So I'm musing more about the theology of creedlessness in Unitarianism. Sorry if this kind of thing bores you. Here's a realisation I came to during my dissertation last year, that I think is worth sharing, if not preaching evangelically. I may begin to bang this drum more in the future. Unitarianism is creedless: there is no written creed that members or minister are asked to sign up to. But what does it mean to be creedless? This is often the way we speak about being creedless, we use words and phrases such as: "theologically diverse" "supported in your individual search for truth and meaning" "each individual is encouraged to find their own beliefs" "many beliefs, one faith" "free to discern our beliefs" "celebrate diverse beliefs" Here's my insight. This is not non-creedalism. This is what I would call credo-ism. ( credo = I believe). Creedalism is the belief that all individuals within a community shou
This isn't very contemporary, because this TV programme was on a number of months ago, but I'm just watching on 4 OD. It's annoying the hell out of me, so I can't resist blogging as I'm watching it. The programme is called Make Me a Christian and features George Hargreaves and three other Christian ministers trying to convert about a dozen non-Christians in Leeds. Charlie Brooker is right in saying "in the true oversimplified TV-conflict tradition, it's a clash of absurd extremities." It's conservative Christians vs a number of Leeds folks including a bisexual woman, a lap-dancer club manager who practices witchcraft, a big tatooed man, and other people made out to be cartoonish stereotypes. They start at York Minister (where of course there's a statue of Constantine) with George saying "this is a Christian country" which straight away turns me off. The first introduction to Christianity is communion in York Minister, which doesn
I'm reading Bryan Stone's Evangelism After Christendom . It's bloody good. Reading it really makes me regret that I didn't take his course (based on the book when he was writting it) when I was studying at Boston University. I easily could have done. Anyway, as I say, it's really good, and really readable, which I can't say about most things I read, when I'm usually skipping ahead to think, "only six more pages till the end of the chapter, come on, you can do it." But this one I'm gobbling up with joy, so much sane and good stuff, as well as some stuff that challenges me. Here's one quote that I'm thinking about at the moment. "[It] is highly doubtful that any religious faith, Christian or otherwise, can bracket or relativize the cognitive dimensions of belief and commitment as easily as [James] Adams [in his book So You Can't Stand Evangelism? ] does. While faith is certainly a matter of loyalty rather than mere belief (in t
Jonathan Sacks has said some good things and some rather silly things in a lecture to the think-tank Theos (I haven't read the full lecture, just the report in the Times). The Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth said one thing I think is very sensible: that Christians and Muslims need to learn from the experience of Jews in being a religious minority. Most Christians and Muslims for most of history have lived in "Christian countries" and "Muslims countires" whereas now in Europe both need to learn to live as minorities. As a Christian I would add that Jesus was always someone operating at the margins, so this is a place that Christians should be comfortable, but we have got used to the comfort of Christendom for too long. But the "separation of religion and power" is politically and theologically wise. But he then goes on to criticise "secularism" (which I've always understand to mean the separation of r
I admit that I don't really get news from very traditional sources - usually things like Ekklesia, the Daily Show, Radio 1, and sometimes Radio 4. But how the hell did I miss that a gay man was attacked and killed in Trafalgar Square in central London in a homophobic attack? Have I just been watching the Simpsons rather than the 6 o' clock news and missed it or has this been under-reported? It was only when I was looking at the new Lesbian and Gay Chrisrian Movement website that I heard about this. There's a vigil happening in London, almost as I type this. So I'll virtually stand in solitaridy against hate crimes.
'I went to see a sage in Jerusalem, because I was attracted to someone in yeshiva. I told him I was attracted to men and women. He said, "My dear one, you have twice the power of love. Use it carefully."' Rabbi Steven Greenberg I heard Rabbi Greenberg, an openly gay rabbi, a number of years ago at Harvard University at an evening about "Gays and God" ( the video is here , but the quality is not very good). I wrote the phrase down that night, as I thought it was a lovely little quote to begin talking about bisexual theology. I wanted to share this here because I've just submitted an article about bisexual theology, and at the last minute decided to get rid of that quote, as it didn't really fit in with the overall direction of the article. But it's a damn good quote, so if I wasn't going to use it in the article, I wanted to share it here.
For the first time since I became a Unitarian 7 years ago I'm not ashamed of my religious communty's website. It was pretty bad, then they launched a "new" one a few years ago - which was basically the old one, but coloured purple. Now due to the persistence of a few dedicated volunteers we finally have a website that looks better, is more easily navigable, and is more appealing to newcomers. It has the text of Cliff Reed's "Unitarian, What's That?" which is still the best literature for a basic overview of Unitarianism and is excellently written. And it also has videos describing Unitarianism too. Not massively high-tech, just up to the basic standard it should be: clear, pleasant to look at, and useful. Thank the Lord! www.unitarian.org.uk
A few weeks ago I asked the following question to the Executive Committee: How does the Executive Committee intend to objectively measure numerical growth? I ask this question as I am not aware of any publicly available figure for the number of Unitarians in Britain, other than the electoral role number for the Executive elections. But why should this number be only available as a by-product of elections? Shouldn't the number be published every year at the Annual Meetings? This is what happens in the UUA, and as a result I can easily find that the number of UU adult members is 164,656 . I can also go on the UUA website and find the membership numbers for individual congregations (see here for example) Such information is public and easily available. Can such information not be available here too? I understand the difficulties of getting those accurate numbers but if an objective is not measurable then what is the point of it? If growth is an objective it should be measurable.
After a pilot scheme last summer, a period of review, volunteer recruitment, and fund-raising the Nite Cafe has relaunched as "Bolton Street Angels" and the "Safe Space Cafe." The Safe Space Cafe is based in Bank Street Unitarian Chapel, and is the home to Street Angels, which are groups of volunteers who go out on the streets to chat to and help out anyone enjoying Bolton's nightlife. Street Angels operate Saturday nights between 10pm and 3am. An article appears in the Bolton News here . There was also an interview at BBC Radio Manchester, and you can listen to that here for another few days (push the time forward to about 0.44). Still in need of more volunteers, get in touch if you're local.
Once again the Unitarians marched in Manchester Pride. And it's good to see the faith contingent in Pride getting bigger and more organised. Here's a good report from Changing Attitudes . Let's hope this just keeps getting bigger and better.
I've been considering starting some kind of YouTube ministry, or, if you like, video blogging. A couple of things got me thinking about this. One is the Unitarian video that I recorded at the Annual Meetings this year, that is now on YouTube. The other thing is doing a few "Thought for the Day" things on a local community radio station, that I could easily do to a camera. I was thinking about doing a few short videos with those, plus I'm talking to someone in my congregation about recording a few sermons, though I'm unsure how the sound quality would come out. Anyway, watch this space.
