20 New Unity FAQs
1. Why do you call yourselves a ‘non-religious church’? Isn’t this a contradiction?
In many ways, we resemble a church: New Unity is a community that enriches our lives. We work together towards a better, fairer world - especially in our local community. We create space for personal growth: reflecting on our own lives, and the inner qualities we’d like to strengthen. We believe in empathy, compassion and mutual support.
We also resemble a church in certain practical ways: we gather every Sunday morning to explore what it means to be a ‘good’ person in today’s complex world. And we organise related activities throughout the week, from discussion groups and meditation to pastoral care and campaigning for social justice. We have an ordained Minister.
However, the word ‘religion’ also carries many connotations that we strongly reject. For a start, we’re not hierarchical, patriarchal, homophobic, transphobic or misogynistic, and unlike traditional religion, we hold no set beliefs or creed. Our Minister openly describes himself as an atheist, and the vast majority of our congregants reject traditional religious notions. Although people with traditional and spiritual beliefs are equally welcome, the supernatural is not a part of our focus. Instead, our perspectives are derived from actively reflecting on a rich variety of humanity’s writings and art, from many different ages and cultures. We recognise that wisdom also arises from our own individual experiences of the world - especially experiences that are formed in relationship with others.
Although definitions of ‘religious’ and ‘church’ are very varied, we think that ‘non-religious church’ is the best way to describe the reality of New Unity - a place with the nurturing power of radically inclusive community.
2. What do you believe in and work towards?
Our ethos is reflected in a simple phrase: 'Believe in Good'. Most New Unity participants do not believe in God, but we passionately believe in Good. What is ‘Good’? Justice. Peace. Compassion. Equality. Inclusion. Forgiveness. Gratitude. Generosity. Community, and so much more.
We believe that these qualities are more important today than ever. We don’t rely on a celestial power to help us create a world of loving justice; this responsibility lies firmly in our hands and we need to work together to make progress.
3. What kind of people get involved?
There’s no fixed type. Our community includes people of all ages and backgrounds. It’s the values that unite us. We’re proud to describe ourselves as ‘radically inclusive’, and this is perhaps best explained by the welcome that’s delivered by our Minister at the start of every Sunday Gathering:
Whoever you are,
Whatever you’ve done or not done,
Whatever you believe or don’t believe,
Whatever your abilities or disabilities,
Wherever you’re from,
Whoever you love,
Whatever the colour of your skin,
Whether you identify as male, female or other,
You are not alone.
You are welcome here.
There’s a place for you here.
4. What sort of work do you do?
We are actively engaged in helping to make a better world: offering inspiration, providing a community of connection, and caring for people who are suffering.
Our five teams of volunteers carry out much of this work:
Sunday Gatherings team - This team helps to keep the Sunday Gatherings fresh and relevant to all. They provide ideas and content in tune with the times, helping us to reflect on today’s world and the ways in which we might build a more just and loving society.
Pastoral Care team - This team has undergone some pastoral care training and made a commitment to serve the congregation. It works closely with the Minister to support our members with a caring presence and emotional support.
Cohesion & Welcoming team - This team helps to build and strengthen connection within the congregation and welcome others to that network of relationship. This includes providing a wide range of forums for our members to get to know each other properly, deepening the connection between individuals and the community as a whole.
Social Responsibility team - This team helps to provide our members with practical ways to work for social justice. For instance, we run a weekly migrant centre, providing legal and other help to some of the people who need it most. We’re also involved in campaigns such as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ equality.
Ministry Exploration team - This team comprises a number of people from the congregation who work with the Minister to explore how they can help New Unity to foster personal growth, a loving community and a better world.
5. Do you have a leader?
The congregation elects its own Minister, who provides ongoing thought leadership and ethical perspectives. This helps to keep our agenda vibrant, relevant and self-aware. We’re inspired to explore, discover, reflect, connect and grow. Our Minister also leads on matters such as community cohesion, community outreach, and pastoral care.
In parallel, the congregation elects an Executive Committee to lead on matters such as finance, buildings and policy. This ensures that New Unity can continue to be self-sustaining well into the future. The Executive Committee is made up of volunteers, drawn from the congregation.
6. Is your Minister properly trained?
Our Minister, Rev Andy Pakula, is a fully trained and ordained Minister, with a Masters in Divinity. He is fully credentialed by the American Unitarian Universalist Association and by the British Unitarian General Assembly. So Andy has actually ‘qualified’ twice over! Before becoming a Minister, Andy worked in biochemistry, gaining a Ph.D. in biology and a Masters in business.
