Monday 12 September 2011

The Stage I am At

I'm still considering whether or not to apply to train as a Unitarian Minister. So far I think I'll leave things a year rather than meet the October deadline. I might talk about it with someone useful, however. What I do think is that Unitarian College at Manchester is not appropriate. At present it joins in with Federation Contextual Theology, which means a normative theology that is applied to congregations. I have two objections to this.

The first is that the theology that discusses congregational life is often not appropriate to the kinds of beliefs and expressions people in Unitarian churches express. It is a bit like analysing them through a Hindu perspective. I'm sure it would make sense to Hindus but it would only make some sense to Unitarians (those who draw on Hinduism, especially modernist and philosophical interpretations - and there are such Unitarians given the association with Brahmo Samaj; and indeed those who learn from the Eastern perspective coming westwards). I'm sure I could bend and twist the theology presented (not simply asking liberal Christian questions) but it would be done in constant tension with the norm.

By the time I and others I met might start, this programme may be over but the tension with the Federation will be the same with whatever replaces practical theology.

Secondly, it is not where I am any more. My understanding of the world comes predominantly from the natural and social sciences, and the arts are broad and wide. I know the various angles theology comes from, but it has to be treated freshly and within a more humanistic framework. Given the appeal of history to Unitarians, a lot can be derived from the 'Houses' of history, its methodological approaches that overlap with social science and, indeed, theology. What we actually need, I think, is much new theology following on from such theory. Harris Manchester College Oxford seems freer of the clutter that the Federation causes in Manchester.

One role for a minister is someone who can learn, absorb, express and re-express the Unitarian tradition and apply it as it is in the communities. It must, I think, focus on the practice of those communities - and again in the language preachers use in communication with everyone else. It is strong on doubt, on not being very supernatural, and plain thinking. So how do we develop practice of sorrow, doing again, thankfulness and reinvigorating at the heart of the practice? How do we use the arts to enrich. If Max Weber thought modernity meant disenchantment, how can the arts help worship in a programme of re-enchantment in the contemporary world? These are both intellectual and congregational issues. They are not examined by trotting out normative doctrinal theology however 'liberalised' but by examining resources across the intellectual fields.

That's where I am at present. As I have also suggested before, I'm not sure what the level of demand is at present for such a person - if there is the demand or ever will be.


June Butler said...

Adrian, if you decide to apply, please wear a shirt. :-)

Seriously , I wish you well as you consider your path forward.

Suem said...

Oh, Mimi, you stole my quip:)
And my good wishes!
I think you are wise to give it some time and think and discuss the matter. I know you will make the right decision.

James said...

Rats. I wanted to say the shirt thing. And, I hope you go for it, Adrian! The ministry, not the shirt. Well, the ministry and the shirt...

Anonymous said...

Leaving aside the shirt, there may be no demand for a Unitarian minister with this perspective - or a clergy person in any 'religious' denomination for that matter - because it's not a let's do religion kind of place to be. But it's where I suspect many semi-church people like myself find ourselves. The question seems to be whether there is any formal/institutional expression we'd want to bother with.

Dave Marshall

Dominic said...

I feel that choosing to be a minister is a calling. If you wonder if to do it or not, you probably shouldn't.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

If people who doubted they should be a minister used that as a means to rule out going forward, there'd hardly be any. Very many struggle for years against being a minister, and have large doubts, but they end up becoming one.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if members of your local congregation have suggested that you should go forward for ministerial training.Others' perceptions are part of what I understand to be a 'calling'- if several people of good judgement independently ask - "Have you ever thought about ministerial training ?" I reckon that would show that you are already in many ways exercising some ministry , perhaps without recognising it as such.