Very Rev William McMillan MBE, MA

I was honoured to be asked to take part in the service of thanksgiving for the life of the Very Rev William McMillan at First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Dunmurry on Thursday, 23rd January 2020. I am posting here the short address I gave as a tribute to a truly inspirational minister.

 

How do we do justice to a person as vivid, as lively, as remarkable as the Rev Mac? There were so many facets to his character, so many ways in which he touched such a wide variety of people, so many ways in which he came to our attention and was such a force for good.

In 2004 the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography was published in 60 volumes and launch ceremonies were held across the British Isles including one at Queen’s University. Mac was a contributor to this important publication that lists tens of thousands of biographies and I was there at the publication’s launch with Mac. But one of the features of this set of books when it was first produced was that there was a handful of people whose eminence in different, not necessarily connected, disciplines meant that more than one person had to write their biography. Well Mac is such a person today. It is hard for one person to do justice for the range of achievements, interests and accomplishments which Mac displayed in his life.

First and foremost we should say that Mac was a minister, someone who preached the gospel in our liberal Christian tradition and who was not afraid to stand up for what was right often in difficult circumstances, especially through the period of the Troubles. But I think that everything else he did – and he did such a lot – was rooted in his call to ministry, in his sense of vocation.

So, widely and affectionately known as the Rev Mac, the hosta that was named after him was also called just that and whether it was working in the church or working with flowers in the horticultural world or in many of the other spheres he operated in he brought the values of a reflective, thoughtful, tolerant faith that inspired him all his life through.

When I was minister of All Souls’ Church in the 1990s Mac came to do a floral display to celebrate the centenary of the church building. He flew in through the door like a force of nature bringing friends and collaborators in his wake and creating – what he did in so many places  – a wonderful display that drew on the history, theology, and the architecture of the building using flowers and blooms and plant material which spoke of God’s love and God’s creation, a true expression of faith using natural materials.

This was something that Mac did all around the world, his fame in this area was literally spread across the globe. I remember once asking some ladies in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh if they knew the Rev Mac, “O yes”, they told me and began to reel off when he had been in Scotland what he had done when he was next coming. Indeed I often think you could play a game to find the most remote place where someone has come into contact with someone else who knew the Rev Mac. For starters I would offer the members of my church at Ballee who were on honeymoon in Barbados who met a local person on a beach who somehow found out they were Non-Subscribers. “Do you know the Rev Mac?” was the inevitable next question.

I remember being at the Synod one year when news reached us that Mac had become the leading floral artist in the world. In those pre-internet days news did not travel rapidly but we heard of this great achievement and everyone was truly impressed. It was something to learn that one of our number had achieved this accolade, someone who was also a scholarly minister, a great preacher, a devoted and hard-working pastor, someone who through his work was, like Gamaliel, held in honour by all the people.

Mac was a distinguished minister of this denomination, born into the Dromore church and who went into training after beginning work as a journalist, working for the Dromore Leader. Mac had so many anecdotes about people and places but his account of being taken on as a student, having to preach on trial before the whole presbytery and the severe attitudes of some of the clergy in those days was frightening. Mac went to train at the Unitarian College in Manchester and at Manchester University. There was no financial scholarship to train for the ministry and very little income to do that but was supported anonymously by members of his church.

I don’t think it was easy for Mac in the early days of his training and at one point he had to re-sit the entirety of his exams becoming in the process the only person who had ever done this in one go. He also apparently had – for reasons I don’t understand – to learn a bit of the Icelandic language. I have to confess that I very much doubt that Icelandic ever came to be in any way useful in the work of the ministry.

Mac’s training included a stint doing a pastorate in our church in Cork, quite a different world then in so many ways but the culmination of all his work was to be called to be minister of Newry and Warrenpoint where he also took on a role teaching. Mac was minister to those two churches from 1959 to 1970 and was held in high regard and great affection by all the congregations. His ministry there coincided with the start of the Troubles and Mac was at the forefront of those who tried to calm down the growing tension, at one point being hit on the head by a breeze block when he was attempting to stop a riot. This was a serious enough injury and the situation was so dangerous that he and some other clergy had to take shelter overnight in the convent, but it did also end the painful migraines he had been experiencing. Not a conventional cure or one you could expect on the NHS but effective nevertheless.

