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Bank Street Unitarian Chapel

Open Hearts Open Minds

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,


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,


Minister’s Letter

June's Theme: Revelation


"Religious liberalism depends first on the principle that ‘revelation’ is continuous. Meaning it has not been finally captured. Nothing is complete, and thus nothing is exempt from criticism."

James Luther Adams

"God is still speaking!" I used to see posters proclaiming this on the side of some churches when I lived in Boston in the United States. "God is still speaking" was the name of a campaign by the United Church of Christ, the liberal congregational church in America. It's a good phrase and one I think we Unitarians can also affirm.

This is what makes us different, and what makes us liberal. We don't see revelation as something captured long ago in one book. We see revelation as an unfolding process where we slowly and imperfectly find truth in every generation. It's this that allows us to more-or-less painlessly take on new understandings of science and new horizons of love and justice. It's what allows us to say, for example, "Yes, the Bible does endorse slavery, but we have come to the understanding that it is wrong, therefore we're going to follow our sense of right and wrong, even if it contradicts the Bible."

It means we have to be constantly be open to finding new truth in our lives; constantly open to finding ways our minds and hearts need to be expanded. Constantly listening to the promptings of conscience, reason and the Inner Teacher. God is still speaking. What is God saying to you? What is God saying to us? We can only know by listening.

In peace and love,


Minister’s Letter

April's Theme:


"We must accept God’s truth in this lifetime. Salvation must be accomplished here on Earth."

Francis David, founder of Unitarianism in Transylvania


"Salvation" might seem like a heavy or uncomfortable topic for us. We might think of talk of "being saved" as belonging to a certain kind of religion that we reject. But what salvation really means is the process of healing, changing and transforming from our isolation and darkness to our oneness and light. The Buddhist would use the word "enlightenment" and that might be just as good a word to use.

But the point is faith should do something to us. It shouldn't leave us just exactly the same as we were before. It should wake us up, fill us and the world with more joy and love and truth. This isn't about anything nasty happening to us after death. It's about finding something bigger and deeper and more amazing in this life: the knowledge that life is meaningful and that we are surrounded by Love. That's the destination of the spiritual journey.

In peace and love,


Scheduling in Awe-Time

A Reflection by Stephen Lingwood

based on words delivered on 21st February 2016

When British astronaut Tim Peake stepped out into his first space walk this January his timetable was carefully planned by mission control. The technical work he carried out to the International Space Station was complex and needed careful management; and yet built into this timetable was what NASA calls "awe time."

NASA has found that when astronauts step out into space, with only their space suit separating them from the vastness of the universe in one direction, and the majesty of the earth in the other, they need time to just look at it.

They need awe time.

And so "awe time" is specifically scheduled into the timetable of a space walk: time to just look and be in awe of the universe.

After all isn't this why humanity ventures into space? Not just to gain knowledge, but also to gain perspective? Not just to do, but also just to be: to be in awe of the universe? If space scientists think that the practice of awe is so important it needs scheduling in, then shouldn't we do too? Shouldn't we schedule some awe into our timetable? Shouldn't we schedule time to simply be? Time to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us?

We might call such a time spiritual practice, we could even call it prayer.

But life sometimes gets in the way, and we forget to make time for these things. A Rabbi once told someone he spent an hour a day in prayer. "Really?" said the interested inquirer, "An hour a day? What if it's a busy day? Do you still manage then?" "Oh no," said the rabbi, "If it's a busy day I don't pray for an hour. If it's a busy day I pray for two hours."

A spiritual practice is something you do regularly, that you commit to, that you schedule in to your timetable. Someone once said that you don't start sowing your parachute after you've jumped out of the plane. Similarly if you turn to prayer only when you're in hard times then you may find it doesn't offer much comfort or help. But if you are committing to prayer regularly you may find it slowly, slowly builds up a level of peace and strength within you that helps in the hard times.

But I want to be really realistic with you today. There's no point not being, right? I know this is hard to do. And we might say those great souls that wrote about prayer, if they were monks or nuns, didn't have to deal with a 3 year old child in a bad mood. They didn't have to deal with the school run. They didn't have to deal with all the stresses we have in our lives. And neither, in some ways, do astronauts.

We are too busy as a society. It's not good, it's unhealthy, we should resist it. But we're not going to solve that problem immediately and not alone. We need to find a way to live with our busyness too. And a constant state of guilt and inadequacy isn't good for the spiritual life either. If we think to ourselves, "I'm not managing to pray for an hour a day. So I'm just a bit rubbish and I'm going to give up this spiritual thing" then we're not really helping ourselves. I certainly don't pray for an hour a day. Though I try to manage several minutes most days.

But here's what we're about at Bank Street Unitarian Chapel - the journey, the spiritual journey - that's what we're all about, right? And a journey is made up of steps; so take a step. Take a step.

If you can't pray for an hour a day, pray for half an hour. If you can't pray for half an hour, pray for 10 minutes. If you can't pray for 10 minutes, pray for 1 minute. If you can't pray for 1 minute, pray for 30 seconds. 30 seconds. You can do that right?

And if you can't schedule it in, make it part of what you already do. Make your prayer the walk you do every day. Make your prayer in the shower. Make your prayer the time you brush your teeth. Simply by doing these things more deliberately, more mindfully, we take on a spiritual practice. I used to have a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh above my sink: "Washing the dishes is like bathing a baby Buddha. The profane is the sacred. Everyday mind is Buddha's mind."

If you just give as much attention to your spiritual life as you do to your dental health, then that's a big step. If you can manage to brush your teeth for a few minutes twice a day then you can manage to schedule in a spiritual practice for a few minutes twice a day. 

A rabbi once said that there are 613 commandments in the Torah so pick one. Start with it. Take a step. Start the journey. Schedule in some awe time.

I know many of you are walking that spiritual journey and last week we heard some of that richness and diversity in how many of you pray and practice meditation and different spiritual practices. And there are lots and lots of ways to pray. There's a whole menu of things you can try. But I just want to close today by speaking about what I think is the Unitarian approach to spiritual practice. The Unitarian spirituality.

Unitarian spirituality experiences the Divine Universe through Oneness and Love. We are deeply and intimately connected with All That Is, and prayer helps us to experience this reality. Astronauts viewing the earth (I'm sure) experience this truth through awe. For me, I try to concentrate on my breathing, and know that the air I am breathing in and out is God. God enters my lungs and becomes a part of me. And each breath is the gift of life, each breath is an expression of precious love. When we feel this (not think it, feel it) then we know it as Oneness and as Love.

The Love that surrounds us, and runs through us. And the challenge is to invite this into our life. Every single day. The challenge is to schedule that awe time. And to use it. May it be so.

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