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Phil's account of Autumn visit to EUU in Cologne

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 05, 2016 10:17 am    Post subject: Phil's account of Autumn visit to EUU in Cologne Reply with quote


13 December ; 10:45am
Theme: Singing For Our Lives
Service Leaders: Joyce and Phil
Musician: Dave Winter
Hymnbooks: green and Purple




We begin our service with the modern international Unitarian ritual of lighting the chalice. Today I shall use words provided by the International Council of Unitarian Universalists, submitted by the Danish Unitarian, Lene Lund Shoemaker.
Let this flame symbolize the divine spark of light embedded in all living beings.
May its flame lead us to greater knowledge and tolerance.
May its warmth lead us to deeper love and compassion.
And may its light lead us toward greater wisdom and understanding.
Yes, each of is but a tiny flame,
But together we can enlighten the world!

OPENING WORDS: A Responsive Reading from the EUU Conference by Mark Belletini

We are here


To the greater song of all that lives;


As we take strength from the power of music.


As we speak our lives in word and song;


HYMN 15 (G) “For All That Is My Life”
Silence is a part of music and speech. It is also an aid to worship. Let us now share a time of silence to use as we wish- to meditate, pray, ruminate, reflect, commune or whatever…
Now let us enter into the spirit of this service with our whole selves, ready to give and receive.


Joyce and I recently had the privilege and pleasure of attending the Fall Retreat of the European Unitarian Universalists.

Who are they? Reading from one of their pamphlets: “ The EUU was founded in 1982 as a support network and community for Unitarian Universalists in Europe. About half of EUU members also belong to local lay-led fellowships, which share resources and programmes (including Religious Education). Fellowships are located in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland…EUU is a founding member of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU). It has close ties with the Unitarian Universalist Association (USA) and our own GA.” We made contact with an Irish lady from the Paris fellowship and have been sent best wishes to them after the terrorist attack.

Did you know that we here in Newcastle had such a worldwide connection? Perhaps you could visit them on holiday, or by e-mail – or attend one of their conferences. The next one is due in April in Basel, on the topic of ‘Divinity’.

I have long wanted to attend and this year they invited the British Unitarian Church Music Society to join in with the theme: ‘Singing For Our Lives’. Held in Cologne at a lovely Youth Hostel beside the River Rhine, there were over 180 people, their largest yet; 20 from Britain including us, from October 30-Sunday November 1. Then we visited Gillian and family near Hamburg.

Today we want to share some of our experiences with you.

HYMN 14 (G) “For The Beauty Of The Earth”

JOYCE Beginning

This trip was an adventure, as we usually travel with a group, unless visiting family. So making all the arrangements and living through them was a challenge, especially at our age.

At 8am on Friday, October 30, we caught a plane from Manchester to Dusseldorf. From there we took a train to the city centre. Unfortunately we had trouble getting the ticket machine to work, so we got on without one, thinking the guard would sell us one. Thanks to a friendly local we discovered guards do not sell tickets and an inspector could fine us heavily. As a result, the three of us got off the train and he helped us buy tickets to Cologne – from wherever we were, not the airport. Taking the next train along –plenty of them; crowded, too- we arrived safely at Dusseldorf station, having passed loads of bright graffiti art, which seems widespread now. Having found where to go for the Cologne train, and when, we settled on a Turkish café and had a tasty lunch. We had no trouble riding to Cologne station and getting another train to the youth hostel, which is within sight of the Rhine.

After registering and getting our keys and Identity Labels, we took a lift/elevator to our fourth floor room and settled in. Then we enjoyed a coffee break and considered our two workshops for Saturday afternoon. We both chose the guided trip around Cologne first. Others chose: Beginners Recorder; Hebrew Chanting; Magic of Music Within you; Chamber Music; Slow Yoga; Climate Change; Spiritual stress Management.

The second session choices included: Aging well; Hymn Sing; Social Action; Learning to Line Dance; Aids to Meditation. Impressive range! We delayed our second choices.