In 1970 Mac accepted a call to Dunmurry in succession to his father in law, the Rev John McCleery, and remained as minister here until 2016 when he retired and became the senior minister. The congregation flourished under his leadership and I know that everyone is devastated by the loss of their senior minister. From 1976 to 1980 he also had charge of the Moira congregation.

Mac’s service to this denomination on different committees, funds and organisations was enormous. But among other things he was moderator of the General Synod from 1969 to 1971 and again from 1985 to 1987.

But his ministry was multi-faceted, it reached into so many places and manifested itself in different ways.

In one way it was truly international. Mac represented this denomination on the International Association for Religious Freedom, the world’s oldest international inter-faith organisation for twenty years from 1961. He was held in very high regard by all his colleagues there. Partly through that organisation Mac travelled to many places as a preacher and lecturer. He preached at the famous King’s Chapel in Boston in the 1960s and told me that he received more for that one service than he was paid for a whole year at the time! In Europe he had a close link with many church people of a similar mind, particularly with liberal and free Christian groups in Switzerland, France and Germany where the affection in which he was held by the professors and church leaders of those groups was always palpable when you met them. He also travelled to Romania during the Communist era to visit the Unitarian Church in Transylvania, enduring the challenge of the arduous and lengthy night time rail journey across the border from Budapest to Kolozsvár which was then the only way in to that city. Here he was one of the first Westerners allowed to preach at that time but always under the watchful scrutiny of the Securitate, the secret police.

Mac’s work in Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles, particularly in regard to the establishment of cross-community nursery schools, at a time when such things were regarded as dangerously novel was recognised and supported by the IARF and resulted in him being awarded the Albert Schweitzer Award at the 1978 Congress in Oxford, a signal honour for his work in breaking down barriers.

But another aspect of his ministry was his tremendous achievement as an historian. This grew out of his training for the ministry in Manchester where he went on to be awarded a Master’s degree on ‘The Subscription Controversy in Irish Presbyterianism from the Plantation of Ulster to the Present Day’ by Manchester University in 1959. Mac’s knowledge and understanding of the history of this denomination was unparalleled. It was sustained by his interest in antiquarian books which led him to build up a tremendous library, originally by careful scrutiny of what was available in Smithfield Market until he built up an astonishing collection of books, periodicals, prints and sermons. Mac’s knowledge was formidable, often I would ring him with random questions about obscure figures and Mac would tell me who I was looking for and all there was to know about him. Mac had developed a wonderful fasti or biographical resource of everyone who had entered the ministry in our tradition and with these he had amassed a great collection of images and illustrations. From this he was able to produce many excellent books, articles and pamphlets often drawn out of lectures or talks that he had given. There is not time to list them all here but his writings displayed both a depth and breadth of knowledge presented in a style that was eloquent, accurate and instructive. He was always so willing to help any inquirer with information.

At the end of his biography of Henry Montgomery, A Profile in Courage, Mac quotes the Rev C.J. McAlester preaching at his memorial service in this church in 1865 and I will close my words with that quote which is equally applicable to Mac:

More acceptable to our venerated friend than ‘storied urn or animated bust’ would be the earnest efforts of those who honour him to cultivate with diligence, and guard with jealous care, those principles of Christian freedom, truth and love, which it was the noblest labour of his lengthened life to vindicate and extend.

Rev Mac

Faith and Freedom, Autumn and Winter 2019

FAITH AND FREEDOM, AUTUMN AND WINTER 2019 (Volume 72, Part 2) issue 189 is now available

Articles include:

T.E. Lawrence and God by Howard Oliver

An engrossing study of the evolution of the religious thought of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), of one of the most enigmatic and complicated public figures of the twentieth century. (See above image of the memorial plaque to T. E. Lawrence, unveiled at the Oxford High School for Boys by Winston Churchill, 3rd October, 1936.)

 

The Story of Silent Night by Andrew Page

The true story of the transmission and translation of the famous carol Silent Night, uncovering its three ‘lost’ verses and giving an entirely new and faithful translation of the hymn first sung at the bicentenary service held last year in Cairo Street Unitarian Chapel Warrington..

