Monday, 2 May 2011

"Listen With The Ears Of Your Heart"

I’ve just returned from a weekend away with one of the two congregations I serve “Queens Road Unitarian Free Church, Urmston”. We spent a wonderful time at the Nightingale Centre in Great Hucklow Derbyshire, a place several of those attending have been going to since birth. In fact one man has been going there since before he was born. His mother was pregnant with him, the first time that he attended. There was about forty of us in attendance altogether ranging from the ages of 7 to 86. Well actually there was someone much younger in attendance. We discovered during the weekend that we had a pregnant mother with us, which brought some extra joy to the weekend.
I have been with both my congregations, Altrincham and Urmston, since last August and the longer I am there, the more I realise how different they are, in so many ways. The one way that they do not seem different is theologically, they are both as diverse as any Unitarian congregation I have been involved with. I am pleased about this. It does mean that I will never be able to please all of the people all of the time, but then I know that this is not my role. I am there to offer both spiritual and pastoral leadership, a commitment I do not undertake lightly. That said I am very aware how different they are culturally and structurally. I can now see how vital it was that I studied “Contextual Theology”. I wasn’t so sure at the time, but it is now making sense.
Urmston is very much a family church. Most of the people who were at the weekend are in some way connected to the Haslem family. Therefore in so many ways the weekend away was almost a family occasion. I say almost here, not exactly. I must add that this is not the case with total membership of the church, which is much more mixed.

I spent most of the weekend listening, which I believe is key to ministry. I often say I get to speak for an hour a week (well two in my case) and the rest of the time is devoted to listening.   “Listen with the ear of your heart”, has become one of my mantras over the last few months. It comes from “The Rule of Benedict” a set of ancient principles for monastic orders, followed by many Christian and some Buddhist communities today. The foundation of the rule is listening, deep attentive listening. It begins, “listen carefully, my child, to the instructions...and attend to them with the ear of your heart “. What is required is deep listening, a concept proposed, in contemporary times, by the Dalai Lama. I spend much of my life practising listening and practising paying attention. This is why prayer is so vital to life. It allows me to transcend the confines of myself and to connect to what is happening all around me.
Well I listened a lot this weekend. I spoke a little but primarily I listened as people opened up their hearts and told me of their joys and their pains and very occasionally about their personal religious beliefs and disbeliefs (I have noticed that Unitarians are more likely to tell you what they can’t believe in, rather than what they actually do believe in). I also witnessed a lot of genuine human love expressed as we walked in the Derbyshire hills, sat in the lounge area and shared food together. It was a wonderful occasion to feel a part of.
I have left with a lot to reflect upon. I suppose that this is my first real opportunity. I’ve been in a bit of a bubble these last couple of days and am now returning to the world outside of this congregation’s window. A world that is not always as loving as these people obviously are, at least to one another.

Peace and Love


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