There were 20 of us from Britain and we enjoyed seeing each other again. Some went elsewhere before Cologne; some were going elsewhere after.

There were over 180 in the EUU group, but we shared the place with others, such as a teenage Jewish group and a Muslim women’s group. We Brits were in the second sitting for meals I had special gluten-free meals provided at each meal.

The evening programme included a session of Joys and Concerns, followed by an intergenerational mixer, including circle dancing. However, two rehearsals meant we missed some of the action. Both of us rehearsed with the combined choirs and instrumentalists for the Sunday Service. And I joined Joan Hill’s ad hoc group preparing a song for the Saturday evening entertainment. We had more rehearsals squeezed in on Saturday and Sunday morning as well.


After breakfast we had another welcome and set of announcements, followed by the youngsters leaving for their activities. First we had to learn a song, which was used whenever they left the main gathering. I think Michael used it once as a round. I like the way they used it and I want to practice it now. Later, we shall use it as our choral closing. It is Called “Go Now In Peace” and is 413 in the UUA gray hymnal.. First, Dave will play it through. Then I’ll sing it; you join in when ready. I’ll sing it. Then we can do it line by line. The words are at the end of the order of service: SHARED CLOSING.

The main weekend leader was Mark Belletini, who had already led a previous conference. Born in Detroit and raised a Catholic, he became a Unitarian and trained for the ministry. In 1978, when he began looking for a church, he met resistance as he was gay. Living in San Francisco, he needed an income so he took a job in a bank, which he says “did not use my skill set”. But that same year a major event took place there: the Mayor and Harvey Milk were killed because they were gay. There was a parade of 30,00 in protest that night and a campaign began, sparked at least in part by a song by the unknown Holly Near. Here are the words of the first verse: “WE ARE A GENTLE ANGRY PEOPLE/AND WE ARE A SINGING PEOPLE.”

Let me quote directly from his theme talk:
“There are many other verses in that song, of course. But let me tell you what that first line of song did for me.
“First, the text acknowledged that I was angry. Amid a crowd of 30,000, who were also angry. Now back in 1978, I assure you, the idea of same-gender marriage, didn’t fire in the synapses of any person I knew. We were all just worried about not getting shot, or beaten to death. Which many of us were, even in San Francisco. We wanted not to be fired from our jobs, or not turned away from housing, which even in that city, we often were. And the song acknowledged the seriousness of this double murder for us all.

“But the melody itself is very gentle, almost sing-song, and everyone there immediately caught the tune. The tune held the simple repetitive text comfortably. After awhile, all of us were singing along, as Holly Near, the composer and singer, tossed out the verses. We sang about our many colours, genders, sexualities…our whole context. And she reminded us at the end, though we were all in shock, and enraged, we could still choose to continue to love, since it is love, not rage, that ultimately forges a life-long community of steady resistance to the status quo.


“On that Monday night in 1978, we were, in plain fact, indeed singing for our lives. And From our lives, and To our lives, and WITH our lives.

“I am convinced that this song planted a seed of empowerment in a whole movement that has, after 37 years, changed the world incredibly.

“It even, I suspect, prompted some of the change in thinking I spoke about among Unitarian Universalists. People started singing it in our congregations long before we put it in the gray hymnbook. We were not ‘gay and straight together’ back then…(Oh, yeah, we were, but nobody knew because sexual minorities didn’t often find spaciousness to speak of their lives. Not because of Biblical interpretations, certainly, just the prevailing cultures of the times.) But in a mere 37 years, look at the astonishing progress in our congregations, especially in areas prophesied by her text, and cradled in her melody. It took more than a song, obviously. I know that very well. But during the work it did take, many of us were humming that song under our breath, and, yes, singing for our lives.

“The song initiated change because music, singing or instrumental, has power. Power over our minds, over our hearts, over our very bodies. Over our communities. Over the marginalized even.”

