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Showing posts from 2010

Equal Love

I'm glad that there's now a proper campaign in Britain for same-sex marriage: Equal Love. Living in Massachusetts in 2004 when same-sex marriage came in there I've been impatient to see people fighting for it in the UK. I'm not sure however, about the part of the campaign to allow civil partnerships to be open to different-sex couples. It is logical I suppose. But I've always viewed civil parnterships as an insufficent step towards marriage, and if marriage is available to everyone, then why would anyone want a civil partnership? Also, where does this leave our campaign for allowing civil partnerships to be conducted in places of worship? Surely this will now become irrelevant, if we can perform same-sex marriages? Or do we still want to perform civil partnerships? If so what exactly is "civil" about them if they are, religious? Surely if they're allowed for all couples the defining characteristic of civil partnerships will be that they would be non-r

Seven Marks of a Healthy Church

(Quoted in "Hope for the Church: Contemporary Strategies for Growth" by Bob Jackson) 1. Energized by faith rather than just keeping things going or trying to survive worship and sacramental life: moves people to experience God’s love motivation: energy comes from a desire to serve God and one another engaging with Scripture: in creative ways connect with life nurtures faith in Christ: helping people to grow in, and share their faith. 2. Outward-looking focus with a 'whole life' rather than a 'church life' concern deeply rooted in the local community, working in partnership with other denominations, faiths, secular groups and networks passionate and prophetic about justice and peace, locally and globally makes connections between faith and daily living responds to human need by loving service 3. Seeks to find out what God wants discerning the Spirit’s leaning rather than trying to please everyone vocation: seeks to explore what God wants it to be and do vision:

Should I write something for the Guardian?

I just came across this link about the Comment is Free column in the Guardian. They do sometimes publish unsolicited submissions for the column. Catherine Robinson managed to get this article published about Unitarianism a while ago. So should I submit something? Maybe if I have some spare moments sitting around after Christmas? Anything on this blog worth publishing in a national newspaper? What subject do you think I should write about? Any ideas? Or is this just a bit of an egotistical fantasy?

That which our mind cannot grasp - reflections on the God Delusion

I know I'm really late in blogging about Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and I'm sure there's a huge amount of stuff on them there interwebs all about it. But we've just had a very nice little discussion group about the book at church so it's on my mind. So I thought I'd give just a small thought about it. I think the key part of the book is the first chapter when Dawkins discusses in some detail the beliefs of Albert Einstein. Einstein clearly had a kind of a naturalistic mysticism, which Richard Dawkins argues is completely different from "supernatural religion." I think that conventional religion (if such a term is meaningful at all) is not in a completely different category from "Einsteinian religion." They are both in some sense, religion. But that would mess up Dawkins' argument so he pushes against it (a book about supernatural religion vs natural religion would be, in my opinion, much more interesting). The key

Church growth: where is the hole in our bucket?

I'm crunching some numbers for my church as we approach the end of the calendar year. We are pretty much stable in terms of numbers and I'm trying to work out what our "limiting factor" is. We're getting about 25 visitors in a year and about 2 new members. I'm trying to work out if we should be working to attract more visitors, or working to convert visitors into members. What kind of a percentage of your visitors can you expect to become members? I read somewhere 15%, which would mean we're doing kind of OK at that, and we should be working to attract more visitors. Or, can we expect to get 25 visitors a year and should be working to get say, 5 new members from that?


I'm thinking of preaching about Israel-Palestine during Advent. My consciousness was raised about this at Greenbelt this year, but I still don't know much about it. Anyone know of any resources to inform me on this issue? What should local religious communities know about this issue? And what should they be doing?

