Monday, 24 December 2012

A warm hollow in the cold

It was winter. The depths of December. The sky had become dark. The ground was muddy when it wasn't frozen over entirely. The cold winds blew through the robin's feathers as she huddled in the partial shelter of a hollow of a great old plane tree.

The cold had killed off all the plants the robin relied on. The insects had gone underground now and were safely hidden as they underwent their magical transformation. The autumn's seeds had vanished too - picked over thoroughly in the past months. 

And now she was not sure which was worse - the biting cold or the ache of her empty belly.

"There is no chance of reaching the spring", she thought. She had begun to lose hope. She despaired of finding enough food to survive. She began to welcome the cold into her breast. "Why not let it in so this suffering will end more quickly?" she thought. She stepped out from the hollow to bear the full brunt of the cold wind. 

Just then, she heard a shaky-sounding "hello." She jerked her head first this way and that, but it wasn't until she looked up that she saw a shivering red squirrel looking down at her from a higher branch. "Hello" said robin. "You look cold." So do you, said squirrel. "Yes" she replied. "And hungry too." 

"Hungry? Well, I can help with that. Follow me", said squirrel and he leapt from branch to branch until he reached a spot between several branching tree roots. Robin landed beside him. With a few seconds of scratching at the earth, squirrel uncovered a small stash of seeds. "Help yourself", he said, "I have stores like this all over the place."

Robin began eating so quickly, she forgot to say thank you. When she realised it, she was deeply apologetic and embarrassed. Squirrel just urged her to keep eating: "You have to keep your strength up."

When robin had eaten her fill, she said to squirrel "thank you so much. You have been very generous. Sadly, I fear I have wasted your precious food as I am so cold I will soon freeze to death." She noticed then that squirrel was shivering heavily. "Perhaps" robin said, "we could both fit into my hollow in the tree. It might be crowded, but we could try."

So squirrel scampered and robin flew back up the tree.

Indeed, the hollow of the tree was barely big enough to hold the two of them. They managed to fit in together, but they were so tightly wedged they could hardly move.

"Oh no! This is terrible" said robin. I'll go look for another place to shelter and you can stay here."

"No - wait!" replied squirrel. "You're not shivering anymore! I'm not either."

Although the space was cramped and more than a little bit uncomfortable, it kept both creatures very warm.

"You're right" said robin. "We shall stay, then."

And so robin and squirrel endured the harsh winter together.

In the spring, they prepared to go their separate ways. Robin spoke first "You know, you saved my life the day we met. I had chosen to let myself freeze." And squirrel replied "that's why I was in the wind too. I was ready to give up. It was only because we met and joined our struggles together that we survived."

Squirrel scampered off. Robin flew off. Both full of hope and much the wiser for having met on a bitter December day.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The rhino and the giraffe - a story about division and unity

The following is an original story by me. I hereby grant free and unlimited rights to use and modify this story so long as it is credited appropriately. - Andy Pakula

In the deep, deep jungle, it happened one day that a baby rhinoceros had grown strong and adventurous enough that his mother allowed him to wander out of her sight for the very first time. On that very same day and at nearly the same time a mother giraffe also judged that her young daughter was at last old and sensible enough to wonder out of her sight.

And so it was that a young male rhino and a young female giraffe bumped right into one another in a small jungle clearing.

"Hello there!" said the young rhino. "Hello to you!" said the young giraffe. Having known no other animals besides their mothers, both young creatures were curious and eager to explore.

They looked each other over carefully. "Your neck is longer than my mother's" said the rhino. "Your skin is greyer than my mother's" said the giraffe.

Having no idea what they themselves looked like, they very soon accepted their differences and began to frolic together. They ate some tasty leaves. They jumped over low-lying vines - an activity that the giraffe seemed to excel at. They knocked over some slender trees - a skill that seemed to belong mainly to the rhino.

After a while, they heard the mother rhino calling and they knew it was time to part. "Let's meet here again tomorrow" said the giraffe. The rhino beamed a big rhino smile. They had become fast friends.

The next day, they frolicked and explored together again. And then the next day and the next. The two friends joined together every day now and took every opportunity to enjoy each others' company.

As months passed and the two young animals grew and matured, they increasingly appreciated the strengths of the other. The rhino was delighted when the giraffe would reach high in the trees and bring down a fruit that he especially enjoyed. The giraffe loved the way that her solid, heavy friend could clear a path through the thickest jungle with his body.

One day, as they played together and enjoyed their shared adventures, an adult giraffe happened to come along and see them. Looking first at the giraffe and then at the rhino, the adult giraffe spoke to the younger giraffe with a tone of shock: "what are you doing with this... this... creature" he said nodding in the rhino's direction. "We're friends" said the young giraffe brightly. "We're playing."

The older giraffe drew himself up to his fullest height and stared in disbelief. "You are a giraffe! He is a rhino. Giraffes and rhinos do not get along. Now go home immediately!"

The young giraffe hung her head from her long neck and obediently headed toward home. The young rhino watched her go and trudged off toward his own home, leaving a trail of large wet rhino tears behind him.

The next day, the young rhino awoke from a dream of playing with his dearest friend and then remembered the events of the preceding day. Sadness overcoming him, he tried to go back to sleep and to his happy dream. His mother nudged him. "What is wrong? You are not yourself today." He began to cry and his sad story came tumbling out. "I'm sorry you're sad, said his mother, but that older giraffe was right. Rhinos and giraffes do NOT associate with one another. You need to forget her and stay with your own kind."

