Macclesfield Unitarians today
The Unitarians in Macclesfield base themselves on the principle that you are your own spiritual authority, and as such are free to benefit from the insights of all the world’s wisdoms – including the wisdom of Nature – in discovering, understanding, and exploring your path through life.
We see that we are all learners, we are all travellers, and we are all teachers as we make our way; so the life of this spiritual community is characterised by an emphasis on gathering in groups large or small to listen as well as speak, to hear and be heard, to support one another in the human endeavour of living this life . . . in good company. We express this identity and purpose in the Covenant Statement we celebrate annually at our Welcoming Service:-
We are an open and welcoming community of diverse individuals
who, together, nurture one another’s lifelong spiritual journey.
I have always been a Unitarian although I didn’t know it until 2010 although I am well past the age when I get paid for doing nothing!
I was christened and confirmed as an Anglican, then explored many spiritual paths, finally feeling most comfortable with earth based spirituality; the natural cycles of the day, the seasons, death and rebirth and the connections between all.
I tried to practise my spirituality alone but found it hard without a community and even considered attending my local church but I knew they had beliefs I couldn’t subscribe to.
In 2010 my partner, Margaret, died and, through discussions about funeral arrangements, I first heard about Unitarianism. I could not believe I had never heard about it and was almost angry that no one had ever told me.
I started attending KES and immediately felt at home. I became part of the Sunday congregation as that felt most familiar to me. I was completely accepted and no one asked about my beliefs yet I came away from every visit feeling that the service had been designed to answer my personal spiritual needs.
Here I am part of a community of people, each following his or her own spiritual path but with the support, insight and inspiration of many others. I now describe myself as a Unitarian Pagan but labels don’t really matter. In Unitarianism generally and KES in particular, I have truly found my spiritual home. “
History of Macclesfield Unitarians
What was originally Back Street Chapel has stood in King Edward Street since 1689, but the principle for which it stands is far from being a thing of the past. Indeed, what could be more contemporary than a call to honour and respect the freedom of the individual to form and follow their own beliefs about ‘life, the universe, and everything’ . . . rather than requiring people to subscribe to a unified catalogue of set beliefs and practices?
When the Church of England required absolute subscription to the doctrines and rituals contained within the Book of Common Prayer in 1662, there were significant numbers of voices raised in question and resistance – resistance to specific doctrines or practices, yes, but also resistance to the authority of the Church so to dictate religious belief and behaviour.
Some 2000 clergy were ejected from the Church that August, and the congregations they took with them were all branded Dissenters. Gradually, over years and decades, these groups clarified their distinctive views and thoughts, and began to be identified accordingly – Presbyterian, Baptist, Independent, Congregational, Quaker and so on.
The laws of the land forbidding such dissenting groups to gather for worship, or for the ejected clergy to convene services within five miles of any major town, they were forced to meet secretly in private rooms, or in secluded barns far from the eyes and ears of the authorities.
So it was that for much of the 17th century the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, and the Catholics (who were just as unwelcome) were to be found – or preferably NOT found! – meeting in barns in Sutton for years.
With the passing of the Act of Toleration in 1689 these groups could come in from the cold and build places of meeting in the towns, and the King Edward Street Chapel was built that very year. To this day we are reminded of that background story because it was built as a barn – a Cheshire Barn – and to this day it is still technically required by law that the Chapel doors must stand open during services so that the Magistrate may be able to hear if sedition and heresy are being preached!
They may have had a building – and well over 400 people attending – but they still lacked a clear and definite identity. It took until the later 18th century, and took a painful congregational split, for that clarity to emerge . . . and that emergent identity might best be coined as ‘Those who beg to differ’.
The classic understanding of Unitarians is that they denied the doctrine of the Trinity, thus they came to be known as those who believed in a Unitary rather than Trinitarian God. But this misses the fundamental point, the distinctive philosophy; which is simply a demand for the freedom to think and to question, to entertain and explore reservations . . . to beg to differ. It’s all a question of authority.
The beauty and sense of peace and history in the building was captivating…”