Just reporting. Significantly it's on the GA website before I've posted, which is different from last time when I reported before it got on the official website. Well done, Derek. STATEMENT BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF UNITARIAN AND FREE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES The Executive Committee is pleased to announce that Derek McAuley has been appointed to the post of Chief Officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. It is anticipated that he will take up the position in December 2009. Derek, aged 50, has been active within the Unitarian movement at congregational, district and national levels and has been a member of the Executive Committee since April 2008 and General Assembly Treasurer since April 2009. He served as a member of the Hibbert Trust collaborative inquiry into the future of liberal religion: “Shaping the Future”. He has been a senior manager in the National Health Service for 17 years in Merseyside and Manchester and also brings long experien
Yewtree asked in a comment on the last post what I mean by 'missional' (thanks for the book recommendation by the way Yewtree). What I mean is that the church does not exist to serve itself; its own instutional growth, survival or health. The church exists for others. The church is an agency with the purpose of the transformation of the world, the building of the Basileia (realm) of God, the Beloved Community. A church that does not concern itself with the outside world is failing to be missional and failing to be church. The church is in the business of salvation/healing/enlightenment. Salvation is distorted if it is too individualistic ("personal wholeness" or "getting into heaven") or too communitarian (all that matters is the next piece of political legislation). Missional church seeks to change lives which may or may not involve an invitation to go walk with us in our spiritual community. Being missional means being immersed in the surrounding cultu
I thought I might as well continue in my reviewing of the words I've used to describe this blog, having covered radical and Unitarian I now want to cover "emergent." I have to admit I was thinking a lot more about the emergent church and alternative worship 4 years ago when I labelled this blog than I have been since. During my life as I've been writing this blog over the last 4 years I've spent a lot less time thinking about the emergent church. Partly this is because I've been going through the motions to become a Unitarian minister. I've needed to spend a lot of time learning about the Unitarian community, learning about the way things work, learning about the way things are done in traditional church. And that's been important. But now I feel the need to begin to think about new forms of spiritual community and new ways of worship. What is the emergent church? Browsing YouTube I came across this video from an US American Evangelical persecti
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
Hi all, I haven't posted for a while. I've moved house and there's been a lot going on at church. For now I want to post two videos I found on YouTube of Irish Unitarians. Both quite different, but very interesting and showing, I think, a dynamic to Irish (North and South) Unitarianism that is missing in British Unitarianism.
A practical worship question: I'm going to do a Summer Solstice Worship in a couple of weeks and want to do it (or start it at least) outside the chapel on our forecourt. I want to light a flaming chalice or fire of some kind but wonder how to do this 1. safely and 2. in a way that won't just blow out in a gust of wind, as a candle might. Any ideas?
Sometimes it's worth saying when something is brilliant. The Accord Coalition is brilliant and I really want to celebrate it. For many years I've wanted a group like this to be campaigning for reform of state-funded faith schools in this country. It's simply unfair, unjust and unchristian for schools funded by all to be only available to some. Everyone's taxes go to support these schools and yet these schools, to a greater or lesser extent, discrimate against people not of their own faith. How Christian is it for Christians to keep the best schools (and they do argue they are better schools) to themselves? I understand Christianity to be about putting others first, service, making the last first. Yet we have people in this country defending their right for Christian-only (or majority) schools. This ain't right. And now there's the Accord coalition, a multi-faith coalition of groups arguing from a faith and ethical base against the systematic injustice of this
"Religious people have so often pretended to have all the answers. They have seen their mission as being to persuade, to enforce, to level differences and perhaps even to impose uniformity. There is really something of the Grand Inquisitor in most religious people. But when religion begins to bully or to insinuate, it has become unspiritual because the first gift of the Spirit, creatively moving in [human] nature, is freedom and frankness; in Biblical language, liberty and truth. The modern Christian's mission is to resensitize [their] contempories to the presence of a spirit within themselves. [They are] not a teacher in the sense of that [they are] providing answers that [they] has looked up in the back of a book. [They are] truly a teacher, when, having found [their] own spirit, [they] can inspire others to accept the responsibility of their own being, to undergo the challenge of their own innate longing for the Absolute, to find their own spirit." John Main (1926-198
We often talk about "Unitarian beliefs" when we talk about Unitarianism, which is somewhat ironic given we're non-creedal. I often think we're not entirely sure what non-creedalism means. Anyway I'm starting to think that it's the wrong sort of question. I'm more interested right now in what techniques Unitarianism offers for spiritual transformation. There are different ways of asking this: How does Unitarianism help me to walk closer with my God? How does Unitarianism liberate me from my suffering? How does Unitarianism dissolve the illusions I have built up in my head and help me confront the Really Real? These are the deep questions a religion must eventually deal with, and I worry we're not very good at dealing with them, which is the reason for our failure. Yet the Unitarian tradition I believe does offer some spiritual guidance on going deeper. I've identified a few of these ways below, in no particular order. These techniques may not be un
