Follow by Email

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Attempt to Revoke Civil Partnership in Religious Premises Regulations

I am disappointed and saddened at the last minute attempt that will be made in the House of Lords on 8 December 2011 by Baroness O’Cathain (see below) to revoke the regulations to allow civil partnership registration in religious premises and would urge its clear rejection. This appears to be a cynical effort to derail the measure on rather spurious grounds.

The amendment to the Equality Bill permitting registration originated in the House of Lords and was passed with wide support. The matter of churches being “compelled” to register was dealt with by Section 202 which stated that “nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so”. This is reinforced in the regulations. Churches are no more obliged to enable civil partnerships to be registered on their premises  than hotels or other commercial premises.

British Unitarian and Free Christians have welcomed this opportunity to recognise in public, and support, a commitment between two individuals to each other. I am sure we will be amongst the first to register some of our premises and have registration ceremonies. This is entirely a local decision for each congregation reflecting our commitment to congregational autonomy and democratic governance as we made clear in our submission during to the consultation by the Equality Office.

Compulsion in matters of religion goes against our long history of struggle for our religious freedom. We are confident that the legislation offers the protection to those churches who hold a differing view on this issue and do not wish to register their premises for this purpose. They have that freedom.

Unitarian congregations must not be prevented at this late stage in seeking to take forward our own sincerely held views and to offer same sex couples the opportunity to register their civil partnership”  

House of Lords Future Business

Thursday 8 December at 11.00am

†Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/2661) Baroness O’Cathain to move that a Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Regulations, laid before the House on 8 November, be annulled on the grounds that they do not fulfil the Government’s pledge to protect properly faith groups from being compelled to register civil partnerships where it is against their beliefs. 43rd Report from the Merits Committee

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Interest in Unitarianism Growing Worldwide

“Interest in Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism Worldwide is growing” was the message at a recent “Tent Summit” in Boston, Massachusetts organized by the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU).

Representatives of the five largest member groups of the ICUU gathered under a tent (well more a gazebo) to symbolise a meeting of people and organisations as equals, as partners and working together with a common objective regardless of age, size or wealth. The “tent” motif comes from the St Ethelburga Centre in London, an historic church which was destroyed by a IRA terrorist bombing of the City in 1993 but rebuilt as a centre for peace and reconciliation.

It was inspiring to share stories with colleagues from Canada, North East India, Transylvania, United States as well as the UK. I was joined by Rev Martin Whitell, Executive Committee Convenor and Rev David Usher, Executive Committee member, as representatives of the General Assembly.

We explored the potential for collaboration and partnership building upon the work of ICUU over the last 16 years. We looked back into our history of working across political boundaries. It is not for nothing that one of the predecessor organisation of the British General Assembly was “The British and FOREIGN Unitarian Association”. Our fore bearers had a vision of Unitarianism expanding across the world.

We looked at our own strengths and what we could contribute to support the wider Unitarian-Univeralist movement. There are emerging groups in many countries as well as individuals who find Unitarianism through the web. Priorities include access to education and training for Ministers, support for lay leadership, opportunities for cross-cultural learning and exploring how we can promote social justice as an international movement.

Thanks to the ICUU President and the staff team for organizing the event and to the Unitarian Universalist Association for hosting us. The challenge is to put in place concrete actions to take forward the priorities identified.

For British Unitarians the message should be to widen our vision of an expanding Unitarian movement in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We have skills, knowledge and funds to bring for mutual benefit for we live in a globalised world and by acting locally we can do so much.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Be Passionate, Connected, Empowering and Authentic and You May Survive

Most of us where brought up with Kodak being a familiar commercial name. Patrick Butler, head of education, health and society at The Guardian, tells their tale in Third Sector (23 February 2010). Kodak, of course, made camera film and was very successful. Yet for a while Kodak somehow “lost the plot”; they thought that digital cameras were a fad. Fortunately for them they managed to reinvent themselves as a digital camera company and then drew on the strengths of their brand name. They managed to stay ahead of the curve, survive and thrive but not without undergoing major change.

We live in a rapidly changing world. Patrick suggested that the following will be the survivors; the passionate, the connected, the empowering, the authentic. He was thinking about charities and voluntary organisations. What about religious groups? I would think that this is relevant both locally and nationally. Where in fact do we stand if measured against this test?

The passionate. Passion has not always been associated with Unitarianism. In a harsh phrase, Ralph Waldo Emerson rejected “corpse cold Unitarianism”. Waldemar Argow argues that “The ideal in religion is to establish the proper balance between mind and emotion” (1). Individuals finding a spiritual home with us often bring passion; we need to ensure this is harnessed and not snuffed out. Collectively, as a denomination we should show we really care about injustice not simply put our hands in our pockets for a good cause. Passion, of course, does not mean we give up our belief in reason but without it we won’t be able to keep our energy levels high.

The connected. Is your congregation embedded in your local community or fairly isolated? Opening your doors to community activities is one way to build connections. Perhaps you are excluded from local ecumenical activities; why not develop your own amongst liberal religious and secular people? Are you connected to district and national Unitarian activities that can help you grow and sustain your community life?

The empowering. Unitarian values of democratic governance at congregational level should set an example of empowerment and participation. They can be liberating for those once active in more hierarchical churches. Yet sometimes we don’t practice what we preach and this can produce conflict and tension in congregations. For example, how the General Assembly involves our young people is something the Executive Committee has been discussing.

The authentic. Some say authenticity can be faked; I doubt it. For all our interest in celebrities – people famous for being famous – we know deep down that this is a sham. People in our churches and chapels will see through the “mask” to the inner reality of our community life. Yet a caring community can make such a difference to individuals and families in an increasingly isolated world.

To be passionate, connected, empowering and authentic is a huge challenge. These raise deep questions for us as individuals, as local communities and as General Assembly. But the prize is a bright future. Like Kodak, we may have to reinvent ourselves in some very practical ways. But like them we can draw upon our strengths, particularly our heritage of service, tolerance and love of freedom.

1. quoted in Lingwood, Stephen (2008) “The Unitarian Life”, Lindsey Press, page 22

This blog post appears in "The Unitarian", No 1293, November 2011

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

At the Home Office

Chief Officer Derek McAuley pictured outside the Home Office with from left Michael Bartlet (parliamentary liaison, Quaker Peace and Social Witness), Rabbi Danny Rich (Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism) and Paul Parker (Recording Clerk, Quaker Yearly Meeting) prior to a meeting last week with Lynne Featherstone MP, Minister for Equalities, on equal marriage.