The young giraffe, too, moped around. She ate some leaves and even noticed one of the fruits that her rhino friend loved so much. It only made her sadder.

The days and weeks and months passed and the two friends began to get over their sorrow at the loss of their close friendship. They began to make more friends of their own kind too.

And then one day, a strange and frightening noise was heard in the jungle. It was a roaring noise the animals had never heard before. In the distance, the rhino heard loud voices that did not belong to any animal he had ever heard. And then he heard a voice that he did know well. It was the voice of a giraffe - a giraffe who was once his dearest friend. That voice was yelling for help.

The rhino, now quite a large and imposing creature, turned toward the yelling and ran through the jungle as fast as he could. Trees and vines tumbled ahead of him. He didn't care what he might run into as he ran.

And then, he emerged into a clearing and there he saw strange creatures with only two legs. They had odd fur of different colours. And worst of all, the creatures had tied long ropes to his friend and at the other end the ropes were tied to a strange creature with four black circular legs. It made the terrible roaring noise and this creature was pulling his friend along. Other giraffes were standing just at a safe distance and they were watching helplessly.

The young rhino did not give it one more moment of thought. He charged at the strange animal with the round legs, struck it hard, and knocked it onto its back. The two-legged creatures began yelling and running away.

The rhino's friend was free and she and the other giraffes ran away. The rhino too ran with them.

When they had reached a safe distance, the young giraffe and rhino came close together. With tears in their eyes, they vowed they would never be separated again, whatever the other giraffes and rhinos might say.

The elder giraffe who had caused their separation then spoke: "I have never seen such bravery from any animal before." And then he spoke directly to the young giraffe and rhino: "I was terribly wrong when I separated you. I was a fool. Please forgive me. From now on, rhinos and giraffes are friends."

There was great joy in the jungle that night as rhinos cleared a space for a great feast and giraffes brought them their favourite high-growing fruits. Rhinos and giraffes have been friends ever since.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Original story - a ritual of peace and love

The following is an original story by me. I hereby grant free and unlimited rights to use and modify this story so long as it is credited appropriately. - Andy Pakula


Many hundreds of years ago, there was a good and just man by the name of Tarkan. He had little in the way of material possessions, but he was happy. He lived peacefully with his neighbours and helped others whenever he could. He cherished his family above all - his wife and his two young sons.

As a young man, Tarkan developed a habit that he would maintain throughout his life - it was a habit that helped to keep him kind and compassionate toward others. Each day, just after rising, Tarkan would go to his window and look out toward the houses around his. He would think individually of each person who lived in each of those houses and he would whisper all of their names to himself. As he did, he would tap his chest just over his heart with the mention of each name.

Having finished his listing of all of his neighbours, he would do the same for all of the animals he knew of. And then, Tarkan would close his eyes and imagine all of the cities he knew of, all of the nations he knew of, and he would whisper their names as well, always touching the area of his heart with each utterance.

Finally, Tarkan would say a prayer wishing peace and happiness to every sentient being on the earth.

With this ritual completed, Tarkan would go about building a fire to warm the house, waking his sons, and preparing for his labour of the day.

As Tarkan was an early riser, his sons only occasional witnessed their father's morning ritual. When they did, they were at first baffled, wondering who he was talking to and why he would stand at the window in this way every day. As they grew older, they sometimes tried to copy their father's ritual, although they were too young to fully understand.

One terrible day, soldiers burst into Tarkan's modest home. A division had arisen in the land and the people were taking sides against one another. Everyone was compelled to choose or be considered a traitor. With swords brandished, the soldiers dragged Tarkan outside and demanded that he join their faction and fight those of his neighbours who were on the other side. As his wife and young sons watched, they demanded that Tarkan join them in destroying homes and driving the opponents away. Tarkan refused. "I love all my neighbours" he said, "both man and beast. I will not raise a hand against anyone."

"If you do not join us, you will die!" shouted one of the soldiers, and he threatened Tarkan with his sword. The young boys began to cry. "Say yes, father" they begged. But Tarkan simply shook his head gently "I love all my neighbours. I will not raise a hand against anyone."

There was a sudden movement and Tarkan doubled over in pain, his hands clutched to his belly. The soldiers stormed off and Tarkan's wife and children bent over him weeping. Minutes later, there was blood in the sand and Tarkan was dead.

Tarkan's wife and sons fled to the safety of a nearby land. At times angry about Tarkan's refusal to cooperate with the soldiers, their admiration for his courage and bravery grew. When his sons were grown and on their own, the older son moved back to their homeland and the younger remained in the neighbouring land. Both sons independently began to imitate their father's morning practice each day. They taught it to their own children, and they in turn taught it to theirs. The practice grew in both lands as others heard about it and learned the story of Tarkan's love of peace and his bravery. Eventually, thousands and thousands of people practiced the ritual each day.

As the two sons had been separated by considerable distance, the tradition in the two locations grew separately. Many years later, members of one group learned about the other group. They were delighted to learn of a kindred movement and they arranged for a grand reunion at a village near the border between their lands.

Hundreds attended and they celebrated joyously with food and drink and great words of praise for the memory of Tarkan. The leader of the reunion ascended the platform to speak and announced the key event of the gathering. Everyone would join together the following morning for the ritual. "Please assemble here at 7:00 tomorrow morning" she said.

A rumble came from the crowd. "7:00?" someone shouted angrily. "The ritual is always performed at 6:00. It dishonours Tarkan's memory to practice at 7:00." There was worry and some arguing in the crowd as the convener spoke with the elders of the two communities. She returned smiling. "Your leaders have agreed that we will meet at 6:30." There was a low murmuring and neither group was completely happy, but everyone eventually agreed and went off to sleep with excitement about the next morning's events.

