Newsletter July / August 2019

From the desk

Karl Stewart 

‘As we all lead and shine for one another through the wilderness.’ 

Dear All,

Lately I’ve wondered what we all experience through the ministry we share in both our congregations. We look at sharing the load together, not just as individuals, but as our Unitarian selves, in the light and love of community.

I know community is often a word which is bandied about in a way that seems all too easy to use. But let’s not become complacent about community, because in essence it’s about togetherness; it’s about how we gather to meet in worship, to sing, pray, listen, act and continue to seek our faith together, not alone.

We all of course might share the same or similar values. But how do these values transform and transfigure us? Do we look forward to change, or do we fear it? It’s my hope that we will find each new meeting for worship to be of its own special worth, as we continue to kindle the flame of the great heritage we have; in the hope that we can still reach the dark corners to show people its light. It’s welcome and hospitality that really count.

I’m looking forward to a time when we really can say, ‘this is us’ - ‘we welcome you to take a part in what this invite is’. We can all shine a light in the wilderness for each other without realising it. It’s the value of our open space. Our invite is going to mean something different for every traveller, seeker and passer-by.

As we travel together in the great mystery of faith, can we be sure that our door remains open for the traveller who might just be passing by to work something out? Let’s travel with love as we come to continue understanding what it means to walk with those who maybe want someone to walk beside them as a friend, to shine a light in their wilderness. As it is that we realise the light in ourselves, we shine it for others. All this is the fruit of our garden, and ours is the harvest to share.

Yours in faith with love and care.

Karl Stewart. UMB.

From our Minister

Rev. John Harley

‘Searching for authentic leadership’ 

At the time of writing the UK is witnessing an, often, bizarre Tory leadership contest with both candidates trying to appear tough and uncompromising on Brexit. Is it a kind of ghastly beauty contest of machismo? Spiritual writers suggest true leadership is much more about collaboration, listening and empowerment of all. Satish Kumar, editor of Resurgence and Ecologist magazine, offers a refreshing take on leadership

‘We are all potential leaders, because we can all lead our own lives in the right direction.

We can show the world that a good life can be lived without exploitation, subjugation or domination of others, or of natural resources. We can show that a simple, wholesome and equitable life can be joyful and good. We can show that happiness doesn’t flow from material goods or the amount of money in our bank accounts: rather, happiness flows from the quality of the life we live, and the kind of relationships we have with our families, with our communities and with the natural world.

This is bottom-up leader-ship. We don’t have to wait for a messiah. Genuine leadership is not going to emerge from parliament or presidential palace. Leadership is not about legislation. The end of apartheid in South Africa, the establishment of civil rights in the USA, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the dismemberment of the Soviet empire, and many other such transformations occurred in the history of humanity because millions of people took action at grassroots level and refused to accept the unjust order of the day. The feminist movement and the environmental movement are examples of people taking personal responsibility to participate in the process of the great transformation necessary for a just, sustainable and resilient future for the Earth and her people.’

Perhaps, as a society, we can become more skilful at finding leaders who enable communities to find their voice and flourish and are fully committed to protect the future of the environment. Wishing you a good, healthy summer and may you explore your own leadership qualities more fully.
John Harley

General Assembly 2019 Delegate’s Report

Paul Wheeler 

Grateful thanks and appreciation were expressed to Derek McAuley, Chief Officer of the General Assembly who retired at the end of April after nine years in the post. The GA’s new Chief Officer is Elizabeth Slade.

Thanks were offered to Joan Cook, GA President for the past year. Joan is succeeded by Celia Cartwright who will be attending the Western Union AGM at Sidmouth chapel in June.

Training and courses for all ages including Ministers, Lay Pastors and Lay Leaders, young adults and children, and adult education is now being run by the Unitarian College. The College does not have a physical home. Tuition and courses are undertaken through distance learning and/or at various locations.

A motion on knife crime put forward by the FOY Society was approved. The motion reads:

‘The General Assembly:

1) Expresses its concern at the increasing incidence of devastating knife crime in Britain’s towns and cities.

2) Expresses its strong support for an adequately funded multi-agency campaign to tackle this significantly raised threat to public safety, along the lines of that which has been so successful in Glasgow.

3) Urges Her Majesty’s Government and the devolved administrations to establish an immediate investigation into ways and means of drastically reducing, over time, the ready availability of sharp pointed knives by the introduction of appropriate controls on retail and internet sales.

4) Calls upon Unitarian congregations to publicise the resolution amongst their members and friends and to ask their local elected representatives to raise these concerns with their relevant ministers and the Home Secretary’s Serious Violence Task Force, with particular regard to the issue of sharp pointed knives.’

I hope that our two congregations will act on point 4 of the approved motion.

The Penal and Social Affairs Panel hosted a well attended and engaging presentation on The Problems of Social Care by Patrick Hall, Research Fellow at the ESRC Sustainable Care Programme at the University of Birmingham.

