Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Martin Gienke
We come together in this chapel from many directions, following a myriad of routes and roads of life, to get to this point.
From here we will go our different ways, in different directions.
May our time together for this hour, strengthen us, and our resolve, to travel the right road, on the trail of Truth
As we speed on, let us not forget our fellow travellers –
To stop and help if they’re fallen,
To guide them wisely if they’re lost,
To encourage them in their own journey,
May our onward journey, be as challenging and exciting as that so far.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Lizzie Kingston-Harrison
We light this chalice for the people who are not in the room.
May our circle of light fall upon those on the margins; the vulnerable and forgotten, those trapped at home by illness and age, those who feel judged, excluded, ashamed, in pain.
May our warmth hold those with precarious lives; carers and struggling parents, those juggling work, life, and bills, the exhausted and burnt out, anyone who is just trying to get through the day.
May our flame inspire those who share our principles and feel they carry the grief of the world alone; may they find us and may we be stronger together.
May we go out and walk beside those who are not in the room. May we do this sacred work with open arms, may we break down the walls, and hold all in our expansive and loving embrace.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
Each in our own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
Even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
In this world in which Covid has not yet gone away,
And the clouds of war hover.
May we keep in touch however we can,
And help each other,
However we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way,
Reading from Inclusivity by Celia Cartwright
What stops someone being included? It is due, I can generally conclude, to the prejudices of those who are reluctant to open their minds to understand the myriad ways there are to be human. Non-inclusiveness, it seems, is built into our human nature, an organised tension between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and so the need for hierarchy, the need for divisions, male and female, old and young, white and black, my county and your county, my town and your town, my football team and your football team, my family and your family, my need to be better than ‘you’, remains.
The rise in gang culture in cities is a clear indication that non-inclusivity of certain groups of people is not only rife, but that it is the direct result of decades, perhaps centuries, of non-inclusivity. Great swathes of people, highlighted by their post code, their ethnicity, age, ability, disability, education and/or income, are deemed to be lesser than others, so deemed not important as others. We struggle with the whole notion of ‘inclusivity’, and though various tranches of the population will find themselves in the limelight at times, the overall insistence on non-inclusivity is ingrained.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust. Amen
Reading from GA Anniversary Service 2023 by Winnie Gordon
At our annual meetings in 1979, we passed a resolution: “That this General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the members of which traditionally share a common concern for civic and religious freedom and respect for human dignity, recognises a growing need to witness to, and work for, tolerance, justice and peace.”
… Our service to humanity has always burst out through our doors. We are a faith that calls for right relationship with each other and the world.… Let’s be clear: we don’t have to be loud and proud, but we are called to be active…. We need to influence others through our values, priorities, and activism. Our motions… must include the voices of those experiencing the oppression. When we give agency to the oppressed and the marginalised, justice can prevail. We must… focus on inter-dependence, not independence….
It matters so much that our Unitarian faith not be theologically neutral; that we participate in a community of mutuality, of activism entrenched in faith… This affirmation of activism, in the pursuit of our purpose and objectives, this intersection between our faith and interaction with our world, in this we will find ourselves challenging the ignorance, cultivating our connectedness, comforting the afflicted, inspiring the frightened, lifting up the voiceless, healing the broken, living into our faith, and touching the beloved in all of us through the power of love.
It’s about who and what we can become. Only then will oppression cease, the marginalised be uplifted and injustice confounded…. Only then.
Prayer by Adam Slate
Spirit of Life, Spirit of Love,
Spirit of Hope, Spirit of Justice,
God known by many different names, yet known to all faiths:
What a gift you have given us by making us different from one another!
Each of us with our own perspectives and beliefs,
Each of us with our own strengths,
Each of us an individual treasure,
Yet so much more magnificent when we join together.
Guide us as we strive to know one another.
Help us to appreciate rather than fear our differences.
Give us the strength to stand up to oppressors and to the intolerant.
Give us the voice to be louder than those groups who seek to divide us and do us harm.
Give us the spirit to stay engaged in this struggle as long as it takes, even if it takes generations.
And at the same time
Give us the compassion to help those who do not share these values to understand this truth:
That we are one human family, and that love is the only right way.
In your name
In all the holy names by which you have ever been known,
Let us say Amen.
Reading Fond words by Andrew Hill
Jan Struther wrote: “Hard words will break no bones: But more than bones are broken By the inescapable stones Of fond words left unspoken.”
So let us in the quiet of our minds speak fond words:
for those to whom we are close and who are close to us;
for those whose presence is now a memory;
for fond friends and helpful neighbours;
And let us in the quiet of our minds speak fond words for those we too often forget:
for those who are struggling with poverty, with tyranny, or with disasters;
for those who seek work, a home, or better health;
for those who are discriminated against because of who they are.
