Andrew Pakula

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Rev Dr. Andrew Pakula
Born18 December 1957
New York, United States
ResidenceLondon, UK
EducationMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Andover Newton Theological School
Unitarian College, Manchester
OccupationUnitarian Minister
Executive Committee Member of GAUFCC

Rev. Dr. Andrew Pakula (born 18 December 1957 in New York, United States) is an atheist Unitarian minister. He was elected in 2009 to serve on the executive committee of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the umbrella body for British Unitarians.[1] He is the minister of two neighbouring congregations in north London: Unity, on Upper Street in the heart of Islington; and Newington Green Unitarian Church, on the village green of that name about two kilometres north.[2]

Early life and extended education[edit]

Pakula grew up within a secular Jewish family in New York.[3] He holds a doctorate in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Master of Business Administration from the MIT Sloan School of Management, and used these in his careers in biotechnology management and then in business development. He began his studies for the Unitarian Universalist ministry at Andover Newton Theological School, when he was living in Boston, Massachusetts with his wife and son. He moved to England and completed these studies at Unitarian College, Manchester, whilst also serving from October 2006 as student minister at New Unity,[4] the single name for the two congregations mentioned above. In January 2010 he was inducted as full minister of both churches; Labour Party Members of Parliament Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry were at the service, held at Newington Green Unitarian Church.[5][6]

Career as a minister[edit]

Under his leadership, the church has hosted a series of annual lectures by prominent public figures, to address "a topical or important aspect of liberty, reason and ethics".[7] These public talks, named after Pakula's internationally prominent eighteenth century predecessor Richard Price, have invited Evan Davis, the economist and BBC presenter, to speak on media and dishonesty;[8] psychotherapist Susie Orbach, to describe "Frankenstein's Bodies Today";[9] and literary critic Terry Eagleton to analyse "The New Atheism and the War on Terror".[10]

His first years at New Unity, while still officially a trainee, coincided with two important dates for the church at Newington Green, namely its tercentenary, [11] and the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mary Wollstonecraft, probably its most famous congregant.[12] For each of these occasions, he attached a banner to the railings outside the building (proclaiming first "300 years of dissent", and then "birthplace of feminism", in a nod to the formative years that Wollstonecraft spent worshipping there[13]) and organised a series of celebratory or commemorative events[14][15]

Pakula's sermon in honour of the Wollstonecraft anniversary stressed her role as a prophet. This excerpt serves as a flavour of the emphasis he gives to social action:[16]

Mary Wollstonecraft was a unique individual – brilliant and strong. She was one who would not be swept along in stream of the common beliefs and understandings of her time. Hers was a keener sight – a vision that saw beyond what most people take for granted. She saw, contrary to the assumptions of her time, that women were the equals of men. Her bold stance – a position that proved to be many years ahead of her time – was met with broad condemnation. Today, we recognise that Mary Wollstonecraft spoke with the voice of prophesy. We honour her for her courage and for the gifts she has given to future generations of women and men.

Pakula has expressed bold viewpoints and was described—sympathetically—in the local press as "controversial" when he did a reverse collection plate, giving his own money away to those attending a service.

He also supported the unanimous decision of church members when they voted to stop performing wedding ceremonies until the law recognised equal parity for same sex relationships.[17][18] Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has called on the church to conduct a gay marriage in defiance of the law.[19] Pakula and his congregation hosted a meeting in 2010 at which Tatchell gave a speech about moving the legal case forward for equalisation and fair treatment for all relationships.

Writing and media appearances[edit]

Pakula has produced writings for use in services that have appeared on the Unitarian Universalist Association website. He reviewed Heresy Saved Me by Nicholas Axam in 2010.[20] Pakula has also written for The Guardian,[21] Humanist Life[22] and the Islington Press.[23][24][25] Pakula maintains his own social networking pages[26][27][28] and displays his weekly sermons online.[29]

