Few Persons of This Persuasion: Melbourne, Australia

This sermon was delivered to the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church in Melbourne, Australia.  A podcast of the service can be found here.

There’s this great story from the early days of Unitarianism here in Australia. Some of you may know it. I believe it tells us of the power of freethinking souls who seek each other out in the unlikeliest of places. It concerns a man named William MacDonnell and his efforts to ascertain just how many Unitarians there were in the Colony at the time.

He understood that certainly there were people that believed as he did – in the Unitarian view of Christianity. He had arrived in Australia at a time when several opportunists were also arriving with hopes of industry and enterprise on their minds. Surely, Unitarians were amongst these people, MacDonnell thought.

But he was also aware that his fellow Unitarians were spread throughout the Colony, feeling lost and alone as he did. And so on May 18th, 1850, MacDonnell inserted an advertisement into the Sydney Herald. The way this account is worded,

I imagine Mr. MacDonnell sneaking into the press room late at night and inserting heretical Unitarian leaflets in the papers. I’m sure the actual unfolding of events was by the book and ordinary. Nonetheless, an advertisement appeared and read as follows:

TO UNITARIANS.
A few persons of this persuasion, feeling the great want of a place of worship, where they could honour God according to their consciences, are anxious to meet and co-operate with brethren of similar views, that they might by mutual aid and counsel make a beginning in carrying out so desirable an object. For this purpose communications are solicited from Unitarians who reside in Sydney or are scattered throughout the Colony, with such suggestions as their wishes or experience may dictate; and, as this step is but preliminary, those who feel interested in advancing the great truth of the strict Unity of God, will please, for the present, address ‘Alpha’ at the office of the ‘Herald.’

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