I don't think today is any exception, despite a Remembrance Day service led by a professional minister in every sense of the word (yet, retired). There is a sense in which we are seeing a change as big as the loss of the Norse Gods taking place as regards our religious institutions.
The Quakers in Hull might be happy, because their numbers will have risen by one. An occasional attender of the Unitarians has, apparently, moved over to attend there. But this is not an unusual pattern: people who join churches are often the already interested. People do join the church, otherwise it would have vanished long back: but they tend to have histories of attending elsewhere.
Today a board that was found with the names of the lost during 1914-1919 was displayed. The names were family names all recognisable within the church until recently. None of these families supply members any more. Some of the surnames were related to other surnames, and criss-crossing, because down the years they supplied the church with members, and they kept having relationships and getting married. The family trees will interlock over and over again.
In my time a younger Strachan was the uncle of an older Strachan, as well as cousin; now there are no more nor the related. Names still large in the city no longer come in to the church.
Recent posts have looked at the disconnect between Christianity and the public in Europe. There is the straightforward decline in numbers. There is the loss of intellectual content in supplying answers to questions of existence. There is the ethical mismatch in questions of equality and value of persons. The whole business of St. Paul's in London has been a perfect example of a disconnected Church rushing to catch up.
The Unitarians have all sorts of plans and strategies at the very lowest level to increase numbers; the schemes are given fail-safe status by their writers. But I can say we've had no visitors through the door at all by which these plans could be exercised. We are not full-on with publicity, but we are far from publicity free and invisible. People are not even visiting nowadays.
It might be better in a more cosmopolitan place, which imports habits of religious observance from around the world. But this is nothing to do with a small congregation holding on to its visitors. The church has done this. It is that the curious are simply not attending. The argument that so many people out there are Unitarian-compatible makes not a jot of difference to trying out attendance.
People talk about the rise of the Eastern religions, and there is that growth. But these are about the odd group here and there within the city. This increase is at the tiny level. There is a lot of 'spiritual' and even 'New Age' but the groups simply don't exist: these are private expressions. You might find the odd Wicca group here and there.
This is not me starting to despair, but rather simply a recognition of the situation. In terms of where we are now, we are like people within a snow storm. We are close to it and we cannot see around, but I bet this is as historically significant as the end of the Norse Gods. In the snow storm we look for scraps and pieces to keep going, but afterwards what was before is not coming back.
I remember at school, in the 1970s, being given the impression that Christianity had replaced Judaism, and that was a load of rubbish, as was the impression that lots of Gods had been replaced by the superior understanding of one God. That was nonsense too, as no God can be its equal and superior, just as can be a polytheism of thinking. What is remarkable is that those assumptions could be given to children just a short time ago.
In my head on Remembrance Sunday was the religious service that could incorporate the fallen and the need for conditions of peace. We could be reminded that capitalism is there to serve us, and not for Europe to decline again into conditions that led to reaction and war. But Remembrance Sunday was also about what there once was.
Soon there will be some more CDs of a Unitarian choir singing hymns with introductions. Why is this? Because there are more and more churches where no one can play a keyboard, either due to old age or low numbers. Producing two CDs will be very helpful, but let's not be unaware as to why this is happening. For us it might go through an excellent sound system, as these CDs add to prepared CDs, but for many it will be popping the originals into some small player. The same virtual congregation will be reproduced up and down the land. The same people appear, as if in a cartoon, repeated each time. But the reality is that the different people are ever fewer, needing the prop of a virtual congregation.
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