Belief & Practice

Unitarianism arose out of the Western Enlightenment, Scientific Revolution and Age of Reason; upholding, on the one hand, the positivist and democratic spirit of the age against the forces of reaction; and on the other, underlining humanity’s spiritual nature and continuing need for spiritual nourishment against a solely materialistic philosophy. 

This eminently reasonable position, looked at through the eyes of today, made us dangerously heretical to some, and rather old-fashioned to others, in our early years. Until 1813 the expression of Unitarianism was, strictly speaking, illegal in England and Wales; and Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), referred to Unitarianism merely as ‘a feather bed to catch a falling Christian.’ Thankfully this radical middle ground found favour with a good number of folk and many distinguished persons have been Unitarians (see final paragraph).

Today, history and psychology has long recognised humanity’s need of enlightened spirituality; and the modern mindfulness movement is in many respects Unitarianism in new clothing, in that at its core it offers quality time out for a humanist spiritual practice aimed at personal wholeness and greater kindness and happiness. What we offer additionally is: a sacred space, hallowed by the generations; professional guidance (ministry); spiritually stimulating readings from the world’s religions and secular sources; first-rate live music by our Musical Director on our grand piano and organ; regular opportunities to get directly involved in social action (not least in our support for the Brixton and Norwood Foodbank); and an enlightened, friendly, supportive community to share with and belong to.

Some wonder if Unitarians believe in God, in Jesus, and are Christians. We do believe in God, whom we understand to be the Spirit of Life, guiding, inspiring, comforting and protecting us, adding to our joys and tempering our sorrows. For all of us God is within; but for some God is also without in the traditional sense. We believe in Jesus, recognising he actually lived, and that he remains the pre-eminent or one of the pre-eminent prophets of God and showers of The Way. For some of us God can only be fully known through Jesus. Indeed, some of us experience Jesus as our living Lord; if we all appreciate a broad range of spiritual inspiration. Some conservative Christians insist we are not Christians because we do not believe that God is a Trinity of three co-equal Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However: ‘Trinity’ is not mentioned in the Bible; the concept is not securely suggested there either; few mainstream Christians understand the concept properly (it is very complicated); Unitarians have traditionally simply experienced God primarily as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, like most Christians; and Unitarians are proud that our faith is effectively recognised as an historic Christian denomination at the highest levels in the UK, which sees us represented at the Cenotaph in Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday. Much of that, no-doubt, is due to the many talented and good people who have been Unitarians over the years. As Jesus said, ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits.’; a phrase Unitarians are still closely guided by.

Famous Unitarians include the scientists Sir Isaac Newton, Rev Joseph Priestley (Unitarian Minister and discoverer of Oxygen), and Sir Tim Berners Lee (the inventor of the free World Wide Web). On the artistic side, a fair number of the English Romantic Poets came from a Unitarian background; and this was even more so in the case of the American Transcendentalists. Unitarians have also been disproportionately represented in politics and movements for social progress, both here and in the USA.