Letters: the First, the Second and Betty's: the controversial Death of Juan


Winter 2015

Letter from Islas Galápagos: Spread the Word

Hello, I'm Juan the Galápagos Penguin, or Spheniscus Mendiculus if that's not too ridiculous. I am a Unitarian Penguin, in a small minority at an unusual setting. Knowing about us at the equator is like knowing that Unitarians exist! Well there are a few heretics like us enjoying much stronger sunlight than our cold cousins down in the frozen Antarctic. We have changed from our orthodox forbears: for example, we have learnt to bury our eggs in deep rock cracks or within caves out of the sunlight, otherwise we'd all become cooked breakfast.

Most of us live in Fernandina and Isabela, surely a royal Declaration of Indulgence, but we get the odd gatherings at Santiago, Bartolomé, northern Santa Cruz, and Floreana as well. It's tough being a penguin in the heat, but we have that nice Independent sea current Cromwell to keep us cool, and he keeps us one-time Presbyterians in our place and tolerates others too. I'm sure the long past Society for the Reformation of Penguins would not have approved of us staying out all day, as we only come back to the land at night. At least our hours are regular at the equator: whilst the orthodox down south have kept their liturgical seasons. We have had to develop a new ritual the orthodox would reject, that of panting, and a bodily posture so that our shiny flippers lose heat; conversely, further south, Unitarians get cold feet. Our Penguin Pastor keeps encouraging us in our spiritual practice of panting and exposing our feet.

We received our religion from your chap who visited with his Beagle, who went to Unitarian Sunday School in Shrewsbury. He was impressed by our craters but didn't know about our tectonic Wedgwood plate. Today there are only around one and a half thousand of us left, and our population crashed in the 1980s as old congregations died out. There is a little bit of a recovery: there has to be, if we have the vision! Older chapel islands have disappeared below the sea, whilst our main churches Isabela and Fernandina keep changing and at times erupt dramatically. Perhaps panting rituals will attract some more in, along with life-long coupling (both parents assist with eggs and parenting - we pursue equality). We eat our own small Sunday Schooling fish, mainly mullet, sardines, and crustaceans. We try to be interfaith with the cats, dogs and rats that came first to Isabella with you people, along with crabs and snakes everywhere, and other birds, and then sharks, fur seals, and sea lions in the sea, but they all find us too tasty and so we have become defensively denominational.

There is also our concern for wider issues: these humans with oil damage and over fishing. We have to be aware!

All love from Juan

Spring 2016

Letter from Juan

Thanks for your warm responses to my last letter. You know, like you, we are going for growth. We in the Galápagos will have to look for other species to join us. Recently some of us penguins from Ferdinina popped over to Española for the Penguin Communicators Gathering, led by James, which we thought was all about "P-P Pick Up a Penguin". But our paid professional facilitator with travel expenses all the way from Barry Island argued that we should market ourselves towards nearby Blue-footed Boobies.

We penguins have to be adaptable. For example, the blue boobies have their ritual where the males lift their feet up and down while strutting before the female, whereas we put out our feet to cool off. Their ritual also includes "sky-pointing", which involves the male pointing his head and bill up to the sky while keeping the wings and tail raised. It is suggested that we target the Blue-footed Booby first because the Red-footed Booby is clumsy in take-offs and landings and complicate matters with their elaborate greeting rituals. My friend Betty Booby is sensitive about her name. 'Boobies' is politically incorrect. This naming is a response to their apparent disability or clumsiness walking on land and because they are stupidly fearless of you humans. How many times have birds like that vanished from their congregations? Boobies taking services should have good eye contact with members of the congregation because their eyes are placed on either side of their bills and oriented towards the front, enabling excellent binocular vision. We need vision in our movement. Also they will not cough and sneeze during services, because they have permanently closed nostrils due to diving headlong into the water for fish. They tell each other about the fish, and they all dive in together, which is collective action, and we want that as well.

Sunday schools would be challenging because parents lay eggs in sequence some five days apart, which means that when food is scarce an early hatched baby can kill the younger one. The parents sometimes encourage this, although steep-sided nests prevent the consequences of over-eager bad behaviour among the children. Parents deliberately put more yolk into their earlier eggs: so they invest up front; yet, early season second eggs can be larger. The first child kills by pecking vigorously at the egg, or it may drag its younger sibling by the neck and throw it out. Dads usually give more parental care to larger eggs, of apparent good genetics, but his attitude can be overridden if mum has brightly coloured feet, like Betty's attractive pair. Our approach to pastoral ministry and Sunday School would have to adapt to these family customs. Improve the congregational refreshments and see the females get better coloured legs and children might behave better.

Like us, Boobies prefer the water, and so coming to church is a strictly brief matter each week.

