Reviewing Unitarian College

I’m trying to understand the new Unitarian College, formerly a residential ministerial training college in Manchester and now (2019) a non-residential and broader training college for the General Assembly of Unitarians and Free Christian Churches, in Great Britain,  and perhaps others. My interest is in the ministerial training role, and in the institutional and economic sustainability of the venture.

This is not an analysis of it, but only my “open notebook” of details I’ve found: mainly their new website and notes taken from a video of an introductory lecture, given at the Unitarian and Free Christian annual meeting, back in April.

First, the website, but also the ministry training student handbook (PDF) and the list of thirty-two required competencies from the General Assembly website (PDF). Their application is also helpful (PDF).

I’m also referring to the video “Unitarian Ministry Training” presented by the National Unitarian Fellowship; I have not watched it in full; rather, I read the auto-generated transcript and made notes of what I think are the interesting parts.

  • 8:45. Is non-geographical
  • 9:09. There are residential lessons
  • 11:42. Program will take two years full-time or up to five years part-time
  • 11:55. There is a required academic theological qualification
  • 12:02. Two required placements in Unitarian congregations
  • 18:48. “Ministry Strategy Group” for the GA: how lay leaders are trained, which can build on the one before it
  • 26:26. Dr. Rob Whiteman is helping with two modules: Unitarian history, and the other legal and government
  • 28:15. “Placement assessor” to observe ministry students in their placements, perhaps a retired minister
  • 33:32. £150,000 a year to run the college; more if it grows
  • 33:54. Generous giving, “pump priming” from General Assembly; possible NSPCI students
  • 34:34. Online history module based on Len Smith’s book
  • 37:50. Training related to the National Youth Program
  • 41:22. One-third of the churches in the GAUFCC have fewer than ten members and two-thirds have fewer than twenty
  • 42:18. GA selects ministry trainees; growth is possible.

Universalist Christian site from the Ukraine

Saturday afternoon, I got a short email from the editor of a site called Тринитарный библейский универсализм (Trinitarian Biblical Universalism) at universalist.org.ua. It’s all in Ukrainian, of course.

It would be a lie to say I didn’t weep a little. It’s gratifying to know that time and time again, God speaks to the people and calls them to a complete Gospel. Note the reference to Paul Dean, one of the last of the leading squarely Trinitarian Universalists (though they never completely disappeared, or should I say we?) and Edward Mitchell, who led an independent stream of New York-based Universalists early in the nineteenth century. Google Translate got me a little ways (it’s not so good for theology) but the other Ukrainian books the editor publishes are beyond me; perhaps they’ve been translated.

Unitarian Theology papers online

Just boosting a post by David Steers, a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian minister and the editor of two journals, Faith and Freedom and the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society. When he promotes two collections of papers on Unitarian theology, I listen; you may also download PDFs of them there.

The papers were presented at conferences in 2016 and 2017.  Why the conferences?  Answered in the introduction of the first volume by convener Jim Corrigall:

The idea for a Unitarian Theology Conference arose out of discussions among ministers-in-training and newer ministers, who  were all concerned by the lack of serious theological discourse within  our Unitarian and Free Christian denomination. It’s fair to say we felt frustration over the inability of our faith community to give a coherent answer to such basic questions as: who are we as a faith community? and: what is our purpose?

The papers may also be seen as videos at ukunitarian.tv.

I look forward to reading those, and wonder aloud why our larger denomination on this side of the Atlantic hasn’t done something so useful.

What shape the communion cup?

Talk of the Annual Meeting of the (British) Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, and noticing the communion service there this morning, put me in mind of an quaint old book.

Covered, handled chalice from Norwich, Octagon Chapel

The 1897 Vestiges of Protestant Dissent is something of register of British and Irish Unitarian, Free Christian, Non-Subscribing and kindred churches, with — and this is the part that amazes me — a listing of their communion plate. Much was then-new electroplate, but other pieces were quite old and noteworthy, so much so that several engravings were executed.

What fascinates me is the use of porringers, posset-cups, “loving cups”, mugs and tumblers (beakers), and not just the accustomed chalice: that inverted bell on a stem, sometimes a knop, and foot we all know and associate with the Eucharist. Posset-cup communion cup, Chichester

Many long-time readers know I have an interest in found communion ware, and lament the division of the communion ware market into the unaffordable and the tawdry. Which will bring me to what I think is an ideal communion cup for our days, and particularly for Unitarian and Universalist ministers — and indeed at least one in Vestiges — who have to bring their own. For next time.

Policy updates at British Unitarian General Assembly

The annual meeting of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian churches isn’t over yet, but they did pass (or seem to pass, if I read tweets correctly) two measures I think are noteworthy.

The first gives the vote to the class of small congregations, (see measure 4) of which there are exactly two. Until now, a church with at least 8 but fewer than 12 members could could be recognized, with voice but no vote. What might have been called a mission church in another setting. Because there are full members of the denomination that have fallen below 12 members, members of the Bangor church — one of the two “small congregations” — sensed unfairness and petitioned the executive committee for a bylaws change. Eight and twelve members may not seem so different, but in a denomination with so many very small churches, it may mean the difference of encouraging more groups to organize, or not.

