Monday, 9 August 2010

Building the Brand

Down at the coalface on Sunday our small band of gatherers were joined by a couple who were self-declared Methodists from Ireland, just passing through. It is good to have such visitors, if disappointing that they are not going to be able to come again if this is what they wanted. Nevertheless, these two said afterwards that such is just the sort of service they would like to attend back at home. The service taker had his informal style, but he was well prepared, and my job was to construct the CD that produced all the music and in order and do the button pushing (the actual effort is beforehand, but the rocker switch needs pressing!). Thus all he chose, including the hymn tunes, some with choir support, were all delivered on the moment. The result is as 'professional' a service delivery as possible, and I think attempting that standard is important - especially for the visitor. Who knows the effect of the visit and the encounter - possibly a number of visits to the very successful Unitarian church in Dublin, for example, a church that connects so well with the new spirit of Ireland.

I think we know how to build churches: it is just doing it. It does take some resources and effort, and it is not speedy. Much of it is to identify barriers and remove them, often cherished too which makes their removal difficult.

Then I notice the continued controversy of Marriage and Civil Partnerships. These are not equality based. Basically, in my view, marriage should be open to all couples and Partnerships open to all couples. Some heterosexuals might prefer Partnership. Possibly immigration relationships would have to demand marriage. Many might want to upgrade their civil partnership to marriage. The Church of England wants a denomination first position, but actually that is a denial of the fundamental congregationalist basis of say Unitarians. As it happens, the General Assembly has a non-discriminatory policy regarding rites and ministry, but it is an advisor and resource supporter: congregations decide and do so on the basis of individualist faith positions. The Church of England should not interfere in the polity of other Churches, and if that is a privilege of establishment then it should be disestablished. Unitarians, Quakers and Liberal Jews, and others according to their polities, should be able to provide marriages and partnerships on their premises with whatever religious texts they wish. Unitarians have here a great potential, as rites of passage are often produced with the people concerned. Given the individualist basis of faith, the people themselves do engage in the construction of the rites: the ministers or lay people conducting them are, like the General Assembly, resources to draw upon, and will then conduct the service or facilitate the service.

One way of building the brand is to have ministers and competent lay people contact funeral services and get the message out about rites of passage and this ability to construct the service that is appropriate for the user of the rite. I don't know of any other Church that quite offers this, and it is surely a unique selling point for the Unitarians. And when these take place, you find that from time to time someone in the attending parties thinks this is a place for them, and start to investigate, and will start to contribute to the Sunday and other activities.

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