Despair, faith and evangelism

Sometimes people ask me why I don't despair. I'm 28 and have dedicated my vocation and career to a religious community that is only 4,000 strong and in decline. Whether there will still be a Unitarian community to serve in 40 years at the end of my career is a genuine question. In fact I talk about this all the time (at least on this blog). I'm always arguing for us to face up to the reality of this situation. I constanty want to see the statistics that accurately describe exactly what our situation is. So why not despair? I find it difficult to answer that question. Maybe it hasn't really sunk into me. Maybe I will despair more in the future. We all have our good days and bad days. But overall I am genuinely filled with hope and faith. Why? Well perhaps because my faith is not ultimately in the institution, but in God. I have been saved by an inner transforming power, and I know the spirit's power to change lives, and I know that spiritual communities can become in

Executive Committee Appointments

I'll repost this without comment for now: Popularis Ltd I confirm I have received nominations for the following candidates: No Forename Surname Nominated by Email 1 John Christopher Clifford Aberdeen Unitarian Congregation 2 Alison Thursfield Oxford and MUA 3 Rev'd Martin Norman Whitell John Pounds Memorial Unitarian Church, Portsmouth The number of candidates (3) does not exceed the number of vacancies (4), and an election is not therefore required. The Electoral Panel agreed that the three candidates above are therefore deemed ELECTED UNOPPOSED to the Executive Committee. There is therefore one vacancy remaining for a member of the Executive

Unitarians join the Accord Coalition

Via Ekklesia: The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches has announced that it is joining the Accord Coalition on inclusive schooling. The body is the umbrella organisation for Unitarian and Free Christian congregations in the United Kingdom. The Accord Coalition, a broad campaign network, encompasses a wide range of different religious and non-religious groups and individuals concerned at the way that faith schools currently operate. Launched in 2008, Accord already includes among its members the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, Muslim group BMSD, and the British Humanist Association, among others. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord Coalition, welcomed the Unitarians' decision to join the organisation. He said: "The Unitarians' decision to join Accord and support our objectives not only broadens the wide range of our membership, but further demonstrates that concern ab

Wow - ambitious leadership from the Executive Committee

I just received this message on Uni News (which anyone can subscribe to, by the way) with a very strong message from the national Executive Committee of the Unitarian General Assembly: The Executive Committee, having considered the responses of the “Difficult Choices” consultation with the wider Unitarian Movement, agreed the following strategic priorities for the work of the General Assembly. These strategic priorities set the framework for a range of innovative activities to be implemented over the next three years which will require change in many areas of our work as we focus on what makes a difference at congregational level. These are currently in development and further information will be circulated when the plans are finalised. General Assembly Strategic Priorities Our Goal: Sustainable and thriving Unitarian and Free Christian communities. Our Aims: To benefit our communities by: • encouraging and supporting leadership at local level • developing Ministry within the

Church do's and don'ts - from Michael Durrall

I thought this was worth re-posting from the UU Growth Blog . It's by Michael Durrall. If you haven't read his books, The Almost Church, and the Almost Church Revitalized, read them. Just read them, you must. I. Things churches should do Once and For All, Get Serious About Your Congregation’s Purpose. Seeking beauty and truth doesn’t cut it. Church is more important than that. Finding Capable Leaders is Worth the Time and Effort. Church leaders create a congregation in their own image, for better or worse. Create a Growing, Healthy Church. The #1 way to accomplish this is to raise the expectations of membership. Your Church May Not Be For Everyone. If potential new members don’t agree with your expectations, this is not their church. Uncommitted souls drag a church down. Identify Unmet Needs In Your Community. You don’t have to look far to find someone who needs a helping hand. Touch People’s Hearts and Souls. People don’t always act for rational reasons. Don’t

Why is British Unitarianism in decline?

