In celebration of life

In his final blog entry, Jim Corrigall attempts to recapture his spiritual journey into Unitarianism

I was brought up in an anti-apartheid household in South Africa by parents of no religious faith but with strong principles. After my father died, I was sent to a church boarding school. Here I chose to be both baptised and confirmed in the Anglican faith – largely because I wanted to fit in with my peers. By the time I left school, I regarded myself as an atheist and did so for most of my adult life.

However, I studied both English literature and theology at university, and always had a great love of religious poetry. As a student in South Africa, I campaigned against apartheid, working closely with radical Christians many of whom I came to admire.

I continued with political and trade union activity throughout most of my journalistic career in Britain, but several years ago I began to wonder if there was more to life – however much I valued my family, friends and work.

I began reading widely, including religious literature. I tried one or two churches, but found them too dogmatic and literal in their interpretations of Christianity. A chance remark by a friend just over four years ago led me to the Unitarian website.

I was hugely inspired by what I read there. Here was a faith that did not demand any body of beliefs, but would allow one the chance to explore. I was not sure what I believed, not sure even that I believed in God, but I felt I wanted to allow my dormant spirituality a chance to develop. I told friends that I did not know whether I wanted to ‘worship God’, but I certainly wanted to ‘celebrate life’.

And I found in Unitarianism a group of people who welcomed me for my doubts, my scepticism and my questions. And I found I could ‘celebrate life’ in Unitarian chapels and churches – in services which seemed to follow traditional patterns, with hymns and ministerial addresses and meditations (or prayers), but which were in fact quite different – full of poetry and the wisdom of many faith traditions.

I have found a religious home which has indeed enabled me to explore my spirituality – after a period of looking at Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, I have more recently been exploring radical Christianity – including its roots in the Unitarianism of the Radical Reformation. I trust this will be a spiritual journey without end, as rightly befits a denomination without dogma.

Jim Corrigall is communications consultant to the Unitarians in Britain, a post he took up in June 2007, after 17 years as a journalist at BBC World Service. He was born and educated in South Africa, coming to Britain in 1974. He was an anti-apartheid campaigner for many years. Jim became a Unitarian four years ago, and is chair of the congregation at Golders Green Unitarians.
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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.