 

Romantic Religion by Tim Clancy

What do we mean by God and how do we understand God. “In so far as we recognize God’s loving recognition of us, we come to participate ever more intimately and ever more fully in God’s own power, the power of being itself. In this way God can be said to actively relate to us without determining us.”

 

Barbara Ward and this Journal: ‘Faith and Freedom’ by Dan C. West

The writings of the late Barbara Ward which share similarities of ethos as well as of name with the journal.

 

In the Interim by Sue Norton

Exploring being in the interim.

 

Books reviewed:

Liberal faith beyond Utopian dreams

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Nancy McDonald Ladd, After the Good News: Progressive Faith Beyond Optimism, Skinner House Books, Boston 2019, pp 159, ISBN 978-1-55896-828-8.  $16.00 pbk.

Reviewed by Jim Corrigall

 

The 1960s – a new spirituality for a new world

9780198827009

Sam Brewitt-Taylor, Christian Radicalism in the Church of England and the Invention of the British Sixties, 1957-1970; The Hope of a World Transformed, Oxford University Press, 2018 pp 272, ISBN 978-0-19-882700-9, £65, hbk.

Reviewed by Marcus Braybrooke

 

Climate Crisis – essential reading

Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin, The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene, Pelican (2018), pp 465, ISBN: 978-0-241-28088-1, £8.99

David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future, Allen Lane (2019), pp 310, ISBN: 978-0-241-35521-3, £20.00

James Lovelock with Bryan Appleyard, Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence, Allen Lane (2019), pp 139, ISBN:  978-0-241-39936-1, £14.99

Reviewed by David A. Williams

 

Unitarians and Biblical revision

9780567673473

Alan H. Cadwallader The politics of the Revised Version: a tale of two New Testament revision companies, T & T Clark, 2019, pp. 224, ISBN: 978-0567673466, £85 hbk.

Reviewed by Andrew M. Hill

 

Clerical corruption in the Vatican

9781472966186

Frederic Martel trans. Shaun Whiteside, In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy, Bloomsbury, London, 2019, pp.570. ISBN 978-1472966148, £25, hbk.

Reviewed by Frank Walker

 

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Rev Tom Banham – An Appreciation

The Rev Tom Banham died suddenly, but peacefully, on Wednesday, 14 August. His funeral took place at Roselawn Crematorium on Monday, 20 August. I gave the address and reproduce it here as my tribute to someone who achieved so much in his ministry and who was also a great friend.

‘He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus,

When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose;
for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord.’

Some verses from the book of Acts which sum up something of Tom Banham, the faithful minister. Tom passed away on Wednesday, quite suddenly but also very peacefully in the Somme Nursing Home where he had settled quite comfortably. Tom was in his 91st year but as interested and intellectually involved in his church, his denomination and the world of theology as he always had been. Indeed two of the topics for debate brought to the Synod last June had originated with issues directly raised by Tom.

Tom served this denomination, his presbytery and his churches with tremendous loyalty and devotion over the best part of 50 years. In fact so much of the shape and form of our Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church life was formed by Tom’s vision and endeavour. Tom was a minister, a theologian, an educator, a pastor, a liturgist. Innovative, dynamic and creative he achieved so much. For many of us here today Tom was also a friend, a colleague, a guide, a mentor. For everyone in our churches he was someone who played a key role on so many levels for decades. Typical of Tom he wanted his funeral to be conducted with a minimum of fuss. To be honest, given his achievements, no one deserves more fuss than Tom, but that isn’t the way he would have wanted it.

Tom was one of those people who had tremendous depth. He wasn’t just a leading minister in Northern Ireland throughout the period of the Troubles and beyond, although that would be enough to deservedly win the admiration of everyone. Tom had two consecutive high achieving careers – the first, of course, as an officer in the Royal Navy.

