How are we doing?
February 25 2017 was the second anniversary of the start of my ministry to Hull Unitarians. In that time, I have witnessed change in the culture of this community. I think that we are now acting in a more caring and understanding manner toward each other than was always the case when I commenced. There were some tensions at the start arising from past unresolved differences of opinion. People seem far more open to understanding the cares and concerns of each other. As we sang in our first hymn, ‘may all who seek here find a kindly word’. By kindly, I do not mean an acceptance of whatever others do, but rather a caring commitment to do what is right in a way that considers the needs and feelings of those around us.
We have started to broaden our services to our community. I started a meditation group about 5 months ago, and for several weeks I meditated alone. Then two new people came and liked the experience and came back, and after that others who joined felt safe and secure. Last Thursday we had 7 people attend, five of whom are new to our church. When I count how many people have come to meditation, or to our Friday gathering, or to Worship on Sundays, the total is about forty. So overall, we have an increasing attendance overall.
There have been changes too in the composition of those who attend our church on Sundays, and on Fridays. People who are not members of this church who come on Fridays have said to me that they come because we are such a friendly community. There is a genuine love and respect for all. We have accepted many people who are different from the long-established members of this church, and yet we seem to all get along.
We have lost some regular attendees of our church. I mourn the lack of attendance of two former trustees, although I understand the other pressures in their lives. I admire all they have done for our church over the years, and I hope that in time they will be able to join us regularly again.
However, I find hope in the character and commitment of new comers. They are always willing to help, are thoughtful and open to new ideas, and I know have found courage to make changes in their lives. I think we all delight in the joy of having a family with young children among us as well. I think also we treasure long term members who give us a sense of continuity with our heritage.
I had a joyful afternoon recently sitting with two old and frail members of our church as they chattered about their shared memories going back 70 years. One had a wonderful photo of Revd Ernest Penn, our former minister in her bedroom and told me he was a wonderful man. She also insisted that her main motivation in attending our church was social, and was very pleased to know that our Friday Gatherings go from strength to strength. We have agreed to meet gain and to invite another old and frail friend to join us. I think of this as potentially a new fellowship group, and hence a further growth in our active members and friends. I see this as a further manifestation of our aspiration to become a caring spiritual community.
Looking ahead, I believe that we should continue to support and strengthen the social dimension of our community, and hence I hope that we can find a person to become a trustee to help lead us in our social activities.
I think also we have strengthened our commitment to social action in Hull by our commitment to supporting local charities. We are very welcome for what we do with the Hull Veterans Support Centre, where I am the honorary Padre, and where Barry offers a hand. Likewise, we are seen as good friends of the Open Doors Refuge Centre. By supporting others in our community, we are demonstrating our commitment to social action.
I am please also to report that the Findhorn Unitarian Network event in January has sent reverberations of spiritual renewal around the UK Unitarian community. Hull Unitarians provided the drive and the administrative support to make this happen, and this has changed the way we are seen in the UK wide Unitarian community. We are now seen as progressive and a positive force in Hull and beyond.
In our first reading, today we heard from a letter from St Paul to the Ephesians. Paul was an evangelical Jewish convert to the teachings of Jesus, and he was a Roman citizen of high standing who, like many converts, strove to proclaim the good news as he saw it across the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. He wrote letters to the congregations he had founded in many cities, to try to enthuse them and rally them to his cause. We heard the words:
grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit
We are in very different times and circumstances, but the gist of this message is that we too can be optimistic about our future, provided we have the faith to commit to self-renewal, and to the renewal of our church and our community.
The words from John O’Donohue will I hope give you inspiration for the way forward.
May this be a home of discovery, where the possibilities that sleep in the clay of your soul can emerge, to deepen and refine your vision for all that is yet to come to birth’.
We have possibilities that I think were beyond the imagination of many in our community when I commenced. There is every reason to be positive and to look forward with high hopes. We can realise a change within Hull Unitarians that can reverberate in Hull, across the UK Unitarian movement and beyond. We face some challenges as we negotiate the necessary changes to our building, but as we sang in our second hymn, love will guide us through the hard night’; and … we can change the world with our love.
I hope that just as the Ephesians took courage from Paul’s words, that you will be encouraged and inspired by our joint achievements and by our vision for the future. May we continue to stand together and support each other through the coming year. Please support our community by your attendance, and where you are able, by your contributions in kind and in financial terms.
Revd Ralph Catts, Pastor, Hull Unitarian Church.