Sunday 28 March 2010

Sunday without Palms

York was a Unitarian congregation that was once flat on its back and close to closure, which would have been a depressing outcome for a denomination facing serious structural decline before the rest do (because of its smaller size - the percentage drops lead in the same direction, but with more numbers to start with you can rationalise for longer). As I understand it, a retired minister went to live in the area, but what created the bounce back was a family turned up one day, stayed, and from then on the congregation recovered and grew and now is doing as well as any.

The service taker came from York to Hull today, and did a service based around prayer, and what it might be with various beliefs, especially if you don't believe in a big cosmic ear (my phrase), and also to note as she did that many approaches called prayer are actually meditations or poems. They are about your own orientation towards things. But what struck me as interesting was being told that York has dropped saying the Lord's Prayer now and usually only says it when it is a visiting service taker. I've noticed too, since my return to regular Unitarian attendance, how it just does not appear week after week in Hull too. The first service I took since returning I did use it (it was Easter, last year!) but since I haven't. Her explanation was that some people don't like to say it because it refers to a theistic being. I'm not sure about that; there is a great deal of plasticity with language. Certainly she introduced it, like everyone now seems to, with an invitation to join with her its saying, or to think along, or not to do so at all. This time I didn't, though I would, partly as an act of solidarity with our Muslim tradition attender sat close by.

I said to an attender, who's only been coming for less than a year, that back in the 1980s it was a struggle if you didn't want to include the Lord's Prayer - like it was almost compulsory (and I often didn't). He thought it might be relationships between the denominations, but that can't be the explanation because back in history relationships were bitter and the denomination was Christian in its liturgical formats. If anything, recent relationships between liberals in mainstream denominations and Unitarians are quite good as they get worse within denominations. The dropping of the Lord's Prayer is just evidence, I think, of Christian theological decay and a different emphasis towards a broader faith outlook - both individualist and group, but then again the individualist emphasis has been there since the late nineteenth century theologian and liturgist, James Martineau, pronounced in its favour as the seat of authority. My own limited objection to it is the eschatology therein, but that needs a long explanation, but it is something like the eschatology makes the 'Being' being addressed.

The service taker used as 'one' of her readings the different accounts of praying in Luke's and Matthew's gospels, and this led to an interesting question being asked of me, and I realise my answer missed and glossed over a common misconception about the Bible. I was asked that although there is one Qur'an, what about the different versions of the Bible. I said well there are lots of versions, like the NIV, which tends to be more evangelical, and the RSV and the NRSV and so on, and that I preferred the latter when it is supposed to be closer to the Greek and Hebrew (I know, with some slight olde-worlde readability - more so the RSV). I joked that I once used to hear in this place something Unitarian based called The Golden Treasury of the Bible which treated it all like a set of stories and I said it used to make my toes curl, as it imitated the KJV. But I realise that this 'different versions' is as much about having four canonical gospels and then more, so my answer could have been along the lines of different geographical early Christian communities developing biography-like accounts according to their own tendencies and questions. I didn't refer to the fact that the "one Qur'an" is a bit of a myth, that some six of them were floating around before they were reduced to one, and that some of the material is highly dubious, but I did tell about a "controversial" one in which a Christian the Reverend J. M. Rodmell translated the Qur'an to be biblical in feel and did not present it as the Qur'an appears but in historical order instead, starting with the Surahs written in Makkah and ending up at Madinah, so I said it starts with more spiritual insights and ends up dealing with the concerns of the Muslim community.

A bit later on there was a bit of fun where it was pointed out that I am not actually a member and also said (not by me, but I confirmed) that I am not Anglican either. I was described as "indeterminate" or, as also said, "Once bitten twice shy." Though I'll happily do more volunteering regarding internal services (co-ordinating, for example - and this includes newest and longest), and matters regarding hymns and library type duties, I am of a mind that I am not going to put my name in the membership book. I'm happiest free floating, relating more externally as sources for what makes me having the religious interest and insights that I do.

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