7. Where are you based?
We have two buildings in north London:
Our Sunday Gatherings and many of our other activities take place at 39A Newington Green, Stoke Newington, N16 9PR. This is an historic Grade-II listed building, built in 1708.
Certain larger events and other activities take place at 277A Upper Street, N1 2TZ. This is a bright, atmospheric hall, at the heart of Islington.
Both buildings are easily accessible by public transport, click here to find out more about how to get here.
In time, we’re hoping to open New Unity centres in other locations.
8. How big is your organization?
Our Sunday Gatherings are typically attended by 70-90 people, and we have new members joining every year. Others follow our Sunday Gatherings on Periscope.
Our ‘closed’ Facebook group has over 200 members.
Our Twitter feed has over 6,000 followers.
In addition to our Minister, we have a diverse team of 7 part-time staff.
Over 40 of our members volunteer to take part in one of our action teams (see question 4).
9. What happens at your Sunday Gatherings
People begin arriving at about 10:40 am. We start at 11:00 am and end at about 12:15 pm.
The Sunday Gathering leader - usually our Minister - opens with words that set the tone for the day, whilst a child from the congregation lights a candle.
We sing together. Our songs are chosen from various cultures and traditions, and deal with themes such as courage, love, consolation, freedom, and hopes for the future. As a non-religious church (see question 1), we avoid traditional hymns that might conflict with our approach and perspectives.
Children stay with the adults for the first 10 minutes. After assembling at the front for a ‘Time for All Ages’ story and interaction led by the children’s programme staff, most children leave to attend our free Bright Lights programme. This is held in the 19th century schoolhouse adjoining the main building. There are separate groups for under 7s and 7-12s, and a crèche for babies and toddlers.
We usually have a few readings, most frequently poetry and other non-religious reflections, often delivered by a member of the congregation. In addition, a short address is presented on the particular theme we’re exploring that quarter: recent themes have included ‘fear & courage’, ‘science’ and ‘gratitude’. Click here to view previous readings, plus the Minister’s opening words, main talk, and closing reflections.
Live music plays a very important part. We hear from a wide range of talented musicians, at the invitation of our Music Director. The performances range from classical to jazz, world, folk and beyond.
There is often a time of stillness for meditation and reflection.
We take a collection for a local charity.
The Minister then invites us to come forward and light candles of joy and sorrow. This is an opportunity for any attendees to share any joys and sorrows they may be carrying. This experience strengthens our community: we want to celebrate each other’s good times, and support each other when challenges arise. (At this point, the live broadcast on Periscope is switched off; as this is a more intimate, personal time for the people who are physically present.) If we wish, we’re equally welcome to light a candle in silence.
Finally, we gather over tea, coffee and cake. This is a relaxed social time to meet people we don’t know yet, catch up with friends, and reflect with others on the theme of the service. Every second month, there’s an opportunity to have a deeper discussion on the theme of the service: we gather into smaller groups and continue our reflections over a light lunch (see ‘Small Groups, Big Thoughts’ in the Events section of our website).
10. Where does the ‘New Unity’ name come from?
This name was chosen in 2014 to reflect the fact that our two congregations (Newington Green and Islington) were increasingly working together as one community. ‘Unity’ expresses our belief in the enormous potential of united, different peoples working together. ‘New’ reflects our belief that, in today’s globalised world, understanding and relationships amongst diverse peoples calls for a new level of understanding and commitment.
11. Do you host weddings, funerals and the like?
Absolutely! Ceremonies to mark life transitions are important parts of helping people to navigate life’s many changes, and they are available to members and non-members alike. Weddings, funerals, and child dedications are the most common, but we are also delighted to work with people to mark other life changes such as divorce, transgender renaming, retirement, moving in together, and coming of age.
We’re licensed to conduct wedding ceremonies for all couples, and are proud to have been at the forefront of the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage. Our Minister works closely with you from the start to ensure that your ceremony is carefully tailored to your own preferences and wishes.
We’re happy to include certain religious references and music, if that’s your preference. But if you prefer the ceremony to be entirely non-religious, that’s fine too!
12. What other organisations do you associate with?
We’re part of the Unitarian/Unitarian Universalist movement which began in the sixteenth century and was Christian in origin. Since that time, it has become much broader in scope, embracing people of ‘all faiths and none’. Unitarians deliberately avoid a fixed creed, believing that individuals should make up their own minds about what they believe or don’t believe. However, all Unitarians firmly subscribe to liberalism and loving justice. New Unity is very much at the non-religious end of the movement (see question 1).
