Friday, 29 April 2011

ISM Flexibility

Six O'Clock and I thought, having seen a news summary at 4 pm, that I would look at the news. But one smarmy presentation from Fiona Bruce was enough to put it off - all this grinning about good for nothings getting married. I couldn't give a toss.

So to the subject of interest, and partly based on Lesley's other entry (not that one: no, I couldn't care less what John Sentamu thinks of the wedding, weddings or anything really), that of online ministry.

Unitarians know what the Unitarian Universalist man's invention of the World Wide Web made free for all has achieved: the end of little known and near-isolation for the likes of Unitarians. We know that when informed people come through the door, it is more than likely because a search about liberal religion has led to Unitarian pages.

Via social media, the potential for even more independent ministry has been opened up. My conversation with Mhoira Lauer-Patterson very recently included a little bit as to why Elizabeth Stuart of the LCCI has done next to nothing and one answer to that is look at the web page. There is just the one and carries a lack of information. LCCI is the direct and progressive descendent of Liberal Catholicism from the days of Leadbeater and Wedgwood in Europe, and yet it is almost non-existent. Others who are also part of this stream, but brothers, sisters or cousins, or new births, have been able to use the Internet even to generate clergy-led growth.

The usual pattern for ministry is to get a congregation and then to develop ministry you find and train a minister. Parishes need to look among their number to develop ministers. The Independent Sacramental Ministry approach is different - it is to make ministers and then develop congregations. One habit is to keep ordaining those who become congregants. I asked Mhoira - because a confirmed at Swindon will go through minor orders - whether it is the intention to ordain everyone. "I hope not," she said, and I said otherwise it gets like The Young Rite, whose idea of the priesthood of all believers is to make all believers priests.

Nevertheless, the lay contact comes through rites of passage especially where these involve people's diverse beliefs. An ex-Anglican, the Rev. Horseman was a chap who reached out to Pagans as well as Christians, and the upshot was, despite other pastoral needs of his own family and himself, an effective removal from the Church of England. He took the best route and chose to be independent, at a time that Anglican Mainstream made fun of him and the Church of England - missing out the detail that the Church of England and him were separated. He has now retired. Because Mark Townsend added a religious interpretation to the magic he included with his Christian ministry, he decided it was best to get out, and joined instead the Open Episcopal Church. He took the same route as Bishop Jonathan Blake. Simon Mapp decided that the OEC was also the best place for him to take his combination of fairly traditional liturgy and Sea of Faith theology, since the Church of England rejected the theological leanings of Michael Ramsey, never mind those who followed.

It is not easy going it alone. You effectively live off the seat of your pants. It is still better to be associated with a group of some kind, and the front runners are becoming the OEC and the LCAC as reconstituted since Kersey, Linley and Bate left the LCAC to go further up the candle to some mythic pre-Nicene past. Mhoira corrected me: her liturgy is modern, rewritten in parts, feminist and Hebrew in sections. Also she does not want her altar table up against the wall.

A way of looking at this clergy bias is that the laity are looser and more transient than parish churches or congregations, so to be the Church is to be ordained. Very Catholic. But I still think an active laity makes a Church. Unitarianism doesn't have the candidates to fill positions so it has to be a lay Church; furthermore its lack of Eucharistic practice means lessens a perceived core need for the professional minister, and Unitarians as such don't ordain - professional ministers tend to be ordained otherwise.

A key identifier of these ISM Churches and people is the social inclusion. This makes a lot of sense, given the way standard Churches are going regarding exclusion.

I suppose the trajectory is this: traditional Anglo-Catholicism is bust, and has left liberal(ish) Anglo-Catholics. They are now coming under the targets of the Evangelicals, growing within the C of E (though nothing like the concentration in media churches) but increasingly sectarian regarding the outside. There is a battle for the boundaries and the rule-book. Low liberals in the C of E really have no future, because they have no obvious self-protection or large enough party: at least Catholics can look the part. But high liberals seem to be liturgical insiders, an acquired taste, something you have to learn over a longer period - they are not natural recruiters. People will join their parishes despite and not because of their peculiar Catholicism. They are good at keeping people in and not so good at getting people in.

So the non-dogmatic Catholicism of the independents reaches out to where people are and how they think, given the plasticity of contemporary believing; like Unitarians they can write liturgies to suit people's existing biases and beliefs, as well as their social and ethical situations. Untitarians often do the best funerals - because they are personal and biographical.

ISMs also do their ministry closer to a Christian identity or label than do Unitarians, though I think there will have to be more of a both-and in this labelling. Some ISMs are dogmatic, being on the way to rejoining a bigger body (like the British Orthodox did), but most cannot afford to be self-restricting.

So what they must do, to attract, is sell themselves. Having made contact with funeral directors, and with venues for weddings, they can provide bespoke ceremonies, and here is where the Internet is so useful, even if petrol is expensive and some localism is practical. But in the end, what is needed, somewhere and with some flexibility, is a congregation of some kind. Some of it will be online, but some of it will be local and real. If your chapel is your garage or front room, you still need one or two to start turning up. I see that Mark Paris has his online computer next to his altar table, and that seems fitting somehow.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Genetic Dilution

I find the whole Royal Wedding business tedious. Even the television promotion of it is driving me nuts. I'm a republican: leaders of states are to be elected, and better still, removed, by voting.

However, this one time and now to be many times fashion show lass with the long neck: she's just been confirmed, C of E, in the nick of time. Yup, Trinity, virginal conception, body alive after it's dead, the lot. Let's go up the tree, back in time, stage by stage. Her dad was married C of E and his dad was married C of E. But his mum was married Unitarian at Leeds. Her dad had a middle name of Martineau, and that's a good Unitarian name. His mum married Unitarian at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and her mum Liz was sister of Harriet and James the theologian and liturgist. Liz's dad was baptised at Norwich English Presbyterians. The English Presbyterians, once Puritans, are forebears of the Unitarians. In fact Norwich now has an octagonal chapel and the first Unitarian chapel in Hull was octagonal as well. Names and what they did are all given elsewhere.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A Meeting Today

For the first time I met someone today who had so far only been known online. Bishop-Elect Mhoira Lauer-Patterson, of the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church, came down from near York to meet me in the Hull Unitarian church. It was to say hello and chat, and given that we had already created a date - after Mhoira becomes a bishop - to take a service, the church seemed to be the best place to meet. It was informal, just my (and Mhoira's) initiative, but other people did know this was happening.

I had put on some music and we looked at that system, and after had a good chat.

Now I was quickly impressed, and thoughts already in my mind that would be needed to be floated wider were expressed. There were ideas like, perhaps, Mhoira might want to use the building to develop say her church, also develop relationships with other places, and for that take some of our services, have some joint events and so on. But the possibility of something more direct, still consistent with Mhoira as LCAC and a bishop, arose. So I thought this had legs and contacted one of the church officers at his home and he came down to hear some of what Mhoira had to say (again and some more).

As a congregational church, such a cross-denominational offering of paid ministry, but quite direct, needs not just democratic agreement but consent. So we three thought that the first thing was to bring the service forward to be taken, but then also, beforehand, that Mhoira could come along and view a service or two, just as a visitor, see the congregation, chat with people and introduce herself and her Church. Few will have heard of the LCAC. Then we could see what people think, either way. This would all be to maintain our own participatory church, whatever happens, with different people taking services, and doing jobs, and not not the kind of ministry where people end up leaning on ministers. In fact, coming across a denominational boundary, I doubt this could happen. Yet, also, this could provide pastoral ministry, focus, outreach, and change. As well as her background in training towards ministry and theological education, Mhoira has been an architect and it just so happened that plans could be viewed!

It may all come to nothing, depending on what people want or don't want, although we can still have services with open pulpits on occasions (that means offered to preachers outside the denomination).

