The Unitarian Church in Britain is very hard to define. If we assume that the independent General Assembly and various equally independent bodies and the very independent congregations constitute a Church then we might say that this entity is dedicated to liberalism. Until you try to define liberalism, that is. Is it "liberal" in the sense of being fully evolutionary, open to doctrinal change, as was even defined in parliament in 1844, or is it liberal about something, which would mainly be Christianity? Or take the term Unitarian. Does "Unitarian" mean a doctrine, as in a commitment to belief in one God? In fact Unitarianism presupposes no such commitment because it is non-credal and individualist. The individualism is that, formally, no minister of member of a Unitarian congregation is tested for any content of their faith. However, when you have no formal rules you do get groups of people who make their own informal rules, and the most effective centre for identity is the congregation. And no one outside the congregation can do anything about a situation where a congregation arrives at an informal collective identity. An example would be when services continuously reflect a humanist sentiment. In such situations individuals can become marginalised. But whilst there are these informal restraints regarding identity, usually at a local level, at a formal and national level there is no agreed definition for anything.
There is only history and sociology as a moving escalator of ongoing theologies. I want to suggest how the whole of Unitarian history is all about a lack of agreement on definitions. In one key sense this is its great promise, that it can be so diverse, and it can generate a positive experience of plurality in proximity within its walls. It can offer this as a gospel of toleration to a fractured world.
Of course I am now giving my definition of what makes Unitarianism unique. Plurality is its sense of definition. I really do think that, more than the Church of England and its varieties, more than, say, Western forms of Buddhism and their cultural adaptations and traditions, more than the Quakers and their tolerance under the received voice of God, this Church can promote humans living in plurality and difference. But, like I say, this is my view and there are no agreed definitions. Others have other ideas on what Unitarianism is about.
It has always been like this, of course, but suddenly this lack of identity matters for the very survival of the denomination. For between 1994 and 1996 alone - two years - the membership of the denomination dropped by nearly 8% to around 6000 people. And as the age range remains top heavy so this decline will continue. Some of the around 170 functioning independent congregations are now very weak. So I shall speak about: how Unitarianism got to where it is and where it is going, and where it could go if it got its act together. To do this I also wish to draw on local experience in Hull.
The Hull Church has a rather attractive blue banner, displayed at General Assemblies and special services. It says "Hull Unitarians, established 1672". The intention is to show that the local church is well rooted in history. Well it is that for sure, but the banner is completely misleading. Two groups were founded in 1672 and for sure Unitarians were not among them. The point is that the founders of these earliest continuous congregations, of which Hull is one, would have been horrified about the kind of liberal faith that did later develop.
The founders were English Presbyterians, Puritans who left the Church of England when it demanded assent and consent to the whole of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. I stress again that they had no relationship with Unitarianism; indeed the second minister in Hull, one of those ejected in 1662, Samuel Charles, wrote against Socinianism when he trained in Derbyshire and in fact Presbyterians had called for the death penalty for Socinians. Socinianism was a Polish development, with origins two hundred years before the similar biblical method used by English and American Unitarianism.
One Hull congregation met in a house, with their ejected minister Joseph Wilson, and the second met in a chapel. They were Puritan Calvinists, believers in human bondage to a predestined eternal heaven or hell, and very definitely trinitarian. The Hull Church has some of Samuel Charles' sermons (he arrived around 1680) and they display the fierce religion they practised. However, the Trust Deed of 1689 shows that they were otherwise compromisers in churchmanship. They had stayed in the national Church according to the Elizabethan Settlement, unlike fellow Independent Puritans, and they were only forced out by the restoration. In fact the Trust Deed even includes the hope that they could close the church down and be returned into the Church of England. But the Church of England never did reincorporate the Puritans, just as it didn't reincorporate Methodists many decades and even centuries later. In essence they were orderly people, seeking liberty for themselves only because it had been denied to them.
It's this that frames the early character of the Bowl Alley lane congregation, and was its consistent feature right through two centuries to the 1850's, first of all for rights of dissenting trinitarians and later for the rights of dissenting Unitarians and others. This is, though, the only consistent thread throughout history.
The congregation had only just got started when from 1683 to 1687 there was something of a local terror in Hull. There were show trials, imprisonments and local exile involving the Presbyterians. From 1687 they were able to reopen the Hull chapel again, and the Toleration Act in 1689 allowed the permanent right of trinitarian of worship.
