I am the minister of New Unity - a Unitarian congregation with one site on Newington Green (the Newington Green Unitarian Church) and a second on Upper Street in Islington (Unity Church).
To me, including atheists in a church community doesn’t seem strange at all, but then, Unitarians do religion rather differently. We come from a long line of people who stubbornly refused to check their brain at the door when it came to religion. Some of them were burnt at the stake or subjected to other rather less than hospitable treatment as a result. Unitarians started out nearly 500 years ago as Christians who rejected the doctrines of the Trinity and original sin. They arrived at these heresies (a word derived from the Greek for ‘to choose’ - a label I wear with pride!) by studying the Bible and applying their own reason.
In time, the successors to these early Unitarian heretics put aside the notion that the bible is the only book that includes wisdom and inspiration. They opened themselves up to Hinduism, Pagan traditions, Buddhism, Humanism, and more.
This may seem like a ridiculous kind of religion to some - but that’s only if you think that religion has to be defined by the arcane structures that most religions build up over time. Instead, I evaluate beliefs by their effects. If a belief makes people more loving, compassionate, and justice-seeking, I welcome it. If a belief makes one a selfish, oppressive jerk, it’s a belief I can’t support.
My goal is to create and nourish communities where people are loved, accepted, and encouraged in their growth and where people are empowered to work for a world where everyone can experience such an embrace.
My own beliefs are very simple: Every person is sacred. We are all connected one to another.
Is this literally true? I don’t know and I don’t care. It is not meant to be a statement of scientific fact, and I’m sure it would be untenable by those standards (with a Ph.D. in biology, I should know that better than most). In the religious sphere, we choose what to believe and my beliefs impel me to see all others as valuable and worthy beyond measure. These beliefs force me to work to see and treat others and brothers and sisters. They lead me to understand that gay and lesbian people are sacred. That transgender and bisexual people are sacred. That disabled people and people of all ages and colours are sacred. And because we are all connected, I’m certainly not going to put up with any of my sacred brothers and sisters being treated unjustly.
So, let’s not wait for the world to change. Let’s work together against oppression and injustice and - if you’re an atheist (or not) - you might just want to consider coming to church!