I'm working on our new website at church, and writing a bit about Unitarianism. This involves striking a balance between my understanding of Unitarianism, my congregation's, and my national community's understanding. Here's what I've got. Unitarianism is a liberal and creedless faith, rooted in the Christian tradition, yet on a spiritual adventure in search of truth, justice and healing for the world. We are a faith community for those on a spiritual journey, for those who believe there is still more to be discovered in religion. We believe in religious exploration – through the intellect and through the spirit. Through the intellect we explore religious questions in sermons, lectures, courses and dialogue. Through the spirit we explore through worship, music, ritual, meditation and prayer. Though we are on a spiritual journey, we are not only concerned with our own spiritual enlightenment, but know that the world today cries out for justice, compassion and healin
I managed to agree to do the 7.30am worship on this last day of the Annual Meetings. Urgh. It was a shame I couldn't enjoy the last night of GA but had to go to bed reasonably early. I was suprised that a good number of people actually turned up. The crazy idiots, they should have been in bed like any reasonable person. Last day of Business Emergency motion came from my district where Unitarians have suddenly been banned from a state-funded Church of England school: passed. A motion calling for a set of "behavioural principles" I guess what they mean is something like the Seven Principles of the UUA. But just observing the debate about the revision of these in the blogosphere has got me feed up of it all. I can't be bothered with arguments about words. And I don't think we should be directing our energy at this when we could be investing in practical mission and spiritual renewal. I voted against. The motion passed. A motion calling for the Scout Association
Business Meeting Motion calling for a shorter, more dynamic title for the denomination to be brought next year was passed. I supported this. See post below. Two motions naming James McClelland and Eric Jones as Honorary Members. That's about it. Growth session We finally got somebody who actually knows something about growth to talk to us. Jane Dwinell, a small congregation specialist in the UUA (we're all small congregations in American church growth terms) spoke very well about a lot of good things. I was reading an Anglican book a while ago that was talking about the so-called "Decade of Evangelism" (1990s) being in fact more of a decade of learning about evangelism. I think that's kind of where we have been in the last few years, learning, thinking, not really doing. This can be a bit frustrating. But I hope we're moving on now. It's not brain surgery to learn best practice from thriving congregations in our community and in other communities.
I wrote this piece for the GA Zette last week, and seeing as its made it into the Bolton News today, I might as well share it here, slightly adapted: I have been asked by the Ministry Commission to write an article here to explain the fact that the honorific title of “Reverend” was not used for me at the Anniversary Service. I must explain that this is entirely at my own insistence, and is a matter of personal conscience. The title “Reverend” meaning literally “one worthy of being revered” was a medieval title of respect that in the fifteen century began to be restricted to clergy. This was despite Jesus’ specific condemnation of special titles for religious leaders (Matthew 23:6-12). As someone who considers himself a follow of Jesus, I feel the use of such titles runs against Jesus’ teaching, which warned against the love of status and religious pomposity. This is the main reason I don’t feel like I can use the title. Also, as a Unitarian I am committed to the inherent and sacre
OK, so sorry. I've done what I often do and got so busy that my blogging has become less than "live." I'll try to catch up. Business Meetings The first day of business meetings. Reports given and the first motion passed approving the statement with the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland . Then two motions calling for the appointment of salaried Information and Social Justice positions at the Unitarian headquaters. Both of these were passed. I voted against them as I feel like this decisions need to be made on the ground, not by a large assembly. I might be proved wrong, but it will be interesting to note what the new Executive Committee do now, having been strongly instructed on details by the assembly. I definitely remember one candidate who got elected saying in an interview that "we don't need any more staff at headquaters." Unitarian Christian Association - a taste of Taize We watched this video . Hopefully next year we will have a
Evening. I'm back here in the computer room in Chester, after coming out of the bar, offering a few relfections after the first day of the Unitarian General Assembly Annual Meetings 2009. After a number of a travel hiccups I managed to get here in time for the start of the Minister's Pre-Conference. Nothing much to say about that. Went to the John Relly Beard lecture with someone talking about ministry and trade unions. Then I was in with the youth group helping them plan their worship for tomorrow. I went to the Ministerial Pension Fund AGM, nothing much interesting to say about that, but thought I ought to go because, well, it is kind of important to me now. Opening Celebrations - seem to have become less and less celebratory over the last few years. It has become another service like the Anniversary Service, when I would really like it to be something a bit different. Then UniPride (the GLBT Unitarian group) - where Andy Pakula, the Minister of Newingoton Green and Isli
As Tim commented in the last post, I will be blogging live from our national Unitarian Annual Meetings. Reignite remains the only place to find info about what will be going on in Chester day-by-day. I'll be offering my own, entirely personal, biased, subjective reflections on what's going on, when I get a chance between meetings, or after the bar. It'll be fun. See you there.