Unitarians have no hierarchical organization; all authority rests with the individual congregation. New Unity is entirely independent and democratically self-governed. The congregation elects its own Minister and Executive Committee (see question 5). We also own our own buildings and self-fund all our operational costs.
We’re an active institutional member of Citizens UK. This coalition helps communities to act together for social justice and the common good.
13. Are you aligned with a political party?
Our Sunday Gatherings and other discussion groups often touch on broad political principles. We believe that this is essential to a realistic, relevant debate. As a congregation, however, our members are drawn from across the political spectrum (with the exception of the far right), and we seek to transcend any particular political party; engaging with people from all sides of any issue.
14. How are you funded?
We receive income from hiring out our buildings to other groups and organisations.
In addition, everyone in the congregation is asked to make a pledge. A pledge is an annual gift to support New Unity, and anyone who pledges automatically becomes a member. The minimum pledge is £1, as we don’t wish anyone to be excluded due to their financial circumstances. In practice, of course, many members choose to pledge much more, but the amount is entirely up to the individual, and never declared publically. You can pledge for the current year at any time, and you can pay your pledge at any time during that year (all at once or gradually).
We’re delighted to have been awarded a phase 1 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (see News Release) to renovate and adapt our Newington Green building. Specifically, this will allow us to uncover its fascinating history of radical social reform, providing interactive resources for schools, special interest groups, and the local community. It’s planned that this resource will be available by the end of 2019.
15. What’s your history?
We’re formed of two congregations which came together in 2014 to form New Unity (see question 9).
Each of our two churches has a long and distinguished history:
Newington Green Unitarian Church dates from 1708. It’s known as ‘the birthplace of feminism', due to its connections to activist and author Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley. Other notable c19th members were at the forefront of social reform, including the campaign to abolish slavery.
Exciting plans are underway to provide an exhibition centre and online resources (see News Release), to celebrate and share this important history with the wider community.
Unity Islington dates from 1667. Although the original buildings have sadly not survived, the ethos of compassion, equality and inclusion lives on, continuing to make a difference to the communities we serve. This year (2017), we’re celebrating the 350th year of this tradition.
Our Minister has been with us since 2006, consistently helping to create the vibrant, socially-engaged congregation New Unity is today.
16. What are your plans for the future?
We hope to continue strengthening and growing our congregation, helping to create a more loving and just world.
In the near future, we’d like to share more of our story with a variety of local communities, explaining what makes our ‘non-religious church’ different from traditional churches, so they can explore this option further if they choose.
In time, this may lead to the formation of additional New Unity centres. But for the time being, our focus is on ensuring our North London activities and events are accessible to as many people as possible.
Our Sunday Gathering will continue to form the bedrock of our congregation, complimented by a wide range of activities and events, and supported by volunteer teams. However, the specific nature of the Sunday Gathering, the events and the teams will almost certainly evolve over time, so they can remain relevant to needs of the communities they serve.
We will always remain democratically self-governed and non-hierarchical. These principles lie at our core.
On a more specific note, we’re hoping to create a heritage centre at our Newington Green building (see News Release), launching at the end of 2019.
17. What does the outside world say about you?
We’re proud to have made local headlines for many of our campaigns, from same-sex marriage to Black Lives Matter.
18. Where can I find out more / get in touch?
There are numerous ways to find out more / get in touch:
If you’re able, come along to one of our Sunday Gatherings. It’s relaxed and informal, and you’ll always be very welcome. Every month, the Sunday Gathering is followed by a newcomers’ gathering, where you can meet other newcomers over a light lunch, and ask the Minister any questions.
Visit our website.
Follow us on Twitter.
Watch a Sunday Gathering on Periscope.
Sign up to our newsletter: see the ‘get news by email’ button on the right-hand side of our website screen.
Sign up to our Children and Families mailing list .
Contact our Minister: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you prefer, use the ‘Ask Andy Anything’ button on the right-hand side of our website screen. No question is too big or too small; Andy will always be delighted to help.
Contact another member of staff:
19. What can I do to help?
Join our community, ideally by attending some of our Sunday Gatherings. This is the best way for you to get a feel for what New Unity is all about, and identify the ways in which you’d like to help.
Follow us on Twitter and share our posts, as relevant, with your friends.
Rent space within our buildings, and let your friends and colleagues know about this facility. This space is popular for all sorts of groups, events, and receptions. 100% of the funds go to support New Unity and its work toward a more just and loving world.
20. How do I become a member of New Unity?
All you have to do is make an annual pledge (see question 14). How much you donate is entirely up to you. When you pledge, you automatically become a member of New Unity for the rest of the financial year. This entitles you to vote in lots of our decision-making, and also enables you to hire our space at a generous discount.