Why Are We Here? Discerning Our Unitarian Mission in an Upturned World
Contributors: Jane Blackall, Shana Begum, Jo James, Rory Castle Jones, Kate Brady McKenna
A radical exploration of the ways in which the landscape of “doing church” has changed, especially during the Covid pandemic. Five contributors, all of whom are serving or aspiring Unitarian ministers, draw on their own experiences to consider how Unitarian communities can flex and adapt in turbulent times while remaining true to their religious roots.
Their chapters are a selection of talks given at the 2021 Summer School at Great Hucklow, addressing a wide range of challenges, from the impacts of climate change on our planet to invisible types of social discrimination, both within and outside church congregations.
Each chapter ends with questions for reflection and discussion.
84 pages; £5.00
Published on 20 April 2022 by The Lindsey Press, London for the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches; on sale at the Annual Meetings of the General Assembly from 19-21 April 2022
Available from 22 April 2022 from Unitarian Headquarters at Essex Hall in London, tel. 020 7240 2384.
Price: £5.00 plus £1.50 p&p. Pay with a debit/credit card.
Orders can also be placed online from 20 April, using the following link:
To request a copy, to write a Review from your organisation;
please contact Audrey Longhurst at
Life’s Journey – Creating Unitarian Rites of Passage By Daniel Costley Published by The Lindsey Press 2020
This is a book that should be essential reading, not only for those who wish to conduct Rites of Passage but also to those
who are planning an event to mark one. Child naming ceremonies; Marriage ceremonies; Funerals; Induction of Ministers or Lay Leaders; Ordination of Ministers; Membership Services; are all covered in detail, showing how the Celebrant works closely with the people involved to create a ceremony personally significant to them. Added to this are extra words for each ceremony, and suitable music. Further resources for both the Celebrant and those celebrating are
listed. All is well structured and easy to follow, making it a book to have on one’s shelf and read as needed, in preparation for a specific ceremony. Daniel acknowledges his gratitude to Ministers and other Unitarians for their input. It is available from Essex Hall and from Amazon at a price of £10.
Seeking Paradise – A Unitarian Mission for our time By Stephen Lingwood
The above book, published this year by the Lindsey Press, makes a valuable contribution to the questing nature of Unitarians. It is a brave book which will make the reader examine terms with which contemporary Unitarians are uncomfortable: Paradise, Mission/Missiology, Salvation, Evangelism, Faith, God. Added to this is the challenge to the motion passed at the 2006 GA meetings, of concentrating on growing our congregations, as a priority.
The book asks if that is our sole purpose of being Unitarians; to ensure the survival of the Unitarian religious organization? What is it that we give to the
wider society beyond the vague individualist message of ‘here you can think for yourself’? Stephen, previous Minister at Bank Street Chapel Bolton, was
an outward looking Minister before he moved to Cardiff, becoming a Pioneering Minister. In Bolton he initiated the Bolton Street Angels. The Chapel was opened late into the night when youngsters spilled out of the clubs and pubs, often requiring help. They would be offered space and what they needed until they were fit to go home. There was no proselytizing, just help where and when it was required. In the book he states the religious position which has informed
his life from the outset. He looks to the Classical Unitarian Christian position we have inherited and illustrates how this has always differed radically from mainstream Christianity out of which it grew.
God was a personal God, a God of love, not the fearsome God, who promised to those who sinned the fire and brimstone of Hell unless they had repented and had been saved by the blood of Christ, who died on the Cross and had risen to Heaven. Unitarianism looked to how Jesus lived and what he taught through parable and story, and how that way of living still applies as we seek to build a better world.
However, this is a book for all Unitarians at this juncture in our history, whether atheist, agnostic, Unitarian Christian, Earth Spirit or those who see themselves unable to or wish not to be labelled: ie all seekers together. Stephen states even more clearly what the book is intended to address in the Introduction ‘What is the mission of Unitarianism’: This is a work of practical theology, so I am attempting to be thoroughly theological and also thoroughly practical. My
attempt here is to build both a language and a practice that will be useful for Unitarians, and indeed other religious liberals, in doing the work of a religious community, (p4). This would be an excellent book for small groups to read together as at the end of each chapter there are discussion questions, contributed by Jane Blackall, one of the early pioneers of the Engagement Group practice in the UK. That the Foreword, so positively endorsing the book, is written, by the new Chief Officer of the General Assembly and Free Christian Churches speaks volumes as she found religious words an obstacle and entered a Unitarian chapel for the first time, only because she knew the minister was an atheist.