Architectural change would happen, as Boobies' nest on bare black lava in small divots in the ground and we use rock crevices. We would have to update all our toilets too because of the boobies' bad habits when at the nest facing the sun all the time. But because they do not move much when on land, they build congregations of hundreds of boobies in dense colonies. We could learn from this. We like the idea that the first nest, if successful, is where they develop the future, instead of moving the building. The nesting is in two or three sites, so we could have a few large congregations predominantly of Boobies. Trustees might even be a majority of Boobies among the Penguins - no discrimination. Betty's bright blue feet indicates an attractive, healthy bird: nourished and immune from diseases. So we know that when they join they will have a long life. But, oh dear, the brightness of the feet diminishes with age, so woe betide if we have yet more (however valued) less blue elderly congregations.

As for hymn singing, our organists would have to be adaptable. Blue-footed Boobies make raucous or polysyllabic grunts or shouts and thin whistling noises. The males of the species have been known to throw up their head and whistle at a passing, flying female.

Like us, typical Blue-footed Booby mortality has inadequate replenishment from new young adults. The decline may be long-term, although there are fluctuations. Matters improve with access to sardines. However, sardines have been largely absent from the Española area since about 1997. I am sure you in England share many of these problems in seeking out new folk in your congregations. So change the building and serve more sardines.

Bye for now: Juan.

After Easter 2016

Letter from Betty the Blue-Footed Booby

I am writing to inform your readers of the reported death of Juan the Galápagos Penguin. We are sad, of course, and yet joyful.

It seems that Juan had a life that many of us just did not understand. His original name was Adalberto. He was a penguin who used to look at other penguins and different species coupled together, and wondered why he was lonely and different. Nevertheless, that made him approachable by all. He was also a rescued penguin: that is, he was once swimming the long distance to Patagonia (the Welsh call it Wladfa) and became caught in an oil slick. He was rescued by a Dafydd Juan Iwan, who fed Adalberto and cleaned off all the oil. Dafydd told Juan to go and save others and await the Penguin Time, and released him back into the sea. Adalberto was transfigured, and took the name Juan. Ever since, once a year before the now (for Juan) metaphorical breeding season, Juan would swim the long distance simply to see this man, always remembering who had saved him, to stay in his guiding company for some weeks.

It was on his latest trip that we think that Juan the Galápagos Penguin was caught by unfriendly humans and it is said used for food, and his feathers sold for a range of high-class human hats. However, the story goes that after a plucked Juan was put in the oven, the wives of the killers opened it for their meal and found nothing inside. The bins filled during preparation were empty. We are hearing that fashionable humans who purchased the well-manufactured hats discover the feathers blowing away.

Very recently, two penguins were walking along Fernandina to swim across to Isabela when they were joined by a third, and they asked the third one if he had heard of Juan being killed. The visitor asked to be told more. All three of them went into our Unitarian congregation in Isabela and joined some others to put their feet out to cool off in the sun and receive a blessing from the minister. Only at that point did they recognise Juan and that he had walked and swum with them, but the next minute he was gone.

Some penguins at Santiago tell us that they jumped into the sea to hunt some sardines, and (yet again) they were simply not finding many to eat. Anyway, some surfaced to see a penguin standing on the shore, who called at them to move north somewhat. So they swam that way and were overwhelmed by the numbers of sardines available. Having realised that they had been addressed by Juan, they went to thank him - but he had gone.

Pablo, a new penguin minister with many our Blue-footed Boobies in his congregation, claimed a transformative encounter with Juan, and met the other ministers at the recent General Assembly to say that humbly he would encourage more Blue-footed Boobies into our fold. Pablo says we Boobies can justifiably strut our feet and point our bills into the sky and still be Unitarian. Truth be known, some of the Galápagos Penguins are wary about Pablo. A few of them told Pablo that they had also met Juan, during a senior Penguin Ministerial Fellowship feet-cooling, who told them to find feet-cooling followers and be prepared. Juan had appeared specifically to say farewell to them, and would send a more spiritual guide. They claim he then dived into the sea, feet spread out, and vanished before he hit the water. This is why no one since will be visited by him directly. Some doubt whether Pablo did encounter Juan, but Pablo accepts that Juan met those ministers.

The fact is that many penguins are trying to carry on as before, claiming Juan would have wanted things to stay the same. Although still known as Unitarians, they have formed a group called the Juanitarian Galápagos Association: to preserve the old ways. Pablo seems to be recruiting ever more Blue-footed Boobies, and we in this new group have decided to call ourselves Juanitarians, or simply Unitarians, open to the wider world with our new rituals and ideas. Pedro is one original Juanitarian minister trying to keep the two sides together, claiming that the Penguin Time will come and it will welcome in us Boobies. Juan will surely return, one day.



Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful