At Saturday's Yorkshire Unitarian Union gathering, the interactive talk by Bill Darlison was followed by a business meeting at which David Dawson was chosen to be Vice President (to subsequently become President). Money was discussed and the Spring Gathering will happen at Nostell Priory with already a sense of welcome there. A delegate was chosen for the General Assembly in Swansea/ Abertawe. Not one church had made a claim for money for Religious Education books or materials which the YUU was offering. Some attention was given to a Support Panel Pack sent out, like a health check for the YUU. It is not one of the weakest associations nor the strongest. Issues raised included money going to children to attend at Great Hucklow, along with all the business of safeguarding and promoting children in safety; encouraging five yearly surveys encouraged for church buildings, developing relationships with other faiths and denominations, and that one church in the district still needs a website and whether the district needs one (or if the national one with links to churches is enough). A chap took up these matters. Congregations told of new things: I mentioned Hull's new sound system.
Then came Neville Kenyon's presentation. He is the President of the General Assembly. He'd already delivered devotions and an address that asked if we take full advantage of our freedom. Now he asked if it all hangs together given the diversity of opinion. He was disappointed to open The Inquirer and find the Unitarian Christian Association regarding the late Cyril Smith (a long-standing Member of Parliament) as one of the UCA tribe. He could agree that good worship resonates, but commented that words of Mary Carpenter were typical of 1877 and not of now and such needn't be the basis of worship today. He had a questionnaire for groups to work through. In my group I was from Hull and the others were from Bradford, York and two from Wakefield.
Do we tailor services towards the local community? No, but York does (and another group said York did) because there is a heritage weekend that puts residents first (given that so many attractions in York are paid access that tends to mean residents don't access them). Hull once did a Sunday school outreach into the enarby housing (I was told) and Bradford Broadway had a young people's emphasis but the area became Muslim (the two Bradford churches became one).
Do we tell first time visitors Unitarian values? There is a danger both of ignoring and swamping the visitor. We said we have to get across that any one service can be atypical. Later mention was made of an American church that gives a different coloured mug to newcomers so that if the person is seen without anyone someone will go to them to talk.
Most services suggest how we live our lives as humans not necessarily as Unitarians.
Looking at new people, I mentioned that I was taking the service when the new Muslim attender (now gone back to Iran) came (then with boyfriend) and I said they'd be interested in this because I was talking about my very first impressions on first attending. Fortunately she returned again and again. I recalled on my first visit being told about Transylvania and wondering about what Dracula had got to do with it.
Sometimes services reflect what is on the websites. Websites, like much publicity, can tend to be better than the reality on the ground.
We were both relaxed about issues like the Trinity and divinity of Jesus and regarded them as irrelevant, as did many other groups.
Theology and the Bible we thought are still relevant but with a broader theology. However I said some people coming in from other churches are in transition and so ask the usual questions about Jesus and what is believed about him before they themselves move on.
My group did not get to discuss the clear blue water question but I noted some groups were not sure if there was clear blue water between our churches and others.
Groups' spokespeople gave rapid summaries of their positions and as far as I could tell (they were too rapid: time was pressing) there was quite a lot of agreement.
Neville Kenyon in his sense of disappointment noted how one Anglican Reader who had been to Unitarian services stayed in his Church of England setting as a Unitarian, and noted how one Unitarian church described that it had Liberal Trinitarians among its congregation, as it turned out people treated it as a parish church. He was unhappy when a minister thought the low numbers were because people in the locality had four churches to choose from, as if the Unitarians offered nothing distinctive. He was himself clearly of the evolve and move on school, to offer clear blue water from other churches in terms of content.
After this there was much informal chat, which is one of the significant functions of these meetings. I was talking Presbyterian history with Wakefield's and the area's principal historian including sharing mental notes on Domestic Missions and Bernard Manning the Congregationalist who was intensely opposed to Unitarianism. We'd brought packed lunches and now there was more laid on as a spread.
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