Celebrate Our Future

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Chalice Lighting

Life is filled with ups and downs
It’s sometimes easier to notice the downs!
Let this light be for celebration
For victories won
For times when things do turn out right
For allowing ourselves to experience joy

'Gratitude' by Rev Andy Pakula

Today is different. This past week, we learned that New Unity has been awarded a major grant from the Heritage lottery Fund. Major.

I had planned for today to be the first Sunday of our new theme of reconciliation. I would have said lots of wise and serious things but having just recently talked about how we too often fail to celebrate, I realise that today needs to be about celebration. Only after we celebrate and experience the joy should we move on to venture into the harder stuff.

So, today is about celebration and then about looking toward how our future might just have changed. The structure and content today are somewhat different. Some of you will relish that change and some will find it troubling. Maybe that’s good since there’s a lot of change coming in we probably need to practice!

The first thing we should do is thank everyone who has made this good news possible.

Foremost on that list are John Bates - the chair of the Executive Committee - and his wife, Wendy Sudbury. John Wendy put an enormous amount of time and energy into the first, failed, HLF bid and then even more into the two phases of this second, ultimately successful bid.

Also, at the top of the list is Stephanie Brooks who took on the organisation and management of all the architectural and other building issues. Stephanie is a very busy architect herself and her work on this project was an enormous labour of love.

The advisory board is next to thank. They participated in a number of ways guiding various parts of the project. We thank the members of that board: Marcus Duran, Grace Graham, Abi Misselbrook-Lovejoy, Clare Midgley, Toby Morrison, Cheryl Smith, and Roberta Wedge.

Thanks to all of the members of the Executive Committee who helped in many ways: Jenn Flandro, Kent DePinto, Silvia Kerste, Carol Emrich-Fisher, and, of course, John Bates.

Thanks to the consultants who worked so hard and well to make our application strong:

  • Catherine Bloodworth,  Esther Gill, and Taissa Csaky from Bright Culture.
  • Bernie Morgan, who did fundraising for the development phase
  • Richard Griffiths architects for the enormous project of planning the renovation of this building.

Thanks to the wonderful staff members who helped in many ways:

  • Sophie Yau-Sylvestre
  • Jean-Guy Sylvestre
  • Kate Eden
  • Emma Boyd
  • Me

Thanks to everyone who helped out with events and another ways that I’ve failed to mention. And finally thanks to all of you - the people who have made New Unity a place that others recognise as worthy of such substantial funding and a source of great good in the world.

The Future

On Wednesday morning, there were two paths that appeared to loom before us. Along one, we continued on without the HLF grant. There would be other grants and other fundraising to work on this building. We would focus also on our core mission of growing love and justice in individuals, in community, and in the world. Along the other path, we received the HLF grant and everything changed. By the end of the day on Wednesday, only the second path remained. The future shifted dramatically. What kind of change will take place?

There will be a major renovation project that will close this building for the entirety of 2019. This work will provide a building that can last another hundred years or more and that can serve us and the community better - a building that will host a range of programmes and activities to make the heritage associated with this building more accessible to the public. By the end of 2019, we will engage a set of staff members as large as our current staff to manage the public access to the building and the outreach to the community.

It will be an enormous change for us. It will mean big changes as we lose the use of this building and need to move Sunday Gatherings and other programmes and events elsewhere. It will be another big change when we reopen in 2020 with a much more usable building.

It will mean a big change too as this building becomes open regularly for public visits and tours and school visits. There will be a lot of energy going toward that work and a large number of volunteers will be needed.

The heritage will become better known as will this building. How all this will affect the other activities of the congregation and its mission is harder to know. That will be up to all of us and how we choose to shape all of the work we do.

What Would Mary and Richard Do?

Mary Wollstonecraft is one of the most important people associated with the history of this congregation. Mary spoke out for women’s equality and was way before her time in doing so. She spoke at great risk to herself and her reputation. Her words and her life earned her condemnation from many in her time. So severe was it that this heroine of human rights was obliterated from history until her story was revived in the 20th Century.

Richard Price was Mary’s minister. It is probably fair to say that he had a big contribution in radicalising Mary. Price also spoke out for justice and he was also attacked for his views. Richard Price supported the French and American revolutions. He believed that people should be able to choose their own leaders. He was also an early abolitionist - rejecting the then widespread institution of slavery of African people.

Women’s rights
The right to choose our own leaders
Opposition to slavery

If Richard Price and Mary Wollstonecraft were with us today, what would they say? I think Mary would be disappointed that - despite all the changes that have taken place - women are still paid less than men for the same work, have more difficulty advancing in work, are underrepresented in powerful positions, and are routinely subjected to sexual harassment.

And I think Richard Price would look at the world today and - although the royals do not rule over us in the same way they did - we now have billionaires who exert huge influence over our lives. Rupert Murdoch was not elected. He would rejoice that legal slavery is gone in the country but despair both that slavery still continues and that racism runs rampant in this nation.

Richard and Mary would be glad that we will take a collection for a charity in a few minutes for a charity that serves African heritage women who have suffered domestic abuse. They would be pleased that our celebration will be followed by a workshop on racism. They would applaud the other work we do and, I think, they would urge us not only to talk about what they did and said but what we can learn from their lives about how to address today’s challenges. They might ask us to consider not just who is present in our history but who is absent. I think they would urge us to do all we can to make sure that the funds we have been given on the basis of their work contributes to building a more just world today.  

Closing Words

Congratulations
The news of this week will mean a changed future for New Unity
The way that future comes to life will depend on us
Let us follow the example of Richard Price and Mary Wollstonecraft
Let us use our good fortune and our achievements to grow love and justice in the world