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Called or learned ministers? And other web reflections

Occasionally I re-visit my denominational websites, and I usually leave with something to complain about. A blog is a place for this kind of thing, but let me add that I'm having trouble with my own website at the moment, so I may be in a glass house, but here goes. First I wanted to comment on unitarian.org.uk , the British Unitarian website. This has improved a little since it's relaunch and is now explanding. It's becoming a more useful resource for those within Unitarianism, with pages like this one giving ministerial vacancies, information previously only available to active ministers. But the website remains rather rubbish at providing information for those interested inquirers wanting more information and flavour to Unitarianism. I find the text they have in these sections rather uninspiring. I was also browsing the American UUA website and came across a couple of things that caught my attention. First, notice the verb use here , "Sermon topics range from curr

Question

Does anyone know the right response to someone if they say to you, "You look very young to be a minister"?

Greater Manchester congestion charge

A bit of a local issue post. Greater Manchester is having a refurendum as to whether to have a congestion charge that will pay for considerable improvements in public transport across the region. Being a liberal greeny, my instinct is to vote for the new scheme, but I'm happy to hear the arguments. Anyone want to share an opinion?

Only in a Unitarian church...?

... do you get given a copy of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins as an induction present.

Unitarian elections

This post has been brewing in me since January. I have to say that I'm sickened by the American UUA presidential election process. "Sickened" may seem like an overly-dramatic word, but I genuinely feel kind of sick when I see the process happening. If you need convincing that religion apes culture, then all you need to do is look at how American Unitarian Universalists have organised their denomination to look exactly like the US politicial system: they elect a President for four years, with the possibility of standing for a second four year term, exactly like the national system. And it seems to me the UUA system has all the disadvantages of the secular system it's imitating: elections last a mind-boggling long time (18 months), they cost a ridiculous amount of money, and they are founded on egotistical self-promotion. It's not suprising I suppose. UUs are often political junkies that are very into elections, they were up last week celebrating at the Obama vic

God encounters with women

Accidentally, I've dropped into doing a sermon-series. I've found myself preaching on a lot of divine-human encounters in the Hebrew Bible: Moses and the burning bush, Samuel in the temple, Jacob wrestling with God etc. But all of these feature men. So I'm wondering where there are stories in the Hebrew Bible in which God speaks to a woman. Or at least passages where you can read between the lines to find something of a divine encounter with a woman. So I'm making a request: can anyone point me in a good direction to find a story that can give some gender-balance to this series?

Priorities

Is anyone else really hacked-off that the top story for at least a day this week was comic radio presenters doing the kind of thing they do all the time , when a possibly historic and progressive piece of climate change legislation was being debated in Parliament, that I didn't see reported anywhere. I listened to the Russel Brand thing and honestly can't see what the fuss is about, but whatever your opinion, how the hell can it possibly be justified as a top story on the news? There's a whole lot of other stuff going on in the world. Annoyed of Bolton.

Does Christianity only attract a certain type of person?

When I was at Greenbelt this summer I decided to go along to the free speed dating evening run by a Christian dating website. When I got home I received emails inviting me to join their website. I did join for the free trial, but didn't pay to become a member. At the speed dating and on the website I didn't come across anyone I was remotely interested in. One of the reasons for this is that I found all those folks just too.... Christian. And now I have to explore what I mean by that. I suppose I really mean Evangelical Christian. But it's still worth exploring what I mean a bit more. It's difficult to express it, but a lot of Evangelicals seem to me to have a certain sort of personality. It's difficult to say without sounding insulting, but I find Evangelicals (in general) to be somehow simplistic, naive, timid and without a sense of humour. This could sound just like prejudice, and it's quite possible I can see the splinter in my neighbour's eye more th

EC candidates revealed

It's been confirmed that the following people are running for election for the Unitarian Executive Committee, for the term beginning April 2009: Joan Cook -- St Mark’s Unitarian Church, Edinburgh, Scotland Jim Corrigall -- Golders Green Unitarians Elisabeth (Lis) Dyson-Jones – South East Wales Unitarian Society Dot Hewerdine – Chorley Unitarian Chapel Andrew Pakula – Newington Green Unitarian Church The Rev Dr Ann Peart – Cross Street Chapel, Manchester Louise Rogers – Newcastle under Lyme Unitarian Meeting House Sir Peter Soulsby – Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel, Leicester Alison Thursfield – Midland Union of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches The Rev Dr David Usher – London District and South Eastern Provincial Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches Howard Wilkins – Hinckley Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel

Biblical Unitarians

Have you heard about these biblical Unitarians? Like me, you may have seen their adverts on Amazon and if you google searched for something Unitarian. Which in itself, suggests there's some money behind this. I sometimes call myself an evangelical Unitarian, but it's a very different kind of evangelical Unitarianism than these folks. I watched this video (all two hours of it) yesterday with half an eye while I was constructing a sofa bed. Video Now, there's much I can agree with about what these folks are saying. I am still basically a Unitarian Christian, I might even call myself a biblical Unitarian. I certainly preach from the Christian scriptures or Hebrew Bible 80% of the time. Yet I certainly don't believe that the Bible is the Word of God in any literal or authorative sense. However good the menu is, it ain't got nothing on the meal. The style of this video is certainly American Evangelical. And the techniques of apologetics used are pretty poor. For exa

National Quaker Week

Those people who are interested in evangelism within progressive or alternative Christian communities might like to check out this site promoting National Quaker Week. I'm more and more convinced for myself of the power of story-telling and personal testimony in evangelism. Here's a good example. It's also worth saying that "Thou Shalt decide for yourself" is a pretty good line for Unitarianism, if those darn Quakers hadn't nabbed it first.

Unitarians on Desperate Housewives

(I know, I know, you wait a month for a blog post, then five come along in a weekend) I was just watching Desperate Housewives. Almost at random I chose an episode on 4 On Demand. And it happened to be one that mentioned Unitarians (season 4, episode 11). The episode begins when one character, Lynette, suddenly decides to go to church one Sunday morning. The character recently survived cancer and a tornado and decides that she has much to be thankful for, and many questions, and so asks her neighbour, Bree, to take her to her church. Bree happily does so and they go to a middle-class Presbyterian church. Lynette listens to the sermon attentively and then after the sermon has finished, puts her hand in the air to ask a question. This is much to the embarasment of Bree. The minister lets Lynette ask the question, (in which she uses the word "dumb-ass" in church - again to Bree's embarasment) which is about the possibility of a loving God in a world of suffering. The prea

Candles of Joy and Concern

A liturgical question: What is the best equipment to use for candles of joy and concern? (I'll leave other questions about the best way of doing this aside for now) I've used tea lights on a metal tray before, but I'm not sure that's the best way. I think a better way is probably taller candles in a bowl of sand like this: Is that the best way to do it? It needs to be something that is safe and easy for people to use, especially elderly people. And something that looks good. But where do you get a good bowl like that? Come to think of it, where do you get a big lot of sand? Any thoughts?

Back to Church Sunday

Apparently today is Back to Church Sunday. Hmm. Not the most amazing evangelical idea. Now, don't get me wrong, I think it's a good idea to contact people who are on the periphery of the church and give them a personal invitation to pop back in sometime. It's certainly something worth doing at the start of a new ministry. It's something I'm planning on doing very soon. But I don't really see the need for a national campaign. It doesn't seem the best use of resourses, and the best way to empower local congregations for evangelism. For one thing it doesn't really address the legitimate reasons why some people might have left the church in the first place. Spirited Exchanges is one place to engage with those issues. Plus it's not very ambitious. It's only aiming at the 'churched' who have drifted away rather than a genuine missionary engagement with the unchurched western culture. Plus it's a very "come to us" strategy, ra

Copyrighted colour?

I was waiting in the queue at my local delivery office today (picking up a package of printer ink cartiridges - they run out fast) and reading all the posters on the wall. I find myself unable not to read something if its in front of me and I have nothing else to do. At the bottom of one poster I found this in small print: "Royal Mail, the Cruciform and the colour red are registered trademarks of Royal Mail plc." The colour red? The colour red is owned by Royal Mail? How does that work? Do I have to ask permission before I use a crayon? I'm scared and confused.

Settling in

Well I've been in Bolton for nearly four weeks now. I only got the internet connected a few days ago, which is why it's been quiet on here lately. I still hardly have any furiture. I'm spending time getting lost on the roads of Bolton and thinking about what kind of wardrobe I want... as well as all that ministry jazz of course. I'm still thoroughly enjoying being a full time minister. Nothing very profound to say at the moment.