Tom was born in Devon and I think felt the call of the sea from an early age. He went to the Royal Naval College and was trained as an Engineer as he embarked upon his service in the Navy. Tom joined the Navy at a time when you really did see the world and he visited so many places in the course of his naval service. Tom kept pictures on his wall of all the ships he had served on but was unsentimental about the past. His medals and ceremonial sword were donated to the Royal Naval Association some years ago to be auctioned for service charities. He often lamented though that he seemed to have outlived so many of his comrades from the service. As an engineering officer Tom reached the senior rank of Lieutenant Commander bringing a highly specialised technical knowledge to the management of ships.

Tom was someone who was always keen to contribute to society, to make a difference to those in need. He had a long-time association with Scouting and it was this that brought him towards the ministry. As his time in the Navy was drawing to a close Tom was running the Sea Scouts in Bristol which was based at Lewin’s Mead Chapel, a famous and then very large dissenting congregation in the city. Through this association he felt called to the ministry and after around 20 years in the Navy went to the Unitarian College in Manchester to train for the ministry, studying theology at Manchester University leading to the award of the degree of Bachelor of Divinity by the University of London. In those days most of the students were young men, Tom was older and much more experienced, yet everyone who was a student in Manchester in those days remembers him with tremendous affection as a friend.

Had circumstances been only slightly different Tom might well have returned to Bristol to minister but instead Tom was called to Northern Ireland, to be minister of Ballycarry and Raloo churches. So commenced a connection that was to dominate the rest of his life, as a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian church minister.

Tom was ordained by the Presbytery of Antrim in September 1971 and valued his membership of that ancient body. He was clerk for eight years and moderator on a number of occasions. And we can see here what an impact Tom had on the structure of the denomination. He found the method of visitation of congregations to be cumbersome and in need of reform. He straight away set about reconstituting the method of visitation by the presbytery, now basing it on four separate commissions. And so it was that the Presbytery of Antrim, and then the other presbyteries in the denomination, had a new more efficient system of visitation. It was based, Tom always liked to say, on the system used by the Navy for inspecting battleships.

Tom was well respected and very happy in county Antrim but after four years he received a call for a new sphere of work, to First Church, Belfast, the congregation with which he was to be associated for the rest of his life. In 1975 this was a very challenging settlement indeed. The previous minister had been killed in a tragic road accident, the Troubles were at their height, the city centre was under considerable pressure, and the church itself had been badly damaged in a bomb attack; the windows were smashed and the eighteenth-century ceiling lay on the floor. The late Tom Moore, who was such a stalwart member of First Church and a good friend of Tom’s, once said to me that without Tom he didn’t think there would be a First Church today. Tom was the right man in the right place at the right time and under his leadership the Church was resurrected and able to flourish once more.

Both when he was minister and later, when he had retired, Tom could be found every Wednesday morning in Rosemary Street, along with his band of co-workers. Tom was a scholar and a fine preacher and a thinker but he was also an immensely practical person and if there were jobs to be done about the premises Tom would take them on himself. And when the work on the premises was completed there were always books to catalogue in the church library and the index to compile for the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine. Tom was a voracious reader, the arrival of the Postscript catalogue meant more books needed to be bought, many of which he later donated to Rosemary Street. Even in recent times when his health began to decline Tom was, thankfully, still able to read and in the Nursing Home he got to work grappling with the finer points of the theology of Paul Tillich.

So Tom was a minister and a theologian. He was also an educator. He was involved in education both outside the church and inside. He was a governor and ultimately the chairman of the board of governors of Malvern School in Belfast for many years. One major educational contribution he made to the denomination was the creation of the Academic Training Board. With Tom’s vision and energy this body was established for the denomination and for years it provided training and educational courses first of all for ministers but then later for lay people, preachers, church officers and so on. It became an invaluable and essential part of denominational life. Tom devised many of the early courses himself and others followed in his footsteps developing this body for a great many years.

Tom was a liturgist too. The version of the communion service which he devised has been used by many of us in the ministry since and elements of it were later published in Andrew Hill’s Celebrating Life and it was published in full in European Perspectives on Communion in 2001. A couple of years later Tom edited for publication European Perspectives on Baptism in the same series.