The next morning, the moment that they had all been waiting for finally arrived. Hundreds assembled to perform the practice just minutes before 6:30. As they gathered, half of them lined up facing south and half faced north. "Turn around" they shouted at each other. "You're facing the wrong direction!" "No," others yelled, "you are facing the wrong direction." "How dare you disgrace Tarkan's memory like this?"

No one knows who threw the first blow, but once again there was blood on the sand and the north facing and south facing Tarkan followers became bitter enemies, and remain so to this very day, just as they continue their daily ritual of peace and love.

Monday, 17 September 2012

U+ : A worksheet to facilitate your practice

U+ Practices worksheet

This worksheet was created a a support for practicing the U+ plan for Unitarian/UU living. The U+ program itself can be found on the previous blog post here.

Specificity and commitment make practice much more likely and possible. Complete a worksheet at least each year and as often as your commitments change. Keep it close and keep it up to date!

Please note: . If you modify the programme, please do not use the name 'U+' for it. I ask this solely because I hope that a network of mutually supportive U+ groups might eventually emerge. This will be stymied if U+ is significantly different in different places. 

This worksheet may also be downloaded through these Google Docs links. PDF, RTF, ODT, DOCX

  1. Dietary responsibility: Adopt a just and compassionate diet.
My commitment(s)

  1. Responsible consumption: Adopt a just and compassionate approach to sourcing clothing, goods and resources.
My commitment(s)

  1. Reduce impact: Be kind to the earth and others by recycling, reducing waste, sharing and donating the goods we have
My commitment(s)

  1. Generosity: Help the wider community
My financial generosity commitment(s)

My service generosity commitment(s)

  1. Community: Join a Unitarian congregation  
My commitment for participation and generosity(s)

  1. Serve your community: Take on service roles in your congregational community
My commitment(s)

  1. Care for your physical self: Adopt a wholesome lifestyle, avoiding substances and practices that would injure you or lessen your abilities and seeking those that strengthen.
My commitment(s)

  1. Exploration in relationship: Belong to (or lead) at least one ongoing congregational small group each year that gathers regularly for mutual support and spiritual growth
My commitment(s)

  1. Individual exploration: Actively and deliberately examine your beliefs and values
My commitment(s)

  1. Spiritual practice: Adopt one or more daily spiritual practices
My commitment(s)

  1. Annual renewal time: For two or more consecutive weeks each year live a more disciplined spiritual life, preferably with others in your community. This may include spiritual practices, charity work, and adhering to extra dietary restrictions.
My commitment(s)

  1. Pilgrimage: Take on an immersive experience in the world at least once every five years. This may serve as a ‘pilgrimage’ to a ‘spiritual site.
My pilgrimage plan(s)

Saturday, 15 September 2012

U+ A Unitarian way of life

Please note that a few changes and updates have been made to this plan and these can be found on the New Unity web site here.  Other resources:


What follows is an early version of a project that I have been working on with a dedicated member of my congregation. We have both noted in ourselves and others a desire for a more rigorous way of living as a Unitarian (or Unitarian Universalist). This is what we've come up with so far. We would love to hear your comments and suggestions. 

I do want to emphasize again and again that THIS IS NOT FOR EVERYONE! If you don't want to do it, that's fine. Our hope is for it to be a strengthening and enlivening path that suits only a minority of people. That doesn't mean we don't want comments however. It means that we are not keen to ease this in a way where it becomes toothless and excessively vague - the very challenges it is meant to address!

Please note: I know that Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists will be tempted to modify this to suit themselves and/or their congregations. YPlou are, of course, free to do that. If you modify the programme, please do not use the name 'U+' for it. I ask this solely because I hope that a network of mutually supportive U+ groups might eventually emerge. This will be stymied if U+ is significantly different in different places. 

A worksheet is now available to facilitate your U+ practice. Click here.

Click here for the U+ followers and explorers Facebook mutual support group

A rigorous Unitarian spiritual path


Unitarianism is a faith that embraces a very broad range of people. The inclusiveness of our faith is one of its great strengths; there is a place for everyone of open heart and mind to find an appropriate path and to journey together, supported and loved in community

One of the concerns often heard in such diverse communities is that it can be hard to find a deeper, more rigorous path - that the diversity has a tendency to keep people at a broad but somewhat superficial level.

U+ is intended to address that specific concern and provide a deeper, more disciplined path for those who desire it.

As such, U+ is not for everyone! It is not expected to appeal to most Unitarians. It is for those who have surveyed the worlds of religion and spirituality and are prepared to make a more exacting way of living their faith.

U+ is not a club or a badge to be won. We envision that U+ groups might form in some congregations to support those on the U+ path. Networking between U+ groups would further support U+ followers. Individual groups may choose their own approaches to determining group membership; they may be open to all who wish to join or the group may choose to impose some kind of criteria for group membership based on adherence to U+ practices. In all cases, we would strongly urge that group membership involves a commitment to the practice and to one another.

The authors of this plan offer it freely to Unitarianism. We hope that it helps to provide a unique depth path within our faith’s rich diversity.