Highlights from Greenbelt

I just got back from Greenbelt. What is Greenbelt? It's like a rock festival plus theologians! Which works for me. It's a place to see a lot of interesting thinkers and activists in mainline, liberal and radical Christianity. Plus different musicans, artists, and peformers of all types. Here's some highlights with my bad photos. Musical highlights: Michael Franti Beth Rowley Speaker highlights: Brian McLaren - good on postmodernism Sara Miles - love her, love her, love her - it's people like her that make me want to be a Christian I also enjoyed Nola Rae (mime artist), Jay Lakhani (on the Bhagavad Gita and Hinduism), John Bell, Peter Rollins and Hymns and Beer: Where it's OK to sing hymns with theology you disagree with, because it is a pub, and you shouldn't always take things too seriously.

Two bloggers meet for lunch

Hafidha and I had lunch while I was in Portland. It's been three years since we last met, and I think at about the same time three years ago we both started blogging. Thanks for lunch Hafidha and blessings and prayers to you! By the way, I'm glad I got some sunshine in America, because it was just hailing - in August! Oh dear.

Travels in America

Well, as you might have guessed from the silence here on the blog, I've been busy travelling the States, but now I'm back in Manchester. I had a good time visiting five different US cities, sometimes being a tourist staying in hostels, other times staying and catching up with friends. It was strange being in Boston as it was all very familiar and I always knew where I was, which wasn't true the rest of the time. It's a very different experience riding the subway in a city you know, you find yourself dropping into a commuter-zombie mindset and just zone out. But when you're a tourist you're much more alert and slightly nervous about knowing where you're going. If you're interested in my decision in New York (see previous post) I ended up going to All Souls Church. What clinched the deal was that it was near to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I went in the afternoon. I did too much to report on here, and I'm sure you wouldn't be interested

Where shall I worship in New York?

This week I'm heading out to the States. Next Sunday (6th July) I'll be preaching at First Church Boston if I have any Boston-area readers that want to come and say hi. The weekend after I'll be in New York City, and was wondering where to worship. Any recommendations from anyone about good churches, UU or otherwise?

You know it's the start of the summer when...

Wimbledon is on the telly. It's the Glastonbury Festival this weekend. American UU GA is on, the coverage of which I'll be keeping an online eye on. And it's been pissing it down all day.

What I'm up to

Pending official ratification from the Executive Committee I have been accepted as a Minister with probationary status on the General Assembly Role. This week was the Valedictory Service here at Unitarian College Manchester, which was a good occasion. The picture above is from the day. I'm the one with the eccentric stole. The more somberly dressed but equally handsome fellow is Csaba Todor who has been here for the year from Transylvania. So right now I'm just working on my dissertation, that I'm trying to get finished before I go on holiday. Then I'll be off to the States for a long holiday. It's been three years since I left Boston, so I'm returning there and visiting some friends, then on to New York, then Portland, Oregon, San Francisco and possibly even a road trip to Montana. It will be the first holiday proper I've had (barring going to retreats, conferences, summer schools etc) for eight years. I'm looking forward to it.

Can we get some Unitarian videos up?

As a member of the Foy Society I got an email directing me to a video of one of the workshops at General Assembly here. I think it's using the same site where the Anniversary Service sermon was up last year. Unfortunately I can't work out if there's a way to browse for similar videos. I have no idea who puts these videos up here, or if there are any more. Does some official Unitarian bod makes these videos and upload them? If so, why isn't it more heavily publicised? Are there lots of videos from our Annual Meetings? How can I find them?? Last year I only knew about the video because I knew the Anniversary preacher (although it was later mentioned in the Inquirer) and this year I've only been directed to it because I'm a member of the Foy Society. I don't know why it all seems so secretive. Today I noticed that the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement has a section on YouTube . Is this something that British Unitarians could do? I'm not an expert on

School worship

If I had my time again, and could go back and live my life with the confidence and knowledge that I have now, I would do a few things differently. One thing I would do differently is be much more of an awkward sod at school. I went to a Church of England Comprehensive school and was always profoundly uncomfortable with enforced "worship" in assemblies, and, every other week, in the local Anglican church; especially as the school student population was 60% Muslim. But I was never confident or clear enough in my reasoing to stand up and say "I don't want anything to do with this nonsense." I really really wish I had. Ekklesia has reported that a new Parliamentary report has recommended that children of ‘sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding’ be allowed to withdraw from school worship. The British Humanist Association have applauded this, so do I. If I had my time over again, I would have withdrawn from worship, and encouraged others to do the sam

Don't forget to vote

... In the English and Welsh local elections tomorrow. I'm in danger of forgetting as I'm off to London for my final interview to be accepted on the Roll of Ministers. I must try to go to the polling station before I leave.