Now the meeting came about, as far as this, because of my own 'watching brief' on the LCAC and its progress, and I would recommend to others at least considering the idea of reaching out like this. As a Bishop (soon), Mhoria will cover a large area for the LCAC, so there are others in Yorkshire, say, who might consider this possibility of drawing on ministerial resources. I'd say at least examine this, to take the risk and develop things perhaps in ways unusual only years back.

I know there are denominational sensitivities in matters like ministry, but as a 'Martineau man' I suggest an open, ecumenical and interfaith approach is possible here, of the people of small liberal groups who can work together, and lots of flexibility built in because of how things could work.

That's about as far as it goes for now. There is much to talk about, think about, to meet about and see what is possible.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Far Away Retreats

What is it about liberal Churches and far off retreats?

The Unitarians have one at Shapinsay, in Orkney (north of Kirkwall) at KW17 2DZ, and the Open Episcopal Church has gone even more remote to open a centre at about the end of April at the St Brendan Centre, Isle of Luing, PA34 4UD. It is in roughly a straight line from Glasgow to Port Glasgow and keep going, except that in Scotland there are no straight lines. Reverend Helen Hamilton will run the new centre. Just to confuse things (and me for a while) she also is available at an ecumenical retreat centre in a small, orcadian farmhouse, which stands on the hillside overlooking Scapa Flow. Lesley McKeown runs Haughland House, with a number of bookable events.

Agenda for Faith: Try Honesty

Anglican Rev. Stephen Mitchell has just republished his early 1990s Agenda for Faith as a free ebook on the Sea of Faith website. He retains his postmodern, non-realist approach to faith. There is a new preface, and it is all about strategies for people like him in the Church.

When at Unitarian College I had the right to choose a preacher for the main Luther King House service, and I chose Stephen. He did deliver his sermon, except I'd been told to go so wasn't there (in what would have been my second year). Perhaps I should have employed his strategies to stay in Unitarian ministry training, but I had a habit of telling people what I actually believed, doing so into places, then, of old fashioned Unitarianism. I was a bit of a humanist and Pagan, a bit symbolic, and committees and ideological ministers didn't like it.

So what are his strategies? Several aren't acceptable, it seems. Getting rid of stupid doctrines doesn't work unless it becomes formal, and they are still in creeds and hymns and liturgies.

Strategy two is to reinterpret, like the meaning of God, but Anthony Freeman lost his job when he did that.

So strategy three, within the book, is the change of philosophy. This is keeping all the clutter but having a postmodern attitude towards it. I know that Stephen applied this philosophy right across the board, including science, whereas I applied it mainly to religion; in fact I still apply meaning to religion as it gets applied to the arts, but I am more realist when it comes to science and social science.

The Church then, via the Doctrine Commission and Professor Thiselton sat on that one (Lesley Fellows, take note: your love of postmodernism does not come with high level approval!). So the fourth strategy is the Greek view that God is unknowable.

I had a conversation like this in Barton. I was asked whether I a Real Absence person, allowed, or a non-realist person, not allowed, for considering ministry. Er, well, really, has to be non-realist. Yes I could see the possibility of transcendence, from signals of transcendence, but to actually talk about God etc. needed non-realism. Well, I decided to pursue no further.

That's the problem with the fourth strategy. It is realist unknowable, however much it is classical Christianity.

A fifth strategy is that after Christianity only, and after aggressive missionary activity to people of other religions as isms, Christianity has now given way to Christianness (says Raimon Panikkar) - encountering Christ at the centre of one's self, a Christian consciousness and away from institutions.

Such a direction away from institutionalism gets the Church to its roots and away from doctrinal squabbles. Stephen sees that he was mutating towards this "reality at the centre of human life beyond medieval Christendom and modern Christianity".

I think this is known as subjectivity and it was discovered at the end of the nineteenth century by a certain James Martineau. But the Church never had a golden period free of doctrinal squabbles, nor a subjective period of inner faith - it had Gnostic faith, but that was squashed out by the institution.

Even Martineau was opposed by old school Unitarian biblicists, though they were to conk out under the pressure of biblical criticism. They turned into a 'keeping up the appearances' of being a Church, set against a broadening out of beliefs that subjectivity implies.

I have a further strategy. It's not a strategy at all. It is called honesty. Now any pastor has to have sensitivity towards the beliefs of the people in situ, and indeed as a preacher has a duty to represent them, but there is also a duty of honesty.

You change your view because you change your beliefs, not because you change strategy.

Why change strategy to stay in one particular institution? Why do this when that institution is ethically dubious? The suggested option is to say what you think, pay the price, and then do what others do and move to another Church (it could be tiny) or set up your own.

What is odd about Stephen Mitchell and his strategies is that they were not needed by him. Strategies are for those who want to appear to say something more acceptable than what they really want to say. Everyone knew what he thought, because he said so, as in the infamous BBC Heart of the Matter, after which he signed a paper for his bishop in order to demonstrate credal orthodoxy. Perhaps we don't know what he thinks. People change, after all. This ebook, unfortunately, is still from the early 1990s.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Interfaith Worship Service

Lucy Harris, a Unitarian, and member of the National Unitarian Fellowship, has produced, as a free .PDF download and as a cost price paperback (using Internet based self-publishing), a booklet of worship resources in one service that works as an interfaith gathering and is usable by non-professionals. She states:

This is a script for a simple, accessible form of worship ceremony that allows people of many faiths to share worship together. It combines the key elements of reconciliation, intercession, and approach to the divine. It is designed for use without a trained, qualified or officially recognised religious leader.

The material downloaded is reusable under creative commons copyright.

The Big Many

Can you keep a secret? I can. At Great Hucklow some months back we were told of past Lindsey Press publications released online. It would be announced to the General Assembly and then become available. Now it is available. Lindsey Press publications not currently in print are available in full and also scannable, with text [from Optical Character Reading] underlying the picture scan, so therefore practical. I see that the latest available are year 2000. A few of these I have on my own shelves, and some I am pleased to see some publications that I have wanted and never found. Some are hefty downloads, but no more than a piece of music uncompressed to go on to a CD.

I suggest downloading text is done in conjunction with a text editor like NoteTab Free. First set with CTRL+SHIFT+P for the pasteboard (automatic pasting when copying anything. I went to James Martineau Selections by Alfred Hall from 1950. I see that text comes off the .PDF with very many line breaks. So then, starting at its page 34 [.PDF page 18], I copied GOD EVERYWHERE PRESENT going across to page 36 and down to page 37. These automatically copied, much down the left hand side because of the line breaks. Then in NoteTab highlight all the text you want in one paragraph, and then it is CTRL+J to join the lines in each case. Initially line gaps may need closing; you might first want to insert page numbers for later referencing. I also made a clip that, once this lines joining and further compressing is done, removes added spaces, irregularities and makes all paragraphs regular. Once this is completed, the text is suitable for use in any essay or worship service. I note that the source text, to the right of each page/ column, is not scannable. So type that out, but also find out what it indicates for referencing. That early material scanned as H o w of Thought on Sacred Things, 2 vols. (" Hours ") [on page xii, .PDF page 7] and which should be Hours of Thought on Sacred Things, 2 vols. etc.. Referencing needs to be about the source book and its online source version as a .PDF file with its URL and own pagination and the date of acquisition.