In a comment on the last post, Joseph said we should be asking the question of why British Unitarinaism is in decline. So here goes: First and foremost Unitarianism is in decline because religion in Britain is in decline. For whatever reason (and plenty of people are thinking about this) active adherence to religious institutions has been dropping for a very long time. Immigration reverses this trend in some areas (most church-goers in London are non-white for example). But overall the trend is the same. Brits have rejected religion. But I don't see this as an entirely bad thing. Many people in the past were religious purely because of social momentum. They did what everyone else did. This doesn't mean it meant that much to them. For example 60 years ago my church was much bigger. It was an incredibly active place. However, this was largely because the church was the centre of people's social lives. You didn't go to a club on Saturday night, you went to a dance in the c

173 Congregations

This is the time of the year that I receive my copy of the Unitarian General Assembly Directory. I usually do a bit of comparing and number-crunching as I read through the new directory. The most significant thing is the number of Unitarian congregations. Although you would have thought this kind of thing is what would be included in the General Assembly Annual Report, and discussed at the Annual Meetings, it's actually in the Directory that you get a clearer picture of the health of the Unitarian community. So 2010-2011 Directory tells me that there are 173 member congregations in Great Britain. This is down 2 from last year. And trawling through the pages you can work out that Bournemouth Unitarian Church has died in the last year, as well as Exeter Unitarian Fellowship. I've only been getting directories for five years but I can tell you that in five years 8 Unitarian congregations have died. I'm not prepared to say "this is a terrible thing, we should do all we can

The UK Unitarian blogging community

This blog is five years old. For most of the past five years I've been the only active UK Unitarian blogger. There were one of two that came and went, and Andrew Brown has been publishing his sermons for a long time (not sure I count that as blogging exactly). But now all of a sudden there is a whole blogosphere for the UK Unitarian community. I think a lot of this came from a workshop that Yewtree did at this year's Annual Meetings. That seems to have inspired a lot of people to start blogging. There is now a blog aggregator here and here to keep up to date. It's good to have a community where I've been shouting into an echoey space for a long time.

Half an hour that shows the hypocricy and silliness of the faith school system

New BBC sitcom "Rev." Watch here.

Bi Christian Unitarian: A Theology of Transgression

I'm sure that all you readers subscribe to the Journal of Bisexuality (who doesn't?). If you do you'll have seen that the most recent issue is a special issue on the subject of Bisexualities and Spiritualities . And it features an article I wrote called "Bi Christian Unitarian: A Theology of Transgression." The copyright is owned by the publishers, so I can't reproduce the article here, but the link should help you to look it up if you're interested. My basic premise is that bisexuals transgress the boundaries of gender and sexuality that we have constructed in our culture. When others speak and write about bisexuals they identify the "problem" with the bisexual who transgress these boundaries, and would rather call into question the existence of bisexuals than the existence of those boundaries. However, when bisexuals speak for themselves they are more likely to call into question the nature of those boundaries. Bisexuals witness to the possibil

"Qu(e)erying Evangelism" by Cheri DiNovo - a book review

Picture the scene: it's the summer of 2008, and I'm in San Francisco. I'm wandering down the Castro and drop into a bookshop. Perusing the shelves I see a book that I simply have to buy. It is the above book. You might understand my excitement if I tell you in my first period of theological study my dissertation was on sexuality, and in my second theology degree my dissertation was on evangelism. And now I'm starring at book that combines queer theology and theology of evangelism! That sounds like a pretty perfect book to me. There was no way I wasn't going to buy that book. My reading habits being what they are, I've only just finished reading the book. And it's worth sharing some thoughts I've had as I read it. I assume the book is based on a PhD thesis, and it kind of reads like it is, sometimes to its detriment. Some parts (like the biblical surveys) feel like the kind of things you have to do to get good marks in academic study, that don't neces

The priesthood of all is a commisioning

I'm pondering the theology of Unitarian ministry in preparation for a conference in Oxford in two weeks where we're going to be discussing this issue. It's very difficult to speak about professional ministry with a community that believes in the priesthood (and prophethood) of all members. We do not have a "high" or sacremental theology of ministry. We say that everything a minister can do, a lay person could do too. So why do we need ministers? In British Unitarianism we do not even have the rite of ordination, which in other traditions, and other branches of the Unitarian family, provides a clearer picture of who is a minister and who is not. And as a small declining denomination we have relied increasingly on various forms of lay leadership. Today the majority of our congregations do not have ministers. So what is a Minister is everyone ministers (verb)? Do we indeed really need Ministers? If we believe in the priesthood of all, then why can't we all do the

What do you tell primary-aged children about Unitarianism?

