Sunday, April 12, 2009

Unitarians in the Guardian

I should probably say something about Easter, but other than saying, "Happy Easter" I won't. You shoulda come along to church this morning if you wanted to hear what I had to say about that.

Instead I wanted to mention the coverage Unitarians have got in the Guardian. One, an article written by a Unitarian is here. And another, more critical (not overly negative, but critically engaged) is here. I only found the second article while searching for the first, I haven't heard anyone mention it before.

Both articles, and their comments, are worth considering. I want to make one point. In the comments section of the first article someone says something like, "If I were going to belong to a religion, I might do this one." I expect a lot of Guardian readers would have thought something like that. Unitarians probably get all excited about that, but the problem is that "if." Many people will agree with the kind of thing we're saying, but will never join a church.

This is an important point about Unitarian evangelism. It's not a matter of making people agree with us. Most of the country already agrees with us. But they see no reason to come to our congregations to agree. The issue is not agreement with our principles, the issue is showing people what difference belonging to a congregation makes in our lives. If belonging makes a difference, we need to witness that, if it doesn't make a difference, then we will not grow, and we don't deserve to.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Tim (S Manc) said...

Happy Easter to you too, Stephen.

It's good that the two articles have appeared on Comment is Free. Even Robin's managed to troll one of them, to the bemusement of its author.

Two things about your post. Firstly, I agree that a lot of people might agree with Unitarianism in principle, but most people don't read Comment is Free, and most people simply do not know about Unitarianism is, let alone desire to come to a congregation. The message(s) and heritage of Unitarianism need to be broadcast on a much wider level, which requires professional strategic leadership at a national level.

Secondly, and in relation to the first point, what are congregations doing on a local level? What is their mission in relation to their local communities? Are they "doing Church" in a way that makes them approachable, or, as you put it: "showing people what difference belonging to a congregation makes in our lives"? Are they working with local media and building a network to publicise activities, concerns and achievements and generally raise their profile? Some communities are going rather well at this, yet others are not and they need to be supported in this.

In relation to this, I visited a Unitarian Church last week (not yours!), and only one person approached me to say hello afterwards, which spoiled the experience of an otherwise very fulfilling and engaging service. I felt like a wallflower, sipping away at my coffee. Unfortunately, it seems like some congregations (OK, it was Dublin) need to start at square one before they work on the questions I posed above.

7:12 pm  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Coulda been San Francisco, or any number of other "less than welcoming" U*U "Welcoming Congregations" Tim. . . BTW Why are you so surprised that I commented on Judith Evans' article about British Unitarians?

I have responded to Stephen's "important point" on the The Emerson Avenger blog.

Happy Easter of your understanding,

Robin Edgar
aka
The Emerson Avenger

8:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Easter, Stephen
You wrote:-
"The issue is not agreement with our principles, the issue is showing people what difference belonging to a congregation makes in our lives. If belonging makes a difference, we need to witness that, if it doesn't make a difference, then we will not grow, and we don't deserve to"

With the age profile of Unitarians in Britain heavily tilted to the over 55s,the only hope for a revival of many congregations is through a more high profile in the Universities/Colleges - Unitarianism is 'available' in nearly all the major University towns, but how many students ever come in touch with it;the evangelicals know the value of work among students but do Unitarians care enough to get involved ?

9:22 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

Tim, I'm not entirely convinced about the whole "raising our national profile" thing. Sure, it wouldn't be a bad thing, but I think your own experience shows what's needed primarily is work on hospitality. After a visiting a church, a few weeks later, you probably wouldn't remember the sermon, but you would remember how you felt afterwards over coffee. That's the kind of thing that grows a congregation.

Anoymous, I do think we need to get more involved in universities/colleges and reach out to young adults, but at the same time young adults are never going to be institution-builders. For that you need people in their 60s, with the time, energy, and skills to lead congregations.

3:41 pm  
Anonymous Tim (S Manc) said...

I agree with what you say, but I'm not sure what you mean by "raising national profile". Unitarian (or any effective) evangelism has to start on a local level, but it is done best when there is a central position for media outlets (such as the Guardian, which can be read across the world) and other organisations to turn their questions to, and for local communities to receive support and direction.

As for Dublin, I'm sure Bill Darlison's exceptional preaching will stick with me for a while, but I certainly expected more from the congregation in terms of being made to feel welcome. If I was a Dublin local, I doubt I would have gone back.

Looking forward to your GA blog. You're blogging it so I don't have to go, lol.

5:47 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen,

your wrote
"young adults are never going to be institution-builders. For that you need people in their 60s, with the time, energy,skills to lead congregations"

As one who falls into your 'over 60s'category,I'm glad that you think there is a role for us; however if the age profile of the denomination is too heavily tilted towards us, we shall never retain significant younger persons, who on seeing that there is no one else within decades of their age are likely to run fast in the opposite direction. When I was (much)younger, I used to judge whether an organisation was worth my while giving time to by the 'pretty girl' test ; if its activities didn't draw in at least a few pretty young women, I reckoned it didn't have a broad enough appeal for me to stay !

12:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's not a matter of making people agree with us. Most of the country already agrees with us."

I disgree with this strongly. It smacks of arrogance on the part of Unitarians to say this.

Also, what part of the fragmented and contradictory sect that Unitarianism has become are you talking about when you say this?

4:33 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home