Monday, April 24, 2006

GA: Day Four

Saturday night we finished at the GA Zette Office between 2 and 3am. I wandered back to the accomadation block and found a few people drinking and joined them. I didn't get to bed til past 4am.

Sunday I got up around 8am. Had breakfast. Had to get out of the room by 9.30.

Business and Installation of Executive Committee

The first ever directly elected governing body of the church took office. It was quite a nice ceremony. They transferred the flame from a chalice representing the Council to a chalice representing the new Executive Committee. Peter Soulsby, MP, has been made convener of the committee. It seems a strange sort of dual system we have now. That was my thought as the new EC came in a the same time as the new President, David Dawson. I'm not really sure what the point of the President is. There didn't seem much point in the position before, and there seems even less point now. Ah well.

It felt like I was almost the first person to come to GA, and the last person to leave. I got there on Wednesday at the same time as Essex Hall staff got there, and I left late Sunday afternoon, with very few people still around. I was drove home by my housemate, talking to her to keep her awake. Went to bed in Brum at 10. Got up this morning at 11am.

Overall, I think it was a sucessful GA. We raised both awareness and money (over £600) for BUYAN. We've had two offers from churches to go and visit them. The queer Unitarian community seem interested in campaigning for same sex marriage and hopefully the rest of our community will agree. We passed a resolution calling for growth, which gives a foundation for the kind of work I want to do. From that democratically expressed view I can call for the kind of work I think we need to be doing (missionary work, church-planting). It means I might get support for the pratical theological work I want to do to develop a liberal theology and practice of evangelism. We need to develop a lot of youth and young adult ministry. There's a lot of work to do there.

I'm really glad the emphasis has changed at this GA to be more worship based rather than business based. The opening ceremony was great and the young adult led worship was good too.

I'm thinking about prayer at the moment. I might save that thought for later. We, as a community have started to re-engage the Spirit. But we still have a long way to go. But I am optimistic. A good GA.

I'm going to my parent's house today. They've just moved and don't have interent yet, so I'll be offline for a while. Blessings to you.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

GA: Day three

Went to bed at a more reasonable hour. About midnight. I got up in time for the 7.30 Communion service in the college chapel. It was pretty good.

Business meetings

All the motions past. Myah. Can't be bothered to write anything else.

Hymnbook working group

Singing hymns. Yay! I really hope that they produce one that can replace our current two books as I think both of them leave a lot to be desired.

District connections

Anniversary service

I must say I didn't get much at all out of this. Partly it was hot in the theatre hall (it would have been cooler in the cathedral) but it wasn't just that. I don't know I just really couldn't get anything out of it.

I've realised that many Unitarians seem to have no sense of God. I'm not talking about humanists. I'm talking about us using the word 'God' yet having no sense that there's any reality behind it. Perhaps I'm not explaining myself well. I hear people mentioning the word God, yet there's something insincere about it, there's no sense that people's lives are orientated by a personal relationship with the divine. I'd almost prefer it if people didn't mention God, like in some UU settings, rather than talking about God, yet somehow not meaning it.

I think this is related to prayer. A reading about prayer is not the same as prayer. Saying: prayer is this and this and this, is not a prayer. Prayer is speaking to the divine. I haven't had much sleep. If I'm not making myself clear, or am sounding offensive, please forgive me.

Also, is it too much to think we should have grace before meals at GA?

I'm sure I had more things to say. Ah well.

Friday, April 21, 2006

GA: Day Two

Last night I didn't leave the Zette Office til past 3am. Zettes need folding and stuff. Wow it's like being in Press Gang, 'cept less of the early nineties-ness.

Business Meeting
Got up about 9 and went in late to the first business meeting. I got there in time for the controversial bit. They wanted to change the minimum amount to pay someone for covering a one off service from £32 for lay people and £35 for ministers to £40 for everyone. Nearly all of the ministers complained about this, saying that it this was like saying that any lay person was as qualified as a minister to take a service, which wasn't taking into account all the training that ministers do.

This wasn't about money. I could understand where ministers were coming from. We should appreciate ministers and all the work they do, and we often don't. But at the same time I couldn't help think of the Parable of the Workers in the Vinyard (Matthew 20:1 - 16). If it's fair to pay a minister £40, then that's fair. Does it take away if £40 is also paid to lay preachers? In the end, we're talking about a few pounds in any case.

Interfaith Panel

A lot of people talking about local interfaith work. Good good.

Foy Society: BUYAN

We spoke about the trip to Opus 2005 and our creation of BUYAN.

