29 June 2014, Rev. Tom McCready and “Common Ground for Worship”

Rev. Tom McCready told us that this year’s General Assembly was the best he had ever been to, due to the quality of the worship and community. There had been a palpable respect for different theological positions; a desire to create a sacred space for all. It gave him hope for the future of Unitarianism and its genuine commitment to an inclusive faith.

It reminded him that while we all hold many different opinions, not least himself, his opinions are not what worship is about. Worship is about, among other things: celebration; a sharing of hearts and minds; being reminded of joy or of the wisdom of the human heart; a glimpse into the human condition and the lessons to be learnt there; creating a sacred space for those struggling to find a balance between sorrow and astonishing joy.  The ‘God’ that we allow to enter into this space- is it real? Who knows? But it is a restoring presence that we meet in the quiet, sacred centre of our heart. The peace and power that comes then to us is real. It is never more than a heartbeat away. It is worthy of our trust and worship.

22 June 2014, David Venus and “Midsummer Service”

David Venus first drew our attention to an Eastern view of time, not as a linear concept which never returns to previous stages, but as a circle, or spiral, where past experiences are revisited and seen from many different perspectives. Just as the sun is at its peak on Midsummer’s day, but also at the start of its decline, so we may accept times of darkness, because we also remember the light. We can be happy, because we have also experienced sadness. In this way, we can appreciate both the challenges and benefits of different experiences.

The waning strength of the sun triggers adaptive habits that complete the cycle of birth, growth, maturity, decay and death in nature.  Nothing remains static and survival depends on adaptation: the ability to learn from the accumulated knowledge of the species; one generation giving way to the next.  For humans, philosophy and religion would seem to be one of our evolutionary adaptations to survival. They are deeply embedded in our psyche and resist change strongly, for it can be a painful process to even question fundamental ideas.

But when new truths and new responses are emerging in the face of new challenges, as they are for Unitarianism today, it is time to adapt and renew, to ensure the survival of the next generation. “The key to all change is inner transformation”.

15 June 2014, Jim Stearn and “Conscience: Our Moral Compass”

Via a great comparison of Sonnet 43; ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways’, with a can of baked beans, Jim Stearn gave us  a thoughtful account of the importance of conscience, even though it, and God, are impossible to scientifically measure. He reminded us of Martineau’s view of Unitarianism, as one that upholds the notion of free will, which should be used for the common good. He was a proponent of process theology, which states that while God did not know the future, he lives with us in real time. Natural disasters are just that, but the decisions we make matter, because our actions can change things.

God, then, equates to a purposeful goodness, and individuals may be said to be born with an innate knowledge of what needs to be done. God may be everywhere, yet not seen nor touched. The evidence therefore is in the presence of love; of healing; of reconciliation, and the approach is through worship and prayer. If we are unable to pray to God, we should then pray to what is best in ourselves; to follow an inner light of what is right- that is, our moral conscience.

1 June 2014, Elizabeth Faiers and “What makes a good person?”

Elizabeth Faiers first quoted Khalil Gibran in ‘The Prophet’ when considering what goodness, as opposed to evil, might be. He proposes that it is a state of oneness with the self; where we walk firmly towards clear goals and strive to always give of ourselves to others. Aristotle maintained that a good life is centred; a life of virtue avoids excess. But this does not always require us to be moderate in order to be good- passion is also necessary as a creative force.  By accepting that we may go through times in our life when we make mistakes or forget to strive to be good, we accept that we are making a journey; walking a path to decide for ourselves our own morals. In this way we may be centred and self-accepting, which will allow us to be more available to serve others, and love them as we would hope to be loved ourselves.

1 June 2014, Rev. June Pettit and “Do Unitarians believe in the Holy Spirit?”

Traditional Christian belief regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit is documented in the Bible in Acts Chapter 2, verses 1-8. Here the spirit of God is represented by a wind or breath moving the water and by tongues of fire entering the disciples enabling them to speak in other languages. This is celebrated at Whitsun, now known as the Spring Bank Holiday. A time of church processions, parties and for some it is the time for school exams.

What message is contained here for Unitarians today? It is important to remember the relevance of the festival especially for children. The Spirit for Unitarians is one of the fruits of a person’s life and the spirit/mystery of life working within us. Love – joy – peace – patience – kindness – generosity – fruitfulness – self-control –  gentleness. We hope to generate these in our lives.  By celebrating this festival we reinforce our belief in these achievements.