Sunday, March 11, 2007


Where I study the buzzword is 'context.' I'm studying for a degree in 'contextual theology.' We're always being asked to relate academic study to our work in church and the world. We're asked to think about our context theologically and our theology contextually. I like this approach. I think its quite appropriate and useful for ministerial training. I pass this building everytime I walk to Sainsbury's to do my shopping. It used to be a Unitarian church and now its the home of Manchester Amateur Photographic Society. For me its a gravestone: 'A Unitarian community once lived here 1646 - 1970. Now it is dead.'

If I needed it, this serves as a sombre reminder of the context of British Unitarianism. Everything we do and say should be related to this context: the context of decline; the context of gravestone-churches; forgotten brick buildings rotting slowly away at the side of the road.

It's irresponsible to act like this isn't happening. It's irresponsible to think we can continue to go on as we have been. It's irresponsible to keep our money locked away, and not spend it on exciting new ways of doing church and ministry.

Everytime I walk past this building I think of these things.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree entirely, Stephen. I think the same on seeing Ullet Road Church, Liverpool. It is still in use but I've never seen more than 20 people in there, not even enough to raise a hearty hymn. And part of the church (the cloisters) have become like a mausoleum housing the memorial stones of yesteryear.

I guess there are two questions - have Unitarians recognised there is a problem? And if so, have they arrived at a solution?

I look at my local Zen group and it is thriving with 30+ members at the main weekly meetings, and always a variety of people with many newcomers (not just 30 regulars).

It is not devoutly Buddhist in the sense people of many traditions visit and the discussions often go 'outside the box', but it is nonetheless held together by the Buddhist tradition.

Also, in terms of practicalities, it is lay-led (but with some members trained and educated in Buddhism), it has twice weekly morning and afternoon meetings, is located near the city centre in the vicinity of the student area - and the meeting space is rented.

It is far more dynamic and flexible than any church I've encountered what with all the committees, hierarchies and anchor-like buildings.

The group is actually moving soon to rent out new quieter premises but in a similar area - and continues to grow. It doesn't have to worry about the leaky roof, or the smashed window...

I think if Unitarians are really serious about stopping the rot (and extinction as a national movement) then maybe they should look to groups like this as an example?

But having said all this, the Biblical teaching on new wine and old skins perhaps also has relevance? Maybe it's a case of survival of the fittest, and perhaps the old archaic churches need to die out for a revitalised movement to emerge from it?

8:22 pm  
Anonymous Mike Killingworth said...

I agree with both of you.

The N.U.F., and particularly its Internet Forum, provides another example of a vibrant spiritual community that doesn't own any real estate, nor do we want to.

Can there really be a single gathered congregation, Unitarian or Christian come to that, meeting in a building important enough to be listed, but not important enough to be a tourist attraction, which wouldn't find life simpler if the State owned it & the congregation rented it on Sundays & whenever else it needed it?

As a lay preacher I have discovered that I don't seem to get invited back much to congregations which either possess or aspire to (yes, it happens) a building which isn't fit for purpose. I suppose I could keep my mouth shut over coffee afterwards, and perhaps I may even do so in future - having established (to my own satisfaction at least) that one of our problems is the Trustee whose qualification for office is their cheque book rather than their spiritual insight.

If we want to attract new Unitarians, we can make a good start by disabusing ourselves of the notion - which, to be fair, I don't think our elected leaders suffer from - that "chapel" is going to attract anyone.

10:30 pm  

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