Earth Spirit Network

Worship service based on the Green Man. It was OK, and I really liked the guided meditation that Tony McNeile did. I just wished we could have been outside, with the grass under our feet and between our fingers and the sun in our eyes and the cool air in our lungs. Isn't that the point of Earth-centred spirituality?

Unitarian Christian Association

In some ways this was not that impressive, as it was just a couple of guys talking without enough time to get into anything in depth. But at the same time I was really impressed in some ways. The UCA has completely changed its constitution and they made the point again and again that they are not a political group engaged in making the community 'more Christian' but a place that can be a resource for Unitarians who want to explore the Christian tradition. Andrew Brown, who is increasingly going to be an important theologian in this community, talked about the need to develop strong liberal Christian theology. I must have a chat with him.

Unitarian Women's Group

I actually meant to go to a worship but walked into the wrong room and ended up going to this. But it was pretty good. They had a speaker from Womankind Worldwide.

Unitarian Lesbian and Gay Group

No inclusion for bisexuals or trans folk yet. They talked about Civil Partnerships, with one couple that done it. I made the point that we should be agitating for full same-sex marriage and seemed to get a consensus so that might become a motion next year. Yay!

Hibbert Trust

Not that interesting, but important. That's money for you. It's a good fund, and if I do academic work in the future I might try get some money from them. We did use cool voting technology with hand-held devices. Like 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire'!! Cool!

Young Adult Worship

And now for something completely different. Us young 'uns teaching this community how different worship can be. Tree praying and spiral dancing. Pictures came out really well!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Live from GA: Um, end of Day One

There was a Day Zero.

OK, so it looks like I am getting to a computer and can blog live, from here in the GA Zette office, where lots of little Unitarian journalists are typing away at keyboards round the room and young adults are drinking alcohol.

I don't really know what day it is anymore.

Well, what did I do today?

The John Relly Beard ministerial lecture: by John Parry

John Parry's a professor at Luther King House, so will be my teacher next year. He's a United Reform Church minister who's spent some time in India. He offered various reflections on religious pluralism, then spoke on Islam for a while, comparing progressives and fundamentalists.

Publications panel: me! and Vernon Marshall.

I spoke about my new book. Um, I'll probably blog about that separately at some point.
Vernon Marshall spoke about his book about British Unitarianism and world religions, a topic that needed an in-depth study I think. I've been told both books will be out 'before next GA' so that means three books should be out from Lindsey Press this year, the third being a multi-author work on congregational life. This will be welcome I think because nothing's been out since 2003.

International Association for Religious Freedom

'Reflections from IARF Taiwan Congress' which was held in a very camp Buddhist monastery.

Outreach and Communications Commission

Stuff about how to do a press release.

Opening Ceremony

Which I enjoyed. Despite reservations (my own and others) the brass band sounded pretty good. It was good to be surrounded by hundreds singing loudly rather than less than 20. I was starting to get really into the singing, swaying a bit (me being on the charismatic side, when so moved). By the last hymn I would have been holding my hands out, if it wasn't for the fact that the last hymn was to the tune of 'The Day Thou Gave Us Lord Has Ended' which, I'm sorry is a funeral song. So instead of leaving the worship thinking/feeling - yay it's good to celebrate together with Unitarians - I was thinking - oh dear my grandmother's dead. Ah well.

It's weird to see all these people that I'm meeting for the first time - even though I know them through reputation. I have tried to keep a close eye on this community (even when in the States) through the internet and magazines. I know who a lot of people are, I just haven't met them until now. It's kinda like meeting celebrities, only with more beards.

Live from GA: Day one

I don't know what I'm doing up this early.

Yesterday was pretty long from 6am to 2am. I expect most of my days are going to be like this.

I spend Tuesday buying stuff for the conference. Do you know how difficult it is to find a paper bag (or 20) in Birmingham?? I was searching all day. In the end I settled for stealing mushroom bags from Tesco (in fact when I got here someone else had brought much better bags for mail bags). After that I met a mate I haven't seen in a while and we had a few drinks.

All this meant that when I got home at 8:30pm I was too tired to pack or reply to emails so went to bed and got up at 6am the next day (yesterday). I dealt with the stuff I needed to and caught a train at 9:05.

I got into Chester at 11:30 and found a number of Unitarians hanging around so managed to share a taxi into the college.

So we had an afternoon of young-adulty goodness and have begun to plan our worship on Friday night. Some considerable time was also spent in the pub.

