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Showing posts from 2017

Seven Theses of Unitarian Christianity

We're currently remembering the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther allegedly hammered his "95 Theses" to the church door in Wittenburg, on 31st October 1517. This has got me thinking about hammering my own theses to a church door (figuratively). From time to time it is worth trying to articulate what my tradition stands for like this. So here are my Seven Theses of Unitarian Christianity: Preamble: Our understanding of ultimate truth and meaning is partial, every word we utter when we talk about religion is ultimately wrong, because words cannot capture Reality. We will not make statements that will stand for all time because every generation needs to seek truth afresh and build on the work of the previous generation. Nevertheless, we must speak our truth as we understand it right now, in humility and hope. 1. God is love and God is loving.  Though we do not claim to understand what we mean when we use a word like "God"

How can we be joyful in dark times? (video)

Can I be a Unitarian and not believe in individualism?

Recently I've been thinking a lot about Unitarianism. In some moments I even question whether I am, in fact, a Unitarian. And for me it has come down to this question: if I reject individualism can I still be a Unitarian? What I mean is that I'm considering this sort of a definition of Unitarianism: Individual Unitarians can believe whatever they want to. What matters if that you come to your own conclusion and Unitarianism offers the freedom to do that.  I have decided that I wholeheartedly and passionately reject this idea. I think it comes from our neoliberal individualistic culture and I think it is a philosophically and morally bankrupt idea. I reject it.  If I do reject this idea, is there a still a place for me in the British General Assembly? Or is this essentially the creed of the General Assembly, and if I don't sign up to it, I should leave? Why do I reject it? Well, honestly, so many reasons. I think it's impossible to build communit

Reflecting on my pilgrimage to the sites of Polish Brethren Anabaptist Unitarianism

(This update is a little late, but hey.) In June I was on a Unitarian pilgrimage to the few remaining extant sites of Polish Anabaptist Unitarianism. As I have said before I increasingly see myself as a Unitarian Anabaptist, and so it was important for me to see what still exists of this important tradition of our past. The answer is not much. There are a few Polish Brethren chapels, though if you didn't know it you might just think they were barns. Two were on private estates where the owners had spent some money restoring them. One was on land beside a school. One was just in a field by the side of the road. They were one, two, or three storeys high. Where there were upper storeys they would have been used as an apartment for the minister. Inside they were simply and white-washed. In one there were some biblical inscriptions but it's not clear if these had been added when the buildings were taken over by Calvinists in later years. In Racow, the centre o

Should we change language to attract newcomers?

I have heard the opinion recently, and not least at the last Unitarian Annual Meetings, that we need to change language to attract newcomers. Don't say "hymn" or "church" (or even "God") - we're told - these sorts of words put people off. This argument comes from a genuinely good instinct - to do all we can to attract people outside our Unitarian communities - but I think it needs thinking about a bit more. Let me use an example to think through these issues. Imagine I am on a mission to get more people to play football in the United States of America. I would certainly be starting on the wrong foot if I started talking about "football" all the time, because that means a completely different sport in that culture. I would need to use the word "soccer." It would be absolutely necessary to translate a term to something more meaningful in that culture. In all I did I would say, "I'm promoting soccer" even tho

Prayer - the centre of Unitarian faith (video)

Think For Yourself

On going to church, and not going to church

One of the most important parts of the experience of being on sabbatical was the experience of not being a minister. After eight years of being a minister I needed to spend some time not being a minister. I needed to become a lay person. Actually, not even really a lay person. I became, a free, non-church person. Sunday morning came. I could go to church. Or I could chose not to. For the first time in ten years it was entirely up to me with no obligations. What I discovered was that, for the most part, I did want to go to church. But when I did, I came to church with huge expectations. I mean absolutely huge expectations. And if they weren't met I was incredibly disappointed. And I tend to think this is the experience of most people visiting our congregations. I think those of us who lead worship need to realise how hungry people are when they walk through the door. We need to not insult their intelligence or their spirituality by offering something paltry. I m

The spiritual path of joy (video)

Want to change the world? Let love be your energy.

Want to change the world? Let love be your energy. A better world is possible when we're powered by love. Find the love within. And let love be your guide. We are Unitarians.

"Never lose a holy curiosity."

"Never lose a holy curiosity." So said Albert Einstein. For us, curiosity is holy. We never stop questioning, never stop seeking. The universe is too big to think we have all the answers. We believe in curiosity. We believe there is more to life than we can know. We believe faith should open your mind, not close it down. We believe we will always have more questions than answers. Ours is the religion of curiosity. We are Unitarians.

We love Jesus. We love Buddha too.