  1. Embrace life whole: The Sacred or Divine, the Precious and Profound, are made evident, not only in the extraordinary events of our lives, but in the simple and the everyday;  The best way to live is to strive to embrace life fully - engaging our spirits with all of the highs and lows life naturally brings
  2. Potential for goodness: There is goodness in each of us. It can be helped to grow in communities of mutual love, acceptance, and support
  3. There is no complete answer: The universe is too grand to be encompassed in any one perspective or truth. Freedom of belief and diversity of perspective are thus to be treasured and encouraged.
  4. Seek relationship: Relationship between us and with other beings is our primary teacher of how to be fully human. Through the support and the challenges of communication and interchange, we grow toward our potential.
  5. That which is sacred everywhere: The sacred in life is everywhere, including within each of us. It emerges in relationship and is most evident in our love. In striving to bring forth the sacred wherever it may be found, we serve all beings.
  6. Wisdom is everywhere: Wisdom has been uncovered by many people in many different times and traditions. The wise person searches broadly and is open to many influences.
  7. We are one: We are interconnected and interdependent beings - part of a greater unity of which we are usually unaware. We must seek an appreciation of our deep interdependence and relatedness.
  8. Justice: We are obligated by our unity and our love to work for a more just world where each person has an opportunity to fulfill their potential.

Central Practices

  1. Dietary responsibility: Adopt a just and compassionate diet.(1)
  2. Responsible consumption: Adopt a just and compassionate approach to sourcing clothing, goods and resources.(2)
  3. Reduce impact: Be kind to the earth and others by recycling, reducing waste, sharing and donating the goods we have
  4. Generosity: Help the wider community
                 a.  donate generously to charitable causes (3)
                 b.  engage in social action or social justice, on an ongoing basis (4)

  1. Community: Join a Unitarian congregation  
    1. attend services and other events regularly
    2. gIve generously of your time and talents to cultivate the community
    3. financially support the community and its programmes
  2. Serve your community: Take on service roles in your congregational community (5)
  3. Care for your physical self: Adopt a wholesome lifestyle, avoiding substances and practices that would injure you or lessen your abilities and seeking those that strengthen.(6)
  4. Exploration in relationship: Belong to (or lead) at least one ongoing congregational small group each year that gathers regularly for mutual support and spiritual growth
  5. Individual exploration: Actively and deliberately examine your beliefs and values
    1. Work on a course or programme such as ‘building your own theology’
    2. Work on unpacking problematic ideas, angst, or frustrations individually, within a group.
  6. Spiritual practice: Adopt one or more daily spiritual practices (7)
  7. Annual renewal time: For two or more consecutive weeks each year live a more disciplined spiritual life, preferably with others in your community. This may include spiritual practices, charity work, and adhering to extra dietary restrictions.
  8. Pilgrimage: Take on an immersive experience in the world at least once every five years. This may serve as a ‘pilgrimage’ to a ‘spiritual site.’ (8)

(1) This practice, which calls us to make ethical decisions in the food we consume, may be observed in many ways. For some, it will involve a vegetarian, vegan, or pescatarian diet. For others, purchasing only ethically-sourced meat and other food may be a viable option. The range of options is very broad, including freeganism, fruitarian, etc.

(2) This means to avoid products that are produced through cruelty or exploitation or that are destructive of the environment. Examples of this practice would include using Fair-Trade and products and to avoid any products whose purchase encourages or supports worker exploitation

(3) We consider the Muslim requirement of giving 2.5% of accumulated net worth annually to be a fair and generally feasible goal. The objects of your giving should include your Unitarian community.

(4) As a guideline, try to devote at least 70 hours per year to social justice/social action work.

(5) There are many ways in which this practice may be carried out. For example, consider roles as recognised service readers, chalice lighters, storytellers, team-leader/members, hospitality, care-giving, and nurturing and mentoring others

(6) Moderation in drink and food are recommended. Other examples include avoiding smoking, drugs, and excessive sun exposure, and adopting a sensible programme of physical exercise.

(7) Spiritual disciplines are essential to spiritual and personal growth. Among the many ways to carry out this practice are meditation or prayer, mindfulness practices, and cultivating compassion. It is strongly recommended that time is set aside as a ‘protected’ space in the day for spiritual practice.

(8) Note that a ‘spiritual site’ need not be one recognised by others as ‘spiritual’ nor need it require a long physical journey to reach.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A testimonial from Christina Smith

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

My name is Christina Smith and I am a lay person at Belper Chapel in Derbyshire.

15 years ago, when I was living in New York and raising 4 children, I was looking for something
that reflected my own values and would help me underpin these values for my children in a place
where I had no extended family or support and where the culture we were living in seemed very ego driven.

During a visit from my sister, who was a UK Unitarian, I went along to a Unitarian Universalist
fellowship - and as they say, the rest is history. I had found a place where we as a family, with all
our personalities and baggage were welcome, and where I could reinforce the message that it was how you lived your life that was important not what you possessed or the size of your house or even what grades you got in school.

I know that this fellowship and the youth programme that my older children had access to helped
them survive their American High School experience and their subsequent, and sometimes
tumultuous, journeys into adult hood. It also helped me survive their journeys too!

Recently, I was reminded again, of how important the Unitarian values and youth programmes are when my 14 year old daughter, who had been watching a TV programme about a certain designer who was working with teens who had low self esteem and body issues said, 'you know mum those teens need to go to Gt. Hucklow to learn how to accept themselves and be comfortable with who they are.' My reply to her was that I wished all children had access to the Unitarian Youth

So in closing, this is why when I am 49 years old with, if I am very lucky 20 years of service left to
give, I have decided that, right here in the UK Unitarian movement, is where I want give it.
Because I know how important it is for families today to find a spiritual home that is welcoming
and affirming and one that will challenge them to grow, discover and accept who they are.

