Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

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Please Note: This site, and the social networking profile pages connected with it, reflect my personal interests & views which do not necessarily represent those of organisations I am affiliated / associated with.

08/07/2012

Groundhog Church

This week I intended to blog a bit more on Marcus Borg's latest book, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power and How They Can Be Restored. It's a fantastic book to dip in and dip out of, one chapter at a time, and I've recently been reading and reflecting on the chapter on Sin which sheds a new light on the banking and media scandals in this country.

However, this week I also received the latest newsletter from the Unitarian Christian Association. This publication is separate from The Herald, carrying announcements and shorter, snappier articles. Both make inspiring reading and I recommend Christians of a free-thinking mindset join the UCA for these alone (they do also have an active programmes of events). In the current edition of the UCA newsletter, for July 2012, Mike Cuerden has crafted a short opinion piece on the Christian tradition within the General Assembly of Unitarian & Free Christian Churches, in which he writes:
"Over the years the Unitarian and Free Christian Churches have welcomed former Anglicans, Roman Catholics, members of the United Reformed Church and Methodists, and others who lean, for example, towards Buddhism or are agnostic, even atheistic.

I understood the intention to be a process of mutual learning and support. Today a small but loud section in our ranks seems bent not on modification but on complete reinvention.

There have been calls over the years to drop the words 'Free Christian Churches' from our title. And it seems deliberately perverse that we select the most important week in the Christian calendar in which to hold our annual conference, so that many are forced to travel on Good Friday when consideration of Jesus' message is at its most intense.

Isn't the issue quite simple? Many of our ancient chapels, established around the time of the Great Ejection we commemorate this year have within their Trust Deeds commitment to "the worship of Almighty God."

Through courageous men like Joseph Priestley we grew out of the Presbyterian tradition. He and his great friend Theophilus Lindsey, who founded our church at Essex Hall, wanted not to dilute our Christian principles, but to offer the established church a way of greater inclusivity. James Martineau declared our faith to be Free Christian even more than Unitarian."
Although written as a defence, the article (as a whole) could also be read positively as a piece of liberal evangelism. It could be read as a giving of testimony to a particular expression of Christianity that is radical, heartfelt, open-minded, rational, mystical, practical, inclusive, progressive, simple (though not simplistic), liberal, humanistic and - I would argue most importantly of all - authentic.

And yet this is what also makes me feel a large measure of sadness, and what has caused me to write again on an issue I had decided to leave be - because ultimately this article is not written for the benefit of doubters looking for a way of 'doing Christiainity' they can still connect with, but primarily as a rebuttal to the anti-Christian / revisionist element within the Unitarian & Free Christian denomination. 

(To add a bit of context...) I originally became interested in the Unitarians & Free Christians (known as Unitarian-Universalists in most other countries) way back in 2002, having like so many before me found the Christian theology of childhood crumble. It seemed like the ideal place for me to find fellowship and discipleship. But from there I found myself quickly realising it wasn't what it said on the tin - both through experience of the local church I visited and through reading The Inquirer. This made me take an immediate step back.

I then briefly got involved, via the internet, with self-avowed Unitarian Christians around 2004 time and quickly ran into confrontation (albeit very cordial confrontation) with 'post-Christian' Unitarians who viewed Christianity as outdated, intolerant etc. and wanted the Unitarian & Free Christian / UU denomination to evolve into something far more eclectic, and quite importantly, far less Christian. This took up a lot of my spare time as I poured energy into writing articles and helping build social networks (this was before Facebook and Twitter made these things a lot easier) that advocated for the Unitarian Christian cause against the revisionists. 

And then, after one too many confrontations, I quickly grew disenchanted and took a dozen or so steps back - mistakes made, fingers burnt, lesson learned. All I'd originally sought was a community where I could seek an encounter with God through reflection on the narratives and teachings of the Bible, particularly those centred on Jesus - in a free thinking environment unfettered by imposed creeds and exclusive ritual. Instead I ended up becoming some sort of keyboard jihadi.

A decade later and it seems that the Unitarians & Free Christians are still locked in the same existential debate with one another.

Speaking personally (and admittedly selfishly), this debate continues to be a major block to me actively participating in the Unitarian & Free Christian denomination - and it's one that I've become increasingly able to ignore as I divide my time between attending Norcliffe Chapel (which is very much a 'traditional' Unitarian & Free Christian church) and a Baptist church much nearer to where I live. As an aside, there are no local, active Quaker meetings within easy reach so I tend not to go regularly to one of these now unless staying over in my hometown of Sheffield. 

The simple point I wish to make from all of this is that I could, as a relatively young energetic adult with a desire to get involved in an inclusive church, be contributing positively with others to the future survival - and maybe even growth - of the Unitarian & Free Christian movement in the UK. Instead, as I settle again having moved jobs and cities becoming more able to up my commitment to supporting Christian community, I'm likely to do this elsewhere.

And on a larger level I also question, in this internet age where networking and collaboration have become so easy, why - if the hostility to 'traditional' Unitarianism & Free Christianity is continuing to simmer within the Unitarian & Free Christian denomination in Britain - there aren't attempts by whole congregations to form new, independent connections outside of it? There are certainly congregations in other denominations of a similar mindset & approach (St. Marks CRC being a notable example) and associations much like the UCA in their endeavours (examples include the Progressive Christian Network of Britain, Free to Believe and Modern Church) who could possibly offer the opportunity of fruitful relationships, shared mission and support structures.

The same could also be said to the passionate Buddhists, Pagans, Humanists etc. within the Unitarian & Free Christian denomination - would your time not be better served uniting with individuals and groups of a like-mind?

Just a thought really, speaking as a Free Christian (and one time capital 'U' Unitarian) still looking for a home...

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