I could see the clock from where I was taking the service, so I knew the sermon had to be quick. Much of the text had been about time, and contrasts, including some science, about the I Ching, and Pink Floyd lyrics. The music included Fairport Convention's Where Does All the Time Go, one of the many versions with the singer Sandy Denny.
I started with the passing of time, twenty one years or so since I was at Unitarian College and that they'd wonder where they'd put me so I left after a year. Yet there I was, originally going with Mhoira and to share the cost (perhaps), but after she pulled out I went anyway (to discover later that travel expenses were paid). There are Unitarian only courses but the main course is contextual theology, that is a normative theology by which the activity of congregations can be understood.
So then I said I'm reading again a book on the different approaches to doing history. There's the empirical school, like of Arthur Marwick who appeared on those late night Open University programmes many years ago. There are lots of schools, including Marxist, geographical - like how mountains affect history - and an interesting one is ethnographic, which is to get amongst the people and find out their meanings and stories. A good example is on TV at the moment, which is the programme about how primitive peoples understood dinosaurs, and one way to do this is to get among American Indians and find out their stories remembered about how they treated the bones of animals that were unlike those that roamed the landscape. So that also gets into oral history.
Then I picked up a Religious Education book, from Warwick. There are different ways of teaching RE. One is critical, which is from the inside - private schools still do this, where there is one tradition of religion and they apply a critical approach. Well that is theology, or the beginnings of theology. The main school is phenomenological, however, which is description of the essentials of this religion and that religion. There are others like experiential, that is without necessarily reference to religion it looks at spiritual development and values. But the interesting one, again, is ethnographic, and rather than have descriptions of religion, it's about what people actually do. What do children do that go to the mosque or go to church. This is the Robert Jackson stuff at Warwick.
I did some ethnography once like at an evangelical church. It had its theology but what were the young people doing? Well, they were trying to go out with each other, and had a good time. It was all clear when they went to the pub afterwards.
So the Federation has contextual theology, Christian theology which is a means of understanding how congregations work. It's like the work of Christ, and how is this done. But two things. First of all, if I did this, I'd have to bend the theology so far backwards it would be utterly different. Secondly, if they actually did an ethnography of Unitarian congregations - and I would include the liberal Christian ones - they would find that our language from service takers and within is different from this theology that is given.
So there is something odd here, I said. That we have two strains of learning for all laity, which is the worship and the Unitarian history, but when it gets to the ministry we seem, at one college at least, to be training them in something else. And this doesn't seem right to me. And that's all I want to say.
So having typed this out here - and I missed out on much 'unpacking' that might have been in a script - that was it.
There was a chat afterwards in which I said about normative theology would be say Christ's sacrificial work and we would look at what sacrificial elements are in congregational life, for example the Eucharist, or indeed people standing back and letting things go in disputes.
Of course the sermon didn't involve me looking down to read at any point because I had nothing to look at. The most I did was hold up a couple of books and flick through them. In a longer sermon I might have said more about schools of history and schools of RE, but they could have distracted from the main point. People can easily get indigestion. And indeed on reflection the reading about the I Ching probably did give indigestion even though its main point was the need for opposites but to process them from the centre.
A sideline from all the hymn stuff I do was to advise on their singing, and also whilst a chap operated the controls for the prepared CDs I said to him after, now he sees why I operate both CDs - because that way I'm not faffing about with the sliders. They are set. There's no pushing up during the starting of music or missing beginnings. He said he'll have to do more; thus I'll sit in the congregation. One hymn he fancied for his own service in November.
The service included reference to Mhoira, not just as a potential visitor to Manchester but also being made bishop as I was speaking, so she was mentioned in the 'Faiths/ Church' section of the intercessions. Yes, I include intercessions in the sense that it is us thinking about ourselves and others.
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