25 January 2015 – Chris Pilkington and “Holocaust Memorial Day”

Our thanks to Chris Pilkington for taking this service, discussing this difficult topic, which many of us would perhaps prefer not to dwell on. As the last Holocaust concentration camp survivors grow fewer in numbers, it is important to record their memories and talk about the events leading up to the implementation of the Final Solution.  He emphasised that the knowledge and understanding of how it occurred is as important to us now as knowledge of the camps. It took years of propaganda for the ideas to become reality. So it is more than a good thing to question authority- it is a necessary thing.

18 January 2015 – Rev. Tony McNeile and “The Church Anniversary”

Rev. Tony McNeile gave a challenging and thought provoking service to us on this, our church anniversary (not the building- that is later in the year), knowing that we would all soon be voting on the future of the building. He explained his love of our church’s name, that is, the Church of the Divine Unity. A church that proclaims Unity- no faith or follower can be excluded when you say that. But while considering our long and illustrious past- a past that included suffering exclusion and restrictions for believing in the divine unity- (who among us today would take that same stand for our faith?) we must also consider whether this church now only echoes the past, rather than proclaiming the future.

The past has been good to us, giving us awareness of the divine unity; the courage to seek it, the strength to be individuals.  But as for the present and future…in his writings George Gurdjieff, suggests that we are today asleep spiritually, living like machines with our souls shut down. He calls upon us to wake up by becoming aware of ourselves as spiritual beings, wake up to our connection to the divine unity. It is within all things. It is within us.

Can we do this? For perhaps this building represents the whole Unitarian movement. After 75 years of distinction, it is in a physical cul-de-sac, and its name in a spiritual one. It is time for it to break out and find a new centre, to leave the cul-de-sac of tradition and become a place of spiritual awakening on the road where people are travelling. Tony reminded us that 5 times before the members of this church have picked up the church and built it elsewhere, responding to the strengths and needs of their day.  He dared us to be as daring and far sighted as them in responding to this latest challenge. But to think carefully about what treasured possessions we will take with us. For Tony, the name would be one.

11 January 2015 – Rev. Gordon Smith and “Home”

Rev. Gordon Smith talked to us first about the concept of home, a sanctuary in its ideal form. A religious community offers a place like home- a sanctuary to its members. For many faith communities this home may be said (in the words of contemporary philosopher Gillian Ross) to be suffering from a ‘broken middle’. That is to say a time of no conformity, no acceptance- a place of religious confusion.  The important thing to remember is that if it is a broken middle, then it offers the hope of repairing that bridge and climbing out.

Gordon’s feeling was that if home equates to family, and how family’s operate are what hold us together as a society, then this may be where our broken middle starts. He explained how he feels Quakers and Unitarians have an important role to play: as independent individuals who yet listen and give space to each other’s views and opinions. Buddhism also encourages us to let go opinions that we might otherwise take fixed positions on. Finally home is that where we need to be at peace with ourselves, for being thus ‘at home’, when we meet a stranger, they will then just be another human being to us. As Louis Pasteur reminds us, little harm is created by those who sit quietly at home and practice being still.

4 January 2015 – “Mindfulness, Mindlessness and Manners”, Dr Barry Thomas

Dr Barry Thomas referred to the current wide acclaim for Mindfulness training, as a cure for all. Whilst not disagreeing with the benefits of it, he also however reminded us of Mindlessness as equally valuable. When we learn a skill so well that it becomes effortless to execute, then it can be said to be Mindless. Thinking about the articles of faith of Unitarianism, these precepts should be so deep rooted that we don’t have to stop and think about them. As should good manners- learnt by example, they should be so ingrained that they happen automatically. Good manners then being the corner stone of a civilized society: marking empathy; tolerance; being marks of active respect and care for others.

Positive Mindlessness then can be seen in this way as an outward focus, Mindfulness as an inward contemplation, comparable to the outward Christian model and the inward Buddhist path.  Barry  finally linked these to an age old process of walking a  labyrinth, that is, a questing journey inwards to the centre, with a contemplative pause at its centre, with then a return out into the wider world.  The aim being increased spiritual awareness, followed by outward facing action.