Our Services - What to Expect

An introduction by our minister Rev. Peter Fairbrother.

If I visit your church for the first time what am I stepping into?

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On approaching our church you may notice the words on the sign by the door: 'Unitarians in Edinburgh - home for the open minded and tender hearted.'

Our doors are open to people from all backgrounds, including all faith backgrounds and none. In our community there are people who self-identify as Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Pagan, atheist, agnostic, alongside those who connect to a sense of the divine feminine, LGBTQI+ expressions of spirituality, divinity in ecology, and a myriad of personal, private conceptualisations of faith and spirituality.

Unitarianism is a non-doctrine religion. There are no prescriptions. At St. Mark's people step into choice – in choosing what they believe. As a community we seek to question, to explore, to connect with our feelings, to make up our own minds, to be with our own truth.

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What brings us together in community? It's our willingness to see each other, to hear each other, to learn from each other, to understand our interconnectedness, to grow together. A unity consciousness, you might describe it.

When do you meet?

We meet every Sunday, at 11am, at our church, St Mark's Unitarian Church, 7 Castle Terrace, Edinburgh.

Our minister, Rev. Peter Fairbrother, leads our time in community/ service twice a month, on the opening and closing Sundays. A variety of guest service leaders hold the middle Sundays.

Outwith our time together on Sunday, we meet at other times too. (Browse our newsletter Waymark for the latest information.)

What can I expect if I were to come to one of your Sunday services?

Well, I trust the first thing you'd experience is a very warm welcome. We'd be delighted to greet you and make you feel at home.

Subsequent to that... Well, it may come as no surprise to you that our services are as diverse as we are.

Usually our services are themed by subject/ topic, and there is usually a different theme each week. We explore a vast range of subjects. For example: perspectives on healing and wholeness; self-care; connectivity; and community. (Click here for information on our forthcoming services.)

Likewise, our services may contain any number of the following elements:

  • inspirational words from a variety of sources including readings from faith traditions, secular sharings, words from the heart (including self-penned poetry and prose);

  • we may hold what some might describe as prayer;

  • we commonly hold time in silence;

  • we may spend time in dialogue with each other;

  • we may be with various expressions of meditation;

  • or ritual; and

  • then some!

There are three elements I'd particularly like to highlight, which are present almost every Sunday:

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Firstly, music – we love music at St. Mark's! We are blessed with a fabulous pianist and, as you can see elsewhere on this site, a magnificent grand piano. Our services usually open and close with a piece of music, and contain a musical interlude for reflection, contemplation, and prayer. Alongside our pianist we have many musically gifted members who may contribute to our services. We have a wonderful choir called The Chalice Singers.

Yes, we have Unitarian hymns that we love to sing during our services (our hymn books are at the back of the church – you're welcome to browse), and we sing other things too. A broad range, in fact: Taizé; chants; lullabys, and even the occasional pop song! A wide range of music is played and enjoyed. Indeed, some of you may know our church as a concert venue as we host a variety of concerts and performances throughout the year. We participate in the Edinburgh Fringe as artspace@stmarks venue 125.

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Secondly, we usually hold a 'time for all ages'; often a story for both children and adults to enjoy.

Children sit with their parents in the first part of our Sunday service, then follow their own programme downstairs in our lower hall. This is organised by our children's coordinator.

Click here to learn a little more about our children's programme.

And thirdly, at the beginning of each service a member of the congregation lights a candle (held in a chalice) and speaks some words. The origins of this practice within Unitarianism is deep-rooted in peaceful intention, suffice to say that we welcome the light, and the freedom from darkness that our coming together in community brings.

A sample order of service

The following structure is not set in stone, but an indication of what is commonly held:
  • Musical Prelude.
  • Welcome and opening by minister/ service leader.
  • Opening prayer/ words.
  • Candle/ Chalice lighting by a member of the congregation.
  • A moment in silence to be with our own thoughts and prayers.
  • Opening hymn/ song.
  • Offertory.
  • Time for all ages (commonly a story for children and adults to enjoy, after which the children leave the sanctuary to follow their own programme in the lower hall).
  • Church notices.
  • Second hymn/ song.
  • Readings and/ or personal sharings, usually but not exclusively related to the theme.
  • Musical interlude.
  • Sermon/ reflections on the theme.
  • A moment in silence to digest what has been shared/ to be with our own thoughts.
  • Closing words/ prayer.
  • Closing hymn.
  • Postlude.