Thursday, 17 January 2008

We're Not Praying with YOU

It's the silly season again down in ecumenical areas. According to this report, once again no one will share with Unitarians when it comes to praying - this time in Padiham.

The Baptists for one are still fighting the battles of the past, when a number of their kind (for example in 1806) became Unitarian and the Baptists have never forgiven the Unitarians since. Lancashire had a grouping known as Cookite Methodists, and they became Unitarians, so some Methodists aren't such a happy bunch when it comes to Unitarians. The Church of England, well they had broad Church people who often had contact and empathy with Unitarian theologians, producing similar theological reflections.... (hang on, that means they should mix!).

Padiham is a Christian Unitarian church, so it might be feeling a bit lonely. One of my points when the General Assembly in 2001 adopted the Object that includes the intention to "uphold the liberal Christian tradition" was that this was against the unique pluralist offering Unitarians could give, and anyway it would not impress those like the neighbours at Padiham.

Object

To promote a free and inquiring religion through the worship of God and the celebration of life; the service of humanity and respect for all creation; and the upholding of the liberal Christian tradition.

Folks at the National Unitarian Fellowship - where they have discussions - have been saying how this Object frustrates new converts to Unitarianism, in that what they thought was treating many faiths equally turns out to privilege one. On the other hand those poor souls at the Unitarian Christian Association are thrashing away for an even greater promotion of Christianity amongst the Unitarians and with other ecumenical people. Incidentally, when it came to my friends at The Liberal Rite seeking association with the General Assembly, they were told they were too Christian, by which it must mean that the emergent Liberal Catholicism has been treated as outside the fold by Unitarians.

Good on the Roman Catholics. They feel secure in themselves, obviously. There might even be the odd local Roman Catholic modernist in the area.

Some of the folks at Padiham are more orthodox than many a liberal Anglican, liberal Methodist or, to use the old title, General Baptist. This is a pathetic division and does not reflect denominational realities. I have just enjoyed a reasonably liberal discussion in an Anglican setting.

As for upholding the Trinity, it didn't exist until it was formed doctrinally after the Bible; the Bible does not contain the doctrine. There is only a different late entry of the proto-trinitarian baptismal formula. I know ante-trinitarian worship when I see it, even when accidental.

When I take intercessions at the Anglican Church, I do not pray just for the ecumenical partners of the town. I include Barton Evangelical Church even if they do not include the one I am in - and indeed they shun ecumenical activity. One day I'll give it a visit. Plus I give prayers for people of faith and the leaders who serve them, as well as Christians specifically. Prayers exist in the realms of the gift, not in reciprocal exchange. Prayers are to and with people whoever they are, and without conditions attached. We say and do these for our own good, not because of any transmission that may do something or other we may (arrogantly) regard as harmful or beneficial to the other.

I hope the Unitarians give the Roman Catholics a warm welcome and also invite down people of different faiths. Best wishes to the folks at Padiham.

Some more news links:

Lancashire Telegraph: Reverend's plea for unity after snub By Samrana Hussain
Burnley Citizen: War of words over snub to Unitarians By Kate Turner

11 comments:

Liz said...

*sigh* Sounds depressingly familiar. My (liberal Anglo-Catholic) parish church ended up effectively having to leave our local Churches Together group because we would not sign up to a Covenant that excluded Unitarians.

Robin Edgar said...

Unitarians aka Unitarian*Universalists can be remarkably intolerant and exclusivist themselves, particularly the devout atheists amongst the U*Us. In the fall of 1994 I was able to successfully bring together Unitarians, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Native Americans, Baha`is, and even the Montreal Pagan Grove in an inter-religious celebration of Creation. When I attempted to organize a second celebration of Creation Day in the Unitarian Church of Montreal in the fall of 1995 the Board of this alleged Unitarian church refused to allow Creation Day to be celebrated on its premises, even though it had been unanimously approved as an adult RE activity by the UCM`s Religious Education Committee. Not long afterwards, the Unitarian Church of Montreal`s brand-spanking new fundamentalist atheist Humanist­ minister Rev. Ray Drennan falsely and maliciously labeled Creation Day as a cult. . . When I filed a formal complaint about Rev. Drennan`s intolerant and abusive clergy misconduct it was arbitrarily dismissed by all responsible parties. In fact Rev. Diane Miller, who was the director of the UUA`s very aptly named Ministerial Fellowship Committee at the time, even had the gall to say that Rev. Ray Drennan`s obviously intolerant and abusive conduct ``seemed to us to be within the appropriate guidelines of ministerial leradership``. . . Good on the Roman Catholics indeed. I dare say that many of the Roman Catholics I know are rather more secure in their beliefs, and rather more genuinely liberal and tolerant than many of the U*Us I have the misfortune to know.

Naomi said...

Speaking, as they say, as a member of the NUF and the UCA I was not aware that I was "thrashing away for an even greater promotion of Christianity amongst the Unitarians and with other ecumenical people." In fact, I am very comfortable thank you in the triality of my inherited Christian roots and culture, the European Unitarian tradition and the "unique pluralist offering" that Unitarian Universalism has to give. Now, that is a "Trinity" that I can enjoy without any urge either to make Unitarians more Christian or Christians more Unitarian.

Kind regards to all

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I'm afraid that the party spirit is all too evident parts of in Unitarianism too; as for my "thrashing away" comment I meant it in terms of a Christian witness that gets ignored by many a trinitarian Christian and indeed the effort, which is experienced in Britain, and I think in the UUA too, that wants churches to be recognisably Christian.

The Object to uphold is not a recognition of heritage, or a statement of plurality, but a statement of intent that makes many a humanist and interfaith Unitarian feel second class.

