Tuesday, 24 January 2012


There is something about history that either turns people off or turns people on. I have to say that it intrigues me. Not the big stuff but the little things about how people lived, their relationships and the influences upon them. It makes me wonder how much of what I am is because of when and where I was born.

But like it or not some of us have to take account of history because we own historical buildings.  As ever I think that if you have something then you have to make it work for you.  History works for us because it brings people into our building.  We participate in Heritage Open Days and we have a link with a very popular local historian who has done talks in our building.  We are currently working on a service about the Titanic.  

There are local connections, Captain Smith was born in Stoke-on-Trent which is down the road and Thomas Andrews, the designer who went down with the ship, and many of the directors of Harland and Wolff who built the ship, were Unitarians/Non-Subscribers. Some of us will find this intrinsically interesting but others may just see it as an opportunity to get some media coverage and to potentially have new people visit our building.

I think that history has lessons to teach us.  One of the problems with the Titanic was its size - this was celebrated as a wonderful feat of engineering but captains and their crews were not used to steering such large boats.  Captain Smith had already had one accident in a previous boat that he had captained - but apparently this was not unusual.  So does innovation always come with increased risk? I suspect that it does.

The other thing that strikes me about the Titanic disaster was the way that the lives of those with money were thought to be more valuable than those without.  I hope that things have changed and that this is less so these days.  It has not completely disappeared and I expect that we can all think of cases where this is not true. But this is one of the things that history usually does, it makes me feel gratitude.  Grateful that I was born at a time and in a place of plenty and comfort.

I suppose then we have to ask the question,'If I have so much, what must I give in return to those less fortunate?'  From those that have to those who do not. Which brings me round nicely to another debate that we are having about our charitable giving.  But that is food for another blog post.

Access - the larger picture

We are currently debating the use of our building, and its accessibility.  With a few modifications the physical access would be considerably improved. But of course physical access is not the be all and end all of access. In the main physical access is less important than communication access - if you don't know what's going on then you are not likely to try to get to the place. As a community which attempts to be inclusive we need to ensure that we make ourselves aware of a range of needs and how we can best help people.

I have worked in social care and in community development so have some understanding of the range of needs that we may experience ourselves or encounter. Apart from direct physical access they include

  • Having the correct information in a timely manner;
  • Having the information in accessible formats;
  • Having transport;
  • A nearby bus-stop;
  • Clear signage;
  • Times of services;
  • The language used;
  • Support from people with children;
  • Having hymns in large print;
  • Good lighting;
  • Having a loop system; 
  • Having an accessible toilet; and
  • Specific dietary needs. 

We already do things to ensure that the place and our community are accessible. This ranges from helping people with lifts; to ensuring that everyone gets information, at times putting that information onto CD; printing out large print hymns; and generally trying to ensure that people are included. Often people with specific needs are most affected by attitudes.

If we as a community are to be committed to accessibility then we must look very broadly at what this means and then commit, every one of us, to doing something about it.

Here are a few websites which might be helpful



Monday, 9 January 2012

New Year - reality hits!

Our first service of the New Year and we were exploring what we do as a community to make our faith real in the world.  I guess one of the questions that we have to ask is, 'Do people join a faith community to take part in social action?'  There has been some discussion on the comments of a UUA (Unitarian Universalist in the US) blog with some saying they did. And some saying that what they do in terms of social action is quite separate although they would be happy to share what they do with their fellows.

I certainly didn't join a faith community to get involved in social action - this was one area of my life which was well developed.  I have been volunteering since I was 12 and I'm now 57.  Apart from maybe three years I have been actively volunteering my whole adult life. I have been a Unitarian for 12 of those years. This is not to say that we shouldn't participate in social action as a community but for me my personal choices about where I give my time volunteering are already well-established and currently difficult to change. 

The question then might be, 'What do we define as social action?'  Is it always about what we do outside of our communities or is it also about what we do within our communities?  We have had a difficult few years with many people experiencing significant bereavements and health and disability issues. Much of our attention has been within rather than without. We have been living out the tenet that charity (love) begins at home. Although 2012 looks a bit brighter there are still some issues - and some of these can be dealt with by working on the building to make it more accessible.  But more of this later.

So social action/witness can include to my mind how we help each other.  It may include how we use our non-human resources - our building and our money. It can also be about how we use our human resources - our skills, our time and our compassion.

I then want to ask the question, 'What does our community have to offer which is particular to a faith community, to our faith community?' We did find our way to this and came up with

  • Our building
  • Our open faith and belief in religious tolerance
  • Our willingness to make alliances with other, like-minded organisations - we have already had an approach from the regional worker for Friends of the Earth via Facebook
  • Our connections which already exist for example with the inter-faith forum and the IARF
  • Our ability to influence our district and the General Assembly
  • Our connections with other Unitarians elsewhere in the country
  • Our skills, abilities and experience for example we have a registrar within our community who is going to find out about registering our building for civil partnerships; and we would like to start offering healing services
  • Our existing approach to charitable giving
  • Our goodwill 
Driving home I reflected that we had drifted into a solutions focused approach.  Whilst I felt that I needed to put a marker down to say that I was unable to commit much new time to anything.  As one of the people who lives closest, who handles the lettings as well as all the secretarial duties, I am aware of the work that goes into just keeping us going let alone taking on something new.  I am also aware that if we commit to something we have to do it which often takes more time than we at first estimate.

So focusing on what we have and being honest about what we don't, we have come up with some suggestions.  Perhaps we have not come up with something as big and as bold as some of our local faith communities but we have continued a debate that we started last year and come up with some real actions. We will also keep talking about this.

So to our building - we are hoping to make it more accessible and to make a second lettable space.  This will impact on the lives of those who use our building as a member of our faith community and those who just want a cheap place to hold meetings. It may be seen as a distraction but our physical space is a key element to our community.  it reflects us and our values.  It always takes much longer than anticipated to get these things done.  

I am glad that we started 2012 looking out but recognise the reality that the sum total of what we do in 2012 will be very similar to what we did in 2011. 

May 2012 bring us renewed commitment and patience to achieve our goals; the will to achieve these goals together; the will to achieve these goals together in good faith with good will; and a renewed commitment to a life serving others - our loved ones and strangers, who as they say, are just friends we've yet to meet.