Sunday, September 28, 2008

Unitarians on Desperate Housewives

(I know, I know, you wait a month for a blog post, then five come along in a weekend)

I was just watching Desperate Housewives. Almost at random I chose an episode on 4 On Demand. And it happened to be one that mentioned Unitarians (season 4, episode 11).

The episode begins when one character, Lynette, suddenly decides to go to church one Sunday morning. The character recently survived cancer and a tornado and decides that she has much to be thankful for, and many questions, and so asks her neighbour, Bree, to take her to her church.

Bree happily does so and they go to a middle-class Presbyterian church. Lynette listens to the sermon attentively and then after the sermon has finished, puts her hand in the air to ask a question. This is much to the embarasment of Bree. The minister lets Lynette ask the question, (in which she uses the word "dumb-ass" in church - again to Bree's embarasment) which is about the possibility of a loving God in a world of suffering. The preacher gives an answer mentioning free will and when Lynette asks a second question he invites her to come along to a mid-week Bible study.

The minister actually seems to be quite happy to answer the questions, and in a later scene says so. However this goes against Bree's sense of what is acceptable in church. Later in the week she visits Lynette, who is enthusiastically studying the Bible, and again coming up with many questions. Bree tells Lynette that "we don't really do that... in our church people don't talk back to the minister."
"But what if I need that, what if that's the kind of church I'm looking for?" asks Lynette,
"Well then, maybe you should explore other options," says Bree, "I mean if you really enjoy talking back to the pulpit why don't you try that gospel church by the airport?"
"OK," says Lynette,
"Or, the Unitarians, from what I hear those folks are anything goes."

In fact Lynette goes to a Catholic church the next week. But this is where my musing comes in. What if Lynette had gone to a Unitarian church? Would she have found what she was looking for?

I'm sure putting her hand up at the end of the sermon would have been as out of place in most Unitarian churches as it was in the Presbyterian church. Unitarians preach a faith of questions and doubts and yet how many could cope with a question and answer session after the sermon? It would have felt out of place in most Unitarian churches I've belonged to. In my tiny student church of ten people last year we tended to have a little bit of people shouting out a few things when invited during the service. And it worked quite well, but that was an exception.

But there's also an issue of content. How many Unitarian churches actually deal with meaty theological questions like the ones that Lynette was asking? How many of our churches are so light on theology that issues like this never come up? If Lynette went to a Unitarian church that was only talking about political issues or the spiritual practice of gardening then would she have found a place that could deal with her questions, or one that was side-stepping them?

I keep coming back to the question: what kind of church was Lynette looking for? And could my church, or your church, have been a home for her?

Candles of Joy and Concern

A liturgical question:

What is the best equipment to use for candles of joy and concern? (I'll leave other questions about the best way of doing this aside for now)

I've used tea lights on a metal tray before, but I'm not sure that's the best way. I think a better way is probably taller candles in a bowl of sand like this:


Is that the best way to do it? It needs to be something that is safe and easy for people to use, especially elderly people. And something that looks good.

But where do you get a good bowl like that? Come to think of it, where do you get a big lot of sand? Any thoughts?

Back to Church Sunday

Apparently today is Back to Church Sunday. Hmm. Not the most amazing evangelical idea.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think it's a good idea to contact people who are on the periphery of the church and give them a personal invitation to pop back in sometime. It's certainly something worth doing at the start of a new ministry. It's something I'm planning on doing very soon.

But I don't really see the need for a national campaign. It doesn't seem the best use of resourses, and the best way to empower local congregations for evangelism.

For one thing it doesn't really address the legitimate reasons why some people might have left the church in the first place. Spirited Exchanges is one place to engage with those issues.

Plus it's not very ambitious. It's only aiming at the 'churched' who have drifted away rather than a genuine missionary engagement with the unchurched western culture.

Plus it's a very "come to us" strategy, rather than a "go to them" strategy. How about getting the church back into the world, rather than people back into the church? How about local congregations finding ways to be in genuine dialogue with the world outside? That's the key.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Copyrighted colour?

I was waiting in the queue at my local delivery office today (picking up a package of printer ink cartiridges - they run out fast) and reading all the posters on the wall. I find myself unable not to read something if its in front of me and I have nothing else to do.
At the bottom of one poster I found this in small print:

"Royal Mail, the Cruciform and the colour red are registered trademarks of Royal Mail plc."

The colour red? The colour red is owned by Royal Mail? How does that work? Do I have to ask permission before I use a crayon? I'm scared and confused.

Settling in

Well I've been in Bolton for nearly four weeks now. I only got the internet connected a few days ago, which is why it's been quiet on here lately.

I still hardly have any furiture. I'm spending time getting lost on the roads of Bolton and thinking about what kind of wardrobe I want... as well as all that ministry jazz of course.

I'm still thoroughly enjoying being a full time minister.

Nothing very profound to say at the moment.