The other measure shortens the annual meeting from 72 hours over four days to 48 hours over three days. Cost is the main stated reason, but I imagine time away from home or work is also a practical concern. The sample schedule is tightly packed, but seems feasible when it’s hosted at an all-inclusive conference center, as it is this year. It also means tightening up the legislative process, which we’ve also seen (to the good) on this side of the Atlantic. If I read correctly, the plan will be reviewed in three years.

Non-subscriber history site up

The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland is an interesting church of 4,000 or more souls in Ireland (the island), mostly in Northern Ireland (that part of the United Kingdom) but one that’s hard to get a lot of current information about. I’m sure its status contributes to this: “kindred” to Unitarians (as the formula went a century ago) but distinct from the Unitarians found across the Irish Sea. But some good news today.

Davis Steers, a NSPCI minister and writer, has put together a site about the church’s history and I look forward to reading it.

  • The History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland
  • Universalist work in Korea, 1937 report

    The story of the Universalist Korean mission is little discussed, surely because the Japan mission, on which it was institutionally dependent, is also little discussed and because there is no evidence that has come to light that it survived the Second World War. I’m hoping to add to the record, and follow up on the article I posted two years ago.

    I was at the Library of Congress yesterday and scanned minutes and reports from the 1937 General Convention. This is from the section called International Church Extension. I’ve added links to outside resources for context.

    Universalist General Convention. Universalist biennial reports and directory. Boston, Mass. : Universalist General Convention. (1938), p. 83-86.

    Korea

    Under the leadership of Mr. [Ryonki] Jio [or, Cho in the financial reports], graduate of Doshisha Theological Seminary, work was begun in Korea in 1929. Mr. Jio with another student from the seminary had done summer evangelistic work the two previous years. As he traveled all over the country he investigated possible centers for his future work. His final decision was in favor of Taikyu (Daigu—Korean pronunciation), a city the size of Rochester, New York.

    In April, 1929, after his graduation from Doshisha, Mr. Jio rented a house and began his work. It was thought at first that no Sunday school could be conducted in such narrow quarters but on April 7th some 57 children came and three men and four women volunteered to help in teaching. What has come to be a very significant work was thus humbly begun.

    Taikyu

    There is a church building, and a pastor’s house on a small plot of land down a narrow alley building leading from one of the many wide streets in Taikyu. The buildings and land are being bought on the installment plan, with payments each month for something over two more years. The “church building” is an adapted ex-wrestling hall, now in quite bad condition, with uprights weakening and sinking to such an extent that the windows, which open horizontally, are immovable now, with the exception of one half of one window. A new building—one could almost say, a building—is needed badly, but the group is attempting this year a complete renovation with the limited resources these poverty-stricken people can manage to scrape together.

    Here are all the usual meetings and some unusual ones —not only Church and Sunday School—but many other meetings throughout the week.

    Mr. Jio has lived through some hard experiences since the start of 1929—experiences that would have embittered most men—but he has had his dream and has worked towards its realization steadily. To tabulate such activities as frequent preaching, Sunday School direction, prayer meetings, boys’ club work, Bible classes, does not begin to give one an idea of the work done. Mr. Jiu is fast becoming one of the best-known citizens of Taikyu.

    In August of 1936, several months after his graduation from the Taikyu Government Medical School, Dr. Pak, who had for several years served as Sunday School superintendent, in cooperation with Mr. Jio and in the name of the church opened a medical-services-at-cost enterprise in a makeshift “attic” section of the “church building,” divided into a small laboratory, a small waiting room, and a somewhat larger consultation and treatment room, the whole comprising a space of about ten by fifteen feet. (Their original plan to build up the enterprise on a cooperative “shares” basis was prohibited by the police authorities.) For over a year Dr. Pak worked without salary patiently building the work. In August of ‘37, however, he resigned to take up a private practice in Manchukuo among Koreans there. Another young doctor was procured on a salary basis, and the work is going forward with steadily increasing numbers of patients daily and an ever-widening scope of influence in the city. In some months the average number of patients served has been as high as 40 to 50 daily. Last autumn, in answer to the need of an in-patient department for slight operation cases such as for trachoma, which is very wide-spread in Korea. Mr. Jio turned his house over to this work and took up a rented dwelling some twenty minutes’ walk from the “church.”

    Handicapped by extremely limited equipment this “church and hospital” enterprise goes forward steadily.

    Mrs. Onjun Pak, the first Korean to be trained at the Blackmer Home, has started a Sewing School for Women and Girls in connection with Mr. Jio’s work. Very little equipment was available, but it is hoped that interested groups in America may be able to contribute towards the purchase of a few machines and some necessary supplies. Until that time Mrs. Pak is carrying on with what is at hand and is making a real contribution to the people she serves. A portion of the International Friendship Offering received in Universalist Church Schools in November, 1937, has been a sign for this work of Mrs. Pak.

    Wulchon

    A church was soon started at Wulchon, some six miles from Taikyu, but owing to the persecution by another sect, it had to be suspended. But this misfortune has not followed another enterprise in Wulchon.

    Some years ago people in the immediate vicinity of this small town faced a desperate unemployment situation. Mr. Jio resolved to do something about it. With his church group as a nucleus and on borrowed money, he purchased materials and begin a fibre-slipper manufacture, his own special service being the finding of markets for the goods manufactured goods during the long cold season when the ground cannot be worked. Today the Guild thus started has spread beyond this first group, gives employment to over eighteen hundred and manufactures over two hundred thousand pairs of slippers a year, selling some as far afield as Chicago and points farther east. This industry has become second in importance—after silk—in the district which Taikyu is the center.

    Kumpo

    A dozen miles beyond Wulchon is Kumpo, a small rural village of two hundred or more. Here, after some evangelistic meetings, a church of thirty odd members was formed. But it as was the case in Wulchon, was forced to suspend activities due to persecution from another sect.

    Sendung

    After Dr. Cary’s address of the Buffalo convention in 1931, Rev. G. H. Leining and Rev. Ellsworth C. Reamon conducted a swift impromptu campaign for funds which resulted in enough to purchase a farm of some one hundred and sixteen thousand tsubo (a tsubo is 36 square feet) or over 98 acres—a very large farm for the Orient. Upwards of fifty families rent and work this farm, which has extensive rice cultivation possibilities as well as being in a good position for fruit. In the summer of ‘34 a great flood swept down and buried large portions of the farm under six feet of water, but it was reconditioned—at considerable expense (with money borrowed of the government on very easy terms). What was necessary was done and the slow process of making the land valuable by annually putting all returns back from it back into it was taken up again. More fruit trees are planted, more poplars about the edges to hold off sand and future floods. In August of 1936 an even worst flood came, wrecking property throughout the southern part of Korea. Once again the work of reconditioning was taken up but it was too expensive to do it as completely as was desirable. Nevertheless, more planting of fruit trees and protective poplars, which are pruned short, was done. A goodly number of the thousands of trees planted before the ‘36 flood, lived through it.

    In the nearby town, Mr. Jio holds occasional meetings whenever an opportunity presents itself.

    Other interests

    Mr. Jio maintains a constant communication with liberal groups of Koreans in Japan proper, especially among theological students to keep him exceedingly busy every time he visits Tokyo and Kyoto, where his alma mater, Doshisha, is.

    He sees great opportunity for influence through a liberal magazine, but is compelled for lack of funds to postpone any independent action of this nature, submitting articles for publication in other magazines whenever opportunity permits.

    Mr. Jio and the work he and his people undertake is financially aided by the General Convention and in constant affiliation with the General Convention representatives and the Japan Council.

    Interceding for Fulgence Ndagijimana

    10410969_658368174261373_3555270019891380793_nI imagine that many readers were horrified to see the news of Burundian Unitarian minister Fulgence Ndagijimana being arrested and held by police. (UUA International blog) The #ReleaseRevFulgence hashtag is laudable, but I have a bit more faith in interceding with God and the Burundian ambassador.

    Here’s the letter I’m sending; you’re welcome to crib from it. And quickly.

    His Excellency Ernest Ndabashinvze
    Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Burundi
    2233 Wisconsin Avenue N.W., Suite 408
    Washington, D.C. 20007

    Your Excellency:

    I learned today that a brother minister, the Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana, of the Unitarian Church of Burundi (Eglise unitarienne du Burundi) in Bujumbura was taken into police custody around November 17, and also that members of his church are being harassed by police.

    I was horrified to hear this news, and generally about the unrest in your country. Ours is a peace-loving religion, resting on a deep foundation of mutual respect. So, I respectfully ask that you do whatever you can to have the Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana released from prison, and to have the police stop intimidating or harassing the Unitarians of Burundi.

    I join hundreds of thousands of fellow believers around the word in petitioning you to help.

    Sincerely yours,
    (The Rev.) Scott Wells

    2015 British Unitarian and Free Christian AGM begins

    About now, the 2015 British Unitarian and Free Christian annual general meetings will be breaking for dinner, having already had its opener and first plenary session. There’s no streaming content, so far as I can tell, nor a set Twitter feed or hashtag. (If you know one, please note it. Later. It seems to be #gauk.) And gauging by last year, I’m not going to expect real-time photos, either.

    But you can see the print materials, including the handbook at the same link.

    British Unitarian numbers update

    British Unitarian minister and blogger Stephen Lingwood gives us his annual update of membership numbers in the Unitarian and Free Christian Churches in England, Wales and Scotland. (Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have a different history and related, but distinct, denomination.)

    The news is not good; a sharp decrease. Reminds me of the opening sequence of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series, which gives the census of surviving human beings. The British Unitarians and Free Christians now number 3,179.  When I was a youngster, it was about 15,000.

    He refers to an annual report. We don’t get them on this side of the Atlantic, but you can download one. (PDF)