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 jo
Let me preface what I'm going to say by first saying this: I am a Christian. It's taken me a long time to be able to say that, and to know what I mean by that, and I'm very lucky that in the Unitarian church I have been given the space to come to that decision in my own time, on my own terms. But I am a Christian, I'm more Christian now than I have been for years. Now: I want us to drop this "Free Christian" from our title. It's a silly phrase that we need to get rid of. Why? "The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches" is a long and unwieldy title. It would be much better if we traded under something like "Unitarians in Britain." It gives the impression that there are two separate and distinct groups: "Unitarians" and "Free Christians," this is not the case. It's not that there are Unitarians (who are not Christians) and "Free Christians" who are not Unitarians. There are not two
Part of my ministry involves working with children and young people in the church (probably a lot more than most Unitarian ministers, but that's a subject for another day). Recently we have been learning about Islam, and my conversations with our young people around this subject have given me cause for concern. I've spoken to young people, assuming that they would know Muslims in their schools. I was expecting them to say, "Yes, X, Y and Z in my class are Muslim." But I've got none of that. It seems these children and youth are having no interaction with young Muslims. This kind of shocked me. I think of Bolton as being a similar sort of town to Walsall, where I grew up. And I had lots of interaction with people of other faiths and races at my school. More there than at any other time in my life to be honest. According to Wikipedia Bolton is slightly less diverse than Walsall , but still. I'm beginning to wonder, how segregated are Bolton's schools?
The Unitarian College, Manchester Committee is pleased to announce the appointment of the Reverend Alexander (Alex) Bradley as Principal with effect from 01 August 2009. Alex will serve on a part-time (0.7) basis and will continue to serve his existing part-stipend ministry at the Norcliffe Chapel, Styal.
From Ekklesia: The Liberal Democrats have become the first mainstream political party in Britain to admit that many faith schools currently pursue unnecessary discriminatory practices in admissions and employment, and to pledge to challenge them. At their Spring Conference yesterday (Saturday 6th March 2009), the party voted to put the onus on existing publicly funded schools of a religious character to be inclusive or to have their funding withdrawn, while new faith schools would not be allowed to select pupils on grounds of religion or belief. The party also voted to end "the opt out from employment and equalities legislation for staff in faith schools, except those responsible for religious education". The Liberal Democrats are calling for all faith schools to be required to teach about other beliefs in a balanced way, something that most do not currently have to do. The vote was hailed as a ‘breakthrough moment’ by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, the Cha
The motions for this year's Annual Meetings have been released. Every year I have this strange delusion that maybe there will only be a few procedural motions. Surely nothing too much to get het up about is happening in the world (that a GA motion would have much impact on) and in the denomination? Maybe we can get business done quickly and spend more time worshipping, singing, dancing, and learning. Alas no. As many as ever . Of note: A statement of understanding with the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. I thought all of that was already the case myself. A motion asking us to change our name. I've got to say I completely support this, but at the same time I'm dreading the debate. I'll write more about that one later. What I think is a motion calling for us to have something like the Seven Principles of the UUA. Oh dear. That's going to be an energy-sapping debate. And then there's two motions calling for the appointment of a national Inform
"The Reverend Steve Dick will leave his official role with the General Assembly at the end of March 2009. To enable him to use up remaining annual leave, he will step down as Chief Executive on 2 March. Interim arrangements for leadership are being made by the General Assembly Executive Committee (EC) and will be announced soon. Steve described the reason for his departure as awareness that he is not the best person to provide the type of leadership currently sought by the EC. He will continue to support the work of the General Assembly insofar as he feels able and Steve remains deeply committed to the value of our local congregations. Steve wishes to thank all the volunteers, spiritual leaders and staff who assisted him in supporting our Unitarian and Free Christian communities during the past two years."
