Thursday, 20 December 2018

Five year old Christmas message from #Unitarian President still helpful today

In an archive of useful stuff, we found this today, dating from 2013 and written by our national President, Rev Bill Darlison:

Monday, 17 December 2018

What happened at the Blue Christmas #Unitarian service at Ringwood for those who have a heavy heart at Christmastide

The Blue Christmas service on 16 December was a departure for both Ringwood town and the Unitarians who meet in Ringwood.

Prior to the event the people we asked thought that holding a service for those for whom Christmas is a hard time was a very good idea.  And so it turned out.  People came to the service who had not been to one of the regular monthly services, and among them were people who - it turns out - are suffering under some considerable strain at present.

The service began with a quiet time in which, in general terms, we were reminded the sorts of reasons why Christmas can be a painful season.  And then the narrative of the Christmas story was unfolded, interspersed with musical interludes.

Each of the readings had been chosen to be an unconventional perspective on the stages of the nativity.  A poem Bethlehem by Frances Thompson gave the perspective of the innkeeper’s wife, focused on caring for the young mother in the face of a very male world.  T. S. Eliot’s speculative poem, from the view from one of the wise men (The Journey of the Magi) suggested that death as well as birth was intrinsic to Christmas.

Unitarians are not certain about Jesus in the way that other churches are, and so space was left for participants to consider their own view of Jesus.  But the message of hope for renewal, signified by the birth of this baby, and indeed every human baby, and the possibility that Christmas is about reconciliation of difficulties, were explored.

Having cleared our minds we were invited to some minutes of silence, in the trust that in the silence the messages we most needed to hear would be born in us.

In amongst the more unusual pieces of Christmas music that we heard, we did sing one traditional carol: It came upon the midnight clear whose lyrics were written by Edmund Sears in 1849, who was pastor to the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts at the time.

We closed with an unusual piece of music for a Christmas service, which was a song by Paul McCartney, which includes the hopeful lines:  “One of these days, when my feet are on the ground, I’m gonna look around and see, See what’s right, see what’s there, And breathe fresh air ever after.  It’s there, it’s round, it’s to be found, by you, by me: It’s all we ever wanted to be.”

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Advent - NOT waiting for a Saviour - December gathering for reverence under the #Unitarian umbrella in Ringwood

The topic of the meeting was “Advent - NOT waiting for a Saviour".

Our president for the day took us through our usual gathering format, including our simple circle ritual, in which we each take hold of flame, bread, water and air, and introduced the topic of Advent with the traditional Advent carol of "O come, O come Emmanuel!"

Isaiah 9:2-7 reminded us that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and our second reading from Christina Georgina Rossetti spoke of the great age of the green yet cold Earth.

The president spoke of the great damage that the reading from Isaiah had caused in Jewish experience, as a result of which it was largely expunged from the Jewish canonical works.  It was proposed that we have to move on from expecting a saviour to emerge; and indeed to become our own saviours by being aware of our own shortcomings and possibilities for change.  After another hymn from our green hymn books the gathering closed with words from A Pagan Ritual Prayer Book by Ceisiwr Serith:

Each candle we light is a star
Let us light as many as we can, and spend time among the stars we've created on Earth.
Let us know that their twinkling is them smiling, because they know a secret:
The Sun will be coming back, and not only returning but strengthening,
From the (....) darkest of nights.
On Yule, let us laugh with the stars at our fear of eternal darkness,
Laugh with these earthly stars we've lit.

Friday, 16 November 2018

The #Unitarian Offer

(These words were recently delivered at a Unitarian service, by Daniel Costley, Unitarian Minister to congregations in Kent, and published on his blog BENGE, a link to which is at the bottom of our own blog.)

"Robbie Walsh caught my eye with the phrase:  ‘if you can prove it, then it’s not God; it’s something less than God’

This is a position I’ve taken personally for many years.  I too get frustrated that others wish to tell me what I can or can’t feel, what my emotions and intuition tell me exist.  I too get annoyed when, even fellow Ministers, try to explain my personal experiences.

For me, that defeats the whole purpose of my spiritual exploration.  It attempts to negate that glorious freedom I have been given to explore my own response to the world – seen and unseen – and to reflect on how this shapes or troubles me.  What I might change and what I might accept.

