Thursday, 26 March 2015

Tell The World We're Here

I still get the feeling that many Unitarians believe our faith is illegal and we are the religion that 'dare not speak its name'.

A more generous view might be that in an attempt to ensure we follow the Unitarian ethos of not proselytizing, we end up not telling people we exist at all. We seem to believe that informing people what we stand for, might imply that other views are wrong or inferior and the discussion itself could be conceived as trying to 'convert' people!

Many of us have also experienced the wrath of the traditionalists who gets upset when we try to explain the Unitarian Christian position - something that some of them see as a corruption of their core values. So keeping quiet and getting on with our own personal journey is what we do for the main, after all it should be up to us all as individuals.

This would be fine, but the problem is that our numbers are decreasing and as the years go on, more churches will close or become little more than senior citizens clubs. Thus creating larger and larger areas of the country where future generations have no Unitarian group to join. The negative effect of shrinking can accelerate the shrinkage as each year we scrap over ever decreasing resources.

I know I am biased, but it seems crazy to me that at a time when our values are so in-tune with High Street political correctness we are still so quiet. We should be so proud of our basic philosophy. I believe it is our duty to let the world know we exist so they are in an informed position to decide if they want to join us. It must be done with respect for others of course but if we are to die out, let's go down fighting - non-aggressively of course.

There is also the problem or at least a perceived problem that our faith means such different things to different individuals and groups that whatever we say will upset someone. We don't have the advantage of the UUA who have their 7 principles defined. We do have an Object and GA resolutions, but we are far more than the sum of these parts.

If we are to 'tell the world that we are here', it means that not only do we have to be shouting, but that someone is listening to what we have to say. In such a busy, noisy world, cutting through that is complex and difficult.

It requires specialist skills that we need to learn, particularly if we are doing it with limited resources. It can be done if we change our head-space first.

Energy and imagination are free limitless resources and often, in my experience, money will appear when people see inspiring projects.

The Internet has changed the rules for just about everything and has opened up our ability to reach people easily and cheaply, we just need to learn how to do it effectively .

James Barry


  1. Web platforms that I've found seem to be worth using are Meetup and Streetlife. Both are local in orientation. Both are easy for visitors to find you on, and neither requires professional Search Engine Optimisation knowhow to get you seen by the people you want to reach. Meetup costs about £10 a month (for the money, you can publicise up to three activities there). Streetlife is free. Its usefulness varies from one locality to another.

    Of course they're only relevant if you're doing something that has potential to interest non-churchgoers. Meditations, concerts, country walks - yes! You may get enquiries / people trying it out.

  2. I agree that we need to tell the world we’re here. The Unitarian community has much to offer the world at large and we have much work we could do in Britain. We do not, however, take basic steps to communicate our presence.

    A few months ago, religious leaders from around the country signed a letter against nuclear weapons. The Recording Clerk of the Society of Friends signed it but there was no signature from the Unitarians. At least one of my two associations is represented, I thought. But that’s not enough. Why didn’t one of our representative sign it? It’s the sort of thing we would sign so my only conclusion is that we were not asked and that is tragic.

    I have the sense that we do not look to the example of others to improve our visibility. We do not look to the way the UUA markets itself, as much as I hate that phrase, nor do we look to our neighbours here. The Quakers have fantastic ways of making themselves seen and heard: Quaker Equality Week, where we engage in projects outside of our meeting houses to highlight that part of the Testimony; Quaker Week, where we just make noise about the Society; Quaker Quest, run on a rolling programme to introduce newcomers to the Society in a gentle, zero commitment way; an increasingly unified ‘brand’ which is minimalist yet distinctive; the active and visible lobbying through Meeting for Sufferings and the Recording Clerk. Quaker Peace and Social Witness is a powerful voice on the matters in their remit and the Quaker group in the EU is working very hard to deal with matters of equality and trade. In America, there is the UUSC and Friends there have an equivalent organisation and the Side of Love campaign, which so beautifully transforms whilst retaining its identity, is a shining example. Why do we not riff on what we see around us or ask to send interested parties to Friends House or to the States to spend time with our brothers and sisters to learn from what they do? At one point, Quakers were struggling to be visible too.

    Let’s hit the social media and the political arenas. Let’s have a programme that we can run in our congregations to welcome newcomers. It’s not enough to do it in one congregation in London. Instead, we need to run them in as many places as possible, allowing people to drop in and see what we’re about. Let’s market ourselves. We have a huge number of creative people in our congregations. Let’s use our gifts!

    In loving friendship
    /Tristan Jovanović (member, Kensington Unitarians)

  3. We need first to tell the local community we are here ! Does the church builidng give any infromation that indicates what happens there ? Is the building used by secular groups in the week ? Is worship restricted to one service only on a Sunday ? It is easy for 'insiders' to underestimate the effort that it takes to walk in to a church building for the first time. Think of a similar situation that you may have never previously encountered - a betting shop, a city centre night club ; what goes on here ? what is the protocol ? will I stand out ? can I leave without embarrassment ?