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Why I stopped Writing the Magazine

Wednesday, October 19, 2016 23:24
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(Before It's News)

This entry is for clarity. I have resigned as Magazine Writer and Compiler for Hull Unitarian Church. Now, the fact that I disagree with someone (the editor) doesn't mean I can't get on with them; indeed, to go further, the fact that I disagree doesn't mean I reject what I disagree with as legitimate and even worthy of sideways support in the wider activities of the Church.

Nevertheless I have had to resign. It is not because I did not want to volunteer to do the tasks involved, because I had set up ways and means to do them that now will be redundant. I wrote material, designed pages, put the material together with focus on facing pages and lead pages, and made a booklet of interest to a broad range of people with some success.

Despite stopping I have offered to make it possible to print this magazine that will result from my work and subsequent editing and rewriting.

I stopped at a point where I was being corrected by what I considered alternative material, and after a cartoon had been made by me that was questioned late on as relevant or understandable.It is understandable! It has a picture of Chamberlain and a Unitarian flaming chalice on a wall of windows underneath which sits a motley crew of anonymous trustees, people in a meeting with papers and laptops. My usual desire to combine different elements of design were, however, somewhat lost in a theme set as Leonard Chamberlain and since. It meant a lot of text. We have had articles on him before, so these are different – beyond the basics – and show more context including changes since.

So I have done what I have done and the result is online.

Be clear, this is not the magazine but, rather, what I can do in terms of writing and engagement, design (although much of that has taken a back seat) and the technicalities of creating a booklet from the material. Page 1 and page 2 make this clear.

I can explain the problem I have had by reference to something else I will not even begin.

Months back I suggested I would transfer my one-time Theology Course to the Creative Learning Centre that is Rev. Dr. Ralph Catts' initiative using the Hull Unitarians' building. My proposal is that the theology course would be ecumenical and comprehensive if tending to the radical and critical Christian theology with an appeal to religious professionals and the already interested. It would not be Unitarian as such. I wrote some extra material on Rowan Williams and others that have in recent times created a distinctive British theology. This is two sessions, and introduces the others. Others would also be adapted. I'm not sure how viable is 'the market'.

However, Ralph wants these to be on a Sunday afternoon. If there is no charge at the door, and no rent, he has to manage them. And in managing them, he wants them to be as discussion groups and clearly accessible to the congregation as well as others. He wants to Unitarianise them, in effect.

So what this involves is rewriting my presentation. He will tell me that my ideas are too complex and not understood. The Unitarian references in my intended material are co-incidental: I had these in when I led the group at Barton Anglicans. I would add James Luther Adams into my presentation, but I take the view that his theology simply does not stand up to scrutiny. I also think he is relatively unimportant, and derivative in a number of ways.

Ralph, who has no particular ideological connection to JLA, nevertheless uses him as important and along the way. He might be in the United States, but he is also run-out there regarding relevance.

Ralph's actual agenda I think is with the notion that people gather on principles of spiritual friendship out of which beliefs emerge. It is this 'spiritual not religious' trend, as if history starts again. There still is history, but that's about it. What matters is community. Activities are communal, suited, generated.

My view is that religion and Church is institutional. People have views and beliefs and stances that sufficiently overlap and gather in one place rather than another. The people they gather with are not necessarily their friends, but hopefully people put more effort in to fellowship than they would in the workplace.

I think Ralph's view is that my approach, which I share with others, is somewhat played-out, that it is now come to a kind of end-point. I (he has told me this) represent “old thinking” – and also my reading is somewhat a few decades old. He is the radical now.

But for me, being a radical implies roots, and memory, and institutions have a nasty (or good) way of reminding one that they still exist. They transmit cultures: ways of talking and understanding. Overturn these at your peril.

If I call his approach 'Findhorn Unitarianism' it is not meant as a put-own but rather as describing an amalgam, but not even that I suggest. It is rather that Unitarianism provides the space, and the semi-Pagan semi-Buddhist 'Findhorn' the content. This is because things have changed and necessity means a new approach.

I'm keen to learn from different experiences and indeed to graft one on to another, but I suspect this is more. But even if I am wrong about this, I am right that my writing contributions are to be bent into the mould of something I am not offering.

He must represent himself. This is how I consider the position by my writing has been viewed for framing. First that Leonard Chamberlain was a leading member of a Church that became the Unitarians, and that beliefs change because the universe changes in its explosion of knowledge, especially recently. Leonard Chamberlain had a vision and social justice conscience that we share, via changes in outlook. That the Presbyterian-Unitarian line is continuous, even intentional. He put his wealth to good use with concern for the poor. He fought for liberty to worship and supported our ministry.