Plumbing the depths

"The old watchwords of liberalism – freedom, reason and tolerance – worthy though they be, are simply not catching the imagination of the contemporary world. They describe a process for approaching the religious depths, but they testify to no intimate acquaintance with the depths themselves. If we are ever to speak to a new age, we must supplement our seeking with some profound religious findings." O. Eugene Pickett OK, ya'll have helped me articulate what it is I really want to say. The foundation, and central purpose, of religion is for people to go deeper within themselves. To live a transformed life through our acquaintance with the religious depths. Committing to this process involves learning to pay attention, to quieten our busyness, to open to something greater than our ordinary selves. I accept, joyfully, a diversity of experiences and languages in these religious depths. I'm happy for any atheist to join in a Unitarian community dedicated to this purpose.

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

Is humanism theologically tolerant?

OK, well this might be controversial, but I feel the need to say it. Is humanist tolerant? Please note I'm not asking about humanism within society. Clearly humanism certainly believes in tolerance within society and I'm forever glad they are often the only people in the media calling for a separation of church and state. No, what I'm talking about is descriptions of Unitarianism like this and adverts like this , discussed at Peacebang here , which say that humanism is one option, Christianity is another, God is one option among many. The trouble is, humanism, by definition is theologically opposed to theism. This is very different from the relationship between Christianity and Buddhism. These two traditions may be vastly different, but Buddhism, by definition , is not opposed to Christianity, and Christianity, by definition , is not opposed to Buddhism. But humanism is consciously defined in opposition to Christianity and theism. So to say that humanism and theism can

Moving to Bolton

I've been putting off reporting this on here because I wanted to make sure I'd contacted people before hand. If you do know me in real life, and this is the first you're hearing about this, accept my apologies for not telling you earlier. I've been appointed as minister of Bank Street Unitarian Chapel in the town centre of Bolton (just outside Manchester for Americans and southerners with no sense of geography). I start in September. It's a good congregation and there's lots of potential for some interesting ministry. I hope it goes without saying that the opinions expressed in this blog will remain mine, and not the congregation's in any way. I was almost tempted not to even reveal the name of the congregation on here but this is really silly because if you're a British Unitarian you'll either already know or be able to look it up very easily, and if you're not you could still look it up easily in a Google search. I'm really happy for the

Announcing.... The Unitarian Life

Well, it's been a long time coming, but my book, the Unitarian Life, has finally been published. The first 50 copies made it to the Annual Meetings and sold out, which I'm really happy about. What is it? Well, it's an anthology of short texts 99% of which were written by Unitarians, Universalists or Unitarian Universalists. It's not a historical book, although it does contain writing going back five centuries. It's a book that helps people to answer the question - what is Unitarianism? - not by giving one answer, but by giving 300 answers! And it answers the question not only by trying to define Unitarianism but also by talking about Unitarian attitudes to sex, death, God, friendship, justice, love, spirituality, peace - in other words, life . It comes out of a conviction that Unitarianism is not just a blank slate onto which we can paint anything, but a living, breathing spiritual tradition that it worth celebrating. You can get copies from Essex Hall , Amazon UK

GA 08 Day Four (Saturday)

Morning communion I suprised myself by actually getting up and going to the morning communion worship. I would have liked to have stayed in bed. But this is usually the only time in a year I take communion in a completely Unitarian setting, and that's important to me. The service was pretty traditional, too traditional for me really. I think a lot of non-Christian Unitarians go to this service so it would be good to show them something really radical one year, instead it rather comfirms the idea that the Christian end of the movement is pretty traditional, which it is. But good not to have a sermon I think, good to show that you can have a service without a sermon. Business meetings Celebrating our congregations, procedural motions and these motions: The government should set up a body that deals with all religious bodies equally since Unitarians and Jews have been thrown out of the Churches Main Committee when it was reorganised. Apparently such an advisory body is beeing set up,

GA 08 Day Three: Growth Day (Friday)

