Service 200909061100 Hull Unitarian Church
We light the chalice. [Light the chalice]
The flame consumes so many materials!
The flame brings light into so many places!
But it coheres into - it is - one flame,
And it can be tamed in one bowl,
The bowl giving focus:
And directing the fire's rays.
This is a symbol of Unitarian Faith!
Giving a welcome to all, receiving its glow.
HYMN 176 O Come Together in Love
O come together in truth;
O come together in peace;
O come together in joy and sharing,
Come together in knowing and caring;
O come together,
O come together in love.
We come together in search
Of new beginnings for all,
Where understanding and trust surround us -
Gone the fear and the hate that bound us;
O come together,
O come together in love.
Let us pray
That which sees the opened heart
Where all desires are known
And no secrets can be hidden
Bring these around!
Correct, cleanse and put right,
So that we may perfectly love
And live with integrity and in harmony with all.
We have done wrong
Against our friends, our neighbours and our enemies
By thought, in speech and through actions:
Because we are weak;
Because we lack self-vigilance;
And because we are wilfully negative. [slight pause]
This is the sacred moment to say sorry;
This is the point, here in this setting, to begin again:
To then move on with a positive intent,
Treating those we meet as we would wish to be treated,
To thus live with integrity and in harmony with all.
Thus, with mercy and in peace,
We do turn around and begin again,
To pursue the good
In all our dealings.
Glory from us to the highest,
And peace to all people on earth.
This we worship, giving thanks and praise,
Saying Yes to life's potential.
To those prophets, seers and guides,
Pointing in a direction beyond,
Along the practical ways of faith,
Forging a path through life's traumas,
And affirming what we can be:
Add this prayer.
For here we focus on the Holy ones,
Here we come to the dharmas
Of Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi and others,
Guided in the ways
Of this life's Yes in all its glory.
This Church has been called to witness
To freedom, reason and tolerance.
Tolerance: to actively use difference as the baseline to seek;
Reason: to find and express truths, whatever they may be;
Freedom: in the public sphere to speak what is found.
This is our Good News!
We meet here in difference and yet togetherness,
As the general public can also enjoy tolerance;
We actively discuss ahead,
As wider society can use reason in tackling its problems;
And we enjoy open expression,
As freedom is the way for the flourishing of the human condition.
And should these - freedom, reason and tolerance - be threatened in the wider community,
It is our sacred mission to defend them.
The first reading is actually two short passages from the Bible of texts by Paul in Romans, commonly understood to be universalist in implication, that is that on the face of it they state that everyone will be saved eventually. The importance of hearing just these two of many readings will be shown in the sermon.
Romans 5 18-21:
18 Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 11:33-36 - Paul's doxology (at the end of Romans):
33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!
34 'For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?'
35 'Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?'
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.
[All from New RSV Bible]
HYMN 202 Children of a Bright Tomorrow, a universalist multi-faith hymn the last verse of which connects with the reading that follows.
Now we gather here to worship,
Each with but one life to live;
Each with gifts and each with failings,
Each with which one heart to give.
In our longing, here we gather,
With warm voices for a friend;
Two or three, or tens, or thousands,
Heart and hand to all extend.
May our circle grow still wider;
May we see as others see:
Standing in the others' sandals
Shows us they, too, would be free.
Children of a bright tomorrow,
Every race and every creed;
Men and women of all nations,
Each a glory, each in need.
Small are we, and small our planet,
Hidden here among the stars:
May we know our timeless mission -
This reading is from Puju and the Transformation of the Heart from Windhorse Publications. Two parts from the chapter by Dharmachari Vessantara called 'The Boddhissatva Ideal' are read now, from pages 34 and 39-40. The author is talking about a Buddhist intense high level meditation practice and its effects.
So on the arising of the Bhodicitta, it is as if we were suddenly possessed, taken over by a Transcendental motivation, a force which erupts into consciousness and completely reverses the centripetal 'what-I-have-I-hold' tendency of our egotictical nature, and starts to transform us into an outflowing fountain, pouring the waters of Great Compassion onto all sentient beings. We may have ben practising the Dharma for years - meditating, performing puja, and giving of our time and energy - and making steady but hardly spectacular progress. But then one day a force more powerful than 'us' takes over within us, a force which wants to give, to help, to rescue beings far more strongly than we had ever believed possible....