This book can be purchased from Essex Hall: 020 7240 2384 or Amazon. The price is £10.
Life Spirit: for groups and individuals exploring deep questions By David Usher
This book, published by The Lindsey Press in 2015 helps individuals and groups to do exactly what the title says. We are not told how to live our lives but through addressing questions such as: ‘What is spirituality?’ ‘Facing death’, ‘Time and history’, ‘Making moral choices’, and ‘God’, plus many more, we learn more about ourselves, who we are and what underpins the way we live our lives. We work out for ourselves what we think is the right way to live. One of the
sections: ‘By whose authority?’ directly challenges us to think deeply about where the authority for our action lies. Although it is useful to read it as an individual I feel that this is exactly right for an engagement group to undertake together. In each short chapter, there are questions
that would benefit from listening and sharing within a small group who feel that whatever they share will be held within the group. The author recognises that this is a working group and to that end several pages, at the end of the book, have been left blank for the readers own responses to the book, the themes or specific questions. As members of the Fellowship don’t meet, it has been decided to create a closed section on the NUF’s Unitarian Internet Fellowship (Forum), where those who are reading the book can discuss the questions in writing. Those who are interested and not already members of the Forum, will need to
register. This can be done directly from following the instructions on the front page of the website:
The book costs £8 and can be obtained by contacting Audrey Longhurst at:
email@example.com or ringing Essex Hall on: 020 7240 2384.
The Unitarian Life – Voices from the Past and Present Edited by Stephen Lingwood Published by The Lindsey Press 2008
I come to this book late and how sorry I am to think that such a valuable book has been missing from my bookshelves for the past eight years. However, this is a book that will remain timeless at whatever stage readers may get around to purchasing a copy for themselves. Stephen writes in the Introduction that he would like the book to function as a “work in progress-living-scripture” as we engage with the ‘breadth and depth of our global religious community’. This breadth and depth helps us to understand ‘contemporary Unitarianism as rooted in its history, yet moving into the future in freedom’. Although I read the book straight through for the purposes of reviewing it, there are far more valuable ways of delving into its treasures. The sections are clearly set out in the ‘Contents’ page so whether you are looking for a suitable quote considering for example, ‘Community and covenant’ in Part 1 – The Principles and Values of Unitarianism, or ‘I am a humanist Unitarian’ in Part 2 – Unitarian Diversity, you can easily find exactly what you need. Part 3 – Unitarian Perspectives, and Part 4 – How to live Unitarianly, complete the main sections where you will find what is needed for that service, blog, newsletter article or to clarify a topic in a discussion group. Many contributions are taken from history, many from the USA and other parts of Europe, reflecting the editor’s own breadth of knowledge of both Unitarians and Universalists across the globe. Some names are current and you will recognise many from present Unitarians you may have heard or read. The few lines of biography of each contributor are included at the end of the main text and give some insight to the breadth of material used. Stephen has cleverly pin-pointed the need for dialogue between Unitarians, past and present, as we engage with each other, with this book and with those aspects of our lives which help to define us as individuals and a liberal and free Unitarian tradition. I would encourage all those of you, who have not yet got this book on your shelf to purchase a copy, as I feel sure it will survive well the test of time.
