Reverend Anthony Howe Tells us About his Discovery of Unitarianism

From looking at the stain glass windows, the 18th century parsonage and oldie worldie look of the village you wouldn’t exactly think Kinsgwood Meeting House in Hollywood is a liberal church.  

But then you find out that the denomination of the church is Unitarian.  

“Unitarianism is an inclusive faith and I try to preach that,” said Reverend  Anthony Howe, the Minister at Kingswood.  

Ant was brought up in Fundamentalist Pentecostal environment with very strong ideologies.  

“It’s very strict bible believing, very literal and I was brought up to believe that the world was divided into those who were saved and those who were going to hell. 

“And we should share the good news of the gospel with the unsaved, but we shouldn’t get too much involved with them because they might lead us astray, so it was a strict religious upbringing.” 

It was when Ant reached his teenage years that his belief in the teachings of his faith began to waver. 

“I began to ask questions whether everything I’d been told was absolutely true, because this was a group that didn’t even believed in things like evolution. 

“As I became more socially aware, I didn’t like the way that women weren't allowed to occupy pulpit roles, how they were treated and the stance on homosexuality. 

“So that’s when I left, and the thing is, if you leave a group like that everyone stops talking to you so I lost a lot of friends, people who I’d known all my life because I’d backslid, I’d gone the way of the devil.” He says, laughing.  

Ant clams up when I ask what it was like leaving everyone behind so it’s clear this was a difficult time for him, but he explains how the move had a positive effect on his life.  

“I moved to Manchester, on a bit of a whim really but I thought I’d go and start again where nobody really knew me.  

“I was a young adult at that point and Manchester seemed like a vibrant place to go.  

“I partied for a couple of years, enjoyed the gay scene in Manchester as well and became a lot more comfortable with who I am.” 

But he still couldn’t leave religion behind, growing up with the church woven into his life left a gap to fill every Sunday morning.   

“I guess I’d never really lost my faith, I didn’t really know what it was anymore, but I still felt a pull to go to church, I went to different churches but didn’t really settle.  

“I started a University course to study theology thinking I might be an RE teacher, and it was in the midst of that I had a conversation with someone telling them about the beliefs I used to have and what I believed now, and how I’d become more liberal and questioning and this person said you sound like a Unitarian. 

“I’d never heard of Unitarians before and I thought if I sound like one maybe I should find out a bit about it and eventually plucked up the courage to go to my first Unitarian service.” 

After that service it seems like Ant had found his religious home. Unitarianism is what Ant dubs “the liberal approach to faith. 

“Unitarians don’t have a creed, we have shared values, so each person must find their own way to god and believe what their heart and conscience tells them. 

“Which means different Unitarians believe different things, it’s those values which unite us, the search for truth and the belief that we’re stronger together than when we’re apart.  

“The religious journey is best done in company with others and it doesn’t matter to me if the person next to me believes something a bit different.” 

Hollywood as a hamlet is fairly conservative, both in voting and in their beliefs.  

And like most rural communities there isn’t any room for change, but it seems this unwritten rule is thrown out of the window when it came choose their minister.  

“In our tradition, because there's no bishop saying ‘you go here, and you go there’ it’s the local church that decides. 

“So if you apply for a pulpit you'd come along, you'd meet the congregation and you'd take a couple of services.” 

To avoid any confusion later down the line Ant informed the congregation that he was openly gay, but this didn’t stop him winning the vote by a landslide.  

“I found out later that they’d put a bit of a profile together and I didn’t fit it, but they still chose me to be their minister.” 

Ant has been at Kingwood for 13 years and in that time has felt no prejudice from the congregation or the wider community.  

“Either I’m very thick skinned or I’ve never had a problem here, I mean people might say things behind my back and if they do, they do but I’ve never had any kind of issues or homophobia. 

“I don’t think anyone has refused my ministry because of that.  

“The congregation here is certainly more diverse now, we've got a mix of people.  

“We haven't made a huge headway into people of colour yet, but then the demographic of the area isn’t diverse either.  

“Our values are about inclusion and if there is a God then God loves all equally.” 

13 years is a long time for a Minister to stay in one place, and Ant confessed that he had looked to move back to Manchester over the years, but it didn’t feel right for him.  

Now he think’s if he left Kingswood he’d go into teaching.  

“I work for one of the Unitarian Church’s training colleges where I teach the next generation of student Ministers and that may well be the way that I go in time.  

“I don’t think another church would appeal to me, it's been such a wonderful time here, so I don’t look at other Unitarian Churches and think ‘oh I want to go there’.” 

Whether Ant decides to stay at Kingswood or move into teaching it’s clear he’s left his own stamp on this community and changed it for the better.  

*This interview was conducted before Ant had announced he was leaving Kingswood to teach. We wish him all the best in his future endeavours.