For Robbie Walsh, the beauty of God, or, as he puts it, the beauty of connection to the great creating, sustaining, transforming mystery – which you may or may not choose to call God – it is the beauty of the personal connection that provides the proof of something, if proof is needed.

And more importantly, the experience neither confirms nor refutes the ideas and experiences of others.
It just is.

Like all explorers, there is a personal experience that fulfils – the experience of others is interesting, but it does not connect.  We need to find our own link, our own experience, our own fulfilment.

As Unitarians it is our intention to be a beacon of light in the community, to be a community ourselves, ready to embrace new members and fellow travellers on this journey through life. 

We are a community, ready to embrace new members and fellow travellers on this journey through life.

And it is true.  We are here to preserve, maintain, and continue the possibility of sanctuary, safe space, and freedom to explore, to anyone that recognises the importance of personal experience and commitment.  

And that is a big offer.  From a spiritual seeker’s perspective, the provision of space in this way is almost unique.  We have no creed, no expectation of belief, no central spiritual doctrine around which we congregate.  We gather around a flame of freedom, not words of certainty.

Really?  Yes. Really.  And that is the advantage."

Monday, 12 November 2018

Remembering #Unitarians in Ringwood on Armistice Day 11th Nov 2018

We gathered under the Unitarian banner on Sunday 11th November for coffee shop church, and after we had had our contemplative time we fitted in a short business meeting and a social.

One of the freedoms of being a Unitarian group is that we can hallow all that we do, without having to feature a fixed structure or fixed elements into our gatherings, rites and rituals.  So today we included poetry and wordlessness, despite what was a rather noisy environment.  We started, though,  with a short poem by Mark Nepo  that we had picked up from the blog of Danny Crosby, the Unitarian Minister serving Altrincham & Urmston in Cheshire  And then we sat in wordless togetherness for some minutes, absorbing what the poem had meant to us.

I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from water and birds learn from sky.
If you want to learn about the sea, it helps to be at sea.
If you want to learn about compassion, it helps to be in love.
If you want to learn about healing, it helps to know of suffering.
The strong live in the storm without worshipping the storm.

Mark Nepo

On this special day that marked one hundred years since the ceasefire on Armistice Day, 1918, we also read out and remembered the names of the six Ringwood Unitarians who had died in the First World War.  Their names are painted onto the board still carefully looked after by the Ringwood Meeting House Association, which can be seen in the public exhibition at the Meeting House for the season of remembrance.  The first Unitarian congregation in Ringwood sold the Meeting House in 1976 but we are the second congregation and their natural successors, so it is very fitting that we should remember their fallen.

It seems that one name on the Meeting House board does not currently appear on the town War Memorial and there is research afoot with the relatives to understand why.  If a missing name has now been uncovered then it would be good to rectify that.  How sad that one hundred years has passed since the start of that war yet still we are finding people who had partially been forgotten.

It was moving, too, to be able to observe the two minutes’ silence together, and with everyone else in the coffee shop, the people in the arcade outside, and in the supermarket opposite.  We feel that it is not enough to remember the people who sacrificed everything for us.  We also need to spot any early danger signs of a new slide into world conflict, and to do our part by calling them out and challenging people and nations to live in peace together.

We are now looking forward to our regular gathering in December on 9th December at our new time of 10 a.m. in the Ringwood Meeting House.  After that we will next meet for a social after the Blue Christmas service we will be leading.

The Blue Christmas service will be a quiet contemplative service to make a safe space for those who do not find Christmas an easy time, for whatever reason.  It is open to all, on Sunday 16th December at 4 p.m., also in the Meeting House.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Change of venue and style this month for gathering of #Unitarians in Ringwood on 11 Nov 2018

The next gathering for reverence of Unitarians in Ringwood will be at 9.30 a.m. on Sunday 11 November 2018, at Coffee#1, 14 Meeting House Lane.  This coffee shop is opposite Sainsbury's, and facing the rear door to the Meeting House.

The gathering will be in the style of coffee shop church, with a reading and some moments of wordlessness as an opener, but then taking the form of a thoughtful conversation.  Or two conversations, or three, depending on how many people turn up and how many we can fit around the table.

