Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Finding Ada: Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

This blogpost is part of Ada Lovelace Day, which is an international day of blogging to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised.
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (May 10, 1900 – December 7, 1979) was an English-American astronomer who in 1925 was first to show that the Sun is mainly composed of hydrogen, contradicting accepted wisdom at the time.

Cecilia Payne wrote a doctoral dissertation, and so in 1925 she became the first person to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe (now part of Harvard) for her thesis: "Stellar Atmospheres, A Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars". Astronomer Otto Struve characterized it as "undoubtedly the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy". By applying the ionization theory developed by Indian physicist Megh Nad Saha she was able to accurately relate the spectral classes of stars to their actual temperatures. She showed that the great variation in stellar absorption lines was due to differing amounts of ionization that occurred at different temperatures, and not due to the different abundances of elements. She correctly suggested that silicon, carbon, and other common metals seen in the Sun were found in about the same relative amounts as on Earth, but that helium and particularly hydrogen were vastly more abundant (by about a factor of one million in the case of hydrogen). Her thesis thus established that hydrogen was the overwhelming constituent of the stars. When her dissertation was reviewed, she was dissuaded by Henry Norris Russell from concluding that the composition of the Sun is different from the Earth, which was the accepted wisdom at the time. However, Russell changed his mind four years later when other evidence emerged. After Payne-Gaposchkin was proven correct Russell was often given the credit.

She published several books including:
"Stars of High Luminosity" (1930),
"Variable Stars" (1938),
"Variable Stars and Galactic Structure" (1954),
"Introduction to Astronomy" (1956),
"The Galactic Novae" (1957)
"Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin : an autobiography and other recollections" (1984) ed. Katherine Haramundan)
She was also a Unitarian and a member of First Parish and Church in Lexington, Massachusetts. According to Owen Gingerich:
Payne-Gaposchkin was a many-sided personality known for her wit, her literary knowledge, and for her personal friendships with individual stars. She became the first woman in the history of Harvard University to receive a corporation appointment with tenure, and the first woman department chair in 1956. 
My other Finding Ada blogposts:
Lisa Barone
Hedy Lamarr

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Mechanics and Humanists have Unitarian roots

From the Mechanics Worldwide 2009 Conference diary:
Jana Sims of the Institute of Education in London spoke on Mechanics' Institutes in Sussex and Hampshire. The leafy counties of southern England aren't normally associated with Mechanics Institutes, but as Jana revealed there were plenty of them, in places like Brighton, Lewes and Winchester, many founded by members of the Unitarian church. The coastal ones ran classes in navigation, and any ideas of southern softness were dispelled by 5.30am classes in science and philosophy. Music played an important part in most Institutes, dispelling the myth of Engand as a non-musical nation, and although the early 19th century saw resistance to womens' attendance, that was largely resolved by the 1840s.
It is fairly well-known that Unitarians founded many educational establishments and projects, but I hadn't come across this one before!

When I last visited Conway Hall in London, however, I did notice that it was built by a group of Humanists who had originally been a Unitarian and Universalist chapel. The group still exists as the South Place Ethical Society, which owns Conway Hall. Their history is fascinating:
William Johnson Fox became minister of the congregation in 1817 which in 1824 it built a new chapel in South Place. This the Society occupied for 102 years and the name is still commemorated in the title of the Society, although it moved from South Place in 1926 to build its present home in Red Lion Square which was opened in 1929.

In 1831, Fox bought the journal of the Unitarian Association, The Monthly Repository, of which he was already editor; for five years this was virtually the first ancestor of the Ethical Record. Verse was contributed to it by both Tennyson and Browning -- the latter always spoke of Fox as his"literary father" ; the contributors of articles included John Stuart Mill, Leigh Hunt, Harriet Martineau, Henry Crabb Robinson and a fearless iconoclast, William Bridges Adams, whose outspoken series of articles on marriage, divorce, and other social questions split the South Place congregation again. So came about another evolutionary step that included severance from the Unitarian movement and established South Place as the centre of advanced thought and progressive activity. Among the causes with which Fox identified himself and the Society were the spread of popular education and the repeal of the Corn Laws. In 1847 he entered Parliament whilst remaining minister at South Place for several more years.

