Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Drop the Free Christian!

Let me preface what I'm going to say by first saying this: I am a Christian. It's taken me a long time to be able to say that, and to know what I mean by that, and I'm very lucky that in the Unitarian church I have been given the space to come to that decision in my own time, on my own terms. But I am a Christian, I'm more Christian now than I have been for years.

I want us to drop this "Free Christian" from our title. It's a silly phrase that we need to get rid of. Why?

"The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches" is a long and unwieldy title. It would be much better if we traded under something like "Unitarians in Britain."

It gives the impression that there are two separate and distinct groups: "Unitarians" and "Free Christians," this is not the case. It's not that there are Unitarians (who are not Christians) and "Free Christians" who are not Unitarians. There are not two different traditions here like the Unitarians and the Universalists in America. These are two different names for the same tradition.

"Free" is a term not in the slightest bit understood by the general public in this context. "Free" means you don't have to pay for it, that's the first association. It's confusing and unnecessary.

The theological distinction between those who called themselves "Unitarian" and those who called themselves "Free Christian" in the nineteenth century is entirely irrelevant today. The Free Christians disliked "Unitarian" because they thought it implied a dogmatic position. Today we understand "Unitarian" to mean something much broader. In that sense, the Free Christians won the argument, though the word "unitarian" happened to stick and change its meaning.

When the two different denominational bodies came together in the early twentieth century, it seemed a compromise to include two names representing the two different structures, but that's a long time ago now. I used to belong to First Church Boston, which in the 1970s merged with Second Church to form "First and Second Church" but a couple of years ago we reverted back to "First Church" because history had moved on, and frankly it was a silly title. Isn't the time overdue to do the same with the GA of U&FCC?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How segregated is Bolton?

Part of my ministry involves working with children and young people in the church (probably a lot more than most Unitarian ministers, but that's a subject for another day). Recently we have been learning about Islam, and my conversations with our young people around this subject have given me cause for concern.

I've spoken to young people, assuming that they would know Muslims in their schools. I was expecting them to say, "Yes, X, Y and Z in my class are Muslim." But I've got none of that. It seems these children and youth are having no interaction with young Muslims. This kind of shocked me. I think of Bolton as being a similar sort of town to Walsall, where I grew up. And I had lots of interaction with people of other faiths and races at my school. More there than at any other time in my life to be honest. According to Wikipedia Bolton is slightly less diverse than Walsall, but still.

I'm beginning to wonder, how segregated are Bolton's schools?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Announcement: New Principal for Unitarian College

The Unitarian College, Manchester Committee is pleased to announce the appointment of the Reverend Alexander (Alex) Bradley as Principal with effect from 01 August 2009. Alex will serve on a part-time (0.7) basis and will continue to serve his existing part-stipend ministry at the Norcliffe Chapel, Styal.

Liberal Democrats vote to demand fairness from faith schools

From Ekklesia:

The Liberal Democrats have become the first mainstream political party in Britain to admit that many faith schools currently pursue unnecessary discriminatory practices in admissions and employment, and to pledge to challenge them.

At their Spring Conference yesterday (Saturday 6th March 2009), the party voted to put the onus on existing publicly funded schools of a religious character to be inclusive or to have their funding withdrawn, while new faith schools would not be allowed to select pupils on grounds of religion or belief.

The party also voted to end "the opt out from employment and equalities legislation for staff in faith schools, except those responsible for religious education".

The Liberal Democrats are calling for all faith schools to be required to teach about other beliefs in a balanced way, something that most do not currently have to do.

The vote was hailed as a ‘breakthrough moment’ by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, the Chair of Accord, which campaigns to reform the way faith schools operate and to achieve universal standards of openness and inclusion for all schools in Britain.

Dr Romain declared: "The political tide is turning. It is a recognition that it is not in the best interest of children or society at large for faith schools to use pupil selection and staff employment practices that are discriminatory and divisive."

He continued: "It is vital for the social harmony of Britain that schools build bridges between different faith communities, not isolate them from each other.

"Accord welcomes the bravery of the Liberal Democrats in being the first political party to put the national good above sectarian interests."

He added: "We urge Labour and the Conservatives to rethink their current faith schools policy which amounts to a system of religious segregation and which the next generation will have cause to regret."

Accord is a coalition of both religious and non-religious organisations and individuals campaigning for an end to discrimination in school staffing and admissions. The coalition also campaigns for a fair and balanced RE curriculum and the removal of the requirement for compulsory collective worship.

Members of the coalition include teachers’ union ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers), religion and society think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association.

Friday, March 06, 2009

All dogs go to heaven

Silly blogging on my day off.

(Click on the image to see it larger, or follow this link)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

GA motions of note

The motions for this year's Annual Meetings have been released. Every year I have this strange delusion that maybe there will only be a few procedural motions. Surely nothing too much to get het up about is happening in the world (that a GA motion would have much impact on) and in the denomination? Maybe we can get business done quickly and spend more time worshipping, singing, dancing, and learning. Alas no. As many as ever.

Of note:

A statement of understanding with the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. I thought all of that was already the case myself.

A motion asking us to change our name. I've got to say I completely support this, but at the same time I'm dreading the debate. I'll write more about that one later.

What I think is a motion calling for us to have something like the Seven Principles of the UUA. Oh dear. That's going to be an energy-sapping debate.

And then there's two motions calling for the appointment of a national Information Officer and a Social Responsibility Officer (like we've had in the past). Now I would like to see the denomination commiting to social justice and publicity more effectively. But whether that means we need to employ two people seems like a decision that needs to be made at Headquaters. I think it's much more effective to start with the tasks that need to be completed and then ask the question of what roles are needed to complete those tasks. I think deciding employment priorities by a 300 member assembly might be a bad idea. Plus as we don't have a Chief Executive right now, this may not be the right time to do this kind of thing.

Newsflash: Chief Executive steps down

"The Reverend Steve Dick will leave his official role with the General Assembly at the end of March 2009. To enable him to use up remaining annual leave, he will step down as Chief Executive on 2 March. Interim arrangements for leadership are being made by the General Assembly Executive Committee (EC) and will be announced soon.

Steve described the reason for his departure as awareness that he is not the best person to provide the type of leadership currently sought by the EC. He will continue to support the work of the General Assembly insofar as he feels able and Steve remains deeply committed to the value of our local congregations.

Steve wishes to thank all the volunteers, spiritual leaders and staff who assisted him in supporting our Unitarian and Free Christian communities during the past two years."