He went on not only to be called to his first church but later to becoming minister of Columbus Ohio, with 2,000members. Furthermore, he was head-hunted to be Chairman of the 1993 UUA gray hymnbook, “Singing the Living Tradition”. He told us a bit about the work of producing the book, including his initial reluctance to take it on, as he can’t read music. But they knew he had a wide-ranging appreciation of music and an ability to get things done. So he did.

There too much material to cover from his double-session workshop -ideas and activities, for he had us singing, including chants, hymns and a round we shall use shortly. But I still want to share a few more of his ideas, briefly.

One important point arose from discussing a film being made from Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘great novel, CHILDHOOD’S END.’ “The benign aliens who have landed on earth have no music in their culture, and cannot figure out why human beings go to concerts, sing around a campfire, belt it out in the shower, or need musical scores behind their videos and films. Nothing in their own bodies seems to relate to any aspect of this earthbound expression called music.

“Some readers thought this description of music –free creatures meant that Clarke himself wasn’t much of a music lover...” Instead, Clarke approved the idea of including music in the film and very much enjoyed the actual result.

Mark continues thus: “What I think Clarke was saying is that music is so essentially earthbound…human, whale, songbird…that you would have to be from another planet not to get it, to be moved by it, to engage with it at some level. The aliens, you see, were incapable of any ecstasy, joy, or the slightest transcendence, so music simply didn’t make sense to their vast minds, their armoured bodies, their rarefied emotional make-up.

“But I think Clarke was also saying that music remains mystifying even to those of us who are earthbound, we humans who study our own cultures, and the workings of the brain and body together. We strive to interpret things like rhythm, (which, after all, our own bodies make with breath and heartbeat.) We strive to understand the highly subjective beauty of a certain melody…Music, so culture bound, can often bewilder the analytical mind. And culture-bound interpretations are not always easy to sort out from the actual physiological aspects of the brain and body’s interpretation of music, whether it’s the percussive drumming of a rock band in Malawi, the loping rhythm of music played along the beaches of Brazil, or the Kol Nidrei chanted by the cantor three times on Yom Kippur at the synagogue in Shanghai.. No need to go to Africa or China either. Just within these European cultures, not all that far apart from each other geographically, you can nevertheless find wildly divergent music…

“In our post-modern world of Youtube, Tumblir and Instagram, however, all of these cultural expressions of music-rhythm, melody, color, line- are blending, harmonizing, weaving with and influencing each other. It’s almost impossible to find some pure music of a particular people uninfluenced by other people…/Musical cultures are simply porous to one another as economic classes shift and change, country moves to city and expectations shift.

“ For example, Christmas carols were once dances…The word ‘carol’ only means ‘round dance. And there were spring carols and Easter carols and seasonal carols of all sorts, but only Christmas carols have survived, for the most part, and hardly anyone dances to them anymore. Indeed in some Christian congregations out of the more conservative Baptist traditions, to even think about dancing to a song about Christ’s birth seems sinful, not delightful.

“Music exists from culture to culture, but it is a waste of time to make assumptions that what works well in one place will work well in another.”

He does warn that the power of music can be used in destructive ways, as well as the more common creative, joyful ways, a point he developed further in his Sunday sermon.

Then he told a story about a member of his Hayward, California congregation, who apologised for not singing in services. “None of those are the reasons I don’t sing., Rev Mark. I am an Indonesian and a Muslim, and we do not sing in groups in our religious assemblies. But I love the call to prayer before religious assembly every day…it is beautiful. And we have a great symphony in Kuala Lumpur, which I loved to attend while growing up. During high school I listened to local and foreign pop songs on the radio every day. And I used to sing our anthem, “Indonesia Raya”, with my classmates, that’s true. But I don’t understand the concept of group singing in a religious gathering.”

The member went on to say he could not read music, anyway. But Mark makes it clear in his talk that everyone can and should join in, even if tone deaf.