Tom was also strongly ecumenical in all his work, most notably serving as the secretary of the Department of Theological Questions of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting, the body which brought the Catholic and Protestant churches together. Here Tom held his own with the leading theologians in Ireland and was soon on first-name terms with Cardinals, Bishops and Moderators of all denominations. Indeed he had many friends across the denominations. Tom effectively wrote the DTQ’s paper on the church in modern society and was disappointed when narrow spirits prevented its publication. For a long time Ireland had some of the most sophisticated top-level ecumenical bodies in the British Isles, but what it lacked, particularly during the Troubles was much grass-roots ecumenical contact. Not so for Tom. As a parish minister Tom was keen to work on a cross-community basis. He was a member of the Eclectic Fraternal, which brought all sides together, and in his church he maintained the close connection between Rosemary Street, St Mary’s and St George’s which bore fruit particularly in the joint Christmas Carol services held between the three churches in Rosemary Street every year when Tom was minister. The importance of such events, particularly during the years of the Troubles, cannot be overestimated.

But Tom also loved music and he found in that a way to bring people together, particularly to celebrate God’s love in a broad and joyful way. For the denomination this meant the Choirs’ Festival which Tom set up and which alternated between All Souls’ and Rosemary Street, great gatherings of choirs large and small from all over the denomination singing praises together as well as their own favourite pieces. Tom greatly enjoyed and valued the musical tradition in First Church and right up to this year was helping to see this flourish.

Tom was throughout his life always kind and generous. Sue and myself and our children all have reason to know this, as do many here. It was part of Tom’s nature to be generous. And it extended far and wide. As a pastoral visiting minister Tom would call on those who were elderly or infirm or lonely. But he didn’t just bring prayers and support to those he visited. If he saw situations that needed practical resolution he would return armed with his tool box, and shelves would be fixed, pictures hung up and other items knocked into shape.

In Belfast Tom ran for a great many years what was then called the handicapped Scouts. Tom put in many hours – organising events, transporting young people to different occasions, working with young people with disabilities and doing so much good across the communities all against a background of civil upheaval. But such work was typical of Tom, done quietly without fanfare but so important and appreciated by those he worked with.

Tom believed in the importance of inter-faith dialogue and understanding and was one of the founders of the Northern Ireland Inter-Faith Forum. I know his presence and counsel was much valued in that body.

Based on his understanding of the history of this denomination and his knowledge of the development of its witness Tom had a vision of how to make his church most effective and most true to its calling as a liberal Christian community. Tom always had an eye for the practical solution or identified a need to devise a new structure when necessary. So something as simple and useful as the Aide Memoire for the denomination was created by Tom – and physically put together by him and his co-workers for many years. The Sunday School Games was his brainchild too and for many years he participated and led in that. Tom helped at every level of this event and once was sitting acting as scribe for a team in the under 5 section of the quiz. In one round the children were asked ‘Who was swallowed by a whale’. Four small faces all looked blank until one turned to Tom and answered brightly ‘Pinocchio’. Tom felt he had no choice but to nod and dutifully write down the answer, for Pinocchio certainly was swallowed by a whale.

On top of all this Tom found time to do even more. He was secretary or chair or convenor or treasurer of many different committees and bodies. And though he was primarily minister first of all of Ballycarry and Raloo and later of First Church he was minister in charge of a great many other churches over the years, that is the minister during a vacancy, bringing pastoral care and help to many other congregations. I don’t think I could prepare an adequate list of the many churches he helped over the last fifty years. But many people will have memories of Tom coming to their church all over the country at different times.

It was a big upheaval for Tom to give up his home on the Cliftonville Road but it was a necessary move and he felt very comfortable in the Somme Nursing Home. At the time of his move I arranged for his papers to be sent to Harris Manchester College, Oxford to be stored there. It took three enormous boxes to carry them and the College had to buy additional archive boxes to store them in but it means so much of Tom’s working life – in the church, in the presbytery, in the denomination, in the DTQ, in ecumenical and inter-faith bodies is preserved for the future.

A few years ago Tom gave me his old Book of Occasional Services which is a minister’s book for the conduct of baptisms, weddings and funerals and so on. In one of the annotations which Tom has added he has written:

To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die

I am sure that is true and we will all long remember Tom, as the valued colleague or minister or friend he was to us.

