Sunday, 19 February 2012


Some dialogue from a late night TV drama starring Robert Webb playing the character Jezz, who is trying unsuccessfully to impress a confused Christian called Nancy of his interest in God.

Jezz: "The only reason I don't go to church is that for me everything's a church. This room is my church, the hall is my church... Costcutter is a bloody cathedral". 
Nancy: "Oh that's really nice Jeremy, but its just not true is it". 

While I was at the FUSE festival in Worthing a recurring theme was how our movement might be to offer people who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" something of what they are looking for. Misguided though Jezz's view is, I would concede he is on to something. Recognising the virtue of being a freethinker,one might question the need for the outward forms of religious practice and look for God in nauture. Like Shug Avery and Alice Walker's the "Color Purple" "worship" might take the form of appreciating God in nature as opposed to the practice of churchgoing. In "The Kingdom Of God Is Within You", Tolstoy is critical of the Orthodox Church of his times, not only for its sanctioning of a brutal state's power, but for observing outward forms of religious practice in a way that he saw as contrary to Jesus' teaching: "A man of the present day need only buy a Gospel for three copecks and read through the plain words admitting of no misinterpretation, that Christ said to the Samaritan woman that the Father seeketh not worshipers at Jerusalem, nor in the mountain, but worshippers in spirit and in truth".  However, whilst there was certainly a time of my life when I might have come up with Jezz Osbourne's slightly more lame rejection of religious practice, I quickly found "going it alone"  in my heretical expression of spirituality did not get me very far. As Rev Dr Patrick O'Neill said at FUSE, there may well be some people who are self-contained enough to live a spiritual life alone, but I am certainly not one of them. Hence my weekend in Worthing gave me an opportunity to think about why despite being instinctively sceptical of institutions I almost paradoxically feel a need to be part of something that calls itself "church". There is something primal about the need for religious community that is articulated quite well in this posting by Rev Meredith Garmon entitled "Church! Huh! What is it good for":

A further interesting question is whether the existing model of Sunday services and the institutions of the Unitarian movement are an appropriate model of "church" for everyone who might need it. Unitarianism is no exception to the trend of numerical decline found in other Christian denominations with disproportionately low numbers of young adults and families with children. The weekend in Worthing left me with renewed high hopes of what Unitarians can offer if we make a collective effort to be able to serve the needs of people who need it. Unsurprisingly, the movement that gave the world Priestley, Wollstonecraft, Wicksteed and Capek might have a few tricks left up its sleeve!