(Not exactly live anymore but still faster than any other news source) This is my continuing coverage of the Annual Meetings, I only report on events I attended. Morning worship Another friend of mine, Csaba Todor, the Sharpe Scholar from Transylvania at Unitarian College, led this worship. He asked me to do a reading, so I had to be there by 7.30. It was good though, he was a very hypnotic way of preaching without notes, really draws you in. Business meetings Reports from Commisions, celebrating our congregations, Motion that Mike Tomlin (former GA Treasurer) be given Honorary Membership. Growth Process This was a sort-of open space technology process in which the whole assembly talked about what we meant by growth and what priorites we wanted to have as a national community to bring about growth and renewal. I think this was a useful process and I hope it got people excited about working for growth, and a lot of people worked hard to organise this process (including myself as I was s

GA 08: Day Two (Thursday)

Business Meetings Nothing too contentious going on. A new innovation via the Denominational Support Commission is to 'celebrate our congregations' through a two minutes slot for one congregation per district. I like to see this kind of thing which should showcase our most successful and innovative congregations, though clearly through the presentations some are more innovate than others. Mortions (in roughly the order they came) And I'm paraphrasing. The General Assembly congratulates the Women's League on its 100th anniversarry. Well duh. Non-contentious. The Ministerial Fellowship is recognised as an affliated body to the General Assembly . Not every minister was in favour of this, I don't think anyone else cared about it very much. We believe prison if often inneffective and encourage other more effective rehabilitation. Another social justice motion that is entirely worthy but entirely ineffective as a way for us to do effective social justice work as a communi

GA 08: Day One (Wednesday)

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about you. I have been meaning to blog before now, but I've only got internet properly set up in my room today. I've brought my camera with me, but not the cable to connect it to my computer, so I'll upload photos when I get back home. So I'll try to catch up with my brief coverage: Minister's conference Nothing of interest to report. International worrkshop We had speakers from USA, South Africa and Uganda. The Ugandan speaker, Mark Kiyamba, was most interesting to me, as I already know a fair bit about Unitarianism in the USA (obviously) and a bit about South Africa as well. It really excites me to hear about growing Unitarian communities in Africa. Could it still be possible that the renewal of our faith could come from the third world? Historically Unitarians have been really rubbish at supporting emerging Unitarian communities outside of Euro-America, I really hope that might change. Hymnbook panel The new book should be

GA 08: Preview

All of a sudden GA is upon us! Early because Easter is, it starts on Wednesday. I'm travelling down tomorrow for the Minister's conference. It's being held once more in Hatfield. I shall try to blog live from GA as usual. I'm going to take my laptop down as I think I should be able to get wireless in the room. So blogging should be easy. Watch this space.

Been buried in books for several days

But I've been really enjoying getting into some good ol' theologising.

I'm dreaming of a white... Easter?

Happy Easter from a snowy Manchester.

Unitarian Good Friday

This is a day late, but, hey, I'm busy writing a Unitarian theology of mission, which is hard enough... I don't often put other bits of my writing on here because I think that different media require a different genre of writing. My writing here is different from my sermons, or articles, or theological papers. But the someone said to me that a paper I did for Faith and Freedom should be more widely circulated so I did a briefer version for the Inquirer , which should be out now, though I haven't seen it yet. I thought I'd share the Inquirer article, for those who might be interested. What do we do with Good Friday? Most, if not all, of our Unitarian congregations will celebrate Easter Sunday this year on the 23rd of March. But how many will mark Good Friday? Much fewer, I’m sure. What does this say about us? What does it mean that we generally don’t mark Good Friday in our tradition? Perhaps we wouldn’t know what to say on Good Friday. What is it that Unitaria

The weird world of Google Earth

The BT Tower in Birmingham - what's wrong with this picture?

Both progressive and emerging?

The Sactus1 video has made me think about an issue that's been rolling around in my head for a while: is it possible to be both progressive and emerging? In other words is it possible to be radical in content as well as in style? Look at someone like John Shelby Spong: pretty radical in what he says, yet he still wears the dog-colar and purple shirt of a bishop. He looks entirely like a bishop. Similarly in Unitarian congregations: the theology might be off the wall, heresy of heresy, yet the minister may will still be in a black preaching robe looking terribly formal, there is much resistance if you don't wear a suit (I've experienced it, though it's always been in good humour), we have hymns and organs and pews and everything about our form is terriblly formal and traditional. But go to the congregation where the preacher is in jeans and a T shirt, where there is a jolly informality, or even where there are people with nose-rings and green hair, then the theology,

Loving Jesus?

