Read it on your birthday

The blog will conclude/end/die/ cease to be in a couple of weeks or so depending on my resolve to finish a thing  I started knowing the finish of it might take me with it.

I just wanted to write.

In despair about death, because I cant change even the tiniest detail and in a breathless moment its all gone. No ‘ how was it for you opportunity, so what would you change?’

It all vanished in a puff of invisible smoke and I will never know what he thought about heroism, invincibilty, the dirty soulless world that seemed to me to contradict most of what he stood for. Yet he spoke on with undiminshed conviction and bedrocked my belief in him, if not his message.

This may be a familiar story to you and if it is then you are as lucky as me. If not then you need to know that it can be but you will have to quicken your step, talk to strangers and listen to your heart.

I  speak with no authority, credibility or guarantee that any of this might work for you but if you  have read every sermon, or a few at least, then you will know.

God bless x

Sunday Sermon – 5 January 2020

Bradford Broadway Anniversary

An anniversary, be it a personal one, or a church one as today, is, among other things, an occasion for reminiscence and historical musing.

The Church I attended as a child in Stalybridge, eight miles from Manchester City centre, where my father was minister, was built in 1870, the Sunday school, now demolished, pre-dating this by some five years. I recall as a boy watching the anniversaries approach sixty and then seventy years, and thinking that perhaps one day I would see the hundredth anniversary. Well I have. That has come and gone.

And now today, in this affectionately named “tin tabernacle”, where my grand-father preached as its first minister, and where my father must have worshipped as he grew up, the thought crosses my mind that I would like to be present at the centenary of this building. Not too long to go now, but who knows what fate has in store.

When this temporary structure, as it was regarded, was erected, nigh on a hundred years ago, was it expected to survive into the following century? I suspect not. But thanks to the devotion of many, and the building and repair skills of a few, it continues to serve a community, much changed in many respects from 1906, but with spiritual needs which are timeless.

One may observe that today is simply a date. As with a birthday, normally nothing is dramatically different, for change and ageing is a continuous process, imperceptible from one day to the next, a movement scarcely detected, like the advancing fingers of a clock. There is nevertheless a sense of occasion in celebrating an anniversary; to look forward with optimism as one enters another year, is an exciting prospect.

But let us first look back to the past. Though I never knew my grand-father, for he died several years before I was born, he must have been a remarkable man. Born in Lincolnshire into a poor Catholic farm labouring family, after not a deal of formal schooling, he worked whilst yet a child to help support the family. He practised as a Methodist lay preacher, then enrolled at Glasgow University to prepare for entry to the Congregational Church ministry. Later, after spell as a minister in Belfast, where my father was born, appointed to a charge in Oban. Finally to Bradford, where he left Congregationalism for reasons of conscience. Bringing many of his flock with him, he entered this Unitarian church as its first minister.

Conscience seems to have directed his spiritual calling. “Unto thine own self be true,” must have been a quotation with which he was familiar. He chose the hard path of putting honest belief before material security. and preached accordingly.

Historically, two words are linked with those who rejected the teachings of an established church; non-conformists and dissenters. Earlier such folk had been labelled heretics, to be persecuted, tortured and put to death, lest they contaminate the truth as perceived by the orthodox rulings of authoritarian priests. If heresy is no longer so punished, then dissent and a refusal to conform continue to be irritants to the establishment, not only in religion but in other aspects of life as well.

Though I am unclear about the nature of his disagreements, there is no doubt that William Rosling was a dissenter. Newspaper cuttings of the time both in Oban and Bradford quote him as saying that he would not, and could not, preach against his conscience – the classic statement made by those in the latter half of the seventeenth century when many left the Anglican church to form their own churches and chapels. It would be surprising if the authorities from whom William Rosling dissented were not irritated by his stubbornness, as were the divines of the second half of the 1600’s in their generation, for dissenters invariably have that effect upon establishments.
Many of the seventeenth century dissidents took the extremely hazardous step of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in small ships, enduring unbelievable discomfort, to start new lives in the colonies, where they might worship as they chose. The fortitude, determination and strength of character of those early dissenters, non-conformists who would not pretend to believe that which offended their intellect, is a matter of wonder to us today.

Grand-father Rosling did not emigrate, but stayed in Bradford to build upon the foundations of a new emerging church. It is right and proper that on an anniversary day we pause, ponder and give recognition to our forebears. Looking back is part of the purpose of an anniversary, albeit only a part.

Earlier I linked anniversaries with birthdays. To the young, a birthday is not a time to look back, but marks the occasion when a new phase of life starts. The child, later the young person, says – now I am old enough to go to school; now I can stay up later before being sent to bed; now I am older my pocket money should increase; shortly I shall move to the secondary school; tomorrow I can apply for a driving licence; at last I can (legitimately) go to the pub; we sing, twenty-one today, for now I’ve got the key of the door. To the young, birthdays are entrance portals, not rear-view mirrors.

Somewhere in middle life, a change occurs. Looking back and gazing forward are both part of the birthday experience. Sadly perhaps, the old man or the old woman will start looking back only, and forgetting the scene in front, for that ceases to be of relevance. To come to that is to lose all interest or faith in the future, and to live in a world that has passed into history.

Here in Bradford Broadway today we have moved from a new-born church celebrating future prospects with no past to recall, like the young child on his birthday. I trust we have attained the middle-age stage, when we can look back with some pride at what has gone, but also forward with hope for what can yet be. We can hope for the future as we learn from the past. What shouldn’t and mustn’t happen is that we celebrate like the old man by the fireside, with memories only and no ambition for the future.

Our times today are seen as troublesome and anxious. But perhaps we ought to think back to the times when our forefathers were meeting and founding this Chapel. It was by no means a time of quietness. The old order was changing. Suffragettes began to demand the vote, universal education meant that many were more able to question the rules that governed society

Within eight years of Broadway Avenue Church opening, the terrible World War One was wantonly destroying young lives. Families here in Bradford, as elsewhere in the land, waited anxiously, praying in this very chapel fervently, that no telegram would come with the dreadful news that another husband, brother, son or father would not return from the mud of Flanders.

In earlier times, our dissenting fore-fathers risked further hardship in order to worship in a manner of their choice, and according to their conscience. Their courage, which at the time some no doubt referred to as obstinacy, mulish stupidity or in similar terms, is something which we must not forget today as we worship in freedom, and with no fear of prosecution for our beliefs.

We pay tribute today to those who worshipped in faith, and expounded a conviction that freedom of worship was a core right in a civilised society.

And what were those strongholds? Not to sacrifice truth to expediency. Not to fear man, but rather to love God. That worship is the nourishment upon which faith feeds and by which it is sustained. That love of God and love of neighbour are not separate, but indivisible parts of a whole. That our duty, our obligation, is not merely to the present, but to bequeath to the future the wisdom of the past, modified by the experiences of the present.
These and other tenets were the bricks of faith with which those long dead built this Chapel, both in a physical sense but also in a metaphorical sense. That this building as a symbol of the devotion of men and women should continue is important. That the unseen temple built from bricks of truth shall be safe-guarded is imperative. In both may God preserve our coming in and our going out.

The heroes and heroines of religious dissent, and the founders of this Chapel had this in common – they lived with their eyes on the future, not to bask in memories of the past. In our celebration today, let us by all means pay tribute to our fore-fathers, but our main focus must be on the future.

What challenges does the future hold? William Rosling and his children, living and growing up in this part of Bradford would find much to astonish them if they were miraculously to walk around the city today. The diversity of cultures would be a surprise. Places of worship, churches and chapels, are joined not only by synagogues, but by mosques and temples. The Yorkshire dialect now spoken by Bradfordians whose parents and grandparents once lived in lands which were shown as red on a map of the British Empire, now no more.

First then, as we look forward, we recalling that our ancestors struggled and suffered as they insisted that religious tolerance was a central to their faith. Today, where much strife and antagonism in our land and throughout the world is rooted in religious intolerance, the challenge to us is to preach and practice tolerance, understanding and inclusiveness in this changed world.
Secondly, working alongside your new spiritual leader, the challenge for the future is to ensure consolidation, growth and renewal. The fundamentals of faith remain tried and tested by history. But the means of expression, perhaps the forms of worship, certainly the reaction to the pressures inherent in today’s society, must be relevant to this century.

Thirdly, it is to go into the coming days with the affirmation spoken earlier in this service ever before our eyes. The Jews of ancient times wore a small leather box strapped to their forehead. It contained the scriptural words reminding them that it was their duty to love God and honour family members. The demands of their faith were literally always before their eyes as they went about their daily business. Figuratively, the words spoken earlier in this service,

“To dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love and to help one another”

Should remain before our mind’s eye as we go forward into the future. At midnight on New Years Eve, it is traditional for church bells to ring out the old and to welcome the new. There is no bell tower or belfry here in this place of worship, but let us listen to the chimes within our hearts and minds as we celebrate what has passed, but more importantly, welcome with hope, optimism and enthusiasm the beginning a new year for Broadway Avenue Unitarian Church.