Last week we had about 60 children from primary schools passing through our Unitarian chapel. They were visiting us as part of their religious education, and had also visited a mosque and a Hindu temple before they came to us. So you have 60 primary-aged children, of all faiths and none, sitting in front of you, and it's your job to tell them about Unitarianism. What do you say to them? This was my challenge. I also had to keep in mind that they were visiting us as a Christian church. The idea was to visit a church, a mosque and a temple, Christian, Muslim Hindu (the main religious communities in Bolton). So essentially, it was also up to me to tell them about Jesus. If I had just talked about respecting all faiths, then I would have been failing to give them something concrete. The whole ethos of the day is about respecting all faiths, they had come to us, specifically, to hear about Christianity. So this is roughly what I said: Hello, welcome to Bank Street Unitarian Chapel, my n

Time to vote

With the caveat that this blog represents my own opinions and nothing more... I'd like to urge all UK readers to vote tomorrow. However you vote (as long as you don't vote for any extremist party) please vote. I shall be voting for the Liberal Democrats, though I doubt it will do any good here. I'm hoping for a good number of Liberal Democrat MPs. I'm hoping the Green Party will manage to get an MP. I'm hoping for a a higher turnout than 2005. I'm hoping for large scale constitutional reform in the next Parliament. Please vote.

Happy St George's Day!

It's time we reclaimed St George's Day. It should be a bank holiday in England, and a day to celebrate the English traditions of dissent, and fighting for democracy and religious freedom. St George was definitely not English, and definitely not white. He was born in what is now Turkey, and so is an immigrant to this country. St George was a soldier in the Roman army. He went to the Roman emperor, without an army, without a sword, and challenged him personally to stop persecuting Christians. The emperor imprisoned him and beheaded him. So the story of Saint George is one of dissent and challenge to power; it is one of fighting for the rights of minorities; and fighting for religious freedom. It is these things that have a noble and proud history in England. St George’s Day should be about all those who defied the powers that be for democracy and freedom: Levellers, Chartists, suffragettes; those who fought for democracy, those who campaigned against slavery, and for human rights

My questions to Parliamentary candidates

Here's the questions that I care about this election. Here's the questions I will ask my parliamentary candidates: 1. Will you support the Robin Hood Tax on the banking system to raise billions for international development and fight against climate change? 2. Will you talk about immigration responsibly , support this country's responsibility to give sanctuary to those fleeing persecution, and end the detention of children and families for immigration reasons? 3. Will you support legislation allowing same sex civil partnerships to be performed in religious buildings , or will you support full marriage status for same sex partnerships? 4. Will you support reform of the state-funded faith school system so that schools are not allowed to discriminate in admissions and employment? 5. Will you support reform of the House of Lords - and agree not to appoint anyone to the House of Lords until those reforms are in place? 6. Will you support a reform of our voting system to allow

Unitarian Annual Meetings: Nottingham 2010

So I used to say that Reignite was the only live news source for the British Unitarian Annual Meetings. I'm afraid I can no longer make that claim. Not only was I not able to blog "live" I have been over-taken by Twitter. The Twitter hashtag was #GAUK. This is what you should have been following if you wanted the most up-to-date coverage and comment. (Before you ask, no, I'm not on Twitter, I've not seen the point of it yet). Neither am I the only blogger. Brian Keily of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists has already blogged about the meetings here. But I still want to blog about my experiences at GA. Overall it was a pretty middle of the road GA. Not spectacularly exciting, or terribly difficult. I thought it might have a weird atmosphere, as there had already been conflict over the planning of the meetings. If you don't know the Annual Meetings Panel proposed some radical changes, this upset some people, and the Executive Committee rej

Unitarian lookalikey

Bolton on Saturday

Please pray for peace this weekend in Bolton as we are descended upon by the English Defence League as well as a counter protest by Unite Against Fascism, and lots and lots of police. Please support the One Bolton Pledge to stand up for a divese and united Bolton. I shall be praying in a church, a mosque and a Hindu temple on Saturday. And Bank Street Chapel is witnessing to its values with our banner all weekend: Let's hope that Bolton rejects divisive messages and continues it's strong interfaith work.