Although it is the arising of the Bodhicitta that causes him to enter the first bhumi, it is only on the achievement of the eighth that the Bodhisattva goes beyond any possibility of falling from the Bodhisattva path and becomes an irreversible Bodhisattva. It is as if even once the Bodhicitta has arisen a struggle can take place within the mind of the Bodhisattva. The old, unregenerate parts of his personality may 'kick back', and he may be at times tempted to reverse his Vow, which would have extremely serious consequences. The Bodhisattva, through the arising of the Bhodicitta, knows that he is not separate from the life around him. We might even say that he is Life - or the evolutionary force in the universe - become conscious of itself. As such he stands shoulder to shoulder with all life, helping and guiding it to grow and evolve. So for him to turn his back on his vision of helping all beings would be for Life to turn against itself, for Life to turn suicidal.
Thus the reading tells us that the Bhodisattva's purpose is to bring along and, to use another religious language, save all life.
In the Anglican Communion at present there is one heck of a controversy about plans for centralisation via a Covenant that would tie in worldwide Anglican Churches one to each other, and slow down progressive changes.
Presently, Anglican Churches are diverse, from the socially inclusive and almost democratic, like the American Church, to the virtually fundamentalist and authoritarian, like that in Nigeria. The reasons are historical and cultural; and trying to regulate this together through central institutions seems to be on the basis of the lowest common denominator - that of the authoritarian.
However, I thought it might be useful to consider the breadth of international Unitarianism as a comparison and contrast. The Unitarians have their own international body, the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, but, just as with any other Unitarian body, it does not seek nor can it impose decisions regarding faith on other bodies, and it is simply there to discuss and help.
I think many Unitarians know that there have been essentially two main types of Unitarianism operating in the world, what I'd call the Anglo-American and the Central European. The Central European strand, which effectively has been exported from Transylvania to Norway by Knut Heidelberg's connection, is the Unitarianism with a catechism of belief - a Unitarian Christian inheritance born of centuries of repression and a need to conserve the faith. A condition of continuation was no evolving, this despite Francis David himself creating the Unitarian faith that Faustus Socinus thought no different from the belief of the Jews. Socinus helped the Minor Reform Church in Poland become Socinian - Socianism was the belief that Jesus was the logos of God or God's reason, but not God himself, and the text provides the words to reason within. It was a sort of age of Printing Arianism, if you like, where divinity was replaced by reason and is consistent with one logos reading of John's Gospel. Unitarians in contrast were perhaps more inclined towards the synoptics in their understanding of Jesus. Socinianism, I might add, was wiped out by the Jesuits in Poland in 1660, and some went to Transylvania and some ended up in the Netherlands, being one reason why the religious culture of Holland was liberal (another reason is historically having a distance from Roman Catholicism when the Netherlands developed Old Catholicism).
So we have an evolved Unitarianism and a conserved Unitarianism. These days the Unitarian Universalist Association is very active around the world, and so a conserved Unitarianism is quite historically located. Incidentally there are two bishops in the conserved Unitarianism, but I shall be telling you about at least two new ones on the scene today, one in the US and one in Africa. However, I think of Knut Heidelberg, being a superintendent minister, who is in effect a Unitarian bishop, who has written recently of Rev. Ragnar Emilsen of the Unitarian Church in Sweden as the latest Unitarian bishop in order to preserve and continue the Transylvanian church tradition, and Knut Heidelberg also has connections with an actual independent Catholic bishop in Sweden, Archbishop Bertil Persson, a chap who wrote to me once about Unitarianism in respect of an interesting Unitarian minister in Oxford in the early 1900s. He was called Ulric von Herford, who himself became an independent bishop, or Mar Jacobus, Regionary Bishop of Mercia and Middlesex, to unite East and West ecumenically, an early animal rights campaigner and a cyclist who set up a monastic church in Oxford, and is a source of numerous episcopal groups around the world by various chains of laying on of hands.
Now if we go back into pre-Unitarian history we know that the people who set up this Church in 1672 were sola-scriptura - Bible only - trinitarian Calvinists and wealthy merchants too. The first minister of this Church who was actually and doctrinally Unitarian was in position in 1802, called William Severn. Most Unitarianism came into and revived English Presbyterian churches from around the 1780s. If we listened to them, we'd think they were fundamentalists too. These early Unitarians read their Bible pre-critically, that is they did not have the advantage of German biblical criticism coming along in the nineteenth century. So they read their Bibles neat.
Like the Socinians, they were dazzled by text. They were also dazzled by individualist capitalism, and by science and reason. They were materialists, and being materialists they believed in the biblical miracles and most definitely in Jesus's resurrection. Jesus was a man who earnt his favour with God, and who died horribly and was raised by God. The early Unitarians could refer to Jesus Christ, God and the Holy Spirit just as the Bible did, and the Bible does not contain the doctrine of the Trinity nor does it contain the doctrine of original sin. The Socinians knew this too, and for both groups people stumbled into sin as individuals rather than inherited it from Adam, and for early Unitarians salvation was to be found in Christ, the human messiah favoured by God.