The most outstanding of Fox's successors in that position was an American, Moncure Conway, after whom the society's present home is named. He had adopted an uncompromising anti-slavery position at home and came to England in 1863 on a speaking tour. He settled at the South Place Chapel from 1864 until 1897, except for a break of seven years (from 1885 to 1892) during which he returned to America and wrote his famous biography of Thomas Paine. During that interval, in 1888, under the leadership of Stanton Coit, the name South Place Religious Society was changed to the South Place Ethical Society.
Perhaps those 19th century humanists and progressives would have been surprised at the modern evolution of Unitarianism, which now includes humanists, non-theists, theists, Pagans and Buddhists, among others.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Finding Ada

Calling all Unitarian and UU bloggers: have you thought of blogging for Ada Lovelace Day about women in technology and science?  See if you can find Unitarian and UU women - they don't have to be famous.  I have already bagged Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, astronomer and Unitarian.
Please join us on March 24 for Ada Lovelace Day
Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.!) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science.
Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines, whatever they do. It doesn’t matter how new or old your blog is, what gender you are, what language you blog in, or what you normally blog about – everyone is invited. Just sign the pledge below (click ‘pledge’ after you have completed the reCaptcha) and publish your blog post any time on Wednesday 24th March 2010.
Ada Lovelace was briefly associated with Unitarians; her mother funded Red Lodge in Bristol, which was run by Mary Carpenter, and Ada was taught science by Benjamin Carpenter, Mary's brother (Woolley, 2002).

Woolley, Benjamin (February 2002). The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason, and Byron's Daughter

Friday, 19 March 2010

Get your congregation Noticed

Marion Baker writes:

Unitarian chapels in the UK can get a grant of up to £250 to replace or renovate their notice board. I have been responsible for administering the current scheme on behalf of the Communication Commission since its inception and a good number of congregations have benefited. At present, be aware that you can only have one bite at the cherry because funds are limited.

If your notice board needs some TLC, why not suggest that your congregation applies for a grant. The guidelines and application form can be found on the Unitarian web site on the Congregational Support page. The process is very simple. If you are unsure about what you need to do Mary Jean Hennis of the GA staff will put you in touch with me.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Communications Commission at the General Assembly

Unitarian sanctuary at the cultural heart of Sheffield

Not to be missed at the Nottingham GA meetings, Julie Dadson, a committed and active Unitarian environmentalist will present “A Unitarian Sanctuary at the Cultural Heart of Sheffield” at the Communication Commission slot on Friday 9 April at 3.30 pm.

Work in progress that illustrates that there are many ways to show who and what you are to a wider audience.

Julie describes her and the Upper Chapel congregation’s role in making Upper Chapel Sheffield a welcoming place for the people of Sheffield, increasing the chapel visibility and improving the cityscape environment.

~ Marion Baker

What are they twittering on about?

The rest of the Communication Commission slot will be a talk by Yvonne Aburrow.

Are you dazed and confused with all this talk of Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube and blogs? Want to know what they are, and how you can use them to promote your Unitarian community? This workshop will look at ways of using social networking sites effectively (without excluding the non-technical people), using tags and social bookmarking and RSS feeds. We will look at Unitarians on Twitter, Unitarian photos (and copyright issues) on Flickr, Unitarian groups on Facebook, Unitarian videos on YouTube, and Unitarian blogs.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Our leaflets

Kate writes:
Amongst the tasks of the Communication Commission, in its remit to make who we are and what we do more widely known, is the renewing and, indeed, originating of leaflets. These are intended primarily for display in our chapels and at Essex Hall in the expectation that newcomers and visitors will find something to interest them and some of the information that they need to encourage them to join us.

We like our leaflets to be attractive and meaningful.