This, however, is my view: that there is a Presbyterian-Unitarian line, and we get a Puritan echo (layers of chain of meaning), but it is as more discontinuous than continuous. We do not share his outlook, and indeed hardly understand it. He was an extremist even before his time in the outlook of Elizabeth. His view is about the saved pre-ordained, whatever one did, but that what one showed was a testimony of works about irresistible grace. Arminianism was a later development, of preordained knowledge by God of people making a holy effort. In my view Presbyterian Churches forced to be independent early on (and stayed that way) somewhat lost the plot, and declined. Ministers preached changing ideas, but with social and economic change came a materialist, rationalist, Unitarianism affected by European ideas that in effect planted itself in Presbyterian churches. People who were well off (the trustees for sure) where the ministers were left to it allowed a vacuum of Arminianism to be filled. Some of it was, yes, a sort of trinitarian universalism following on from the Arminians, but another was an 'off the page' biblical Unitarianism. And then that started to evolve, into an argument between a less Puritan more Presbyterian-parish outlook affected by Romanticism and biblical criticism, and a more Puritan style less parish denominationalism of biblicists.

I am pleased that a design change to page 2 (Ralph's instruction in fact regarding an enhanced personnel list) allowed me to fit in a 'how it all started' and a reference to Scots re-establishing the Presbyterian line. But when this was to change again, that was it: his view is also that people would not understand my compacted writing. Maybe, but I think Protestants coming back after Mary's represssion and having experienced Protestant pure rule abroad is relevant, as is being divided in Hull's Holy Trinity Church between Presbyterians and Independents before removal in 1669 – a date relevant to setting up two (not one) congregations of Presbyterians. Also interesting that nineteenth century Presbyterians acquired the former Independent Dagger Lane chapel.

Now people can read these and follow them up. A5 and 12 point print does not allow long pieces even across several pages. They can follow up local history, or religious change, or indeed just read these pieces and get some clues.

But it is important that we do not confuse the continuation and narrative of looking back, with the realities of individuals and stances looking forward at various historical moments. It is also important that in going back historical imagination – empathy – is involved rather than seeing things as, for example, similar to our 'social justice'. The provisions of Chamberlain went to the godly poor, people who might be saved, and whilst they did not have to be Presbyterian or Puritan, they did have to have some testimony of works or evidence of possible salvation via their character – not salvation by character but evidence of salvation by God. Or later on, we see the difference between a Joseph Pease making money in a fixed mercantilist setting and his grandson Joseph Robinson Pease making money as an out and out capitalist. This latter chap was also the one who set up an octagonal chapel in Hull, deliberately a European ecclesiastical design that would still show themselves as distinct from the Church of England. We need to see, imagine, the difference between a Chamberlain and the Rowley Puritans he so admired wanting liberty for themselves but not others (evidentially by their authoritarian religious communism) and the later liberals who wanted liberty to break the old feudal regime and let in a kind of free trade libertarianism.

So I am sorry but I am not going to be framed into representing a view I do not hold, either in the magazine or in theology. There will now be no theology sessions led by me.

On top of this is the more practical point that when I took over the magazine I said that a) it would be on time (then one every two months) and b) it would have relevant and varied content. Having this magazine on Chamberlain and since and the next on poetry is not what I wanted. Nor has it been on time. The minister is very busy and the magazine gets delayed and delayed. I get on with it, but his hands on editing forces me to wait and wait.

I have said that he needs someone who 1) shares his outlook, is 2)intelligent and not “intellectual” and 3) has some experience in putting a magazine together. As it happens, even among a tiny few, there is a person who can do this (and experience of Microsoft Publisher), assuming attendance and longer term commitment.

On this basis I have given way. The ministerial workload has gone up a bit more, due to the managed 'vision' rather than a more decentred delegation. However, there is probably someone else, and even someone else as well, so it is time – even at a point of non-completion (I have offered to wrap whatever is done up, if it is done) – to pass the magazine on to someone else.

The probability is that the Newsletter becomes the only communication: I always thought that having that and the magazine would finish one of them, as the magazine lost its news function. But in fact the reason for my resignation is ideological and about outlook.

Which shows that, however small, and however supposedly about plurality, groups splinter. I shall counter that by continuing with the music (I have always left choices to the preachers who only then leave any choices to me) and trying to suggest a low cost practical improvement to the building.

Liberal and Thoughtful Website creator; critical examiner of social sciences and theology, religious liberal, ‘terror blogger’.

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