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News & Views

'Yes, I'm the Minister' CNJ article

Chapel minister Rev Kate Dean was asked to write about women in leadership roles and the Chapel activities. The article appeared in Camden New Journal on 7 March.

Here is the full text:

You’re the minister?!’ visitors sometimes say in surprise. To me this shows that in the public consciousness, a minister or priest is still assumed to be an elderly white gentleman. They are also surprised to find that Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel is not a Christian church, despite its neo-gothic appearance and stained glass windows. This year, the Church of England marks 30 years since the first woman was ordained. Non-conformists recognise Gertrude Von Petzold as the first female Unitarian minister over a century ago and the first woman to conduct a wedding in the UK, in 1905. A good proportion of Unitarian ministers have been women since the late-twentieth century so when I discovered Unitarianism as an adult, the idea of female ministers didn’t seem unusual to me.


Although Unitarianism has its roots in Jewish and Christian traditions, it is open to insights from all faiths, science, the arts, the natural world and everyday living. We think it’s fine to follow your own spiritual path but it’s more fun to do it in the company of others. Unitarians don’t have a set creed or dogma and believe in freedom of thought and the power of kindness. This keeps us fluid but it also makes our faith difficult to pin down. Perhaps it’s best described through our actions. For example, Untarians, along with the Quakers and Liberal Jews, were at the forefront of the campaign to change the laws on same sex marriage. Yet, ten years later, of the hundreds of Camden churches in which to get married, our Chapel is one of only seven places of worship which is registered so that same sex couples can have a religious or spiritual wedding ceremony. 


My leadership style tends to be collaborative. I like to work with other people to make things happen and I am less interested in combative debate. I prefer to create spaces where people can exchange different views, a safe place for ‘agreeing to disagree’ when their ideas don’t meet. But more often than not, we find that there is common ground, more that unites us than divides us. We sometimes say that we are a ‘questioning faith’ but I think we also aspire to be a ‘listening faith’. That’s why spaces for sharing and listening to each other are so important to me.


We recently hosted a Peace of Cake event at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, to mark International Women’s Day. This initiative was originally set up by Asma Meer in 2015 to combat islamophobia and antisemitism through the positive act of sharing food together. At our event, speakers from Baha’i, Christian, Jewish and Muslim backgrounds came together to share their thoughts as women of faith. Then we mingled over tea and cake - this is where the real learning took place: listening deeply, sharing experiences and asking questions. One guest observed that she’d met people she would not usually have a chance to speak with in such depth. 


I can't help but daydream sometimes what the world would be like if there were more women in leadership positions. Would the focus of world events shift from grand schemes to the importance of human connections? We exist in relationship with one another. Having conversations face-to-face is a great way to counteract the divisive misinformation that we are often bombarded by on social media. As a Unitarian, I’m committed to finding the common ground between people from different backgrounds, cultures and religions but also celebrating our differences and learning from each other. We welcome people of all faiths, and no faith backgrounds, to our Sunday afternoon workshops - from the spirituality of tango or mantra meditation coming up next month, to thinking about end-of-life choices at our monthly Death Cafes, and the Lasting Power of Attorney workshop in May.


My hope is that in learning and sharing together, we can all play our part in making Camden (and the world) a kinder and more peaceful place to live.


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