We commend him to God now in glad thanksgiving for having known him and shared in life with him in all its fullness. And I would close with some words from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress:

Then said he, ’I am going to my Father’s, and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his battles who now will be my rewarder.’ When the day that he must go hence, was come, many accompanied him to the river side, into which, as he went, he said, ‘Death where is thy sting?’ and as he went down deeper, he said, ‘Grave where is thy victory?’ So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.”

Unitarian Historical Society 2019

The cover of our latest issue of the Transactions which is on its way to all subscribers and which is available to order by new subscribers now:

Cover 2019

You can read more about the contents HERE

The Tercentenary of the Salters’ Hall Debates can be read HERE

The Annual General Meeting of the Society for 2019 will take place at 14.55 on Wednesday 17 April at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole Hotel during the meetings of the General Assembly. This will be followed by a lecture by Dr Rachel Eckersley on ‘Benefactions in the form of books: the development of the Northern Dissenting Academies and their libraries during the 18th and 19th centuries’.

Unitarian Theology

In 2016 and 2018 Faith and Freedom published two well-received supplements based on the Unitarian Theology Conferences organised by Jim Corrigall, Jo James and Stephen Lingwood and held at Cross Street Chapel, Manchester in May 2016 and at Mill HIll Chapel, Leeds in October, 2017. Both are now available for free download from here. Click on the links below to download the booklets.

UTI Cover

Click on this link to download the booklet: Unitarian Theology I

UT2 Cover

Click on this link to download the booklet: Unitarian Theology II

 

Faith and Freedom Number 187

The latest issue of Faith and Freedom (Autumn and Winter 2018, Volume 71 Part 2,  Number 187) is now available.

The front cover has a self-portrait of Edward Lear as the ‘Archbishoprick of Canterbury’ with his cat Foss which relates to Howard Oliver’s article Beyond the Nonsense: Edward Lear and his Writings on Religion and Faith, a rare examination of the religious thought of this unique artist. Other articles include Barrie Needham’s exploration of language, reason and faith in Mysteries Too Deep for Words; Dan C. West’s For Fear of the New, Missing the God of Surprises looks at how we respond religiously to the destructive contemporary challenges that are emerging in society on both sides of the Atlantic; Frank Walker makes a distinction between ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ Christianity in What has Christianity ever done for us?; and Peter B. Godfrey recounts his experiences and memories of A Theological Student at Oxford 1953 to 1956.

As always the journal is richly supplied with reviews, including two review articles:

Alastair McIntosh, Poacher’s Pilgrimage – An Island Journey, Birlinn, Edinburgh, March 2018, pp 285, ISBN 9781780274683.  £9.99 Pbk. Reviewed by Jim Corrigall. An insightful evaluation of this book informed by an interview Jim conducted with the author.

Unitarian Theology II. Papers given at the Unitarian Theology Conference, Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds October 2017. Edited by David Steers. (Faith and Freedom, 2018). ISSN 0014-701X. Reviewed by Bob Janis-Dillon who gives a close examination of the supplement which accompanied the Number 186 of Faith and Freedom.

Other books reviewed are:

Derek Guiton A Man that Looks on Glass: Standing up for God in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), FeedARead Publishing, 2015, pp 266. ISBN: 978-1-78610-232-4. Reviewed by Stephen Lingwood.

Rachel Hewitt, A Revolution of Feeling: The Decade that Forged the Modern Mind, Granta, 2017, pp 560. ISBN 978 1 84708 573 3. Hbk £25. Reviewed by Ernest Baker.

Jane Shaw, Pioneers of Modern Spirituality: The Neglected Anglican Innovators of a ‘Spiritual but not Religious’ Age,  Darton, Longman and Todd, London 2018, pp 117, ISBN 978-0232053286-9. £12.99 pbk. Reviewed by Jim Corrigall.

Mike Aquilina and Grace Aquilina, A History of the Church in 100 Objects, Ave Maria Press/Alban Books. Notre Dame/Edinburgh, 2017, pp 424. ISBN 9781594717505. £20.99 pbk. Reviewed by David Steers.

Simenon Honoré, Education for Humanity, Spirit of the Rainbow, Suite 70, 2, Mount Sion, , Tunbridge Wells, TN1 1UE, pp88, ISBN 978-0-9566767-5-7, PB £5, plus £2 p&p. Reviewed by Peter B. Godfrey.