The result of those actions, and no further editing, except for bracketed page numbers for what was above, follows (here indented):


It is thought incredible that a Being infinite as God should reveal himself through anything so small as the person of a man, or become in any way identified with one particular created soul. And so it would be, if his special presence with Christ involved his absence from any corner of the universe-if his light were fainter in other [page 34] minds for being so rich and full in Christ's-and he were less with remote worlds, for being more with ours. Whoever conceives that God in berson came and lived the human life, and so dwelt inAthe villages of Galilee and the courts o f ~erusalem, as to be in the least with-drawn from ~ h e s s a l ~ and Rome, from the planets or the Pleiades, has faith worthy of the Lycaonian peasants, who took Barnabas for jupiter and Paul for Mercury. The Infinite cannot become finite, the Eternal retire into time, the ocean of everlasting power turn into one of its own mountain streams. But what hinders a limited nature being filleh throughout and pervaded by the unlimited? a human soul from so absorbing the Divine spirit as to leave no room for any-thing of lower grade? In excluding all but himself from the spirit *of Christ, and permitting neither shade nor flaw G the clearness of his image there, God did not vacate any other medium of expression, or prejudice his living agency in any portion of space or thought. No star t-hroughout the firmament missed him the more, that he so pu;ely shone in that fair life. No sorrowing, heart cried to him in vain, because the angel of con-solation was watching in Gethsemane. No guilty will was left without his warning look, because he was in the desert, strengthening his holy one to triumph over temptation. It is not as though the grace and power of God were a quantity that could be used up. From not a place, not a moment, not a creature, did the divine tide ebb to make the flood that rose within the soul of Christ. Nay, were there not a sacred effluence abroad, there could be no concentration on a point. The lens which brings the sunbeams to a focus makes no darkness in the air; "and a mind which gathers into it the rays of holy love and goodness, not only leaves all else bright as [page 35] it was before, but shows of what a pure and brilliant essence the shadiest of visible humanities still have a share.

Thus the OCR scanning - it left out Hours II xv. - was not perfect (which, for reproducing, needs correcting to the image of the text), but not bad at all. I see that in some publications the image scanning is upside down in places, which just needs prior .PDF display correction. In Notetab you can set up gaps and markers between pasteboard copying, so it is best to copy off a .PDF paragraph by paragraph for easier reconstruction between line breaks later.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Larger Sermon from Easter Day Service

From the larger Sermon in my Easter Day Service. The Little Sermon was heard first.

A common feature of the appearances, and indeed in the developed tomb tradition in John [20, 11 - 18], is that Jesus is not recognised, that some theological point is made, often around the liturgical symbolism of food, and then Jesus is seen, after which he is gone. Here it was the fulfilment of the restoration of eternity in the Godhead. Once your eyes are opened, once you get it, he's gone, and you carry on looking ahead. Resurrection is not a story of ordinary continuance of one individual.

However, in order to have victory over death' many believers say this is the Jesus of the flesh who is resurrected, indeed he is the first of the resurrected. The world is material and bodily, and he stands at its apex. Instead of a dramatic device, they make it a history.

The stories, however, point more to the community: to its legitimacy, its means of authority, its central rituals: resurrection as a form of reaffirming by visitation; they indicate radical reordering of humanity in the Kingdom, of a once temporary early Church, where communities understood that there had been resurrection appearances and an ascension that said there would be no more of these, but there would be a rapid second coming. As time went on, and nothing dramatic happened, a more backward looking, and in the person of Jesus faith took hold, consistent with the escalation of titles given to the rabbi by early believers.

It is all liturgical first and last. The reason John's Gospel has the crucifixion a day earlier than the synoptic gospels is because it has Jesus going outside the city walls to be killed at the same time, 3 pm in the afternoon, when the Jewish priests in the Temple were killing the lambs for the Passover feast. He becomes the Lamb in a cosmic drama. And the gospels are their own liturgical theologies: John's gospel, the most advanced, has it all as a process of the completion and restoration of creation into the person of Jesus Christ himself. I think those of us of a critical eye have a right to recognise this, that is the clouding of the waters of what we call history.

To be honest, the resurrection is neither here nor there: as Mr. Sedman (who put up our sound system) said to me recently, "It is 2000 years old thinking."

Not much is achieved by getting behind the liturgy into history, if you can do it at all. We should start with our own liturgical communities anyway. Christian liturgical communities do claim continuance with those early communities that turned Jesus into a salvation figure, who focused increasingly on Jesus when Jesus had focused upon the actions of God. Now I don't think we do follow on in that resurrection liturgy. Like most Western people today, we habitually think differently, and after centuries of the Enlightenment and a subsequent technologising of ordinary thought, we have a different sociology of knowledge. Liturgies of atonement and resurrection and ascension are all miracle liturgies, connecting with food and bodies, but we think practically and about this worldly reasons and solutions: we make our culture and we evolve our biologies.

So my starting point is that we - we - are our memories and our biographies, in that, negatively, any damaged brain means the distortion or loss of personality and, with Alzheimers, means the removal of identity after the last memory flash, the final recognition, of who and what we are. Furthermore, death involves the immediate and rapid destruction of the brain: those who today, thinking technologically, arrange to be put in ice at their death in the hope that some future surgery can restore their brains and life simply do not realise the utter rapid destruction of the brain, dependent as it is on our biology.

Of course I don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus in the sense that the person who died had a continuous consciousness and memory restored afterwards in a restored body. The human being who died rotted rapidly, probably in some lime pit and gone forever, never to be identified by anyone and no body or tomb to visit. Though, I would suggest, this sort of speculation is fruitless.

Resurrection implies that the person is restored and restored into a condition of perfection. Now, actually, we don't really know what perfection is, though we might speculate that it involves an inner ethical condition. It must presumably mean personal fulfilment.

Resurrection also implies the restoration of the world - indeed the cosmos - into a condition of perfection, and therefore its fulfilment.

If who we are is so much the sum of our memories and consciousness of memories, how does this relate to the fulfilment of personality, and of the cosmos?

This all needs working out within time. Something like achieving perfection is not some given eternal, but something arrived at, if at all. It has to be in our lives, in our culture.

But time is something that varies out there objectively and is intimately connected with subjective experience. Subjective experiences of time do have objective reality. A person who travels faster will become younger than a person who travels slower; time does slow down for the traveller. Experiments have also shown that time actually does slow down for a person who is scared. It emphasises what is known in quantum physics, that the observer changes the result of external reality.

Time then is highly personal, with losses to the past and the building up of memory, and an orientation to the future to come. And resurrection points to the future. In the Christian myth, the resurrection is a time of beginning, among only a few: it is not, for example, the birth of the Church. It is more the foundations. It looks forward and little happens.

And isn't then resurrection not about measuring time, but a moment of time inverted, where something of a profound moment is every moment, where inverted time is like eternal time? Yes there is then the future to build, and hopefully built on the basis of that eternity in a moment of realised fulfilment, one that is, and yet is yet to be.

So we as individuals, and as a reinterpreting group, are involved in worship that means, in a sense, some reorientation of the self towards asking about any fulfilment of ourselves and the world. We have our own, derived, liturgical outlook.

Here is a problem of our time and thought. Resurrection as a notion defeats the law of entropy - that compulsory physics of all moving towards decay; properly, the dispersal of energy so that it can do no work, and we know that energy and material are bound together. There is to be no restoration, only a long long ending.

How about, then, fulfilment, as being something like that moment of having a good meal, or having a refreshing drink of water? How about joy being a deep, quality of experience, rather than just a surface laugh? It is the difference, is it not, between gift and exchange. Gift is profound and exchange is ordinary if necessary. How about bringing in the notion of God here, something of the depth of things in culture, in communication, in moments, to be realised liturgically?

I maintain that there was no extension of Jesus's holy contract, and no defeat of his biology, and that this is all a red herring anyway: but that here we have acquired, in a tradition, and beyond, thanks to "2000 years old thinking", the means for some profound reflection, about how our individual biographies, and our collective language capabilities, weave stories of meaning and profound moments: interweaving these with what we know about physics and biology when asking questions about fulfilment and perfection and consciousness.

Think of it like this. Perfection isn't about being perfect: it is something to be found within the most damaged of human beings, indeed the humblest of any creature. Consciousness comes in degrees, but we look for something more within that miracle of being, the profundity of being itself, being that becomes Being with a capital B.

