At the recent annual meetings of Unitarians, a number of people expressed an interest in furthering their religious education and training. Let’s have a look at what’s currently available.
Worship studies course
This is ostensibly training for taking services. Once you pass, your name can be listed on the roll of lay worship leaders. You have to complete 3 stages, which involve 4 one day group work sessions, writing about 20 services (or rather sermons, plus choosing hymns), and having 8 worship services assessed. There are some free choice service topics, and some guided choices.
- You need to find your own assessor for the worship services. (This is where people often get stuck.)
- You are normally reliant on your district, or one near to you, providing the group work sessions.
- You are supported in writing sermons by 3 distance learning tutors who are all ministers.
I’m currently taking this course, although I expect to find it difficult to find assessors as I only get to take services when the minister is on holiday.
Unitarian studies course
You have to complete 2 stages, which involves writing a total of 20 essays. The topics of the essays are in:
- Unitarian history
- Unitarian thought
- Bible studies
- world religions
I’m not sure what you get as a result of completing the Unitarian Studies course. Maybe the President will award you with your certificate?
Training for people leading religious education. This is a new course, which involves one long weekend, and 4 one day group work sessions. I think it costs something like £250.
This is religious education for adults. It’s a week in August at The Nightingale Centre, and is usually an intensive exploration of spirituality and religion, run and led by and for Unitarians. I don’t think it’s meant to be an academic course.
You can find out about all the above courses from the Education & Training Commission.
There are Open University courses in religious studies, and there is also a distance learning degree in Theology and Religious Studies offered through Oxford Brookes University. Either of these would be open to Unitarians.
One of the Unitarian ministerial training colleges is affiliated with an ecumencial group of theological colleges. This ecumenical group offers an MA in Contextual Theology which you can study via weekend / summer school / evening classes. I’m not sure whether it is definitely open to Unitarians – but it might be worth a try.
Ministers might be able to get support for any masters or doctorate in religion from their congregations, and you might be able to access courses via either of the ministerial training colleges.
Some congregations run regular courses for their members. These are not always well advertised externally, but there’s probably something going on somewhere in London and Manchester. They tend to be quite informal, meeting weekly in the evenings. One of the best known courses is ‘Build your own theology’ which was originally developed for the UUA, but many courses are custom written.
Some district associations also run courses and training sessions. These are most likely to be in one day sessions at weekends and are often open to people from around the country.
Some learning goes on at Unitarian society meetings. Many of them run lectures at their one day gatherings, and full programmes of workshops, discussions and lectures at weekend events.
Of the top of my head, both the Quakers, and the Progressive Christians run courses or events that might be of interest to Unitarians. I’m sure that there are others, that would work, depending on your personal flavour of Unitarian.