So a very wealthy woman, Ann Tomlin, appointed four trustees. These were a woollen draper, a master mariner, a baker and a wine cooper. Their method of church government reflected the gilds own governing system and, also, the architecture of the new chapel in 1693 suggested their status, being in the style of the London Merchants' Halls.
Now this emerging, pre-industrial, pre-free market middle class was not well liked by the mass of the population. The mass of the people had popular religion, even superstition, and a preference for pleasures, not unlike the restoration upper class; but the Presbyterians wanted the local population to be reformed. The Hull church was involved in The Society for the Reformation of Manners in Kingston upon Hull which, as well as hearing sermons, prosecuted those who did not attend church, who drank at late hours and went fishing on Sunday (and anything else especially offensive to the Puritans). However, the other side of the package deal involved improving the lot of the common people. The Presbyterian leaders had the money to do it of course, and if they did not do it who would? Leonard Chamberlain, a relative by marriage to Ann Tomlin, set up his own trust. Again, typical of other similar trusts, this helped poor Presbyterians and any Christians where he owned land. This meant Hull, Sutton, Cottingham, Selby and Bridlington. Poor Presbyterians and others of any Christian denomination got help with education and basic welfare provision. Money also went to Presbyterian churches. Cottingham and Bridlington churches later had internal disputes, which, in effect, prolonged their orthodoxy, and as a result centuries later they became part of the United Reformed Church. Hull, however, like most English Presbyterian churches, evolved into Unitarianism.
So why did most of these illiberal churches become liberal? The answer is not in their Trust Deeds being open. In the nineteenth century it was a common argument that these churches had the most simple and undogmatic of trust deeds because they intended to be liberal or evolutionary from the beginning. This argument was and is mythic history, as has been pointed out by some Unitarians themselves. The trust deeds were simple because the law assumed the Trinity, as they did, while the Puritans were obviously opposed to restriction by Church dictat. They put their faith in the Bible alone, which they thought was the secure foundation for their Puritanism.
They were wrong, of course; the Bible does not provide its own interpretation and there were two developments of note. One was Arminian ideas retaining God's grace and initiative in salvation but allowing human freedom in accepting it or rejecting it. This, of course, had no effect on the Trinity one way or another. A more minor development was that of Arian ideas, and this did attack the Trinity. Now these days the Trinity is not interpreted as strictly as it was then - many a trinitarian today would be classified as Unitarian then, never mind Arian. In those days the trinity was understood strictly, shared by both Calvinist and Arminian, but Arianism denied the co-equality and co-eternity of Christ with God. Curiously Arian ideas were more influential in the Church of England than in Presbyterian churches, and many a Presbyterian Arian left to join the Anglican Church. But there was one notorious exceptional case, which galvanised the whole of Old Dissent.
Presbyterian students in Exeter were being influenced by the writings of the Arian Anglican Samuel Clarke and his ideas were being preached there within the Presbyterian fold. Dissenters had to decide whether faith in the Bible alone was enough to protect the Trinity or whether there needed to be a return to subscription within their congregations.
Most Congregationalists could see the writing on the wall. If the Churches did not subscribe to creeds and articles and individual declarations of faith then any old doctrine might invade the churches as had happened in Exeter. But most Presbyterians were not going to revert to artificial protection. Faith was from God, the Bible was his words, and churches needed confidence in God the Trinity. Some Congregationalists and the General Baptists of the day joined most Presbyterians. They became the non-subscribing dissenters.
Simply moving to Arminian ideas arguably did not of itself constitute intentional liberalism, and Arian ideas were largely avoided. However, these churches did leave themselves, if unintentionally, naked to further change. They had been unable and then were unwilling to set up Presbyteries to maintain discipline through Church courts. Secondly the parish church feel they wanted to reproduce meant that members only had to rent pews and attend. Membership rolls were then (as now) badly maintained. It was the trustees who had organising power and they mainly concentrated on buildings and appointing the minister. The trustees let the minister get on with doing what he was good at, just as in trade they did what they were good at, and so the church members came along, paid their pew rents and sat in their places according to influence and payment.
Now people who live just too comfortably in this life find that their children are not going to maintain theologies of heaven and hell and being compensated in the afterlife. Time and again sects moderate into denominations if only for this very reason. Faith was bound to moderate and become more this worldly, once the hot-headed Puritan period passed away, and there was nothing to prevent this happening.
