Category Archives: World Unitarianism and Universalism

The sermon fit for reading

There is a practical take-away from this historical episode; keep reading.

Abigail and John  Adams, the departing ambassador to Great Britain, and John Murray, the Universalist minister, sailed together back to America on the same vessel, the Lucretia, in the spring of 1788. Unitarian Universalists today recall Abigail Adams’s recollection of Murray’s preaching, as recorded in her journal.

This is Sunday 27 April. Mr. Murry preachd us a Sermon. The Sailors made them-selves clean and were admitted into the Cabbin, attended with great decency to His discourse from these words, “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him Guiltless that taketh His Name in vain.” He preachd without Notes and in the same Stile which all the Clergymen I ever heard make use of who practise this method, a sort of familiar talking without any kind of dignity yet perhaps better calculated to do good to such an audience, than a more polishd or elegant Stile, but in general I cannot approve of this method. I like to hear a discourse that would read well. If I live to return to America, how much shall I regreet the loss of good Dr. Prices Sermons. They were always a delightfull entertainment to me. I revered the Character and Loved the Man. Tho far from being an orator, his words came from the Heart and reached the Heart. So Humble, so diffident, so liberal and Benevolent a Character does honour to that Religion which he both professes and practises.

We usually think little of the Dr. Price in this passage, the Unitarian minister, Richard Price. At that time, he preached to the now-defunct Gravel Pit Chapel, but had previously preached to extant Newington Green congregation. He was followed at the Gravel Pit Chapel by Joseph Priestley, and was celebrated in his own right.

So we have two preaching forbears in this passage, but they have very different preaching styles, each with their own appeals. I suppose I’m more like Murray, feeling that the physicality of preaching can be harmed by the close preaching from a manuscript.

I do use a manuscript, but I use it as a preparation of what I plan to say, including any quotations I need and to keep me from failing if I freeze. I also include notes on how to preach the sections of the sermon. In short, if you read what I wrote, it would not be what you hear, and certainly not be “a discourse that would read well.”

And I doubt I’m alone.

The takeaway? I hate converting my eccentric preaching notes into a printed article. While often requested, it’s really a different art and a different work. At best, I might create an impression of the sermon that reads well. But it takes time; it’s not a matter of reformatting a word processor document.

Please consider that before making such a request of your minister. That time is probably better spent in other ways, or, at least allow funds in the church budget for a transcriptionist and a proper editor.

 

Hungarian Unitarian supreme council meets

The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly wasn’t the only meeting last week. Note that the Supreme Council of the Hungarian Unitarian Church — that’s an ethno-linguistic denominator, as it includes the larger part of the church in Transylvanian Romania — met June 27 and 28 in Koloszvar (Cluj).

Unlike General Assembly today, it seems to be a more purely deliberative body and less a convocation. But what little I know comes thanks to Google Translate and the large set of photos.

Fellowship of Non-Subscribing Christians launches

Last night, in the Cheshire town of Stalybridge, a new fellowship launched publicly: the Fellowship of Non-Subscribing Christians.

“Non-Subscribing” in the sense of not subscribing the Westminster Confession of Faith, and thus shorthand for a particularly Irish form of liberal Christianity, distinct from (but co-operative with) British Unitarianism. Nevertheless, this new fellowship isn’t formally linked to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, and the fellowship extends its work over Ireland and Great Britain. Alas, nothing said about the United States or Canada!

 July 2. They have photos of their event up on Flickr.

Minimum standards for member congregations

So, what do you have to have to apply for congregational membership? There can be other requirements like corporate status, acknowleging jurisdiction, a financial contribution and a provision for dissolution, but those are standard and one-off.

This was in my to-blog list, but the UUWorld article, “Emerging, alternative groups at UUA’s growing edge” (Donald E. Skinner) brought it to the fore. Perhaps it’s time for a larger/smaller standard for congregations again?

Current standards

Australian and New Zealand Unitarian Association. Membership “shall be made in accordance with the procedure decided by a meeting of the Association voting on a recommendation of the Executive.” (PDF)

Canadian Unitarian Council. No stated minimum membership or number of services, for “member societies” to join, though the Council could make rule, per the By-laws.

General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

“A congregation must have at least 12 subscribing members over the age of 18 years, and must have existed for regular worship for not less than one year.” (Bylaw 2.1.2) (PDF)

“Meetings for a religious purpose must be held at least once a month.” (Bylaw 2.1.5)

“Small congregations” without a General Assembly vote “…shall be given recognition provided that they shall have been meeting regularly for 6 months. They shall be admitted on the recommendation of the district association if they comply with the above conditions for Congregations except that the number of subscribing adults shall be reduced to 8 and the requirement for meeting shall be amended from ‘at least once a month’ to read ‘at least bi-monthly’” (Bylaw 2.2)

Unitarian Universalist Association.

“A new congregation, to be recognized as a member of the Association, must have thirty (30) of its adult members be members solely of the new congregation.” (Rule 3.3.3)

“For purposes of determining compliance with Section C-3.5 of the Bylaws, a member congregation shall be deemed to have conducted ‘regular religious services’ if it has held at least 10 services during the fiscal year.” (Rule 3.5.1)

 

Historic standards

Unitarian Fellowships and Churches (1954, 1955)

“A Fellowship may be recognized when it has ten resident adult members and meets the other qualifications for membership in the Association.”

