Tuesday, 22 January 2013

St Mark’s Unitarian Church

Sunday Service, 20 January 2013, 11.00am
Led by: Joan Cook

I approached this service with some enthusiasm. The trinity is probably the aspect of Christian theology I’ve had least faith in and most difficulty in understanding over the years. After all, if there’s just one god, why complicate matters by dividing him in three?

Maybe Unitarianism could be the answer to my prayers … one god and a whole lot of latitude allowing personal interpretation and reinterpretation of the divine. Unitarians see religion is a cultural construct, and themselves as part of an evolving faith that can embrace doubt and dissent and be the richer for it. So far, so promising.

The hymns, from Sing Your Faith, published by the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, certainly expressed this eclecticism:
Bring your traditions’ richest store,
Your hymns and rites and cherished creeds;
Explore your visions, pray for more,
Since God delights to meet fresh needs.

So why did I come away thinking … so what?

It might have been to do with the tone of the sermon/address, which seemed defensive and more than a little aggrieved; why don’t more nice liberal people realise what Unitarianism has to offer in a world of increasingly extreme fundamentalism? It reminded me of an election broadcast on behalf of a political party whose leaders know they have no chance of ever winning but are still bravely going through the motions.

There were no Bible readings and no prayers that were actually announced as such, although there were some “Amens”. The Duke Ellington piano music was an unconventional choice, but the Unitarians aren’t exactly conventional and who’s to say you shouldn’t have jazz to lead you into your period of three minutes’ contemplative silence?

But somehow I felt that by trying to be all spiritual things to all vaguely spiritual people, they’d wound up coming across as something rather less than a proper religion. I wouldn’t say that a religion needs a liturgy and rigid creeds, but surely it needs … I don’t know, something a little deeper, less woolly, more focused on God, if that isn’t too much to ask.  

At some point during those 55 minutes I switched from, “This might be something I can get on board with”, to “What on earth is the point?”, and it’s very difficult to put my finger on exactly what made that happen.


  1. That takes me back to the time, some 30 years ago, when, out of curiosity, I went to a service in a Unitarian Church. It was fascinating, but so utterly pointless as to be ridiculous. Indeed, it was tempting to laugh.

    Interesting blog, by the way.

  2. Thanks, John. Glad you're enjoying the blog.

    St Mark's was a strange one. All the trappings of a "real" church without any of the rules. I did find my mind wandering, trying to work out how fixed the pews were, because something in my memory told me that there had been a lot more open space the last time I was in there, for a concert, which would have been about 15 years ago. And if I was thinking more about the furniture than anything else, then they clearly failed to grab my attention.