General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches

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General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
GAUFCC logo.png
The official logo of the GAUFCC, based upon the flaming chalice motif.
Abbreviation GAUFCC; the Unitarians
Formation 1928
Type umbrella religious organisation
Purpose To serve Unitarian and Free Christian congregations in the United Kingdom.
Headquarters London, United Kingdom
Location
  • United Kingdom
Affiliations International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, European Liberal Protestant Network
Website www.unitarian.org.uk

The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (GAUFCC or colloquially British Unitarians) is the umbrella organisation for Unitarian, Free Christians and other liberal religious congregations in the United Kingdom. It was formed in 1928, with denominational roots going back to the Great Ejection of 1662. Its headquarters building is Essex Hall in central London, on the site of the first avowedly Unitarian chapel in England, set up in 1774.

The GAUFCC brought together various strands and traditions besides Unitarianism. These included English Presbyterianism, General Baptist, Methodism, Liberal Christianity, Christian Universalism, Religious Humanism and Unitarian Universalism. Unitarians are now an open faith community celebrating diverse beliefs; some of its members would describe themselves as Buddhist, Pagan, or Jewish, while many others are humanist, agnostic, or atheist. Unitarianism differs from many other religions in that it helps people find their own spiritual path rather than defining it for them.[1]

History[edit]

Early Modern Britain[edit]

Christopher Hill states that ideas such as anti-Trinitarianism, which scholars solemnly trace back to ancient times, were an integral part of “the lower-class heretical culture which burst into the open in the sixteenth century”. The cornerstones of this culture were anti-clericalism (opposition to the power of the Church) and a strong emphasis on biblical study, but there were specific heretical doctrines that had “an uncanny persistence”. In addition to anti-Trinitarianism, there was a rejection of predestination, and an embrace of millenarianism, mortalism, and hermeticism. Such ideas became "commonplace to seventeenth century Baptists, Levellers, Diggers, Seekers, … early Quakers and other radical groupings which took part in the free-for-all discussions of the English Revolution".[2]

After the restoration of the Stuart monarchy and the resulting Act of Uniformity 1662, around 2000 ministers left the established Church of England (the Great Ejection). Following the Act of Toleration 1689, many of these ministers preached in 'non-conforming' congregations. The modern Unitarian denomination’s origins lay within this group of respectable Protestants who were reluctant to ever become Dissenters, that is the English Presbyterians. However, by the late 18th century, the influx of General Baptist congregations to the denomination established a direct lineage to this radical milieu although, by now, much of the ‘heretical culture’ baggage had been jettisoned.

Nineteenth century[edit]

Until the passing of the Unitarian Relief Act in 1813 it was a criminal offence to deny the doctrine of the Trinity. By 1825 a new body, the British and Foreign Unitarian Association, itself an amalgamation of three previous societies, was set up to co-ordinate denominational activities. However, there was a setback in 1837 when “the Presbyterian / Unitarian members were forced to withdraw from the General Body of Protestant Ministers which, for over a century, had represented the joint interests of the old established nonconformist groups in and around London”.[3]

Around this time Presbyterian / Unitarian opinion was once again divided about how far the denomination should be associated with the label 'Unitarian’. James Martineau, a Presbyterian minister formerly based in Liverpool, pleaded for a ‘warmer’ religion than the ‘critical, cold and untrusting’ Unitarianism of his day. In 1881 he helped to found the National Conference of Unitarian, Liberal Christian, Free Christian, Presbyterian and other Non-Subscribing or Kindred Congregations – “a triumph, one might say, of Victorian verbosity. But the length of the name reflected the breadth of Martineau’s vision”.[4]

Thus, from 1881 to the establishment of the GAUFCC, the denomination consisted of “two overlapping circles, one labelled ‘Unitarian’ and eager for organisation and propaganda, the other rejecting labels and treasuring comprehensiveness. Each side had its own college, its own newspaper and its own hymn book”[5]

Now[edit]

By 1928 these two "overlapping circles" had been reconciled in the same organisation: the GAUFCC. Over time the organisation has come to embrace a wider theological and philosophical diversity. "At one extreme are the 'Free Christians' who wish to remain part of the Church Universal; at the other are those who wish to move beyond Christianity.[6] The congregations of GAUFCC contain members who hold diverse opinions. Indeed, Unitarians are able to embrace and gain insights from the great world religions, philosophies, arts and modern sciences.[7] Because the Unitarian Church does not follow one set of rules, most Protestant and Catholic Diocese do not recognize baptisms or marriages performed by the Unitarian Church.

Member churches[edit]

The General Assembly counts about 180 churches as members, including:

Some Unitarian churches have become defunct, and the buildings are used for other purposes:

The following place articles mention the presence of their Unitarian churches:

Affiliations[edit]

The British Unitarians are a member of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists and of the European Liberal Protestant Network. The Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland maintains an Accord with the GAUFCC.

In addition to the approximately 180 congregations that are affiliated with the General Assembly, there are also groups within it. Some of these represent interests (history, music, international development, etc.), while others are of religious beliefs, most notably the Unitarian Christian Association and the Unitarian Earth Spirit Network.

Officers[edit]

Information is taken from the 2009 Annual Report, which also contains a full list of presidents, a role that normally rotates each year.[9]

Secretaries / Chief Executives / Chief Officers[edit]

  • 1928 Rev S H Mellone, MA, DSc
  • 1928 Rev R Travers Herford, BA, DD
  • 1929-49 Rev Mortimer Rowe, BA, DD
  • 1949-69 Rev John Kielty, LD, DD
  • 1969-79 Rev Brian L Golland, MA
  • 1979-94 Dr Roy W Smith, DHL
  • 1994-07 Mr Jeffrey J Teagle, MSc
  • 2007-09 Rev S Dick, MSc
  • 2009- Mr Derek McAuley, MA, BSSc

Treasurers[edit]

  • 1928-39 Lieut-Col S Chatfield-Clarke, DL
  • 1939-59 Mr Ronald P Jones, MA, FRIBA
  • 1959-70 Sir C Herbert Pollard, CBE, FCA
  • 1970-71 Mr Albert Forrester, FCA
  • 1971-79 Mr Arnold Graves, FCA, FCIS
  • 1979-98 Mr Geofffrey Head, BA
  • 1998-05 Mr Michael Tomlin
  • 2005-09 Mr Martin West
  • 2009-10 Mr Derek McAuley, MA, BSSc
  • 2010-11 Mr Huw Thomas

Notable British Unitarians[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.unitarian.org.uk/index.shtml
  2. ^ Hill, Christopher (1977) “Milton and the English Revolution” Faber & Faber, London, pp.71 - 76;
  3. ^ Goring, J & R (1984) "The Unitarians", p.23;
  4. ^ Goring, J & R (1984) "The Unitarians", p.24;
  5. ^ Goring, J & R (1984) "The Unitarians", p.24;
  6. ^ Goring, J & R (1984) "The Unitarians", p.59;
  7. ^ "Unitarian theology and spirituality" page on the GAUFCC website. Accessed 25 January 2011 "Unitarianism has its roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions but is open to insights from world faiths, science, the arts, the natural world, and everyday living."
  8. ^ "church wiki". http://wiki.cambridgeunitarian.org/index.php/Main_Page. 
  9. ^ 2009 Annual Report
  10. ^ Mary on the Green: About Mary

External links[edit]