And let us in the quiet of our minds try speaking fond words:
for those for whom we find it difficult to speak fond words;
for those whom we never see but on whom we depend;
for those who irritate us because they are only doing their job;
for those with whom we are out of sorts.
And let us in the quiet of our minds just hope that someone else is speaking fond words:
for those whom we love to hate;
for those whom we cannot love and who are unlovely to us;
for those whom we have forgotten.
Hard words will break no bones:
But more than bones are broken
By the inescapable stones
Of fond words left unspoken.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Something there is that doesn’t love a wall by Margaret Kirk (adapted)
We see barriers erected between people of different lands.
We see sheets of steel and towers of concrete called ‘Protection’.
We see boundaries policed.
Watch men, women and children running from hunger and persecution,
looking for a gap in the wall………
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…………
We see walls of fear –
Fear of the young, fear of the stranger.
Fear of sexuality that is different, fear of the educated, fear of the poor.
Fear of the Muslim, fear of the Jew –
Fear upon fear, endless and perpetuating.
And we offer our silent prayer that solid walls of fear will crumble to dust.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…………
We hear the language of separation.
The jingoistic chant, the racial slur.
Words of indifference and dismissal,
Words arranged for the purpose of exclusion,
Words that sting and taunt,
Words that lie.
Let us find words that ring with love and truthfulness, that reach out through the emptiness of separation.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…………
We see the deluded barriers of the mind protecting self.
We see relationships stripped of affection, as one person becomes closed to another.
We see people trapped in misunderstanding, old hurts re-ignited,
bricks placed higher on the wall, goodwill and trust suspended.
And we ask for boundaries that are not impenetrable,
through which light can shine and distance be dissolved.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall………….
And when we need these boundaries for our own well-being,
Let us know them for what they are,
Use them wisely and kindly,
Recognising our own vulnerability and that of others –
So each of us can find the space for retreat and succour,
Find that peace that passes all understanding, and be renewed with strength and love, for the task of living life joyfully in communion with all others.
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Address Towards Inclusivity
Last month was Pride Month in the UK, but it spills over into July. I will be marching with other members of Northampton Unitarians in Northampton Pride on Saturday 8th July. So I thought it would be timely to put together a service about inclusivity. Let me begin by sharing an example of an occasion when I, as a Unitarian, was very definitely not included…
It happened about a decade ago, when I was the very new minister of the Banbury Unitarian Fellowship. At that time, the local newspaper, The Banbury Guardian, included a half-page giving information about church services each week, and also a short ‘Thought for the Day’ type column called Cross Talk. The significance of that title – Cross Talk – passed me by completely. So I submitted a short piece entitled Spring – the Season of Renewal, which they duly published.
A few days later, I got an apologetic phone call from a very nice Quaker, who explained that the Cross Talk columns were parcelled out between member churches of Banbury Christians Together, which he coordinated, and that I had inadvertently ‘jumped the queue’ by submitting a piece independently. Of course, I apologised for my blunder and asked to be added to the list of contributors. He said that so far as he was concerned, he would be happy to add me to the rota, but he would consult some other folk about it and get back to me.
Well, the weeks went by, and I didn’t hear anything, so eventually I rang him. And apparently, there had been a strong adverse reaction to my piece appearing, from certain Evangelical Christian members. The inclusion of a piece by a Unitarian was seemingly, “the thin end of the wedge”. Before they knew where they were, they’d be letting Just Anyone write a Cross Talk column – Jews, Hindus, Muslims – where would it end? My Quaker contact was very apologetic and agreed that this sort of reaction was very un-Christian, to say the least.
It made me so sad that Unitarians were regarded as the “thin end of the wedge” because we do not believe that Jesus was the unique divine Son of God, who was crucified to bring humankind back into right relationship with God. And it also made me sad that no contributions from other faith traditions were permitted, let alone welcomed.
Surely we are all human beings, who should be free to follow our own religious and spiritual paths, so long as we are not harming anyone else. Ironically, this happened during the bicentenary year of the passing of the Unitarian Toleration Act. Yet in at least one corner of the United Kingdom, Unitarians were very definitely still beyond the pale. I wasn’t angry, just sad.
“Inclusive” is a word bandied around quite a lot by Unitarians. We pride ourselves on being inclusive and welcoming. However, in the Great Course Cultural Literacy for Religion, Mark Bergson of Hamline University, writes, “Inclusivism states that while one’s own tradition is the only one that contains complete truth, salvation is still available to those who are outside the tradition. The grace of God is extended to all human beings, and the saving work of grace can be accomplished even if the individual is not a member of their faith.”