In recent years the leaflets have been designed by Mark Howard of Twenty-five Educational, who created the design scheme for our Consistent Identity branding. They are truly striking.

But they take quite some production!

I have worked for some years on the updating of leaflets and on creating new ones, first with Janet Eldred from our York congregation and, more recently, with Marion Baker of Upper Chapel, Sheffield (and much else).

It is not an easy role!

A huge problem where such leaflets as ‘Weddings and blessings: the Unitarian Way’, or ‘Namings and welcoming: the Unitarian Way’ are concerned has been finding apt and high-quality illustrations. Thank whatever God there is for John Hewerdine. Not only has he provided quite a number of superb photographs, he has also done a little daffying to others that were almost, but not quite, what we wanted. (Some may have noticed that the happy couple on the front of our ‘wedding’ leaflet were the same people celebrating the naming of their first child on the rather later ‘namings and welcomings’ leaflet.)

Happily the Unitarian talent for writing is considerably better than our talent as photographers. Last year we produced a new version of ‘Unitarian Views of Jesus’ with the fresh perceptions of new authors. We have just gathered together more new approaches for a refreshed ‘Unitarian Views of Earth and Nature’.

Janet Eldred and I met over lunch (at the theatre cafe in Wakefield) a couple of years ago to survey the accumulated body of leaflets and to make recommendations about what to reprint more or less as was (but redesigned), what to update, what to replace with new versions, and what to make accessible only on the GA website. The most popular of all the leaflets is ‘A faith worth thinking about’ and it is vital that that remains readily available wherever Unitarians gather. We plan an immediate 10,000 copy reprint. But we thought that ‘Unitarianism – the continuing story’ might simply be put on the website and its author, Alan Ruston, was quite happy (I think) about this. A similar fate met ‘An A-Z of Unitarianism’ and ‘The Principles that Unite Us’. It is a matter of deploying our very limited funds strategically.

Our range of attractive leaflets is a hugely valuable resource for the Movement. But they will do no good unless congregations ensure that they have sufficient (but, please, not too many!!!) copies of each and that they are well displayed.

And, of course, if you feel that there is some amazing gap in our information-range, let the Communications Commission know.


Sunday, 14 March 2010

Vancouver Unitarians' Paganism 101 course

Paganism 101: A Unitarian Exploration of the New Paganism
by Louise Bunn with Fritz Muntean and Kara Cunningham

Today’s Pagans revere the Earth and all its creatures, seeing all life as interconnected, and striving to attune ourselves to the cycles of nature. Pagan practices are rooted in a belief in immanence – the concept of divinity residing within.

The many contemporary Pagans who have found a home in the Unitarian community are grounding our work in the rational structure, the intellectual balance, and the humanist core values that have descended to us from the Enlightenment. We’re working to develop a religiosity that is entirely compatible with, and complementary to, modern Unitarian rationality.

The new curriculum represents contemporary Paganism as:

  • A thoroughly contemporary and well-tested approach to Mystery.
  • A performative, lively way of attending to the rhythms, wisdom, and demands of Nature.
  • A way of using the richness of myth and ritual to build religious community.
An interactive curriculum in 10 sessions including:
  • student lesson plans
  • leaders' guides related articles
  • reading lists
  • an audio selection of chants

A Review of Paganism 101

Paganism 101 is a religious education course produced by Vancouver Unitarians. The course can be run along the lines of an engagement group, as time is allocated for check-in at the beginning of each session, and the production of a group covenant.

The CD contains notes for students, notes for leaders, audio files of the chants used in the sessions, and appendices with articles, further reading, and instructions for rituals.

The learning objectives are clearly outlined and cover most aspects of Pagan practice. The course should be suitable both for people who are just interested in learning more about Paganism, complete newcomers to Paganism, and more experienced practitioners seeking to deepen their knowledge.

