Jan 2017 New Years Message
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The Presidents | New Years Message | Jan 2017
As 2017 gets underway, looking back over the year 2016 it would be easy to conclude that ‘change is in the air’ within many aspects of life. Many political commentators are left reeling following their failure to correctly call the will of the populace, which saw Brexit and a Trump presidency. We have also seen many pass over to spirit during 2016; for those who have lost family and friends, I pray they find solace. The world of the creative arts has also lost many ‘celebrities’ who have played their part to shape the living of many – Bowie, Michael, Fisher, Reynolds, to name just a few. As Spiritualists we do not see death as a finality and, though we are all capable of missing the physical presence of someone who has shared our life in whatever respect, we are able to perceive a greater purpose and realise that those that move beyond the restrictions of the physical are free to continue their journey, leaving behind the trials and tribulations of life in this world, but the love tie remains.
For me personally, this time of year provides an opportunity to pause and reflect on the year that closes before, once again, we turn a page to begin a new chapter. Before we pick up the pen and begin to chart all of the possibilities a new year might afford, we need to ponder our progress to date and our direction in the future. Like it or not, change is a fundamental ingredient of life; we can try to avoid it, we can try to ignore it, but its ever-present and relentless tide ebbs and flows throughout the lives of us all. In the last two months I have attended two Church members' meetings where decisions have been made to sell the Church building and move to somewhere new, creating a new start for the Churches, both with a long history. This can cause people to feel unsettled, to worry how their church will change, but it also opens up the possibility of redefining the Church, bringing a fresh approach and moving it forward and through its location perhaps welcoming new members to the congregation. I have said publicly many times that our Churches are the people, never the buildings, and this was demonstrated to me again at one meeting, where it was reported that over its history one particular Church had met in eighteen different locations.
The Spiritualists' National Union launched an initiative during 2016 called F.O.R. – Focus on Religion. The purpose of this is not to take Spiritualism back to the past but, rather, to help shape and mould the future, helping to define what Spiritualism in the 21st century means, both for the many thousands who call themselves Spiritualists and also for the many people in this world who are searching for a greater understanding of life which Spiritualism could ably provide. To quote William Stead: The great mission of Spiritualism is to make men spiritual. We live in a world that seems increasingly to crave instant gratification and our technology seeks to serve and facilitate this need, but spirituality cannot be measured in terms of days, weeks or even months. We need a greater and wider yardstick by which to measure our spiritual progress in life. If we speak of seasons, of lifetimes and of eternity, then perhaps we begin to appreciate the true import of humankind's spiritual journey, which cannot be confined solely to the restrictions of the physical lifespan.
It is increasingly true that there are parts of society for which religion is almost a dirty word, a word defined by the past which, in the opinion of many, has little or no relevance to modern life. They point to examples of war and destruction, many of which have been perpetrated in the name of religion; they conceive church or temple or mosque to represent organisations that seek to inhibit their living and their thinking, reducing their freedom of choice in life.
The definition of religion is a belief in the existence of a superhuman controlling power expressed in worship. For Spiritualists that power is God; our contact with the spirit world provides an added dimension to that worship, drawing prayer, song, words, music and the presence of souls both here in the physical and also from spirit to create feelings, emotions and energy into that service to create spirituality. If our mission, to quote Stead, is to make men spiritual, how can we seek to achieve this? Individually, what can we do to create a difference in our lives and the lives of others? Wherever a group of people gather together we instantly observe difference, strength, weakness; fundamentally, none of us is exactly the same. Our ideas, beliefs, education, upbringing and spirituality all serve to make us what we are, an individual child of God. Within any group we will find those who know instinctively what needs to be done for the greater good; we will have those whose dedication to the ‘cause’ will encourage them to keep trying, to work hard for that which they believe, and there will also be those who seem intent on tearing down all that has been built to replace it with their own model of the way things need to be.
Religion is not staid or stagnant; it needs to be vibrant, to move and grow and find expression. Within Spiritualism we don’t have one text like the Bible or the Qur'an that provides an ever-present point of reference, but what we do have is our contact with the spirit world. All too often I see within Spiritualism squabbles or disagreements which often divide communities and set one against another; sadly, spirituality seems lost, abandoned or overlooked in a drive to prove a point or win an argument or retain control. Time and time again great damage is wrought on a church or the movement, friendships are cast aside, people turn their back and walk away. I am sure this phenomenon is not exclusive to Spiritualism and many other religions and organisations experience similar trials. Taking a wider view, perhaps this is the very nature of life; at times we will not see eye to eye with everyone. Would Spiritualism have ever been born without the need to change? Its ability to be different created an attractive proposition in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and this remains equally true today.
So, as we turn the page and look forward to 2017, what should we hope for? Prosperity, good health, greater spirituality, unity, understanding, the opportunity to work to create a different and better world, to help one another? In a moment of quiet and contemplation, we need to find an inner strength to stand up for what we believe to be true, recognising that truth itself also needs to evolve and in our own way we can bring about change. The world is not perfect, religion is not perfect, humankind is not perfect, Spiritualism is not perfect, but in coming to understand that for ourselves just maybe we become a little closer to the perfection and inner spirituality which can change and transform our lives and, in turn, the lives of others. This has to be our focus on our religion to build a stronger future for everybody.
Wherever 2017 takes you I wish you a Happy New Year; may all your hopes and dreams become reality and your awareness of God become stronger as we strive to do better in all aspects of our lives.
Minister David R Bruton
President, Spiritualists’ National Union