The non-subscribers' sober and even boring religion couldn't attract many converts and they did not participate in the eighteenth century evangelical revival, which saved the Independents or Congregationalists and revived their Calvinism in a new era. Presbyterians were still trinitarians of course, although by the middle of the eighteenth century the Trinity was beginning to evacuate its meaning, not so unlike today in large parts of the mainstream Churches. The non-subscribers were clearly drifting and declining but what saved them was the new broom of Unitarianism.
Theophilus Lindsey was an Arian who resigned his Anglican living in Catterick after he failed in a petition against subscribing to the Thirty Nine Articles in 1771. When seeing John Disney near Lincoln he was shown Samuel Clarke's revised Arian Prayer Book. He was the Anglican who had influenced events in Exeter. Lindsey adapted Clarke's Prayer Book for his new chapel named "Unitarian" in London, which opened in 1774. Interestingly, it kept the Apostles Creed until 1793 when Lindsey became a thorough unitarian. He had hoped that other Anglicans would follow him out, but as we know Anglicans usually practice their liberalism inside their Church. So the chapel passed to the dissenters' fold after Disney's time.
Joseph Priestley attended the opening of this new London church in 1774. He became a missionary of Unitarianism and he was a rationalistic unitarian from the off. In those days rationality was then seen as supporting the materiality of the biblical miracles, including the resurrection, which these Unitarians treated as history. It was literalist too, because this Unitarianism came before biblical criticism and read its religion straight off the bible's pages. They could see no belief in the Trinity in the Bible and so the true faith was unitarian doctrine. This followed in the footsteps of those in Poland and Transylvania who argued for "ordinary comprehension" regarding the Bible, although the Polish version was a little more restricted before being ethnically cleansed in 1660, and the Poles' conservatism was maintained in Transylvania. However, the English and Transylvanian movements were entirely separate and it was only in the nineteenth century that the two Unitarianisms discovered each other. Incidentally, Scotland had no native Unitarianism but did have Universalism, and Wales had a tight rural area of preached Arminianism and later Arianism north of Carmarthen and in the south east a looser collection of some mainly Baptist chapels that went Unitarian as well as ejections in 1662 in Swansea and Cardiff.
The new Unitarian broom involved a big change of temperament. Whereas the Presbyterians had run surrogate parish churches, broad and moderating, the absence of a biblical Trinity was for Unitarians the essence of denominational self-identity. In the environment of growing industrial towns new Unitarian churches were as self made as their founders and backers. Even once Presbyterian churches caught the wind of change towards denominationalism. Not that everyone agreed. Some stuck to the Presbyterian ideals and gradually they became known as Free Christians. They were distinguished from Unitarians whilst becoming Unitarian in the broader sense.
The great modern day liberal Friedrich Hayek has identified two historical sets of liberals, the "empirical and unsystematic" and the "speculative and rationalistic", and it can be said that whilst the dominant unitarians were "speculative and rationalistic", the older Free Christian Unitarians were "empirical and unsystematic". Priestley suggested the utilitarian principle to Jeremy Bentham.
The doctrinal unitarians' support for the bourgeois French Revolution led to more repression which further restricted the political ambitions of this element of the middle class. Mob violence in Birmingham, supported by the local Tories and judiciary, caused Priestley to flee to America where he helped develop a unitarian spirit there against the more moderate approach of Channing.
So the denomination was split. Each side developed its own college, funds and newspapers. They had their own mythic reinterpretations of the past, so that the Free Christians identified with the breadth of the Presbyterians but not their narrow faith; whereas the unitarians took on the Puritan enthusiasm without the breadth of their churchmanship. It was sect and Church by temperaments - and all in one divided movement, joined together by mutual antagonism.
However, chapels did change in emphasis according to which side was predominant at the time, or local influences. Hull was usually Free Christian in ethos, but was hit by the wind of Priestley and the dominant unitarians. So the first actual self-confessed unitarian minister in Hull was William Severn, appointed in 1806 and he stayed until 1813. He was an ex-Wesleyan Methodist, and at this time splinter groups from New Dissent were coming into Unitarianism, giving this denominationalist side of the movement ever greater influence. Incidentally, the General Baptists split in 1802. Some moved to the Particular Baptists and others went to Unitarianism. There were three Unitarian Baptist churches in Hull but only one around 1840. It probably merged into the Bowl Alley Lane congregation a little after, at least according to a family link in 1910.