Each section of the students’ workbook contains introductory material, further reading, an article, a chant, questions to reflect on, and a practical spiritual exercise. The authors reckon each session will take about three hours, which seems quite long for an engagement group or evening session.

The leaders’ workbook contains an outline of each session (with approximate timings). Sessions include activities, discussion, and are opened with a chalice lighting and calling the quarters, and closed with a time for personal reflection.

The Foreword by Rev Dr Steven Epperson points out that Unitarians have diverse beliefs but shared values, so Paganism can be included in the life of a Unitarian community; Unitarian Pagans participate fully in the life of the Unitarian community and its shared historical narrative; and that the course is a valuable contribution to the rich diversity of Unitarian spirituality. It is interesting how this differs from the introduction to the first edition of 1998, which addresses different concerns – the nature of good and evil, the possible irrationality of Paganism, and Biblical narratives about ancient pagans.

The course sets the scene historically with an overview of the revival of Paganism and the reasons for its popularity: feminism, nature and eco-spirituality, and the counter-cultural aspects of Paganism. Many of these themes resonate strongly with Unitarians.

The material focuses mainly on Wicca, because the authors are Wiccans themselves (as well as Unitarians). However, it does touch on other Pagan traditions, and explores the theological diversity among contemporary Pagans – polytheism, animism, pantheism, and polymorphism. It is also realistic about the Pagan community, describing both its virtues and its flaws.

I would recommend this CD to anyone looking to lead a religious education course about Paganism or earth spirituality. Even if you don’t use all the materials on offer, it is a rich resource that you can draw on.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Kensington podcasts

Kensington Unitarians have produced a series of podcasts of sermons and addresses by Rev Sarah Tinker, Rev Linda Hart, and others. They are varied and interesting, with subjects ranging from "Symptoms of Inner Peace" to Imbolc and Candlemas.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Upholding the liberal Christian tradition

Part of the object of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches is "upholding the liberal Christian tradition". I once commented that we should also support all liberal religion (which we do through interfaith work and the International Association of Religious Freedom), but since Unitarianism emerged out of Christianity, we do owe something to those roots. And the liberal Christian tradition certainly needs upholding — though the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Metropolitan Community Church are also doing a good job of upholding it.

So I was delighted to see that the Unitarian Christian Association is sponsoring two ground-breaking events:

St Mark's Centre for Radical Christianity, Sheffield: Spring Conference
Nicola Slee - Christa: The Female Christ: Exploring the humanity of Christ through Theology and Art
Saturday 17 April 2010, 10.30am - 4.00pm
At St Mark's Church, Broomhill, Sheffield

St Mark's Centre for Radical Christianity, Sheffield: Autumn Conference
'Mysticism and Contemporary Spirituality'
Saturday 6 November 2010, 10.30am - 4.00pm
At St Mark's Church, Broomhill, Sheffield

Now that's what I call upholding the liberal Christian tradition.

You can find out more about images of the female Christ and the gay Jesus from the excellent Jesus in Love, the blog of Kittredge Cherry, a Metropolitan Community Church minister, and author of several books, including Jesus in Love.

And there's lots of information about Christian mysticism on The Website of Unknowing, the blog of Carl McColman, also the author of several books, including The Big Book of Christian Mysticism.

How to grow a congregation

A guest post by Rev Andrew Pakula.

The congregation that I lead - the Newington Green and Islington Unitarians - has grown extremely quickly over the past several years. What we have done is not magic. It depends on a variety of well-known and well-tested strategies. It depends on steps also that change attitudes from self-centred to 'other-centred' - an absolutely critical culture change.

I want to share what I have learned and what works.

I have outlined a scheme below. It offers a clear step-wise approach to congregational growth. It is important to note that these recommendations do not define the 
only path to growth, but any congregation that successfully follows this programme has a very good chance of achieving their aims.

Some of the more advanced steps may seem daunting. Any journey must be taken one step at a time. When climbing a mountain, it is best not to start out by focusing on the peak - focus on the natural next step for your congregation. Achieving the next step will give you a sense of accomplishment that will energize you for more.

