Harris Manchester College


I am spending the first two weeks of my archival research time at Harris Manchester College. It is part of the University of Oxford. It was originally founded as an institution to train Unitarian ministers, but as the fortunes of British Unitarianism have declined so has its connection with the movement. Right now, there are perhaps 3,000 Unitarians throughout the United Kingdom, worshipping in some 150 or so congregations. I am told that there might be 50 full-time ministers in service and another 6 or 7 in training.

Harris Manchester’s physical plant is about the same size as Harvard Divinity School’s (around 3/4s of a city block) and a movement that small is hardly sufficient to sustain it. In the 1990s it mostly severed its ties with the Unitarians and officially became part of the University of Oxford. Oxford doesn’t allow its colleges to have denominational ties so when Harris Manchester became part of the university it ended its formal relationship with the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

Nonetheless, Harris Manchester remains one of the best places in the world to study Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism. They have a huge legacy library that was begun in the 18th century and continues to be added to on an ongoing basis. They have materials that no one else has or only Harvard Divinity School otherwise possesses.

The book I am writing will have an international angle to it, though the emphasis will be on contemporary Unitarian Universalist theology in the United States, and I am making use of my time at Harris Manchester to consult with materials on Transylvanian Unitarianism and two British congregations that I plan to include. The first of these is the Newington Green Chapel, which with slightly more than 100 members is currently the largest Unitarian congregation in the United Kingdom. The second is the Hopkins St. Chapel, which was home to the first Black Unitarian minister, a man named Robert Wedderburn, back in the early 19th century.

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