This section is from my diary written each evening when I was at Luther King House as part of Unitarian College, Manchester. The names are disguised by letters, although some can only be slightly for those in the know.
It is the nature of this type of writing that much content is not reproduced. Quite simply some is now incomprehensible waffle, the meaning of which is lost or only understood by concentrated re-reading and cross checking. Other material however should remain sensitive and confidential, even in a situation of disguise. The idea is to bring out general behaviour patterns and attitudes. That which may seem controversial is usually a matter of public record!
Other than this I stick to the script with only minor word improvements. Because this script is dense, updates are infrequent. Some of it is typed and some is spoken into a microphone for automatic text. I don't know how an archivist will deal with these diary volumes.
It shows that, for me, early on, I was disappointed about Unitarian church life, and how things were going wrong from an early date. The Social and Pastoral Theology MA University course was repetitive to what I had already done in my Ph.D and below its level. Soon my movement towards humanism with a Cupitt style theology, and a desire to say what I saw, got me into trouble with traditional Unitarian Christian congregations and their local defenders which penetrated the college structure. Whilst I got on with many in the Federation of Christian denominations, I had most trouble with local and committee Unitarians. The theological clash was fundamental in a denomination that is supposed to practice freedom of belief. Later a minister going by the usual hearsay was to write in The Inquirer that whilst there is no test of belief a minister cannot be so removed from how congregations exist. So there was the rub.
I have always considered that my defection from the Church of England (where I began to seek ministry) was a mistake. I should have continued my theological explorations within its walls. After being told to leave Unitarian College by its committee (not by the Geneeral Assembly - it had no say once becoming a student), I then had nothing to do with any religion for one and a half years. I became involved with Western Buddhists, the Church of England and Unitarians for a while in Derbyshire/ Sheffield. In Hull I have had more contact with Unitarians but never assumed membership. I have argued that Unitarianism should be pluralist according to its creedless base, for example I have attacked the Object of the General Assembly which has a special provision to "uphold the Liberal Christian tradition".
This, however, is not an indication of my theology, which has become more Christian in recent times, far more exploring themes within that derive from its literature and drama, and the subversive "think again" nature of its stories. Whilst I take services at the Unitarian church, people now confuse my liturgical approach with traditional Christianity! It is as if I cannot win, but then my personality is not to settle. It definitely is not the Christianity of Unitarianism, however, which seems to me to be some sort of Victorian/ Edwardian hangover, still aiming for a defence of minimal objectivity and a particular ethos of practice. My aim is to not demythologise but remythologise, but be aware that this is what is being done. There are no boundaries to this however, so that the sources of other faiths are just as relevant in their messages which can be critically extracted.
The Unitarian training was a disaster in my life. It derailed a direction which emerged from the Ph.D. The content of Unitarian College training was a joke, it had to be different from the Federation however (to be more plural), but it did not fit with the University. All the college and outside practice did suggest to me, however, was that without radical change the Unitarian denomination would die off. Ministers are very expensive for a congregational system, and I cannot see many career spans being supported.
I later took an MA in Theology at Hull, a separate private engagement with issues, in a course not completely different from the Manchester one I rejected, but where no one tried to place a limit on the level and where, in fact, the level was often demanding (it had its bad parts too). Currently there is a tentative drift towards the Church of England. I may be too freethinking for it but the Unitarian denomination just seems to fall between too many stools, being neither one thing nor the other. Really, that was the problem of Unitarian College in Manchester.
It is said that had I gone to Manchester College in Oxford the outcome would have been different. maybe, except a colleague there who was also radical, this time politically, was also asked to leave after a year. I did not know all his circumstances. Unitarians critical of Unitarian College trying to suck up to a Christian Federation (and thus humanists are an embarassment) make the mistake that they also had a wide range of opinion amongst students and lecturers. My closest colleague was a non-realist, and openly so, in the Baptists. His view of the non-reality of God was the same as mine. A third student of similar views was a "lay" student just at the University. The Baptist completed his training - though I gather he later became a teacher.
My view is that without radical reform of structures and finance the ministry will be over burdonsome to Unitarianism and help its demise by draining its resources. Ministry, as I argued at Unitarian College, should be training and overseeing while lay people run churches. Also Unitarianism needs to find its niche; particularly as the other denominations cover the range of Christian views with broad historical resources. Liberty is also not about having independent institutions because, when they do what they like, they become oppressive; it is about overlapping authority with checks and balances and lines of demarcation, like in the Church of England.
I threaten people because I do not fit into institutions well. I keep finding the point where the institution is settled and thenprise it open by the questions which follow. Elena has told me that I undermine people's illusions and that they cannot bear this, which is why I got removed because this is true with the Unitarians too. I thought Unitarianism was for the misfit and the awkward squad, but this is not so. You are supposed to express the view that it supports freedom of belief, and many Unitarians actually believe this at the same time as they impose the theological and group boundaries - who can preach, what they will maintain, and what they will reject. Congregations with possession by its groups draw boundaries, and so individuals are not the point of reference for authority. In other words, the propaganda claims one thing while the reality is another. Unitarian propaganda also contrasts itself with credal based churches in a literalist manner regarding these creeds, when the practice in those churches is not literalist because they are in tension with the contemporary world and its theologies.
This section also covers the lead up to attending Unitarian College as well as being in the College because some of the main issues that were to haunt me were displayed then.
Adrian Worsfold (2002)