Come as you are, exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in quite the same state.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Round and round and round not necessarily a bad thing - Ringwood #Unitarians gathering for reverence October 2018

At our gathering for reverence today, we had readings Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verses 1-8, and chapter 1 verse 9, followed by two extracts from A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett.  We explored change in how we often return again and again to the same things; but we come back to them different in ourselves from how we left them.

We looked at how this is true in our spiritual and moral life for everyone no matter how good or bad.  And the take home thought offered was this: going back isn’t to be worried about, so long as we never give up on going forward.  Change is not in vain no matter how often things come full circle.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

How do we react when things don't go as we expect - Ringwood #Unitarians Sep 2018

Owing to a conjunction of unlikely circumstances, we weren’t able to meet at the scheduled time last Sunday.  We weren’t able to meet at all.

Which led me to reflect on two ideas: what do we feel and do when things don’t happen as we hope or expect? And why do we meet at all?

At the moment, I’m reading a book by a contemporary buddhist teacher, in which it is suggested that sometimes it’s easier to know what to do when a really drastic thing happens, then when it’s a small thing that doesn’t go as expected.  After all, if a person is physically hurt, you get them to a medic.  When water is pouring out of a burst pipe, you find a plumber.  But when a friend is late for a coffee, or the baker hasn’t reserved your bread order, there are a range of different things that can be done.  That range of choice can itself be paralysing.  And the choice we do make can reveal to us some truth or other about ourselves.

The buddhist teacher reminds me that we shouldn’t measure the quality of our lives through the big, drastic events.  After all, nearly everyone will help others under emergency situations.  Nearly everyone will rise to the need.  Whereas fewer of us react in a consistently graceful manner to the ordinary little grinds of life.  Yet if we can’t negotiate our way successfully, generously, humbly, through the little things that “go wrong” (if indeed that is a truthful way of describing them), then the occasional flash of emergency kindness and compassion, no matter how profound or far reaching, will not compensate.

Integrity, “one-through-ness”, is a quality of the best lives.  People are sterling who can be relied upon, who can be trusted, because they behave in the same style no matter the circumstances or context.  People are loved who don’t succumb to the stress of the moment, thus revealing a different side to themselves.  People who have integrity are able to live consistently owing to the hard work they put in, even when out of sight, to not being upset whatever comes, be it trivial, small or large.

And so we, who were affected by the non-meeting last Sunday, reflected on how we reacted when it became apparent that our gathering last Sunday was not to take place after all.

And, then, why were we to meet at all?  Why des anyone go to any kind of church these days?  I have just read the conclusions of some recent research by the United Reformed Church (a Christian church).  The research found that most non-Christians (61%) know a practising Christian.  They like them, and think they are caring, good-humoured and friendly.  A family member of mine, who is atheist and living in Spain, spent some time musing with me about a friend who is conservatively Roman Catholic, and who with his wife takes all the family to Mass every Sunday.  This Spanish chap, whilst being wealthy and positionally powerful in his work, is also one of the most patient and unassuming people.  Do people go to church because they get made good there?  Or, put perhaps more disparagingly, do they go because they get something there that makes them feel good about themselves?  Or is it that there is something helpful in the discipline of entering into a commitment with others, and sticking with it, trying again and again, session by session (not necessarily in a weekly rhythm), whether the point is immediately obvious or not?  If nothing else, surely we get more patient because our personal sharp edges are rubbed off as we roll along together, time after time?

We haven't actually talked about it.  So I can only guess that we each have decided inwardly that something about gathering together does us good.  Something about being with other non-saints.  Something about being with others who get cross-tempered and frustrated, others who get bored and struggle to hide it, others who are exhausted from the week’s labours, others who are fighting a physical pain, others who can find nothing to smile about, others who are having a really good patch, others who are just living a run-of-the-mill un-noteworthy routine.  Somehow the sharing of experiences and resonances; the sight of others coping where we ourselves have not perhaps coped quite so well; the chance to offer some warmth and a smile where someone so clearly lacks them; the simple, repeated, showing-up that we each do for each other; somehow these are the things that sometimes matter most about a community of faith.