C.J. Rosling

Bradford 15 October 2000

Sunday Sermon – 29 December 2019

Golden Windows

At our bedside we have a radio alarm. It must be at least thirty years old, but it works. I set it for, say, eight o’clock, Radio 4 news switches on and the day begins. Well not quite. A period of floating in a sea which lies between the shores of dreamland and the beaches of the stark land of hard reality is a prelude. A pleasant voyage on the Sea of Tranquillity. One drifts idly between two continents, the news-reader drones on, and I catch on phrases from what is being reported, remembering little of it. Finally the ocean current washes me ashore at the foot of the climb inland, marooned to experience the joys and pain of a new day.

A few mornings ago I was being told through a sleepy haze that some-one, some-where, was expressing alarm because addiction to shopping is apparently on the increase. There are those, it is said, who have a compulsion to shop and shop without stop. Or at any rate, until they drop. At that point I drifted off again for a few more minutes. I dreamt of shopping. It was not a pleasant reverie.

I consider that whatever addictions I might fall prey to, I am safe from compulsive shopping. Where there are those who live to shop, I am driven to enter store or emporium only when it is necessary to shop to live. As chauffeur and porter I have to accompany Marie, my wife, on regular shopping trips, most frequently to the super-market. She enjoys it. I, at best, tolerate it.

Though I have lately had to take responsibility, though only temporarily I hope, for shopping, this is not the norm. In the normal routine, Marie knows it is no use giving me the list in order to share the burden, or occupy my mind, for I invariably get the wrong thing, the wrong colour, the wrong brand, or the wrong size. So I amuse myself and try to be helpful by tidying the shelves, or pushing the trolley into places where it won’t be in every-one else’s way.

The other day I was trying to park the trolley away from the bustling crowd, without much success, when a lady, watching my efforts, said, “It’s no use, where-ever you go you will be in the way!” She was absolutely right. So I abandoned the trolley and went to the cafe for a cup of tea. Then sat on a chair near the check-out and read the paper.

Some weeks ago a shopping expedition took us to an establishment which boasted of no place of refreshment. I was instructed to wait by the entrance, and not to wander off. A couple of chairs are to be found near the door. One was occupied by an old man. Actually he was about my age, but then one naturally thinks of others being old, whereas I know that I am in the prime of life. Or, as I read recently, some-one described his own years as being in the springtime of one’s senility.

I sat down and immediately the old man struck up a conversation. Not really so much a conversation as a monologue. It was one long moan. The general theme was, day by day, things were getting steadily worse. Kids played outside his house, shouting and running about. I quote, “At our age we can do without that”. The boys played football in the road, and from time to time kicked the ball over his fence. They then opened his gate to retrieve it. When he told them to go away and play some-where else, they cheeked him before running off. Pointing out, I dare-say, that he didn’t own the road. Children nowadays were not the angels they were in his youth. At least, that was the general drift.

I thought it wise not to reveal I was a retired teacher, as that would have started off a new diatribe. I wondered silently to myself if, as a boy, he had ever played in the streets, and if he did, was it quietly, speaking in a low voice, walking on tip-toe and never running about? Did his ball never go over a garden hedge? But he had gone before I got round to asking him.

Later I thought of an old book which was used in my youth as a basis for Sunday School lessons. It was a book of short stories, each illustrating a moral. The volume was named, as often is the case, after the title of the first of the stories. This was, “The House with the Golden Windows”. Perhaps some of you remember the story. Let me briefly remind those who either are unfamiliar with it, or have forgotten it.

A house stood at the top of a hill. Below the hill was the valley with a further hill rising beyond. A second house occupied the crest of that far bank. In the first house, the back of which looked to the east, lived a boy with his family.

The boy would look across the valley at the second house, wondering about its inhabitants. He noticed that every morning, as the sun rose at the back of his own home, the rays glinted on the windows of the distant building. Those windows shone, and were quite clearly of gold. One day, he determined to visit this wonderful house with windows of gold.

Eventually he started off on the journey. Down the hill, fording the river in the valley, and up the other side. It was a long way, a day’s walk. It was evening when he reached the distant homestead. Disappointedly, he viewed the windows and saw that they were, not of gold, but of plain glass. The sun was setting and he looked back over the valley at his own home. The evening rays glinted on his windows and now they were revealed as shining like gold.
It is a simple story on a familiar theme. Sometimes it is expressed by saying the grass over the fence is greener. Did not Petula Clark once sing a popular song about this? Sometimes the same sentiment takes the form of believing that the apples on the neighbour’s tree taster sweeter than our own.

The old man who, for a few minutes, sat by my side near the door of a retailer thought of a golden age when everything was so much better. I know nothing of his life, but I suspect that much of it had been spent bewailing the present, and, as it were, looking across valleys seeing that others had golden windows, whilst resenting the fact that his were of plain glass.

Count your blessing one by one, the Victorians used to say. Physically and materially we have so much better living conditions than was true in the past. The drudgery which was house-work is so much easier than it was for our mothers and grand-parents. Many of the slums, which were barely more than hovels, have disappeared. Most people in this country are better fed, better housed, warmer and healthier than has ever been the case. This in spite of the fact that homelessness and poverty by no means have been eliminated. There is much more to do, but let us not pretend nothing has got better. That everything is now so much worse. These are improvements in the physical sense, material changes for the better. Less easy to measure progress in the sensory world, let alone the spiritual domain.

If we are not careful, we shall fall into the trap of believing real charity, selfless service and consideration for others has gone from the land. This is a falsehood. I know, and I am sure you know, many who give of their time, their money and their skills as they serve the community in a variety of voluntary organisations. And not all are of one age group. There are young people, middle-aged and older folk who are thoughtful of their neighbours’ needs. Loutishness and boorish behaviour make screaming headlines; daily courtesies seldom do.

The danger of ever looking across the valley at the golden windows of others, or looking backwards with nostalgic rose-coloured spectacles whilst decrying the present, is that we become morose, bitter and arguably even worse, self-centred. We ever bemoan our fate, we never offer our service. And that to my way of thinking is irreligious.

One of my favourite New Testament readings is from the Book of James. The passage about faith and works. You can’t have one without the other, to borrow a quotation from an old popular song concerned with love and marriage. If we think things only get worse, if we never cherish what we have. If we live unto ourselves with no regard for others, then we are denying one of those three pillars of Christian religion of which Paul wrote. For we are lacking in Faith, with Hope little more than an idle dream, devoid of expectation. The greatest may be Charity, but let us not devalue Faith and Hope.

Despair will never improve upon what we have now. The challenge is to make the world a better place. Our encouragement is seeing what has already been achieved. The coupling of faith with works is the mechanism by which our fore-bearers made progress to a better life.

There is a tendency to think, or imply, that making the world a better place is a task for the great and the good. It is true that a number of thinkers, philosophers, philanthropists, statesmen and women, scientists and inventors, whose names fill the history books, have made huge and lasting changes which have improved the lot of uncounted millions. None of us here will make such claims for ourselves. But all of us have the ability to couple faith with works.

Much of joy in life is given and received not from the few figures who adorn pages of history, but by the small actions of the anonymous many. Hope is not nurtured by envious eyes cast at the green pastures over on the other side, but by cherishing that which we have, and sharing our portion with others.

We too have golden windows. To do something about the rest of the structure which may need some attention, is the task to which we should commit ourselves.

The parable of the talents is one about which I’ve never felt too comfortable. Then I suppose it depends upon the interpretation. What I do feel comfortable with is the notion that, whatever talent, gift or skill one may possess, it should be used to the benefit of others. To pretend that one has nothing to offer, even though it is merely a smile or a word of encouragement, is sinful, is unchristian. To moan that things were once much better, but fail to contribute to efforts to improve matters, is deplorable.

I know it sounds condescending to say so, but I felt sorry for the man I met by chance whilst avoiding strolling around the shelves and racks of the store. I felt sorry, not out of a feeling of superiority, but because I know that his dismal view of the world harmed no-one more than himself. He sounded without hope; he appeared to be without faith; charity was absent from his discourse. Joy seemed to play no part in his life. The exhilaration which comes from service to others was missing.

To live a life gazing at the mirages of golden windows, whether they be conjured up by nostalgia for a past that never really was, or by a present where paradise is always over the distant ridge, is to live in a slough of despond, a morass created by oneself. How much more exhilarating it is to observe that one lives in a mansion whose windows glow like gold, if only one looks at them from the right angle.

