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Bank Street Unitarian Chapel

Open Hearts Open Minds

Jesus said love one another. Let's stick to that.

 

Jesus said love one another. 

Love your neighbour. Love your self. Love your God.

What if he actually meant it? What if it's like, that simple?

We love. That's it.

We love our neighbours. We love Muslims. We love gay people. We love atheists. We love immigrants. We love all sorts of people.

And how about we don't make it any more complicated than that? How about we forget about believing impossible things? How about we forget about heaven and hell and rising from the dead and a thousand other things we're supposed to believe? How about we just concentrate on LOVE, and maybe worry about those other things if we have time?

That's what we've decided to do at Bank Street Unitarian Chapel.

We have decided to stick to one commandment: love. And when we get that one right, we'll start worrying about other things.

If you want a religion that cares more about love than doctrine, maybe you could join us.

If you want a religion that is more interested in getting heaven into people than getting people into heaven maybe you could join us.

If you want a religion that keeps things simple, if you want a religion that's committed to the simple idea we should love one another, you're most welcome to join us.

 

 Bank Street Unitarian Chapel

Open Hearts, Open Minds

Minister’s Letter

March's Theme: Equality

There must be more equality established in society, or morality will never gain ground, and this virtuous equality will not rest firmly even when founded on a rock, if one-half of mankind be chained to its bottom by fate.

Mary Wollstonecraft

 

We live in a vastly unequal society. Some have more money than they could possibly spend while others are struggling to get by day to day. Perhaps this has always been true. Many societies in the past had such vast differences between the rich and the poor. But that does not excuse it. Today we see the ridiculousness of the inequality. By lunchtime on the 3rd of January the UK's top bosses had made more money than the typical UK worker works all year to make. How can that be justified?

But it is not just economic inequality that plagues our society. We also live in a society where women earn considerably less than men and are disturbingly often subject to sexual violence. Racism still rears its ugly face and Muslims are currently being deliberately targeted by the policies of the President of the United States.

It is easy to condemn all these evils of society while feeling like we're above it all. But the fact is that every one of us is caught up with the human obsession of where we are in the "pecking order." It is a human tendency to constantly worry about whether we're "better" or "worse" than those around us. This stuff is bad for the soul as well as bad for society.

The Way of Jesus (that we strongly emphasise as Unitarians) is to know the sacred worth and dignity of every human person. We need to learn to treat both ourselves and others as children of God, because that is what we are. This is the path of spiritual assurance that removes our anxiety about status. It is out of this deep conviction that we are all children of God that we must work towards a world of paradise where inequality is defeated.

In peace and love,

Stephen

Minister’s Letter

February's Theme: Paradise

 

Expulsion from Eden grows indistinct

in the presence of flowers so blissful,

and with no disrespect to Genesis,

Paradise remains.

Emily Dickinson

 

Hello! I'm back! Although by the time this comes out I'll have been back from my sabbatical for a couple of months, this is the first time I am writing a "Minister's Letter" in the Calendar. I think I have spoken to all members in person by now but it's worth saying again here - hello - it's good to be back with you all again.

Thank you for allowing me this time of rest and study. I'll write next month in more detail about some of the things I got up to on sabbatical. But the main thing I did was write a book (tentatively) called Seeking Paradise: A Unitarian Theology of Mission and Evangelism. I'm not going to try to summarise all of it here! But I will say that my main point is that our purpose as Unitarians, the very reason we do what we do, is to create paradise here on earth, and that we do that by realising, in some strange way, that we already live in paradise.

I think this is what Jesus taught, except he didn't use the word "paradise," the New Testament says he used the Greek word "Basileia" - a word we usually translate as "kingdom." But I think it's worth keeping the word untranslated because it reminds us that this is an idea we can't easily get our heads around. Indeed I think it takes a lifetime of effort to try to understand what Jesus meant by the Basileia.

Our purpose is to seek paradise/Basileia. Unfortunately we all know that this is a challenging task in 2017. The United States of America has a new President in Donald Trump. Now as a general rule it's right that religious groups shouldn't be too caught up in party politics. Our faith is political in the sense that we must seek justice in the world, but churches shouldn't endorse political parties and should recognise that there are legitimate disagreements we can have with each other in a free society.