Sometimes our faith is in each other alone.  Sometimes our faith is centred on the way of the universe/multiverse.  Sometimes our faith is in a woolly notion, such as a love, a clarity, an order that somehow underpins everything there is or could be.  Sometimes our faith is in the act of exchange that incontrovertibly takes place, without us ever quite understanding what it is or how it happens.  Sometimes our faith is that there is faith at all.

But one way or another, we meet in faith.  We bring ourselves, and we get changed by our gathering.  Even if we cannot say anything more insightful, we meet to express our faith in the internal change we experience.  And we express our faith by being constant, as we try to have that integrity that makes us equally patient, generous, warm, sensible, responsive and yes compassionate, wherever we are, whether we are in other people’s sight or not.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

First baby naming in Ringwood Meeting House for at least 40 years #Unitarians

After our gathering for reverence on 12th August 2018, the Meeting House became the host for a baby naming ceremony.  It was with great pleasure that we welcomed a couple, whose wedding in 2014 had also been the first wedding to be held in the Meeting House for at least forty years, with their son and the usual cohort of god-parents.

Our president involved everyone, inviting those of 11 years and under to come and change the ordinary tap water into blessed water for the ceremony.  The children each poured some water into the 90 year old font, then made it special by placing their fingers in the font along with their wish for the the baby being dedicated.  The assembled company asked for divine blessing on the water and, through it, the baby.

A happy occasion that we hope to see repeated in the Meeting House in the coming years!

Bending the back to the burden - we considered an affirmative approach to suffering at our gathering in August 2018 #Unitarians

All lives include pain and suffering, said our president for the day (Rev Martin Whitell).  The trick is knowing where to seek the resources to bear the suffering when it happens, rather than to rail against it and grind oneself down even harder with resentment of it.

It requires a degree of maturity and experimentation to be able to reconcile different pieces of advice regarding how to cope with pain. The Bible, for instance, contradicts itself: James declares we should welcome trials as a means of self-improvement (notably regarding our faith); whereas Genesis makes it quite clear that the suffering and pain of Adam and Eve left them considerably worse off than they were before.

We had readings from Harold S Kushner, a progressive conservative Rabbi who has written the book "When bad things happen to good people," and a poem "Go Boldly" from Unitarian Universalist poet Jean M Olson.  We were invited, like the Jewish psalmist, to seek our help from the greatness revealed to us in the hills; and from the Hindu faith there was a rule that we should act as possible to extract good even from the horrid and even poisonous circumstances we find ourselves in.

We had classical and modern hymns and a well known contemporary song that is rapidly becoming a hymn for many: "You raise me up".

In the mix were our usual periods of silence for reflection on what has been said.  Also, simple ritual, in which participants determine the meaning they personally find in the actions rather than trying to 'believe in' meanings ascribed by anyone else.  There was a period for meditation practice for those who wanted it, and we lit candles for issues of importance to us.

It was delightful to welcome some new faces to our gathering.  We are growing all the time and are ready to adapt and change as the combination of experiences, struggles, preferences and skills flex and flow, depending on who is in the gathering.  We do not expect to be the same month to month; in fact we live in the expectation of being quite changed by new participants.  This is the joy and resilience we take from living and journeying together as a community, rather than being solo travellers.  If you would like to come along and make a difference to us and to yourself we would love to see you.

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The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.  Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
  Kahlil Gibran (1883 - 1931)

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Unmaking the World - a conversation about how we respond to the ecological crisis #unitarians #inclusiveunitarians

We did not know, when we booked the evening for a talk on environmental ethics, that the England football team would be playing Colombia for a place in the World Cup quarter-finals on that same evening.  Fortunately, owing to the big screen in the pub garden across the alley, the people who had come to the talk were able to - more or less - keep track of the match as well as the talk!

So not surprisingly we were a small group of people meeting together to hear Dr Claire Foster-Gilbert, but that had the advantage that we were able to have a proper conversation rather than a formal lecture and Q&A session afterwards.

Claire started with the 20th century philosopher, Heidegger, who had identified that the mindset that views everything in our surroundings to be ‘stuff we can take and use’, is probably one of the root causes of the ecological difficulties we find ourselves in today.  Claire reminded us that humans had probably always had that mindset, which had of course led to much good, when viewed from our human standpoint; not least in medicine and dentistry and extension of human life.  Our difficulty is not that we have changed, but rather that we have become so numerous.  Whereas we could get away with treating the Earth as a treasure storehouse when there were fewer of us, we cannot behave like that any more.  The Earth is showing signs now of the change that we have caused, and humans are now suffering along with it.  We need to find a new way of seeing, because when we see differently we will think differently and act differently.

