The purpose of a Unitarian congregation is:
- To meet the spiritual needs of the individual in the context of a loving community.
- To share joy and to offer comfort in times of trial.
- To enjoy the warmth of fellowship.
Unitarian and Free Christian congregations are scattered across the British Isles. They may be called churches, meetings, chapels or fellowships. They may have a minister – who may be a woman or a man – or be lay-led. They vary considerably in size – from a couple of hundred to less than ten – and in the scope of their activities. They may meet in their own buildings – anything from a 17th century meeting house to a modern church – in hired premises or in private homes. Congregations and fellowships number nearly two-hundred in mainland Britain, of which four are in Scotland (in the principal cities) and over twenty in Wales (many of them Welsh-speaking or bilingual). These communities are independent and democratic in organisation. Regionally, they are grouped in District Associations. In Ireland, mainly in the north, there is an independent sister-movement, the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, with a strong liberal Christian identity. A network – the National Unitarian Fellowship – exists to link geographically-isolated Unitarians. It provides a ministry to its membership and circulates newsletters, tapes and literature.
Unitarian local communities are linked through the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, with its headquarters at Essex Hall in London. This body works to strengthen the life and witness of its member congregations and to represent Unitarianism to the wider world.
Worship as a celebration of worth
A key part of the faith for many Unitarians is worship. This usually takes place on Sundays. Unitarian worship reflects what a particular community regards as being of supreme worth.
A Unitarian service may comprise:
- Worship of the divine.
- Celebration of life.
- Affirmation of shared values.
- Recognition of our failings.
- Commitment to the meeting of human need.
Many elements may be used to contribute to the worship experience: music, silence, meditation, words for reflection, Bible readings, prayer, stories, hymns and songs, a sermon or address, scriptures of other faiths, communion, poetry, discussion, drama, new rituals, sharing joys and concerns. The order in which these elements may appear may vary, and by no means all of them will be present in any one service. A guiding principle for those leading Unitarian worship is to make it inclusive – meaningful for people with differing beliefs and needs. The Unitarian worship-cycle usually marks:
- The major festivals of the Christian year.
- The changing seasons and cycles of the earth.
- Occasions and celebrations from the wider human heritage, both religious and secular – such as Human Rights Day and World AIDS Day.
- Lives and events which have a special place in human history and spiritual development.
With thanks to Cheltenham & Gloucester Unitarians