Unitarians Together In Diversity

Unitarians: Together in Diversity
A Survey of the Beliefs, Values, and Practices of Contemporary British Unitarians
by Sue Woolley
Published by the Lindsey Press, April 2018

Dating back 450 years and still evolving, Unitarianism is a faith which imposes no creed or dogma on its followers. It is a community of individuals, each on their own spiritual journey, each guided by their own reason and conscience. So what, if anything, binds us together?

It sometimes seems easier for us to express what we don’t believe, rather than to positively affirm what we do believe. Sue Woolley, our District Minister, set out to discover what contemporary British Unitarians actually believe, and how they give expression to their faith in their daily lives. She conducted an in-depth survey in 2017, seeking answers to questions such as: How do you perceive ‘the Divine’ … What is your relationship with Christianity and other faith traditions? … Do you have a regular spiritual practice? … Should religion and politics be kept separate from each other? … What are your views on gender, sexuality, and marriage? … What is the basis of your personal morality? … What happens after we die? … and many more.

Maybe you yourself were one of the 257 Unitarians who responded to the survey? If so, you might find yourself quoted (anonymously) in this book, which presents a detailed assessment of the findings. In considering the range and depth of present-day Unitarian beliefs, values, and spiritual practices, Sue Woolley explores what it is that holds Unitarians ‘together in diversity’.

Copies (£9.50 each) may be bought at the General Assembly annual meetings in the first week of April, or ordered from the Unitarian Head Office at Essex Hall in London from 9 April onwards (Monday–Friday, 10 am–5 pm). You can pay over the phone (tel. 0207 240 2384) with a credit or debit card.

Building Resilient Congregations

13 participants from eight congregations met at Kingswood on Saturday 17th February, for a training day on Building Resilient Congregations. The main guest speaker was Mr Simon Bland, the General Assembly’s Ministry and Congregational Support Officer. He explained what resilience is – the ability to bounce back in adversity, and spoke about it in relation to both individuals and congregations.

He suggested that healthy congregations have three elements: a clear sense of purpose and mission; clear policies on acceptable behaviour; and knowing when to ask for help. He also spoke about constitutions and policies, and the implications of the new Data Protection Act, which the District is currently studying.

Rev Ant Howe, Kingswood’s minister, contributed an inspiring session on how to build good relationships with the wider community, and challenged those present to come up with a concrete plan of action for one way to reach out to their own communities.

All in all, it was a most interesting day.

Key Messages from the January 2018 Executive Committee meeting

  1. Stronger Data Protection Act: The Data Protection Act is being strengthened, which will have implications for how all congregations hold personal data. It comes into force on 25th May 2018. Further information to follow shortly.
  2. Unitarians Together In Diversity: following her survey in 2017, the District Minister’s book will be published by the Lindsey Press, and launched at the GA Meetings in April.
  3. Heritage Open Day 2018: will have a special theme ‘Women in History’. For consideration by all congregations taking part.

Key Messages from MUA Executive Committee meeting, 11th November 2017

  1. The MUA Annual General Meeting will be taking place at Unitarian New Meeting Church in Birmingham, on Saturday 24th March 2018. Further details to follow shortly.
  2. The Spring Training Day will be on the theme ‘Building Resilient Congregations’. Further details to follow shortly.

Diane Rutter, President e-mail dianerutter2004@yahoo.co.uk

Sue Woolley, District Minister e-mail: revsuewoolley@gmail.com

Keeping our congregations safe

On Saturday 4th November, Unitarian New Meeting Church in Birmingham played host to a Local Leadership Strategy Group training day on Safeguarding, led by Rev. John Harley, the General Assembly’s Safeguarding Officer, and Liz Hills, of Lewisham Unitarians.

It was a fascinating and insightful day. 25 Unitarians from around the District, and further afield, worked together on various aspects of safeguarding. Perhaps the most fascinating part was when we were divided up into small groups, and each group was given a scenario to consider, and asked: If this happened in your congregation, what would you think? what would you do? and what would you record? The scenarios were very cunningly written, and one of the main learnings I took from the day, is not to judge from partial information, but to ask open questions in order to get the full story. The other was how important it is to have good safeguarding practices in place, so that risks are minimised, and to keep a logbook to record any incidents.

The MUA of Lay Preachers and Service Leaders is very grateful to John and Liz for taking the time to share their wisdom with us.

Key Messages from the July & September Meetings of the Executive Committee

1. MUA Lunch: This will be taking place on Saturday 28th October, at Kingswood. Guest speaker will be Rev. Feargus O’Connor, minister of Golders Green & St. Albans. Please send in your bookings soon!

2. Safeguarding Training: This will be taking place on Saturday 4th November, at Unitarian New Meeting Birmingham, from 12 noon. It will be led by Rev. John Harley and Liz Hills. It is important that someone from every congregation is present.

3. Tamworth Chapel: the lease of this building to the Royal Naval Association will be renewed on 1st January 2019, at a much higher rental, bringing in some welcome income.

4. Change of date for November meeting: the date of the November meeting of the Committee has been changed from 18th November to 11th November.

MUA Lunch focuses on Compassion

Unitarians from round the Midlands enjoyed an interesting talk by our Guest Speaker, Rev. Feargus O’Connor, minister of Golders Green and St. Alban’s Unitarians. Feargus chose to talk about the Charter for Compassion, an initiative launched by Karen Armstrong in 2010, which believes that the world could be made a better, more sustainable place for human beings and all other living beings, by following the Golden Rule, which is at the heart of all religious faith traditions. The General Assembly of Unitarian & Free Christian Churches is a partner organisation of the Charter for Compassion. One practical application of this was the setting up in 2012 of the Clara Barton Emergency Appeal, with a vision of responding rapidly and effectively to the needs of victims, not only of war and conflict, but also of natural disasters, in conjunction with the Red Cross. To date, Unitarians have donated more that £98.000 to it.

Following his speech, those present enjoyed a delicious lunch, prepared by Jill Bowie and her team. It was a joyful Unitarian occasion.


And Nobody Dropped the Baby …

Seven Unitarian lay worship leaders and trainee celebrants gathered at Kingswood Meeting House on Saturday 6th May, to learn the do’s and don’ts about conducting Naming Ceremonies and Baptisms. Following two sessions in the morning, about the practicalities, and how to put a service together, led by Rev. Sue Woolley, and the early afternoon session, on Unitarian Baptisms, led by Rev. Ant Howe, the group proceeded to the practical – and got the chance to go through the central part of a naming / baptism, complete with “baby”, kindly loaned for the occasion by Cressida Pryor of Cheltenham & Gloucester Unitarians.

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and indoor

Participants took it in turns to be celebrant, parents, and godparents, and a good time was had by all. And nobody dropped the baby …

In a month’s time, we will be back at Kingswood for the session on Funerals, and will then have our final meeting on 1st July, when each participant will deliver their own rite of passage, for assessment.

Wonderfully enjoyable Training Day on Weddings

On Saturday 1st April, eight participants came together from the Midlands and farther afield, to learn how to conduct a Unitarian Wedding. The day was led by Rev. Martin Whitell, District Minister of the London & South East District & Provincial Assembly. The handouts were marvellous – so very useful for the future – but the best bit came in the afternoon, when we all got to practice “marrying” each other, both as men and women, and as same-sex couples. Martin took the photo below, in which Gavin Lloyd is “marrying” Rev. Sue Woolley to Debra Burbery of Shrewsbury. By the time we had all had a go at being celebrant, we felt much more confident about the whole process.

Our hearty thanks to Martin for a splendid and informative day.