From the desk

Spring brings Annual General Meetings! Both chapels will have vital but what we can call ʻSecularʼ matters, such as finance and buildings. More importantly however, we can
also reflect on some encouraging areas of growth. At Frenchay, numbers fluctuate but the total number of individuals introduced to the congregation rises slowly but surely. At UMB the small number of regular attenders is replaced once a month by the ʻBright Lightsʼ afternoon with up to to 30 attending. All ages are there, and many have no previous connection with Unitarianism. Just as at Frenchay, the result is an increasing number of people aware of our presence.

With the spring comes the time of festivals. It has been a recognised time of renewal and awakening for thousands of years. The question occurs to me as to when and how did the indigenous people of the southern hemisphere mark their spring? Since the northern hemisphere has been dominant for so long in recent history, there must have been many traditions that were lost as the peoples of the south were ʻdiscoveredʼ and forced to synchronise their ways with those of the north.

~ Peter Wildman

Women's Advisory Council - United Nations Association

As representative of the Unitarian Womenʼs League central committee I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Womenʼs Advisory Council to the United Nations Association in December 2008 at the International Maritime Organisation in London. The guest speaker was John Riddle, the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) representative in London. He spoke on climate change and the right to food and the main points he made were:

- World hunger is increasing due to food shortages caused by natural disasters, for
example earthquakes and floods and by man-made disasters such as
deforestation and wars. The World Food Summit (WFS) goal of halving the
number of undernourished people in the world by 2015 is becoming more difficult
to reach for many countries. Initial government responses have had limited effect

- High food prices share much of the blame. There have been many recent price
increases, especially of rice. However high food prices are also an opportunity.
They can represent an opportunity for agriculture (including smallholder farmers)
throughout the developing world. Gains made by smallholders could fuel broader
economic and rural development.

- The poorest, landless and female headed households are the worst hit. Coping
strategies include women seeking work, but increased female employment may
lead to less or lower quality child care at home. It may interfere with breast
feeding, sanitation practices and seeking medical assistance when children are
sick. Older siblings may have to take over from the mother in providing child care.
Increased child labour at home or outside may have negative nutritional
consequences for children and interfere with their education.

- A twin-track approach is required. Governments, non-governmental organisations,
the United Nations, civil society and the public sector must combine their efforts to
address the impact of high food prices on hunger. This should include a)
measures to enable the agricultural sector, especially smallholders in developing
countries to respond to high prices and b) targeted safety nets and social
protection programmes for the most food-insecure and vulnerable.

During the talk there was discussion about ducks as carriers of disease including
Asian influenza. They must be kept separated from chickens and in Thailand there
has been a multi-million pound programme to keep them penned and separated
from chickens. Children have been encouraged to spread the message in school.

~ Susan Wildman

Ashing - I should have known!

I was intrigued when driving past Thornbury Parish church about a week ago to
see a service of 'Communion and Ashing' advertised for Ash Wednesday, which
this year was on 25th February. Time for me to turn to the Internet, but not in the
first instance to Wikipedia it turned out. A number of churches publicise ʻAshingʼ
services but finding it's significance took some time to dig out. The clearest
description came from a Catholic website. Many other denominations also have
this practice, but the Eastern Orthodox churches do not as most of them consider
the practice to be of Pagan origin! The core significance is as follows:
“The name Ash Wednesday comes from the ashing ceremony that
takes place during the Mass. The ashes come from the burning of last
year's palm crosses and are mixed with oils. As the priest makes the
sign of the cross on the forehead with them, he reminds us of our
mortality by announcing "Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return".

~ Peter Wildman

Why I am a Unitarian

I have always been interested in learning about religion and people's faith. When I
began to think about becoming part of a spiritual group, I knew I was looking for a
community that respected many belief systems and lifestyles, but was uncertain
whether I could find such a place.

I spent some time working with children in a village school in Nepal, where I learnt
a lot from people about the importance of faith in their lives and tolerance for those of other cultural traditions. A little later on, I was back in my local library and looking at the religious section. Tucked on to a shelf was a book about Unitarianism. I started reading and was very interested to discover how much freedom of thought was encouraged, whilst being united by shared values. I soon realised that I had long been a Unitarian without knowing it!

The year before last I went to Boston to visit some Unitarian Universalist churches
and then on to a Unitarian Universalist (UU) music course. We sang songs
embracing many cultures and had some great discussions. I knew that I wanted to
find a Unitarian community when I returned. When I moved to Bristol I started to
attend UMB and received a really warm welcome. I enjoyed the Civic Inter Faith
Celebration where people from many faith communities joined together to learn
about each otherʼs journeys. I look forward to the future as part of this excellent
diverse, inclusive and fascinating movement.

~ Julia Lambert

How I became a Unitarian

In 1970 I arrived in Bristol, after three years in Baghdad, with my three year old
son, four suitcases containing mostly blankets and books and £60 in the whole
world. I had no home, work,or nursery and no family support.

One of my first actions was to rejoin the Workers Educational Association (WEA)
committee and there I met Frances Long of Unitarian Meeting Bristol. She
suggested that I join her church so that we could see more of each other than just
at committee meetings. It was Easter. I went to Oakfield Road Church. Frances
was not there. I walked into a church full of strangers and left at the end of the
service thoroughly won over to Unitarianism by the service and the reception I had

Since the closure of Oakfield Road I have worshipped at Frenchay Chapel and then
at Unitarian Meeting Bristol, where the congregation has become my second family.
I have tried to repay my “debt” by taking on various secretarial posts connected
with both UMB and the Western Union.

~ Ray Raitt

Women's League - an inclusive fellowship for members and friends of both chapels

We held our AGM at the chapel on Friday 13th February. Five members were
present. Olga Jennings gave a report on the yearʼs events of which the following is
a brief resumé. - outings to Bath and Clevedon in June and September, a barbecue
evening in August, two afternoons at members homes, a coffee morning and a
theatre visit.

Ros Pratt, our Fellowship Secretary and President, keeps in touch with Eunice
Pullen and Dorothy Furze and sends birthday greetings to members and friends -
all very much appreciated. Our Treasurer Sylvia Bartlett was thanked for her all

After paying subscriptions to Central Committee, League Letter costs and a
donation to the India Fund, we were able to donate £150 to this yearʼs National
appeal - ʻSightsaversʼ.

~ Olga Jennings