C.J. Rosling 14 July 2004

Venue unknown

Sunday Sermon – 22 December 2019

Peace at Christmastime

December. Season of carols, Christmas cards, mysteriously shaped parcels; frantic, desperate last minute shopping, flashing credit cards in hands giving no thought for the morrow, home to open envelopes with puzzled brow. “Who on earth are Edna and Graham?” we ask, as we look at the inscription on the inside of the card, the front of which shows a red breasted robin stranded on a log in a snow-covered landscape. “The post-mark seems to be Skegness. I didn’t think we knew anybody in Skegness.”

Read the printed messages inside cards, scan the verses of those well-loved, favourite carols, observe the messages hung in shops and stores with the letters outlined in tinsel, and one stumbles over again and again the words “peace”, “goodwill”, “happiness”, “joy” along with similar nouns and adjectives, reminding us that this anniversary is a celebration of delight; a time when lion and lamb can be expected to snuggle up to one another, secure and safe in one another’s company.

I was musing about Christmastime the other day and I wondered idly why Christmas had become a symbol of peace. Rather strange on the face of it, when you come to think about it. But then there is much that is illogical about the Christmas festival.

Take the story of the nativity around which the Christmas celebration is built. Joseph and Mary lived in an occupied land. A cruel tyrant, Herod, ruled, relying on his Roman masters to maintain him in power. The Roman overlords required a census to be taken under such rules that the heavily pregnant Mary, accompanied by her husband Joseph, had to make a long arduous journey, only to find at the end of it that there was nowhere to stay. They realised their plight just as Mary was coming into labour. Eventually, they did manage to find some shelter in an animal shed. One might get the impression from some carols that the place smelt sweetly of hay, but I believe in reality, without going into too much detail, it must have stunk to high heaven.

In such a setting, in labour, suffering the agonies of child-birth, I can hardly imagine the words “peace”, “joy”, “goodwill to all” were going through the parents’ minds.

We all know from daily reports on the radio and in the papers, that in present times, the land in which Jesus was born, where he grew up, preached and taught, and finally was executed, is not today a region at peace. But neither was it as the calendar changed BC to AD. Indeed, as even those with only a cursory knowledge of the Old Testament will ready recognise, the area had been a centre of armed conflict and dispute for centuries, long before Mary and Joseph found a make-shift maternity ward which doubled as a shelter for domestic animals.

Captured and transported time and again into slavery, in Babylon and Egypt, the Jews had experience of defeat in battle. Between times, successful campaigns had been fought by Israelite kings and others against invading tribes and armies. A heroic account of how the walls of Jericho had been breached comes to mind, no doubt followed by pillage and rape. The description of the manner in which Goliath came to be laid low is part of folk-law. Bethlehem, the birthplace of the of the child whose nativity we celebrate, was known as the City of David. David’s reputation had been built upon his successes as a leader of armies.

Is it not strange then that the birth of a child in an occupied country, a turbulent land long used to battle, a member of a race whose best-loved, long revered King was a conquering army general, should have inspired people the world over to talk of peace on earth and goodwill to all men and women?

Let me come back to this linking of Christmas with peace in a moment, for another thread crosses my mind.

Christmas is frequently described as family time. Christmas cards will stress this theme as they picture the Christmas tree or the laden table with all the family gathered round, laughing, smiling upon one another, welcome and affection in their eyes.

Presents are opened by wide-eyed, grateful children as their elders smile benignly. Adults receive tokens of affection, wrapped in coloured paper tied with ribbon, from their spouses and relatives. In traditional scenes of Dickensian bonhomie, toasts are drunk and gargantuan turkeys carved. The only tears are those caused by excess laughter. Such are the scenes which are used to illustrate the Christmas festival. The land may be gripped with winter frosts, but the warm hearts within the breast more than compensate.

Yet I have read reports by professionals, from children’s charities and other relevant charities, expert on the nature of relationships within families, that Christmas is frequently a crisis period when incidents of domestic violence rise, and physical abuse of children increases. Stress grows and explodes in violence. Not all is peaceful and calm in some homes amidst the celebration of the birth of a babe lying in a manger.

However, I must not become a kill-joy. A miserable scrooge saying “Bah” to Christmas and to those who join round the table with joy in their hearts, minds full of hope, words of genuine good-will on their lips. In spite of the contradictions, in the face of much tatty tinsel, commercial exploitation, false sentimentality and the rest, Christmas does succeed, if only temporally, to bring comfort and joy in numerous ways. Numbers of homeless are invited to come inside from the street, given food and warmth. Children whose lives are blighted in one way or another, are treated with generosity, some lonely are offered companionship for the day, charity appeal boxes are filled, consciences are pricked, old friends remembered.

Within our own communities and family circles, we suddenly renew contacts which should never have been neglected. We think, if only for a short time, beyond our immediate circle, and generosity wins a temporary victory against selfishness.

I spoke a moment or two ago of the stresses Christmas brings in some family circles over the Christmas period. No doubt a deal of that is due to the fallibility of human beings. But I have no doubt that pressures are added because of the ever-growing commercialising of Christmas, with relentless advertising, encouragement to spend and pay off the debt later. If sales are up on last year, that is good. If sales are merely steady, that is disappointing. If spending is down, that is disastrous. Peace of mind, joy and contentment, is incompatible with huge debt burdens. Charles Dicken’s character, Mr. Micawber memorably commented upon that fact that expenditure which exceeded income brought misery.

Perhaps we miss the point, as we often do. Christmas is not a time when the world changes. It is a time when we shield the flickering flame of hope as we tentatively raise our sights and see that the world might be changed for the better. It doesn’t have to be how it is now, given the will, things could be so different.

Certainly the child whose birth we honour was not born in a peaceful land, at ease with itself. His home-land was not free from strife. But his preaching and teaching through adulthood were about peaceful co-existence, love and charity, not of warfare and conquest. Like many before him, as well as a number who followed after, though the reward was violent death, the message did not waver. Violence begets violence, love and understanding lead on to peace.

We all have our favourite carols, I imagine. One of my favourites is the one we shall sing to close our service this morning, “It came upon a midnight clear.” It recognises the world as it is – far from peaceful, not even peace-loving in many respects. Yet there is a message. If only we would shut up for a bit, stop shouting at one another, peace could become a reality, not just for a day or two at the end of December, but throughout the rest of the year.

Just before I started to speak, we sang words in another of my favourite carols, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. May I remind you of them.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said.
“For hate is strong
And mocks the song:
Goodwill to all and peace on earth!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, and does not sleep!
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail –
Goodwill to all, and peace on earth!”

So it is right to link Christmas with peace and goodwill, even if that is in hope, and with confidence that one day reality will match our dreams. Happy, peaceful Christmas

Hucklow 15 December 2002

Sunday Sermon- 15 December 2019

Messages on the Wall

My knowledge of the bible is rather superficial. If it were not so, I would be able to put my finger on the exact passage I was searching for. But I can’t. I know that it is in the Old Testament, and probably in one of the early books – possibly Exodus or Leviticus – but just where, a quick scan has been unsuccessful in locating. Thinking about it now, it must surely come after the account of how the ten commandments were collected by Moses on stone tablets from the mountain summit.

The passage I am seeking refers to the injunction upon Hebrews to place in a small leather box fastened to the forehead (I think it was called a frontlet), and in the cylindrical container fixed to the door-posts of their houses, the text of, if memory serves me rightly, the first two commandments. Thus the true believer would be constantly reminded to love God and honour his elders and ancestors. Or then again, perhaps it contained all the commandments.

As usually happens with me, what brought the elusive passage to mind was a quite unrelated, trivial event – a card my daughter brought back from an American holiday. She gave to my wife, who framed it and placed on the wall by the front door. It reads, “Do you want to speak to the man of the house, or to the woman who knows what’s going on?” The implication that I don’t know what is going on is quite scurrilous. However daughters and wife are firmly of that opinion. I have lost the argument, and so the matter rests.

Placing texts, sayings and slogans upon the walls of buildings has a long tradition. In mediaeval times those on the churches would frequently be in Latin. The chapels of the Victorian era had texts from the bible in English, enjoining the congregations to seek the Lord, or worship in holiness. Framed samplers, poems, quotations and the like have been hung upon the walls of our homes, certainly since Victorian times, and possibly earlier than that. In the last century a common injunction was to “Bless this house” or the statement that “Home is where your heart is”, or possibly “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”. Modern texts are inclined to be less pious. A mother I know has a notice in her kitchen, “You have two choices for dinner, you can either take it or leave it”.

