The decision not to have a 3 pm Unitarian carol service was taken rather too early given the beneficial change in the weather. The annual trawl through festivities welcomes in the folks who are my neighbours, clustered around Chamberlain Street and Close. It is the service of the property owning Puritan-beginning trust that is now associated closely with the Unitarian Church in Hull. Thankfully (for history's sake) the Lady Hewley Case in York was the only one in which the funds were extracted back by the orthodox, but it was too late because by 1844 Unitarians were represented in parliament and throughout local authorities, and so the legal actions were frozen and an Act of Parliament soon protected the dissenters of the dissenters.
Now last week in actual preventative weather and conditions I went to the local C of E to investigate, and I wouldn't be going back there. So I thought perhaps I'll try the Methodists. I'm afraid that one look at the website yesterday, and all that about Junior Band etc. put me off straight away. Actually they seem to be considerably younger and fewer in number by the picture display than when I had an agnostic involvement with friends who did go there. But that's not me, and if the website is written from a more reasonable point of view it was all focused on 'the cult of an individual' and, frankly, I'm just not interested. Plus the evening service is done in a back room, and given the same space that means just a handful.
I just take the view that so many of these traditions and their reasons for separation are coming to an end. Thomas Coke was ordained Superintendent by John Wesley. Coke had been a priest for twelve years, so one wonders what Wesley thought he was doing when later Wesley objected to the Americans calling their superintendents bishops. In any case, Wesley ordained Coke, and Coke ordained Francis Asbury, and priests don't ordain anyone. Although the Church of England could have contained Wesley's holiness movement, it didn't, and clearly Wesley thought that a bishop and a presbyter are the same thing in the Bible. So he was rather at odds with his own Church and its threefold ministry.
But now those arguments are rather crusty and old, and some of these new and old dissenting traditions are staring into an unknown future. They are few in number and top heavy age wise, benefiting from the fact that people live longer, but denominations like the Methodists and URC are falling fast. The URC takes over Scottish denominations in a reversal of its own history, and the Methodists have an active closure programme.
In the past Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England prevented structural ecumenism. Now these Anglo-Catholics are themselves a busted flush, with Affirming Catholics being more style than anything and able at least to absorb Methodists and URC, even if there are style problems like lots of little communion glasses and a lack of transformative alcohol in some of the drink.
There ought to be a way that styles can be incorporated. But, even if they do reabsorb, it will only clear the way for today's disagreements between liberal and evangelical.
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