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Bank Street Unitarian Chapel

Open Hearts Open Minds

Minister’s Letter - November 2017

 "I call that church free that is a pilgrim church, a servant church, a church on an adventure of the spirit."

 James Luther Adams

 

 Dear Friends,

 In this calendar I've put a written version of the words I spoke to you at my first service as your minister, on the 7th September 2008. It's an interesting experience seeing those words again. I think I still stand by all I said! Those words still express what I believe about church and ministry. I still believe it is a great journey where we must turn to each other and to God.

The fact that many of you reading this weren't there on the 7th September 2008 points to what part of that journey has been about - our growth and the new people who have become part of our community in the last nine years. I calculate that we have welcomed 21 new adult members and 7 new children in that time, as well as a few more friends and attenders. Many have discovered our community and Unitarianism in that time, and we have also welcomed members from Halliwell Road Free Church into our community. 

We have also lost members in this time through death. A fact that we will recognise at the All Souls service on 5th November. I am reminded that this community is bigger than any one of us. We all come here for a little while (whether nine years or ninety years), stay for a time, and then move on. Such is life - constant beginnings and endings. Religious community is one of the ways we mark these things, and know we are part of something greater - a great universal rhythm in the heartbeat of God.

The adventure continues in this rhythm - for me and for you. It is an adventure that calls us to a greater purpose, serving the world, growing in joy and love, healing hurts and opening hearts.

The adventure continues.

In peace and love.

Stephen

 

 November's Theme: Peace and Non-Violence: Resources

Books (non-fiction):

Non-Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Kurlansky. Book exploring pacifism and non-violence across centuries of history, highlighting such figures as Tolstoy, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh. A book of spiritual practices to create peace within, with reflections on how this can change the world.

The Last Fighting Tommy: The Life of Harry Patch, The Only Surviving Veteran of the Trenches by Harry Patch with Richard van Emden. The biography of the oldest British survivor of World War One.

Books (for children):

The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss.

Films:

Ghandi (1982). Epic biographic film of Mohandas Gandhi's life.

Of Gods and Men (2010). The true story of French Trappist monks living during the civil war in Algeria.

Hacksaw Ridge (2016). The true story of Desmond Doss, an American army medic and conscientious objector who entered into the battlefield without carrying a gun.

Minister’s Letter - October 2017

Dear Friends,

The September Calendar came out just before I made the announcement that I am leaving and so this is my first chance to write a Minister's Letter with that in mind.

As I said that Sunday I have been Minister of Bank Street Chapel for nine years, and it has been eleven years since I first came here as a ministry student. It has been a really wonderful time and a very fruitful ministry and I feel very lucky to have been here. But I feel there is a calling to move on.

I have been appointed minister with Cardiff Unitarians/ Undodiaid Caerdydd and Unitarian missionary in the city of Cardiff. This will be a very different role as I serve a small congregation without a building and work on an experimental outreach ministry to the city. This is the kind of work I've always been interested in and as I have carefully and prayerfully considered it I have felt a calling to go into this work.

Although I am excited by new challenges it will be a huge emotional wrench to leave you all. This town, this chapel, and this community hold a very special place in my heart. The love and support you have shown me means so much to me. You are a loving and good-humoured people. This Chapel, at it's best, is a shining light of God's love in the world. But it will be another minister's job to lead you into the next chapter of your history.

My last service will be Sunday 19th November. There will be plenty more chances to say our goodbyes before then. But I probably can't say this often enough: thank you. It has been a great privilege to be your minister.

In peace and love.

Stephen

 

October's Theme: Humanity and Identity

Recommended Spiritual Practices

Journaling: Keeping a journal or diary is one of the most reliable spiritual practices that allows you to reflect on your life, who you are, and where you are going.

Theme Resources

Books (non-fiction):

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. A wide ranging book surveying the history of Homo sapiens, from the plains of Africa to the present day and beyond.

Books about our Unitarian identity:

The Unitarian Life by Stephen Lingwood. A thematic collection of Unitarian writings from the past and present. The easiest way to find Unitarian writing on lots of topics.

For Faith and Freedom: A Short History of Unitarianism in Europe by Charles Howe.

A Responsible Society: The Life and Times of the Congregation of Bank Street Chapel, Bolton, Lancashire (Unitarian) by G. M. Ramsden. The history of our own congregation.

Books (fiction):

The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Award winning book telling the story of a young black woman in the American deep south, seeking and fighting for her own identity.

Books (for young children):

Elmer by David McKee. Elmer the elephant worries that he's different from the other elephants, but discovers that he must be himself.

Films:

The Color Purple (1985). Steven Spielberg directed film based on the book of the same name.

The Infidel (2010). British comedy about a Muslim man who discovers that he was adopted, and that he may, in fact, be Jewish.

Minister’s Letter
September's Theme:
Earth

though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe...

A.R. Ammons

A few weeks ago I went to Southport and walked along the beach, feeling the sun and the wind on my skin, and smelling the sea (visible on the horizon). I walked along the sand dunes and then back through the squelching muddy sand. It was exhilarating. It is truly amazing the places you can get to a few rail stops from Bolton. You can reach beautiful countryside and coasts, hills, lakes, mountains, just down the road.