We love Jesus. We love Buddha too. And Muhammad and Krishna and Moses and Guru Nanak and Julian of Norwich. And lots of other folks. We find that when you look for it, you find spiritual wisdom in lots of places. And why should wisdom only come from one place? Why should God only care about one religion? What if God's love is bigger than any one religion? What if God speaks in a thousand different voices? Shouldn't we listen? We believe truth is bigger than any one religion. We believe love is bigger than any one belief. Love beyond belief. We are Unitarians.

Wake up! And smell the God.

Spirituality has one simple purpose: to get us to wake up. We usually live half-asleep, half-blind, half-dead. Wake up! Wake up to the simple truth that there is so much to experience in life. You are surrounded by so much love and so much beauty. You are surrounded by so much God. God is not a man in the sky. God is a way of seeing the world when you're fully awake. So wake up, open your eyes, and take it all in. We are Unitarians.

If God wanted gay marriage she would have created love

And she did. And so we celebrate that love by offering marriages to all couples. We are a religion that believes that love makes a marriage. We are a religion that believes that love makes a church. God is love. When we say that, we really meant it. God doesn't care that much what we believe. She cares that we love. And so we do. We are Unitarians.

Jesus said love one another. Let's stick to that.

Jesus said love one another. Love your neighbour. Love your self. Love your God. What if he actually meant it? What if it's like, that simple? We love. That's it. We love our neighbours. We love Muslims. We love gay people. We love atheists. We love immigrants. We love all sorts of people. And how about we don't make it any more complicated than that? How about we forget about believing impossible things? How about we forget about heaven and hell and rising from the dead and a thousand other things we're supposed to believe? How about we just concentrate on LOVE, and maybe worry about those other things if we have time? We have decided to stick to one commandment: love. And when we get that one right, we'll start worrying about other things. If you want a religion that cares more about love than doctrine, maybe you could join us. If you want a religion that is more interested in getting heaven into people than getting people into heaven maybe yo

Will Unitarians disinvest in fossil fuels?

I was pleasantly surprised last week when my Annual Meetings pack landed through my letter box and I discovered that there are no wordy social justice motions this year. Every year I hope and pray for that, but it's never happened before. Most years we have five wordy motions calling for this and that that we debate, pass and then promptly forget. It's an annual ritual that convinces us we're doing social justice when in fact we're just talking to ourselves. It's an easy social justice that doesn't actually require any work from us. But no, this year we don't have that. Thank God. Perhaps now we have an opportunity not to forget about what we did last year. Last year we passed a resolution calling for us to respond to combat climate change. Of course the resolution did not call us to any concrete action, but perhaps now we can walk towards that concrete action. One concrete thing we can do is disinvest Unitarian shares from fossil fuel companies.

Largest Unitarian congregations by membership 2016

Posted without comment to bookmark for future research and reflection. Membership numbers: 1. London New Unity:  83 (=) 2. London Hampstead: 79 (=) 3. Birmingham Hollywood (Kingswood): 63 (-2) 4. Dean Row: 60 (+8) 4. Edinburgh: 60 (=) 5. Bolton Bank Street: 58 (=) 6. Mansfield: 57 (=) 6. London Kensington: 57 (+7) 7. Kendal: 55 (=) 8. Portsmouth: 53 (=) 9. Norwich: 50 (-5) 9. London Golders Green: 50 (-4) 10. Bury 48 (-6)


The Annual Report is out. And here's the first number I look for. And it's 2966. The membership of Unitarian churches in Britain is down once again. Down by 129 people.  Here's what the numbers look like over the last few years I've been counting:  2005: 3952  2006: 3754 2007: 3711 2008: 3642 2009: 3658 2010: 3672 2011: 3560 2012: 3468 2013: 3384 2014: 3179 2015: 3095 2016: 2966 No comment for now. I'm just book marking the numbers.

What if I told you that we live in paradise?

In some ways I am more pessimistic and frightened about the state of the world than ever before. And yet I feel more than ever rooted in a clearer vision of my self and my ministry. And that vision fills me with joy. It is expressed most beautifully by the great Unitarian poet e.e. cummings: i thank You God for most this amazing day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes (i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay great happening illimitably earth) how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any–lifted from the no of all nothing–human merely being doubt unimaginable You? (now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened) I have been on three protests already this year, and I see the need for resistance more than ever. But that resistance must

The Flexibility of American Religion

As part of my American trip during my sabbatical to the 2016 Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Studies I took part in a tour of local Unitarian Universalist congregations. The conference was in the Minneapolis/St Paul area and so we were taken around several UU congregations in the Twin Cities. We visited the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis: If you look at the main external picture here you will see the words "Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one." This might seem to be a surprising thing to find on a Universalist church (though it is of course classically Unitarian). But that's because the building used to belong to a Jewish synagogue. Certain features like that still looked fairly synagoguey including Stars of David at the end of each pew. We were told that the Universalist church bought this building, while simultaneously selling their old building to a different synagogue. We were also shown a Roman Catholic church. This

What is a Unitarian? (Video)