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Faith and Freedom Number 186

Faith and Freedom (Volume 71 Part 1) Number 186, Spring and Summer 2018 is now ready and will be arriving with subscribers shortly. This issue includes the address delivered by Dávid Gyerő, deputy Bishop of the Hungarian Unitarian Church, at the dedication of the Religious Freedom Memorial at Torda in Transylvania, Romania, on 13th January, 2018, that is the 450th anniversary of the promulgation of the Edict of Torda, one of the first expressions of religious toleration in European history. It also includes the full text of Faith Without Certainty in Uncertain Times the Keynote Address given at the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches in April by Paul Rasor. This is a highly pertinent examination of the place of liberal religious thought in the current climate. Among his arguments Dr Rasor stresses reason:

 

We live in postmodern times where the idea of freedom of conscience might be twisted in a way that supports not the search for truth, but rather denies the possibility of shared truth. Have we liberals, with our emphasis on freedom of conscience, unwittingly contributed to the problem? How do we respond to this?…I think the answer lies in our emphasis on reason. Reason has always been a central feature of our liberal religious faith. At times we may have over-emphasized reason, but that doesn’t deny its importance. Historically it was the basis on which our forebears challenged outdated dogmas that did not fit with modern science, for example. Reason also plays an important role in our emphasis on the search for truth and meaning in our lives. In the post-truth society, in contrast, there is no room for reason. Instead of supporting our beliefs, reason now becomes a hindrance to them. This development is a threat not only to liberal faith, but to liberal democracy.  

 

Dr Rasor presents his suggestion of ideals and visions for religious liberals as a way towards progress in society.

 

Other articles include Helena Fyfe Thonemann’s examination of David Hume’s essay ‘Of Miracles’ and Professor James C. Coomer’s reflection on Jesus of Nazareth: A Quintessential Humanist:

 

What do we in the twenty-first century know about Jesus of Nazareth?  We only know what his friends said about him. There is no Jesus to know apart from his friends. He comes to us through his friends, or he does not come to us at all. His friends stand between us and him as barriers to the truth, or bearers of the truth… Jesus of Nazareth is quoted as having said that if one wanted to find contentment, one must look within oneself. The existential Jesus is, perhaps, the quintessential humanist.

 

Faith and Freedom is especially noted for the quality of its reviews of the latest books and this issue contains the following reviews:

Vincent Strudwick (with Jane Shaw), The Naked God: Wrestling for a grace-ful humanity.   Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd, London, 2017

Rachel Mann, Fierce Imaginings: The Great War, Ritual, Memory and God,  Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, London 2017

both by Jim Corrigall.

Marianne Moyaert and Joris Geldhof, Ritual Participation and Interreligious Dialogue: Boundaries, transgressions and Innovations, Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2016

by Marcus Braybrooke.

Hans le Grand and Tina Geels, It is all about your search for truth and meaning, not about our belief system: a new perspective for religious liberalism, privately published, Netherlands, 2016.

Mark D. Thompson, Colin Bale and Edward Loane, eds., Celebrating the Reformation: its legacy and continuing relevance, Apollos/Inter-Varsity Press, 2017

Wayne Facer, A Vision Splendid: the influential life of William Jellie: a British Unitarian in New Zealand , Blackstone Editions, Toronto, 2017

all by Andrew Hill

A Documentary History of Unitarian Universalism, Volume 1 From the Beginning to 1899, Volume 2 From 1900 to the Present, Edited by Dan McKanan, Skinner House Books, Boston, USA, 2017

Gleanings from the Writing of Nicholas Teape, edited by June Teape, privately published, 2013

both by David Steers

For new subscribers this issue of Faith and Freedom will also be accompanied by a free copy of Unitarian Theology II, the new book containing the papers given at the Unitarian Theology Conference in Leeds in October 2017.