Thank you.

A testimonial from Jill Hudson

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

Unitarianism, is my saviour
It is the church where I can taste a different flavour.

All my life I had sought for spiritual truth
To the days of middle age from when I was a youth

I explored many churches and was always told the same
But I could never play the blind obedience game,

Never bow to creeds and beliefs that don’t ring true,
Not allowed to mention that I held a different view

So I set off on my lonely quest to find the truth again
And found the Unitarian Church – where I can use my brain

And where I can be free to reach my own conclusions
And not be forced to settle for some other faith’s illusions

Fifteen years on I’m certain that I found the path that’s right
And I’m glad to meet with others who have had the same insight

But what about those people, struggling in society
Who haven’t found the treasure of religious liberty?

How can we share our fellowship? How can we spread the word?
This is the crux that bothers me – for if we are not heard

We cannot take LIFE’s message to people near and far
We really need to advertise what Unitarians are

We’re living now on yesteryear’s fat – the legacy of the past
If we don’t increase our numbers, our movement will not last

So I implore you, delegates, to yourselves this aim apply
Because otherwise our movement will eventually die

We are the ones with power and the responsibility
There’s no one else can make us grow – only you and me.

So let’s make a pledge today – the focus of our lives
To ensure through our efforts Unitarianism thrives.

A testimonial from Phil Silk

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

Fellow seekers, sharers and servers, I am grateful that the GA is providing us with this opportunity to share personal views. ‘Without vision the people perish’. No one view will suit all or remain static, but I look forward to not only hearing, but reading the whole series – and to future dialogue.

As a named movement, our tradition begins in the Reformation, with the stress on the authority of the individual to interpret scripture, Church teachings and life itself. But it seems to me that the spirit of Unitarianism has been around as long as the human race, as I once told a Conservative Rabbi who was extolling the virtues of having a 4000 year old tradition. I think we should broaden our horizons.

I think the essence of Unitarianism is a liberal approach to life, a recognition that all individuals experience life for themselves, uniquely. By using reason – and emotion- we discover and we develop meaningful living. We also realise how integrated we are into society and nature; we are not really alone. Nor can we be certain of the full truth . Facts, yes; significance, no. ‘Unity in diversity’ is not just a slogan: it reflects reality as we experience it;it reflects the universe, the human race and the individual. Each of us is an evolving, social interpreter of reality, a unique actor in the drama of life. We are the meaning-makers in theory and practice.

We Unitarians are the living tradition, not a preservation society. Each of us, alone and together, will continue to search, share and serve. What we do will hopefully enrich the quality of life for all humanity and reality, living and non-living.

I would like to see us fulfil our potential as an evolving world religion. Can we, should we, be a religion for one world, open to the insights from ALL ages and ALL peoples, working WITH all people and FOR all people?.

This is my vision.

What is yours?

A testimonial from Carol Palfrey

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

I have only been a member of the Octagon in Norwich for about 18 months and this is my first GA. I therefore feel privileged to be invited to be part of the opening ceremony. I cannot guarantee that my contribution will be “inspiring and inspired” but I promise it will be enthusiastic.

I had been attracted for several years by what I had read about Unitarianism and the outlook of Unitarians I had met and so, in September 2009, I attended my first Unitarian service

Coming from a Church of England background, and being very British, I could not leap to my feet and shout “Halleluiah and Amen” but, when I heard the opening words, that was just what I felt like inside. The words were: “We meet here in a spirit of community, openness and love, and I hope that this morning’s worship speaks to something in you, inspires you and makes you think.” It did, and it continues to so.

I think the Unitarian church is uniquely placed to respond to the spiritual needs of the twenty first century. It provides a supportive religious community in which everyone can seek their own truth and express themselves without fear of criticism or condemnation. It has the potential to resolve the dilemmas of those whose own religions traditions have proved more of a hindrance than a help, but who still feel the need to belong. Belonging without believing is a philosophy which many people would find liberating. Unitarians are proud to be able to extend their welcome to people of all religious faiths and none – what could be more appropriate in multi-cultural Britain? I believe that Unitarianism has the power to make the current acrimonious disputes between atheists and believers irrelevant. We are a faith tradition for today’s world. But not enough people know about us.
I hope that together we may find new ways to offer our special gift more widely.

A testimonial from Alison Mercer

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

I've heard and read so many words about Unitarianism and the things which we value about it: freedom, choice, warmth, tolerance, acceptance, community, support... oh so many words. But they could be used to describe several liberal faith groups. What makes Unitarianism so great?

Diversity within an organisation has been seen as a weakness: too many factions to keep happy. But in the case of Unitarianism, our diversity is a strength. Consider this: we are everyday people, different ages, lifestyles, educations, backgrounds, needs and expectations. And yet we are bonded together. Not by shared theological perspective, prescriptive creed, ethnicity or culture, but by something more powerful: the values and dreams we hold in common are forged not by certain words on a page, but in the honesty of our hearts and minds. We also recognise that hearts and minds are not entirely unchanging. Consequently, we share a fellowship in which we can be as we are, while we become the people we seek to be.

We're able to be this way because of past Unitarians who had both vision and courage: the vision to see what Unitarianism could become and the courage to let go of enough of the past to move forward. Just as 19th Century Unitarianism had to differ from that of the preceeding Century, so 21st Century Unitarianism finds itself in changed times. If we are to follow the example of our predecesors, we need to find vision and courage to look at what we are (not just what we think we are) and the courage to let go of what we must in order to let it flourish.