Despite everything, despite all suffering, it is the ability to see what is special, what is worthwhile, was and is and will be all wrapped up together. In a world that distorts and trivialises, and practises evils of all kinds, finding that point of fulfilment is its own restoration, for looking back, in the present and for building a future. The present moment, or who and what we are, of our already perfection, becomes an eternal moment, in the affirmative, something that the liturgy at this time of year confirms.

Little Sermon from Easter Service

A Thought about Jesus's Divinity (Or Otherwise)

From my Easter Sunday service

Whilst the Trinity is an argument that has never convinced, I have never been wholly convinced by those who follow Jesus and yet say also he had either no divinity or none inherently different from the rest of us.

Let's base this on the historical Jesus, the one who preached, taught and healed towards a last day fulfilment of Israel where he was an agent of change to prompt God to bring this about, for him either to be transformed into the Messiah coming from clouds of glory, or someone or something else.

My method of examining divinity would be by thinking of the Avon Lady at the front door. She says, "Avon calling!"

Now, the question is, is Avon calling? Now it might be that she is self-employed on contract, or even fully employed (still a contract of course, and of course self-employment is a form of contractual employment).

The point is, she is not really Avon is she, but just, at best, an employee. An employee, or rather the job they fill, can be made redundant. So perhaps the job is 'Avon', even if the person isn't.

Yet the person employed often says "we" when referring to the firm. And you find that in modern capitalism, there is the divide between owner and employee. Even the managing director is an employee. Anyone, employee or otherwise, can be a shareholder, or owner. And who is a business or a firm, if it is not the employees involved? And the shareholder of Avon doesn't greet you saying, "Avon calling," but the employee does.

So when employed, we become representative, and in that contract of employment we take on the role of the job. Indeed we embody that role. So in this sense, when Avon comes calling, and the person at the door opens the catalogue, they are that catalogue too. Or to put it another way, the man or woman who comes to the front door, to sell brushes, is in one very important sense also a brush him or herself.

So when Jesus identified himself with the equivalent of a make-up firm, he became a "we" with the make-up firm, becoming its role and identity, because he was its agent.

This is consistent with a Reformation-style Arianism, not necessarily that Jesus Christ was God's first creation in order to create all else - in the beginning was the Word - but an Arianism that gives a special divinity of connection and association to this Jesus close to God. St Paul's view of Jesus as God's sole worker, as the agent of salvation - not trinitarian at all - is nevertheless not wholly unitarian. It did allow, however, a rapid escalation of titles given to Jesus by followers towards the trinitarian.

So I am suggesting that, just as the Avon lady is indeed to some extent Avon calling, so the follower of Jesus is saying Jesus is, to some strong extent, God calling.

Only when you say, as I do, that you are not a follower of Jesus, do you reject the identification, but even then to claim to be an agent of God, and him submitting to God in his desire to restore Israel, he stands as that agent of "we" about God and himself. Of course he was mistaken: it didn't happen, this fulfilment of Israel, and he might have assumed too much regarding a contract of employment.

Unless, of course, there was a change of mind by God, in whatever was his contract of employment, or original self-employment, or even voluntary work, and some sort of resurrection of terms and conditions took place. This would be that, although the authorities decided he should be denied even a pension, God decided to honour and extend the existing contract of employment.

Easter Service

So here is my Easter service, and the complete version including the hymns this time. It can also be accessed through my website at the Spiritual - Unitarian page. Actually my own print out is without the hymns (I like to save ink) and a few minor errors are corrected here. It is a .PDF file, so you might need a program like the free PDF X-Change to see it (and to write anything over it that takes your fancy). The text reflects in part the use of the sound system for hymns and music. There is a special running order paper (not included), because if I present the service I don't also do the music and the other chap who does the music doesn't do as much as me.

As ever, anyone can use anything allowed. If it doesn't say someone else authored it, then I did. I partly used a 1917 liturgy made modern to my preferences, and I made the rest up myself. In other words it is not only my structure, but much of it is my own material.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Drawing Pair

Two of us are now drawing blogging and religious characters...

I am not one for pushing the 'blogging community' thing. I know there is one, and I have a good idea of the people who read this blog, though it clearly turns out to be far more people than I had thought. On this point, please cease commenting about Tia Douglass and associated persons - all has been said both ways and there is no more to add. I did just let a reasonable one through, but another I've stopped; so the best thing is to stop them from now on.

Via Facebook and a limited number of blogs there is a kind of inner circle of 'virtual relationships' and not all are of an overlapping religious persuasion. One that clearly is, by her own consistent writing, is Lesley Fellows. She produces so much material, daily, that the extent of the overlap is quite clear. I've spent half a lifetime 'reading between the lines' on preachers and the like saying one thing and meaning another, closer to my outlook in meaning, but Lesley doesn't leave much detective work. She still thinks I can be, well, "not quite menacing" with my comments to her material. I only wrote much of her material once, about a place where women ruled Catholic-Esoteric Churches, and this was after a request for suggestions.

Nevertheless, not quite menacing or not, there continues to be virtual contact down different wires, and one of these has been on the subject of drawing. I cartoon people, so I go for a likeness and try to suggest something additional through that effort. It was actually during a one to one text contact that Lesley ordered her graphics pad, and thus she can draw direct to the computer screen and in colour. We both use the same My Paint program - at the moment I think I smudge my colours a lot more, and the detail just goes on top. She is using it still more like a person does on a pad with a pencil or even colours on a painting. I've suggested some cheats that both assist and hold back, and also method. And now she has produced her first full drawing (of Anita). To appreciate it you have to download it from Facebook to get the finishing size. When on a blog it is best to click on the picture and then, when on its own, to Save As to the computer.

In the end the best use is to draw and let the drawing area expand outwards as it does with My Paint. The problem is that it always does, so at the final stages it keeps having to be cropped back. I do that with Irfan View and with MS Paint, using the .PNG solid background (no compression). I can even fiddle with Irfan View. One of the cheats, especially for learning a face, or when accuracy is paramount, is to use line detection on Irfan View, so it gives outlines to follow from a photograph. A lot of erasing may be needed, or smudging. The bigger the original the better, but it is difficult to keep an overall view (Irfan View does this).

It is best to get away from line detection, because going for features gets the character in a different and more sweeping pattern. I may do this with the photo occupying the left side of the screen and a section of the 'canvas' occupying the right side. Once a drawing is on its way, I use a lot of soft filling colours and smudge again and again. Detail comes back later. The use of E and erasing allows highlighting, with different qualities for each brush. Holding the pen clicker allows the picture to be moved around. It is a very intense use of the screen. Some 'nature' impersonating brushes are actually good for clothing - put them on and do a large brush (use F a few times) sweep of a smudge, and you get a quick way of adding texture. The charcoal is good for a final skin layer, including whiskers, and maybe a quick smudge for women.

Lesley added a picture made from dots (like in old newspapers) or her in the 1990s. Because it looked very different from others, I did do an edge detection for the face after softening and greying the image. But then I left it and went to a more recent photo to make sure it was 'her'. It looked from the hair and a strap that it was after swimming, so I made that assumption as I carried on drawing. The result is here, above. So far I have two virtual models I've done again and again, and that's Lesley (nineteen, before variations - where one picture has produced another with slight changes using it) and Rachel (eight).

Liturgical Elements for Sunday

I'm writing the service for Sunday, and this means doing everything. Although the following is inspired and modelled on other sources, they are written by me, unless stated otherwise.

Chalice Lighting

From the stars we come
And little stars we make:
Here is our Easter flame
Burning and bright
Brightest in the darkness
Indeed, removing the darkness,
A glow to radiate light and love
Back across the universe.

Light the chalice

Some words from Langston Hughes, followed by a brief piece of related music.

In time of silver rain
The earth
Puts forth new life again,
Green grasses grow
And flowers lift their heads,
And over all the plain
The wonder spreads
Of life,
Of life,
Of life!

