Tuesday, 2 August 2011

A letter from a new member

I am posting a letter I received (with permission) from a relatively new attender at my Unitarian congregation in north London. She has come to us after years of trying to find her place in the Church of England. Now, she travels two hours to get to us, passing by a vast number of Anglican and other churches along the way.

My pledge today is to do all I can to make the author's vision of New Unity increasingly real...
I had a thoroughly inspiring time today - thank you. I'm looking forward to the 3 facets course and to coming to services whenever I can. 
The journey itself is becoming something I enjoy - it gives me 2 hours of reading time- and I am looking forward to what will happen when I get to you, as there is usually something to challenge, inspire, move or enthral me, and sometimes all of these at once! 
People here keep asking me what it is that makes you so different to normal church that I'm willing and keen to travel this distance for it, when I constantly refuse to go to regular church services.To answer this would require an essay! But words like 'freedom' 'space' 'encouragement' 'respect' 'vision' 'energy' 'a sense of adventure' 'trusting people' 'belief in goodness' and a hopeful mood of 'we can' all convey what your community says to me.
Though Jesus is seldom mentionned, I find more of his spirit amongst you than I ever did in 20 years of attending an Anglican church. 
I like and respect everybody I have so far met and talked to in your community; they are all so intelligent and caring and thoughtful, and a privilege to know. I can honestly say that I have never before felt this in any church, and it is a healing experience for me, restoring something that got broken and jaded through disappointment and disillusion. 
Your leadership is in such a contrast to the paternalistic and often suffocating authority of priests, who treat their congregation like children. It feels like all things are possible here; that everyone has faith - in themselves and eachother - and that nobody is afraid to take that first brave step on a long journey towards a better society. 
I think that the only reason your church isn't packed on Sundays is that people don't like 'church'. That word gives the wrong idea and puts people off. Your community is nothing much like any church I've ever been to in my entire life, and that is its strength and 'selling point'. We need to spread this around. Something very good is going on here and a lot more people should come in and benefit from it...


  1. Thanks for posting this. I don't think the 'only' reason the congregation is not packed is because it's called a 'church'. Would this person have found the congregation or attended if it were not called a 'church', especially as an exiting Anglican? Maybe, but possibly not.

    But I think there are more compelling reasons to drop 'church' in branding some Unitarian congregations.
    Firstly, I agree that ideas of 'church' can be a block for many, especially the more liberal minded who's experience of church may have been horrid or, probably more likely, just boring, aloof and theologically frustrating.
    But, maybe more importantly, is think about our wider practical and pastoral theology.

    I think many congregations are confusing people unnecessarily, both within and outside congregations, by calling themselves churches.

    Of course the idea of church has stuck for historical reasons but it probably makes sense for some congregations to reflect if this is still relevant. Of course it maybe perfectly fine for some Unitarian groups, if that matches up with their theology and practice, but probably not for many others.

    Many Unitarians recognised this even in the 18th and 19th century when they used 'society', 'meeting house', 'community', or simply 'congregation' instead of church as their group description. The Quakers recognised the benefits of starting afresh with new ways of using language that broke with Christian usage in the 17th century. Maybe it's time for us to catch up and do the same thing.

  2. Ok, so maybe not the "only" reason people don't come is because of the "church" tag, but it's a major one. And I wasn't looking for a church when I found New Unity. I was surfing atheist websites! There's a link on one of them.