s still possible to join and also to provide input: please write Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our last topic covered the proposed merger between the ICUU and the UU Partner Church Council. Eva Kortekaas, our representative to ICUU, had written a short note (ICUU report) explaining this process (Eva wasn’t able to attend the meeting). John Eichrodt expressed his concern at the possible demise of ICUU, which since 1990 has been a “lighthouse” for EUU and for Unitarians and Universalists around the world (you can see his remarks here. Others echoed his points, though comments also noted that the merger has been proposed as both organizations faced funding difficulties. The time for discussion was limited, so we will have a follow-up meeting on ICUU on Tuesday evening, 12 January, at 7.30pm (please write email@example.com if you would like to participate, and I will send you the Zoom link).
The open town hall proved to be a valuable moment to share thoughts on key, underlying issues for EUU. We covered a lot of ground, but we also found that time was limited. We’ll try to make this a regular occasion, and I’d like to have the next one in the spring of 2021.