Sunday, 12 April 2009

Unitarian Service and Reflections

I enjoyed taking the service at the Hull Unitarian Church, and it included some visitors from Essex. It is annoying, really, that we have this Humber Bridge that means it costs more than £10 to do a round trip that takes 25 minutes each way. What a demonstration that the Humber Bridge is, in fact, the Humber Barrier. I will, though, and happily, take more services there.

Churches go through several phases of decline and growth, and this one has been up and down. It does look like it can go up again. In my view a Unitarian Church has to be participatory. It has to hear its own voices and have its own hands. Too easily a minister can produce a situation of dependency, and a bad choice of minister can magnify the difficulty (just as a good minister can magnify the benefit - so long as the congregation is active).

I don't know why, but it always strikes me how badly managed must be so many Unitarian congregations, even if the terrain is tough in this country. There is something about the internal drag, the insider perspective, that forgets its old parish-Presbyterian principle, which is to be flexible to the outside. Of all Churches, the Unitarian should be the most culturally responsive. It lost its way and became a liberal sect, as sectarian as any sect, through practices and assumptions that have been left behind. Every new person through the door should shift the balance of a congregation somewhat, and the denomination needs that sensitivity. Unitarianism evolves, and (as in the plant and animal world) the successful at evolving have increased the capacity to evolve. Those with the capacity to evolve are ready to change.

It is spirituality from the bottom up, and able to borrow from all around, and it is ideas that balance the symbolic inherited nature of religious language with a clarity of cutting out deception and pre-made promises.

This service was me and a lot of Anglican holy smoke. I had my painting of the emptied tomb, and a couple of icons (Christ and St. Chad of south of the river), and I used forms adapted from English-Anglican and Episcopalian sources. But I was also clear about what is myth and what is not scientific and not historical, and let Charles Darwin of all people come to the rescue of, I claim, anti-scientific and anti-historical crucifixion-resurrection meanings. It was Easter Day, and so the Christian parallel was laid on thick, but another time it could have an entirely different stance.

What is needed, though, is other voices and views, to add to the patchwork and build up discussion, with that which facilitates the meditative. The purpose of church life is to develop ethical pointers and put them in the context of symbolic (artistic) support involving the whole person.

If rates of decline (despite places of growth) continue, then Unitarianism could be finished as a congregational movement by 2053, but the same applies to other non-conformist denominations collapsing down from a greater height. And whereas they have no difference from standard Christianity, and one would puzzle over justifying their continuation, the Unitarian Church can always promote a liberal difference. It only attracts a minority of a minority, but it does have a distinctive shop window, if only it will decorate the window attractively and supply the goods within.

Meanwhile the Anglican open-evangelical Fulcrum has a debating area about Coleridge, the romantic too early for Unitarian romanticism, so he invested his liberalism into the Anglican Church. I make a comment (when it appears).

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