Jumping over two ministers after William Severn, William Steele Brown was appointed in 1825 and his wife was a grand-daughter of Joseph Priestley. However, the next minister but one, Edward Higginson, was the brother of James Martineau's wife Hetty. James Martineau was very firmly of the other side of the denomination, indeed its de facto leader: he was a Tory, something of a social snob and a man who would not allow anyone in his family to marry denominationalist Unitarians. But then the next minister, John Shannon, appointed in 1845, was a convert from Northern Irish Calvinism. So we can surmise that he was a denominationalist Unitarian.
Now the Hull Unitarians had a very impressive Octagonal chapel built and this was opened in 1803. These people were important people, except they were still excluded politically (although their faith as such was legalised in 1813). The Hull Unitarians up to 1832 petitioned parliament for their own but also Catholic, Jewish and anti-slavery freedoms, to reflect in law the newly emerging society. The Unitarians were too big in society to be ignored, as were industrialists and the middle class in general. So Unitarians were soon into local government and rising up the political ladder. A good job too because soon they would need political influence.
In the 1840's matters went horribly wrong. The denominationalists, unlike the other side, were no shirkers when it came to knocking the errors of other dissenters in sermons, frequently demanding a response. The trinitarians got irritated and decided to strike. OK, so these people are Unitarians - but weren't their chapels set up by trinitarians, Calvinists even, people like Leonard Chamberlain in Hull? These founders were nothing to do with Unitarianism, and so the trinitarians decided that they would like their trust funds back. This was especially because by and large when a chapel did become identifiably Unitarian, as Hull did after 1800, the orthodox found themselves leaving and struggling to set up their own chapels (although there is no evidence of a group walking out at Hull). The Unitarians then kept the chapel and the dosh. Suddenly the trinitarians were winning back trust funds in the courts. Unitarians lost case after case, including the principal one in York.
Fortunately the Unitarians had just enough political friends in high places. The denomination was saved by the Dissenters Chapels Act (1844) partly on the rather doubtful parliamentary argument that there had been an imperceptible transition at any one time from one belief to another. The Free Christians further argued for the principle of future change of beliefs in congregations into the legislation. The result of all this was a big drop in the kudos of the denominationalists.
When in 1865 Samuel Bache tried to fix unitarian beliefs nationally, he failed, unlike the successful attempt at the same time in America. Incidentally, the American denomination then split between east and west, but this split allowed a stronger form of religious humanism to be developed in the West and be reincorporated back into the reunited denomination in the 1890's. In both America and here it was realised that the sect side had repeated the error of the trinitarian non-subscribers by laying too much confidence in the Bible.
Instead James Martineau believed that the biblical narrative was a blockage to the ultimate theology of pure theism. We are not looking for a Messiah or saviour as they were then, he stated. Theirs was a transitory culture of biblical times. God the ultimate was what mattered - the bible was just a pointer to God. This was a horrific view for the denominationalists, who believed in the man Christ was supremely approved of by God through the historical, visible signs of the miracles and resurrection.
However, Martineau also introduced a far more radical notion. He stated that the individual conscience must be the final arbiter in matters of belief. So far from affirming objective theism, as in the rest of his theology, this affirmed a superior radical subjective individualism. And Unitarianism has never settled this contradiction to this day.
Martineau, the liberal yet Tory, the radical yet snob, was a mass of contradictions. He was still Christian in language, but others saw the multi-faith implications (which he rejected) of his theism. It's like John Hick today. The Free Christians even positively associated with the more moderate secularists connected with George Jacob Holyoake. A leading influence on Holyoake was Francis William Newman, who went via Unitarianism to secularism, in quite the other direction from his brother John Henry. South Place Ethical Society was a Unitarian chapel that became secularist. James Martineau's sister Harriet was herself a secularist. The Hull minister James Dixon, appointed in 1866 and active for seventeen years, and a writer in newspapers and magazines, was friendly with Anna Kingsford, Charles Bradlaugh and George Jacob Holyoake. It is noted in the Hull Church archives that Dixon moved the church into what we would call modernity. He was new and as different from his predecessors as William Severn, the first unitarian, had been from his.
Unitarians were politically Liberal but some were moving to the left. Philip Henry Wickstead, important for influencing George Bernard Shaw and Fabianism away from Marxist dogma, failed to bring the socialist John Trevor into the Unitarian Church. John Trevor founded the Labour Church instead and it had a branch in Hull. In Hull, Seth Ackroyd rejected Christianity in favour of worker's solidarity as the way to develop character. Unitarianism was no option for the workers - it was too associated with middle class money and, very often, employers.
