21 September 2014, Joan Cook and “What is a Church?”

Joan Cook laid out a grand buffet of definitions for us to consider in her discussion of what a church is. From the ‘little church’ of ee cummings, where the community rather than the building or the creed is important, to the Unitarian principles of relevant personal worship and meaningful welcome, Joan encouraged us to consider how a ‘church’ can encompass many roles. Being a sacred space for spiritual growth; a place to gain awareness of our gifts and our mission; an extended family where the community acts for the common good. At its best, a church is where you go because you know you belong. At its worst, an upholder of staid and outdated traditions or simply a mutual admiration society.

While the key to any church is seen as its worship, that worship need not be restricted to 1 hourr on a Sunday. Rather it can also include meditation groups; encounter groups; committee meetings; interfaith groups; social outings; a mix then of internal and external events. Most importantly, a church gives us the ability to leave behind every day cares and to join together and gain strength from fellowship and to experience that peace which passes all understanding.

14 September 2014, David Venus and the Harvest Festival

The opening prayer from David Venus’ service is reproduced here. The themes touched upon were developed in the address:

‘Eternal spirit we gather in this hallowed place to once again seek for truth, wisdom and peace.  At this time of harvest may your presence raise our minds above the material, release us from the desire of what the world has to offer, and quench our thirst for spiritual enlightenment.  Help us to realise that the true meaning of life, the real happiness we seek, lies not with the objects we desire or wish to possess, but rather in the deeds we perform for the good of our fellow man.

Teach us, eternal spirit, to seek for and to treasure those things that enrich our souls and bring true and lasting joy.  Love, compassion, charity, friendship, understanding, all those ideals and principles that enrich the soul and free us from the relentless pursuit of material gain, teach us to make them the main focus of our lives rather than the temporary joy and exhilaration of worldly wealth and possessions.

May the lesson we learn from this harvest time be that very little is needed to sustain our mortal existence, and that if we have the physical means to sustain ourselves, then that is all we need and more is simply greed.  May the harvest we strive for be a one of loftier thoughts, high ideals and that which nourishes the soul and allows the spirit to develop and find true meaning in life.

Eternal Spirit, we pray that our meeting together for fellowship and worship here this morning may be for us all an occasion of inspiration and new resolution. We confess with penitence our many failures to be loyal to the true and good we have known.  In this sanctuary we remember that it is your spirit only that can heal our wounds and restore our faltering hearts. We pray with all our mind and soul for the inflow of your divine love into our lives.  Cast out of our hearts all uncharitable thoughts, make us forget the wrongs our neighbour may have done to us, and remember only that you are love and that your commandment is to love our neighbours as ourselves.  Make us pure in heart that we may see you and become in deed and character your true disciples.’

7 September 2014, Stephen Jackson and “Does God Have a Place in Religion?”

When we occupy a position of religious uncertainty, negotiating life’s larger questions becomes a tough exercise, no longer necessarily guided by God, the omnipotent navigator.

Stephen Jackson spoke of how our ideas of God, throughout human history, are influenced by our wider needs. In particular, our image of God is radically influenced by human culture, as a response to particular times and contexts. So a Judeo-Christian God as a male authority figure emerges in the Middle East at a time of Kingship and dispute over cities. Who would not appreciate their own King in the sky, with power of life and death, in such times?

But other religious models of God offer a mysterious and wondrous presence, or a pure, benign and creative spirit. A Buddhist perspective that offers God as a compassionate and creative spirit may be embedded in a morality that values love over hate. The Christian perspective, as spoken of by St John, that “God is love”, is of a spirit whose essence is love and will influence us to love. Alternatively, we can interpret this to mean that love is God and by practicing love, we get closer to God.

Finally, in a world of uncertainty, with a faltering faith, yet with the desire to move forward rather than stand still, Stephen reminded us of Pascal’s Wager:  Lacking proof, still choose to believe. By having faith, if proved wrong, one loses nothing. Living the faith can be a way into the faith. Whatever that faith may be.