Perhaps the modern equivalent of the frontlet is the T-shirt emblazoned with words, sometimes funny, occasionally rather rude, often with a political or social message. But, in contrast with the ancient Hebrew leather box, seldom carrying a religious text. The frontlet, the small box containing the text hanging on the forehead, was there so that the holy words were literally before the wearer’s eyes at all times. Wherever he or she went, however the head was turned, there in front was the word of God. The wearers could not be unsure of the obligations religion imposed upon them, and which were accepted. As the Jew entered or left his house he would touch the small cylinder on the door-post in an act of obeisance, and as a reminder of the demands of his faith.

The text on the wall, the cylinder on the door-post, the ornament on the head, or even the sticker in the car rear window, in addition to reminding the owner of his opinions, serve another purpose. They say something about the owner or the occupier to the world at large. Sometimes it is a simple message or slogan, or a demonstration of the sense of humour of he or she who displayed it. But the ancient Jew gave a more substantial message to the world about himself. It was, “I am a Jew and as such I accept a way of life which requires me to love my God, the only true God, to honour my parents, to refrain from actions which the religious law prohibits, and to undertake the obligations my faith demands of me.”

In other words, the display was both a private reminder and a public demonstration of belief. And both aspects of faith are essential to the good life.

Let us take first the private reminder. A common theme of a number of hymns we sing, and the prayers we repeat, is that we must have before us, constantly, an awareness of the essential bricks of which the house of faith is constructed. The need for tolerance and understanding; the place of forgiveness, charity and humility; reverence and awe are a part of our religion, as are exultation and joy. The Jew of old put them literally in front of his eyes. We may not do that, but yet they should be, to coin a phrase, at the front of minds.

All of us know how easy it is to repeat sincerely the tenets of faith, and then to fudge them, or forget them in the course of daily life. It is one thing to say we must forgive those who trespass against us, it is quite another to put that noble aim into practice. Love of neighbour is a central plank of Christian belief, but applying it in real situations can be, to put it mildly, at times sorely trying. And so it goes for many of the other articles of faith.
The Jews of old were probably, nay certainly, patchy, as we are today, in the application of high ideals to everyday life. But they endeavoured to remind themselves of what was required of them from their God. The words were constantly before them. Their houses had the texts upon the entrances and exits. Most of us, dare I say all of us, have selective memories and an ability to over-look the inconvenient. We need reminding of our vows as was once said on the theme of forgiveness, not seven times, but seventy times seven.

If the words are not literally before our eyes as was the case with the Jews of the Old Testament then, we have to carry before us, at least figuratively, our statement of belief, as a reference against which we measure our actions.

And now to the second point; that of displaying before the world our posters and placards, our texts and stickers. I said they say something about ourselves to others. True as that is, it is not always the case that what is portrayed is to our advantage. Sometimes we see slogans and messages on walls which are intended to humiliate others, or to fill them with fear. We have all seen photographs and film clips from Belfast or Londonderry of wall murals proclaiming hatred, or twisted, triumphal rejoicing. And in our own towns and cities graffiti attacking minority populations is, sadly, all too prevalent. Those responsible for such scribblings say much about themselves, as they proclaim a message which both saddens and disgusts most of us. Other messages are comparatively innocuous. Seeking to persuade in some way, or advertising our membership of a group or our profession perhaps.

But the important messages about us are today’s equivalent of the ancient Jewish frontlet and the text on the portals of the house. They may not be visible in the sense that the eye may behold them, but they are clear and unmistakable nevertheless.

The Jew who attached the commandments to his home was saying to the world, “I endeavour to live by those precepts, and I invite you to judge me against those standards. I am not hiding the rules by which my life ought to be lived. If I fail I will not, and cannot, pretend the rules are other than they are, or that I was unaware of them.”

Matters are little different for us. Our faith is understood by others in how they see us as we speak to or act towards them. Our real beliefs are interpreted by those who observe our actions. Our neighbour is aware of what our true principles are, not by examining the doors of our houses and our facial features, but through our relationships with him. We may believe that we subscribe to the dogma which includes tolerance, but if that is not how the world judges us, because our deeds and actions contradict this precept, then what is written on the walls of our houses by us is in contrast with the opinion of the world. By your deeds so will you be known.
And if we can put up a message based on love and understanding upon our walls, which is seen by others to be valid and true, so we are also capable as a race of defiling our walls with vile and disgraceful graffiti. We may not physically take our spray paint cans to cover the walls with massages to frighten and denigrate others. But, if by our words, our actions, by our whole demeanour we give out messages of hatred, then it is as if we have actually written the words upon the surface of the buildings.

On the outside of our places of worship we put up posters. They give details of what to expect within – the name of the church, the denomination, the times of services, perhaps a wayside pulpit, occasional sermon subjects and so on. All useful, helpful information to the passer-by.

But as individuals we carry other posters round with us, as sandwich boards hung about us. They proclaim what we believe that we may be reminded – lest we forget. And we write those words ourselves in our own hand. But others add their contribution to our posters. Words that compare statements with deeds. Words that cast us as Priest, Levite or Samaritan; as arrogant hypocrite or humble repentant sinner; as a brother or sister, or as an indifferent bystander.

Our beliefs are the frontlets before our eyes; we must strive to ensure that our walls and gateposts carry the same text. As the words of the hymn put it: “Be what thou seemest, live thy creed…”

C.J. Rosling 3 March 1996

Mexborough 3 March 1996
Hucklow 16 March 1997; Doncaster 10 July 2005; 27 July 1997
Fulwood 11 January 1998

Sunday sermon – 8 December 2019

Signs and Symbols, signifying What?

It is now some years since I saw a chemist shop with the three great vials of coloured liquid in the window. Were they green, red and blue? Possibly they are still to be found, but if they are around I haven’t noticed them. There was a time in my youth when this familiar sign was displayed in every pharmacy window, and when every barber’s shop displayed the red and white striped pole outside. Come to think of it, where are the barbers’ shops? Now replaced by the uni-sex hair stylist. But that is another story.

Long before my time, keepers of taverns hung a bush outside their inns, denoting to the passer-by that alcoholic drink could be found within. Hence the old saying, good wine needs no bush, for the tavern which sold such produce advertised itself through satisfied customers. Yes, shop-keepers and traders, for the major part, no longer use the old traditional signs to advertise their wares. Even the once universal sign of the pawn-broker with the three brass balls is now rarely hung in the high street or the back alley.

The signs date, of course, to the days when few could read, so an easily identified symbol was used to inform the customer of the nature of the business to be found within.

Not that the use of signs has ceased. Indeed they have proliferated in the form of logograms, usually shortened to the word logo. Much time, thought and money is expended upon designing and choosing an appropriate sign, logo or trade-mark by which a company may be recognised. No letterhead, visiting card or advertising poster is complete without the firm’s logo impressed upon it.

New ones are being constantly designed. A year or two ago the crossed fingers of the National Lottery was devised and began to to appear outside shops and super-markets.

A decade ago, British Telecom decided to drop their then current logo, which had a capital “T” made of dashes and dots, in favour of a figure of the pagan god Pan. Millions of pounds were spent on the exercise. Some-one must have considered it worth the cost. But British Telecom are only one of hundreds of commercial, manufacturing, charitable and voluntary institutions adopting new, or adapting old, logos.

The eye-catching sign, be it a Black Horse or Captain Birds-Eye, the umbrella of the Legal and General, the initials or short word – BA, ICI, Oxfam, C of E or RC, is deemed of great importance in the public relations world, or as it prefers to be known, the PR industry.

Logos, or names, are considered as to whether or not they, to use the advertising executives’ jargon, “create the right image”. Do they sound caring, or soft, or honest, or business-like. This one will be rejected as being old-fashioned, another is ambiguous, this one, it is alleged, gives the wrong message. An organisation with which I was connected for many years changed from a hand holding a torch to a stylised hand held out in greeting because, it was said, this was a more caring representation of what we stood for.

We may doubt whether all this effort and expense is worth-while, but so much time, effort, and most of all, money, is expended, perhaps, there must be something in it.

Image is the great “in” word of today. Maybe people do decide, for instance, which political party to vote for according to the logo in current use. Perhaps folk are more likely to vote Labour because it symbolised by a red rose, or support the Conservative candidate whose election literature is headed with flaming torch. No doubt folk did put their savings in that well advertised building society because they like the bee that buzzed about the television screen advertisement.

But common sense, and practical experience tells us that no matter how carefully chosen the logo, no matter how well presented the image, no commercial firm will succeed, no charity will continue to attract support, no bank will fill its branches with customers, unless it effectively fulfils that which it promises. The sign, the logo, shows what the institution is. What the institution does, and how it behaves in doing it, has to be measured and tested by other means.

For instance, are its customers welcomed, and do they leave satisfied? Does the organisation achieve that which it has set itself to do? Is the institution more concerned with its own internal organisation than it is with satisfying the needs of the clientele it serves? Do customers think once bitten, twice shy, or do they come back again and again?