Another important point he developed is “ you do not have to be traditionally religious to be affected by religious music.” After some examples he went on to
Say “Music, even when we are not sure how this works exactly, has the power to heal and transform people. Like me. In this case, it’s fair to say, I wasn’t exactly singing for my life, but I was LISTENING for my life.

To end session one, Mark invited us to return from coffee break ready to hear the piece of music which had prompted the last quote, Janucek’s “Glagolithic Mass”.

His next point is about how music affects our brain. “Scientists who study the relation of music to the brain have discovered that one of the things which makes music so remarkable is that it requires several parts of the brain to relate to it. Older structures in the lower brain need to cooperate with higher brain functions in the cortex in order for music to unveil its power. It’s actually related, in some ways, to things like sex, and even gambling, in that way. The chemical dopamine is involved in the pleasure music can bring. But the pleasure will come from different music for different people. Each piece of music we hear, or, yes, sing, imprints its structure in our brain, creating a template which we use to predict what other music we might want to hear…

“Repetition, in fact, according to…a scientist whose main focus is the effect of music on the brain, is one of the only factors we have been able to find in every kind of music around the world. It’s one of the few universals in the whole field of music.”

In the October issue of BBC’s “Focus” magazine, there is an article which pursues this issue: “So far as we know, nothing engages as many parts of the brain as music, which suggests that it might have an important role in our evolution”. Furthermore, it seems that music preceded our use of language. In addition to rhythm, melody also seems universally attractive. The article is called “Tune in to Treatment FM” as music seems to aid healing.
One final issue he deals with here relates to his work on the hymnbook: the remarkably masculine, patriarchal nature of the English language. The commission tried to promote a more egalitarian culture. The hymnbook also expands the type of music beyond ‘hymns’, to being more inclusive in that way too.

He shared much of his musical life and gave us much to take home with us.
I shall share a bit more later, from the Sunday service..


JOYCE Middle

After lunch on Saturday a group of us went by train to Cologne for a guided tour. The huge, old Gothic Cathedral was the main feature, with a very tall spire, many carvings all over, and extensions from various periods. During the Second World War, Allied bombers used it as a marker, so it was not damaged, despite being near the RR station and a major bridge; the area was flattened, but the cathedral was unharmed. It is very popular with tourists from all over the world, but also busy with weddings. In fact we had trouble walking past it as one wedding party had just come out and another was on its way in. There were loads of steps down to the Rhine, alongside which we strolled awhile. Then we went over a bridge and back. This bridge is famous for its love padlocks: the fences are covered with them, placed by couples who want their love to continue and be remembered.

By the time we had returned for coffee, we felt we had got to know both the place and our own group a little better.

Phil went for a rest and I was tempted into the hymn sing workshop and I am glad I stayed. We were given a packet with copies of popular hymns submitted by EUUs and Brits in advance, ranging from old ones, regular ones and new ones. We only had time to sing a few, but we kept the packets; mine is on display today. Today’s hymns were all part of the weekend.

In the evening the youth provided part of the entertainment, with the four Romanians being very effective. They were followed by volunteer performers with a variety of styles, including our ladies’ song, whose title I am afraid I have forgotten. It was well received, anyway.

At the end there was a special optional activity: a Samhain ceremony, celebrating the wheel of life, pagan style.

HYMN 133(P) “ Play Trumpet, ‘Cello, Harp and Flute” by Andrew Hill

The Sunday service, held in the usual main hall, was led by Mark. His theme was How and (Why) To Sing

The choir opened with an introit written especially by David Dawson: “ We Stand On Holy Ground” (Copy on Display) Later in the service, the choir sang another Dawson premiere, “Dona Nobis Pacem”. (Copy also on display.)

Today we have used his opening words, but I could not use his Chalice blessing, which he presented in three languages. Much of the sermon relates the story of music in his life, such as “There was no music in my house…The only song I recall being sung in my house was “Happy Birthday” and even that was rare…My grandfather Nazzareno, however used to sing snippets of old Italian songs…My other grandfather did not sing that I know of, but he DID take me to the opera when I was a child. And he clearly had opinions about how things should be sung…And after every opera he took me to, too, he commanded me; “This is YOUR music. Learn to love it!’

