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Bank Street Unitarian Chapel

Open Hearts Open Minds

"August 1914"

A Reflection based on words delivered by Stephen Lingwood, 10th August 2014

Letter from Edward Morgan, the Unitarian Minister of Unity Church, Bolton, to The Bolton Evening News (edited) 3rd August, 1914

Sir, - …. I do not write as a politician but as a minister of religion, and I ask why the British nation should be called upon to help in a war in which we are not concerned and in which any interests of ours would only be hazarded by our participation and protected by our neutrality.

We are told of the hatred and jealousy of Germany. But the history of the past few years proves that Germany would and does value our friendship and recognises that our interests and hers are mutual and our sympathies should be likewise….

There is the question of the Balance of Power. The probabilities are that this doctrine would be best observed by our taking sides with Germany. At any rate it is an iniquitous doctrine. It has cost England hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of money. It has desolated millions of homes and merited the curse of millions of widows and orphans. It has checked progress at home and lost for us the great lead in constitutional liberties abroad. John Bright thanked God that it was dead and buried. He called it a fouler idol than any heathen tribe worshipped. Alas! that the resurrection of such an idol should be fully consummated by a progressive Foreign Minister acting with a Liberal Government. Does our ‘Natural Honour’ demand that our Colonial possessions should be threatened, our hold on India weakened and the millions of poor at home compelled to face misery, starvation and death? Meanwhile our industries are threatened and our food already advances in price. It is not those who have the control who will suffer, it will all be to their social and financial advantage. It is the worker who will suffer and he must listen to his children crying for bread while he stands impotent.

In the name of Christ let us remember the horrors of war; on the battlefield slaughter and pestilence; at home famine, misery and death! Then let us fight or clamour for war or prate of national honour if we will! But let us close our eyes to the despair of the widowed and the stricken and our ears to the cry of the orphaned ; and let us cease to ask the blessing of God upon us and our land, for we shall have ceased to deserve it

– yours etc, Edward Morgan, Unity Church, Bolton.

 

August 1914: one hundred years ago.

Britain declared war on Germany and her allies, entering into the First World War. That experience is now out of living memory and into history.

What was it like to come to this Chapel the next Sunday? Was the war mentioned in the sermon? Was it mentioned in the prayers? What conversations happened amongst the congregation that Sunday? What opinions were expressed? We do not know.

We know that Edward Morgan, Minister of Unity Church, and occasional preacher here at Bank Street expressed his opinion. He wrote that letter to the Bolton Evening News pleading with the nation that it would “In the name of Christ… remember the horrors of war; on the battlefield slaughter and pestilence; at home famine, misery and death! Then let us fight or clamour for war or prate of national honour if we will! But let us close our eyes to the despair of the widowed and the stricken and our ears to the cry of the orphaned; and let us cease to ask the blessing of God upon us and our land, for we shall have ceased to deserve it.”

A prophetic challenge indeed: prophetic in the sense of dangerously going against the grain in society; and prophetic in the sense of predicting just how much slaughter and pestilence the war would create.

I was interested in how the war affected the life of this congregation one hundred years ago, so I began to look through the Chapel Calendar for those first few months of the war. The opinions of the Minister of Bank Street Chapel, the Rev J H Weartherall, are not recorded. He was about to leave Bolton, having accepted an appointment in London. But in the Calendar for October 1914 the following words are recorded under the title “the War”:

“In these days of grave national danger and high duty be it recorded that our congregation has responded eagerly and willingly to the claims that are being made upon the citizens of England. Our members have felt that the service of the civilian in keeping work going, and in standing by the unemployed, is as patriotic as the work of our army and navy. In that service, and in every scheme of kindness and of mercy, our difficulty is not to find workers but only what is best for them to do: the spirit of service and sacrifice is everywhere. At the services on 20th September, the following names were commended to the thoughts and prayers of the congregation, being the names of those members of, or connected with, our chapel or school engaged with His Majesty’s forces on active service. [And then 21 names are recorded]"

In subsequent Chapel Calendars “The War” becomes a regular feature, as the names of those serving in the forces get modified and added to every month. There are changes to Chapel committees as some of their members are away and so needed to be replaced. As the months go by Mr Weatherall leaves the Chapel as its Minister and there is an interregnum. Edward Morgan preaches here some Sundays. Did he give his anti-war message? We don’t know. In the following few months J Cyril Flower is appointed as the new Minister and begins in April 1915.

