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.