Whereas liberal Christianity in the so-called mainstream is both liberal in content and liberal in authority, liberal Christianity in Unitarianism is liberal in content and conservative in authority. My Christianity within Unitarianism was always frustrated, because it was interpreted as a conservative intention, whereas I was wanting to be radical in spirit and finding religion to be a creative even subversive activity that stirs as well as comforts.

I appreciate both comments as part of the experience of Unitarianism. It never lived up to the publicity, neither nationally nor locally. Institutions rarely do, but I experienced contradiction (as illustrated by Robin Edgar here) and to such an extent that after far too long I walked away.

Robin Edgar said...

Hi Adrian,

I was not aware that you had once been involved with the Unitarian Church in any way. I would be quite interested in hearing more about the contradiction(s) that you yourself experienced within the so-called U*U World.

In my own experience U*Uism never came close to living up to the publicity, either nationally nor locally. I have been denouncing the false and even fraudulent publicity of the U*Us for some time now. Even quite recently. There is something seriously wrong with an alleged church that not only ordains intolerant and abusive devout atheists as ministers but even allows them to run roughshod over God believing congregants.

As for me I am still walking. . . ;-)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xfxw1yZAS0M

Best Regards,

Robin Edgar

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I have to say that I do not have a problem with atheist ministers. The problem is when they ride roughshod, or when anyone rides roughshod. The principles that attracted me regarding Unitarianism were an active view of toleration, plurality, evolving faith, and people of difference being together, as well as a progressive direction. I rather think the Americans are better at it than the British. Nevertheless, congregations acted as collectivities, and operated creeds by the back door, thus an open pulpit was not, and then there was the Object of the GA. When I left I did so because of a basic failure to behave and watching manipulation.

Anglicans can be as tolerant as Unitarians; they are aware of the breadth of their Church, and Anglicanism maintains theological enquiry lost to Unitarianism now.

I was always more symbolic than Unitarianism in general and I discovered where it excluded. Localism is a killer.

There is a lot of this on my website under Learning - Religion - Unitarianism. http://www.pluralist.co.uk.

Robin Edgar said...

Well I did specifically say, "intolerant and abusive devout atheists". . . I get along fine with your average run-of-the-mill atheist but there is no excuse for an alleged "church" to ordain devout and indeed quite intolerant and outspoken fundamentalist atheists as clergy. When I was "excommunicated" from the so-called Unitarian Church of Montreal it had everything to do with a basic failure to behave on the part of Rev. Ray Drennan, other fundamentalist atheist "church" leaders, and Montreal Unitarians more generally. I might add that it was a very carefully manipulated process that was designed to maximize the power of my detractors and minimize my ability to defend myself against them.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

OK I've accepted the comment: comments by Rev. Ray Drennan, other church leaders, and Montreal Unitarians can be added if they wanted to reply.

I think it is a challenge to Unitarians more than they think to build spaces of tolerance and also to give expression to everyone in the congregation in one sense or another. It is not easy to do.

Robin Edgar said...

That is not likely to happen, unless a certain Anonymous Montreal U*U, who sometimes posts under the pseudonym "Michel Tremblay", does another "drive-by" posting of what he claims is the Unitarian Church of Montreal's standard tresponse to my protests. I might as well direct readers to my point-by-point rebuttal of this fine example of U*U institutional denial now to save me the trouble of having to do it later. I would actually welcome some comments from not only Rev. Ray Drennan and leaders of the Unitarian Church of Montreal, but also the UUA and its aptly named Ministerial Fellowship Committee. They all have some explaining to do.

Robin Edgar said...

If one takes a closer look at what is actually going on in Padiham it really does look like the Unitarians may well be most responsible for initiating this religious conflict, and milking it for all its worth in order to promote Unitarianism. I have commented on both of the newspaper articles that were published about this conflict in the Burnley Citizen and the Lancashire Telegraph.

Here is part of what I posted as a comment to the most recent article -

It really does look like this controversy is part of an ongoing feud between these Padiham churches and, in there own special way, Padiham Unitarians (to say nothing of Unitarians more generally) seem to be displaying a "holier than thou" attitude here. As I said in my comment on the original article about this controversy, this conflict is looks a lot like a Unitarian attempt to appropriate and usurp a religious observance that was founded by and traditionally celebrated by Trinitarian Christians, to say nothing of women. . . Quite frankly it is ridiculous for Rev. Jean McNeile to say, "all are welcome, regardless of gender, sexuality, religion and culture" when this religious observance is clearly intended to be a *women's* day of prayer and a Christian one. This seems to be a fine example of Unitarians saying,

"Oh look at us. Look how wonderfully tolerant and liberal and welcoming we Unitarians are."

When in fact they seem to be going out of their way to make Christian churches look intolerant and unwelcoming. If Unitarians want to have a day of prayer where "all are welcome, regardless of gender, sexuality, religion and culture" why don't they just start their own rather than try to appropriate and usurp the Women's World Day of Prayer service?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I disagree with you about these motives. I think there is a world of difference between the Women's World Day of Prayer and say a walk at Pentecost. I do not give the local Unitarians these more sophisticated motives that you do. In some places men can participate in a women's prayer session. The issue is can the Unitarians participate on an equal enough basis in this or are they being excluded and why are they being excluded. The model of participation at Luther King House is entirely reasonable, where Unitarians are Associate Members, and do participate in and run some worship, so long as it is compatible with others, but if they do not want to do this then they do not. They carry on learning together as appropriate. This is not to say that Unitarians do not exhibit intolerance, especially within their own ranks - they do, and they do not match their publicity. There are contradictions within. This issue is not about this, however, but just a general attitude towards tolerance and community.