I believe our fellowship still contains people of vision and courage who will help us: to come to terms with and better serve our modern day multi-cultural and multi-theological congregants and potential congregants; and to become more outspoken and active in promoting and supporting our core values to the world at large. It's too good to keep to ourselves!

If you love something, set it free...

A testimonial from Christopher Sande

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

“It is necessary that religion should be held and professed in a liberal spirit.” So said the great William Ellery Channing.

To me these words epitomise the beauty of our approach, and I am thankful for this Unitarian spirit for it has provided me with a cherished and cherishing family of faith. Our commitment to freedom of belief, freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry, leads us to approach our religious life with complete liberty, released from all creeds and all dogma, though not inevitably or necessarily from valuable, unifying shared beliefs. This liberty has given me the confidence to play a full and enthralling part in the life of my local church and also shortly, in the form of secretary, in the life of our district association, as we strive in serving our local communities and our wider movement. Coupled with this liberty is the Unitarian commitment not to sacrifice human needs, human wants and human nature on some religious alter, but instead to elevate them all in the service of the One, however understood, who is greater than all of us, yet present in each of us. This can only lead to our special covenantal understanding of fellowship, which embraces all people with a true and loving welcome.

A great man, whose words inspire me daily once said “blessed are those that hunger and thirst after righteousness.” I hunger and thirst for our blessed and unique voice to bring greater unity, peace and vision to all those around us in our diverse society. To help enthrone kindness, virtue and compassion as inspirational and aspirational ideals to be sought-out and followed. I am sure the future will continue to see more people of all faiths and none joining with us in sharing the hope that though we may not think alike we might certainly love and care alike."

A testimonial from Wade Miller-Knight

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

A friend recently rejected Unitarianism. He said: “Unitarianism’s like a tea-shop with no cakes.”

Tea and sympathy, but no cakes. Nothing of substance.

The “cakes” we need are spiritual depth. A quality, an intensity, that makes our Unitarian faith more to us than one hour a week.

Depth from spiritual practices. Take-home practices that make an interesting Address and nice hymns on Sunday the start of our spiritual week, not the whole. Active, daily, practices that put spirituality at the heart of our whole being.

The most effective deepening practice, in my experience, is meditation. By ‘meditation’ I don’t mean thinking about… anything. I mean a spiritual centring in. Giving our mind-chatter a tea-break. Going into the secret silence of the soul, the stillness we feel when we find the ‘pause’ button on busy-ness.

I experience that after meditation people feel softer and more spiritually centred than they arrive.

I have started a meditation circle in St. Albans Fellowship. Groups are meditating in congregations from York to Mansfield to Godalming. We can show you how.

And there are several other practices that can deepen our spirituality:

  • Focused study of sacred texts with heart reflection. Technical name: “lectio divina”. Some Unitarians do it. They can show you how.
  • Gratitude. Once or twice daily, thank God. Consciously. Religiously. 
  • Feel God’s presence. Love God. Whenever. Wherever. Genuinely. Frequently.
Simple? Yes – but it requires conscious choice.

Whatever specific methods you choose, the aim is spiritual deepening. Nourishing our spiritual being abundantly. People living at spiritual depth grow spiritually. A congregation whose people are growing spiritually is a spiritual magnet. Newcomers will feel the energy. Before they know how, or why, they will sense we Unitarians can nurture their soul. There will be “cakes” – spiritual substance - in our “tea-shop”.

A testimonial from Paul Cannon

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

Before I encountered New Unity I used to describe myself as an Agnostic Faitheist (ask me later). December last year I saw a sign, not from god, but from Andy Pakula, It said “A church for atheists, and everyone else’. I bit. I walked up and rang the door bell, Andy answered, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In January I applied to join New Unity, In February I attended Fuse, the Festival of Unitarians in the South East, and on March 4th I was officially welcomed as a member of New Unity at the new members’ service. Now its April, and here we are at the GA.

Part of the reason I wanted to come to the GA was to continue my quest as to what it means to be a Unitarian but in preparing these words I have come to the realization that I have to define for myself what it means to me to be a Unitarian. As the meaning of life is the meaning with which we endow our lives, so it is with Unitarianism… instead of seeking a sound bite that defines Unitarianism as a destination, I need to find the patience to see it as a path. That path may not be so different from the one I was on before; it may well be the same one. The difference is that now I am not journeying alone.

But many people still are. And I think that part of what it means to me to be a Unitarian is letting them know that there is somewhere that will welcome them. Somewhere where they can be a part of a community, free to discover and explore their own paths, but supported by, and supporting, their fellow travellers.

The question is how do we reach them?

A testimonial from Christine Thompson

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

Like many of my generation I was brought up with Christianity. I went to Sunday school and at school there was a daily Christian Assembly with bible reading, hymn and prayers. I enjoyed the hymn singing and I loved the stories. All went well until one day in April 1952 we had the story of Doubting Thomas who would not believe in Jesus’ resurrection until he saw Jesus alive with nail-holes in his hands and the spear wound in his side. The story finished with the words:

‘Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’. 
These words filled me with indignation. What was so good about believing something that seemed to be impossible?

There were other things that rankled but I persevered. I was confirmed, attended church every week but it became harder and harder to recite the creed when I believed so little of it. Questions to adults provided no satisfactory answers so I stopped going to church and called myself an atheist. However I missed the ritual, the music, the poetry and the symbolism, and the striving with others to live a better life.