It was only in the later nineteenth century that a broad, romanticist, free Christianity was dominant, a belief system that related very clearly to the Oxford Anglican academics who wrote a revisionist book Essays and Reviews. These authors had a close relationship with the views developed by Unitarians like James Martineau, and a number of ordained Unitarians had gone to Germany to learn biblical criticism in German. Anglicans were often suspicious of such German learning, but then a set of academics wrote Essays and Reviews and you can see the shadow of Martineau leaning over the authors.
That free Christianity led on to the kinds of multl-faith and religious humanism that exists today. In the United States a split in Unitarianism and the way it came back together, the way it absorbed the once excluded literary tradition of transcendentalism, and the way it merged with Universalism, produced a culturally rooted movement of, today, the romanticist neo-Pagans and Easterns and the rationalistic religious humanists and liberal Christians. Those are the four main constituents of Unitarianism, and we see such developing more slowly here. We did not have the transcendentalism or the radical humanism of the United States, but we did have the romanticism associated with the Lake District of the likes of the self-excluding Coleridge and friends like Wordsworth. He and other romanticists couldn't stand the narrow chapel culture of earlier nineteenth century Unitarianism, but by the later nineteenth century that vision of the rural was part of the broader Unitarian spirit. Incidentally, in Germany, the biblical criticism attracting Unitarians was part of a rational movement, one that was highly progressive regarding the place of Jews in Germany, whereas romanticism in Germany was a monstrous disaster - via the composer Wagner and neo-Pagan rural Germanism it led directly to Hitler and the exclusion even destruction of the Jews.
Meanwhile we must not forget north east India. There was the reaction against Welsh Calvinist missionaries and the meeting with an American Unitarian minister in Calcutta that led to the theist but non-Christian and non-Hindu Unitarianism in the Khasi Hills. This is a village and ethnic Unitarianism, just as the Unitarianism in Transylvania and Hungary exists among the ethnic Magyar population.
So we have a conserved liberal Protestant movement and an evolved movement now of Pagans, Easterns, Humanists and Christians. But we also, today, have Unitarian biblical fundamentalists and we have some charismatics. By my knowledge we have two fundamentalist Unitarian groups in Kenya with at least one bishop, and there is the charismatic congregation into the UUA led by its bishop. Both of these developments are universalist in theology.
Historically Africa had six Unitarian churches: four in South Africa (from 1857) and two in Nigeria (1919). Now there are lots. In Kenya, especially in the tea growing Kisii District, and in central Kenya west of Nairobi, two concentrations of Unitarianism have arisen.
There is strictly one God, Jesus is your brother, all are sons of God and preaching is from the Bible and straight off the page. All will be saved. The Old Testament is honoured. As in North East India, such Unitarianism is local, and defines itself against the foreign oversight of missionary churches. This Church is polygamist but preaches against domestic violence and against the common practice of clitoral mutilation. It mainly addresses poverty in the social field and sets up education and health-welfare projects. Indeed it demands action by members regarding the care of AIDS orphans. Some women see Unitarianism preaching equality rather than being told to obey, as in other churches, and this in a culture where men sit around and smoke while the women do the labouring in the fields. This church also preaches against abortion, homosexuality, incest and rape. Central Kenyan Unitarians also preach against alcohol.
The Bishop is Rev. Patrick Magara, and he oversees several dozen congregations. Patrick Magara was a Seventh Day Adventist and, more so, the General Secretary of the East African Christian Alliance, a group of biblically conservative denominations. In 1999 the Alliance sponsored him to study for two years at a non-denominational seminary in Philadelphia in the United States. He met a Unitarian Universalist in a shop and contrasted the description of Unitarian Universalism with the way he perceived Africans were treated by his own denomination. He like the idea of freedom of worship, was questioning his own beliefs and liked the idea of God in each person. Back in Kenya that personal contact was lost but he went to his Post Office to read about Unitarian Universalism on the Internet. Bizarrely, despite owning a number of houses where you find his wives and offspring, he cannot afford the electricity to run a computer since donated to him.
So Bishop Magara decided to become Unitarian and his pastors followed him. The eldest son of his first wife oversees other congregations and his second wife is a pastor of one of the congregations. Last year the UUA President Bill Sinkford went out to Kenya and met them and danced with them in their worship.
