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Friday, 28 March 2014

Celebrating Same Sex Marriage in England and Wales

Just come back from a press conference arranged by the Cutting Edge Consortium (CEC) to celebrate the introduction of same sex marriage in England and Wales on 29 March 2014.

I am on the far left and great to meet again Rabbi Danny Rich (Liberal Judaism), Paul Parker (Quakers), Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner (Movement for Reform Judaism), Rev Sharron Ferguson (MCC and LGCM), Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham and Maria Exall (CEC).

Whilst lots of joy it must be tempered with knowledge that there is much more to be done. The press conference soon focused on the Church of England's position; with two retired Bishops also commenting.

Look out for an article which I was asked to do appearing in tomorrow's Pink News.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Sea of Faith Conference 2014

I have been invited to be a plenary speaker at the Annual Conference of the Sea of Faith Network being held at the University of Leicester from 18 to 20 July 2014. The Sea of Faith group has its origins in the popular television series in the 1980s and a number of subsequent books of theologian and philosopher Rev Prof Don Cupitt. The phrase has, of course, its origins in the poem of Matthew Arnold in 1867 "Dover Beach" who found an image for the decline of religion in the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the Sea of Faith. Sea of Faith as a group grew out of discussions of this work and remains at the radical edge of Christianity in Britain with supporters from many traditions, including several Unitarians.

The theme of the Conference is “Making Connections”.
“We want to explore connections of all kinds – between different faiths, between people who belong to a particular faith group and people who don’t, between religion and science, religion and politics, religion and sex, religion and music, religion and art, between young and old and many more. We have three exciting keynote speakers who all have, in their different ways, considerable experience of making connections, to lead our thinking but we will also be relying on members and guests to bring their own thoughts and experience to share. As the old musical chairmen used to say this Conference’s contributors will be “principally yourselves!”

I have been asked to deliver the opening plenary address and the closing reflection. Interestingly the other external speakers are Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society and Pippa Evans, one of the founders of the Sunday Assembly, the so-called “Atheist Church” and there will be a Sunday Assembly on the final day so it is good to see Sea of Faith reaching out.

I have experienced such wonderful insights as well as being able to have a much bigger impact than could have been imagined from making connections. I hope to talk about how new thinking about networks influence how change happens.

The conference is open to all and I hope that some Unitarians and Free Christians will attend as we have much to give and, of course, to learn.

Information on the Conference and how to book is available on the Sea of Faith website

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Faith and Place in 20th and 21st Century England

I have pleased to participate in a workshop at English Heritage yesterday on use of historic assets and creating new faith spaces in England. We had a eclectic mix of old denominations; Quakers, Free Churches and Unitarians, as well as the new churches, who often have to decide whether or not to buy buildings from other users that may be listed.

We did a timeline which will feature on English Heritage's website which helped me reflect upon the Unitarian and Free Christian contribution to the built heritage of England; not least adding the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth in Liverpool from the early 1600's to the listing and other significant chapels and churches. We hold these buildings in trust for the nation as well as our congregations and local communities which brings rights and responsibilities.

We explored many of the issues relevant to managing a listed building; including whether it is more expensive to maintain. Evidence is that it is but that day to day maintenance is not significantly greater once buildings are a reasonable condition. Listed status of course results in access to recovery of VAT, National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Churches Fund financial support.

All churches were urged to produce a statement of significance to underpin planning and funding requests.

I raised the issue of how changes in worship may no longer be reflected in the interior layout. Unitarians now no longer regularly preach from the pulpit but from the floor and different forms of worship need open space as does the hosting of musical or community events which is not facilitated by fixed pews.

It was interesting to explore how new churches are seeking premises and the opportunities and legal requirements surrounding disposal.    

There are lots of images of Unitarian Churches on the website of the Unitarian Historical Society.