Any organisation which fails to answer satisfactorily these questions, no matter how well-chosen its logo, and whatever the slogans it uses, is doomed to eventual bankruptcy and closure.

One of the oldest logos, one of the simplest to design, and one universally recognised, hasn’t been re-vamped or replaced in nigh on two thousand years. Nor should it be. It consists of but two straight lines, one a little longer than the other and which intersect. We call it a cross. Copies of it abound, some hundreds of years old, some very recent.

It is a marketing man or woman’s dream, for it is recognised all over the world, regardless of language, culture or geographical location. Words are unnecessary, for outside a building it proclaims a place of Christian worship; on a piece of ground it marks a Christian grave; on a book cover it reveals that the contents contain a Christian message; hung round the neck it is a statement of belief.

It stands for a set of values universally recognised, even if not universally accepted. But just as with a commercial company, a charitable organisation, a corporation or a shop, the sign or logo by itself is an empty thing.

If a church shall call itself a Christian place of worship it will surely be judged by those who ask the questions I referred to a moment ago. Let me repeat them.

Are its customers welcomed, and do they leave satisfied? Does the organisation achieve that which it has set itself to do? Is the institution more concerned with its own internal organisation than it is with satisfying the needs of the clientele it serves? Do customers think once bitten, twice shy, or do they come back again and again?

If a man or woman shall proclaim himself or herself a Christian, marked actually or figuratively with a cross, the true test of membership is not the sign but the life the person lives. “..if I am without love” says Paul, “I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal”. Or James “… what is the use for a man to say he has faith when he does nothing to show it?”

The temple Solomon built, following the preparations by his father David, was an outward sign of the inner religious convictions of the people of Israel. It was not an end in itself. It was a place where the experiences of the past might be handed on to the generations which followed. Its glory was not solely in the splendour of its construction, but in the devotion of its worshippers.

In spite of my rather sceptical words, signs and logos are important and do have a value. They are a visible demonstration in a sort of shorthand of something for which we stand. They show, as we display them, that we have joined and been accepted into a corporate body larger than ourselves. If I go around displaying a swastika, that says something about me. Wear a football scarf and my allegiance is known to all.

Equally if my emblem is a simple cross, that ought to say something about me. If I am a Unitarian and my logo is the flaming chalice, again that should be not merely a piece of ornamentation, but a proclamation.

And just as say, the British Telecom engineer whose work is shoddy, or the operator whose manner is offensive, will damage the organisation whatever its logo be. So the proclaimed Christian, will be judged by individual action rather than by professed belief, be he or she Unitarian or from some other denomination.

Unitarians have not universally adorned themselves, or their places of worship with a cross. For some, that symbol may be associated with more orthodox creeds, a greater rigidity in belief than is acceptable to an individual Unitarian. So they have adopted a torch, a chalice, as a symbol of light, of seeking after truth.

But we have been diffident about what is known in the commercial world as marketing. Our symbol is too little known, what is offered is too little displayed. We should set ourselves the task of proclaiming what we stand for; we should prepare ourselves by demonstrating by the lives we lead that our symbol, whether it is a cross, a torch, a chalice, or whatever it be, stands for something precious and desirable; that it affects the lives we lead, and the service we give to others.

There is an old saying about shining like a good deed in a naughty world. Our individual logo may be an illuminated sign, a neon display that all may see if we choose. It is James’ “faith with works”, Paul’s charity, Jesus’ love of neighbour which both design our logos, formulate our slogans.

Let us wear our signs, be they actual or implied, proudly and prominently. Let them be signs of quality, trade-marks on which others may rely, knowing that the service which is offered and the care bestowed is steadfast and sure. And as good wine needs no bush, so the true Christian need display no cross.

Christian, rise and act thy creed,
Let thy prayer be in thy deed;
Seek the right, perform the true,
Raise thy work and life anew.

So we sing the words of our well-known hymn. Let it be our signature tune to complement our logos. And may they be symbols of excellence, and recognised as such.

C.J. Rosling 14 April 1991

Fulwood 14 April 1991; 23 June 1995
Mexborough 9 June 1991; 9 July 1995
Hucklow 8 December 1996; 24 June 2001

Sunday Sermon – 1 December 2019

Snappy Slogans

“If you want to get ahead, get a hat.” So announced the hatters of Luton and elsewhere some years ago. I put my failure to gain a place among the country’s leading figures down to foolishly ignoring that advice. As a schoolboy I wore a cap. Briefly in my teens I owned a trilby until it blew off into a river. As a reluctant army conscript I was obliged to partially cover my cranium with a forage cap. But for the majority of my life my locks have been exposed to the elements; either blowing in the breeze or channelling rivulets of rainwater down my face, dependent upon the prevailing weather conditions. Consequently, so manufacturers of head-gear would have me believe, I am doomed to follow at the rear, rather than proudly marching in the vanguard.

However, my subject this morning is not head-covering, but slogans, catch-phrases, sound-bites and advertising jingles. To gain power and influence in a chosen field you not only need a hat, you need a snappy, memorable phrase. Politicians understand that and so expend much time, effort, and consultancy fees, devising them. “You never had it so good”, Harold Macmillan informed us. “Labour isn’t working,” Margaret Thatcher bemoaned. “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime,” Mr. Blair promised. It was a politician who inserted “double-whammy” into everyday language. So it goes on. The short, sharp phrase which sticks in the mind is an essential precursor to gaining success in an election.

But the search for a pithy phrase is not confined to politicians. Unsure what else to say, the school-teacher writes ambiguously on the school report, John, or Jane as the case might be, continues to try (the final word ‘everybody’ is omitted). Peter has made some progress, Phillipa is showing some promise, (the exact extent of the progress or promise is not specified). I am sure Joanne’s new teacher will find much to challenge her. Meantime Gregory has made an impression on his class-mates throughout the past year (with his fists and boots, no doubt)..

Comedians have long recognised that the road to fame is best trodden accompanied by a recognised catch-phrase. Older members will recall that Stainless Stephen always enquired of his mother if she could hear him, Tommy Handley’s Mrs. Mopp announced her entrance by asking, “Can I do you now, sir?”. More recently Captain Mainwearing referred to Private Pike as “Stupid boy”, and the department store assistant solicitously asks if you are being served.

The history of marketing branded goods abounds with slogans and one-liners. Every time I see a bottle of bovril I think of the posters on the hoardings of my boyhood showing a man in his pyjamas (today it would be a nubile young lady in a bikini) sitting astride a large bottle of bovril in the middle of the ocean, announcing that “Bovril prevents that sinking feeling.” “Drinka pinta milka day”, was the prescription from the old Milk Marketing Board. Not only the Irish have been assured that Guinness is good for you. I refrain from repeating any of the current marketing slogans lest members of the congregation accuse me of being in the pay of one of the multi-nationals.

A particular rich source of eminently memorable phrases, slogans you might call them, is to be found on the pages of the gospels. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s” is the concentrated essence of a philosophy which could occupy a tome hundreds of pages thick. There is a recognition that many of us, probably most of us, have no intention of withdrawing into monastic seclusion, but prefer to live a social life, working alongside others. Mostly we choose our curtains, paint our houses, buy our tooth-paste, select our groceries, hopefully with some regard to any ethical implications as we make our decisions, but, to be honest, largely with convenience and price in mind. The Caesars who devise those clever TV advertisements ensure we render unto them that they may earn their fat salaries.

But true living requires more than homage at a materialist altar. There are values, ethics, obligations which are not purely materialistic. Worship, compassion, service to others, awe, humility and the rest are not Caesar’s values. So in a pithy statement Jesus summed up a whole philosophy of how life should be lived. Whilst living an everyday existence and paying our dues and taxes, there are other duties required of us. They are to be found in a spiritual kingdom.

There is a whole raft of aphorisms in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke about inconsistency of standards according to whether they apply to one’s own behaviour, or that of others. Separating wheat from tares, or sheep from goats, comes to mind, or the arresting sentence, “Judge not that you be not judged”. Eyes whose vision is impaired by mote or beam encapsulates in a few words wisdom of the ages, and Jesus gave in a ringing sentence a judgement that a High Court Judge might have taken hours to pronounce, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

And what of that seven word phrase which for many of us expresses what a Christian life should be about. “Love God, love your neighbour as yourself.” Does not that say it all?

The modern marketing director or advertising executive talks of packaging the product. Part of that is about giving what he or she regards as essential information succinctly in easily memorised words. Jingles and slogans are a tool used in this technique. But hundreds of years ago in a simple agrarian land an itinerant preacher with his followers instinctively understood the value of this technique. To mention simply the good Samaritan is to portray a message of caring and compassion. A doctrine of forgiveness lies within the words, the Prodigal Son.