Unitarians were paternalists, really, substitutes for the welfare state that eventually was to replace their social and educational work. Although they reached out into the working class with Sunday schools and social events, it was just that reaching out. The new Hull church in Park Street reached some five hundred people. Park Street was in the suburbs, and whereas Bowl Alley Lane began as an elegant church, this was gothic. It cost £3,800, was opened in 1881, and at the same time members were concerned with the contrast between poverty and wealth. Yet in 1897 they sacked the next minister, Rev. Perris, after less than four years work, for spending too much time on charities and not enough on visiting his own flock.
In its early days Park Street was concerned with doctrinal, political and Church reforms and private and public morality. The high point was reached of the minister as a cultured civic-intellectual, delivering long worthy addresses like Greek Myths in Relation to Christianity, Israel's Place in History, Illustrations of Great Texts, the Dialogues of Plato, Early Buddhism and The Religious Teaching of Tolstoy. The celebration of Holy Communion was reduced when Park Street Church gained its very own Forms of Prayer (1894). Later still Hull sermons covered biographies, ethics, comparative religion, catholicity and freedom. As the First World War neared its end the minister suggested that Christianity is more a way of life than a theology, widely applied to social, industrial, national and international areas. So Hull was firmly in the broad Church camp.
Decline was now continuous throughout the denomination. The Liberal Party crashed from power and this removed established political ties. The linkage between social status and aspiration, class, politics, economics and religion was breaking down. Churches were starting to become socially marginal. The First World War sunk the Unitarians' optimism of "onward and upward forever".
Well before the Second World War, a leading Hull Unitarian H. W. Groves noted how Sundays had changed and that Sunday churchgoing would decline further. Hull Unitarians were getting worried. F. M. Sykes contrasted the pre-war flourishing social side with the lack of appeal on the spiritual side. He regretted that ministers were concerned with theological research, literary interpretation, new psychology, Labour Party principles, Theosophy, and passive resistance to war and the law instead of focusing on God the Father and Jesus.
In fact the divisions were shifting. The denomination, even the Christianity, had merged in 1928. Now the united Christianity was opposing the emergence of religious humanism.
This new division was combined with increasing isolation. In 1935 a Liverpool controversy caused Unitarian ministers to be banned from Church of England pulpits, although I know of a priest and Hull University lecturer who arranged for a Unitarian minister to preach from his pulpit during a regular Sunday service. Completely illegal! During the war, in 1943, when everyone pulled together, Park Street church was excluded from equal participation in the Hull Religion and Life Week. So it held its own Free Religion and Life Week attended by the Congregationalists of Fish Street Memorial Church (where Park Street held services after a bomb hit the church in 1941). In the 1950's the Hull church led the way in the creating local inter-faith structures. There are good links with the Society of Friends. Incidentally, a local breakaway Buddhist group currently meets in the church on Sunday evenings. I would have liked good links with it but Unitarians resisted this; the Buddhists just rent the building.
In 1976 the patched up and overlarge gothic building was demolished. In 1977 a new, small, functional, low maintenance building was opened on the same site paid for by the sale of assets and borrowing. Hull developed an inclusive pluralism (unusual in the north), assisted by incoming Unitarians from the south, new people and the minister. But it has been combined with almost an equal emphasis on traditional inherited forms.
So we come to the present day. I suppose the drift of services and worship is still simple expressions of Judaeo-Christian derived theism. Now my argument is this. Christianity is nothing if not statements of belief and doctrine and subculture. You can keep thinning them out for so long, as Unitarians did, and for a while it seems to be progressive while supported by a general Christian culture. Once Unitarians thought they might find the uncluttered essence or truth of Christianity. Such was and is a liberal pipedream, a pot of gold at the end of the theological rainbow. Today such religious modernism does not work in a pluralist and postmodern culture. You have to be distinctive and fresh. To enhance difference now is necessarily to be postmodern and boundariless.
To be distinctive British Unitarianism has to embrace the best of North American Unitarian Universalist pluralism. In the United States there is a confidence that comes initially from Unitarianism and, from 1961, Unitarian Universalism, representing mainstream liberal and democratic cultural values. It has developed a market niche for its family based religion, because an undogmatic religious education is not available in state schools as it is in Britain. But it also promotes adult religious education too on a very self-expressive basis, all of it consistent with progressive educational theory. The American denomination further draws on the still prevalent fact that individuals gain social identity through association with churches, synagogues and mosques. So Unitarian Universalism is for the awkward squad, the radicals and the individualists. It thus promotes a vigorous social identity of inclusiveness, not simply in race and class but sexuality, including heterosexual, homosexual and transgender identities. It is to the left of American politics, and a liberal challenge to Conservative America, especially in religion. And so from experiencing decline not so long ago, the Church now experiences a virtuous circle of about 2% growth a year.
It is not that the British Church is simply more conservative in comparison. It has the humanists and the Pagans and the Easterns as well as the Christians. Rather, the British Church is in a vicious circle of decline and lack of confidence. It lacks strategy. It's almost too agnostic.
Of course it is impossible to have the more positive churchgoing environment that the Americans enjoy. British Unitarians cannot provide a unique undogmatic religious education for children. The Sunday School movement has ended throughout all denominations. In Britain, except for ethnic group identity, religious groups are for adults. So it follows that the family church ideal will not work in Britain. But British Unitarians can repeat the plurality, the radicalism, the thinking and the attention to minorities that happens in the United States. Far too many British congregations are conservative in ethos. This is how they are here - they have become largely female and largely old, and this means preserving conservative instead of adopting contemporary - never mind radical - gender subcultures. This is fine if people want it: but it excludes younger women and modern definitions of being female, it excludes progressive men in general, and there is absolutely no future in it. Somehow the churches have to allow what they have always known and liked to be eventually replaced by a totally different and subversive approach to religion. They must become places of difference; they must become generators of textual and symbolic zones of difference.
The difference must be postmodern and modern, Eastern and Pagan, humanist and Christian; and congregations have to become their own critics to stop consensus building and make sure that every individual has active expression. Ministers should be facilitators not preachers. Churches should not be comfortable easy going holy huddles but noisy, boisterous, busy places, and full of the energy of difference. There is out there a minority of interested, undogmatic and changing religious individuals that should be the natural appeal of Unitarianism. As yet, it is not. And chronic decline means that there is so little time left.
In Hull, in the early to mid 1990's, there was a nationally supported publicity drive and it built upon earlier hard work in changing the church. The Hull church was easily the most progressive and active of churches in the Yorkshire area. However, during a tricky period of making its trust deed more democratic, and a desire for more male centred activities, I believe that a restoration of a traditional female gender model and the family model of a church has taken place. This model might suit some prosperous suburban churches but cannot with an ideological city centre church that trades itself on liberality as its approach to religion.
No one can predict the future. Mainstream churches may spit out its liberals and Unitarians might absorb some of them. I think that at present the Quakers would be more successful in absorbing liberals. I notice this division in the Sea of Faith Network, for example, which is a recently formed group for radicals of religion on non-credal lines. Somehow Unitarians carry an historical baggage of conflict and marginality, and also a reputation for Victorian out of date liberalism; there has been almost a fear of the Unitarians in Sea of Faith, whereas the Quakers have a contemporary reputation for an effective spirituality and social action. However, Unitarians there are working to change this, and suddenly it is Unitarian work and resources that have come uniquely to the fore in the issue of religious education.
Maybe attempts will be made to eject liberals as the once mainstream becomes even more socially sectarian itself, but Churches try to hang on to everyone during times of decline. It is still my view, however, that the Hull church will find new people in those already interested in religion, who can no longer take doctrinal beliefs, or who would return to churches but have become deconverts. It is the interested deconverts that Hull must look to for its future. It has been said that Unitarianism catches a falling Christian, but once a Christian falls they don't stop falling they only go into orbit and it should attract people who seek the spirituality in orbit.
This is not comfortable religion. It is difficult, subversive, always moving on religion. And, unfortunately, Unitarians are stuck in two places. It is often a kind of easy listening religion. So the big issue is still decline. It is decline in every sense. The most immediate issue Hull faces, its biggest change and challenge, is that it ends its continuous line of professional ministers - begun around 1672 - in April 1999. Then, the longest serving minister in the denomination, Ernest Penn, retires. It will be a difficult transition despite a shared experience among its small numbers of producing worship and some pastoral interest, and managing its affairs. The next ten years are critical.
And what of Unitarianism in general? If trends remain the same my guess is that Unitarianism will be left with a lot of money and property, but perhaps maybe only around a thousand or so people. They would be historically informed liberals and radicals, who meet regionally and nationally and in some rump congregations. I could be completely wrong of course but one day the yoke and choke of Puritanism might finally release its long shadow; the Protestant style services (which I suggest are a turn off for too many people these days) may diversify as they must, and we might see an end to localism. We shall see.