Our Congregation

Manchester College Oxford Chapel Society
Registered Charity no. 298701
Chair: Bert Clough
Secretary: Sheila Bond (tel. 07990 584078)
Treasurer: Christopher Whitehouse
Committee Members: Ruth Baer, Meg Thomas, Jacky Woodman, and Patsy Clarke (Social Media)

An inclusive congregation
The Chapel Society of Manchester College is affiliated to the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. We are called "Unitarians" because of our belief in divine unity, the oneness of God; and because we affirm the essential unity of humankind and of creation. Our members range from humanists, theists, and universalists to liberal Christians and members of other faith traditions, including Hinduism, Sufism, and Judaism, meeting together in mutual respect to share worship, ideas, and friendship. We are a community of all ages and several nationalities, with roughly even numbers of men and women, and a mixture of "Town" and "Gown".

A congregation without a minister
At present we have no permanent minister. Our services are led by visiting preachers - Unitarian ministers and lay preachers, or representatives of other denominations and faiths - and sometimes by members of our own congregation. The result is a rich variety of theological perspectives and styles of worship.

A self-governing congregation
All Unitarian congregations are independent and self-governing. The business of our own congregation is conducted by a Committee (see above), elected by the congregation at the Annual General Meeting.

Anyone who has been attending services regularly for at least six months is welcome to apply for formal membership of the Chapel Society: either as a Local Member (entitled to vote on local issues and stand for election to serve on the Committee), or as a Full Member (with the same rights as Local Members, plus the right to vote on national issues and stand for election to serve on the Executive Committee of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches).

Personal stories: extracts from interviews with members of our congregation

Why did you become a Unitarian? - Nicola: To be part of a community where I can explore what faith and God mean to me and my life, without having to buy into doctrine that makes no sense to me. Matt: It's nice to belong to something that does not alienate anybody and welcomes all beliefs, cultures, and backgrounds. Margaret: The Chapel Society provided a community of spiritually adventurous and innovative people with whom I immediately felt at home. Week by week, I found the inspiration and motive power that I needed to continue with my journey. Evelyn: For the spiritual journey that it takes me on, in the eternal search for meaning, guided by reason and conscience. Jill: The concept of Heaven and Hell never made sense to me. Unitarianism makes sense to me and is a channel for developing my own principles, with the freedom to change over time. Gavin: I found that Unitarianism expressed what I honestly felt about Christianity. I have no quarrel with what I see as the essentials of Christianity and its timeless imagery. My quarrel is with some of the claims and priorities of the churches. Dominic: I don't think I became a Unitarian, I just found the right label for what I already was. Josephine: I believe I have a responsibility to define my own relationship with God and with others: it is not appropriate for a priest or a guru to do that for me. And I come to chapel because I want to, not because I feel I ought to.

What do you value most about the MCO Chapel Society? - Josephine: Being welcomed and accepted for who I am. Dominic: The chance to meet and talk with people who are willing to explore spirituality and the nature of God, without requiring me to subscribe to their particular set of dogmas. Nicola: The open and friendly people, and the drive to make the congregation more of a community. I also like the opportunities to hear services led by different people, including chapel members. Gavin: The quality of the worship and the variety of the preachers. Matt: Attending a service on Sundays gives me an hour where I can really relax, sit, think, and listen: all the things that I tend not to do normally. Jill: I work long hours and have a busy social life. Taking time out on a Sunday inspires me to think more about myself, my friends, my family, and the wider world, while at the same time meeting like-minded people. The Chapel Society was immediately welcoming, friendly, and helpful when we arrived. Evelyn: We are such a diverse group of people, with sometimes strange opinions; but we still manage to respect one another and if necessary agree to differ.

Click on The Chapel Society of Manchester College Oxford: Some Notes on the Historical Development 1956-2001 for some history.