I forget where the passage in the Old Testament is to be found, but somewhere is a reference to the small leather box fastened to the forehead of a devout Jew and to a cylindrical container fixed to the door-posts of the house. They contained just a few words taken from the commandments. They reminded the owner of his obligation to love God and honour his elders and ancestors. Though the ancient Jewish code covered every aspect of life and laid down in considerable detail how the believer’s life should be conducted the core of the message was reduced to the central message, honour both your God and your family.

So the slogan should not be despised because it reduces a message to a few words. It is a quick and convenient way of enabling recognition or of reminding us of a wider message. The comedian’s catch-phrase is his signature tune which he hopes we will welcome. The successful commodity jingle will bring the item to mind, and convince us of its excellence. The religious adage will guide us in life’s important decisions.

But the catch-phrase in itself is but a start, an aide memoire. The advertisement may tell me that this particular washing powder washes whiter than white, but if experience shows that soiled items remain grey, then that particular slogan is discredited. The comedian whose entertainment value is poor will not suddenly achieve success through a catch-phrase. Printing “Love God, love your neighbour” on my T-shirt won’t mean anything unless those values become part of the tapestry of my life.

As I have pointed out, the sound-bite, easily remembered, is not a new phenomena. It goes back generations, over decades and centuries, What is new, or if not new certainly more common, is the tendency to think a sound-bite, a memorable phrase, call it what you will, can stand alone. To recall another phrase from the gospels, Jesus spoke of a house built upon a rock. A clever pun on words, an easily recalled jingle, will be meaningless unless it chrysalises a truth. Should there be no rock on which its foundations rests, the saying preaches of dross, not wisdom.. The catchy phrase should be a summary of, not a substitute for a product, a policy, a philosophy.

It was an American politician, I forget who, speaking of an opponent for office, and drawing attention to what he regarded as windy words belying substance, used the words, “Yes, but where’s the beef.”

All of us know how easy it is to repeat sincerely the tenets of faith, and then to fudge them, or forget them in the course of daily life. It is one thing to say we must forgive those who trespass against us, it is quite another to put that noble aim into practice. Love of neighbour is a central plank of Christian belief, but applying it in real situations can be, to put it mildly, at times sorely trying. And so it goes for many of the other articles of faith.

We use a descriptive expression about speeches which are not backed by behaviour. We call it “paying lip service”. Politicians have in recent years gained a reputation among many of the electorate for insincerity, and even hypocrisy. My observation is not concerned with whether or not that is deserved. But one reason given for this widespread belief is the use of catchy sound-bites which too often have provoked the question, “But where is the beef?”

I have pointed out that Jesus frequently used the arresting short phrase, but it is worth reflecting that they would not have lasted 2,000 years if there was no substance behind them. The phrase was about the reality, not a glib statement hiding indifference.

The catch-word has been long around, and is here to stay. Nothing to be regretted about that, as long as it summarises accurately a reality, and does not hide a vacuum.
I don’t think it right to call it a catch-phrase, but I end my ramblings with that familiar summary word familiar to all church-goers, which means “So be it”. Amen

C.J. Rosling 23 August 2002
Hucklow 25 August 2002
Upper Chapel 27 October 2002

Sunday Sermon – 24 November 2019

Freedom to Worship

There is an established tradition of having special days, weeks, or even years, devoted to a subject of concern. There is No-Smoking day, Sheffield and other cities have had bus-only days. Recently there was a “No Car Day”. I heard of a “Take your Dog to Work Day”. Annual weeks such as National Heart Week are promoted, A year or two ago there was the Year of the Disabled and one could find many, many more similar examples. The purpose of such occasions is to draw our attention to an issue, often social or environmental, about which we are urged to show concern, and address in more practical ways. In our denomination a Sunday is set apart, usually in February, to think of the International Association for Religious Freedom, the IARF.

As well as the multitude of such special occasions devoted to worthy causes affecting us in our own country, are those, like Christian Aid Week, or One World Week, which remind us, that though we live on an island, in what is often said to be a class-ridden society, we cannot be isolated from the needs of other citizens, or indeed from residents of the world as a whole. As the cliche expresses it, we are all part of one another, we are one family in God. A recognition of the needs of others, as well as our own desires, is an essential component of freedom.

One facet of freedom which has been emphasised in recent years, is that which surrounds environmental issues. The squandering of resources, the pollution of land, sea and air, disregard for the lands and of the life it supports, are not matters which rebound solely on the individual culprit. They affect the human family at large, and will burden human families yet unborn. Selfishness today denies freedom to others tomorrow.

After decades of indifference to, and ignorance of, the threat, at last “green issues” as they have been nick-named, have become matters which more and more of us are taking seriously. If the next generation of children, we are rapidly realising, are to sing

“All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small..”

as a peon of praise and not as a component of a remembrance service for days gone by, we have to all take the threat seriously, and start paring away our selfish instincts.

But, important as these considerations are, I would like to direct my few words this morning to another aspect of freedom implicit in the belief that we are all part of one large, human family.

We are all part of one body, which consists of several members, says Paul in one of those illuminating metaphors which encapsulate an eternal truth. The whole body is the sum of the parts. The parts are inter-dependant, each separate, each unique, but functioning incompletely without the complementary contribution from the other constituents.

Of course the analogy is imperfect, as are most analogies. People can and do live full, productive lives even though one sense be absent or failing, but the comparison is sufficiently accurate to illustrate the point more than adequately. People are not self-sufficient. A community, be it large or small, is dependent upon the contribution of all its members if it is to flourish, to flower, and not to disintegrate.

But Paul’s analogy was not merely about the component parts of the body, and the way one depends upon the other. It went further than that. The equal value of all the parts was stressed. The eye is not of greater value than the ear, nor is the tongue held in greater esteem than either of them. All the parts are vital; all are esteemed.

When I was a boy, as when many of you were boys and girls, we were directed to look with pride at the map of the world, large parts of which were coloured red. We had described to us the glory of a British Empire on which the sun never set. The peoples in those lands coloured crimson in our atlases, all owned allegiance to the King. The pictures in our geography books, the stories in our history books, underlined the philosophy of dependency within this Empire. Our spices came from India, our tea from Ceylon, lamb from New Zealand, sugar from the West Indies, and so on. In return, it was said, Britain defended their peoples and gave them good government.

But what was not apparent, for it could not be said with truthfulness, was that neither dependency nor inter-dependency was accompanied by an equality of value accorded to each citizen. To be described as being from the colonies was to be placed in category which Orwell’s pigs would have identified. “All are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Now the British Empire has gone, replaced in part by the Commonwealth. Some former colonies chose independence outside the Commonwealth. The residual dependencies are to be named more sympathetically as Overseas Territories. Other Empires have crumbled or are crumbling. For all nations, states, empires, commonwealths, communities or whatsoever, contain the seeds of their own destruction, unless inter-dependence is accompanied by equality of value for their citizens. Neither authoritarianism nor paternalism is a substitute for equity of treatment, of the dignity of being on equal terms with one’s fellows.

We are all of equal value in the eyes of God, glibly we proclaim. A religious faith, be it Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Jewish or whatever, that does not have that precept at its core is, to my mind, flawed. But men and women when proclaiming the equality of all in the sight of God must go beyond mouthing glib words; they must match behaviour to pronouncement. International Associations proclaiming Religious Freedom will remind us that equality of regard is the close companion of freedom of expression.

Religious freedom has its roots in this tenet of equality. One world presumes an acceptance that the rights of one are no more or no less than the rights of a neighbour. That is a massive stride to take. Think for example, of a Jew and Palestinian, a Boer and a black African, a Sikh and a Hindu, a North Korean and a South Korean, a Serb and a Croat, and many, many more examples of where the one despises and denigrates the other. A loathing that is generously reciprocated. Not infrequently oppression of one group by another is linked, incredibly and ludicrously, with religion.

But all these are examples from distant places. The problems in the world are enormous, and our influence is small. Aren’t there examples nearer home? Could we not make a start in a small way? Could we look around and see if making a modest step towards equally valuing is possible on our own doorstep?

The easy step is, say, valuing equally the peasant on the Indian sub-continent, the cocoa picker in West Africa, the Chilean harvesting grapes or the Malaysian worker in the rice-field. We never see them personally and they live a long way away. Of course it is no great effort to say, with sincerity even, that God values them equally along with us.

But on our doorstep, in our own country, in our own town, it is more difficult. Are valued as equally the accountant and his cleaner, even though the former is a white male, and the latter a black female? If we are serious about one world, why in our own country do the school-leavers whose parents were born in Somalia, Bangladesh, Jamaica or Nigeria find many employers value them less than contemporaries who have white skins? Why are children whose roots are Asian, African or Caribbean so frequently taunted on their way to and from school? And why do their parents suffer from thoughtless racist jokes? Why have families been hounded from homes in what are regarded as white only areas?

