The interconnected web of life - courtesy of Chris Gale

The interconnected web of life – courtesy of Chris Gale

Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics Associate Fellow the Revd Feargus O’Connor led the way in securing a declaration for animals at the Annual Meetings of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches at the University of Nottingham in April. The original motion had been unanimously agreed on Sunday 3 February 2013 at Golders Green Unitarians and went forward for debate at the General Assembly Annual Meetings.

Some amendments were made, but the final text is this:


This General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches urges fellow Unitarians and all people of goodwill to promote a greater awareness and understanding of the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part and, recognising the dignity and worth of all living creatures, to cultivate an ethic of compassion and mercy to the billions of sentient beings who share this planet with us and to act in ways that promote our common welfare.

Passed nem con on 12 April at the Unitarian General Assembly Annual Meetings in Nottingham.




The purpose of this amended background paper is to give additional information on the religious rationale for this motion and to explain why the original text has been revised.

This intention of this revised motion is to encourage our Unitarian and Free Christian communities across the United Kingdom and Ireland and the individuals who belong to them to reflect, as members of a caring and diverse religious movement, on our dependence upon each other and the animals with whom we share this planet.

It encourages Unitarians to do two things: firstly, to promote through whatever educational and worship opportunities are available, a deeper awareness and understanding of how far human beings rely on and interact with animals and the eco-system that sustains us and, secondly, to work together to act, in however small a way, to improve the welfare of animals.

In a world where our human sensitivities to the sufferings of our fellow sentient beings can sometimes be blunted, the proposers of this motion believe that Unitarians have an important role in sharing information about our interdependence and working in positive and life affirming ways to promote it.

What is different about the amended motion?

On the advice of the Steering Committee we have developed a simpler motion, which distils the essence of what it is intended to achieve.  We have therefore dispensed with the sub-clauses in the original motion distributed with previous GA papers and replaced it with a motion comprising one sentence.

Ideas that inspired the motion

The motion itself recognises the wisdom of promoting our care for the eco-system of our home planet which sustains all life and it reaffirms that belief in the worth and dignity not only of  our own species but all sentient beings which enlightened religious teachers through the ages proclaim and celebrate.

Many across all faith traditions as well as committed Humanists have promoted the noble cause of animal welfare and protection.  Unitarians have a long history of radical engagement and working to make life better for the weak and vulnerable: giving a voice to the voiceless and taking a more compassionate and all-embracing view of the natural world and our place in it. This motion is intended to demonstrate how our radical, inclusive and compassionate approach to engaging in the world extends beyond our own species to our fellow sentient beings and to the Earth itself.

The work of religious societies and secular animal welfare charities 

Some Unitarians have co-operated with people of other faiths and worked together to cultivate an ethic of compassion for our fellow creatures, so often at our mercy.  Two inspirational Unitarians from our past who devoted their lives to this work of mercy were Henry Bergh, the founder of the American equivalent of our RSPCA, and Frances Power Cobb. Both were passionately concerned, it should be noted, not only with animal welfare but also human welfare, especially the plight of the defenceless and vulnerable, such as children.  Just  as William Wilberforce was a founding member of the RSPCA (its founding secretary was an Anglican vicar and its second an observant Jew) so the collaborator of Frances Power Cobbe in her pioneering work for laboratory animals was that other great humanitarian of the 19th Century, Lord Shaftesbury. All believed that compassion and mercy for suffering creatures were indivisible: a Universalist religious ethic inspiring people of diverse faith traditions.

One practical way Unitarians and Quakers in particular have expressed that compassion for human beings and non-human animals alike has been through support of the Universal Kinship Fund of the Dr Hadwen Trust, which since its foundation at the World Congress of Faiths Interfaith Celebration of Animals in September 2006 has raised £12,515.72 for vital medical research into breast cancer cardiovascular and other diseases without the use of experiments on living animals.


This revised motion does not ask Unitarians to support the objectives or work of any particular organisation working in the broad field of animal protection and animal welfare.  The organisations referred to in sub-clause 2(1) of the original motion are just representative examples of those that work in the field.  Those charities referenced, however, provide a sense of the range of charitable organisations and their vital life saving work.

By voting for this motion delegates will be affirming an important religious and ethical principle of universal compassion and showing to all the humane values we wish to promote in our communities and the world at large.

Golders Green Unitarians

April 2013

More information about Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry can be found here:

QCA note: we congratulate our committee member Feargus O’Connor on the success of this important initiative and would like to thank him and friends at his Golders Green congregation for the excellent work they have done.