Unitarianism as a faith is unfamiliar to most people
Beloved Dublin church is 150 years old this month
The interior of the St Stephen’s Greeen church, 150 years old. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Recently as I was closing the door of the Unitarian Church an elderly Dubliner came over to me and, leaning in, said in a whisper, “Tell me what class of a cult is in that building?” The word “cult” jarred; I assured him we were not a cult, that our written history in Dublin goes back to the 1600s.
With hindsight, I realise that while the church is a familiar landmark on St Stephen’s Green – last Friday, June 14th, marked the 150th anniversary of the building – Unitarianism as a faith is unfamiliar to most people.
The refusal of Unitarian ministers to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith meant that Unitarians were regarded as dissenters. Until 1813, Unitarianism was illegal.
In the early years of the movement, meeting houses were in quiet back streets; on the old maps they appear as Presbyterian Meeting Houses.
Our church has a proud history. The Baptism book records entries for, among others, the Emmet family, William Drennan and John Jameson, a distiller in Smithfield. These entries are signed by Rev John Moody. His brother Rev Boyle Moody was a founding member of the Newry branch of the Society of United Irishmen; he was arrested prior to the outbreak of the 1798 rebellion.
A stained-glass window in the church was gifted by the Hutton family who were coach builders in Summerhill. The Huttons were deeply involved in the church and the civic life of Dublin city.
What about the Unitarian faith? Unitarianism grew out of the Reformation; Unitarians believed that the Reformation was not radical enough. They believed that no one had the authority to define God for another person. They rejected all imposed doctrine including the doctrine of God as Trinity. They rejected creeds and the system of church hierarchy.
The Dublin church is affiliated to the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches and also to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland.
A plaque on the external wall welcomes people to worship in a spirit of freedom, reason and tolerance. Sunday service is the familiar mix of prayers, readings and hymns together with an address or sermon. What does it mean to worship in a spirit of freedom, reason and tolerance?
We are free in our spiritual search; our search for truth and meaning is not confined to particular scriptures or limited by a creed. The early Unitarians found inspiration solely within the Bible; today, as well as in the Bible, modern Unitarians find inspiration in other faith systems, from philosophy to poetry and music.
Human intelligence is one of God’s greatest gifts. We use our God-given intelligence in our spiritual search. We do not accept as truth anything that fails the test of reason. We believe that truth is never threatened by the use of reason.
We accept diversity of belief within and outside of our community. There are no right beliefs, there is no imposed truth. We are searchers for truth, wisdom and meaning in life; we claim no monopoly on truth.
We must be tolerant of people who hold different views. We respect all faiths as being the human searching for the mystery we call God.
The absence of a creed in Unitarianism means that, over time, the emphasis in the church changes. Today the doctrine of the Trinity is not the focus of our interest. The fact that there is no imposed dogma does not mean we do not have beliefs.
These are some of our beliefs: we believe in the dignity of every person. We believe in the inherent goodness of the human soul. We believe in democracy within our congregations. We believe in the right of conscience. We respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. We believe that a person’s sexuality is their own business.
Journey of faith
Many people practise a faith that is life-enhancing: to you we send greetings and blessings. To all seekers of the spirit, we extend an invitation to join with other seekers on a journey of faith. We are an open church and a welcoming community.
Rev Bridget Spain is minister at the Dublin Unitarian Church on St Stephen’s Green