Thursday, April 06, 2017

On going to church, and not going to church

One of the most important parts of the experience of being on sabbatical was the experience of not being a minister. After eight years of being a minister I needed to spend some time not being a minister. I needed to become a lay person. Actually, not even really a lay person. I became, a free, non-church person. Sunday morning came. I could go to church. Or I could chose not to. For the first time in ten years it was entirely up to me with no obligations.

What I discovered was that, for the most part, I did want to go to church. But when I did, I came to church with huge expectations. I mean absolutely huge expectations. And if they weren't met I was incredibly disappointed. And I tend to think this is the experience of most people visiting our congregations.

I think those of us who lead worship need to realise how hungry people are when they walk through the door. We need to not insult their intelligence or their spirituality by offering something paltry.

I mean do you know how wonderful it is not to go to church? Do you? I've got to tell you, it's pretty marvellous. I tried it. I liked it. It's absolutely lovely to sit in a cafe on a lazy Sunday morning, read the paper, read a novel or an interesting book.

And as a spiritual seeker, it's pretty good too. There are some amazing books out there that expand the mind and the heart. It is possible to meet God in reading those books. It's an absolutely wonderful, and spiritual experience to enjoy breakfast, coffee and a good book on a Sunday morning.

Why interrupt that and go to a church? Well, only for one reason that I can see - because church offers something more: because church offers a deeper experience of the divine and a deeper wisdom for life. That will get me there.

But I've got to tell you, if I go to church and experience something with less spiritual power and wisdom than sitting in a cafe reading a good book, then I am pretty pissed off. I feel cheated and annoyed. I've asked for bread and you've given me a stone. I wish I had stayed in the cafe.

Maybe I am a demanding consumer, a demanding worshipper. Well actually, yeah, I am. I really am. It takes a lot of effort to get to church, and if I'm offered something less than real worship, something less than what you are advertising, then yeah I am bloody annoyed.

Because I think we do often offer less than real worship. We often offer mediocre after-dinner speeches. We often offer academic essays. We often offer twee pleasantries. We often offer things I could easily read in a book. We often offer amateurism and mild embarrassment about the act of worship itself.

Am I piling up the pressure here on preachers and service leaders just doing their best? Well maybe. But my first response to that would be if this is the truth of why visitors don't stay, we need to know that truth. But my second response would be this is not necessarily about doing things better, but doing things differently.

It's not that we need to become more proficient public speakers. Rather its that we need to offer a transforming experience of worship (which does not ultimately depend on the skill of anyone but rather the openness of participants to the divine). And we need to offer humble reflections that have come from people who are walking a genuine path of faith.

People come to church hungry. They could be doing lots of other things, but they've made the effort, they've taken the risk and they are hungry for something of real spiritual depth. If we give them less than that, we are turning away the hungry or feeding them only a thin soup that will give them no real satisfaction, 

Worship leaders need to always keep this in mind. 

The spiritual path of joy (video)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Want to change the world? Let love be your energy.

Want to change the world?
Let love be your energy.

A better world is possible when we're powered by love.
Find the love within.
And let love be your guide.

We are Unitarians.

"Never lose a holy curiosity."

"Never lose a holy curiosity."

So said Albert Einstein.

For us, curiosity is holy.
We never stop questioning, never stop seeking.
The universe is too big to think we have all the answers.
We believe in curiosity.
We believe there is more to life than we can know.
We believe faith should open your mind, not close it down.
We believe we will always have more questions than answers.
Ours is the religion of curiosity.

We are Unitarians.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

We love Jesus. We love Buddha too.

We love Jesus. We love Buddha too.
And Muhammad and Krishna and Moses and Guru Nanak and Julian of Norwich.
And lots of other folks.
We find that when you look for it, you find spiritual wisdom in lots of places.
And why should wisdom only come from one place?
Why should God only care about one religion?

What if God's love is bigger than any one religion?
What if God speaks in a thousand different voices? Shouldn't we listen?

We believe truth is bigger than any one religion.
We believe love is bigger than any one belief.
Love beyond belief.

We are Unitarians.