A while ago I thought it would be a good idea to speak to the ministers' Pre-Conference about the launch of BUYAN and young adult stuff. I emailed someone to sort it out but only found out a few hours before that it was actually going ahead. I just wanted to make a quick announcement - it turned out I talked for less than five minutes and then took questions for like half an hour. It was a useful dialogue and I know we have young adult allies there, so that's good.

Got up this morning at 7. It's now 8.40. GA officially starts today.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I'm leaving the house in ten minutes to go to GA. I doubt I'll get a chance to blog live (in a American party political conferences kinda a way) but I'll try to record my thoughts in the old fashioned handwritting form while I'm there and write them up 'as live' when I get back.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter everyone

Friday, April 14, 2006

Starving for the Bread of Life: the longings of an Anglo Catholic Unitarian

Last night, Maundy Thursday, I went to my local Anglican church down the road. I have to go to an Anglican church on Maundy Thursday. The rest of my old faith I can leave behind, but on Maundy Thursday I have to take communion, there has to be footwashing and the has to be the Watch after the service where I can sit and pray with Jesus in Gethsemane.

Maundy Thursday is the most Holy Day of my personal spiritual calendar. Not Christmas or Easter or Good Friday, but Maundy Thursday. That night was the last night of Jesus' ministry. After he was arrested it was just an inevitable process to execution. The 'Resurrection', whatever it was, I believe had more to do with Jesus' disciples than Jesus himself. But on Maundy Thursday Jesus concluded his teaching and ministry. As someone who want his faith to be rooted in that teaching and ministry, Maundy Thursday becomes very important.

And what did Rabbi Jesus do that night? He ate together with his friends; he told them 'love one another' and he showed them what that meant by washing their feet. Then he prayed.

Could there be a better summary of Christianity? Eat together, love, serve, pray.

But going to that service made me think about how I missed this kind of thing. What a joy it was to sing hymns written in the twentieth century not the nineteenth! I'm sorry but Hymns of Faith and Freedom is a serious obstacle to my faith. I find so little soul in the hymns, and really believe that the slow solemn tunes are an obstacle preventing more people coming to our churches. Who wants to be so depressed on a Sunday morning?

But the reverence, the incarnational physicality of communion, the taste of bread and wine on my tongue, the possibility of finding God in taste and smell, not just in intellectual words! How my soul is moved by these things, how my soul is starved of these things with 20 minute sermons and dead hymns. How the Holy Spirit is absent from our Unitarian services and my soul dried up and ill-nourished by rational corpse-cold Unitarianism.

How much easier it would be to just ignore doubts and ethical objections to traditional Christianity so that I could continue to be fed by that Bread of Life. How much harder it will be to bring the Holy Spirit into Unitarianism, that is lost and starving and dying.

Yet this seems to be where I am being called. We Unitarians must become dirty sensual incarnational reverent people daring to live and worship our faith of universal incarnation and universal revelation.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Evangelism in context

In America, the question is 'which church should I go to?' because everybody goes to church.

The answer is, 'Come to ours, because we are less conservative, less dogmatic, because we are not like churches that you dislike.'

In Britain, the question is, 'why should I go to any church?' because nobody goes to church.

Our answer has to be to say what is good about being religious. What differences being religious makes to our lives. We need to rediscover what is at the foundation of our religious faith. How we are made better people by this thing that we do. We need to say what we are, not what we are not. We need to say being Unitarian makes a difference in our lives. If it does not, then why bother?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Humanist churches

What does it say about human nature in general, and Americans in particular, that there are such things as atheist churches. For most people this would seem like an oxymoron. I'm sure most people in Britain, the general public, and humanists, would consider it really really weird that Americans have atheist/humanist churches.
There are humanists organisations in Britain, but I'm sure none of them meet on Sunday morning, have 'sermons' 'leaders' and 'sunday schools.' What does it say about how much Americans love going to church, that even those that are entirely atheists, still go to church?
Why is American church-going culture so strong that it survives the complete removal of any metaphysical foundation?
Here's a fun party game: listen to an audio sermon online, and see if you can work out if it's a UU church or an Ethical Society. What does it mean if you can't?
A lot of questions.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

More GA news

If anyone is interested in hearing me speak, or seeing my pretty face, then you'll have two opportunities at GA:

I'll be speaking at the Publications Panel slot 15:30 - 16:10 on Thursday 20 April about my book, The Unitarian Life (I think that's the title we've settled on) which will be published... um some time in the future. I'll talk a little about the idea behind the book and hopefully get a dialogue going. It's basically a collection of short bits of Unitarian writing from a broad range of sources. It's an attempt to find a unity amongst our diversity, articulate a kind of a Unitarian community vision with inspirational and thought-provoking readings on all kinds of subjects. The short way of saying it is that it's a Unitarian version of Quaker Faith and Practice.

