It was a day session at the Yorkshire Unitarian Union quarterly meeting at Hull. I was there from 10:30 as people gathered until 17:30 as most were leaving, many Hull folks clearing up.
The morning session was about Unitarian Approaches to Easter, especially for preachers, and I thought that would be interesting. Then the national General Assembly President would lead a session and then would come the business meeting.
I was sat alongside at least one enthusiastic chap from outside the YUU meeting for the morning session, so the interest in the potential of the session attracted in others. However, I was a little disappointed. I suppose I thought it would be a critical investigation of Easter, so that we would look at Easter say in a service and tackle it differently from those under an obligation to uphold orthodoxy (at least in public). But the session started with who comes to Unitarian churches, and the list included sceptics, rational Christians, Mystical or Gnostic Christians, Christian atheists/ agnostics, Spiritual humanists, Buddhsits, Pagans, Radical Catholics, various seekers. So it was a question of relating to them, or some of them, the preacher retaining the sense of self-integrity while reaching out to the congregation as is in each case.
My contribution was you can describe Easter, like in phenomenological RE, or critically examine it, and some of us wanted to get into details, while others said you can say focus on all sorts who take on the system. The Pagan Easter takes place at Christmas, someone well said, in terms of death and new beginnings. It sort of moved from rotating around these issues, and I'm not convinced by an apparent new flexibility of science on matters of death and life, to a video of fluffy nice type images associated with coming back to life and births, which may or may not be appropriate. Easter ought to relate to the depressed in a congregation as well as those who can see hope ahead, it was said.
I just think that whilst a worship service is there to bring people together and give a wide content, the subject of Easter offers Unitarians an opportunity to tackle what doesn't add up in the claimed Easter story; nor was there a sense (for me) of people going from this meeting to say, "Humm, I can do this in Easter services soon." I won't be doing an Easter service this year. My service is one day after the birth of the prophet Muhammad. Now that could be interesting. Already, then, cue the music of Yusuf Islam and The Beloved, but perhaps not what Yusuf would say.
Then after some snack came a well appreciated meditative devotion presented by a Hull member (with a faith stance of an Eastern direction, but he knows how to speak and lead as he does so a yoga group).
A 'Cairns and Candles' session was led by the GA President. The session used a book from 1904 about a Yorkshire Unitarian Union County Bazaar to support churches and it giving information about them at that time. In 2014 the YUU marks its bicentenary, but many Yorkshire congregations (like Hull) have origins in the 1662 Great Ejection of about 1700 Calvinist ministers from the Church of England. They met under persecution in houses and the Declaration of Indulgence allowed some chapels to appear, and then trinitarians were free to organise (with social penalties) from the 1689 Act of Toleration. Trust Deeds laid down few formal limitations but they all assumed trinitarian worship. The first Hull minister fasted on the day of his ejection each year. Some churches did begin later and as a result of disgruntled Methodists in one case and the Unitarian Domestic Mission in another (and assisting others). Scarborough started as a temperance hall in 1871.
So people from each congregation or for another congregation relayed a memory they had to build a cairn from one stone each. The cairn isn't just historical but a means to guide the way ahead. The point was made at the end of this part that not only do people come to the Unitarians from Christianity but also from an older and different Unitarianism, so that now it develops more towards a Many Beliefs One Faith position, not just accommodating but valuing persons. Also many people well up on Internet religion haven't the skills to give and take within a real congregation, whereas many in a congregation perhaps need to get Internet skills and on to its religion too.
The candles part was then hopes for the future per congregation. For example York was down to 6 or 7 people and now has 39, and there are practical and idealistic hopes for the future. Hull could improve its building inside and be more attractive outside. There was also a general hope for more tolerance in religion, a reference by one to Don Cupitt's apparent view that fundamentalism in Islam and Christianity is a passing phase.
In a general discussion but as much presenting I mentioned my participation in electronic communication and to a wider group of people. I said I notice quite positive statements about the Unitarians and this at a time of quite some flux, especially some pessimism about the behaviour in the bureaucracy of the Church of England and also the transience and questioning the sensibility of fringe Catholics, and that there is a lot of shaking out to take place in time to come.
Nevertheless, there was and going into the business meeting something of the reality of things. Pudsey is closing and that's it. Pudsey had asked for responses from the General Assembly again and again and seemed to get nothing. The process had been traumatic, and the people would remain friends but would not seek new accommodation and all the business of setting up. The General Assembly only seemed to take an interest when the remaining trust money was likely, but the trustees will distribute that. But there is good too - new people in the movement preaching and the YUU can give concrete support towards training. There is also the 50th year of Send a Child to Hucklow that gives children holidays that would otherwise miss out. This wants to raise £50,000 this year.
There was concern too for the non-participation of Leeds in YUU affairs, and then what was perhaps the (small?) elephant in the room. What looked like being passed by to me but was raised late on produced the most lively exchanges. Without going into details here, suffice it to say that Unitarian churches organise their own oversight, as oversight has different and specific meanings in church life. As congregations arrange their ministerial and other oversight, alone or associating as independent gatherings, no one person simply announces oversight of collections of congregations and such claims are bogus. Also, Unitarians have Lay Persons in Charge and Lay Pastors, and Ministers are recognised on the GA Roll. The GA cannot interfere in what congregations decide to do, but it does have a Roll of Ministers and that is the connection in the recognition of ministers. Various factual correspondences, hopefully persuasive, will be written.
And then followed the all important provided tea and chat: I mainly seemed to be talking about Florence Nightingale, with two who knew better than me, an Anglican of a lower sort according to a supporter of a higher sort, surely a lesbian, a statistician and somone who laid in her bed for later life. Also of course early members of our congregations were very anti-Socininian, and yet Socinians were tolerated better than Unitarians for opinions, but in 1813 toleration for Unitarians was followed by chapels suddenly declaring the name (although it took until 1844 to secure the trust funds via the Open Trust myth as used in Parliament).