Time for bishops to leave the House of Lords

Britain is second only to Iran in giving established religion so much power in the constitution. Twenty-six male Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords (the second chamber) as a matter of right and vote on legislation. This gives a particular religious voice power as a matter of right rather than merit. This is clearly unacceptable, and most people in the country, and indeed most Christians in this country think so. I'm a supporter of Power2010, that has gathered five clear ideas (gathered from the grassroots) to reform British politics. One of these is to replace the House of Lords with an elected second chamber. The time for this is clearly overdue. I'd encourage you to write the Anglican bishops to ask them to support this democratic move. 50,000 people already have. It would be wonderful if the bishops could stand up for democracy and voluntarily give up their power for the sake of democracy - what a wonderfully powerful Christian witness that would be.

Parliament fails children on sex education

The Children, Schools, and Family Bill was passed last night by Parliament. In general this was a good piece of legislation that made Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (which includes sex education) part of the National Curriculum. However an amendmend was added that seriously weakened the bill by allowing tax-payer funded schools with religious foundations to opt out of these requirements. This means that while all other schools are required to teach "balanced" and "accurate" sex education, tax-payer funded faith schools (around a third of all schools in Britain) can choose not to if they believe it contradicts their "religious ethos." The bill as it stood without the amendment already allowed for education that explored and respected different cultural and religious perspectives, and would have already allowed tax-payer funded faith schools to teach their religious views on issues of sexuality. But now the religious ethos can trump all oth

What words do we use to describe our communtiy?

Last month I did an activity with my congregation, Bank Street Unitarian Chapel, about the words we use to describe ourselves. We had a general discussion and then each person voted (with three votes each) on the words or phrases they liked the best. This was concentrated on working out what we think about the words we (or other Unitarian communities) currently use, rather than trying to creatively come up with our own phrases (though one person couldn't resist). The results were pretty interesting: Open hearts, open minds 8 Here let no one be a stranger 7 Founded 1672 6 Unitarian 5 Liberal religious community 4 (Comment: basically Christian as we were born into Christian community) Many beliefs, one faith 4 Everyone welcome 3 Spirituality without conformity 2 We welcome all without discrimination 2 Reason, tolerance, liberty 1 And one person tried to sum it all up by writing: Missing – “worship” “challen

Evangelism and church growth: the same or different?

In the last few years in the Unitarian community there has been a lot of talk of growth. In these conversations there often arises some tensions around growth. Some people are unapologetic about going for growth for growth's sake. They would argue that is it a moral imperative to grow our congregations, that if we are doing things right, if we are healthy and living out our mission, our churches will be growing. "Growth" is the accumulation of a congregation changing the lives of many individuals, and it matters to each of those individuals, so growth matters. This is the philosophy on which Peter Morales was elected as UUA president. At the same time there are those who are a bit reluctant about all this. They are a bit uncomfortable with "marketing" and "sales" philosophy being applied to religion. They don't really think growth should be for growth's sake, but they're not really sure for what's sake it should be. They're kind of

Power 2010

There's less than three months until a General Election, and I'm trying to get a wee bit excited at the prospect, but I really can't. Compared to the last American election, which was already at fever pitch by this point, I just can't get excited by this election. None of the leaders are very exciting. I can't even really think of a debate about the issues that is really exciting. I am a politically-minded person. I will stay up all night to watch the results. I want to be excited by the prospect of an election, but I'm struggling. The prospect of television debates between the leaders for the first time ever is possibly one thing that might make this more interesting. But the scandal of MP's expenses has lead to such a disillusionment with politics in general there seems a strong danger there will be the lowest turnout ever. Perhaps one way to re-engage us all in politics is some grassroots work for reforming our political system. This is the idea of Power