In particular, Claire contends, we have lost connection.  We view ourselves as tenants, stewards or even masters of the Earth, rather than small but integral elements within the entire eco-system.  We fail to recognise that the reason we feel so much better when we go out of doors and do what we call reconnecting with nature, is that we have evolved in it, as part of it, suffused by the dynamic interrelationships that is the only realistic way of defining ecology.  Of course being out there makes us feel better: out there we shed our skewed perception that puts us at the centre of a set of ‘things’ we imagine we can control.

As we have lost connection, we march along the road of technological progress making judgments that, with hindsight, do little but penalise the ecosystem - and hence ourselves along with it.  Only when we have changed our way of seeing will we be able to act in concert with our environment, and thus protect our dwelling place in the long term.

To help us see a practical way of changing the way we see, Claire led a guided meditation through the five spheres of the Earth: the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the lithosphere, the pedosphere and the biosphere.  We were invited to take several images away with us, to bring to mind in our daily activities; images that will change our perspective on our activities on a domestic and intimate level.

We noted that while it is possible for us to act at a distance to help other humans who now suffer from ecological impacts, it may in the end be more effective to act locally in tune with the five spheres, then trust the five spheres to help our fellow humans at a distance.  After all, as one participant pointed out: when we think we need to feed our plants, we are wrong, and actually, we can’t, because that happens at a cellular level.  What we need to do is to feed and tend the soil, and the soil will feed the plants.

[The lithosphere and pedosphere
The lithosphere is the outer crust of the earth, some 120 km thick, rock floating on molten rock.  The pedosphere is the soil that lies on top of the lithosphere like skin on flesh, about half a metre thick, made of sand, clay, silt and organic matter.  It acts like a cleansing and protecting membrane between the lithosphere and the atmosphere. 

The biosphere
The biosphere is the sum of all the habitats in which species live. ]

When you next find yourself walking, feel the air on your face, become aware of your breathing, and realise the total and automatic dependence of the life of your body on the atmosphere.  Gain a sense of ‘being breathed’ rather than the other way around.  See how the air is one thing: wind, breath, invisibly supporting, moving and enlivening all things.

Become aware that this same atmosphere is warming up and that for some living things, human, animal and plant, the 21st century will see the final destruction of their habitats and their livelihoods.

When you next do something involving water, such as drinking a glass of it, watering a plant, or taking a shower, become aware of the cycle of water through the universe.  Become aware of it travelling to where it is needed, for nourishment, growth or cleansing.  Think of the water of baptism, by which you affirm your responsibility to the whole community.  Think of water as embodying the possibility of rebirth, empowerment, and the hope of a renewed creation.  
In the rainfall, in rivers and oceans, in watersheds, in your drinking, your washing and your tears, water cleanses, nourishes and heals.
Polluted water transforms nourishment into poison.  Absence of water kills very quickly, but not quickly enough for the terrible suffering of thirsty people and land.  
Become aware that today, 2 billion people live without safe water supplies.

Lithosphere & Pedosphere:
When you are next in a garden, crumble some soil in your bare hands and smell its rich aromas.  Think of the life growing in the soil, the way the soil nurtures and sustains new life, holds the seeds and shelters the roots, becomes the foundation from which the plant grows.  If you are weeding, notice how the earth holds on to her own as you gently dislodge roots from the soil.  Notice how the actions of your hands affect the soil well or badly.  Become aware of the cycle of life and death, of how we kill what we do not know, carelessly, uncaringly; and how the mending of the world that is to be done is beyond our power to do.

Bring to mind the glorious, unimaginably numerous diversity of all living things.  There are not even two blades of grass that are the same.  Think of this biological diversity as a web of interrelationship that sustains all life on the planet, including your own.  You are not a tenant of the earth, you do not exist on its surface or despite its terrain.  You evolved with every bit of it, and that shared history is deep within you.  That is why the natural world has the power to restore you.