Skip to main content

Starving for the Bread of Life: the longings of an Anglo Catholic Unitarian

Last night, Maundy Thursday, I went to my local Anglican church down the road. I have to go to an Anglican church on Maundy Thursday. The rest of my old faith I can leave behind, but on Maundy Thursday I have to take communion, there has to be footwashing and the has to be the Watch after the service where I can sit and pray with Jesus in Gethsemane.

Maundy Thursday is the most Holy Day of my personal spiritual calendar. Not Christmas or Easter or Good Friday, but Maundy Thursday. That night was the last night of Jesus' ministry. After he was arrested it was just an inevitable process to execution. The 'Resurrection', whatever it was, I believe had more to do with Jesus' disciples than Jesus himself. But on Maundy Thursday Jesus concluded his teaching and ministry. As someone who want his faith to be rooted in that teaching and ministry, Maundy Thursday becomes very important.

And what did Rabbi Jesus do that night? He ate together with his friends; he told them 'love one another' and he showed them what that meant by washing their feet. Then he prayed.

Could there be a better summary of Christianity? Eat together, love, serve, pray.

But going to that service made me think about how I missed this kind of thing. What a joy it was to sing hymns written in the twentieth century not the nineteenth! I'm sorry but Hymns of Faith and Freedom is a serious obstacle to my faith. I find so little soul in the hymns, and really believe that the slow solemn tunes are an obstacle preventing more people coming to our churches. Who wants to be so depressed on a Sunday morning?

But the reverence, the incarnational physicality of communion, the taste of bread and wine on my tongue, the possibility of finding God in taste and smell, not just in intellectual words! How my soul is moved by these things, how my soul is starved of these things with 20 minute sermons and dead hymns. How the Holy Spirit is absent from our Unitarian services and my soul dried up and ill-nourished by rational corpse-cold Unitarianism.

How much easier it would be to just ignore doubts and ethical objections to traditional Christianity so that I could continue to be fed by that Bread of Life. How much harder it will be to bring the Holy Spirit into Unitarianism, that is lost and starving and dying.

Yet this seems to be where I am being called. We Unitarians must become dirty sensual incarnational reverent people daring to live and worship our faith of universal incarnation and universal revelation.


Rich said…
"What a joy it was to sing hymns written in the twentieth century not the nineteenth! I'm sorry but Hymns of Faith and Freedom is a serious obstacle to my faith."

I am so sorry to hear that about your church. Where I attend, Cross Street Chapel in Manchester, we sing hymns from "the Green Book", Hymns for Living. The hymns in this book are mostly from the early twentieth century and they are very uplifting indeed. It is a standard Unitarian hymnal so perhaps you could encourage your church to try some out of this book. We also have two members of the Unitarian hymn-writing committee in our congregation and so occasionally we try brand new hymns.

I find it fascinating that your experience of Unitarian services as compared to Anglican is precisely the opposite of what I have experienced. Our services are lively and humorous and they are about things that really matter to me.
Anonymous said…
Good to see the Spirit active, especially making you aware of thursday as well as the rest of the weekend.

But I have to suggest that it's entirely possible to have a conventional hymnbook (we have Hymns Old & New, Complete Anglican Edition) and organ-only accompaniment can be seen, not as turgid, but as majestic. When it comes to "modern" "worship" designed for young'uns with drum-kits and synthesizers, where once I thought it cool (aged in my mid-teens) you can now count me out.
Anonymous said…
Have any British Unitarians ever visited Taize in France or tried Taize songs? My wife and I went to Taize last summer and found it truly inspiring. Much of the music is dignified, historically resonant, and passionate without sounding trendy or old-fashioned. And, most impressively, the thousands who go to Taize each week in the summer are overwhelmingly young people. The choice, it seems to me, isn't between archaic sounding hymns or bad Christian pop.

We met many Anglicans, a Northern Irish Protestant, and a few others from the UK when we were there. Many of the Anglicans take bus tours of youth and adults to Taize every year.
Tim, Hymns Old and New would be a considerable improvement to Hymns of Faith and Freedom imho. I'm not blindly for tredyness, but HF&F is the worst kind of nineteenth century dirge-ness.