In 2001 I attended a Unitarian funeral. It was about the man I had known and, for once, I was not mentally contradicting the minister. I attended other Unitarian services and I had the experience that I have since learned is very common – I felt as though I was coming home. At last I had found a faith community that celebrates life, where reasoning and questioning are welcomed, that can accommodate a wide range of beliefs and that does not see scepticism as a barrier to spiritual growth.

There must be many people who, as I was, are searching for meaning in their lives but do not wish to surrender their ability to think for themselves. It would be wonderful if we could find a way to reach such people so that they too, with the loving support of a Unitarian community, might become more fully themselves.

A testimonial from Helen

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

It took me a long time to find my local Unitarian community, during my journey I travelled through a variety of religious communities, none of which felt like ‘home’. I had been quite happy, dipping in and out of the Church I grew up in, but when I became a parent, along with all the other responsibilities, I had to guide my children’s faith formation. Through a serendipitous sequence of chance I stumbled across the Unitarian website, and low and behold found a chapel local to me. It was further than I would usually travel for Church, but I decided to give it a go.

Unsure of what to expect, I found a service which looked familiar – in fact rather staid compared to what I was used to, but the content was amazing! What a variety of sources and inspiration, questions given out without necessarily being followed up by vague, dubious answers and a warmth of welcome which made it very easy to feel at home, at last. We all as a family found it a good place to be and my husband now comes along, which never happened before.

As it was my children who, in a sense, brought me to Unitarianism, it is very important to me that we commit to the future of our faith. I hope they will continue to joyfully identify as Unitarian, that they will find a welcoming community wherever they live and whichever path life takes them along, and that they will continue to be free to explore the divine within our questioning, adventurous and loving faith. Let us open ourselves up to all the myriad opportunities there are for us to be Church together and make sure that we are loud and proud so that those who are searching for something more can join us on the journey.

A testimonial from John Pickering

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

Why are we all here at the GA?
What is it about being Unitarian that appeals to so many diverse individuals?

Let me share with you why I’m here.
And it’s not simply because of our Unitarian past – as much as we are indebted to that – for me, the exciting thing about being Unitarian - is the future!

In most other faiths you have to accept a package of doctrines.
It is the doctrines that define the members.
But, Unitarians don’t have a package of belief - we have a spectrum of belief!
Here the members define the movement!
Theologically and spiritually, that is a fundamentally important difference.

A package of belief is all wrapped up – done and dusted - static – unmoving!
This kind of thinking does not reflect cosmic realities!
In both the vast astronomical universe and the immensely small sub-atomic quantum universe: Everything is moving – ebb and flow and change are everywhere! Movement is at the quantum basis of all physical Reality!

Ok - Let’s just think about Unitarian principles:
Compassion – Truth - Liberty, – this is not static – this is the quantum basis for a living spirituality!
When Newton split white light through a prism to reveal all the colours of the rainbow – it was a radical step forward.
Unitarianism is like that prism - One light – many colours!
Look at the chalice flame – the flames are many but the Light is One!

Faith! Freedom! Community! Shared Values! The Capacity to evolve and change! Acceptance of new possibilities! This is exciting stuff – this is dynamic spirituality that can move forwards with humanity into any future!
Why are we not shouting this from the roof tops?

Unitarians - we have a great heritage – let’s honour that by taking a quantum spiritual leap - into an even greater Unitarian future!

A testimonial from Tim Moore

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

Being a Unitarian is something that happens. For Unitarianism to happen, it demands an open mind and heart; for this evokes the spirit of honesty which compels me, challenges me, sustains me to follow a path in search of truth. It takes from my past the joys, the questions, the pains - to make sense of them for today, and to learn from them for the future.

My Unitarianism can happen anywhere: sometimes it happens when I am alone, while reading, while pondering, while studying, even at work and leisure. Often, it happens when I am with others, whether with others for a purpose, for worship, or socially. It may happen indoors or out. It happens when I listen.

Unitarianism, for me, happens as a change beginning deep inside me. Often unnoticeable, even to myself, but changing again and again to be transformed, evolving into a new way of understanding myself, the world, and those around me. It happens because I am free.

My Unitarianism becomes a joy when we are together. I discover how I have changed, and I see change in others. When we are together, we grow together, the search is not about "my" Unitarianism: it becomes our Unitarianism.

This is when we can be our strongest: gathered together, listening together, sharing together, loving together. It is how our Unitarianism happens, and this is how we will move forward; looking upward, looking outward, living the search of our Unitarianism.

A testimonial from Linda King

Presented at the Unitarian General Assembly meetings, April, 2012:

Inspiration, drawing in of breath, coming alive, a sense of place, a worship full space, a welcome space, to grow, to breathe.

My first ‘breaths’ were at Ipswich during the ministry of Rev Nick Teape, he challenged me when I said that Unitarianism was too intellectual for me saying that my thinking and the path I travel is as important as that of any other person’. So, I started on my way, and am still travelling, not always in a straight line and even in circles! Sometimes alone, sometimes with company, It is within Unitarianism where I have found the freedom of thought to explore, confidence to challenge and the acceptance of differences.

It is important never to forget why you started on your individual journey nor to let go of your first experiences of Unitarianism, that which ‘brought you in and is still keeping you here’ Is it something you want others to experience or is it so personal you want to keep it to your self?

Do we want new people finding out about us or don’t we? Do we want heirs? Do I want others to have the opportunity & space in which to breathe, think and grow whilst travelling their own paths and if so, and you think so too, what am I, and every one who puts a bum on a pew, sits in a chair or places a foot in the pulpit, doing about it?