In time of silver rain
The butterflies
Lift silken wings
To catch a rainbow cry,
And trees put forth
New leaves to sing
In joy beneath the sky
As down the roadway
Passing boys and girls
Go singing, too,
In time of silver rain
When spring
And life
Are new.

Music short: In Time of Silver Rain [produced via Musescore from Singing the Living Tradition 060, Boston: Beacon Press]

Except when a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but, if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.

As the earth brings forth her bud, and the garden causes the things sown in it to spring forth, so will come righteousness and praise to come among all peoples and nations.

The souls of the righteous are in good hands, and so shall no evil touch them any more. So when this mortal shall have put on the memory of immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.


All and everyone, with hearts and minds open to the lessons of this season, when all of nature prophesies to humankind, let us rejoice in that Christian and Pagan gospel which interprets the prophecy of nature, and celebrate with gladness the triumph of life not death, of Spiritual continuance through all outward change. Let us answer the manifold lessons around us with newness of life in ourselves, that so, casting off the works of darkness to put on the armour of light, and led by the hope that is full of ethical immortality, we may press forward in glad and faithful service unto that world in which there is fulness of joy and life.

Infinite and gracious God, who gathers life and immortality into Being itself, we would draw near to you in grateful love - as giving the fountain of our individual beings. Apart from Being there is no life and only from Being comes death. You send forth your breath, the earth awakens, and all nature's voices lift up their responses. Send your Spirit into our hearts, that we also may praise with joyful lips, and all that is within us bless the holy name. On this day which testifies of the memory of the soul to outlast the changes of earth, and to rise victorious over the bondage of the end, may such immortal being hear the call and feel its meaning. Help us, we pray, to rise from the death of sin, in the likeness and might of him who assures us, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life: I live and you shall also live.'

To the Name above all names, we are gathered in place here with sorrow for what we have done that we should not have done, and for having not done what we should have done. Each week we are clumsy and may even be deliberate, and here is an opportunity by which we can say sorry.

And we are thankful for what has been so beneficial, those small and larger events that visit us and bring forth a smile and warm glow within. How often do we see a pleasant serendipity in what takes place, either to others or ourselves? There is much to be grateful for.

And in this spirit of both sorrow and thankfulness, we can give praise for life, and for the very life of life, as it rests in Being itself, and so here, gathered in this place, we give praise for what is, in the end, good. We say Yes; we indeed say Yes to life.

I presume Celia Midgley wrote this poem after visiting the ex-Todmorden Unitarian Church. She calls it: On Going Back to my Home Church, Now a Heritage Centre.

Time spent on the dead is not time wasted.
Time spent is not time thrown away.
The past is key to our own birth and living,
the key to our own living and rebirth.

An empty church is not a church unpeopled.
An empty church is not a church unloved.
Its door unlocked resounds down ailes of memory,
echoing steps to an altar stone of hope.

The stout unjudging pillars part a welcome.
Marble-cool they stroke this fevered head.
Tears in the angeled font wash children's faces
and Jesus bids me shine like yesterday.

A pilgrimage is not to make an ending.
A pilgrimage is not to bury the past,
but seek it, meet it, know it and accept it
and grateful cherish every love and loss.

Give us the grace to receive our nurturers,
builders and teachers who helped find our song.
Give us to love the place and our beginnings,
always and ever the same for going back.

Easter Reflection

We praise our universe and magnify our small place in with it. Galaxies and solar systems are full of majesty and glory.

Blessed be this expanse for ever, for it has placed and made its conscious people.

Within it we know our low estate, and we are tellers of our stories from old.

We have been in darkness and the shadow of death, and the light of greater knowledge has been hidden.

When the earth so changed to become the abode of humanity, we must portion our days with wisdom and mercy.

This earth is in our hands for our years, and our record bears witness.

Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.

We shall not die, but live now, and declare the evolved as our home.

Sing, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth; for the former things have passed away, and all things have become new.

The ideal person has climbed no heights, nor is made perfect through character building.

In suffering humanity can the fulness of the Spirit dwell; and of this fulness we may all partake.

Christ lightness is Christ likeness, not exclusively but received universally.

Here we locate the world, bearing witness to the truth.

And every one that is of the truth hears a similar voice.

Perhaps it needs faithfulness unto death, even that handed out by those who know not what they do.

This way one can receive the crown of the eternal moment.

We are no more strangers and exiles, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of Being itself.

In humanity there is but one family, there and here; one living communion of the seen and unseen.

Not long will we be tested: shall we seek the being of Being in these courts below; and such will respond to these our faltering lips.

Our forebears have been called to higher praise, and gathered to their parents must all children be.

We therefore pray that our humanity continues in this pattern.

May it be numbered with the saints in glory ever forward.

Let the dead and living praise their situation, above and below; indeed let all the generations give thanks.

Let the humanity be glorified to rise up to dwell with highest Being in the heavens.

Blessed be the One cause and end who underlines the victory.

And within whose Spirit we can become the people of God.

Blessed be the dawn of this ongoing light.

The soul does not stay within the grave: the soul is the path of life.

That life, this presence, is fullness and joy; at its heart are joys and pleasures for the moment we call eternity.


The heartbeat of the churches and synagogues, mosques, temples and gurdwaras are all around us.
And we are but a few of the beating hearts.
We pray for people of faith
That they may come to see the way ahead,
Enduring with trust the attachments of suffering,
Taking the bypass or going through it,
Seeking the better way and freeing themselves -
To build a future of victory of life over death.

We pray for the world, and especially for peace,
For today many are caught up in conflict.
All they want is representation and self-determination
But the powers would crucify them.
Many seek and have found the better way:
The peaceful way that is a firmer foundation for the future.
Let those in rough circumstances, and trapped,
Find resolution soon at least.

We pray for those we know who are sick and who may drink from the well of life...

We think, as Celia did, of those who have been here before, that an empty church is not empty.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Five Unitarian Hymns for Easter

I have chosen these hymns for my service on Easter Sunday. They are all from the 2010 book, Sing Your Faith.

SF 105 Easter Hymn
SF 002 Was Gott Thrut choir
SF 044 Sine Nomine choir
SF 076 I Saw Thee Ships write alt
SF 172 Donne Secours write alt

SF 105 Easter Hymn [Nature Shouts from Earth and Sky]

Nature shouts from earth and sky, Alleluia!
In the spring our spirits fly, Alleluia!
Join the resurrection cry, Alleluia!
Love is God and fears must die, Alleluia!

Mary's son, Christ Jesus, died, Alleluia!
Killed by humans full of pride, Alleluia!
Such a loss of such a friend, Alleluia!
Yet the cross was not the end, Alleluia!

Out of death his spirit sings, Alleluia!
Love to all the earth he brings, Alleluia!
Telling nations, war must cease, Alleluia!
Sisters, brothers, join in peace, Alleluia!

Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Alleluia!
All are ways for love in you, Alleluia!
Many rainbows share one sun, Alleluia!
In the many, God is one, Alleluia!
Richard Boeke

SF 002 Was Gott Thrut choir [A Promise Through the Ages Rings]

A promise through the ages rings,
That always, always, something sings.
Not just in May, in finch-filled bower,
But in December's coldest hour,
A note of hope sustains us all.

A life is made of many things:
Bright stars, bleak years, and broken rings.
Can it be true that through all things,
There always, always something sings?
The universal song of life.

Entombed within our deep despair,
Our pain seems more than we can bear;
But days shall pass and nature knows
that deep beneath the winter snow
A rose lies curled and hums its song.

For something always, always sings.
This is the message Easter brings:
From deep despair and perished things
A green shoot always, always springs,
And something always, always sings.