“A church may be recognized when there is a charter membership roll representing sixty-five or more resident, contributing families and when the regional and continental officers concerned are convinced that the community is large enough to assure very substantial future growth…”

“A church may be recognized when it does not seek financial assistance[,] whenever it has 65 resident member families, … when it can support a full-time resident minister at a salary comparable to other new churches and meets other qualifications for membership in the Association.”

“General Policy of the Admission of New Churches and Fellowships” (February 9, 1955)

Universalist Fellowships (1957)

N.B. As distinguished from parishes and churches, but dirffering more in degree than kind; indeed, a fellowship could also be a parish. But I suspect the distinction was to give a parallel structure to the far more numerous Unitarian fellowships in the years leading to the then-all-but-certain consolidation.

“ten or more who come together for public meetings of a religious nature…” (Article XIII, 7, Bylaws)

Fellowship (the status) could be withdrawn from a fellowship (the organization)  “for having less than ten persons of 21 years of age or older, resident and contributing to the support of the fellowship” and “for failing to support no less than eight public worship services annually.” (Article IV, 1, iii, Laws of Fellowship)

Taras Shevchenko bicentennial

Thanks to Stefan Jonasson I learned that today is the 200th birthday of Ukrainian national hero and poet Taras Shevchenko. Since I live very close to the Shevchenko memorial here in Washington D.C. I took our dog Daisy for her morning walk to visit the memorial.

Shevchenko statue, Washinhton, D.C.Schevchenko poetry inscription

After all, the Ukraine is much on our minds now.

We followed up with a visit to the Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk memorial around the corner, whose birthday was March 8. Masaryk was the first president of Czechoslovakia; he was also a religious reformer, ending up as much a Unitarian as Jefferson, no doubt in part to the influence of his American Unitarian wife, Charlotte Garrigue.

2014-03-09 09.57.45

(I’ll be writing more about what makes successful floral tributes closer to Memorial Day.)

Daisy, unimpressed

This is Daisy: it’s not her birthday today, but she is going to go to the groomer.

Later. The goomer did quite a job, but where’s the rest of my dog?

Parallel efforts and the UUA new identity

As it happens, another national Unitarian entity went through a similar branding process a few years ago, and we might learn from their experience. I’m referring to the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, commonly known as the British Unitarians.

Back in 2007, the British Unitarians adopted a common visual identity, along with a new national website. That website (archived link), for reasons best known to them, seemed to treat the color palate as a challenge rather than a set of options: even now it makes my head hurt. It has since been replaced, and so I thought the branding exercise was a failure.

But it wasn’t, surely due in large part to DUWIT — “Development of Unitarian websites and IT” — whose DIY web management system has some of the design elements baked in. To riff on an old Unitarian joke, these sites have one color theme at most; also, their revised chalice logo was a much less radical change from those popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Most British Unitarian sites use this system, which makes appropriately-scaled brochureware (opposite of interactive) sites. But even custom sites often contain the logo or tag/strapline, and most stay on message. Two good examples of this later case are the Cheltenham & Gloucester Unitarians and the Brighton Unitarians.

So where can you find out more about this standard?  Download this PDF.

And I expect — or rather, hope — the UUA will release an identity standard of comparable scope, of which the logo is a part. (If so, I think making the color palate, typography and wordmark the teaser would have been less, um, shocking.)

As it happens, I’ve been following denominational identity standards for years and you can look at the British Methodists (290,000 members) and the Mennonite Church USA (110,000 members) for comparison, by communions of the same scale.

I’m not saying that particular Unitarian Universalist congregations and groups should follow a common standard, but — like a style guide — each congregation should have a standard. Write one, subject to your congregation’s decision-making systems. (The UUA should, of course, follow its own.) That would go far to keep every change on the church site from being an exercize in head-scratching and complaint, and improve the appearance and usability of your print and web communications.

Can small-church Unitarian Universalist ministers oblige?

A few days I commented on Twitter about some UUA statistics and that led British Unitarian minister Stephen Lingwood to look for himself. I’m copying our Twitter discussion with his permission.

 

 

So, might there be a small (or smaller) church Unitarian Universalist minister — or several — in a dynamic congregational ministry who might be available to help? It sounds like a case for self-nomination, and perhaps self-started bridge-building.

Any Hungarian Unitarian activity in the UK?

Those who follow international news know that Romanians and Bulgarians are now able to enter the United Kingdom legally.

Hateful and xenophobic screeds notwithstanding, little has changed no far, except those who have taken advantage of undocumented labor can no longer abuse workers with impunity. London is not swimming in people from southeastern Europe. But that’s not to say there’s not a critical mass.

Surely my dear readers know that most of the Unitarians in Europe are Hungarian-speaking Transylvanians; that is, Romanian citizens.

So I wonder has there ever been, or has anyone ever intend to (or hoped to) create a ministry to accommodate our religious kindred, should they come to the United Kingdom? And if so is there any plan for the larger community to help?

These are honest questions. I would love to hear from someone who knows.