I'll also be at the Foy Society slot at 11:35 - 12:15 on Friday 21 April with a lot of other folks to talk about our trip to Opus 2005 in the summer and the launch of BUYAN.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Motions at GA 2006

Not long till GA now. Here are the motions, and my take on them.

That this General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches acknowledges that, in order to survive, there is an absolute need for numerical growth. It urges every individual and every organisation to prioritise numerical growth. It requests them to declare it. It requests the General Assembly Executive Committee to set up an organisation and process that will bring together those who seek to promote numerical growth, where ideas, proven or not, can be exchanged, discussed and acted upon.

Well, this is a good effort. I think we're at the stage that everything we do should be concerned with growth. At this stage we really don't have the luxury of being concerned much with anything else. However, I'm concerned that the outcome of this motion will be that a committee will be set up, meet a bit, then produce a report in three years that will not change anything.

That this General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches recognises and promotes the worth and dignity of all people, which includes the equal rights of men and women, and furthermore proclaims that all human beings are born free and equal and are entitled to all the rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, including any distinction as to sex.
It further recognises that discrimination against women is incompatible with human dignity and thus promotes the full participation of women, on equal terms with men, in the political, social, economic and cultural life of society, and
furthermore, the cause of peace and the welfare of the world requires the full participation of all people, both men and women.
Be it resolved that all appropriate measures shall be taken to ensure that women, married or unmarried, have equal rights with men in all areas of economic, social and political life and that women are equal partners with men in determining the values, direction and governance of their societies for the benefit of all.
As a first step, all Congregations, District Associations and Affiliated Societies should undertake an audit of all of their activities to ensure that women are enabled to participate fully and equally in all areas.

Well, fair enough. Nothing there I disagree with there. But how do we enforce an 'audit' on congregations in a congregational system?

That this General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches is concerned by the refusal of the British Government to grant posthumous pardons to the 306 British, Irish and Commonwealth soldiers, some as young as 17, who were executed by firing squad for battlefield offences in the First World War;
Recognises that many of these soldiers, executed for offences such as cowardice, were suffering from shell-shock and other traumatic disorders;
Welcomes activities in support of these pardons in Britain and the Commonwealth, led by the “Shot at Dawn” campaign;
Further welcomes the fact that New Zealand has granted its executed soldiers posthumous pardons and the Irish Government has supported pardons being granted to Irish-born soldiers;
Urges the General Secretary to write to the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary (of the United Kingdom) calling upon them to end this injustice by granting posthumous pardons to all of those so executed;
Urges all Congregations, District Associations and Affiliated Societies to support the campaigns for these posthumous pardons.

Well, OK. But what difference does the General Secretary writing a letter make? I got nothing against this campaign, but firstly, do we really think us passing a motion makes any difference? And secondly of all the issues in the world to deal with, is this the most important? Aren't there injustices right now to deal with before we deal with injustices of the past?

That this General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches takes the view that the notion of Intelligent Design is in no sense a legitimate scientific theory and urges that it should not form part of the science curriculum in schools. It calls upon the United Kingdom Government and the Welsh and Scottish Executives to ensure that, if the hypothesis is to have any place at all, it is encountered in the Religious Education curriculum alongside the many other creation myths to be found in the venerated texts of various faiths.

I so support this, but I don't agree with the wording. ID is not a religious creation myth, but a philosophical meta-scientific theory. It's a fundamentally flawed philosophical meta-scientific theory, but it's a bit disingenuous to call it a creation myth. It's possible that my training in evolutionary biology and theology make me more qualified to talk about this than anyone else at the Meetings. But at the same time, can I be bothered to make a contribution to this debate, when I don't believe us passing the resolution will make any difference to anyone?

All together, I suppose I support all the resolutions. But can't imagine any of them making any difference to anyone, with the possible exception of the first one.

Who benefits from all this? Is the world made any more just, loving or fair as a result? Is anyone hungry fed, is anyone naked clothed? I can't help thinking we would be better to all get out of the conference hall, walk into Chester and feed the homeless, do something useful. Or even sing a song a la the Mennonites. Or even just walk around a pick up litter. Us picking up litter would make the world a slightly better place. I'm not convinced our passing motions will.

The first one might make a difference. The rest will not.