The price of: The Unitarian Life £9.99 plus postage and packing. Please telephone your order with card
payment to Essex Hall on 020 7240 2384 Monday to Friday between 10.30 a.m. and 5.00 p.m
On the Side of Liberty – A Unitarian Historical Miscellany By Alan Ruston. Published by The Lindsey Press 2016
This book brings together many of Alan Ruston’s previously published articles into one volume, articles written at different times and for different purposes. However, through the chronological ordering of articles in the book the reader discovers how the movement developed from the first chapter, which looks at, ‘Being a Dissenter in 1711’, right through to 2013 when the author writes the obituary of Keith Gilley for The Inquirer. Alan brings to life many of the names we have heard of or seen photographs, but brings them alive by placing them in context. Individual, key figures are shown in relationship to an activity or organisation, which has proved to be historically significant. All the Unitarians display great energy and purpose, not only within the congregational setting but also on the national stage. Two figures that particularly caught my attention, for their energy and differences were: ‘Locked in combat, James Martineau and the Unitarian Association’ and ‘Robert Spears: the nineteenth century Unitarian dynamo’. The two chapters covering these two figures are as good as anything I’ve read of key differences of approach that in many ways continues to be a thread running through our movement, albeit with a contemporary shift. For Robert Spears, the dynamic secretary of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association 1867 to 1876, Bible based Unitarianism was, or should be, the future for a Unitarian denomination. Martineau, felt strongly that this was a sectarian approach and that it went against freedom from creeds and dogma. He claimed the approach of Spears was too literal a reading of the Bible, whereas the Biblical scholarship in Germany pointing to the ‘importance of the enlightened conscience’ pointed the way forward. Martineau fought against denominationalism until the end of his days, and for Free Christianity, an approach free from any sectarianism. Freedom of conscience remained the key concept in his religious understanding.
The above issue runs through the nineteenth century but what Alan demonstrates is that difference is hard wired into the movement and that faith mattered to individual Unitarians as they engaged with each other and with the organisation. This engagement was energising and together these strong characters made a difference and created a dynamic religious tradition. Alan with his profound knowledge of Unitarian history offers us a context out of which we have grown and out of which we continue to develop.
We discover the roots of our institutions and colleges and again find that these too continue to be Unitarianism moving forward. The present is different but without an understanding of our history with its wonderfully coloured characters, we would be a religion adrift and without context. Alan spreads the changes and movement for us to see up until the present day making this a significant book for Unitarians to read.
If I have one criticism, it is the overwhelming male perspective of the book, with women only very occasionally getting a mention. However, perhaps we can hope that this imbalance will prompt a further volume in the future.
The price of: On the Side of Liberty is £9.50 plus posting and packing
Please telephone your order with card payment to Essex Hall on 020 7240 2384 Monday to
Friday between 10.30 a.m. and 5.00 p.m.
Living with Integrity – Unitarian Values and Beliefs in Practice Edited by Kate Whyman and Published by Lindsey Press 2016
Whilst reading this book, I was reminded of the ongoing conversations within the Unitarian movement on whether we should stress values and principles or what we believe i.e. our faith. In this book we are presented with a way in which we can find the balance. The book is well crafted and very readable as we hear the voices of well-loved Unitarian writers and those who will be new to many of us. Whether they be male or female, minister or lay-person, young or old,
each is well qualified to speak on the particular issue of which they write. I feel that the editor is only partly right in the introduction where she
This is not a book that tries to tell you how to be a Unitarian, or how to live a good life, or even what it means to live with integrity – there could be no such book, or at least not one that itself had integrity. But it is an attempt to show how some Unitarians engage with key elements of their lives in ways that resonate with their beliefs and values, and their faith. However, this particular reader found the material to be very helpful and in many places very moving and uplifting. It is true we cannot live the experienced lives of others but in sharing, caring, listening relationships we are able to discover what is good, what is honest and what may be helpful in our own lives. I think this book does exactly what the editor tries to do but it also does far more, which she doesn’t say.
The first section of four pieces, ‘Doing the Groundwork’, examines aspects of how the writers negotiate relationships with others and with the earth. It opens with a brave piece by Stephen Lingwood, who goes beyond the social and political aspect of the Unitarian’s main focus on sexuality. Although he writes about sexual relationships from his perspective, because of the theological incarnational and ‘infleshment’ of the divine, there is a profound spiritual understanding that applies to any age or whatever assigned gender you may be, in the way we honour and relate with others, but particularly with a much loved partner. Moving through relationships with children, but within a generational context, sustainable relationships with the earth and what happens, when we suffer loss of a loved one all too soon, contain valuable lessons of how we manage our relationships, from before life to the point of living with loss.