I have been to Taize many times, and it is something I am very interested in bringing to Unitarians, including young adults, I'd like to get a BUYAN trip there one time.

I did run Taize services last year at First Church Boston. I would have invited you if I knew you at the time!
Anonymous said…
Sorry to say, but this post reflects the hard choices we all have to make at some time.

There is also quite some skill in recognising what are solely your issues and then not going on to dump them all over everyone else.

OK, you need to go to a "proper" church and take Communion. This means something to you. I am sure most people would accept that. Fine.

But please don't then start generalising this experience and saying thinks like:

"We Unitarians must become dirty sensual incarnational reverent people"

What does that mean?

It sounds like a load of over-theologicised hogwash to me.

And how can a hymn book be "a serious obstacle" to someone's faith?

Most of the issues over the use of a hymnbook come down to the very ingrained habits of a particular congregation. Nothing more. It actually is a practical "custom and practice" issue not a great cosmic drama.

You place great emphasis on church attendance and the experiences you find there. Often this experience doesn't live up to your expectations.

Welcome to the real world.
Anonymous said…

(Cliff Reed)

Montserrat, Catalunya, 7th November 2005.

The Son of God passed by today on his way to the pub,but no one noticed.

They were all on their way to church - for once.

In one church they ate the Son of God - or thought they did.

In another church they shouted his name a lot but seemed more interested in turning themselves on.

In another church they doubted whether there was a Son of God, or whether there was a God either, for that matter.

But the Son of God just let them get on with it, as he always has. And down the pub he talked with a broken friend and brought him back to life.


Anonymous said…
The ritual element you have as your spirituality - it is why I am now Anglican with yet a liberal approach. What is wanted is a postmodern theology, one of liturgy, ritual and meaning, of tradition and culture, and such exist by people who have already considered what you have written.
Yewtree said…
Use the green hymnbook, it's much nicer! :)

Popular posts from this blog

What does it mean to be non-creedal?

Steve Caldwell says "The problem here isn't humanism vs. theism for theist Unitarian Universalists -- it's the non-creedal nature of Unitarian Universalism" This is a good point. We need to think much more deeply about what it means to be a non-creedal religion. The first thing I want to say is that there is more than one possible understanding of non-creedalism. The Disciples of Christ are a non-creedal church, they say here : " Freedom of belief. Disciples are called together around one essential of faith: belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Persons are free to follow their consciences guided by the Bible, the Holy Spirit study and prayer, and are expected to extend that freedom to others." Quakers are also non-creedal and say here : Quakers have no set creed or dogma - that means we do not have any declared statements which you have to believe to be a Quaker. There are, however, some commonly held views which unite us. One accepted view is that th


When I started this blog nearly 4 years and nearly 300 posts ago one of the labels I used for it/me was "radical." Perhaps I used it a little unreflectively. Recently I've been pondering what radical means. A couple of things have made me think of this. Firstly this blog series from my friend Jeremy, which explores a distinction between "radical progressives" and "rational progressives." There is also this definition of radical, liberal and conservative from Terry Eagleton quoted at Young Anabaptist Radicals : “Radicals are those who believe that things are extremely bad with us, but they could feasibly be much improved. Conservatives believe that things are pretty bad, but that’s just the way the human animal is. And liberals believe that there’s a little bit of good and bad in all of us.” What interests me is finding a way to express the tension I feel sometimes between myself and the wider Unitarian movement. One way to express this is to say I tend

What is Radical Christianity?

Radical Christianity is about encountering the God of love . It is first and foremost rooted in the discovery of a universal and unconditional source of love at the heart of reality and within each person. God is the name we give to this source of love. It is possible to have a direct and real personal encounter with this God through spiritual practice. We encounter God, and are nourished by God, through the regular practice of prayer, or contemplation.  Radical Christianity is about following a man called Jesus . It is rooted in the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish prophet living under occupation of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago. It understands that's Jesus' message was the message of liberation. His message was that when we truly encounter God, and let God's love flow through us, we begin to be liberated from the powers of empire and violence and encounter the  "realm of God" - an alternative spiritual and social reality rooted in love rather th