As the months go by the number of Bank Street members who responded to the call to sign up goes up and up. It seems many Unitarians went along with the opinions of L P Jacks, Principle of Manchester College Oxford who wrote in the Inquirer in 1914, “Under the circumstances one thought alone should dominate us – the Thought of our Duty to the State. All other duties, to God, to humanity and to ourselves are summed up in that.” A contrast indeed to the opinions of Edward Morgan. Nevertheless the number of Bank Street members signed up in the services grew from 20 to 40 to 60 in one year.

In March 1915 the first death from the war is recorded of Robert Myles Heywood. In September 1915 the following notice is recorded: “News was received that Fred Hardman had been killed in action in France on August 9th. From the War Office, however, a report subsequently received states that he was wounded. Bank Street Chapel and School share with Mrs Hardman and her family the anxiety with which further news is awaited.”

A short paragraph that can hardly capture the reality of what it must have been like for that family, for that wife, in limbo, not knowing whether her husband was alive or dead. The next Calendar in October 1915 states: “It is with great sorrow and deep sympathy for Mrs Hardman and her family that we have heard of the confirmation by the War Office of the news of the death in action of Fred Hardman, on Aug. 9th, in France.”

This is just a snapshot, a peek of an insight of the life of this Chapel, this town, this country, one hundred years ago, in the midst of war. By 1918 twenty members of this Chapel had died. Nine thousand two hundred citizens of Bolton had died. Nearly a million British citizens had died. Overall the war killed 37 million people.

And what for?

The words of Edward Morgan echo in my mind: “Let us cease to ask the blessing of God upon us and our land, for we shall have ceased to deserve it.”

I don’t really have any profound or clever things to say about this. Only a sense we should remember, and we should say and pray and shout “never again.”

I went to the Parish Church for the commemoration service last Sunday. And there were many good words said about peace and reconciliation; but at the same time we still sung “I vow to thee my country” and the national anthem. And I can’t help thinking we were engaging in the very nationalism that leads us into war in the first place. There may be very many good moments for patriotism, the last night of the proms, St George’s day: good times to celebrate your country. But when commemorating war it seems to me the very opposite of what we should be doing.

And I have to say that L P Jacks was wrong – damn wrong – in saying “Duty to State” is greater to duty to God and to humanity, and of course to personal conscience.

There will be plenty of time for us to struggle with all these things. But for now, I think it is enough simply to remember: “In the name of Christ let us remember the horrors of war.” And let us remember, with some moments of silence, those who came to this place, who sat in these pews, and whose life was taken from them by the Great War. And when you next look at our war memorial, think of these names, think that they were real people with families, with eccentricities and personalities. They were alive, they were here, and they were killed:

Jack Berry

Philip Joseph Crook

Percy Hart

Fred Lewis

George Hall

Sidney Hall

Fred Hardman

Edmund Taylor

Arthur Walker

Cyril Gerrard Haselden

James Ottewill Ainsworth Crook

Percy Cunliffe Pilling

Richard Bullough

Percy Hutchinson

Harold Clarkson

Tom Brotherton

Charles Mather

John Fletcher

William Lewis

Arthur Stanley Mather

 

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Minister's Message September 2014

  

September’s Theme: Earth

“The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.”

Psalm 19, Hebrew Scriptures

 

From ancient times people have looked to the awesome power and beauty of nature and found a spiritual experience. We know that the divine is not contained in temples but present in every square inch of the universe, and there are times when we feel a sense of the majesty of this world.

Some have seen the earth and the sea and the stars and declared that these things were fearfully and wonderfully made by God. Some would say God speaks in the language of rivers and mountains and forests and we can hear God’s voice, we can experience God, through these things. Some would go further and say that Nature and God are one and the same thing, and that we need to fall down in awe and worship Nature, Mother Earth, Gaia, the web of life of which we are a part.

From the radical sixteenth century theology of Michael Servetus to modern pagan-oriented folks, Unitarians have always seen this immense indwelling of the spirit in our planet the Earth. And science continues to reveal more and more about the world around us.

And yet the Earth is in crisis. Species are continually going extinct, forests are cut down, and as scientists are pointing out to us more and more loudly the climate is changing. And we, humans, are the cause of this. How do we find ways to address this crisis?

How do we find the spiritual resources to live in a way that does not exploit and destroy other living things on earth, and indeed, other humans? It is these questions we will be pondering this month as we take on the theme of “Earth” for services and Junior Church. These are important questions, spiritual questions, and we need to be open to them.

