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Golden celebration for Unitarians – Rationalist religious movement embraces the paranormal

IT IS no surprise that Unitarians should take an active interest in psychical research. After all, although it has its roots in Jewish and Christian traditions, it is open to insights from all faiths, science, the arts, the natural world and everyday living.

   Roger Whitby with his parents George and Florence at his Sheffield University graduation in the summer of 1963.

Roger Whitby with his parents George and Florence at his Sheffield University graduation in the summer of 1963.

It also encourages its followers to base beliefs on rational enquiry rather than external authority. And rational enquiry is at the heart of the Unitarian Society for Psychical Studies (USPS) in the UK which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Yet it was a young man’s death that led to the creation of USPS.

 Roger Whitby was 21, had achieved a first-class honours degree in civil engineering at Sheffield University and had beaten 340 other applicants to secure a job in London with a major building company.

It was the summer of 1963 and with six or more weeks before he was due to start his first job, Roger went on holiday to the Mediterranean island of Corsica with his sister Vivien and their parents, Unitarian ministers Rev George S. Whitby and Rev Florence Whitby.

George Whitby enjoyed a long and distinguished career as both a lecturer in philosophy for adult education and an examiner in moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow. For 30 years he was a minister of the Unitarian Central City Churches in both Glasgow and Sheffield.

Florence Whitby had a degree in history and was a highly-regarded teacher before she trained to become a Unitarian minister.

What began for the Whitbys as an idyllic holiday in the sun turned to tragedy on 12 August when Roger went “free diving” (without breathing equipment) to collect dead coral for his sister.

The last photo of Roger, sitting on rocks in Corsica shortly before his tragic accident.

The last photo of Roger, sitting on rocks in Corsica shortly before his tragic accident.

He never came back to the surface and his body was found floating at 50 feet. It appears something happened that interfered with the blood supply to his brain.

“Roger’s death nearly broke our father – but it did not,” his sister, Vivien Elliott, reveals.

The book’s title, Gateway, was suggested by Roger Whitby because, he explained, ‘death is the gateway to a larger life’


"He already knew there was some type of continuing consciousness and had written of it, but now he decided to explore it to even deeper levels. So the Unitarian Society for Psychical Studies was formed, for the benefit of humanity as a whole and the Unitarian movement.”

Last month, the USPS celebrated with a 50th Anniversary Conference at Buxton, Derbyshire (18-20 September), with various presentations and an address from guest speaker Dr Serena Roney-Dougal who led a one-day seminar.

The USPS founders, George and Florence Whitby, have now joined their son in the next world, but their daughter Vivien continues to support their work: she is one of USPS’s vice-presidents.

Her description of the impact her brother’s death had on the family is taken from a remarkable book, Gateway: conversations on the afterlife, which was first published in 1979 when her father was USPS president and her mother was its chairman. It has been republished by Psychic Book Club to commemorate USPS’s golden anniversary.

Gateway consists of several brief, introductory contributions but the main author is Roger Whitby who tells of his passing into the spirit world and the lessons he has learned in his new spiritual environment.

The book’s title was suggested by Roger because, he explained, “death is the gateway to a larger life”.

It is a fascinating collaboration between Florence Whitby, who was the medium, Roger Whitby, whose communications were received telepathically by his mother, and Paul Beard, the president of the College of Psychic Studies from 1966-1982, who posed many of the questions that were put to Roger.

Gateway is not a deep, philosophical book. It is written in an easy to comprehend, chatty style – like a letter one might send describing life in another country – but it also deals with issues that challenge our conception of an afterlife existence and its wider implications.

Roger Whitby – who tells us he and his fellow discarnates are unaffected by the pressures of time – also discusses reincarnation and group souls.

The book ends with a brief history of USPS in which David Taylor, who edits the USPS Journal, discusses the strengths of a Unitarian approach to psychical research:

“A lack of dogma means that any psychic experiences are approached in a truly sceptical way and followed, with an open mind, to where the evidence leads.”


Gateway: conversations on the afterlife by Roger Whitby

Gateway: conversations on the afterlife by Roger Whitby is available on Amazon at £8.99 www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0957500769

For more information about the Unitarian Society for Psychical Studies email: infousps@yahoo.co.uk


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