If we take that definition of inclusivism to be correct, we’re not inclusive; we are pluralist. Bergson says of pluralism, “If we truly want to respect and appreciate other traditions, we must maintain their distinctiveness and not try to blur the differences. [This] approach begins with the notion that ultimate reality – God, the divine – is beyond our ability to completely grasp. We must acknowledge that, as limited human beings, we can never understand divine reality in its entirety… no religion possesses truth in its entirety. Each tradition possesses its powerful truths, but also its blind spots. The more religious traditions we welcome into the conversation, the more illumination there will be.”
If this is what we aspire to, it is important for Unitarians to be involved in inter-faith activities in their communities. We should welcome the opportunity to engage with other faith traditions and learn more about how they perceive religious truths, both to enrich our own knowledge, and to move into a place of understanding and compassion (in its broadest sense) about people who believe differently to us.
At our General Assembly meetings last April, Rev Winnie Gordon, minister of New Meeting, Birmingham, delivered an inspirational address during the Anniversary Service, on the theme of why we, as Unitarians, should practice, and fight for, inclusivity. I shared part of it as our second reading. Winnie also detailed the many injustices suffered by all the marginalised sections in our society, saying, “While humanitarian budgets are tightening, food insecurity injustice is worldwide. Climate change, wars, poverty, and dictatorships cause mass migration like we have never seen. Closer to home, the energy and the cost of living emergenc[ies] escalated the crisis for the marginalised. Low pay and no-contract employment perpetuate a cycle of poverty injustice. Recorded sexual offences in the UK hit their highest levels in 2022. Misogyny injustice is also rising, with 96% of recorded female victims killed by male suspects. LGBTQ+ injustice is rife, with hate crimes doubling in the last five years. A full 12% of reported hate crimes were committed against transgender people.”
She went on to share an updated (and sobering) version of the famous words of Martin Niemöller:
“First they came for the trans people, and I did not speak out –
because they had complicated issues, and I was fearful.
Then they came for the environmentalists, and I did not speak out –
because I was sick of their roadblock campaigns and train delays.
Then they came for the refugees, and I did not speak out –
because they told me boat arrivals were not true refugees,
and anyway, there were better legal ways to arrive.
Then they came for me – and there was no-one left to speak out for me.”
Her address was incredibly powerful and left everyone who heard it with an enhanced appreciation of the myriad ways in which people are excluded from our society. And left me, at least, with a burning desire to do more to help the marginalised, to be more inclusive, both in my own life, and as a Unitarian. Most Unitarians in this country are privileged, in a variety of ways, and we need to understand what life is like for the under-privileged, the marginalised. And then do something about it. Not just shake our heads, purse our lips, and tut, “How sad, how awful. But what can we do?” I believe it is up to each and every one of us to do the best we can to include others, where we are. Whoever the “others” are.
Yet there is another side of the inclusivity coin, which specifically affects most Unitarian congregations. Another Great Courses professor, Brad S. Gregory of Stanford University, wrote, “Too much inclusivity threatens to dilute our identity,” and that part of being a member of any denomination is being “in community with others who share the same commitments.”
This really made me wonder. We Unitarians are proud of our inclusive attitude – “All are welcome here” says the hymn, by the former lay leader of Northampton Unitarians, Peter Galbraith – but are we taking it too far? One of our central tenets is that of freedom of belief – we don’t believe that every aspiring Unitarian should have to sign a statement of belief in order to become a member. Cliff Reed writes in Unitarian? What’s That? “shared values and a shared religious approach are a surer basis for unity than theological propositions.” And I would agree with that statement wholeheartedly.
Nevertheless, I think that our individualistic approach to the spiritual journey has its dangers. It is somewhat problematic for Unitarians to articulate what “we” believe as a denomination – every Unitarian can explain what they as individuals believe, but it is difficult (and even perceived as improper!) to speak for others. I believe this is a problem we need to face – unless we can articulate clearly what we believe, how can we attract other like-minded people into our communities?
Perhaps each congregation should try to put down on paper (and then on their website) some basic statement of the beliefs and values that they have in common. So that outsiders will be able to understand what we stand for, what our identity as Unitarians is, what our core values and mission are, and so be able to judge whether Unitarianism is for them.
Then, or perhaps even before we have that sorted, we must unite behind the cause of offering true inclusivity to the oppressed, the marginalised, to those “not in the room” as Lizzie Kingston-Harrison says, both in our local areas, and further afield. Otherwise, we have no right to call ourselves an “inclusive faith”, no right to name “Tolerance” as one of the three Unitarian tenets, no right to be proud of our attempts to “stand on the side of love.”
Let us strive to do what we can, where we are, to work towards a truly inclusive society.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we strive to do what we can, where we are,
to work towards a truly inclusive society.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
may we share the love we feel,
may we look out for each other,
and may we keep up our hearts,
now and in the days to come, Amen
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley