Derby Unitarians

Unity in diversity

Jim Corrigall attempts to recapture the magic of a Unitarian service

Jim Corrigall
Jim Corrigall
Jim Corrigall is communications consultant to the Unitarians in Britain, a post he took up in June 2007, after 17 years as a journalist at BBC World Service. He was born and educated in South Africa, coming to Britain in 1974. He was an anti-apartheid campaigner for many years. Jim became a Unitarian four years ago, and is chair of the congregation at Golders Green Unitarians.

Most Unitarians would say that worshipping together is at the heart of what we do. Normally, Unitarian communities gather on Sundays in their churches, meeting houses and chapels for worship. It is in worship that we affirm and celebrate the faith and values we share.

The form that Unitarian services take varies a great deal, although most Unitarian worship still follows the hymns-prayers-readings-sermon tradition of Nonconformist churches. But while the form may be similar, the content is usually quite different.

Unitarian worship begins with a 'chalice-lighting', the 'Flaming Chalice' being the recognised symbol of the Unitarian faith. Many Unitarian congregations allow a time during the service for individual candle-lighting by members, where they briefly share 'joys or concerns' with others present.

The hymns or songs are normally taken from the rich and living tradition of Unitarian hymn-writing, although some may be familiar to mainstream Christians. Prayer, very often of a more contemplative and meditational type, is a regular component.

Both in words and silence, Unitarians focus themselves on the divine, both immanent and transcendent. Prayer and reflection also enables the worshipper to draw on inner sources of inspiration and resolve.

A selection of readings is a regular feature. Although these may well include the Bible, Unitarians take their wisdom from many sources. Thus poetry, the scriptures of other faiths, secular writings and many kinds of devotional materials may be drawn upon.

There will usually be a sermon or address by the minister or worship leader (We have a trained ministry in the Unitarian Church, as well as lay preachers). A good sermon is a sustained and intelligent discourse that reflects spiritually on an issue of either current or timeless concern.

But it is a personal statement of witness by the preacher, offered to the listeners to use as they think appropriate. There is no suggestion that the preacher's views must be accepted.

A children's story is often told to the whole group. And music is a valued part of our services: hymns, preludes, postludes and music for meditation.

Some Unitarian congregations celebrate communion several times a year. This is a simple memorial act, associating those present with Jesus and the sharing of the riches of the earth.

Unitarians also celebrate other forms of communion, notably the Flower Communion which was devised by the Czech Unitarian minister Norbert Capek in the 1920s. This is a celebration of unity in diversity, both within the congregation and in the wider world, emphasising Unitarians' strong belief in social justice.

All forms of Unitarian communion are open unconditionally to anyone who wishes to participate in a spirit of goodwill.

This article is reprinted here with permission from Jim Corrigall, and it was first published on the New Statesman website, in the Blog section: "The Faith Column". Jim also asked that we acknowlege his use of material from Rev Cliff Reed's book: "Unitarian? What's That?".