The only reason David Usher's article in the 2nd Feburary edition of The Inquirer should be controversial is in his direct use of language. For one part he uses a a kind of pseudo-biblicalese about the Unitarians not reaching the promised land, another a bunch of elders producing 'The Document' amidst decline, but later on he says it like it is directly, which may annoy one or two. Well, it's often the one or two that matters:
We cling to old forms, old customs, because their familiarity comforts us. They suit us, and we prefer to do what suits us, even though the world is telling us it does not suit them. (David Usher, The Inquirer, 7811, 2 February 2013, 10)
What David Usher says here though is where he will cause trouble, and is bang on the button (including his choice of gender):
And some women of the Unitarians did protest: 'We cannot go now to the Promised Land,' said they.' For it would upset our traditions. We are few and weary, yet we have taken some small comfort here, and we have organised a raffle and the drawing for the prizes is not yet. And we shall die soon anyway, and we would prefer to die in the sure comforts of the past than to live in the uncertainties of the future.' (David Usher, The Inquirer, 7811, 2 February 2013, 9)
As was discovered in the recent General Synod of the Church of England, you get two groups of women in the Churches today: one, and larger now, that is progressive and making changes, but just as you pursue those changes then up arises another group that prefers the patriarchy that settles the universe.
I actually do not think it is necessarily about old ways that are well known. They become a means to an end. As new folks come in, the old cliques use ideology as a means to an end - the end is to retain control. The issue here is the problem of liberalism pure, and the descent of the power centre to the lowest collective point, where there is an absence of checks and balances. It's the chapel committee or the trustees.
So often an individual congregation under the clique has to fall into disrepair, but it is amazing that so many can experience 'the bounce'. When the old guard realises that the tradition locally could end, they do often give way, and the new influence then gets going. That's when the bounce happens, because the spirit at large is at last positive and is recognised by the newcomer. The old guard find they weren't as attached to the past as once they were when they had a critical mass.
Now where is David Usher's article inadequate? He compares the Unitarian worship experience with a charismatic one, probably a Vineyard church. These churches have grown from nothing over the last decades and are now quite busy. Their theology is awful but they are highly entertaining and involving. He fails to mention that they also provide an outlet for bands, so simple tunes allow for composers and lyricists.
Unitarians should indeed have audio-visuals as he describes. But this is not the answer as such.
I am not as despairing at present, as he might be. I was nearly thirty years ago, when I was around too early for my own good saying what he is saying in similar fashion and was booted out of Unitarian College for upsetting all the local cliques he otherwise describes. But I did have a fresh PhD examining the way Churches were dividing up and which did give specialist Churches, like the Unitarians, a future.
He should know that it is social movements that restore Churches, as indeed the liberal capitalists and ideological Unitarians did, filling the Presbyterian husks where newer biblical ideas had watered down old Calvinism to a point where even the Trinity was regarded as - well, rather like in much of the mainstream today. Nobody knows what it is any more. But it took a bunch of ideologues to re-read Bibles with more certainty to come out of the academies and preach Unitarianism, along with the spirit of the age - the end of mercantilism and the rise of the middle class. The demand of the Presbyerians for freedom for themselves and similar Protestants became a demand for political freedom and influence for themselves, Jews, and Catholics leading to the 1832 Reform Act and beyond.
The social movement that is serving Unitarianism well now is that of gender equality. The Quakers will benefit, but you have to do their form of worship. Liberal Jews still require one to be Jewish in basic identity. Unitarians can adapt as they wish. There is no doubt that with the gender equality comes drawing on the transcendental tradition - neo-Paganism if you like. The old liberal Christian tradition is pretty well exhausted now. It had nowhere to go in the mainstream from the late 1970s on, replaced by identity Christianity of a non-objective kind and quite conserving. This is no future for Unitarians. Look at the Cambridge website and the absurdity of a Unitarian minister in freedom trying to preseve a postliberal Christianity. The one word to use in that example is "Why?" It is intellectually difficult and utterly pointless: the only reason is 'to look like a church' or try and find a way to flog a dead horse after the God of the gaps has been closed.
Emerson, Thoreau and Parker were kicked out or inhabited the edges of the American Unitarians at the time because it was well assessed that their transcendentalism was not Christian as such. It drew on the environment, and that is what the religion of the senses will do and now. They were ahead of their time, and their argument was just the same - against a cold, clique-ridden system of chapel religion. People like Francis Newman were attached to Vegetarianism and new social movements.
The mainstream Churches have handed it to Unitarianism on a plate. They are making some of the biggest mistakes they can regarding equality and diversity. For out of this social movement of change comes a minority of people who wish to express themselves religiously, for which the Unitarians have at last grabbed an identity and can carve a future. The future will be more symbolic in character, and a huge rejection of the Puritan shadow. Plus the cliques are a lot older now than they were when I was bashing away.
Now, the Unitarian Univeralists have a lot of charismatic style singing - I played a piece at the end of my service last week which was from their General Assembly in 2012. The content of their charismatic content is justice and peace, the context being the ruthless social situation in America. Let's hope we don't need that in the UK, though the prospects are not good at present with this Conservative/ Liberal Democrat sham of a government: right wing and incompetent, liars and cheats, attacking the poorest as they go, and hopefully cleared out at the next election. I love the fact that the same equality and diversity agenda is wrecking the Tory party at its roots, so that UKIP can do its work at one end while the Liberal Democrats get destroyed for their misadvertising and betrayal at the other.
So see the folks coming in - they are doing. They've read the publicity and seen the news. The promised land may always be an ideal, but a better future is not far away. And that's me saying it. Pluralist Website