Hilarious in a scary way. Here's my philosophical musing to jusify including this on here, as I like to think of this blog as intellectual-like. A perfect example of postmoderism when she says "it's obviously a difference of opinion" when its not, it's maths and it's objectively either true or not true. This is one sense in which I'm not postmodern in believing in such a thing as verifiable truth, not everything can be boiled down to a difference of opinion. There see, clever.
One of my theological interests in the last few years has been developing an understanding of salvation that is useful for thinking about the purpose and mission of a Unitarian congregation. It has occured to me recently that one good way for us to think about salvation is to return to that age-old Unitarian word "freedom." I think Unitarians have always been striving for freedom. Firstly (for the first Unitarian pioneers) freedom to think for oneself and question inherited orthodoxy; secondly (after an established Unitarian community exists) political freedom for minority religions to live in the state free from oppression, persecution and discrimination; thirdly (within the mature Unitarian community) freedom for the individual to come to their own beliefs within a creedless community. All fine so far. However I think we often replace one set of chains with another. We become free from one thing and in the process bind ourselves in slavery to something else. Unitarians h
I'm begininng to think we are in period of crisis for the trained Ministry in the Unitarian community in the UK. I'm not talking about the fact that many ministers are retiring, and there's not enough left to replace them (although that is a relevant consideration). What I'm talking about is a crisis of identity. Many professional Ministers seem quite concerned about "anti-clericalism" in the denomination and the blurring of lines between Ministers and the various forms of "lay" leadership. Whereas some Unitarians see it as undemocratic that Ministers get one vote at general assembly while congregations get one vote per 30 members, which leads some to calculate an algebra of 1 Minister = 30 lay people. This tension builds up to an outburst here and there in a way that disturbs me. A while ago I heard that the next Annual Meetings will have the theme of "Valuing Ministers" but I haven't heard anything about it recently. And I can'
On Christmas Eve a few weeks ago I came home after spending an evening with some of my congregation and turned on the telly for a few minutes. On one channel was midnight mass, coming I think from some Catholic church. A man was preaching as I turned on and although I can't remember what he was saying, and I only watched for about a minute, I remember the tone of his voice very strongly. It was a typical "vicar voice" - terribly posh with its own distinct cadence. If you don't know what kind of voice I'm thinking of then listen to Radio 4 at 8 o'clock on any Sunday morning. Some days later again I was flicking through my channels and happened to stop at the Evangelical Christian radio station that's on my Freeview. Again I was hearing a sermon. But this time the voice was distinctly different, it was younger, and somehow it felt different. There wasn't a strong regional accent, but there was an informality and energy to the preaching that you rarely h
I haven't (so far) written that much on this blog that relates directly to my ministry in Bolton. But it is worth talking here about our Nite Cafe project, because it is an example of the kind of radical missional ministry inside-out-church thinking that I' trying to promote here.
The following article appears in the most recent edition of The Inquirer.
There are two sides to Bolton town centre. There is the daytime side – when the streets are full of people shopping and when many businesses and shops are in operation. And then there is the night time Bolton . This is a very different beast. Like many other cities and towns all over the UK , Bolton town centre has a thriving night life – what is usually referred to by the town council as the “Night Time Economy.”
At Bank Street Unitarian Chapel we had spent more time thinking about the daytime Bolton than the night time Bolton . We have a café on Thursday mornings that many people drop in to; as a member of Chr