This is the area of Unitarian Universalist Council of Kenya (UUCK). There is a second cluster of Unitarian churches near Nairobi among the Samburu and Masai tribes, which is where you find the Kenya Unitarian Universalist Council (KUUC). There is coffee growing in this area. These tribes associate Unitarianism with modernisation, and their Unitarianism stresses multi-ethnicity at a time of conflict, with a tag line 'One day, one tribe, one people'. Their leader is a John K. Mbugua. He heard that Unitarianism stresses the equality of people under God regardless of religion, and so he set about organising.
In some contrast there is a radical Unitarian development in Kampala, Uganda, which relates to the local middle class and this has a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender group. Like the others in AIDS ravaged Africa, the church has outreach to orphans and runs an orphanage.
Indeed there are quite a number of Unitarian congregations appearing in Africa now, in the major urban centres, tending to provide radical alternative churches, but the Kenyan breakout is rural based, and apparently spreads into The Congo as well, and is based on self-determination and universalism.
And what of Bishop Carlton Pearson in the United States? He has brought a charismatic, biblical, remnants of a congregation into Unitarian Universalism, after he became a universalist. Pearson had taken his theological education through the fundamentalist Oral Roberts University and was mentored by Oral Roberts himself. As an ordained minister he went on to form Higher Dimensions Church, which became one of the largest in the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and in the 1990s it grew to an attendance of over 5,000. Carlton Pearson was ordained a bishop in 1997 and had one of the most watched television programs on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
And then he watched a news report about the Rwandan massacre, and could not agree with his fellow believers that all these victims would be going to hell. Oral Roberts and the fundamentalist establishment told him that he had to repent of his new viewpoint that all would be saved, and get rid of his doubts that there is a place called hell. Carlton Pearson regarded his new view as an epiphany from God, and so preached universalism, but as a result his church numbers fell and fell. in 2002 the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops declared him a heretic, and with fewer than 1,000 attending the church could not meet its expenses and closed in January 2006 for the remnants to start meeting in an Episcopal Church building as New Dimensions Church. This Church then started welcoming gay and lesbian people. He became a United Church of Christ minister but then he decided to be a full-on Universalist and in June 2008, New Dimensions Church moved to All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa and on September 7, 2008, his New Dimensions Church merged with All Souls Unitarian Church, swelling its numbers. Previously the most distinct part of the UUA had been Kings Chapel, Boston, with its Arian styled liturgy.
By the way, I'll mention one more person and yet another bishop. He was a Unitarian ministry student in this country who did not complete his training. He became ordained and was in the Liberal Catholic Church International as a priest. He is now a bishop in the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church, and he is based in Edinburgh. He uses trinitarian language in the esoteric tradition but also uses Pagan and Reiki forms of spirituality in his highly symbolic worship. And he regularly preaches at the Unitarian Church in Newcastle. He is Bishop Alistair Bate, and occasionally pops up on the National Unitarian Fellowship discussion boards.
So what do we conclude from this: that, today, now, Unitarianism is indeed very culturally based and very diverse with progressive, rationalist, romanticist, conservationist, charismatic, fundamentalist and Liberal Catholic elements!
[Kenyan information from an article in UU World 2008 by Scott Kraft.]
Affirmation (using Hymn 134)
I invite you to say the words of the first verse of Hymn 134, Faith of the Free - if you can find that now, as written by Vincent Brown Silliman and published by the Beacon Press.
Faith of the Larger Liberty,
Source of the Light expanding.
Law of the Church that is to be,
Old bondage not withstanding:
Faith of the Free!
By the we live -
By all thou givest and shalt give
Our loyalty commanding.
Hymn 229 One World This
One world this, for all its sorrow;
One world shaping one tomorrow;
One humanity, though riven -
We, to whom a world is given.
From one world there is no turning;
From one world, the prophets' yearning.
One, the world of poets, sages;
One world, goal of all the ages.
One, our world from the beginning;
One, the world we would be winning;
World, so eagerly expected;
World so recklessly rejected.
One, enfolding every nation;
One, our mightiest creation:
Dream, to guide this mind's endeavour;
Hope, to build the heart for ever.
One world, land and air and ocean;
One, upheld by our devotion.
One, as common folk have willed it;
One, as government can build it.
World of friendly ways and faces,
Cherished arts and honoured races.
One world, free in word and science;
People free, its firm reliance.
Prayers for the Church and World
When I say the words, 'For these thoughts, we ask for deliverance and mercy', please respond with the words 'Hear Our Prayer'. We pray for the Church and the world.
We pray for people of faith, the followers and leaders, that they may be better members of their own faith communities and serve each other and those beyond. We pray that people tolerate differences and come to harmonious solutions, and that those in the Anglican Communion can solve their differences without too much further acrimony. We pray for those who serve the Unitarian Churches around the world, and especially think of new congregations in Africa, where they are tackling the problem of aids and orphans as a direct consequence of their new faith.