However there are limits to this in extreme times. One of those extreme times was Germany in the 1920s and 1930s when many churches remained silent on the topic of politics, until it was too late. And this again, I think, is one of those times. I believe Unitarians, Christians, and all good people of faith must now make a very clear stand against Donald Trump. This is a man who incites racism and violence, who demonises Muslims, and who we have heard bragging about sexually assaulting women (this is a crime). This is an American President endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. Not only that he genuinely seems psychologically imbalanced and erratic in his behaviour. There's no way of getting away from this reality. This is not good.

Many Americans, including our sister and brother Unitarian Universalists, will be mobilising resistance in the coming months and years and we must stand with them in solidarity. The Unitarian Universalist Association have released a "Declaration of Conscience" and this is reproduced below. This is not a time for silence. It is a time for action and resistance.

But such action and resistance must be rooted in prayer and contemplation. That's what it means to seek paradise by realising we already live in paradise. It means seeing beauty and love and the spirit all around and letting that beauty and love and spirit guide us in this world. This is our mission, and for me every day it feels more and more important.

In peace and love,

Stephen

Minister's Letter

August 2016

 "Come away... and rest a while."

Jesus of Nazareth

"Only that which changes remains true."

Carl Jung

I write this letter, knowing it will be the last one I write for four months. Next month Lynne Readett, our sabbatical minister, will be writing the letter. In a few days I will be off for my sabbatical and I won't see you all again until December!

One of the purposes of a sabbatical is rest and renewal. And that is something we all need. Some of us will be on holiday in these weeks getting that important time away, time to slow down, to do something different. I still get a little frisson of excitement at this time of year with the childhood memory of the long six weeks summer holidays from school. The prospect of all that time to play and do what I wanted was so exciting! I didn't hate school. But I loved the summer holidays. We all need less busy times occasionally. That's the insight at the heart of spiritual practices like the Jewish Sabbath.

My ministry is a great privilege and a pleasure. But it is also stressful and stretching. The work seems endless and I am constantly worrying about you all and where we're going as a community. That's OK, it's the nature of the beast, but ministers are recommended to take sabbaticals because sometimes you need to take a step back if you're not going to burn yourself out.

But my sabbatical will not only be about relaxation. Far from it! I'm very ambitious in wanting to use my time to read a lot of books, and maybe write a few! It will be an intense time of thinking, praying and studying. I can only be a minister because first and foremost I am a Unitarian, a person of faith, a Christian, a lover of God. That is where the energy for my ministry comes from. And in my sabbatical I will be returning to these things to remind myself what they mean. I will be working on my own faith so that I am capable of helping you with yours. I believe I will return a more spiritually-grounded and better minister.

Meanwhile back here at Bank Street it will be a time of change. This is a good thing! You have heard my preaching for eight years and it will be good to hear other perspectives and other ways of doing things. Lynne, who will be taking a good proportion of the services when I'm away, is an experienced and energetic minister. She is also nothing like me! This is good because it will mean you will experience ways of doing things totally different to my ways, and that will offer something I could never do. Unitarianism is all about hearing many different voices, different ways in which the divine speaks to us, and so it's good if it's not all about one voice. I believe this will be an exciting and growing time for Bank Street, as you experience different Sunday services and different ways of doing things.

But I will of course miss you all. It will be strange for me every Sunday morning when I'm not with you and I will be thinking of you. I'll see you on the other side!

In peace and love,

Stephen

Minister's Letter July 2016

"Darkness can't drive our darkness; only light can do that. Hate can't drive our hate; only love can do that."

Martin Luther King

I'm writing this letter in the week of the brutal and shocking murder of Jo Cox, MP, as well as the week of the Orlando gay nightclub shooting. Such events shock us beyond words. It's not just that these events were violent, although violence is shocking enough, it's that they were mindlessly, pointlessly, gratuitously violent. These things just don't make any sense.

Violence literally sickens me. Sometimes I just can't get my head around it. Whether with nuclear bombs or knifes the idea that humans deliberately harm each other is completely sick. The idea that humans have created tools (whole industries!) with the sole purpose of harming human flesh is scandalous. It makes me feel sick. I can't bear to think of it.

I've felt pretty emotional all week. But I knew what I wanted to be doing on Sunday. I wanted to be with my people, with you, lighting our chalice and saying the chalice lighting words we have been using all year: "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Because it is. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. And that's what we do. We light the candle. We gather light and love and open our hearts to the Universal Love. In the busyness of chapel life we might forget it - but what we are doing is really important. Sometimes I think it might just be the most important thing in the world. We stand for hope, for love, for light. And in the darkness, we light the candle.

In peace and love,

Stephen

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