The second section ‘Making Waves and Lighting Fires’ shows how some Unitarians engage with the world and attempt to make it a greener, better and more just place for all to live regardless of gender, race, faith or age. All six writers offer different areas of involvement, from Trade Unionism, good relations in organisations and the work place, work on the County Council, International Journalism, sexual equality, and finally environmentalism. Not every issue can be taken up by the wider movement but it is good to hear of the work that is going on by individual Unitarians in organisations and careers where groups of people can make a difference when tackling areas of social and political life. which can only benefit by the Unitarian values brought to bear, by writers such as we have here.
The book is rounded off in the third section, ‘Retiring with Spirit’, looking at our relationship with ageing and dying. It is appropriate and fitting that Kate Taylor, a much loved Unitarian, who died before this book was published, should contribute the chapter ‘In the twilight zone’, showing the possibilities and opportunities that we can have in our older years. Elizabeth Birtles ends the book with how she has found it increasingly important to consider how she would wish to approach the ending of this life. This is a subject which we can read or talk about far too little without being in danger of being accused of being morbid. Liz writes in a way that will be a valuable addition to our Unitarian literature. The book is far more than just reading about how other individual Unitarians may approach situations in life, but at the end of each chapter is a list of questions, which make the reader engage with the issues. This is an added bonus, making the book useful for reading or study groups. It is certainly a book I would recommend to readers.
The price of Living With Integrity is £8.50, plus postage and packing.
Please telephone your order with card payment to Essex Hall on 020 7240 2384 Monday to
Friday between 10.30 a.m. and 5.00 p.m
Discovered in Kathmandu – How I found My Nepalese Family by Nick Morrice published 2014 by Balloonview
Having been alerted, by an article in the NUF Newsletter of July last year, I was delighted to discover that Nick had now written a full length book about the progress that had been made in supporting a group of children from an orphanage in Nepal.
The book is an uplifting example of what can be achieved with personal commitment, practical help, educational foresight, and sensitivity to the needs of a group of youngsters, whose future would otherwise be very bleak indeed, just as their early childhoods had been. But the book is much more than a factual account, although it is that too. The author clearly has a gift with words, which draws the reader into the lives and developing relationships of the characters involved. The book is as much a ‘page-turner’ as a good novel. One wants to know if these young men will be successful in their particular dreams and fulfil the potential that Nick sees in each of them. Even when I had read the last page I was left with the hope that there may be a sequel in five years time, or even sooner. Will Ramesh be a qualified doctor working in the field, bringing healthcare to the poor in Nepal, will Niran complete his accountancy course, will the remaining four boys be continuing in education or developing along their chosen path? Will Nick have become Godfather and Uncle to even more young
people, who, with his help, will make a difference in their country? It is not only about educational achievements but also about growing relationships, getting
to know and value the whole person, who they are and where they are.
The joy of the writer in these growing relationships comes across not only in the text but also in the 16 pages of coloured photographs and the pencilled portrait sketches of the characters in the book. We are transported to Nepal and experience the places the writer visits, the air pollution of Kathmandu, the food, the places they visit, the music and singing they share and so much more. We are drawn into it all. Not one word or experience is wasted. Perhaps one day we will meet some of Nick’s boys if they choose to advance their skills and education in this country, knowing that whatever they benefit from they will give back to society a hundred-fold, just as Nick himself has done.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. That the proceeds from sales will go towards funding the ongoing project is even more of an encouragement to purchase it. At £10.99 from Amazon or a signed copy directly from the author, at £12, this is an excellent buy. Nick at: firstname.lastname@example.org . If a congregation or organisation would like to invite Nick to give a slide show and talk about the project, please get in touch with him.
Many Names – A book of prayer, meditations and chalice lightings And The Endless Knot By Yvonne Aburrow
Many Names – A book of prayers, meditations and chalice lightings and The Endless Knot by editor of ‘The Unitarian’, Yvonne Aburrow, are just two more excellent publications by Unitarians.
Several NUF members and other friends, have spoken to me about prayer and the difficulties they experience. What does prayer mean in a shifting experience and understanding of the Divine? Many Names, has an excellent introduction that gives a brief outline of the different types of prayer that both those, who attend a chapel and those who don’t, would find helpful.