Alicia S. Carpenter

SF 044 Sine Nomine [Give Thanks for Life]

Give thanks for life, the measure of our days,
Mortal, we pass through beauty that decays,
Yet sing to god our hope, our love, our praise:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Give thanks for those whose lives shone with a light
Caught from the Christ-flame, gleaming through the night,
Who touched the truth, who burned for what is right:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Give thanks for all, our living and our dead,
Thanks for the love by which our life is fed,
A love not changed by time or death or dread:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Give thanks for hope that like a seed of grain
Lying in darkness, does its life retain
To rise in glory, growing green again:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Shirley Erena Murray; (C) 1987 Hope Publishing Company Carol Stream

SF 076 I Saw Thee Ships [In Spring I saw the Easter Tree]

In spring I saw the Easter tree,
The Easter tree, the Easter tree;
In spring I saw the Easter tree,
The fairest gift in the garden.

'Twas tall and broad and fine to see,
And fine to see, and fine to see;
'Twas tall and broad and fine to see,
The fairest tree in the garden.

The tree it was an evergreen,
An evergreen, an evergreen;
The tree it was an evergreen,
The fairest tree in the garden.

Its fruit did taste of pure delight,
Of pure delight, of pure delight,
Its fruit did taste of pure delight,
The fairest tree in the garden.

And of that fruit all may partake,
All may partake, all may partake;
And of that fruit all may partake,
The fairest tree in the garden.

Francis Simons

SF 172 Donne Secours write alt [This is the Truth that Passes Understanding]

This is the truth that passes understanding,
This is the joy to all forever free,
Life springs from death and shatters ev'ry fetter,
And winter turns to spring eternally.

Robert Terry Weston

Monday, 18 April 2011

Answers to Those Twenty Questions

Robert Brenchley of Birmingham decided to answer my twenty questions like this:

1. Can you give a brief outline of your understanding the main points of the history of Unitarianism/ your Church [by 'Church' is meant denomination]?

Methodism began in the mid-18th Century, as a religious society within the C of E. Grassroots movements were springing up everywhere, as the social upheavals associated with agricultural reform and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution created a new underclass, and left many of them beyond the reach of the Established Church. John Wesley brought many of these together, and provided them with a new theology. At the same time, he was something of a dictator, and left a top-down organisation which fell apart in short order, over petty controversies about holding camp meetings, installing an organ in a church, and the like. Separation with the Anglicans came shortly after his death - made inevitable by his ordination of minsters to send to America - and one denomination soon became a dozen. Over time, most of them have either disappeared or united into the Methodist Church we have in Britain today.

2. What is your own biography relevant to intersecting with the Church?

My mother was brought up as a Presbyterian, but went to an Anglican church in Oxford. I was sent to the Sunday School there when I was four, got bullied, couldn't get anyone to do anything about it, and after a couple of years I got out of it by announcing that I didn't believe in God. I remained an atheist for about twenty years, but eventually drifted into belief of a sort; traditional religion has never worked for me, possibly because I avoided being brainwashed in Sunday School. It bored me from what I remember; I was told lots of stories about some fellow called Jesus doing things that even at that age I knew didn't really happen.

I joined the Methodist church in the village, as there was no other, and I wasn't going to the next village to go to church. Once I was in the church I wanted to get involved, but it was cliquey, dominated by a bunch of old ladies who had to have things their way, the way it was when they were young. After a lot of hesitations I trained as a Local Preacher. That gave me a little basic theological education, which I wanted to take further. There wasn't much opportunity for that in Cornwall, so I moved to Birmingham and studied here, and in Sheffield.

I got married, to an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone. People sometimes get quite worried because she's a devout Muslim, but it's one of the things we've never had a row over. It's all the same God, so why would we fall out over it? We threw the rulebook out of the window, had a church wedding, and I carried on studying. After a couple of years of jumping through hoops, we got Namissa's status sorted, and clearance to bring the girls. Ten days later they were caught up in the fighting after a coup, which had been organised by someone we knew, who lived round the corner in Birmingham while he was in exile.

Kumbi, then aged 11, arrived a couple of days later, having been evacuated by the US navy; she was badly traumatised, but she's recovered enough to be training as a mental health nurse. Mina, aged five, arrived three months later, after being taken over the border to Conakry and flown out from there. She's now doing a psychology degree. Namissa is now a Mental Health Social Worker.

I've now been a Local Preacher for almost twenty-five years, I'm a Church Steward, Property Steward and Circuit Steward, so I do far too much.

3. How would you describe its theological spread now?

Incoherently Arminian, with everything from fundamentalists to extreme liberals.

4. Where do you fit regarding its theological spread now?

At the liberal end, though I'm more of a Universalist than an Arminian these days.

5. How does the church you attend fit in with the span of belief of your Church?

We're a mixed bag, with members from three continents. We've got evangelicals and liberals, but we don't quarrel about it.

6. Would a different church relate better to you as an individual?

Probably not.

7. How do you benefit socially from being involved with the Church?

It was the only contact I had when I arrived in Birmingham. I've got some very good friends there.

8. What is your Church's 'gospel', do you think?

That God cares about people, and all their needs. Our main outreach is a charity shop which is run by some of the ladies.

9. How would you describe 'faith' and 'salvation'?

I think faith is about having confidence in God to sort things out and rescue us from the mess we've got into. Salvation is a process which starts from where we are, and makes us more like God. It begins with forgiveness, but that's only the first step.

10. How does the Church in its structures and congregations relate to diversity and equality?

Most congregations these days mirror the ethnic makeup of their areas; black people tend to be comfortable with white, but some white people will avoid a church with a lot of black people, especially if they're running things. Some long-established white people still expect to have the last word, and this causes problems at times. My church is 80% black, and we've only got the odd couple of people who haven't really understood that the 'difference' is just a bit of pigment.

11. What can be done to halt decline and develop growth, either structurally or by individual actions?

I've known a lot of people who've left churches, and it always seems to boil down to our failures as a community. Either churches are openly exclusive, and people are pushed out for not toeing the party line in some way, or they're run by cliques who ignore or disrespect others. If we can find ways to be genuinely inclusive and democratic, I think we can turn things round. Trouble is, nobody's addressing the problem. Methodism's been losing members since the mid 19th Century, and there's never been any real enquiry into the reasons that I can discover.

12. How does Unitarianism/ the faith affect daily decision making?

Not consciously, but I think I've internalised it. If I've got ethical objections to something - which tend to be faith-based - I feel extremely uncomfortable in I go and do it. I'm not at all traditional in what I object to though.

13. What sorts of things do Unitarians/ people of the Church say or assume that you disagree with particularly?

That 'Every word of the bible is literally true', or endless subtler variations. They really believe they believe it too, even when they're manipulating texts to make them say something very different from what's there in black and white!

14. How do you regard any of these: Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Passover, Diwali, Buddha's Enlightenment, Ramadan/ Eid, Samain? Do any other celebrations impact?

Christmas is a much needed break during the long winter; Jesus probably wasn't born then, but I don't think it's coincidence that it falls on Dies Natalis Invictus, the birthday of the Unconquerable Sun. Constantine I, the fellow who definitively legalised Christianity in the Roman Empire, was a sun worshipper who ordered people not to work on 'the venerable day of the Sun', and continued to mint coins by the million celebrating Sol Invictus as his 'companion' for years after his supposed conversion.

Easter is more meaningful; at least there's a good chance Jesus really was crucified then. You've really got to celebrate the Resurrection. I don't mark Passover, but Easter is effectively a Christian reworking of it. Ramadan's significant since my wife is rather strict about observing it. We don't do much for either of the Eids.

15. What connections have you had/ do you have with people of different religions? What would you like?

I married one.

16. Are there any customs or beliefs you particularly dislike and reject?

Not customs. There are longstanding practices I deplore, particularly 'nominating' a person to office. Effectively, it's a single-candidate rubber-stamp 'election'. Office holders get to select the appointee, leading to networks of self-perpetuating power cliques which are rarely challenged.

17. Is this approach to faith too easy or too difficult to follow (or something of both)?

Like most churches, we do have a tendency towards cheap grace. We need to change the culture, and make the church a lot more participatory.