Perhaps overt racism is the work of a minority within our nation. But that it exists, overt or covert, is a blot upon what is still described as a christian society. Our advocacy of the ideals of One World will ring the truer when the canker is excised. Freedom will sound more credible when religious freedom means not only freedom to worship in one’s own way, but freedom to live without overt or covert oppression.

And the divisions which we see are not only those related to colour and race. There are divisions of class, divisions by sex, divisions by residence and so it goes on.

One Christian sect attacks another, one Moslem mosque will bitterly oppose a rival faction, Jewish cemeteries are desecrated. Sikh, Hindu or Buddhist may find justification for conflict in their religion.

Our predecessors suffered privation and even death to establish the right to worship as they saw fit. Non-conformists as they are tagged should above all people cherish religious freedom. And in cherishing it, should strive for the rights of all people to have the same freedom they enjoy.

Yes, all people. That inclusive term, is not confined to the various strands of Christianity. Where religious intolerance exists, in whatever religious context, it is reprehensible. Moslem must not discriminate against Christian, any more than Christian should denigrate Jew.

We do have a One World Week, where the theme is of great issues. It is about saving the environment from destruction. It is about sharing out the resources equitably, so starvation, preventable disease, inadequate or non-existent housing, degrading poverty, violent conflict, obscene warfare, all become things of the past. These laudable aims must always be part of our prayers. That these evils continue to exist in a world which boasts mind-blowing technical skill is a disgrace.

We stand accused of hypocrisy if we demand, rightly, that the Somalian is fed, and the Calcutta beggar housed, but look with indifference at the homeless beggar in our own towns. To laugh at the offensive saloon bar joke that seeks to denigrate fellow citizens in our midst, or express our superiority to the citizen who lacks our education or so valued social status, is to shame ourselves.

Perhaps some think that these issues are separate from religious freedom. But to disparage another is to curtail the freedom of another. Freedom to worship, freedom of thought and expression, equality of regard and opportunity, are not discrete and entities, but part of one whole.

There is an old joke about the husband who boasted that his wife and he shared all decisions between them. “Yes”, said the wife, “he makes the important decisions about where the government is going wrong, about whether we should join the common market or not, and our views on monetary union in Europe, and I just decide the unimportant things, like when to pay the gas bill, what we need from the supermarket, what colour to paint the bathroom, and where to find a plumber to mend the leaking pipe”.

We need to make the important decisions about supporting efforts to end poverty and disease in large areas of the world; about doing our part to stop the desecration or destruction of the world in which we live. But there are other decisions, equally important, that should not be overlooked; like loving the neighbour who literally lives within our neighbourhood; or speaking up for the persecuted within our own communities.

A Buddhist temple is bombed, a Jewish synagogue, is daubed with swastikas, a Mosque is burnt down, a shrine is looted, a Sikh temple is closed. How shocking that people are denied the freedom to worship as they chose in peace.

In recent times, in a part of the United Kingdom police had to escort Catholics through a Protestant mob into their church to celebrate Mass. That Christian should seek to deny the right of Christian to worship in peace, is a mark of how far we have to go in order to become a society that values freedom in deed as well as in protestation.

Our brothers’ eyes are chock-a-bloc with beams. Let us attend to our motes so we can see what we are doing as we seek to remove them. Or have I got it the wrong way round? Is our mote really a beam? Religious freedom is not an idle concept. It is essential for civilised living.

C.J. Rosling 7 February 1998

Fulwood 13 September 1992; 8 February 1998
Mexborough 13 September 1992; 19 November 1995
Hucklow 14 January 2001

Sunday Sermon – 17 November 2019

Memorial Service for Mrs. Eleanor Rhodes

Mrs. Rhodes, a farmer’s daughter and one of three children, was born in Abney, not far from where we now assemble. The 20th century had not long opened when she entered this world. She left it just a year or two before its end. The century is one of great change. During it, on the roads the petrol engine largely displaced the horse; Mrs. Rhodes was born as the first flying machine was invented; she died as millions of people every day fly across the world. As a child she saw the Man in the Moon as a figment of the imagination. She died having seen television images of men actually walking over the moon’s surface.

To her family and those she grew up with she was known as Nellie – Nellie Redfern – though more recent acquaintances called her Eleanor. I met her only in the last of her life, but was struck by her warmth and friendship – an impression confirmed by the opinion of others. As Eleanor has a much colder sound than Nellie, it is as the familiar sounding, cosier Nellie that maybe we should think of her.

Because my acquaintance with her was slight, I have turned to others for help in building up a picture of her. I am indebted to Eva Brightmore’s reminiscences in this respect. Eva and Billy Bagshaw (now I understand to live in Scotland) are perhaps the only two survivors of an Infant class taught (as a pupil teacher) by Nellie Redfern back in the first World War. Nellie was only a girl herself at the time, but it was the start of a teaching career which was to end with her as head-mistress.

Nellie Redfern went to Sheffield to train, almost certainly to the Pupil Teacher Centre in Holly Street, situated in what is now a part of the Education Offices. When I came to Sheffield after the second World War where I taught for nearly forty years, I met many fine teachers who got their grounding in that institution. Miss Redfern, as perhaps we ought now to call her, taught for some time in Sheffield in either Firs Hill School or Pye Bank School (I forget which, though she did once tell me). This was in the days of Elementary Schools, teaching pupils from Infant age to leaving age at 14 years, as they progressed from standard to standard.

Miss Redfern lodged in Sheffield throughout the week, returning home at week-ends, travelling on the bus. The bus passed the bottom of the lane at Abney, a mile or more from the farm. I am told that more often than not, Nellie and her sister Dorothy covered the distance at a run. I picture them climbing breathless on to the bus, to be met with banter from the regular passengers and the driver, warning them that one of these days they would cut it too fine and be left behind!

But many in the village and around recall Eleanor (or Nellie) as head-mistress of the local school. Oliver Goldsmith in his oft-quoted poem of village life, wrote of villagers regarding the village school-master with awe.

” …….. and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew.”

Was the local head-mistress so regarded? Perhaps not. But that she rightly earned respect and affection is not in doubt.

Among the pleasures of village life in days gone by, were the dances here in Hucklow at Barleycrofts or in the village halls. Christmas and Easter were special occasions with dances at Ensor or the Maynard Arms. Buses of young men and woman, and some not quite so young, men in their best suits, ladies in long dresses, converged on the venue. The band played. No over-amplified groups thumping out raucous beats in those days, but piano and violin, drums and double bass, possibly a saxophone, provided tuneful melodies to which couples swayed in fox-trot and quickstep, Valletta and St. Bernard waltz, barn-dance and, for the fast and daring, the Tango.

Young men, sometimes shyly, occasionally brazenly, but always politely, requested of a lady the “pleasure of the next dance”. A ladies invitation dance evened up the score. The evening ended with the last waltz, where matches were made and cemented, or maybe hopes dashed, or suspicions confirmed as hearts were broken (but surely not beyond repair).

This was a part of Nellie’s social life. She loved music, not only for dancing but in singing. I am told she was a one-time member of the Teachers’ Choir in Sheffield. To make music in the company of others, or to dance to it, is to rest awhile in paradise.

During summer days, she played tennis, and taught others to play.

But what of her other love – that of gardening. Like all true gardeners, she gardened not only for herself, but to share her joy with others. Plants and cuttings were exchanged, tips given and received, friends invited to view her garden as she was pleased to visit others. True gardeners are a sympathetic community, as quick to rejoice in the success of others, as they are to commiserate when pests or weather do their worst. Bounty is shared and the pleasure of one is the contentment of all.

I ought not to forget the Women’s League. It was through the Women’s League that Mrs. Rhodes was introduced to this ancient Chapel in Hucklow. Prior to that she had attended Bradwell Parish Church, then she became a worshipper here.

But we return to her contribution to that most frustrating, difficult, responsible yet gloriously satisfying of all professions – that of teaching. Living in the village in her lovely cottage with its beautiful garden, she saw her pupils grow up, and produce the next generation of scholars in their turn.

Did she occasionally chide a girl pupil by saying, “Your mother always sewed a straighter seam than that”? I expect so.
Did she praise a boy pupil by saying, “At least your writing’s neater than your father’s ever was”? Possibly so.

Did she feel pride in the way her boys and girls grew into manhood and womanhood? Undoubtedly.

Did she shed a tear when misfortune hit one of her ex-pupils? I believe that must be true.

Little Nellie Redfern – Derbyshire born, Derbyshire bred, Derbyshire dweller and Derbyshire lover, lived a full and rounded life. Friends and pupils, neighbours and family, acquaintances both casual and close, were beneficiaries of that full life.