Yvonne is very comfortable drawing on traditions from around the world and what I particularly like is the way the prayers and meditations speak to the reader at both a spiritual and physical level. It seems perfectly right to address the Divine in many ways and using many names. With this sense of openness the line between addressing the Divine and being approached by the Divine becomes blurred – wholeness is experienced. The first prayer ‘Mother Goddess’, in the first section ‘Prayers to the source’, is a good illustration of the above, from the opening lines to the closing lines.
Sinking gratefully back into the land,
Into the folds of the Mother,
Her creases in time and reality…,
May I hear the song of the stars,
feel the rhythms of the Earth pulse in my body,
lie upon the beloved land
and know that my depths are Her depths
all the way to the ends of the Universe.
The sections and individual prayers and meditations are listed clearly in the table of contents at the beginning of the book. The Endless Knot is a poetry of place, experience, the seasons, and the sacred – a woman, relating to Mother Nature in her fecundity and depths. Rather than Yvonne approaching the
subject it seems to this reader that nature speaks to her and through her pen and to us in turn. The poetry is experiential in its physical and visual nature. Yvonne writes: ‘these poems are the distillation of experiences of ritual, landscape and mythology.
Both of the above books are available from: www.Lulu.com and www.amazon.co.uk
George D. Chryssides The Elements of Unitarianism
Through the Prism By Lucy Harris & Tony McNeile
What a delight it is to review two new publications by three members of our Fellowship. The first is a small paperback of 134 pages and just the right size to pop in your pocket or bag. Tony McNeile and Lucy Harris have collaborated to give us: Through the Prism—A pocketful of 28 prayers and 30 ruminations.
Even if I had not known the two writers, the differences would have struck me right away. But these differences are a good demonstration of the balance and breadth that Unitarians try to display. Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent of the Times, writes in the Foreword, that Tony and Lucy, “provide a space for both orthodox and unorthodox dissent and in the process, enrich the difficult landscape of religion”.
Tony writes 17 of the 28 prayers. He almost always begins by drawing his readers into a prayerful space, leading us in prayer. The phrases, “Let us” and “May we”, speak directly to us as we are connected to community in prayerful space. On the other hand Lucy’s prayers more privately approach a God of many names, asking a question or even stating a condition. She opens using phrases like; “Deep rich Well of life:/Grant…”: “God my Parent”: “Creative Spirit, Giver of Life”: “Divine Absolute”: “Universal Law that commands being:/Help us …” The balance is reversed in the second half of the book – ‘ruminations’ – with Lucy
writing 23 of the 30 pieces. She invites us in to her most private experience of God, almost one could say, the world of a mystic. She is constantly moving to the margins of her understanding and expression, often using language that isn’t prose, not poetry as we know it either, but rather a language moulded by the reading, understanding and experience of the writer. At times the language is jagged in paradoxical phrases then to be resolved. Punctuation or one statement
equalling=the next as unity of difference is achieved or accepted.
The reader will be challenged, both by the unique writing style and by what is being expressed. We have to work at it. Tony’s writing in this section is more accessible. Like Lucy, he is able to incorporate Eastern thinking into his writing but also refers to the Bible, which is his cultural heritage, a yardstick for making sense of his journey as his understanding has matured; rejecting the God to be feared, portrayed in the Old Testament, and embracing the teachings of Jesus, showing a new way of living and relating to God and fellow man. Yet I felt his ruminations and writing, reflected his many years of being a minister and a gift for communicating insights of a journey of faith that emphasises the personal nature of faith within the context of collective worship. His underlying wish is to communicate in a way that is easily accessible to anyone listening or reading, without losing the heart of his ruminations and not having avoided the challenges of religious thinking. In contrast I felt that Lucy was inviting us into her private conversations with the God of many name as she shared with us her personal faith. Her basic material seemed to be informed by a fruitful engagement with religious writers and the insights contained in their books.
This hasbeen no quick process but has depth and I hope will continue always. I hope too that she will share with us again as she has done in this nugget of a book. The resulting contrast between material of these two writers works well and is a brave endeavour that has resulted in a balanced and insightful book. However, readers, be prepared to be both encouraged and stretched, whilst at the same time your spirit is nourished.