For these thoughts, we ask for deliverance and mercy
Hear Our Prayer
We pray for the world, particularly having in mind places of conflict. We think of conflict costing citizens' and military lives in Afghanistan. We think of tension in Iran with issues stretching into the conflict in Israel/ Palestine. There is ongoing suppression in Burma. We look for the end of political corruption wherever it is found.
For these thoughts, we ask for deliverance and mercy
Hear Our Prayer
Now with a moment's silence we consider those who are ill known to us, or experiencing any form of mental stress, and those who are no longer alive, including any whose anniversary falls about now. [Silence]
For these thoughts, we ask for deliverance and mercy
Hear Our Prayer
Accept these prayers,
For the sake of our concerns.
Words of Peace
In a moment I will invite you to say to your neighbours Peace be with you and perhaps shake their hands. You are even free to move about and do this, as I shall.
The words begin [from Hymn 314 in Hymns for Living and then continue]:
Let Peace encircle all the world,
Let all on earth join hand in hand,
A living bond of fellowship,
A voice of love in every land.
Let peace come now within our fold,
Let us in here by mouth and hand
Our living church in fellowship
Committing love to start the trend.
Let's say: "Peace be with you" to your nearest neighbours and, if you so wish, gesture with a handshake.
Preparation of a Ceremony to Time, Material and Space
Blessed is this Universe, the product of evolution.
Time was begun, and in time burst out energy and matter:
Spreading, expanding and cohering.
Out of these carbon life forms came,
And we are as of the stars
To which all we give thanks and offer
Blessing, and honour, and power and glory.
A Ceremony to Time, Material and Space
The Spirit of God is with us
And we raise our hearts in thanks and praise
The world evolved into meaning
And we are thankful that in this
The prophetic voices have said
That we can find love within
As we have, and as we can
Now and in the future.
And so we can say with them:
Holy, Holy, Holy:
This material world and its journey
Is full of glory.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the one made into this life.
We praise and bless
This universe our home,
And its spirit of life.
And in this corner
Are the four winds:
With the blessing of Uriel of the dark and fertile earth, overshadowing Columba of Scotland, we have the cold wind from the north;
With the blessing of Raphael in his golden cloak, overshadowing George of England, we have the dry wind from the east;
With the blessing of Michael of the red flame, overshadowing David of Wales, we have the hot wind from the south;
With the blessing of Gabriel of the blue water, overshadowing Patrick of Ireland, we have the wet wind from the west.
And east is for air,
South is for fire,
West is for water,
And north is for earth.
In the east we have the air, the very air we breathe;
[Gesture with hands across the holed goblet]
In the south we have the fire -
For which we light a candle for the evolving in the past, a candle for the life and death of now, and a candle for whatever is to come.
[Light each of these]
In the west we have the water -
The very support of life, without which there can be none
[Dip fingers into this]
And in the north we have the earth
[Raise the small bag of earth or substitute]
It is across and into this earth
That life-sustaining air rushes
It is in this water, that life giving sustenance comes
It is in the warmth, that life becomes possible.
Anywhere that sustains gasses, water, heat and material
Will life struggle to evolve,
Dying and rising.
And thus we can say:
and Creation lives again.
And to what end does this life go?
It goes to make sentient beings:
Evermore creative and capable,
Empathetic and sympathetic,
Who can climb, purposefully, ethical heights -
Should they but develop them
And act upon them.
And so we can say,
To the Lord of all life,
Let us work together for the day
When the kingdom comes,
And justice and mercy will be seen over this world
Enlarging our hearts and minds,
To reverence all that lives:
Gathered in as if within loving arms,
Each joined with one another,
On that future day of transformation.
[Liturgical material on Saints as used by Alistair Bate]
And so we finish with the Lord's Prayer:
Collection and Notices
HYMN 37 Thy Kingdom Come
I sent my soul some truth to win;
My soul returned these words to tell:
"Look not beyond, but turn within,
For I myself am heaven and hell."
And as my thoughts were gently led,
Half-held beliefs were seen as true;
I heard, as new, words Jesus said:
"My friend, God's kingdom lies in you."
Now though I labour, as I must,
To build the Kingdom yet to be,
I know my hopes will turn to dust,
If first it is not built in me.
Take this overview of life
(Provided by our approach to faith)
Into your places with other people
And spread the message of service, humility and tolerance.
All hymns from Knight, S. (literary ed.) (1985), Hymns for Living, The Lindsey Press.
Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful