Future Fantasy: Unitarianism 2020

This was written in Unitarian College in 1990 for a students' college publication, apparently known for its daring. A minister asked if this was how I saw the denomination. This is the original script.

We all engage in fantasies of one kind or another. By fantasy I do not mean something unrooted in reality and only optimistic, but rather a view linked to the way things are going. 2020 is only thirty years away but I cannot, of course, claim 20/20 vision in this fantasy. This then is my description of Unitarianism as sent down a fax machine for a sermon to be given by a ministerial friend in Meghalaya, North East India, where in 2020 there are three hundred thousand Unitarians.
We send our greetings from the PRS NA and hope all is well. India is so different from here and I know of your expansion, and the boom now all the way from there to Madras and Hyderabad. Unitarianism is indeed part of the development of India! We wish the Indian Council of Unitarian churches well.
Here in Britain there are now only two thousand British Unitarians, although we now call ourselves the Progressive Religious Society. There are fifteen non-retired ministers, now called servers, eight of whom are full time and paid for by central funds and the rest of whom do other jobs. Manchester College Oxford still exists and remains mainly concerned with higher education provision: servers when they train do so by part time attendance at any university in Britain (where they no longer are necessarily expected to take a theological subject), but trainees are required to take postal courses which are usually marked by two tutors, and they must attend summer schools at Manchester College or Great Hucklow. Most years the only trainees are those with an interest, although sometimes someone ends up with enough credits to be counted as a server.
Almost all set congregations have died out: there are five left. PRS activity exists mainly by post or at monthly meetings at regional centres which are planned by servers. Sometimes these are renovated once Free Christian and Unitarian chapels where ownership has passed to Great Hucklow, but in general we open new premises near to rail stations or maglev stations. Servers are responsible for all buildings and travel to see people.
Great Hucklow is now the main centre of administration after the sale of Essex Hall, and it is also where half of the servers live making a community. The National Assembly is held once a year at Oxford or here.
Our theology has changed with decline. The recent formation of the small Ecumenical Liberal Christian Church, a breakaway from the very fundamentalist Kononia Church of England, has finally put an end to liberal Christianity in the PRS. It was seen as generational in Unitarianism and such congregations became indistinguishable from those that joined the credally minimalist LCC. Now definite liberal and radical Christians go to the LCC. Yet this and the name change last year has allowed our PRS to get enquiries from those who mix their religion and religious humanism and are interested in like minded people with an open ended search, and want that visibly in new experimental religious ceremonies (unlike in Unitarianism) as well as in discussions.
We are at last optimistic, especially as now the name is right, the money is where it should be and that we are also able to advertise on the holovision. Suddenly the fax and telephones have not stopped ringing.
Our best wishes from Great Hucklow and all Religious Progressives!

Adrian Worsfold (1990 - the original script)


Comment 2004

What is different now is the Internet, unknown then. This article was created on my Amstrad PCW (the files were transferred via a CP/M to DOS converter). Then it would have become a postal religious gathering, whereas now there are a proliferation of liberal and radical groups which meet for conferences and gatherings and stay in touch electronically.
Notice also the shift in theology deemed necessary. Christianity was catered for in a split off liberal denomination after the demise of mainstream Christianity. So Unitarians became religious humanists. At this time I'd moved more firmly to humanism and non-realism, as well as neo-pagan (non-supernatural and non-magical language) sourced ritual.
What follows below is a later version drawing on the same ideas (June 2003).



I think there will be Unitarianism in the future, but I think it will be like:
Perhaps one or maybe two thousand interested people spread across the age range but mainly retired.
A large buildings asset base but low level of use, with some regional and national ownership. Some of these are given to other use, whilst others are developed with accommodation and facilities for occasional gatherings.
A few rump congregations that carry on old style, but make their facilities available for others, supplemented by a number of districts and GA maintained "shells" which get used for gatherings, the most significant in the north being Hucklow.
Some rump congregations maintain their own ministers, but other ministers supported by assets and membership fees/ contributions who do administration, training and development work, and organise gatherings.
Contact and discussion by publication and electronically, and people aware of meeting times and places, and meeting for weekends or holiday slots.
Because already regional and occasional gatherings are more experimental, and because this will be a grouping of the interested, the religious practice element of Unitarianism will be transformed. Whilst it will have an interest in more radical forms of Christian theology, and discuss some, and relate this to the Unitarian past and development, its religious practices will be quite different and rarely like the Puritan inheritance of now. It will be less wordy and more about people telling their own experiences to one another and developing them together.
There is no point current ministers thrashing themselves to death trying to turn around sociological realities or the age range, except in so far as they can tap into the religious searching of the few away from this crippling Puritan inheritance. It's analogous to the present NHS trying to make fewer people ill, unless of course it changed its nature to be a more illness prevention service. The best minister in the world will come off as badly as the worst in these current set up terms.

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Another fantasy posted on 16 March 2004 to National Unitarian Fellowship:
A fantasy situation in the future, assuming more electronic development, easier to operate computers and other hardware/ software (some hope) might be this...
There might be a drop to something like 2000 Unitarians and then many associated liberal and radical types. Many of these will have their own websites, and there is a lot of messaging activity. There would be many resources shared and produced, by scanning and writing and artwork, being published and passed around. Many congregations and much of the General Assembly might have imploded, with some rump congregations here and there and perhaps some remaining co-ordinators. Yet there will be new structures into which these rumps and what is left may go.
There should be some sort of co-ordinating websites and electronic publications, and we might imagine the National Unitarian Fellowship renamed the Unitarian Fellowship (...there is no National in the electronic sense...). The Unitarian Fellowship would be like an exchange house of views, activities and suggestions. The Inquirer will not come out in paper, and may even exist by people sending things in and they being attached to a .PDF file more or less as they come: editing might be slight and light. It would be weekly or even more frequent.
And then every so often set numbers in communication decide to physically meet, maybe on a Saturday and Sunday. Some church will be available, maintained but without regular services, and the group travels over. A key location in the North will be Great Hucklow, with its centre and church, and weekends may be spent or full days. There'd be services with generated material, and discussions, walks and so on. Others may meet in houses, "fellowships" popping up all over the place with and without the Unitarian name but able to draw on its web based resources of the Unitarian Fellowship.
There may still be some key congregations; after all there could be a critical mass of correspondents in any location, but they can just as easily disperse.
If there is to be a paid ministry, the task there will be co-ordinating and training. I would not expect more than a dozen, if any, as they would be paid by historical funds and what they can raise. A minister would be someone who has learnt the tradition's history and has strategies for education and training, but it would hardly be a career option.

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Adrian Worsfold: arranged 2004