18. Does your approach to faith clash with science and/ or social science?

Not in the least. I'm qualified in both Geology and Theology, and worked in mental health for many years. I've never found any serious clash.

19. Is there any sense in which the Church's approach to faith is counter-cultural and subversive, or is it just culturally subservient?

It tends strongly towards the subservient, to the point where it's hard to find trends within the church which don't mirror some aspect of the wider culture.

20. What might cause you to leave the Church (and either move to another, or stop religious practice altogether) and, at present, is this at all likely to happen?

It's highly unlikely to happen. I'd leave a strongly evangelical church, but that's not our style, and even then, I wouldn't leave the church altogether.

Sunday, 17 April 2011


The service today by Stephen ignored Palm Sunday and instead discussed the experience for children and adults of going to Hucklow Junior Weekend, where children scattered about the country meet up and enjoy a few nights away. I can't understand why people from this side of the Pennines travel there through Sheffield, first going with "Sat Nag" Mel, said Stephen, and another time with a Sat Nav that directed through narrow roads after the grind of the city. I go straight down the M1, up the A617 dual carriageway, it is one road through Chesterfield andout, up the hill, and down, and up, and turn right for Foolow and Hucklow. One hour and 50 minutes all the way from Hull.

Despite messing about today, humoured into doing another cartoon and on to Facebook, I am going to lay off the frequency of blogging because I am doing the Easter Sunday service. Er, yes, and no I don't believe in the resurrection: not in any Jesus sense. I did do a practice sermon a while back, but this may well change. We Unitarian folk write the whole service out. I don't even like using other people's prayers, except as guides for rewriting. What I might do, though, is post bits as I go along.

Meanwhile there is a potentially exciting development taking place, behind the scenes at the moment, which might have more potential than a simple 'interfaith' or (to use a phrase) 'cross-denomination' service later in the year. I am saying nothing at large yet, but this will be a publicity-drawing thing (on both sides I don't doubt) and may even have longer term relationship consequences and could contribute to development on both sides. This will therefore be something itself of some preparation, later in the year. It may also get to involve more than one Unitarian congregation.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

More of those Pro-Covenant Articles

Geoffrey Rowell, the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, has come up with a new phrase, "the internet of the Holy Spirit".

He uses this to justify having the Anglican Communion Covenant.

That's one bad metaphor! After all, what is the Internet other than millions of individual and autonomous users interacting and building virtual communities through such individual actions?

To have the equivalent of the Anglican Covenant then would be to say, "Oy you can't say that, not until Freddy in Nigeria agrees." Imagine that killing the organic Internet. It would kill both its freedom and its creativity.

The the "belonging togetherness" of the Internet comes from the users each making their own contacts, that many are similar in what they are doing, but also in different places and settings, and the difference leads to debate.

He puts this: cannot avoid the question of what happens if one particular province wants to press ahead with an action that does not have the catholic consent of the communion - it is inescapable that there has to be first a process of dialogue, and then if the matter cannot be resolved, consequences.

But the consequences always fall upon the innovator. Apply that to the Internet and we would never have had even the Internet or the World Wide Web (the latter invented by the Unitarian Univeralist, Time Berners Lee).

A week earlier, on the same website (a common link from Thinking Anglicans), Paul Avis wrote:

Ultimately, then, the future of the Anglican Communion is not a political matter, but a spiritual issue. I believe we should consider the Covenant in that light.

The problem is that it is shot through with politics. Its very presentation, and its ramroading through with biased documents, is all to do with bureaucracy and politics.

The notion that the Covenant will bring back Churches already splitting off is simply out of date. They won't 'come back' unless there is a punitive element to the Covenant, and it is inadequate for them. However, the subdividing still consequent of the Covenant (a sort of conversation over a created fence) builds a formal division into the Communion that may not be there, in other words adding to the divisions, the 'outsiders' being the social includers rather than the excluders who, bizarrely, have put themselves outside already.

Answering My Own Questions

For the questions, see the previous blog entry.

  1. The Church has Presbyterian Puritan origins, without setting up Presbyteries as a result of persecution and wish to return to the Established Church. With confidence in the Bible alone, without creeds and Church, the Calvinists (who did reason their Bibles) liberalised to Arminianism, and carried on liberalising, until the liberal biblical ideologues took over, and then biblical criticism and romanticism created a denomination of personal authority, one that had evolved its belief over time.
  2. Meeting in a Bahai group and mixing with Christians I was confirmed at University and moved to a rural parish. The Bahais used the Unitarian building and I went there to ask controversial questions. Seeing a wall notice I looked them up, and gradually transferred my attendance and ministry seeking to the liberal group.
  3. Its theological spread is liberal Christian, religious humanist, neo-Pagan and Eastern, with a range from rational to spiritual-romantic.
  4. I am basically a user of Christian language to arrive at religious humanism. I am not a Christian by any usual measure.
  5. I'd describe the congregation I attend as easy going and non-doctrinal, tending to the religious humanist but easily absorbs the range of preachers.
  6. I would prefer one of the more definitely radical congregations as in London.
  7. It does expand the number of people I meet each week.
  8. The Gospel is that of difference coming together, something society has to learn. No one needs to think alike to love alike, as Transylvanian Reformation founder Francis David pointed out.
  9. Faith means trust and salvation is arrival at a clarity of mind as to one's pathway.
  10. The Church has no barriers regarding sex or sexuality in ministry, and it wishes to carry out same sex unions with religious liberty.
  11. Much of the decline and growth depends on the capacity of other Churches to contain its liberals. If they can, Unitarianism struggles, if they can't, it will benefit. I do think more people will come over as the tendency elsewhere is towards the evangelical.
  12. I try to tolerate others and do good if I can; also if representing Unitarians (e.g. with the sound system installation) then I am a representative of its values.
  13. On a theological point I find it odd that some people may regard Jesus as somehow superior when they don't grant him any divinity: they simply don't have the information and you have to do it as doctrine. The effect then narrows the expression of the Churches. There is a contradiction of power and identity going to the congregation when every single one should represent the span of the movement. The Church should change to fit the people, not the people change to fit the Church.
  14. Christmas I find tedious, and the pointless carols cause me to run out of breath: I'd rather skip it all or do Hannukah or Diwali or simply the Winter Solstice. Easter is just the new life we seek, both naturally and within ourselves.
  15. I've met Bahai's and Western and Tibetan Buddhists. I think the interfatih contact is an important part of Unitarian religious life.
  16. I don't believe in reincarnation or resurrection, I don't like laws based on religions.
  17. On the one hand Unitarianism is too easy - individualism becomes a licence to your own bigotry, but then a faith of questioning is difficult and you have to work at its continuing construction.
  18. My approach to faith completely incorporates science and social science.
  19. Unitarianism is pro-culture, in that it is fully modernist and has struggles to accept postmodernism, but the claim for liberty undermines religious privilege of which there is still too much - seen in the increasing clash between social ethics and conserving Christianity. Unitarianism challenges common attitudes that are nationalist and non-inclusive.
  20. If Unitarianism was just another form of Christianity then I might as well be a dissident in another denomination. It needs to include Christianity in its debate (I do) but must be broader based. I still dislike the General Assembly Object, and those who thought it might help give identity were simply wrong - it is misleading and is anti-inclusive and its redundancy is no reason not to bother with it. That's how factional politics becomes destructive and contradictory.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Short Wait

These would be and indeed are my questions. The comments won't allow the length of answers required, though anyone might want to comment on only one or two. They are relevant to Unitarians but extendible. Anyone who sends a (sensible) full set of answers to me by email will get them published, and I will provide my own answers shortly.