There are memories galore, some public and shared, some secret and treasured, in this community. We come here to give thanks together for a rich life, which is the genesis of those memories.

Nellie Redfern, Eleanor Rhodes, was blest with many years. Perhaps her longevity was inherited in her genes, for her mother lived to be over 90 years of age.

Perhaps it was good farm food in her youth, coupled with healthy Derbyshire air throughout her life, which gave her so many years.

Perhaps it was the contentment which comes from living among friends and seeing young things, whether plants or people, grow to maturity which prolonged her life span.

Whatever the secret, the days were not merely long, but full. I am reminded of those lines from one of our hymns which go,

“She liveth longest who can tell
Of true things truly done each day.”

Many were the days, and true things done were bountiful. In the words of the New Testament, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”.

C.J. Rosling
Hucklow 14 April 1996

Sunday Sermon – 10 November 2019

We Shall Remember

Today is Remembrance Sunday. Today, acts of worship are taking place throughout the land, in churches and chapels, round Cenotaph and war memorial, in city and in village. Parades are being held, the silence for recollection and prayer descends. Formal, almost stylistic acts of grief and sorrow are enacted. The two so-called Great Wars – though in truth there is nothing great about war – are history rather than episodes in the lives of an increasing number of the population. We who grow old will remember them, but for many it is a handed down memory of deeds, valour, suffering and tragedy, rather than one of personal reminiscence.

The origin of Remembrance Sunday is with what was Armistice Day; the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month that saw the conclusion of the First World War. That war was optimistically, and as it proved, mistakenly, referred to as the war to end all wars.

There are now a minority of the population who recall the two wars from personal memory; even fewer from participation in those horrendous battles of 1914 to 1918. No one under seventy eight years of age was even born before the first world war ended. Any surviving combatants must be well over ninety. There are more of us who have memories and experiences of the conflict of 1939 to 1945. But the Second World War did not, no more than the first one, prove to be a war to end all wars.

Troops from our own country have since then been involved in Malaya, Korea, Belise, the Falklands and several other places, not to mention the so called “troubles” in Northern Ireland. Five years ago a short but bloody battle was fought in Iraq.

Soldiers and civilians from many lands continue to be victims of war. Merciless carnage, even as I speak, takes place in many parts of the world. During the last few days many of us have been shocked by terrible pictures on our television screens of slaughter in central Africa, unbelievable cruelty inflicted upon even the children. Peace has a hollow ring to many people throughout the world. Armistices and cease-fires are signed from time to time. But an armistice is but a step on the road to peace. True peace is as yet an elusive goal for the many who suffer.

I remember well the start of the Second World War. I sat in Church that September Sunday morning in 1939, my father taking the service which started at 10.30. Following the invasion of Poland, an ultimatum had been given to Germany which expired at 11.00. Soon after eleven, a member of the congregation who had slipped out to listen to the wireless, came back and signalled to my father that war had been declared, and he announced this from the pulpit.

It was a bitter blow to him, for he was a life-long pacifist, and had suffered as such in the First World War. Years were to pass, and many casualties among civilians as well as troops were to be sustained from that Sunday onwards, before peace was to reign again. Young men and women, as well as some not so young, in that congregation left over the months and years that followed to don uniforms. Some did not return.

Remembrance Sunday is an occasion when collective memory is built up from numerous personal memories. Mine are of young men, colleagues and play friends, who went to war after September 1939, and lost their lives. The young pilot who was shot down before the war had hardly begun dropping leaflets over Germany; the local solicitor’s only son who was lost, presumed drowned, from an aircraft carrier; the young rear-gunner with whom I shared air warden duties, who survived only two trips on raids over Europe before being killed; my mother’s cousin dying in a tank at Dunkirk; the school friend struck down in Normandy following D-Day; another friend who survived Arctic convoys to Russia but whose health was so damaged that he died soon after peace was declared.

Our memories naturally are personal, but grief and pain are universal. My memories, and your memories are replicated not only nation-wide, but world-wide. As a member of the forces I worked mostly in army hospitals. Not only British troops came into hospital beds. Young Germans and Italians came, sometimes to die. The grief of their families, our enemies as we had to regard them, was without doubt as acute as the grief experienced by allied families.

Once during an air-raid I saw a fiery ball falling from the sky. It was a German aircraft which had been hit by anti-aircraft fire. I thought of the crew probably trapped in the blazing plane falling to their death. Families in Germany would mourn, just as families I knew mourned our dead. It all seemed so desperately sad and futile. Young lives from many countries prematurely ended.

Remembrance Sunday, though it has special meaning for those whose memory includes their own experiences, is more comprehensive than that. Known relatives or friends who paid the price of war with their lives or their health, or through personal suffering may be in the thoughts of some of us. But it is also an opportunity for every-one, young and old, to reflect on the obscenity of war itself.

Some speak lightly of war, using terms like war games. Surely they can have no imagination, or no understanding of what war means. For war is no game. True, there is a comradeship in adversity which is remembered and cherished. Individuals show courage, and make sacrifices for others. But war itself breeds that which is in direct contradiction to what we call Christian values.

The values are not unique to Christianity; they are shared by other great religions. But these qualities are denied or suppressed in armed conflict. Instead of love, war preaches hatred; in place of the sanctity of life, war revels in the ability to kill; lies and deceit are justified; building and reclamation is overtaken by wanton destruction; accord becomes coercion; fear takes the place of tranquillity; what would be rightly labelled as a crime at any other time becomes lauded as a deed of valour. The good soldier is he who kills or maims the greatest number. And increasingly the largest casualties are not among the uniformed men and women, but of innocent civilians of all ages and both sexes.

I do not know whether war is avoidable in any circumstance, or is simply inevitable. If I have not been able to embrace pacifism it is because of other evils which exists in the world. Evils of oppression, massacres of minorities, and cruelty run rife as in the camps of Belsen. Those unspeakable acts since matched in other camps in other countries. But war is so horrific, that it must be a final, desperate last resort.

One consoling thought is that even bitter enmities nourished by war do not last for ever. A good friend of mine was able to entertain for two weeks a party of Japanese in her home for a fortnight a few years ago, and to pay a reciprocal visit to an ordinary Japanese home, living with the family and enjoying generous and kindly hospitality. Immediately after the end of 1945 such visits would have been unimaginable. Similarly, friendship and interchange between European citizens once sworn enemies are commonplace today. Bitter memories can be and are being put aside.

Scarring as are the experiences of war, one message becomes clear as time passes. It is that is hatred and destruction are transitory. As Paul reminds us, it is faith, hope and love which abide.

What stops most of us committing such crimes as murder, burglary, theft, rape, child molesting and the like is not fear of the law as such, but a sense of right and wrong, a respect for others. Laws in themselves are insufficient to protect and control, it is the goodness, contrasted with the wickedness, of individuals, which ultimately determines how peaceable is our existence.

Similarly war may deal with an immediate crisis. It may free a subject people, it may deter a tyrant: but true peace comes not because of deterrents or through imposition by armed force. It comes because nation wishes to live at peace with neighbour.

The bulk of people are, in spite of our sometime pessimistic anxieties, law-abiding, peace-loving folk, who would be so whether or not the laws were harsh or lenient. They have no wish to covet from neighbour, to steal or to murder. When the nations of the world and the men and women who rule them are similarly so minded, then perhaps war will cease.

But the goodness that lies within individuals and nations needs to be nurtured and fed. It is nurtured by worship, and it is fed by prayer. Nations will not be righteous unless people are righteous. Nations are made up of individuals like us. Unless we are ourselves peace-loving, neighbour-loving, God-loving, then we cannot expect the world to be so. The easy thing to say is that we are but one, and therefore give up. But that was not the answer the early Christians gave, and many more who followed them.

It is not the answer that many we remember today, from many lands and in many generations, would want us to give. Too many lives have ended prematurely through strife and war. Many more I fear will be lost in the future. But if this carnage is ever to end it can only be because goodness has finally triumphed through the constancy of men and women of, to use the old phrase, good faith.

A favourite hymn of mine is by Horatius Bonar, a Free Scottish minister in the last century – “They live the longest who live well..”. Two couplets from that hymn come to mind.

“Sow truth, if thou the true wouldst reap;
Who sows the false shall reap the vain;”

and

“Sow love, and taste its fruitage pure;
Sow peace and reap its harvest bright;”

Our thought for today and every day is in the two commandments of love. The sustaining of these is our best hope of peace.

It is the debt we ought to pay to those of all ages, from every land, whose lives have been curtailed by war. We repeat, “We Shall Remember Them”.

C.J. Rosling 12 November 1994

Hucklow 13 November 1994
Mexborough 13 November 1994
Mexborough 10 November 1996
Mexborough 9 November 1997