…”I did not sing at home, but I sure did sing at church. We attended daily mass at the parochial school I went to. In Latin and Greek.

Later, after the Church switched overnight to English in the Mass, his horizons spread and his body responded to different rhythms from guitars, Motown, and Russian music; UU music and ‘Women’s music’. “This new music convinced me that when women, or any group strengthening their identity, find their own voices, they create new music…

“But I also came to realize that many of the women claimed that singing this new music also helped them CLAIM their own voice.”

After describing further the work on the hymnbook Commission, stressing how they sang All options together, he again encourages everyone to join in, regardless of their ability- just don’t apply for a classy choir! “But that is the only exception I can think of, as far as I am concerned.

“For singing IS life, folks. It is a source of health and welfare.

And how do you sing? “Just let go….it’s a physical thing. And because it involves the breath moving through the breast…, it is a spiritual thing just as much, for breath in Latin, is SPIRITUS, SPIRIT. I say that anything that gets us to breathe in a different pattern than we usually do is a spiritual exercise, be it meditation or singing.

“But please, do not in my presence, use the word ‘singable’. Someone will ask me “Is it a Singable tune?..yes…it is a singable tune, because everything is singable. IF, that is, you take the time to learn it…

“Now for those who cannot sing for a real physical reason, I will tell you that even humming is healing. Studies have shown. Humming anything that feels good. Doesn’t have to be a song. Doesn’t have to make melodic sense. But that vibration in the throat, even if it cannot be heard, can be a source of joy and spiritual grounding. Furthermore, I am aware that my deaf friends dance better than I do, their whole bodies tuning into song.

“And no matter what our personal history is with music…it remains the most available source of power around us and among us to challenge us to live in harmony with the world and our lives and our neighbors like the music itself harmonizes and resolves.”

That seems a good place to end coverage of his sermon, but there was one more moving part of the service, the closing anthem: “”There Is So Much Work For Love To Do”. This was specially written by Cynthia Gray for Marcie McGaughey, member of Our Music Society and of the EUU, who conducted the choir and instrumentalists.(Copy on display)

HYMN 147 (P)“Spirit of Earth, Root, Stone and Tree” by Lyanne Mitchell

JOYCE Ending

After lunch and goodbyes, we took the train to Leverkusen, via Cologne, to get a bus for Hanover to visit Gill. Originally the bus was booked from Cologne, but just the week before, the city council had stopped the buses from entering the city centre. The bus stop was near the train station, but when we arrived the staff did not seem to know what to do with us. Eventually I spoke to the driver of one of the waiting buses, and, to our relief, he took our tickets and luggage. Soon we were on our way, about 3pm.
We had one stop, but could not find any gluten-free food. It was after 10pm when we were rescued by Gill; about 11:30 when we finally reached her flat, ready for refreshment and bed.

I was asked to write a report on the Hymn Sing workshop for their newsletter, which I did while at Gill’s.

One impression of the people we met is that they were mostly high-powered Ex-pats from the US, able, organized, sociable, thoughtful, busy, committed. There were some from Prague and Romania, as well as newcomers from Europe and at least one from Egypt. There were several same-sex couples, male and female, and a friendly trans-gender wife of a Jewish lady from Oregon. They live in her homeland, the Netherlands, as they could not live together in Oregon until recently.

The conference was a memorable experience and we hope to go again sometime. They might even come to Britain , as they have done at least once before.

HYMN 352 “Find a Stillness” by Carl Seaburg
COLLECTION after the hymn

As we come to the end of our service, let us take time to reflect on whatever is of concern to us at this point in time…

GO now in peace/Go now in peace/May the light of love surround you/everywhere/everywhere/you may go.

CHALICE OUT: the service ends, the flame goes out, but life goes on Live it well.

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