Wake up! And smell the God.

Spirituality has one simple purpose: to get us to wake up.
We usually live half-asleep, half-blind, half-dead.
Wake up! Wake up to the simple truth that there is so much to experience in life.
You are surrounded by so much love and so much beauty.
You are surrounded by so much God.
God is not a man in the sky.
God is a way of seeing the world when you're fully awake. So wake up, open your eyes, and take it all in.

We are Unitarians.

If God wanted gay marriage she would have created love

And she did.

And so we celebrate that love by offering marriages to all couples.

We are a religion that believes that love makes a marriage.

We are a religion that believes that love makes a church.

God is love.

When we say that, we really meant it.

God doesn't care that much what we believe.

She cares that we love.

And so we do.

We are Unitarians.

Jesus said love one another. Let's stick to that.

Jesus said love one another. Love your neighbour. Love your self. Love your God.

What if he actually meant it? What if it's like, that simple? We love. That's it. We love our neighbours. We love Muslims. We love gay people. We love atheists. We love immigrants. We love all sorts of people.

And how about we don't make it any more complicated than that? How about we forget about believing impossible things? How about we forget about heaven and hell and rising from the dead and a thousand other things we're supposed to believe?

How about we just concentrate on LOVE, and maybe worry about those other things if we have time?

We have decided to stick to one commandment: love. And when we get that one right, we'll start worrying about other things.

If you want a religion that cares more about love than doctrine, maybe you could join us.

If you want a religion that is more interested in getting heaven into people than getting people into heaven maybe you could join us.

If you want a religion that keeps things simple, if you want a religion that's committed to the simple idea we should love one another, you're most welcome to join us.

We are Unitarians.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Will Unitarians disinvest in fossil fuels?

I was pleasantly surprised last week when my Annual Meetings pack landed through my letter box and I discovered that there are no wordy social justice motions this year.

Every year I hope and pray for that, but it's never happened before. Most years we have five wordy motions calling for this and that that we debate, pass and then promptly forget. It's an annual ritual that convinces us we're doing social justice when in fact we're just talking to ourselves. It's an easy social justice that doesn't actually require any work from us.

But no, this year we don't have that. Thank God.

Perhaps now we have an opportunity not to forget about what we did last year. Last year we passed a resolution calling for us to respond to combat climate change. Of course the resolution did not call us to any concrete action, but perhaps now we can walk towards that concrete action.

One concrete thing we can do is disinvest Unitarian shares from fossil fuel companies.

Climate change is the biggest issue we face. If the world is to stay below the 2C temperature rise then we need to move urgently to a low-carbon economy. If we are to stay below 2C then companies need to leave nearly all fossil fuels we know about in the ground. We cannot afford to burn them. And yet fossil fuel companies are basing their business plans on more extraction and more exploration for further sources of fuels.

There is a growing movement to disinvest from such companies to demonstrate that these companies are having a negative impact on the world, and to refuse to profit from that impact.

The Quakers and the United Reform Church in Scotland have already committed to this. And pressure is building for the Church of England to do the same.

Now I have no idea what shares the Unitarian General Assembly has (who does?) but it seems to me this is something we should do as well. I know we're not as rich at the Church of England, but neither are we poor. There are considerable Unitarian investments.

Are we prepared to use the power and wealth we do possess to actually do what we say we're about -building a better world? Are we actually prepared to do something concrete to move the world in the right direction? Can we walk the walk and not just talk the talk for once?

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Largest Unitarian congregations by membership 2016

Posted without comment to bookmark for future research and reflection.

Membership numbers:

1. London New Unity:  83 (=)
2. London Hampstead: 79 (=)
3. Birmingham Hollywood (Kingswood): 63 (-2)
4. Dean Row: 60 (+8)
4. Edinburgh: 60 (=)
5. Bolton Bank Street: 58 (=)
6. Mansfield: 57 (=)
6. London Kensington: 57 (+7)
7. Kendal: 55 (=)
8. Portsmouth: 53 (=)
9. Norwich: 50 (-5)
9. London Golders Green: 50 (-4)
10. Bury 48 (-6)