In faith,

Stephen

 

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Minister's Message August 2014

 

One of the (many) things that distinguishes us from our neighbouring Christian churches is that we do not follow the lectionary. The lectionary is a set series of Bible readings for every Sunday, in a three-year cycle. If you speak to an Anglican, they could tell you (if they looked it up) what readings they will be using on 20th November 2016. But our free and liberal tradition gives us the freedom to engage with various topics and readings, as the worship leader discerns what message they want to give week by week.

As with most things, there are advantages and disadvantages with both approaches. For me, following the lectionary would feel incredibly restrictive, and I’m sure it would for our community as a whole. But one of the key advantages of the lectionary is that Sunday school leaders know what Bible stories are coming up and can find lots of resources so that they can teach their lessons on the same stories that adults are hearing in church. Whereas at Bank Street our Junior Church leaders have no idea of the theme of the service before they arrive on Sunday morning.

But there is an approach which could be the best of both worlds. And we’re going to try it out. This autumn we’re going to be piloting a scheme of having “thematic ministry.” What this means is that we will have a monthly theme, which will be explored in worship, and in the Junior Church. As a community, we will all be pondering this theme, both children and adults, and joining in a process of learning together. This has the real advantage in that it helps our Junior Church leaders to plan their time well, knowing what is coming up.

The themes are listed below. We will try this out in the autumn, and review it at the end of the year, and if we decide it’s working, we might keep it going in the life of our community.

I’m looking forward to this experiment, which may help us all in this community, to inspire our spiritual journeys.

In faith,

Stephen

 

September: Earth

Creation stories, creativity, environmentalism, earth-centred religions, animals, plants, water, Harvest service (5th October)

 

October: Identity

Who am I? Who are we? What is our Unitarian identity? Individual, community, children of God, what is our history? What is our purpose?

 

November: Peace

 

World War I, remembrance, peacemaking, nonviolence, loving enemies, the armed forces, conscientious objectors, red poppies and white poppies, interfaith week, silence, meditation {jcomments off}

Minister's Message July 2014

“Monks, speech endowed with four characteristics is well-spoken, not poorly spoken — faultless and not to be faulted by the wise. Which four? There is the case where a monk says only what it well-spoken, not what is poorly spoken; only what is just, not what is unjust; only what is endearing, not what is unendearing; only what is true, not what is false. Speech endowed with these four characteristics is well-spoken, not poorly spoken”

The Buddha

 

 

Communication is a tricky thing. Today we communicate instantly, globally, and endlessly, using our technologies. But do we communicate well?

When I think about about the quality, not just the quantity of our communication, my mind turns to the concept of right speech – a central concept in Buddhism. Right speech, according to the Buddhist writer Thich Nhat Hahn means these kinds of things: speaking truthfully, not speaking with a forked tongue (saying one thing to one person and something different to another), not speaking cruelly, slandering, or causing hatred and not exaggerating or embellishing.

What a difference it would make if all politicians and figures in public life did this! And yet, we can hardly blame them if are guilty of the same forms of misleading, conflictual and gossipy speech ourselves. Peace begins with us. Speaking plainly, truthfully and kindly makes a huge difference to our relationships, our families, and our communities. This is a lifelong process of learning to speak in this way, but one we should commit to, as truth-seeking, truth-speaking Unitarians.

In truth, love and peace

Stephen

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Minister's Message June 2014

 

“When I was a boy, each week

On Sunday, we would go to church

And pay attention to the priest

He would read the holy word

And consecrate the holy bread

And everyone would kneel and bow

Today the only difference is

Everything is holy now.”

Peter Mayer

 

I’m starting to think Unitarianism really might be very simple. Not easy, but simple. We are people who know the world as Oneness. We are really deeply, profoundly One. We affirm the Oneness of all religions, we affirm the Oneness of all humankind, we affirm our Oneness with the earth and the sun and the animals and plants. Sometimes we name this Oneness as God, but the Oneness is deeper than any one name or idea.

That’s the easy bit. The hard bit is living life like this really is the reality of the world. We tend to live our lives like what matters is our separateness: from each other, from other countries, religions, races, from our neighbours, from the earth. Our challenge, and our gospel (meaning good news) is to realise our oneness; as the poet Mary Oliver says, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -- over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

We come to worship and to be with each other to remind ourselves that we belong. We have a place in the family of things. And we need to be reminded to live our lives like this were true.

In love and peace

Stephen

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