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Friday, 8 July 2011

A Boring Agenda?

There has been some criticism so far - especially in the debate on the Agenda this afternoon - about the fact that our agenda in York this year looks rather dull. Certainly, there is a lack of big splashy topical debates, but despite the fact that it's what gets the coverage, the politics and problems of the day are not really what Synod is about. Its function is primarily a legal one, and there is plenty of that sort of stuff on the agenda. Also on the agenda - and seemingly missed by many - are two examples of another of the less glamorous jobs that Synod does, namely talking about and regulating the way in which we relate to other churches. If you look here and here, you will find documents that describe the current situation with regards to the Anglican Methodist Covenant, and which will inform a debate on Sunday afternoon. While we are still a way from unity, and while the process is moving at what seems to be a snail's pace, there is some progress happening. One piece of good news in a corner of the agenda.

In a similar vein, but perhaps of more importance, are the documents here and here, which will form the basis of a debate on Monday evening about relations with the United Reformed Church. The URC has its ultimate origins in the expulsion from the Church of England of Nonconformist dissenters following the Act of Uniformity in 1662, and if the recommendations in the report are passed by Synod, they will result in the request that "representatives of the two churches should join together in an act of worship in 2012, that would mark both the 350th anniversary of the Great Ejection of nonconforming ministers following the Act of Uniformity 1662 and the 40th anniversary of the inauguration of the United Reformed Church. The service should contain an expression of penitence for our part in perpetuating the divisions of the past, a desire for the healing of memories and an act of commitment to work more closely together in the future." That strikes me as being at least as important a thing for Synod to be doing as the various things that people this afternoon said we ought to be talking about. Apart from anything else - this thing might actually make a difference...

(Chichester 289)


Pete Broadbent said...

It's pretty unlikely that either of the ecumenical documents will actually change anything. I detect little appetite for national ecumenism, and suspect that the Methodist and URC stuff is being done because we have to be polite, rather than because our heart is in them. It's all a bit king's new clothes, I'm afraid.

Justin Brett said...

If that's true then it's certainly a shame. Perhaps if there is little appetite for national ecumenism then we ought to be thinking about how to get that appetite sharpened?

Tim Moore said...

As a Unitarian with Anglican connections, I find it a quite a cop-out that the CofE only wishes to perform an "act of penitence" and commemoration of the Great Ejection with the United Reformed Church.

I'm not against CofE/URC dialogue, but congregations tracing their history back to the 1662 ejection are more likely to be Unitarian than URC.

Are the (non-creedal, though not entirely non-Trinitarian) Unitarians too non-conformist for the CofE? My own Unitarian church was founded after the Great Ejection, but we have good relations with our nearby Anglican Cathedral, so dialogue and co-operation is possible.

Justin Brett said...


I'm struggling a bit with how one can be both a Unitarian and "not entirely non-Trinitarian". Although it's the non-creedal bit that's really the problem. Dialogue and conversation is certainly possible, but what I would want to press for is a re-uniting, and I don't think the CofE could unite with a body that rejects one of the central tenets of its beliefs.

Tim Moore said...

Hi Justin,

There is a difference between Unitarian *doctrine* - that of rejection of the traditional Christian trinity - and of Unitarian *communities*. Unitarian congregations subscribe to no corporate creed, but value the primacy of individual conscience, and commit to supporting the spiritual journey of other members. In this context Trinitarian beliefs (and more importantly, engagement with those ideas) can be found across the Unitarian movement. In my own experience, I know more about the traditional Christian trinity and value it more than I ever did in a mainstream Christian church.

You raise another point of institutional unity: I don't think any Unitarian would be interested in "uniting" formally with the Church of England, and I share Bishop Pete's view that I sense little desire for institutional ecumenism, neither in the CofE, nor even in the URC, which was founded on the premise of working towards institutional Christian unity and today struggles with its identity with the lack of progress in such since its founding.

Yet for the anniversary of the "Great Ejection", I see no reason why Unitarians should be excluded from "an expression of penitence for our part in perpetuating the divisions of the past, a desire for the healing of memories and an act of commitment to work more closely together in the future," unless the Church of England still prefers to exclude other people of faith for not affirming the right dogma, as in 1662.

Justin Brett said...


Bit of an 'ouch' moment as I read your last and realised I hadn't quite understood what you were saying. For what it's worth, I agree - although I suspect there are some Baptists around who would want to be included in such an act too, for the same reasons.

Perhaps your congregation might like to get in touch with the Bishop of Guildford whose group produced the report.

Tim Moore said...

Thanks for your reply, Justin. It's apparent that we Unitarians aren't good at explaining ourselves!

I feel that to involve only one descendent group from the Great Ejection in the Church of England's national commemorations in 2012 would end up being a rather partial and insincere "expression of penitence." The planned event should be completely separated from discussions with the URC and I agree that Baptists should also be invited to participate.

Fellow Unitarian observer of synod The Pluralist has expanded on the URC's links to the Great Ejection (or lack of them) in his post "Partly So..."

I will look into how the Unitarian General Assembly could approach the Church of England regarding national commemorations. If the CofE feels it needs to make an "expression of penitence," however, it should really be the objective of the Bishop of Guildford or the relevant CofE body to make the formal invitation to the Unitarian General Assembly and the Baptist Union, etc.