As part of his outreach, Pakula appeared on the Today programme, BBC Radio 4's flagship morning show, at the request of guest editor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and a Unitarian himself. Berners-Lee had wished Pakula to present the segment within the programme known as "Thought for the Day", but the BBC hierarchy claimed this was not appropriate, since Pakula describes himself as an atheist. Instead he was allowed to deliver his message an hour earlier, as an "Alternative Thought for the Day", with a theistic Unitarian minister appearing in the actual TFTD slot. Pakula used his Boxing Day message to reflect on the underlying meaning of Christmas. In a brief discussion with Today host Mishal Husain, Pakula said, "The BBC talks about not allowing people of 'no faith' to present 'Thought for the Day', well, what does 'no faith' mean? Here I am, I'm a minister of religion, leading a congregation talking about peace and love, and I'm considered a person of no faith because I say I'm an atheist." The controversy was covered in Britain's main broadsheets such as The Guardian,[30] The Independent [31] and The Telegraph [32] and as far afield as Australia.[33]


  1. ^ "Unitarians: Commissions and Panels". Archived from the original on 6 December 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  2. ^ "Our Minister". New-Unity. Archived from the original on 12 October 2009. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  3. ^ "Church minister: homophobia is the real sin"[permanent dead link] by Katrina Bishop. 18 March 2009 Islington Now
  4. ^ ""Vandals at the chapel" N16 magazine Winter 2006". 3 April 2009. Archived from the original on 18 March 2012. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  5. ^ "Nathanaël Corre Photography » Unitarian Minister induction". 26 January 2010. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  6. ^ "Church welcome for new minister" Hackney Gazette 21 January 2010 page 8
  7. ^ "Lecture List entry". 13 November 2008. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  8. ^ "Media has 'misleading ethical code', says Evan Davis" Archived 26 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine. 14 November 2008 by Katrina Bishop on
  9. ^ [1] 8 January 2010 Hackney Citizen
  10. ^ [2] 29 August 2010 Hackney Citizen
  11. ^ "25 Feb 2009 Newington Green Action Group". 25 February 2009. Archived from the original on 24 February 2012. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  12. ^ "Festival for ‘first feminist’" by Peter Gruner, 17 April 2009, Islington Tribune
  13. ^ "Strength in Unity?" by Judith Evans. 19 March 2009 The Guardian
  14. ^ "Right, so just what do you do all day?" by Aida Edemariam, 19 May 2009 The Guardian
  15. ^ "Birthplace of Feminism" by Guy Bentham, in N16, issue 41, spring 2009
  16. ^ ""Prophetic Mary" New Unity website. For 26 April 2009". Archived from the original on 2 October 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  17. ^ "UK | England | London | Gay rights church bans weddings". BBC News. 8 April 2008. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  18. ^ Graham Smith (13 November 2009). "Straight couple become first to try for gay wedding 'because homosexuals should have access to traditional marriage' | Mail Online". Daily Mail. UK. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  19. ^ "Islington News: Peter Tatchell | Unitarian Church | Newington Green | Gay Marriage | Law | Reverend Andrew Pakula | Tom Freeman | Katherine Doyle | Civil Partnership Act 2004". 20 November 2009. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  20. ^ Hagger, Rachel. "Heresy Saved Me: A Unitarian in the 21st century: Nicholas Axam: Books". Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  21. ^ "Bishops shouldn't block equality | Andrew Pakula | Comment is free |". The Guardian. UK. 23 February 2010. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  22. ^ "The congregation that won't marry anyone – yet". HumanistLife. 25 February 2010. Archived from the original on 24 November 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  23. ^ "Islington News: Dr Andrew Pakula | Newington Green Unitarian Church | Collection plate". 24 October 2008. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  24. ^ "Islington News: Pastor Patrol | Police Support | Christian Recruitment | Andrew Pakula | Proselytising". 6 March 2009. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  25. ^ "Islington Letters: Lilian Ladelle". 8 August 2008. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Throw yourself like seed". Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  28. ^ "Andrew Pakula". Facebook. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  29. ^ "2011 Sermons". New-Unity. Archived from the original on 28 March 2012. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  30. ^ "Atheist presents alternative Thought for the Day, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee". The Guardian. 26 December 2013. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  31. ^ Burrell, Ian (26 December 2013). "Unholier than thou: BBC denies atheist traditional slot on Thought for the Day". The Independent. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  32. ^ Furness, Hannah (27 December 2013). "Sir Tim Berners-Lee banned from having atheist on Radio 4's Thought for the Day". The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  33. ^ Burrell, Ian (27 December 2013). "BBC denies atheist traditional Thought for Day slot". Queensland Times. Retrieved 7 January 2014.

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