And so, I offer this programme to you to do with as you wish. The programme is organized into four levels which correspond to levels of accomplishment in working toward growth.

If you want to use them, your congregation may choose to make achieving a given level a cause for celebration. I hope you will! Groupings of congregations (e.g. districts) may choose to adopt the scheme and create ways of recognizing and providing incentives for congregations that complete a particular level. You may use it as the road map for a growth group or growth leader.

I will also be very happy to answer questions and offer guidance and advice to any Unitarian congregation that is interested. 


At least nine of the following:
  1. A friendly and welcoming person is always available to greet newcomers as they arrive or enter the chapel
  2. Signs at your building are clear and include welcoming language intended to draw newcomers
  3. Worship is held according to a regular, publicly-available schedule
  4. Newcomers are invited to attend at least one programme or event apart from Sunday services
  5. Instructions (e.g. when to stand and sit) are offered during Sunday services spoken from the pulpit and/or in writing
  6. Serve refreshments after services
  7. A welcome message to newcomers is given from the pulpit at each Sunday service
  8. There is a congregational web site, and it contains current, accurate information
  9. Keep records of attendance and visitor numbers. Make these available to the congregation.
  10. Evaluate the appearance of your building both inside and out with regard to how welcoming and attractive it is for newcomers.


All of the following:
  1. Launch a process for the congregation to explore its purpose/mission in the world (e.g. facilitated congregational meeting/meetings).
  2. Follow-up on the input from this purpose/mission process to move toward a clear, compelling statement or identify a consensus feeling from this process.
  3. Invite an objective person (or preferably two) to visit and attend a service and prepare a 'worshiper report' from the perspective of a newcomer. Share this information with the congregation and the leadership.
  4. Establish a growth group OR designate one growth leadership person to examine congregational practice and decisions with a view to promoting growth and to voice the perspective of the future members who have not yet arrived.
  5. Evaluate the appearance of your building both inside and out with regard to how welcoming and attractive it is for newcomers. Seek feedback from newcomers and make appropriate changes as feasible.
  6. Consider the impression given by your newsletter/calendar and make changes as appropriate so that it is attractive to, and inclusive for, newcomers.
At least one of the following:
  1. Begin to study the population within reasonable travel distance from your building with an eye to identifying a demographic segment that you will try to attract. List groups of interest (e.g. newly retired, young adults, families with children or University students)
  2. Examine your congregation's practices and literature and consider the sorts of people to whom are likely to appeal. Ask whether they are suitable for your context.


At least nine of the following:
  1. Develop a clear, compelling congregational purpose/mission statement with congregational approval OR prepare a consensus statement(s) of purpose/mission.
  2. Keep the purpose/mission in front of the leadership and membership (e.g. printed in newsletters, spoken at meetings and services)
  3. Place the challenges identified by the 'worshiper report' in order of descending priority. Take action on the top 5
  4. Select a demographic segment of the local population and compile a report describing this group (e.g. tastes, lifestyles, media used, and interests) OR estimate the number and location of the people in your vicinity who are likely to find your current message and practices appealing.
  5. Through a congregational process, develop and approve a set of expectations for how members of the congregation will be toward one another. Keep these expectations in the attention of the membership and leadership (e.g. in your newsletter and other appropriate literature)
  6. Develop and approve a process for dealing with disruptive behaviour in the congregation OR have key leaders trained in conflict management.
  7. At least one fourth of Committee members are new to the congregation (three years or less)
  8. Put a process in place to ensure that visitors newcomers are spoken to by at least three people before and/or after the service.
  9. Visitors to the Sunday service receive a welcome message (email, phone or post) by the end of the following Tuesday
  10. Committee creates and commits to a covenant for its own practices. The covenant includes the expectation that all decisions will be made in the best interest of the congregation and its future.
  11. The congregation is mentioned in the media at least four times in the preceding year.