New members, especially younger ones, bring new ideas and technology and hopefully more new members; we may not like all of it, sometimes because it’s new and ‘we don’t do it like that’, but we have to listen, we have to trust that those who have come in alongside us will take up the reins when we are dead, will keep this movement breathing. Communication between generations is necessary in order to regenerate and, after all, we were all new members once and the generation before us must have had some faith & trust in our abilities to maintain this witness.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The Great Omission

My colleague, the Rev. Dr. David Usher allowed me to post this. I can not know if his report is accurate...

- Andy

The Great Omission 

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all contain reference to what is known as The Great Commission, when Jesus charges his disciples to go in pairs out into the world to preach the new gospel, giving them authority to perform miracles of healing in his name. He warns them that they must not think of their own physical comfort, nor will not always be made welcome where they go, but he reassures them that through all travails they will be blessed for the work they do.

In a dramatic development which has been hailed as the most significant for Biblical studies since the discovery of The Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, previously lost fragments of Scripture have been discovered which cast new light on The Great Commission. They show that the disciples were rather less willing to accept Jesus’ charge than had been thought.

The fragments read as follows…

First Chapter
  1. But when the disciples heard these words of Jesus, and they thought of the discomfort and inconvenience to which they had been charged, they did appoint a delegation to go unto Jesus and offer their objections.
  2. And the delegation did go to Jesus, and they did say unto him.
  3. Lord, we like not what thou hast given us to do. For verily, the way you show us is full of hardship and sacrifice, and we think we are not fit for what they demandest of us. For lo, we are but twelve, and the world is a large and hostile place.
  4. And is it not so that the faith to which you called us is a faith of personal salvation? And we answered your call because we wanted the well-being of our own souls, and not because we wanted to be missionaries unto the world.
  5. Let us instead meet in small circles where we may practise a faith of quietness and seclusion.
  6. For verily, the smallness of our number is a true testament to our spiritual purity. Are we not above the unseemly scramble of the market-place. We would not wish to sully the holiness of our smallness by inviting in the unwashed and the unclean. 
  7. The fact that we are few makes us feel special. We do not want to spread your message to the unclean, Lord, lest we become less special in thy sight, and we lose the sense of intimacy with you that we hold so dear.
  8. For truly we say unto thee, Master, that if we allow too many into our circle we will become corrupted by their presence, and the ways we love will be no more.
  9. Therefore let us not make ourselves known. Let us not proclaim our healing message loudly to the world, but whisper it only to ourselves.
  10. Let us hide ourselves away, and the reward for those who find us in spite of our hiddenness is that we shall allow only them to be part of our quiet number.
  11. For it is surely so, that our smallness is the most true testament of our specialness.

Second chapter
  1. And the Disciples did say further,
  2. Lord, it worrieth us that you are alienating people, when surely your message is one of being nice to our neighbours and not upsetting them. Do you not say that we must love our neighbour as ourselves?
  3. Lord, we ask that you refrain from doing works of public charity. Prithee, do not again feed the hungry as you have done before. For we are told that to feed the hungry only encourages their idleness. We must exhort them to feed themselves, even though there is no food nor money with which to purchase. Lo, you did feed the many thousands that one time, and verily did many thousands come back a second time to be fed, and where is the end of it to be?
  4. And lo, we have had word from the Federation of Kosher Bakers, protesting that we do take away their livelihood by creating loaves as if by miracle.
  5. Likewise, your miracles of healing, Master, do cause resentment. For why should one be healed and not another? 
  6. If thou canst not heal all, or feed all, or clothe all, or comfort all, then surely it is better to heal or feed or clothe or comfort none, lest there be jealousy.
  7. Master, we beg of thee, it is better not to do the work of justice and compassion at all. For such is not the true work of the spirit.
  8. The work of the spirit is in quiet contemplation and the recitation of comforts for our own soul.

Third Chapter
  1. And Jesus did rebuke them, saying
  2. And did thou thinkest that the invitation was only unto thee, my first few?
  3. Did thou thinkest that once thou was safely within the castle, thou might pull up the drawbridge against others who might enter?
  4. As I extended the invitation to you that you might freely receive this liberating gospel, so must you extend it to others, for it is not for you alone but for all who would be glad to receive it.
  5. If your heart has been gladdened by this gift of faith, dare you withhold it from another?
  6. Your desire for comfort is no testament to the purity of your soul, but a witness against the hardness of your heart.
  7. And the acts of kindness and compassion to the multitudes are not mere spectacles that people might gape and marvel.
  8. They are the very core of faith, for without them, faith is but a withered vine of use to no-one.
  9. Therefore, I command ye again, hide not your light beneath a bushel. Share the gift of your faith with all on the highway and in the market-place. Bless them that have their own faith, and wish them true joy in it, but deny not your faith to others who might be glad of it.
  10. For those not willing to share faith are not worthy to keep it.
  11. Those not willing to show compassion are not worthy to receive it.
  12. Those not willing to speak the Word are not fit to hear it.
  13. And the disciples were rebuked, and their contrition was real. And they did go out to the world, two by two as Jesus had commanded, and they did preach the new gospel of love to all who would hear it. And they did endure hardship, and some did spit upon them, but they also found many who rejoiced to hear this new word, and who did join the growing throng of eager believers.

The discovery of this new fragment makes one wonder what might have happened to Christianity if the timidity of the disciples had prevailed. Might it have slowly withered away, with the ever -diminishing band convincing itself that its decline was not their fault, it was just a sign of the times, that anyway it was better to die than to do anything which might be uncomfortable or not be according to accepted norms, or even upset the neighbours.