Thursday, November 03, 2005

Spirituality in a Unitarian church.... there's something new

About two and a half years ago I began only attending Unitarian worship. Before that I was also going to Anglican and Quaker worship as well. But at that time I decided to stick with Unitarianism. There were a variety of reasons for this. One was graduating from university and moving away from the campus-based Anglican and Quaker communities I was a part of. Another reason was the homophobia of the Church of England revealed by the Jeffrey John affair that finally made my separation with the C of E into a divorce. Another reason was the realisation that at one point in life it is important to make a proper committment religiously, with all that that implies.

So since then I have been a Unitarian, and only a Unitarian (not that that precludes a lot of theological development). In some ways this has been a great period of my life, most of it spent in the United States. I enjoyed my studies more than any other time of my life. Personally, intellectually, and in a lot of ways it's been a great period of my life. But I have to admit that spiritually it has been a pretty dry period. Traditionally protestant 'corpse-cold' Unitarian worship does not do much for me. I've struggled, missing communion, silence, liturgy, or even great charismatic emotional worship. In some ways I've had to acknowledge that being Unitarian has been bad for my spiritual life. That's a problem. For too long I've been content to live on the surface, not bothering to delve into the depths of the soul. I've missed God. And I was never really thinking about the fact that I was talking about God without ever maintaining a living relationship with God.

But in the last few months I've been back in Birmingham. I've been trying to pray a few times a day deliberately. And I've been going to a weekly meditation gathering at church.

The more I've been going to these, the more I've got out of them. It makes me realise how un-spiritual most U*U churches are. I set up a Taize service in the last six months I was in Boston, but this was only once a month. Plus we were moved around month by month. Delegated to smaller rooms when the chapel was being used for something else. I resented this a bit, because what we were doing was worship and isn't worship the primary thing a church should do? I think of how many adult RE cources, social events and lectures that church put on, but there was never any intentional spiritual activities.

So its been really refreshing to come here and find a minister that actually takes spirituality seriously. This weekly gathering has become a really sustaining part of my spiritual diet. Nothing very exciting happens. It's sort of a cross between hymn sandwich and a Quaker meeting. We have a few readings and long periods of silence. We light a chalice, and each light a candle from the chalice. Anyone can bring a reading but usually its a lot of stuff from the minister and I usually manage to bring something. But there's an increasingly powerful depth to our shared silence. It has begun to feel like a spiritual teaching circle, as after our meditation we discuss spiritual topics. It's also been enriched by the fact that some Rastafarians have been coming too. It's been amazing to actually come to a place where I can be a Unitarian mystic. I'm actually regularly feeling the Spirit of God in a Unitarian church, which is amazing to me.

We need to reclaim our mystical radical reformation roots and let the Spirit outpour on this dry old community. And we've started. Thank God.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen,

I just came across your blog via the "Futures" group and UCCN and found this post particular resonated with me!

I too have been "playing around" with different faiths for about a year now, mostly Unitarianism and Roman Catholic (strange bedfellows I know).

I was only received into the Catholic Church in April 2004, and started attending my local Unitarian church this February. There is so much in Unitarianism that speaks to me, and I love the people at my church, but I am afraid that I too feel that their form of "worship" does little for me spiritually. It is the usual hymn sandwich approach, done well sometimes, but often quite "woolly" or over-sentimental for my taste, and so "inclusive" it becames almost a nothing. No meat on the bones!

I should say that I was a Quaker for 20 years (maybe I should have stayed one?) and am quite happy with silence, so I find that the Unitarian approach to "meditation" (at least at my church)really (dare I say it?) a waste of time. The "meditation" lasts about 5 mins and is always accompanied by music of some kind, chosen by the service leader which can be most distracting. Sometimes I just don't like it, so that thought takes up the 5 mins, or it's too loud and intrusive to even think straight. I am planning to be very daring at a service I'm preparing for the New Year, and actually introduce them to a 10 minute silent period!

However, I have other related problems too, like I just want to go to Mass, despite all the doubts etc I now have about Catholicism. RC Mass just "does it" for me! The liturgy, the reverence, the (dare I say it?) authority, the beauty, the mystery, and yes, I even go to charismatic masses and also get a lot from them. And then of course, there is the Catholic "spirtuality" and mysticism - a vast wealth to explore. I know that being a Unitarian does not necessarily stop me from benefiting from this, but it seems more difficult to do so.

I have a Catholic spiritual director who I see once a month too, and this is so valuable in helping me “see the wood from the trees” and clarify my thoughts, experiences and relationship with God and get guidance. He has asked me what I get from the Unititarians that I don’t get at the Catholic Church I go to, and really my honest answer is that thing I think Christians call “fellowship”. It’s a small group (obviously) so you really get to know people in a very personal way, and soon feel drawn in to what is happening. And I appreciate the non-judgemental and tolerant attitudes that I see there, which, as you experienced to some degree with Anglicanism, are not very “liberal” in Catholicism. Well, that’s what I thought, but now I am starting to come across other Catholic “rebels” with very different views to the traditional, but yet feel they still want to remain within the Church and maybe try to change things from the “inside out”.

By the way, you might think about finding/having a spiritual director of some kind - they exist in many forms and shapes, some just "general" and some linked to particular faith traditions. Although I can and do discuss anything, it is really not at all like counselling, which many people think.

Anyway, that’s it. I’ve tried to make it concise, which has been difficult, and really I just wanted to say that I know where you are coming from on this.

I too have a blog, but my site is closing down at the end of the month and I'm in the process of transferring all my articles to a new one. I think you might find some of them interesting! How about "Wicca and Quakerism Compared" or "My first Unitarian Baptism"? Anyway, if you would like to contact me at all, my email address is

3:16 pm  
Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

Stephen said - "I missed God."

Don't worry Stephen God hasn't missed you. . .

5:41 pm  
Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

Oops! Wrong link.

Here is the right one.

5:43 pm  
Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

Dry old or corpse-cold?

7:40 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home