At least eight of the following:
  1. Make a practice of asking new visitors for their honest impressions either in person, by phone, or using a written survey
  2. Begin at least one new programme/service/event geared specifically toward the preferences of newcomers
  3. Hold occasional newcomer orientation events intended to help them understand and feel more connected to Unitarianism and the congregation.
  4. Train welcomers to help newcomers feel comfortable and connect to the congregation
  5. Evaluate your congregation in light of your understanding of your target demographic group and list any identified challenges in descending order of importance. Take action on top 5.
  6. Identify and alter 3 long-standing customs that do not foster growth
  7. At least one third of Committee members are new to the congregation (three years or less)
  8. Hold at least one workshop directly addressing resistance to growth.
  9. The congregation is mentioned in the media at least six times in the preceding year.

(originally posted at Andy's blog, Throw Yourself Like Seed)

Monday, 8 March 2010

Unitarianism - because you matter

I just watched two excellent videos by Stephen Lingwood on "What is Unitarianism?" — they are very inspiring, and explain Unitarian views and values very succinctly.

Civil partnerships

Manchester Faith Groups Welcome Lords Amendment
Manchester Liberal Jewish Community has joined with local Unitarians in celebrating the amendment to the Equality Bill which will lift the current ban on Civil Partnerships being held in places of religious worship. The vote was passed in the House of Lords on Tuesday 2 March, by 95 votes to 21.

The amendment to the Equality Bill was jointly sponsored by the Unitarians, Liberal Judaism and the Quakers, with support from other inclusive religious communities such as the Metropolitan Community Church.

The Reverend Jane Barraclough, minister of Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester city centre, was enthusiastic about the news: "At last (if the bill is passed) liberal people of faith can register their partnerships in their places of worship. We can welcome all those who share our progressive and tolerant values to our churches and chapels and celebrate the blessing of their relationships and their lives together."

Equality, diversity and justice are core values for both Liberal Jews and Unitarians. Both movements have welcomed lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people into their congregations for many years. Openly LGBT people participate fully in community life and leadership in both movements, which includes some serving as rabbis and ministers. Both movements are to begin amending orders of service for same-sex commitment ceremonies.

Tim Moore, a member of Cross Street Chapel and Associate Member of MLJC added, "I am very proud to be so closely involved in two of the inclusive religious movements who have taken a unified stand for equality and tolerance and against prejudice and discrimination. The latest amendment on civil partnerships is just one more success in the growing national campaign for full marriage equality for LGBT people."

"Liberal Jews, Unitarians, Quakers and their supporters have witnessed to their faith based on conscience, guided by reason, and tested in welcoming communities. We will continue working with our partners on looking into ways of furthering the campaign in the North West for marriage equality."
Congratulations to all concerned. This is marvellous news.

(via GA Uni-News)

Other coverage

Gaskell worship pack

In preparation for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Elizabeth Gaskell, the Worship Panel has created a new information pack (PDF).

It includes worship materials, background information, a directory of events, and a list of contacts. It was compiled by Rev. Dr. Ann Peart, with two sections by Kay Millard and Rev. Jim Robinson.

(via GA Uni-News)

The Famous UUs site has a biography of Gaskell.
In Gaskell's estimation, true Christianity was not to be found in organized denominations nor in liturgy nor in theology. She believed and acted on a religion of works, "the real earnest Christianity which seeks to do as much and as extensive good as it can." Local action for change by those most intimately concerned, not government legislation, was her solution to social problems. Those who have should help those who have not. For her such charity began at or near home. She took her motto from Thomas Carlyle, "Do the duty that lies nearest to thee." Unitarian rationalist feminist journalist Frances Power Cobbe, after reading a story by Gaskell, wrote, "it came to me that Love is greater than knowledge — that it is more beautiful to serve our brothers freely and tenderly, than to hive up learning with each studious year."

Rev Bob on video

The National Unitarian Fellowship (NUF) have videoed the President Rev Bob Wightman as he approaches the end of his term in office.

(from GA Uni-News)