Like many people I find the divine in nature. I experience the world as a temple and fresh air as full of the holy Spirit. This is a universal human experience, but also a distinctly Unitarian spirituality. At least as far back as the American Henry David Thoreau we have seen being in nature as an important part of our spiritual lives. In the summer of 1845 Thoreau started a two year experiment in simple living by living in a small shack next to Walden Pond in the woods of Massachusetts. He wrote about it in his book Walden which is a classic in both science and spirituality. Today we know that spending time in nature, whether out in the woods, or simply in a small garden, is an important spiritual practice.

But an equally important spiritual practice is sacred activism. Nature is going through a massive crisis with impending climate change and only a concerted, massive effort to change our politics and economics will change that. This month we are hosting three series of talks on the climate change crisis, related to science, activism, and faith (see in this Calendar for more details). These are important events in the life of our Chapel, putting our values into action and creating an important conversation here in Bolton. Please support them as much as you can, and invite others. A faith based on love of nature is today needed more than ever.

In peace and love.

Stephen

 

Spiritual Practices of the Month
Sauntering: Take time to wander in nature in an aimless, gentle way. Notice the air, the smells, the life around you. This can be done in the hills or simply in your garden.
Litter picking: Commit to picking up one piece of litter every day this month.
Reduce your carbon footprint: Try using your car less, or eating less meat.

Theme Resources
Books (non-fiction):
Walden by Henry David Thoreau. A classic text, but not necessarily an easy read.
The Ethic of a Reverence for Life by Albert Schweitzer (available online at www.animal-rights-library.com/texts-c/schweitzer01.htm) An ethics essay from the early twentieth century that has influenced many.
The Greening of Christianity by Lloyd Geering. Booklet exploring ecological Christianity.
Laudato Si': On Care for our Common Home by Pope Francis. A key text from the Roman Catholic Pope on the need for response to the ecological crisis.
Film (documentaries):
Chasing Ice (2012) Follow National Geographic photographer James Balog across the Arctic as he deploys time-lapse cameras designed for one purpose: to capture a multi-year record of the world's changing glaciers.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006). Al Gore's lecture on climate change.
Film (for children):
Fern Gully - The Last Rainforest (1992). The Fern Gully rainforest is endangered. Only Chrysta, a little fairy can save this magical world from the evil Hexxus.

 Think For Yourself

 

Think For Yourself

Yes - think!

Use your brain, question everything, have doubts.

The Unitarian faith doesn't ask you to believe - it asks you to doubt, to be curious, to ask questions.

Because the truth is bigger than any one set of beliefs.

Because religion should open your mind, not close it down.

We are the religion of the open mind.

 

A Short Reflection for St George's Day

based on words delivered by Stephen Lingwood

on 23rd April 2017

 

If you're ever in Manchester Anglican Cathedral I would strongly recommend that you make your way to the back of the cathedral and into the tiny Fraser Chapel. That is the place I always head when I go there. In this tiny space there is a single pew and an altar, and at the back of the altar is a piece of art.

It's called the Trinity Reredos by the contemporary artist Mark Cazalet and it was installed in the cathedral in 2001. On one side of reredos is an image of St Denys, and in the centre is a depiction of the Trinity. Those images are both very interesting and worth contemplating. But today, I want us to think about the image on the left: the image of St George.

St George, a modern Englishman, a black Englishman, wearing an England football shirt, is seen breaking the chains of the dragon. The dragon does not look fierce or scary, but sad, world-weary, weighed down. George liberates the dragon.

I don't know what that image might mean for you. I think it's worth thinking about. I find it a refreshing twist on an old story.

Today is St George's Day, the patron saint of England, the national day of England. And I think this is not an opportunity we should let slip by to celebrate England and the English. We should not give up this day to the racists and the fascists. This is our day, and we should not hesitate to celebrate a progressive, open and compassionate vision of our country.

There are good reasons for doing so. We should celebrate today that St George is an immigrant. We know almost nothing about the real man we call St George, but we know for certain that he wasn't born in England. St George is an immigrant to this country, and we should today celebrate an England that has been defined by immigration from the very beginning. Englishness is defined by immigration, not some sense of racial purity.

St George is also the patron saint of Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Portugal, Lithuania, Greece and Germany! Today we can celebrate an Englishness that is internationalist and open to the world.

The English people have been great pioneers of democracy, slowly fighting for the right to vote for more and more people. Chartists, Suffragettes, and others provide us with the stories that tell us about Englishness.

But mainly today I want to return us to the image of George and the dragon from the Mark Cazelet piece. Here is an image of the icon of England acting with compassion. I believe at its best this country is a compassionate country. Though it has been harder to believe that in recent years and months.

Where has our compassion gone? As we turn away refugee children, as those who are different have suffered abuse and attack, as we align ourselves with the worst extremists and despots around the world, where has our compassion gone?

I believe we are better than this. My prayer this day, is that England follows this George. That we set the captives free, bind up the broken-hearted, and live by compassion.

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