A church that’s not a church.

So I went to a Unitarian Church this morning. As far as I can tell, this is one of just two in Sydney. And there were maybe 15 people. (Clearly there are more Wiccans in Sydney than Unitarians!)

I was later trying to come up with a summary of my experience for another group of friends and it occurred to me that it felt a lot like a church service completely shorn of any Christian doctrine, orthodoxy or teaching. The room was very church-like – pews, lectern, sacristy. There was a table with bulletins in the foyer. There was a piano on one side and a projector with a screen. But there were no bibles in the pews (okay, a lot of churches don’t do that, either) and there was no sermon. Instead it was a short presentation about funding a Unitarian church in the Philipines.

Funnily enough there were songs. Lots of songs. I think we did nine or ten (the church I used to frequent would average six). All were written for the Unitarian church, which meant I knew none of them, although one had the music for Amazing Grace. And all were strongly hymnal in style and form. The pianist was an accomplished pianist, but I suspect he had been classically trained and may not listen to popular music. The singer was clearly a trained operatic singer. For me, this rather highlighted not just how professional popular mass-market music has become but also how much modern evangelical churches are picking those skills up. Even modern song-writing skills are widely evident in modern congregational songs. And were completely absent in the Unitarian hymns.

There was also a curious lack of polish in the presentation skills. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this. Most people struggle with this. The concept of professionalism and seeking out the myriad little things that make so much difference escapes most people. When you’re a regular, I guess you become accustomed to the foibles of the normal presenter.

There were few enough people that we could all talk to each other at length afterwards, at first in the secondary room – I hesitate to call it a ‘church hall’ but I guess that’s effectively what it was – and then a few blocks away at a local coffee shop. The conversation was not at all religious and in fact it descended into politics within a moderate amount of time.

I’m not sold on the place. I think I’ll go again in a few weeks just to see if it’s at all different. But I think what I have a better idea of what I’m looking for in such a group.


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