Tuesday, February 28, 2017


The Annual Report is out. And here's the first number I look for. And it's 2966.

The membership of Unitarian churches in Britain is down once again. Down by 129 people. 

Here's what the numbers look like over the last few years I've been counting: 

2005: 3952 
2006: 3754
2007: 3711
2008: 3642
2009: 3658
2010: 3672
2011: 3560
2012: 3468
2013: 3384
2014: 3179
2015: 3095
2016: 2966

No comment for now. I'm just book marking the numbers.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

What if I told you that we live in paradise?

In some ways I am more pessimistic and frightened about the state of the world than ever before. And yet I feel more than ever rooted in a clearer vision of my self and my ministry. And that vision fills me with joy. It is expressed most beautifully by the great Unitarian poet e.e. cummings:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

I have been on three protests already this year, and I see the need for resistance more than ever. But that resistance must be rooted, I think, not just in protest, but in an alternative vision of the way the world could be.

But not just the way the world could be, but in fact the way the world is. I'm hearing a lot from my American co-religionists about resistance and protest, and that's all good. I support them and hope they are effective. But the message (in sermons and articles) doesn't go any further than "this is wrong." Which is fine as far as it goes, but it is just ethics.

I'm not convinced ethics alone provides enough energy to power resistance. I think it burns out. I think it fails to give hope.

What is needed, and what (in some form at least) I think we have, is faith in a real saving reality. What is needed is the faith that the world is in fact ontologically rooted in beauty, truth and goodness. It's not just that the powers of oppression and division in the world are wrong. It's that they are a lie. The truth is beauty and love are the foundational realities of this universe. I don't think we can fight the good fight unless we believe in that.

What if I told you that we live in paradise? Such a statement seems almost like a sick joke. The world seems to refute it at every turn. And yet poets and mystics declare it again and again. And I believe it. It is what is at the heart of my Unitarian faith.

It's not just that we have to create paradise on earth by our actions. Though that is a good description of our mission. But it's more than that. It's that we have to create paradise on earth by realising the truth that we already live in paradise. That a reality of exquisite beauty and overwhelming love surround us at every turn, shouting and waving at us and begging to be noticed.

Buried deep in reality, sometimes invisible but always there, are the seeds of paradise. We only have to notice them and they begin to sprout.

You live in paradise. When you begin to pay attention to it you begin to notice it more and more. You become more aware. Your ears awake and your eyes are opened. You begin to see beauty. You begin to feel a universal love that surrounds you and all things. You become more joyful.

Resistance is needed right now. But we must become not merely activists, but mystical activists. That is our good news and our calling.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Flexibility of American Religion

As part of my American trip during my sabbatical to the 2016 Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Studies I took part in a tour of local Unitarian Universalist congregations. The conference was in the Minneapolis/St Paul area and so we were taken around several UU congregations in the Twin Cities.

We visited the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis:

If you look at the main external picture here you will see the words "Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one."

This might seem to be a surprising thing to find on a Universalist church (though it is of course classically Unitarian). But that's because the building used to belong to a Jewish synagogue. Certain features like that still looked fairly synagoguey including Stars of David at the end of each pew.

We were told that the Universalist church bought this building, while simultaneously selling their old building to a different synagogue.

We were also shown a Roman Catholic church.

This church was originally a Universalist church in the nineteenth century. The Universalists then sold the building to French Canadian Catholics as they started coming into the area. It is still a Catholic church today, but no longer French-speaking. The basic structure of the building though was built by the Universalists.

Later on that same trip I visited our partner church, Spindletop Unitarian Universalist Church in Beaumont Texas.

They had just a few months ago moved into a new building that has previously had a lot of different secular uses. They're just settling into their new home. For a while they had no building of their own and worshipped in an art studio space.

All this made me think about the flexibility of American religion. How American congregations don't seem to think much of selling one building and moving to another one, even if it's several miles away. A building serves them for a while, and then it no longer serves them any more, and they sell it and buy another building.

Although I know this does happen in the UK, it doesn't seem to happen quite so easily. Americans seem to see congregations as societies of nomadic people, capable of moving from place to place. Whereas there's something in the British psyche that tends to see churches as part of geography, like mountains and rivers. They have always been there and they always will be. They were pagan sacred places and then a thousand years ago a parish church was built on the spot, and it continues to be part of the sacred geography.

There are advantages and disadvantages of course to these attitudes, but I thought they were worth noting and musing upon.


Meanwhile I might just put some more pictures of my trip to Convocation here as well:

Me giving my talk.

Keynote speaker Rosemary Bray McNatt, talking quite a lot about British Unitarians condemning lynching of black Americans more than America Unitarians did.

First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

Unity Church, St Paul

Thursday, February 02, 2017

What is a Unitarian? (Video)