  1. Can you give a brief outline of your understanding the main points of the history of Unitarianism/ your Church [by 'Church' is meant denomination]?
  2. What is your own biography relevant to intersecting with the Church?
  3. How would you describe its theological spread now?
  4. Where do you fit regarding its theological spread now?
  5. How does the church you attend fit in with the span of belief of your Church?
  6. Would a different church relate better to you as an individual?
  7. How do you benefit socially from being involved with the Church?
  8. What is your Church's 'gospel', do you think?
  9. How would you describe 'faith' and 'salvation'?
  10. How does the Church in its structures and congregations relate to diversity and equality?
  11. What can be done to halt decline and develop growth, either structurally or by individual actions?
  12. How does Unitarianism/ the faith affect daily decision making?
  13. What sorts of things do Unitarians/ people of the Church say or assume that you disagree with particularly?
  14. How do you regard any of these: Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Passover, Diwali, Buddha's Enlightenment, Ramadan/ Eid, Samain? Do any other celebrations impact?
  15. What connections have you had/ do you have with people of different religions? What would you like?
  16. Are there any customs or beliefs you particularly dislike and reject?
  17. Is this approach to faith too easy or too difficult to follow (or something of both)?
  18. Does your approach to faith clash with science and/ or social science?
  19. Is there any sense in which the Church's approach to faith is counter-cultural and subversive, or is it just culturally subservient?
  20. What might cause you to leave the Church (and either move to another, or stop religious practice altogether) and, at present, is this at all likely to happen?

Long Wait

Louise Rogers and I have both contributed to Debra's set questions on religion to outsiders. Both will appear in October, which seems a very long way off. Naturally we have exchanged notes, but given the author of the blog asked the questions we shall not reveal further. Suffice it to say, both are clearly within the Unitarian orbit, but Louise tends to be a bit more organisation focused than me. Perhaps I'll set up some questions of our own, and we can answer them, and post them, more specific to the way we fit into the denomination and for 'low liberals' and how we understand this setting. It may be able to relate to other settings, but perhaps a bit of ethnographic religion (inner insight) should be more revealing.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Four It Is

Well, all I can say is that at least I have done one drawing where the person doesn't look older than their age, and this is because I would not have guessed Mhoira Lauer-Patterson is 71 either.

She studied six years relevant to being an architect and four years full time relevant to being a priest. And, interestingly, the Yorkshire Post article says that Mhoira is becoming the fourth woman bishop in this country. So four it is.

With Mhoira near York and me in Hull I would hope to meet sometime fairly soon.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

AV or Not AV

The main argument against the Alternative Vote for General Elections, I take it, is this: that on a second round of counting, the voters who voted for the least popular candidate have a second preference added, and one with the same weight as all other votes. So everyone voted gets counted once, and some people get counted twice. The danger is the extremist vote, that someone voting for the racist BNP might on elimination have their second preference, say for the nationalist United Kingdom Independence Party, counted. It may be that UKIP votes never stack up high enough, but it is the extremists who may tip the balance on who gets through the winning post first.

This is really an important criticism, and it is why I am not swift to the Yes box. But I will on balance, so far, vote yes. The minority votes are really quite small, and it isn't certain where they will put second preferences, nor should they tip the balance.

Very often I want to vote a large percentage for one candidate and a lesser percentage for another. And although my second vote may not get counted, it also may be counted, or (and this matters) in marginal situations is more likely to be counted. That's important.

At present people often vote for their least worst candidate in constituencies that have some marginality to them, and many don't bother because a candidate has such a large majority. Although tactical voting is possible under AV, it is very difficult to have enough information to do it successfully, and therefore AV voting is more likely to be as people want - first preferences first, second second and so on. The problem is they are not all counted.

Ideally each constituency should have weight according to the number of candidates, and you vote say 10, 9, 8 by weighting (or this can be done by tellers) should there be 10 candidates. Then ALL votes are counted by such weighting, and the candidate with the biggest score wins. AV is a practical compromise to this.

I do think that AV is a means to further electoral reform.

Meanwhile I'd like to give Nick Clegg a thump in the electoral nose. He has clearly 'gone native' with the Tories, and when I voted Liberal Democrat I, like many, did so because I did not want Tory policies. There may have to be cuts, but we need economic growth, and just talking about economic growth in manufacturing does not bring it about. They are now smashing the economy into a brick wall, the result of which will be rapid decline. There is no rule of 'taking up the slack'. At this end of the economic cycle there has to be government led investment (not tax cuts) in order to get activity going. I am more in agreement with Labour policy on this, even if they would still have to be clearly tackling the deficit.

Also it is clear that the Liberal Democrats had a free university education policy that they had already decided they would dump in any negotiations, and this while Nick Clegg was dropping litter in election broadcasts about others not keeping their promises. In other words, he was bare faced lying to get votes and for this the Liberal Democrats are going to pay a most heavy price. He must step down before the next election and even then the Liberal Democrats will be taught a lesson.

However, I'll wait for the General Election for that, and hope it comes sooner than later. But I have long been in favour of electoral reform and responsiveness to the vote, and this is why I shall (just about) vote yes.

Magical and Supernatural

We all like a few diagrams. My whole Ph.D was summed up in one diagram. I'm not sure if this one works, but imagine a three dimensional space with High above and Low below, and two curves as boundaries. Perhaps each reader can position themselves. If difficult to see, click on the image.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

A Nice Quick Read

Some of the folks who read this blog might like to look at the six page newsletter from the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church. There is a small review of a 2002 book of collected pieces by the conservative postliberal George Lindbeck. It has the accurate, if retold, essential history of Old Catholicism within it. There are also some references to what has happened in Swindon and remarks on the background of a recruit to train within the LCAC. And, as a matter of accuracy, the editor Mhoira Lauer-Patterson is Bishop-elect at present until September when she joins Elizabeth, Sheila and Shelley in those little Churches that have drawn my interest.

I note that on Facebook Bishop Adrian Glover makes a simple point (as an answer to a question) that not everyone becomes bishop. There's this notion of looseness, and there are indeed permissive groups like the Young Rite. My own view (if of any importance) is that even clergy driven movements need lay people as committed supporters and Churches need congregations of some kind or other, even if they are regional gatherings and away-days.

I would describe myself as 'low liberal' and, anyway, a religious humanist. I did have a short period of appreciating a bit more Anglo-Catholicism, and the idea of symbolic worship is still important, but that emphasis has somewhat evacuated itself more recently along with the postmodern pretence (really) in appearing to believe things that I didn't.

I've moved a little way from postmodernism, in that for all science's focus on some things and not on others, and on revisions made (its strength), the fact that experiments are made that produce answers you do not want is a limiter to the notion of postmodern freedom and an apparent merging of the fictional and the factual. Even social science produces results one doesn't want, and there is no direct equivalence, say, with writing a novel (despite some overlaps, especially in Social Anthropology).

There is a liberalism derived from Catholicism, as indeed there is the esoteric, but I am not esoteric in outlook and my liberalism is more direct, more based on Enlightenment and, before that, the libertarian basis of the left wing of the Reformation and with its inevitable drive towards a religious humanism. I do go with the romanticism of the later nineteenth century, but even treat that critically. So I am friendly with the LCAC after its rebirth but, on reflection, wouldn't join up either lay or seek any other.


Here is a more general point I wish to make. The people at the church I attend are not my friends, but we can be friendly and also this is the space to affirm the value of each and every one of us, both in what we do and who we are. If we are going to criticise, we do it as positively as possible.

If we are fortunate enough to have a job, then we must respect the skills and experience of the people around us, and what they bring (even the new people). We should not insult what they do and who they are.

None of this is easy, especially if we have strong opinions.

The same is true on this, and surely any other blog. There is an art to being rude, if you want to be rude, and it involves some irony and humour. I have had to delete many comments and I'm not even sure about a number left on. Vigour in debate cannot be an excuse for attacks on what people do and who they are, even if we regard them with our own negativity.

That's all, and from someone who often can't meet his own standards. I'll try with the moderation switched off again, so people can make instant comments and respond with some affection, please, for the humanity we all share.