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