The book is available at http://www.lulu.com and www.amazon.co.uk
Arthur Long Current Trends in British Unitarianism
My Little Prayer Book by Tony McNeile
This is a delightful book of prayers written and used by Tony McNeile over many years. Tony is currently the NUF Minister, where he writes and shares spiritual
material with the members. Tony encourages others to use any of the material for personal devotion or in joint worship. They work well in both cases. As an individual reading slowly through the prayers I feel they speak to me at this time but also I feel connected to the wider community. The thoughts expressed are universal. Other than the later pages of seasonal prayers, meditations, benedictions, sayings the prayers are not categorized, each one opening with the words: ‘Let us open our hearts to prayer’. This may detract from finding a particular prayer to use at a particular time but nevertheless does not detract from the value having a collection of material brought together and shared with whoever wishes to turn to prayer and needs the words of a writer, who is clearly ‘a man of prayer’.
It is available from www.lulu.com & www.amazon.co.uk
Wednesday at the Oasis – Pause for thought in the busy week By John Midgley – Lensden Publishing 2013.
This delightful book is a collection of 52 short sermons, following the passage of the weeks through just one year. They were originally written to be delivered at lunchtime mid-week to create a space of reflection for those caught up in the busyness of life in the centre of Manchester.
I am glad that the author has published them in a format that works just as well in the printed form. Each piece is just 2½ pages in length and although this reader raced through the weeks, being drawn to read ‘just one more’ the book will work much better read as they were delivered – one each week, or at least one at a time, to allow time for reflection. I certainly intend to do this as there were so many things to which I want to give more consideration.
The writer is a man of keen observation and a collector of interesting tit-bits of information collected from reading, listening, travelling and everyday experience. Although the pieces are easy to read, they do leave one pondering on life and thinking ‘well fancy that, something new I should have known’ or ‘I never thought of it in that way’. The months leading up to Easter and the weeks leading up to Christmas are packed with little nuggets of information that will trigger ideas to develop, when preparing to lead services or write blogs. The summer months were less religiously specific but no less enjoyable and often with a twist or a moral dilemma.
This beautifully presented paperback of just 160 pages is one that readers will take down from their bookshelves from time to time, long after their first reading. It can be purchased directly from Rev John Midgley, 2 Hirds Yard, Skipton, North Yorkshire BD23 2AF. The price is £8.99 + £2.50 post and package. (Cheques payable
to J. Midgley)
Unitarians: The Spiritual Explorers – A Personal View of Being Unitarian By John Pickering
This short book of just 40 pages is very well thought out, very well written and presented, striking cover which at the back gives the browser of bookshelves a clear statement and invitation to explore further. This published author knows how to speak to both Unitarians and those looking for something powerfully different in today’s world. It gives a positive sense of what it means to be a Unitarian for one person but also why it is relevant to thinking people
across the spectrum of secular, scientific or religious persuasion. For the most part it is closely written text with the occasional cartoon and photograph but in making use of the pages the balance is perfect. It ends with an image of the globe against a black background with the white writing encapsulating
the essence of the writer’s insights: This one world which unites us – is greater than all that divides us.
Finally we have information of the author, books he has had published previously
and directions to his website: www.lights2beyond.com
This is an exceptional book with real depth and insight.
UNITARIANS—A SHORT HISTORY by Rev Dr Len Smith
Blackstone Editions, the small US/Canadian publishing company specializing in liberal religious history has now released a Kindle Edition of Len Smith’s, The Unitarians: A Short History. It can be purchased from the Kindle Store at any Amazon website, where there is also an opportunity to take a “look inside”.
The eBook format makes the work more easily available in Great Britain as well as internationally, for only £4.91. It can be read on a Kindle reader, and i-Pad, or by using a free Kindle programme downloaded to a personal computer. The illustrations, which appear smaller on Kindle than in the Paperback edition, may be
enlarged using the cursor and zoom facility. A more expensive Paperback edition is also still available on the Blackstone Editions’ website.
To buy go to Amazon.
If you are a published Unitarian writer do
get in touch: