Sunday, August 28, 2005

Churches that don't meet every week

So I tried to go to church today. My local church is Newcastle Unitarian Meeting House. The trouble is it does not meet every week, it meets twice a month. The website says that there are services on the second and fourth Sunday of the month. And today is the fourth Sunday, is it not? So I trotted along there for worship at 10.30 this morning.

When I got there, the door was locked, there were no cars outside, and when I looked at the notice board I saw that in fact they had met last Sunday, at 6 o' clock in the evening. I had missed church.

So I decided to wander across Newcastle-under-Lyme to find the Quaker Meeting House that I hadn't been to before. It was very nice, though pretty low on the ground.

So I think I've been in Stoke-on-Trent for about 6 weeks now, and I've only managed to get to church once. I was there one Sunday, then I went to Opus/Concentric in Iowa, then I came back, and now I've missed another service because they switched to the third Sunday instead of the fourth.

This got me thinking about how viable it is to have a church that does not meet once a week. I think it is very difficult for a church to grow if it does not make a commitment to meet once a week. The Newcastle church should have updated its website (which does not look like it has been updated in a long time) to say exactly when it does meet. They do this outside the church, so it should not be too difficult to put this up on a website. I don't want to have to walk all the way in just to check what time services are. Of course, if I was a regular attender, then I would know when the services were going to be. But the for the casual visitor this is pretty off-putting. Finding a locked church door once is probably enough to put most people off.

Better than an updated website, would be a commitment to meet every week. I think a lot of Unitarian churches in the UK (maybe half?) meet less than once a week. While this is not the case in the US, a lot of churches do have three months off in the summer, which is very bizare. A religious community needs to meet every single week of the year.

Now I know that might be difficult for a lot of Unitarian churches. For example, Newcastle shares their minister with the Macclesfield church, so he can only be there every other week. That's fair enough, and that is going to continue to be the case for many years in this community. However, I think the church should be prepared to meet the weeks that they are without a minister too. This need not mean lay people trying to do the same thing a minister does, but less well. It should mean an opportunity for egalitarian spiritual meeting. It should be seen as a great opportunity to do something different.

What could a church do on these weeks without a minister? Well the least they could do would be simply have coffee-hour, and that's it, simply fellowship time. Or there could simply be a time for check-in, for everyone to share something honest about themselves and their week. A simple gathering with candles for joys and concerns, a couple of readings and some songs. Maybe the organist can't be there either. Then sing songs with a piana, or a guitar, or without accompaniment. Or, do what I did this morning, have a Quaker meeting in silence. This wouldn't mean that anyone needed to stress to prepare a sermon or book a guest speaker. There are better, more effective, low-resource ways for us to gather. I am convinced that any of these things would be better than nothing. Any of these things would grow our sense of community and make us more open to visitors.

Friday, August 26, 2005

"Churchmanship" labels

Strange old word "churchmanship" isn't it? What about "churchwomanship"? It's kind of one of those quaint Anglican things. In Unitarian circles, one is much more likely to ask about someone's "theology." I suppose this is because there is more theological diversity. But I think a humanist or a theist could still have the same "churchpersonship" - with Unitarians its probably low-church-long-sermon-hymn-sandwich churchpersonship. In some ways I'd see my instincts as an emergent churchperson to be much more important than a purely intellectual humanist-theist identity. Anyway, with the prospect of going forward for ordination I expect I might be asked about these things, so I thought I would write a little about them.

I like to play with labels. I find labelling can be very empowering. Unitarians are all about reclaiming words nowadays, so here goes.

I am:
UNITARIAN: human nature is a location of divinity and religious truth
CHRISTIAN: following Jesus of Nazareth
CATHOLIC: affirming reverence, ritual and tradition in the spirit of Taizé
EMERGENT: believing in the reforming of the church to be missional, experimental, purposeful and relevant to today’s culture
LIBERAL: affirming reason and open free debate, generous and open to others
LIBERATIONIST: affirming faith is manifest in economic and political ways – particular working for the liberation of those oppressed by our society: women, the poor, non-Europeans and queers
UNIVERSALIST: God is love, and God's love, action and revelation extents to all people, everywhere
EVANGELICAL proclaiming and living my faith unashamedly and enthusiastically
TRANSCENDENTALIST: valuing nature, beauty and intuition
QUAKER: valuing spirituality, peace, simplicity, silence
CHARISMATIC/PENTECOSTAL: powerful, energetic, free spirituality
MISSIONAL: the church is open, welcoming and purposeful
RADICAL TRADITIONALIST: rooted in our founders, radical in the application of their truth to our times.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The story so far

So, about me and my recent history. I am a young British Unitarian living right now in Stoke-on-Trent. I grew up in the English Midlands, particularly Walsall. My father is an Anglican priest and I grew up in the Church of England. During my time at the University of Birmingham while studying geology and biology I became a Unitarian, though I was still involved in a few Anglican and Quaker things. I began attending New Meeting Church pretty regularly during my last year in Birmingham. After Birmingham I switched tracks in my education and decided to study theology. I attended Boston University School of Theology in the USA where I graduated after two years last June with a Master of Theological Studies degree. While in Boston I worshipped at First Church Boston. Now I'm back in the UK, looking for a job and a place to live and seriously considering becoming a Unitarian minister. I might apply in the next month. I love my faith but I know that it has to change. We need a revival, a new missionary push for us to survive. That is the reason for the name of this blog. The process that needs to happen is a reignition of our faith so that we can become a force for good in this nation and this world. This blog will be a platform for radical thinking to bring about a new era of Unitarianism in the British Isles.

Back in the UK, permanently, and looking to the future

So I thought it was about time I started a blog. I'm back in the UK, going into a new period of my life, and thought it would be cool to share some thoughts with the world. I think this will save me ranting on email lists. Here I can rant and people can only pay attention if they want to. Hmm, there is a great deal I could talk about today, but I just wanted to get a first entry in to check this was all working. So I'll write something infinitely more interesting in the next entry.