UT2 Cover

 

This offer will be available only while stock lasts. The book contains:

Wrestling, Resisting, Resting – different ways of responding to the Divine voice

by Ant Howe

Models of God and the Meaning of Love

by Jane Blackall

The Unchained Spirit: Kenotic Theology and the Unitarian Epic

by Lewis Connolly

Theology from Women’s Experience

By Ann Peart

Early Unitarians and Islam: revisiting a ‘primary document’

by Justin Meggitt

Dialogues of Faith: An Adamsian Approach to Unitarian Evangelism

by Stephen Lingwood

An annual subscription (two issues) costs £15.00 (postage included) and can be paid online at www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/subs.htm

If you subscribe now the latest issue of Faith and Freedom will be sent to you along with Unitarian Theology II.

Illustrations of Unitarian Churches in ‘The Christian Freeman’

Robert Spears was a tireless propagandist for Unitarianism in the second half of the nineteenth century. One of his projects was the establishment in 1856 of The Christian Freeman, “a monthly journal devoted to religious, moral and social progress”. One of the novel features of this was that, from 1866, it was illustrated, at least to the extent that every issue carried an engraving of a Unitarian church or building. In January 1866 the editor promised that “during the present year our readers may expect in our pages every month one engraving at least of our largest churches.”

I have a bound collection of volumes 10 to 12 and in them most of these illustrations seem to have been produced by the same artist, although one is provided by the architect of a church (Southampton) and one other is signed ‘Macintosh’ which may be by a different engraver.

Most of the illustrations are exterior views and although Robert Spears promised “our largest churches” he didn’t stick to this and gives pictures of smaller congregations such as Pudsey, Styal or Dewsbury. Some of the churches illustrated are long gone, fallen by the way as congregations have closed or moved to newer premises or were destroyed in the blitz or by 1960s developers. But these illustrations are often very valuable because of a paucity of photographic or drawn records of the building concerned. So Matthew Henry’s Chapel in Chester lasted until the early 1960s but little survives that tells us as much about the building as Robert Spears’ engraving:

Chester Matthew Henry's Chapel Christian Freeman 1866

Glasgow’s magnificent St Vincent Street Church was demolished as recently as the 1980s but The Christian Freeman shows us how it was intended to appear:

Glasgow St Vnicent St Christian Freeman 1866

Other chapels might have survived but are still under threat, such as Newington Green Unitarian Chapel which in October 2016 was added to Historic England’s latest register of English historical buildings and sites considered to be at risk. See: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/oct/21/feminism-birthplace-old-brighton-london-zoo-aviary-historic-sites-risk-endangered-english-heritage.

Interestingly then, as now, the media made a connection between the chapel and a woman writer. In 1866 it was Anna Laetitia Barbauld in 2016 Mary Wollstonecraft:

Newington Green Christian Freeman 1866

Knutsford also was identified with a particular writer in the form of Elizabeth Gaskell:

Knutsford Christian Freeman 1866

Probably the best known of the illustrations from The Christian Freeman of 1867 is that of Madras which has been reproduced many times:

Madras Christian Freeman 1866

But many of the illustrations were later reprinted in Emily Sharpe’s Pictures of Unitarian Churches published in 1901. This included pictures “nearly all of them printed from the wood-blocks lent by Mrs Spears, having been brought out by her late husband, at intervals, through several years, in the pages of the “CHRISTIAN LIFE” [also edited by Robert Spears] and “CHRISTIAN FREEMAN”.

In fact the illustration of Matthew Henry’s Chapel in Emily Sharpe’s book is inferior to that published in The Christian Freeman (although see Jim Nugent’s comment below) and some quite striking pictures such as the Norwich Octagon do not appear in the 1901 book:

Norwich Christian Freeman 1866

Perhaps the wooden block had gone astray by 1901?

Many of the illustrations feature figures wandering nonchalantly into view. Not always quite to scale, Quality Street couples amble amiably by, and carriages and carts heave into view. The occasional street urchin appears on the scene and dogs, never on a lead, often show up as does one man on horseback:

Memorial Hall detail Christian Freeman 1866

Detail from the Memorial Hall, Manchester

Trowbridge detail Chrsitian Freeman 1866

Detail from Conigre Chapel. Trowbridge

They may not all be architecturally accurate and liberties are certainly taken with some of the views but taken together they are all a charming and valuable record of Unitarian buildings.