Saturday, June 25, 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful (1,2,3)

This blog has always been a place where I have been critical of the Unitarian movement. I've always been acutely aware that the Unitarian movement is in deep trouble and has lost its way in many ways. It has been in decline, and many congregations have been devoid of the Spirit and very inward-looking.

So I always try to balance this out when I can when I think I can say something positive. There are in fact many positive things to say. I feel more optimistic about the state of Unitarianism today than I did five years ago. I hope this is not just the effect of me becoming more mainstream within the movement and less of an outsider. I do think real changes have happened, and there are reasons to be cheerful.

Here are some of them:

1. Some congregations are growing
There are in fact many of our congregations that are growing. Some of our healthiest congregations have grown much more. Some congregations have grown steadily. Some congregations have gone from a tiny number to a healthy sized congregation, growing at a huge rate. Transformations have happened. We have a handful of growing, vital congregations. This should show us that Unitarian congregations can grow in the 21st century. We can become relevant to a community and offer something that many people are looking for. This should fill us with hope.

2. Good new Ministers
It's hard to say this without sounding like I'm being big-headed. But I genuinely think that new Ministers that have come out in the last five years or so are of a high quality. "Quality" may not be the best word. But I think they "get it." I think they get that our life has to be rooted in a life of the spirit first and foremost. They get that change has to happen. This makes me very happy.

3. Real national leadership
It's far from perfect, but the Executive Committee is a much better form of leadership compared to what it replaced. It does enable some leadership, some visioning, and some pushing forward of change. I'm grateful for that.

4. We're getting better at living out our values
Our pursuit of an agenda around civil partnerships with the Quakers and Liberal Jews has showed that we can join together with other liberal religious groups to fight for our values. Equally joining the Accord Coalition on faith schools also showed us coalition building to fight for an agenda of equality and inclusiveness. We're getting better at this.

5. The new hymnbook
It may seem like a small thing, but our new hymnbook Sing Your Faith is inclusive, radical, spiritual and musically diverse. It offers a real change to renew our worship and make it spiritually vital and true to our values.

What still needs to be done
But there are still significant changes that need to happen. There are two major changes I have always pushed for and will continue to push for:

1. Enhance ministry
We need to make sure we train ministers as missionaries more than pastors, as leaders more than managers. We need to train ministers to be able to deal with the radically different circumstances we face in the twenty-first century. This will involve ministry training taking at least 3 years and usually involving gaining a bachelor's degree in theology.

2. Church planting
We need to create a fund that will enable and encourage church planting, of all kinds. We need to encourage church planting by ministers and non-ministers, and finding ways of resurrecting congregations that are almost dead (2 or 3 members). We need to encourage a risk-taking culture that encourages different types of church-planting.


Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

You say ministers should take a bachelor's degree in theology ; in the UK that will mean Christian theology largely ; as Christian theology is what a large number of Unitarian ministers seem to me to deliberately avoid,I can't see that 3 years of BD study is going to equip them for the type of ministry that will be expected of them.Certainly at the chapel I attend,Christianity is not on the menu !The GA used to have a Theology Commission - that it doesn't now,seems to indicate that it's almost impossible to use the phrase 'Unitarian theology' to mean very much at all. The General Assembly service at Swansea made the right Christian noises - after all we were in Wales !- but was deeply unpopular with many of the congregation.

10:58 am  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

People get very stuck on the word "theology" - which they take to mean "dogmatics" when in reality theology is a much broader subject than that.

I could use the word "divinity" - but that is hardly better. What I primarily mean is that Minister's should be qualified to a degree level in what they do. When I say "theology" I also mean pastoral care, organisational dynamics, history, leadership, worship.

Don't forget that it's an expectation of American UU Ministers to get a Masters of Divinity, and the majority get those in non-Unitarian broadly Christian theological seminaries in the States.

Even the most humanist of UU Ministers is theologically educated to a high degree. Much more than British Ministers get the chance to be.

The point is Unitarian Ministers should be well educated in Christian theology, Unitarian theology, and world religion theology. They have more to learn MORE than other Christian Ministers so how come it takes 4 years to train a URC Minster and only 2 to train a Unitarian Minister?

11:52 am  
Anonymous Angela @ said...

As it happens, I think that Unitarian ministerial training already has too much Christianity in it. But I would rather have them study too much Christianity than not enough of anything. And I entirely agree that the level of training offered is not adequate.

And in the broad context, I also think that there's not enough noise made about continuing education for ministers. That is, I have no idea whether or not it happens. How much are you encouraged to reflect on and improve your own skills?

9:40 pm  
Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

I find it difficult to understand why a committed humanist would want to undertake a close study of Christianity in preparation for ministry;surely that would be like requiring a science undergraduate to make a close study of alchemy as part of his science degree. Alchemy might be worthy of study as an antiquarian interest but not as part of professional scientific training.The committed Unitarian humanist is likely to regard Christianity in much the same way, as Angela implies.

2:31 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

Any committed Unitarian would need to understand that for the first 400 years of Unitarian history the Bible was the foundational document of Unitarian faith.

Any deep understanding of Unitarianism (and Ministers should certainly have that) necessarily needs to include an understanding of Christianity and the Bible.

10:17 pm  
Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

On the NUF Forum a few years ago we had a long correspondence about the sentence; 'Unitarianism grew out of dissenting Christianity' ; some interpreted it to mean that its origins lay in Christianity but that it was now inclusive of teachings from other world faiths and religious humanism - there was a continuous thread ; others took it to mean that Unitarianism had 'outgrown' Christianity - to claim a continuous thread of development was to hamper Unitarianism from becoming a distinct religion in its own right ,no longer hanging on to Christianity's coat tails.It seems that ministry training may prepare students for the former, whereas what many expect from them is the latter.

4:51 pm  
Anonymous Tim Moore said...

I'm with Stephen on this one. To me, Christian ecclesiological and theological study is essential to understanding the Unitarian movement today and the religious landscape of the UK. This doesn't mean I advocate an exclusive focus on Christianity in ministerial training, but it is integral to becoming an effective, outward looking minister of a Unitarian congregation, as well as contribute to the development of the wider movement.

That said, it should be reminded that some of our most capable ministers have become licensed through studying "World Religion", rather than specifically Christian theology.

I think the main message from Stephen's comments is right. Bachelors Degree-level theological study should be the minimum requirement to gain ministerial credentials. This is the equivalent to the American MDiv, and will become more necessary as we see some ministers and congregations encouraging the recruitment of clergy from the American UUA.

I would go further and say that degree-level training should be the case for lay pastors as well, as I am wary of an emerging hierarchy of the licensed ministers, being expected to contribute more outside their own congregations, while lay pastors tare left to concentrate on their local ministries.

Other than that, yes, there's more to celebrate within the Unitarian movement now and there are good things in store. Do we see "green shoots"?

9:19 pm  

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