The Women’s Group hosted a presentation on Period Poverty. At this presentation I learnt some (to me) surprising things. Nationally, 140,000 girls have missed school at some time because of their period. When the women at the presentation were asked to say what words sprang to mind when they thought of periods, ‘embarrassment’ was at the top of the list. I have subsequently heard that a survey this year in Bristol found that over 40% of women and girls have been unable to afford period products at some time. The City Council wants to develop a network of venues to accept donations and for the distribution of menstrual products to women who cannot afford them. This is an initiative in which we may be able to offer some practical help.

Report from Interfaith Celebration 27th March 2019

Andrea Clark-Ward 

We met in the Lord Mayor’s Chapel, College Green, a beautiful building and connected to monastic life, 800 years old.

Of the nine symbols of faith on the front of the brochure, six groups presented their versions of how to resolve conflict issues. The mayor lit a candle of peace to represent all the faiths of Bristol. (In the past, one rep from each faith lit a candle, and this proved a touching moment: all religious differences were swept aside for this meaningful ritual.)

For the Baha’i community, conflict resolution was regarded as a normal part of life, with collaboration and cooperation amongst members and all others. Having a sense of purpose gives rise to a meaningful life.

For the Soka Gakkai International (Buddhists), focus on values encouraged inner peace through chanting special words, and meditating takes an active stance against war, anger, and greed, for 6000 years. Believing in the Law of Karma encourages creating positive energy between people, rather than negative.

The Sikh community had a woman to represent them – a welcome change here. She spoke of a kitchen open to all, and that Sikhs ignored harmful traditions of the caste system in the name of peace, harmony, and equality. (“Much aggression stems from poverty.”)

The Jewish community: Often facing hostility themselves, they have created an organisation called Salaam Shalom bringing children and young people together to focus on dialogue and shared values. Radio programmes provided extra links between people when they couldn’t be together.

The Muslim community also had a female representative, who referred to their holy book, the Qu’ran. Understanding others is the key to conflict resolution: make sure others benefit. Why hate? Prayer is a mainstay for peaceful lives. Five times a day, men pray together side by side, rich and poor, old and young, creating bonds internally and externally – e.g. forgiveness for the perpetrators of 50 killings in New Zealand recently.

The Quakers spoke of this work of Bristol Mediation / Resolve West for resolving disputes between individuals and between groups when people do not have the communication skills necessary and anger takes over in disputes. A woman described her recent visit to Rwanda to support their trauma recovery programmes after genocide had broken down trust between communities and families. Loss, grief, and mourning, and listening to people’s stories, helped victims to release their anger safely, and then begin building bridges. She said the UN had invited them to do this work.

It was a privilege to hear different people’s ideas and actions from different perspectives. Nobody wants to live in a world full of conflict. But sometimes it seems it’s all around us. It was heart-warming to hear so many people doing something about it – love in action! 

As read at Frenchay ‘In the Spring’ by Joyce Findley. 

RE - BIRTH by Camellia Williams 

Each spring I come to life again,
my pink tipped buds appearing when
the weather’s cold and snow and frost
could mean my flowers could be lost,
were it not for the garden wall,
which shelters me. I’ve grown quite tall
since I was planted. I remind
a daughter of her Mother - kind as a waitress, always serving
others. A life so deserving
a memorial. my duty is to blossom - spread some beauty
and , as my leaves have always been,
keep the memories evergreen!

Submitted by Susan Wildman 

Spring Equinox – Wed 20th March

Andrea Clark-Ward 

A small group from different walks of life around Bristol met in Leigh Woods, all keen to connect to celebrate the arrival of Spring. Spring weather seemed to arrive ahead of its time this year, especially the daffodils.

We gathered in a wooden shelter with open sides and beams, so we felt connected to the woodlands. A fire was lit, warming up the evening. In turn we faced North, East, South, and West, to welcome in the energies of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. Then we danced, to experience those energies, and spoke individually of our desires to let go of certain aspects to our lives and bring in other aspects as we grow.

Mark Keane was the leader in his red and gold coat, full of goodwill and Welsh humour. It was good not to be too serious! People meeting with a sense of purpose brought spiritual harmony to the woods and to each other.

Walking in the Wilderness with Love

A poem by Karl Stewart, written for the Rainbow Path 20/06/2019 

One day when I walked alone,
Or at least when I felt to be alone,
I found myself walking the paths of my mind
In the fields of who I am,
Wondering what loved me,
Was it a holy spirit?
Or was it myself looking to love myself,
Or for someone to love me?

As I walked along, I saw in my my mind’s wilderness
All the colours passing:
Black past, dripping in to white – it was looking grey.
I stepped over the river where a stream met,
Red and white joined as a cheery pink.
The wilderness was becoming gradually less
When I was met with the darkness
Of blue and black to make indigo.

I found the joy of red and yellow to bring a great orange,
And a lovely yellow and blue to make a meadow, green,
And as I cleared through the corn stalks of my mind’s field,
Red and blue came by,
Where they made purple to join in the sky
With its red and yellowing sunset, still with its primary blue,
Which was always the colour of the skies
In whichever wilderness I walk.

I’m blessed to know that all those colours are with me,
Whether light, medium or dark,
For as long as I walk my paths,
I do so in all the colours of love,