Jaume, commenting here , makes what I think is a really good point. Would I like Jesus if I met him? I was thinking about this the other day. It was probably during ecumenical worship here in college when I was singing hymns about loving Jesus. There's a certain strain of Christianity, and definitely Christian hymns, that says something along these lines, "Jesus is so great, he loves me so much, he looks after me, I can't believe how much he's done for me." I sort of wonder if we're talking about the same Jesus. The Jesus I find in the Gospels isn't exactly cosy. Sure he has his soft side, but mostly he really challenges me. I think if I wrote a Valentine's card to Jesus he would write back to me saying rude things. I can't imagine the first reaction of the crowds listening to Jesus would be, 'oh, isn't he lovely, I really like him, he's really kind.' He wasn't the kind of person who you loved, he was the kind of person who yo

Growth: priorities

What should be the priorities of the General Assembly if it wants to promote growth? According to Lyle Schaller (Growing Plans, 165-168) the top three priorities should be: 1. Organise new congregations. This is the most effective way to reach people without any church affiliation. Newly organised congregations have a greater rate of growth than any other type of church. 2. Encourage the growth of large congregations. (I'm less convinced of this one because I'm not sure people born after 1975 are as invested in big churches as those born between 1945 and 1975, plus I'm not sure we have what church growth people would call a large congregation) 3. Help congregations assimilate new members. In many congregations as many people drop out of the back door as come into the front door. We need to understand why people leave our congregations as much as why they come to our congregations. Do we need more systematic systems for becoming members? i.e. membership classes, more litu

Do Unitarians believe in the unity of religions?

I've been mulling something over. Peacebang asks if this is the best statement we can make about Unitarian (Universal)ism. I've been thinking about the language used here: different people identify with different beliefs; this is fine because we're non-creedal, and we have principles that unite us. It's a negative way of putting it I think. It seems to suggest to me that beliefs don't matter. You can be a Christian or a Buddhist or a Pagan, but that's secondary, what unites us is our principles, therefore they matter more. Yet how can we say that following Jesus is a secondary thing? How can we say that taking refuge in the dharma of the Buddha is an unimportant thing? These are life-transforming things. These are things that shape the entirity of one's life. And these are exactly the things that I go to church to to talk about, and to practice. So how can these things live side by side in one community? There are three posibilities: one: they cannot, plu

It would be enough

Even if there was no Nicene Creed, I would still be here. Even if he wasn't of one essence with the Father, I would still be here. Even if the Bible is not divinely inspired, I would still be here. Even if there was no Paul, I would still be here. Even if he didn't rise bodily from the dead, I would still be here. Even if he didn't bodily ascend into heaven, I would still be here. Even if he isn't the Only Way, I would still be here. Even if he didn't walk on water, I would still be here. Even if he didn't heal anyone, I would still be here. Even if his mother wasn't a virgin, I would still be here. Even if he wasn't the Messiah, I would still be here. Even if he thought he was the Messiah, and was wrong, I would still be here. Even if he was wrong about a few things, I would still be here. Even if there was nothing of him but the sermon on the plain, a piece of writing describing a way of life filled with divine love, a way of life so radical and yet so

Questions for growth

This is part of a continuing series of posts running up to the growth-themed Annual Meetings. Questions to ask (from Lyle Schaller, Growing Plans, 159-160) 1. How does our theological stance and our understanding of our mission shape our strategy? 2. Who are the people we are seeking to reach and serve? What are their unmet religious and personal needs to which we will attempt to respond? 3. How do our traditions, our customs, and our history shape our strategy? 4. What are our assets, strengths, resources, and distinctive gifts as a denomination that will serve as the foundation for our strategy?

Same-sex marriage gaining momentum?

There is a motion proposed for the Unitarian Annual Meetings calling for the right of same sex couples to get married in places of worship. It's proposed by the congregation in Oxford and they've already managed to get some good publicity about it here in the Oxford Mail . Maybe we could get a lot of national publicity for this. There's no point doing it if we don't.

God in pub

As part of my placement with the chaplaincy at Manchester University this week I was in one of the student bars. Me and one of the chaplains were doing 'Pints of View' where we sit in the main bar of the huge hall of residence and try to get some conversations going around religious and ethical issues. Last week was just me and the chaplain, sitting in the bar thinking - how the hell are we going to get people to talk to us? This week we had lollipops and postcards with questions on, and a guest speaker from the local humanist group. But there was still only us, the invited speaker and one other person for the first hour and a half. Then a student stumbled across us saying 'oh can I have a lolly?' And stayed to talk about religion. From then on we had a really vibrant table with loads of people wandering in and out of our conversations, talking, disagreeing, thinking in a cheerful non-confrontational way. It was a brilliant evening, and the kind of thing that is the rea

Growth: 5 new churches a year?