Growth and Decline

Peter Whitman, in a letter to The Inquirer , has worked out some numbers for Unitarian membership in the UK. I'm not quite sure how he's done it, perhaps it's not difficult if you want to delve through Annual Reports, but I'm glad he has. Once again, I want to know why such numbers are not publically available and discussed at the Annual Meetings. Here's the numbers: 2005: 3952 2006: 3754 2007: 3711 2008: 3642 These are membership numbers for every Unitarian church in Britain. The numbers are dropping by about 100 people a year. If we follow the graph down we will be extinct in 35 years. Seeing as I am due to retire in 38 years this is certainly somewhat worrying. And of course these kind of statistics rarely behave quite so linearly, so it's much more likely that we'd be looking at extinction in something closer to 20 years. I'm convinced this would be a fascinating study for a religious studies academic: what does a dying denomination l

"The religion of the future"

As I sit at home this morning, waiting for a delivery of a new power cord for my laptop (the old one is frayed and crackling vaguley when I move it - not good) I thought I'd offer some reflections. I'm thinking about the silliness of liberalism, liberals can be very silly sometimes. Despite trying to be rational and sensible liberals can convince themselves of their own stories through the momentum of their own myths as much as anyone. But when we examine these things we can find their foundations very shaky. One of the myths that religious liberals tell themselves is that we are "the religion of the future." We tell ourselves that society is changing dramatically and that we are so much more in tune with society, and the way things are going that we are bound to become the dominant religion very soon. The trouble is, when you examine this you find that people have been saying this for at least 200 years. Thomas Jefferson was sure that all of America would become Uni

Stoke-on-Trent unites against racism

I had to re-post this article about Stoke from Ekklesia. Although he's not mentioned in this article, my dad did organise this event at his church (have I mentioned on this blog before that my dad is an Anglican priest?) Leaders from the main religious communities across Stoke-on-Trent are today (23 Jan) making a united stand against an anti-Muslim march which they believe is inciting racism, intolerance and xenophobia in the area. The so-called English Defence League is due to march in Stoke on Saturday 23 January 2010, and the police and local authorities say they are worried about disturbances, with vigorous opposition protests planned. Meanwhile, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh leaders will light a candle and sign a pledge of unity outside Stoke Minster (the church of St Peter ad Vincula) opposite Stoke Town Hall. The Anglican Bishop of Stafford, Gordon Mursell, is one of those taking part in the united witness against racism He explained: “If Stoke-on-

Book Review: Evangelism after Christendom by Bryan Stone

So I've said it before, but I'll say it again: this is a very good book. The vision of evangelism presented in this book is deeply challenging to both conservative, mainline and liberal Christians. The basic premise is that evangelism is not about giving an intellectual message, nor coercively persuading people of that message, and neither is evangelism about church growth. Rather evangelism is about witness: the shape of life that the church presents to the world. He makes a compelling case that that witness is about equality and moving beyond old divisions (in Christ there is no Greek or Jew), enemy-love, the sharing of material goods, care for the poor and forgiveness. It is these practices that show to the world a pattern of life, and invite it to that life. In a large part this is a work of ecclesiology (= the study of the church). He is deeply critical of modernity's concentration on the individual (and this is a characteristic of modern conservatism as much as moder

Two interesting maps of Britain

Happy new year. I thought it was worth commenting on two maps I've seen recently. One is just to say "holy shih tzu! Look at all that snow ." The other is this map from the Unitarian Communications blog which shows the location of every Unitarian congregation in Britain: I find it really interesting to look at this distribution, which is so obviously uneven. A few observations: You can see the "Black Spot" from space! (small rural area in west of Wales containing many Unitarian chapels) It's obvious that there are many more congregations in the northwest than in the southeast, even though the population in the southeast is much bigger. It's easy to spot places with no Unitarian churches. What do you do if you're a Unitarian in Carlisle? Or somewhere like Bedford when you're pretty equally far from Cambridge, Northampton, and St Albans? Conclusion: There's a lot of scope for church-planting.