Ron Robinson over at Planting God Communities has recently pointed his readers towards older posts that are worth rereading. In one , about growth, he quotes Lyle Scaller who says: "The single best approach for any religious body seeking to reach, attract, serve, and assimilte younger generations and newcomers in the community is to launch three new missions annually for every one hundred congregations in that organization. A significant fringe benefit of this policy is that it usually will reduce the resources for continuing subsidies to institutions that will be healthier if they are forced to become financially self-supporting." This, for British Unitarianism, would mean about 5 new churches a year. Assuming a 'mission' is the same as a 'church' (broadly, broadly defined). I wonder if anything like this kind of a conversation will happen at the 'growth-orientated' Annual Meetings coming up. OK, let's be really pessimistic and say 1 new congreg

Free and Inquiring Religion?

This afternoon I got delivered a bunched-up package from Essex Hall, the headquarters of British Unitarianism. Along with other stuff from the mailing came an advert for a new Unitarian car sticker. I'm not going to get one. The main reason for this is that I don't have a car. But in addition to that I really don't like the stap-line. It's the same standard one Essex Hall have been using for a long time (anyone know how long?), 'for free and inquiring religion.' Is that really the message we want to give to people? What does it even mean? 'Free' to most people means you don't have to pay for it. 'We're a free church,' 'Great! No collection!' The concept of free religion needs explaining, you can't get it across in one line, so let's not try. 'Liberal' would be better, most people would have some idea what that means. 'Inquiring'? When I hear this word I think of an old man with half-moon spectacles reading

'Ought to' evangelism

There's a certain attitude that I have noticed both within Unitarianism and within British culture in general. I'm calling it 'ought to' evangelism. Within British culture there are some Christians who have this attitude. The attitude is - this is a Christian country - you ought to be Christian. You get it a lot at Christmas, 'ah,' they say, 'you're spending time with your family and giving presents on the 25 December, so you really ought to go to church, because that's really what it's all about you know.' It's a Christendom attitude that comes from a perceives position of dominance and privelege. It assumes people are already basically Christian, and just need to be guilt-tripped to returning to church. The similar attitude comes from some Christians within Unitarianism. They say, 'Unitarianism is a Christian religious community, so you ought to be Christian if you're a Unitarian.' It too comes from a position of presumed

A homophobic institution

"An institution that discriminates against homosexuals is without moral credibility" Here's an interesting article from Saturday's Guardian about the decline of liberalism in the Church of England. It's an assessment that I have some sympathy with. I left the Church of England at least partially because I believed it was institutionally homophobic and I was pessimistic about the possibility of that changing any time soon. I think I can more fully live out my calling and fight against homophobia away from an institutionally homophobic church.

Me and Jesus: Episode 9

I went to see my mentor yesterday and the sitting on the train I managed to get a lot of reading done. I finished 'Take this Bread' by Sara Miles and I've also been reading 'Christian Voices in Unitarian Universalism' for the third time, hungry for those stories of struggle that speak to my condition. (As an aside, my only criticism of the Sara Miles book is that the cover describes her as a 'lesbian' when in the book she openly says she has had relationships with men as well as women. Again we see the relunctance for anyone to use the word 'bisexual.' To be fair I don't think she labels herself any way in the book) Anyway there were a few passages that really spoke to me yesterday. Erik Walker Wikstrom captures why I still have this weird relationship with God, when the existence of God doesn't really make sense to me intellectually: 'I became aware of experiences - direct, personal experiences - that I could not fit into my hand-bui

Is it time for British Unitarians to support same sex marriage?

A couple of months ago I wrote a piece in the Inquirer about same-sex marriage. My point was that the current civil partnership legislation creates a two-tier system that when you get right down to it, isn't equality. One of the major rights that are given to different sex couples, the right to get married in a religious ceremony, is not given to same sex couples. A civil partnership ceremony has to be in a registry office or hotel, whereas a different sex wedding can take place in a church. This means that a religious community is prevented by the state from performing same sex weddings, even if they want to. It creates the impression that all religious communities are conservative and homophobic and don't want to perform same sex marriages, denying the possiblity that some religious communities will want to perform same sex weddings. I support same-sex marriage, not a two-tier system, although it's difficult to say civil partnerships are a bad thing as they have given l